Ranking the watchability of every game from worst to first, plus predictions
College football’s long offseason officially ended on Saturday with two entertaining games to kick off the 2019 season. Florida held off Miami 24-20, while Hawaii upset Arizona in thrilling fashion. The first full week of games begins on Thursday, Aug. 29, and continues into Labor Day on Monday night with Notre Dame taking on Louisville. The Week 1 NCAAF slate features 83 games, including Auburn-Oregon, Florida State-Boise State and Utah-BYU.
With 83 games on the slate — and too many starting at the same time — Athlon Sports wants to help your channel surfing for Week 1. In addition to a quick preview and prediction, we have ranked every game based upon watchability for the first full Saturday of action. It’s not easy ranking one-sided FBS versus FBS matchups or FCS versus FBS teams, but we’ve tried to weigh everything for all 83 matchups. Many factors went into this subjective ranking. But most importantly, the 2019 college football season is underway and there are plenty of excellent matchups to take in this week.
Here’s your complete viewer’s guide for Week 1 of the 2019 season:
Ranking All 83 College Football Games in Week 1
83. Houston Baptist at UTEP (Saturday)
The Miners showed some signs of progress under first-year coach Dana Dimel last season. However, as indicated by the 1-11 final record, a lot of work remains. Houston Baptist from the FCS ranks has finished 1-10 in back-to-back years, so Dimel’s second season should get off to a good start. True freshman running back Deion Hankins is worth watching for the Miners.
82. Northern Colorado at San Jose State (Thursday)
Wins have been tough to come by for Brent Brennan (three) at San Jose State over the last two years. The Spartans lost their only matchup (UC Davis) to an FCS team in 2018, so Brennan’s squad will be looking to get off to a better start in 2019. There’s a good chance that happens considering Northern Colorado went 2-9 last fall.
Prediction: San Jose State
81. Morgan State at Bowling Green (Thursday)
Bowling Green has won only nine games over the last three years, but the opener is a good opportunity for new coach Scot Loeffler to get off to a fast start. FCS program Morgan State is 5-17 over the last two seasons and is under the direction of new coach (and former Michigan running back) Tyrone Wheatley. Jarret Doege’s transfer to West Virginia created a void at quarterback for the Falcons this offseason. Boston College transfer Darius Wade is familiar with Loeffer’s offense and could be the answer under center.
Prediction: Bowling Green
80. Bucknell at Temple (Saturday)
New Temple coach Rod Carey shouldn’t have much trouble starting his tenure in Philadelphia with a win. Bucknell finished 1-10 last season and the FCS program hasn't had a winning season since 2014. Quarterback Anthony Russo has been dealing with a calf injury and his status for Saturday is uncertain for the Owls.
79. Wagner at UConn (Thursday)
Wins could be tough to come by for a young UConn team in 2019, so a victory against an FCS opponent in Week 1 is a must for coach Randy Edsall’s team. The Huskies didn’t have an easy time against another FCS foe (Rhode Island) in a 56-49 victory in early September last year. West Florida transfer Mike Beaudry will get the nod under center for Edsall’s team, but a bigger concern is a defense that surrendered 50.4 points a game in 2018. Wagner is led by FIU transfer Christian Alexander at quarterback and finished 4-7 last year.
78. Gardner-Webb at Charlotte (Thursday)
Charlotte made one of the offseason’s top coaching hires by picking Will Healy from Austin Peay to replace Brad Lambert. The 49ers just missed on a bowl last season and could reach six victories if they can find stability at quarterback. Healy should check off his first win at Charlotte against a Gardner-Webb team from the FCS ranks that went 3-8 last season.
77. VMI at Marshall (Saturday)
Simply, this game should not be close. VMI has only six wins since 2015 and the FCS program was blasted 66-3 by Toledo last fall. A trip to Boise State awaits Marshall in Week 2, so the opener should be a good opportunity for quarterback Isaiah Green to work with a revamped group of receivers.
76. Campbell at Troy (Saturday)
Fun fact: Former NFL safety Mike Minter is the head coach at FCS member Campbell. Considering the Fighting Camels lost 58-21 to Coastal Carolina last season, keeping it close will be an uphill battle against Troy. New coach Chip Lindsey won’t have to do much in the way of changes. The Trojans went 10-3 last year and bring back seven starters on offense, including quarterback Kaleb Barker and running back B.J. Smith.
75. Norfolk State at Old Dominion (Saturday)
This matchup marks the first game in Old Dominion’s new stadium, and the Monarchs should christen it with a victory over FCS neighbor Norfolk State. In addition to the stadium, the other intrigue for ODU is at quarterback. Will Steven Williams, Messiah deWeaver or Stone Smartt get the nod under center?
Prediction: Old Dominion
74. Alabama State at UAB (Thursday)
Bill Clark guided UAB from a complete program shutdown to a Conference USA championship in just two years. The Blazers lost a ton of talent from last season’s 11-win team, but bet on Clark getting this team back in the mix for the league title. New quarterback Tyler Johnston is a breakout candidate for 2019.
