College football’s long and chaotic offseason due to the COVID-19 pandemic officially ended on Saturday with Austin Peay and Central Arkansas playing in the FCS opener 2020 season. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the schedule. Instead of having 80-plus games on the slate, Week 1 features only nine contests. The first full week of games begins on Thursday, Sept. 3, and continues into Labor Day on Monday night with BYU taking on Navy. The Week 1 NCAAF slate features only nine games, including Arkansas State-Memphis and South Alabama-Southern Miss.
Even though there are only nine games this week, 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 weekend 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 nine matchups. Many factors went into this subjective ranking. But most importantly, the 2020 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 2020 season:
Ranking All 9 College Football Games in Week 1
1. BYU at Navy
Monday, Sept. 7 – 8 p.m. ET – ESPN
BYU’s visit to Annapolis is easily the top game on the Week 1 slate. Navy is coming off an 11-2 mark, but coach Ken Niumatalolo’s group had to replace standout quarterback Malcolm Perry. Dalen Morris edged Perry Olsen and Chance Warren for the starting nod, with Monday night’s matchup his first career start for the Midshipmen. Navy’s defense brings back seven starters and should rank as one of the best units in the AAC. BYU had an open quarterback battle this offseason, but as expected, Zach Wilson won the job. The Cougars feature an underrated offensive line but question marks remain about the receiving weapons for Wilson, especially after a season-ending injury to tight end Matt Bushman.
Predicted Winner: Navy
2. Arkansas State at Memphis
Saturday, Sept. 5 – 8 p.m. ET – ESPN
With two high-powered offenses getting the Saturday Night showcase, it’s easy to see why this matchup could be entertaining. Memphis is under the direction of new coach Ryan Silverfield, but the pieces are in place to push for the AAC title once again. Quarterback Brady White returns after a standout 2019 season, and despite the decision by running back Kenneth Gainwell to opt out, the offense isn’t hurting for skill talent. Arkansas State’s offense lost go-to receiver Omar Bayless but that won’t stop this attack. The Red Wolves feature two proven quarterbacks in Layne Hatcher and Logan Bonner, five returning starters in the trenches, and one of the Sun Belt’s top receivers in Jonathan Adams. The Red Wolves gave up 34.2 points a game last fall and will have their hands full with Memphis’ high-powered offense.
Predicted Winner: Memphis
Related: Predictions for Every Game in Week 1
Thursday, Sept. 3 – 9 p.m. ET – CBS Sports Network
This meeting between the Jaguars and Golden Eagles on Thursday night marks the first matchup between FBS teams in the 2020 college football season. Assuming both teams can knock off the early-season rust, there could be some offensive fireworks. Southern Miss quarterback Jack Abraham ranked second among Conference USA signal-callers with 3,496 passing yards in 2019. His receiving corps features some new names, but Abraham should keep the offense performing at a high level. South Alabama’s offense showed signs of life at the end of the 2019 campaign thanks to the emergence of Desmond Trotter at quarterback. He enters the opener as the full-time starter, and receivers Kawaan Baker and Jalen Tolbert provide big-play ability on the outside.
Predicted Winner: Southern Miss
4. Middle Tennessee at Army
Saturday, Sept. 5 at 1:30 p.m. ET
Saturday’s meeting in West Point is the first time Army and Middle Tennessee have met on the gridiron. The Blue Raiders are led by quarterback Asher O’Hara, who led Conference USA by averaging 306.2 total yards a game in 2019. O’Hara’s presence and production will be critical for coach Rick Stockstill’s program this fall. Middle Tennessee has just three returning starters on defense and ranked 11th in Conference USA against the run. Stopping the run is crucial on Saturday afternoon, as Army has finished in the top four nationally in rush offense in each of the last four seasons. Quarterback Christian Anderson made one start last fall and is set to direct coach Jeff Monken’s offense in 2020.
Predicted Winner: Army
5. SMU at Texas State
Saturday, Sept. 5 at 4:30 p.m. ET
SMU won easily 47-17 in last year’s meeting between these two teams. The Mustangs figure to have another big edge in 2020, especially with quarterback Shane Buechele back to pilot an offense that averaged 41.8 points a game last fall. Challenging for the AAC title is going to hinge on how well SMU reloads or improves on a defense that allowed 33.4 points a game in 2019. Texas State is hoping to take a step forward in coach Jake Spavital’s second year in San Marcos. Memphis transfer Brady McBride won the job over Tyler Vitt to start at quarterback, with the coaching staff hoping he provides a spark for an offense that averaged only 18.4 points a game in 2019. Texas State’s defense returns only four starters and gave up 32.6 points a game last fall. That’s not a good recipe with SMU up this Saturday.
Predicted Winner: SMU
Thursday, Sept. 3 at 8 p.m. ET
Central Arkansas had a chance to knock off some of its early-season rust thanks to last week’s game against Austin Peay in Montgomery, Alabama. But the going gets tougher for the Bears on Thursday night in a matchup against UAB. The Blazers bring back 19 starters and are Athlon’s pick to win Conference USA in 2020. A defense that held teams to 21.6 points a game last fall will be stingy once again. Offensively, a return to full health by quarterback Tyler Johnston III and running back Spencer Brown should pay off with an improved performance on the stat sheet for coach Bill Clark.
Predicted Winner: UAB
7. Eastern Kentucky at Marshall
Saturday, Sept. 5 at 1 p.m. ET – ESPN
This game wasn’t originally slated for 2020, but cancellations and a revamped schedule brought Eastern Kentucky to Huntington for the opener. Marshall should be one of the top teams in Conference USA’s East Division, but coach Doc Holliday’s team has a new starting quarterback in redshirt freshman Grant Wells. The favorable matchup against the Colonels should allow Holliday to get an extended look at his new quarterback – especially with Appalachian State coming up on Sept. 19. Eastern Kentucky plans to play eight games this fall, including a road trip to West Virginia next Saturday.
8. Houston Baptist at North Texas
Saturday, Sept. 5 at 7:30 p.m. ET – ESPN3
The Mean Green are coming off a disappointing 4-8 season, and coach Seth Littrell hopes the opener can answer a couple of key questions for 2020. The biggest: Who is the right pick at quarterback to replace Mason Fine? Both Austin Aune and Jason Bean are expected to play in this one, with the winner of the battle inheriting big shoes to fill. Houston Baptist nearly defeated UTEP last year (36-34) and will play three FBS opponents as part of its limited fall slate. Quarterback Bailey Zappe (3,811 yards and 35 TDs) and receiver Ben Ratzlaff (87 catches) will present some problems for a North Texas defense that allowed 32.5 points a game in 2019.
Predicted Winner: North Texas
9. Stephen F. Austin at UTEP
Saturday, Sept. 5 at 9 p.m. ET (ESPN3)
The Miners have won just two games under third-year coach Dana Dimel, but Saturday night’s game is a good opportunity to get 2020 started in the right direction. Stephen F. Austin finished 3-9 last fall but brings back quarterback Trae Self and receiver Xavier Gipson. The Lumberjacks lost to Baylor 56-17 last year in their only matchup against an FBS team. UTEP is rebuilding on both sides of the ball with just seven starters back. Dimel will need a steady performance from new quarterback Gavin Hardison, while leaning on a deep stable of running backs to hold off the upset-minded Lumberjacks.
Predicted Winner: UTEP