73. Central Arkansas at WKU (Thursday)
WKU won back-to-back Conference USA titles under Jeff Brohm (2015-16) but regressed to 9-16 under Mike Sanford. New coach Tyson Helton worked for two seasons under Brohm (2014-15) before making stops at USC and Tennessee. The Hilltoppers hope Helton ignite the offense at a similar level to the Brohm era, and the first-year coach picked Steven Duncan over Arkansas transfer Ty Storey (both will play) for the starting quarterback spot. Central Arkansas is a dangerous FCS team, however. The Bears finished 6-5 last fall and garnered votes in the first FCS poll for 2019.
72. Robert Morris at Buffalo (Thursday)
Buffalo’s offense is going to look a lot different without quarterback Tyree Jackson and receivers Anthony Johnson and K.J. Osborn. Redshirt freshman Matt Myers is expected to make his first start under center for the Bulls on Thursday night. Until Myers is settled, the Bulls can lean on the MAC’s top offensive line and the one-two punch of Jaret Patterson and Kevin Marks at running back. Robert Morris from the FCS ranks finished 2-9 under first-year coach Bernard Clark in 2018.
71. Albany at Central Michigan (Thursday)
Jim McElwain is back on the sidelines after he was dismissed during the 2017 season at Florida. McElwain inherits a rebuilding effort at Central Michigan after this program averaged only 15 points a game in a dismal 1-11 campaign last fall. The good news for McElwain? Transfer quarterback Quinten Dormady should help improve the offense, and while Albany should be better in 2019, this FCS program finished 3-8 last season. McElwain should be 1-0 going into Week 2.
Prediction: Central Michigan
70. Rhode Island at Ohio (Saturday)
A conference title is the missing piece in Frank Solich’s tenure at Ohio. With quarterback Nathan Rourke returning, the Bobcats should be the frontrunner to win the MAC in 2019. Rhode Island garnered a few votes in the FCS poll and won six games last fall after winning just seven in the four years prior.
69. Grambling at ULM (Saturday)
Less than 50 miles separate these two campuses, but this is only the fourth time ULM and Grambling have met on the gridiron. The Warhawks return one of the Sun Belt’s top quarterbacks in Caleb Evans, and with a tough non-conference slate ahead, winning this game is a must in order to contend for a bowl game.
68. Holy Cross at Navy (Saturday)
Navy is just 5-16 over its last 21 games. In an effort to get back on track, coach Ken Niumatalolo is planning to tailor the offense to quarterback Malcolm Perry, while the defense is under the direction of new play-caller Brian Newberry. The Midshipmen should be improved. But are the changes enough to get back to a bowl?
67. Incarnate Word at UTSA
UTSA coach Frank Wilson needs a big season after the team’s record regressed to 3-9 in 2018. Finding a spark for an offense that averaged only 14.2 points a game last season was the top offseason priority, and sophomore Frank Harris is an intriguing option at quarterback. Incarnate Word took a big step forward in Eric Morris’ first year. Behind an offense that averaged 32.5 points a game, the Cardinals improved their win total by five games and garnered votes for the first FCS poll in 2019.
66. Monmouth at Western Michigan (Saturday)
If Western Michigan can keep quarterback Jon Wassink healthy, and improve a defense that allowed 34.5 points a game last season, the Broncos should contend for a MAC title in 2019. Monmouth has won 17 games over the past two seasons but the FCS program was overwhelmed 51-17 by Eastern Michigan in last year’s opener. This Western Michigan team is better.
Prediction: Western Michigan
65. East Tennessee State at Appalachian State (Saturday)
Less than 60 miles and the Smoky Mountains separate these two campuses. New coach Eli Drinkwitz inherits an Appalachian State team that should be the preseason favorite to win the Sun Belt. ETSU is led by former Tennessee and Florida State assistant Randy Sanders and the Buccaneers from the FCS ranks went 8-4 last year. Despite that, Mountaineers shouldn’t have too much trouble in their 2019 debut.
Prediction: Appalachian State
64. Abilene Christian at North Texas (Saturday)
North Texas quarterback Mason Fine (9,417 yards) already owns the top spot in the school record book for career passing yardage. The senior should have no trouble adding to that total in the opener against FCS member Abilene Christian. The Wildcats appear to be on the right track under third-year coach Adam Dorrel. ACU went from 2-9 in 2017 to a 6-5 finish last fall.
Prediction: North Texas
63. Colgate at Air Force (Saturday)
Air Force has missed a bowl in back-to-back years for the first time in coach Troy Calhoun’s tenure. The Falcons have to restock the skill positions, but quarterback Donald Hammond III is a breakout candidate and should help this program return to the postseason in 2019. Colgate, the defending Patriot League champion from the FCS ranks, played in Week 0 and lost to Villanova 34-14.
Prediction: Air Force
62. Arkansas-Pine Bluff at TCU (Saturday)
TCU crushed Southern 55-7 in last year’s season opener. The Horned Frogs should be able to flex their muscles a bit against Arkansas-Pine Bluff - am FCS team that finished 2-9 last year. The biggest area of intrigue in this game for TCU comes at quarterback. Will Alex Delton or Max Duggan get the call under center?
61. Howard at Maryland (Saturday)
It’s a matchup of new coaches, as Mike Locksley (Maryland) and Ron Prince (Howard) begin their first year on the job. The FCS' Bison only finished 4-6 last season but gave Ohio all it could handle in the opener and beat UNLV in 2017. Cam Newton’s brother (Caylin Newton) leads the way for Prince’s offense. The Terrapins should be able to open Locksley’s tenure with an easy win.
60. Stephen F. Austin at Baylor (Saturday)
Baylor improved its win total by six games from Matt Rhule’s first year (2017) to last season. Scoring points shouldn’t be a problem with quarterback Charlie Brewer and receiver Denzel Mims leading the way. But the Bears have to tighten up on defense after giving up 31.7 points a game in 2018. Baylor beat FCS foe Abilene Christian 55-27 in last year’s opener. A similar outcome should be expected versus Stephen F. Austin. (Sign up and watch on ESPN+)
59. Sam Houston State at New Mexico (Saturday)
The 2019 season is a make-or-break year for New Mexico coach Bob Davie. Moving away from the hot seat starts by getting a win against a solid Sam Houston State team from the FCS ranks in Week 1. The Lobos are counting on an infusion of junior college transfers to bolster a defense that gave up 36.2 points a game last season, and new play-caller Joe Dailey takes over for an offense that has question marks at quarterback and running back.
Prediction: New Mexico
58. Southern Utah at UNLV (Saturday)
With a move to the NFL Raiders' stadium coming in 2020, UNLV coach Tony Sanchez needs a big year to avoid the hot seat. The Rebels are just 1-3 in openers under Sanchez, but Southern Utah - an FCS team coming off a 1-10 season in 2018 - is a favorable matchup. UNLV has to get better on defense to push for a winning mark but getting to a bowl also requires a healthy year out of quarterback Armani Rogers.
57. Illinois State at Northern Illinois (Saturday)
FCS member Illinois State has won its last two games - Northwestern and Colorado State - against FBS teams. While the Cardinals underachieved last season with a 6-5 mark, coach Brock Spack’s team won’t be an easy out in the opener - especially with the one-two punch of quarterback Brady Davis and running back James Robinson. Despite losing All-American Sutton Smith, defense will be the strength of Northern Illinois’ 2019 squad for new coach Thomas Hammock. But to repeat as MAC champs, the Huskies have to find a spark on offense after averaging only 20.1 points a game in 2018.
Prediction: Northern Illinois
56. Eastern Michigan at Coastal Carolina (Saturday)
Eastern Michigan’s Chris Creighton is one of the nation’s most underrated coaches. Despite losing a couple of key cogs on defense, the Eagles are a sleeper team to watch in the MAC West this season, especially with a breakout candidate at quarterback in Mike Glass. Jamey Chadwell was promoted to head coach at Coastal Carolina after Joe Moglia retired. Chadwell worked as the FCS program’s coach while Moglia was on medical leave in 2017 and has to figure out the quarterback situation and improve a defense that allowed 33.2 points a game to make a run at bowl eligibility.
Prediction: Eastern Michigan
55. UMass at Rutgers (Friday)
After a 1-11 record last season, Rutgers coach Chris Ash is sitting squarely on the hot seat in 2019. The Scarlet Knights have to find a spark on offense after averaging only 13.5 points a game last fall. Sophomore quarterback Artur Sitkowski could be pushed by Texas Tech transfer McLane Carter if he gets off to a slow start after tossing 18 picks last fall. Walt Bell is a good hire for UMass, but the former Maryland and Florida State assistant has a big rebuilding job ahead with uncertainty at quarterback and just six returning starters.
54. Portland State at Arkansas (Saturday)
Arkansas should take a step forward coach Chad Morris’ second year. The Razorbacks brought in a top-25 recruiting class and added two impact transfers at quarterback (Ben Hicks and Nick Starkel). FCS member Portland State finished 4-7 and lost by a combined score of 134-33 to Nevada and Oregon last season.
53. Alcorn State at Southern Miss (Saturday)
Southern Miss coach Jay Hopson previously led the way at FCS Alcorn State from 2012-15. The Braves promoted Fred McNair (Steve McNair’s brother) to head coach after Hopson left for Hattiesburg. If the Golden Eagles can improve an offense that averaged 26.2 points a game last season, this team can win Conference USA’s West Division.
Prediction: Southern Miss
52. Idaho at Penn State (Saturday)
Penn State has to replace quarterback Trace McSorley and running back Miles Sanders, but coach James Franklin will have this team in the mix to finish in the top 10 by the end of the year. New quarterback Sean Clifford should get off to a fast start against an Idaho team went 4-7 in its return to the FCS level last season.
Prediction: Penn State
51. Weber State at San Diego State (Saturday)
The Aztecs ended 2018 on a down note, losing five out of their last six games. Coach Rocky Long tweaked the offense to add more spread elements, but the overall blueprint - running the ball behind running back Juwan Washington - isn’t going to change too much. Weber State ranked No. 9 in Athlon’s FCS Preseason Power Poll, so this isn’t the easiest of openers for the Aztecs.
Prediction: San Diego State
50. New Mexico State at Washington State (Saturday)
In a surprise, Washington State is slated to start Anthony Gordon over Gage Gubrud at quarterback for the opener. Can Gordon hold off Gubrud - a transfer from FCS Eastern Washington - into the season? With the Cougars playing NMSU and Northern Colorado to open the year, coach Mike Leach has plenty of time to iron out the details under center.
Prediction: Washington State
49. Montana State at Texas Tech (Saturday)
New Texas Tech coach Matt Wells inherits a solid foundation in Lubbock, including a veteran offensive line and quarterback Alan Bowman. Putting together a high-powered offense shouldn’t be a problem for Wells, but can he solve the defensive woes this team has experienced in recent years? Montana State is in the top 10 of Athlon’s FCS Preseason Power Poll but has to break in a new quarterback.
Prediction: Texas Tech
48. Georgia State at Tennessee (Saturday)
Jeremy Pruitt seems to have Tennessee moving in the right direction, but the Volunteers still have big questions along both lines of scrimmage. With BYU and Florida coming up in September, a Georgia State team that finished 2-10 should be a good opportunity to work out some of the kinks in both areas. The Panthers feature dynamic quarterback Dan Ellington, but this is a tough spot for a young team.
47. Florida A&M at UCF (Thursday)
The Knights begin their quest for another American Athletic Conference title with some intrigue. Notre Dame transfer Brandon Wimbush is slated to start under center, with freshman Dillon Gabriel expected to see some snaps. With matchups looming against Stanford and Pitt in September, FCS opponent Florida A&M should be the perfect opponent for coach Josh Heupel’s offense to work out the kinks (and the quarterback situation).
46. Rice at Army (Friday)
With a favorable schedule and the return of 11 starters (including quarterback Kelvin Hopkins), Army has a good chance to exceed last year’s 11 wins. It’s an opposite story on the Rice sideline, as coach Mike Bloomgren’s team is still in rebuild mode. With the Owls retooling up front after giving up 166 rushing yards a game last fall, Hopkins and the Army ground game should control the line of scrimmage in an easy win.
45. Akron at Illinois (Saturday)
If Illinois wants to make a bowl in Lovie Smith’s fourth season in Champaign, then the opener against Akron is a must-win game. The Fighting Illini have one of the Big Ten’s top running backs in Reggie Corbin, and Michigan transfer Brandon Peters is set to take over at quarterback. Smith is handling play-calling duties on defense this year, and while this group is a question mark once again, the matchup against Akron is a favorable one. The Zips averaged only 18.9 points a game last season. New coach Tom Arth inherits a talented quarterback (Kato Nelson), but Akron is a program in transition.
44. Miami (Ohio) at Iowa (Saturday)
The 2013 season was the last time Iowa lost an opener under coach Kirk Ferentz. With Miami (Ohio) breaking in a new quarterback, that streak shouldn’t be in jeopardy for the Hawkeyes.
43. Indiana State at Kansas (Saturday)
Wins are going to be tough to come by in Les Miles’ debut at Kansas, but this program certainly won’t lack for intrigue. The Jayhawks will be on upset alert against Indiana State, however. The Sycamores are 15th in Athlon’s FCS Preseason Power Poll and bring back standouts at quarterback (Ryan Boyle) and linebacker (Jonas Griffith). Kansas will also be without standout running back Pooka Williams due to a one-game suspension.
42. Northern Iowa at Iowa State (Saturday)
Matt Campbell’s debut at Iowa State resulted in a 25-20 loss to Northern Iowa in 2016. Don’t expect that to happen this time around. The Panthers are ranked No. 17 in Athlon’s FCS Preseason Power Poll, but the Cyclones are in a much better position than ’16. Iowa State owns one of the Big 12’s top defenses, and quarterback Brock Purdy is a rising star. How will the Cyclones replace running back David Montgomery and receiver Hakeem Butler?
Prediction: Iowa State
41. Kent State at Arizona State (Thursday)
Arizona State will always be interesting with Herm Edwards on the sidelines, but there’s added intrigue with true freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels taking over this fall. Utah is the clear favorite to win the Pac-12 South, but the Sun Devils will be dangerous if Daniels lives up to the hype, especially with a standout defense on his side. Kent State is headed in the right direction under second-year coach Sean Lewis and features former Auburn signal-caller Woody Barrett at quarterback. However, a defense that allowed 36.7 points a game in 2018 will have its hands full against Arizona State running back Eno Benjamin.
Prediction: Arizona State
40. South Alabama at Nebraska (Saturday)
It’s no secret there’s a lot of hype surrounding Nebraska entering Scott Frost’s second year in Lincoln. The Cornhuskers have a favorable schedule, an improving defense and plenty of talent from the last two recruiting classes ready to provide depth. Sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez is poised for a breakout season and should get the 2019 season started with a huge performance against a South Alabama team that’s rebuilding in coach Steve Campbell’s second year.
39. Nicholls at Kansas State (Saturday)
Replacing Bill Snyder is a tough assignment for new Kansas State coach Chris Klieman. And to make matters worse, he drew a difficult opener against Nicholls - a team ranked 13th in Athlon's FCS Preseason Power Poll. If the Wildcats need any additional confirmation on Nicholls, consider it beat Kansas 26-23 in overtime last year. Having an experienced quarterback like Skylar Thompson and eight starters back on defense will limit the transition for Kansas State, but there are always some kinks to work out under a new staff. (Sign up and watch on ESPN+)
Prediction: Kansas State
38. Ball State vs. Indiana – Indianapolis (Saturday)
Less than 120 miles separate the campuses for these two programs, but this game will be played in Lucas Oil Stadium. Ball State coach Mike Neu sits on the hot seat after a 10-26 start to his tenure. The Cardinals have optimism for improvement with 18 returning starters and will look to close the gap after losing 38-10 to the Hoosiers last year. With a tough Big Ten slate ahead, Indiana can’t afford a non-conference loss in its quest for bowl eligibility. The Hoosiers are slated to go with Michael Penix over last season's starter Peyton Ramsey and Utah transfer Jack Tuttle.
37. East Carolina at NC State (Saturday)
NC State pounded East Carolina 58-3 on Dec. 1 last season. This year’s matchup is likely to be a little closer. The Wolfpack are under renovation on offense, as coach Dave Doeren’s team has a new play-caller, starting quarterback and has key players to replace along the offensive line and at receiver. New East Carolina coach Mike Houston is one of the top hires of the offseason and inherits a promising sophomore (Holton Ahlers) at quarterback.
Prediction: NC State
36. Tulsa at Michigan State (Friday)
Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio shuffled his staff after the offense averaged only 18.7 points a game last season. The Spartans have been quiet about the potential tweaks, so Friday’s game against Tulsa will be the first glimpse at any changes. After a 16-10 start, Tulsa coach Philip Montgomery is just 5-19 over the last two years. Much like Michigan State, the Golden Hurricane need to find a spark on offense. The arrival of Baylor transfer Zach Smith at quarterback should be a boost, but the Spartans’ defense is one of the best in college football.
Prediction: Michigan State
35. Texas State at Texas A&M (Thursday)
With Clemson on tap for Week 2, Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher can use this game as a good tune-up opportunity. The Aggies are breaking in a revamped front seven on defense, and give quarterback Kellen Mond has some new faces at running back (Jashaun Corbin), tight end and along the offensive line to work with. Texas A&M is a program on the rise, but a difficult schedule may make it tough to see a big jump in wins from last year (nine). New Texas State coach Jake Spavital named Tyler Vitt his starting quarterback over JUCO transfer Gresch Jensen. The Bobcats return a lot of experience, but this is a tough spot for a first-year coach to open the season.
Prediction: Texas A&M
34. UC Davis at California (Saturday)
UC Davis knocked off San Jose State in last year’s opener. However, this one will be a little tougher for coach Dan Hawkins’ team. The Aggies are led by first-team Athlon Sports FCS All-American Jake Maier at quarterback, but open receivers won’t be easy to find against California’s standout secondary and linebacker Evan Weaver. The strength of coach Justin Wilcox’s team is clearly the defense. But to contend in the Pac-12 North, the Golden Bears have to improve an offense that averaged only 21.5 points a game in 2018.
33. Middle Tennessee at Michigan (Saturday)
All eyes in Ann Arbor will be on Michigan’s offense this Saturday. New play-caller Josh Gattis has promised to speed up the tempo and get the ball to playmakers in space. Will the Wolverines pass the test in Gattis’ first chance to call the plays for the Wolverines? And how will Jim Harbaugh and Gattis divide the playing time between quarterbacks Shea Patterson and Dylan McCaffrey?
32. SMU at Arkansas State (Saturday)
Football has not been the main concern for Arkansas State after the tragic passing of Blake Anderson’s wife Wendy last week. Anderson took a leave of absence and David Duggan has been filling in as interim coach. Both teams possess a lot of offensive firepower, so this has potential to be a high-scoring affair. New Arkansas State quarterback Logan Bonner takes over a group that is deep at receiver and features running back Marcel Murray. SMU’s offense is guided by Texas transfer Shane Buechele at quarterback, along with one of the Group of 5’s top receivers in James Proche. Which defense can get timely stops?
Prediction: Arkansas State
31. Georgia Southern at LSU (Saturday)
The offseason buzz in Baton Rouge hints at a different-looking LSU offense in 2019. With a trip to Austin to play Texas on tap for Week 2, the Tigers aren’t likely to unveil the new offense in its entirety against Georgia Southern. The Eagles’ option attack is likely to be grounded by a fast and athletic LSU front.
30. Missouri at Wyoming (Saturday)
Missouri’s trip to Wyoming is only the second time an SEC team has ventured to Laramie for a road matchup against the Cowboys. War Memorial Stadium is at the highest elevation of any FBS stadium, so this isn’t an easy place to play. While Wyoming has a home-field advantage and a solid defense to lean on, Missouri simply has too much firepower on offense. Clemson transfer Kelly Bryant should provide a seamless transition from Drew Lock under center.
29. Mississippi State vs. Louisiana – New Orleans (Saturday)
The Ragin’ Cajuns boast an experienced offensive line and one of the deepest backfields in the nation. But even with Mississippi State’s defense breaking in new starters at every level after a dominant 2018 season, running room won’t be easy to find for Louisiana. Improving Mississippi State's passing game is a priority for second-year coach Joe Moorhead, and the Bulldogs are set to go with Penn State transfer Tommy Stevens under center. Stevens and dynamic running back Kylin Hill have a favorable matchup on tap. Louisiana’s defense allowed 6.3 yards a play and 34.2 points a game last fall.
Prediction: Mississippi State
28. South Dakota State at Minnesota (Thursday)
South Dakota State opens the campaign ranked third in Athlon's FCS Preseason Power Poll, so this is a dangerous matchup for Minnesota. After winning four out of their last six games in 2018, the Golden Gophers are a trendy sleeper pick to win the Big Ten West Division. Receiver Tyler Johnson might be one of the most underrated players in college football, but quarterback play is under the spotlight after Zack Annexstad was lost for the year, giving the starting job back to Tanner Morgan.
27. Purdue at Nevada (Friday)
Any matchup that features Purdue receiver Rondale Moore is worth tuning into, but there’s also plenty of other intriguing elements to this game. Nevada knocked off Oregon State at home last fall, and in order to pull off another upset, coach Jay Norvell will need a solid game from freshman quarterback Carson Strong. Moore and quarterback Elijah Sindelar is a tough matchup for a revamped Nevada secondary.
26. FIU at Tulane (Thursday)
Looking for a sleeper game to watch on Thursday night? This game might not feature top 25 teams, but Tulane is a team on the rise under coach Willie Fritz, and FIU should factor into the mix to win Conference USA. The Green Wave return eight starters – including rush end Patrick Johnson (10.5 sacks) last year – from a defense that held teams to only 27.5 points a game last fall. Johnson and his defensive teammates will be tasked with stopping FIU quarterback James Morgan and an offense that led Conference USA by averaging 34.6 points a game last season.
25. Syracuse at Liberty (Saturday)
New Liberty coach Hugh Freeze is recovering from an infection, so he may have to direct this one from the booth on Saturday. Freeze’s arrival has added a layer of intrigue to the Flames this season, and the former Ole Miss coach has two talented pieces to work with on offense in quarterback Stephen Calvert and receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden. With Clemson looming in Week 3, Syracuse needs to get new quarterback Tommy DeVito and his receivers on the right track. Liberty’s defense allowed just over 36 points a game last fall. That’s not the ideal recipe to stop Dino Babers’ high-powered offense. (Sign up and watch on ESPN+)
24. Oklahoma State at Oregon State (Friday)
A late-night matchup between two offenses capable of putting up their share of points is a perfect way to kick off Pac-12 After Dark in 2019. Oregon State aims to improve in coach Jonathan Smith’s second year, and while the offense features one of the Pac-12’s top running backs (Jermar Jefferson) and a standout receiving corps, this team has too many questions on defense to go bowling. Oklahoma State is a dark horse team to watch in the Big 12, but there’s uncertainty at quarterback with Spencer Sanders and Dru Brown locked into a tight battle.
Prediction: Oklahoma State
23. Colorado vs. Colorado State – Denver, Colo. (Friday)
Colorado has won five out of the last six matchups against its in-state rival, including a 45-13 victory last season. And considering the Buffaloes have a new coach (Mel Tucker), and Colorado State is coming off a disappointing 3-9 record, there’s added pressure for both teams going into this year. Can the Rams find an answer to cover Laviska Shenault after he torched their defense for 211 yards on 11 catches last season?
22. FAU at Ohio State (Saturday)
Even though Ohio State is a heavy favorite, this one deserves some screen time on your main television this Saturday just to see how Georgia transfer quarterback Justin Fields looks under new coach Ryan Day. The Buckeyes surrendered 31 points in last year’s opener against Oregon State but should have an easier time against a FAU offense looking to replace running back Devin Singletary.
Prediction: Ohio State
21. Eastern Washington at Washington (Saturday)
Eastern Washington was the runner up to North Dakota State for the FCS title last season and enters this one ranked fourth in Athlon's FCS Preseason Power Poll. In other words, this isn’t the easiest of openers for Washington. Coach Chris Petersen’s team has a lot of new faces on defense, but this unit isn’t expected to miss a beat. This will also be the first look at Georgia transfer Jacob Eason under center for the Huskies.
20. Louisiana Tech at Texas (Saturday)
Tom Herman is 0-2 in season openers at Texas. Louisiana Tech is an experienced squad, so this won’t be a cakewalk for the Longhorns. With LSU ahead in Week 2, Herman will likely limit the wear-and-tear on quarterback Sam Ehlinger and running back Keaontay Ingram. Another priority will be getting experience for several young defenders on a group that returns only two starters.
19. Duke vs. Alabama - Atlanta, Ga. (Saturday)
Stating the obvious here: This is not an ideal opener for Duke. The Blue Devils have to break in a new quarterback to replace Daniel Jones and are expected to start at least one freshman on the offensive line. Defense is the strength of coach David Cutcliffe’s team but containing Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and the nation’s best receiving corps is a tall order. After a blowout loss to Clemson in the national championship, it’s safe to assume Nick Saban will have this team motivated and ready to go in 2019.
18. Wisconsin at USF (Friday)
USF surrendered 247.5 rushing yards a contest and ended 2018 on a six-game losing streak. That’s bad news with Wisconsin’s massive offensive line and running back (and Heisman candidate) Jonathan Taylor on tap in the opener. Jack Coan held off a challenge from touted freshman Graham Mertz and is expected to start at quarterback on Friday night. While Coan has experience and started four games last season, his development is key to Wisconsin’s Big Ten West Division title hopes.
17. Toledo at Kentucky (Saturday)
Kentucky has to replace running back Benny Snell and edge rusher Josh Allen, but coach Mark Stoops still has enough pieces in place to push for eight (or more) wins in 2019. Quarterback Terry Wilson will be under pressure to step up after an up-and-down debut last fall. Wilson has a chance for a fast start against a Toledo defense that allowed 30.5 points a game in 2018. A revamped Kentucky secondary will be tested by a high-powered Rockets’ offense, quarterback Mitchell Guadagni and running back Bryant Koback. The Wildcats beat a Central Michigan team 35-20 that finished 1-11 in last year’s opener. Toledo will present a tougher test.
16. Virginia Tech at Boston College (Saturday)
Virginia Tech is coming off a disappointing 6-7 record, but coach Justin Fuente’s team should be one of the most-improved squads in the ACC this year. Stopping the run was a challenge for the Hokies last season and will be tested right away against Boston College running back (and All-America candidate) AJ Dillon. Pressure for improvement isn’t limited to just Fuente. Steve Addazio hasn’t won more than seven games in a season in Chestnut Hill. The temperature on his seat would increase with a 6-6 or worse mark.
Prediction: Virginia Tech
15. Virginia at Pitt (Saturday)
The defending ACC Coastal champs (Pitt) open the year against the projected favorite to win the division in 2019 (Virginia). The Cavaliers have two of the ACC’s top players in quarterback Bryce Perkins and cornerback Bryce Hall, and coach Bronco Mendenhall’s squad doesn’t have many question marks going into the opener. The same can’t be said for Pitt. The Panthers lost four starters up front, two 1,000-yard running backs and standout end Rashad Weaver was lost for the year due to injury. Coach Pat Narduzzi and new play-caller Mark Whipple need a big season out of quarterback Kenny Pickett.
14. James Madison at West Virginia (Saturday)
West Virginia made one of the offseason’s top hires by picking Neal Brown to replace Dana Holgorsen. But the first-year coach inherits a roster with question marks at quarterback, offensive line and in the secondary. Brown has talent to work with, but this is a roster in transition and likely a rebuilding year for the Mountaineers. Add those factors against a James Madison team ranked No. 2 in Athlon's FCS Preseason Power Poll and that’s enough for West Virginia to be on upset alert.
Prediction: West Virginia
13. Notre Dame at Louisville (Monday)
The curtain on Week 1 of the 2019 season officially closes with Notre Dame’s trip to Louisville on Monday night. The Fighting Irish are banged up in the receiving corps, as tight end Cole Kmet and receiver Michael Young are sidelined due to collarbone injuries. Quarterback Ian Book still has good talent at his disposal, and the Notre Dame defensive line could wreak plenty of havoc against a Louisville front that allowed 43 sacks last fall. The Cardinals hit a home run with the hire of Scott Satterfield to replace Bobby Petrino as head coach. However, Satterfield will need more than one season to turn things around in Louisville.
Prediction: Notre Dame
12. North Carolina vs. South Carolina - Charlotte, N.C. (Saturday)
Mack Brown’s return to Chapel Hill will be one of college football’s most intriguing storylines to watch in 2019. The Tar Heels are also expected to start a true freshman (Sam Howell) under center in this matchup. Howell’s debut is a tough spot for any freshman quarterback, especially against a South Carolina defensive line that features standout tackle Javon Kinlaw. With a brutal schedule on tap, the Gamecocks need quarterback Jake Bentley to take better care of the ball after tossing 14 picks in 2018. The arrival of Clemson transfer Tavien Feaster should add some punch to South Carolina's ground game.
Prediction: South Carolina
11. Georgia at Vanderbilt (Saturday)
Since losing to Vanderbilt in Athens in 2016, Georgia has outscored the Commodores 86-27 in its last two meetings. The Bulldogs have enough talent to win it all in 2019, but coach Kirby Smart’s team does have two new coordinators and lost a good chunk of proven talent at receiver. Neither of those issues are expected to be major speed bumps. Vanderbilt returns one of the SEC’s top trios - running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn, tight end Jared Pinkney and receiver Kalija Lipscomb - but coach Derek Mason’s team has to break in a new quarterback - Riley Neal or Deuce Wallace. And considering Georgia’s depth and talent on defense, this is not the ideal opponent in Week 1.
10. Ole Miss at Memphis (Saturday)
Ole Miss has dominated this series, but Memphis won the last time these two teams played in the Liberty Bowl. Both teams enter 2019 with key question marks to address. Can the Rebels take a step forward on defense under new play-caller Mike MacIntyre? And how will redshirt freshman quarterback Matt Corral develop under coordinator Rich Rodriguez? Memphis has to replace dynamic running back Darrell Henderson, but Patrick Taylor is a capable option, and quarterback Brady White returns after throwing for 3,296 yards and 26 touchdowns last year.
9. Georgia Tech at Clemson (Thursday)
The defending champs shouldn’t have much trouble extending their winning streak to 16 consecutive games. Georgia Tech is in the midst of a significant rebuild and scheme transition on offense under new coach Geoff Collins. In addition to quarterback Trevor Lawrence and his receivers knocking off the rust, the Tigers would like to get a good look at their revamped defensive front before a home date against Texas A&M in Week 2.
8. Utah State at Wake Forest (Friday)
This matchup should be the best of the eight games on Friday night. Utah State’s Jordan Love is one of the top quarterbacks in the nation, but he will be working behind an offensive line that has four new starters and a revamped group of receivers. Despite that transition, Love will be a handful for a Wake Forest defense that allowed 33.3 points a game last fall. While the Demon Deacons enter the year with concerns on defense, the offense is one of the best in the ACC. Jamie Newman edged Sam Hartman for the starting job under center and is joined by 1,000-yard rusher Cade Carney at running back.
Prediction: Wake Forest
7. UCLA at Cincinnati (Thursday)
Cincinnati was one of the most-improved teams in college football last season, and the run to 11 wins started with a 26-17 victory over UCLA in Week 1. The Bearcats have the right pieces in place to push UCF for the AAC title. Quarterback Desmond Ridder and running back Mike Warren form a dynamic duo on offense, with seven starters set to return on defense. UCLA should be better in coach Chip Kelly’s second year. The Bruins also have their own tandem on offense - quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson and running back Joshua Kelley - to lead the way. However, UCLA’s offensive line and defense remain a concern, which might be too much to overcome in this one against a good Cincinnati squad.
6. Northwestern at Stanford (Saturday)
There’s plenty to like about this matchup of academic powerhouses. Stanford finished outside of the top 25 last season and enters 2019 looking to restock on defense and reload a bit at the skill positions. The Cardinal usually lean on a power running game, but Shaw will rely on quarterback K.J. Costello to lift this team into contention for the Pac-12 North title. Northwestern’s defense was the strength of last year’s Big Ten West Division title team, but the offense could be more explosive if Clemson transfer Hunter Johnson holds off T.J. Green for the starting job at quarterback.
5. Fresno State at USC (Saturday)
USC coach Clay Helton hit the reset button after a 5-7 record last fall. The Trojans have a revamped coaching staff, including new play-caller Graham Harrell on offense. With Helton sitting squarely on the hot seat, Harrell’s ability to develop the offense behind quarterback JT Daniels could hold the keys to the season. Fresno State brings one of the nation’s top defenses to Los Angeles on Saturday. En route to winning the Mountain West, the Bulldogs held teams to 14.1 points a game last year. With a new quarterback and revamped offensive line in place for Fresno State’s offense, the defense will have to come up big once again to pull off the upset.
4. Houston at Oklahoma (Sunday)
There should be no shortage of offense between these two teams on Sunday night. This game marks the official debut of quarterback Jalen Hurts in an Oklahoma uniform, and after a full offseason to work with coach Lincoln Riley, the senior should ensure this offense doesn’t miss a beat in 2019. New Houston coach Dana Holgorsen inherits one of the nation’s best signal-callers in dynamic senior D’Eriq King. While new Oklahoma defensive coordinator Alex Grinch is an excellent long-term fit in Norman, this group has plenty of question marks for 2019. King should be able to land his share of big plays, but Houston’s defense won’t have much of an answer for Hurts and the Sooners.
3. Utah at BYU (Thursday)
The Holy War is the best matchup on Thursday night. Utah rallied from a 27-7 deficit to beat BYU last season for its eighth win in a row in this rivalry. With quarterback Tyler Huntley and running back Zack Moss back to full strength, coach Kyle Whittingham’s team will be a sleeper pick to make the CFB Playoff this season. Sophomore quarterback Zach Wilson is a breakout star in 2019 for coach Kalani Sitake, but BYU’s offense will have its hands full against Utah’s defensive line.
2. Boise State vs. Florida State - Jacksonville, Fla. (Saturday)
Florida State’s offensive line struggled mightily last season, so it’s only fitting this group will be tested right away against Boise State on Saturday. The Broncos bring one of the top defenses at the Group of 5 level to Jacksonville, featuring a pass rush (led by All-America candidate Curtis Weaver) that registered 39 sacks last season. Quarterback play will also be under the spotlight. The Seminoles will turn to James Blackman, while the Broncos are going with true freshman Hank Bachmeier under center. After last year’s disappointment, there’s plenty of pressure for Willie Taggart to get 2019 started off on a better note.
Prediction: Florida State
1. Auburn vs. Oregon - Arlington, Texas (Saturday)
The storylines for this one are numerous. Can Oregon get a huge non-conference victory to bolster the Pac-12? Auburn coach Gus Malzahn needs a big win to cool the pressure after a disappointing 8-5 campaign in 2018. The Ducks feature one of the nation’s top offensive lines and quarterback Justin Herbert, but this is a tough matchup against Auburn’s standout defensive line and speedy secondary. True freshman Bo Nix is set to start at quarterback for the Tigers, but a strong supporting cast should ease his transition into the college game.