From Alabama-FSU through Houston Baptist-Texas State, these are the most and least watchable Week 1 games.
College football’s long offseason is officially over. The 2017 season kicked off with a small, five-game slate of games for Week 0 on Saturday, Aug. 26. While the five contests provided an excellent appetizer, the season kicks into full effect on Thursday, Aug. 31 and continues to Sept. 4 for Week 1 and 87 overall games.
With 87 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 87 matchups.
Here’s your complete viewer’s guide for Week 1 of the 2017 season:
Ranking All 87 Games of Week 1 of the 2017 CFB Season
87. Houston Baptist at Texas State (Saturday, Sept. 2 at 7 p.m., ESPN3)
Texas State coach Everett Withers hit the reset button when he arrived in San Marcos. The Bobcats were a young team last season and will be once again in 2017. Mississippi State transfer Damian Williams was slated to start at quarterback but was suspended in fall practice. He later returned, but Texas State’s quarterback situation is a mystery for the opener. Wins could be tough to come by in 2017 for the Bobcats, but this game should be a bright spot on the final ledger.
Prediction: Texas State
86. Hampton at Ohio (Saturday, Sept. 2 at 7 p.m., ESPN3)
Coach Frank Solich has guided Ohio to eight consecutive non-losing seasons. The Bobcats will make it nine in a row this year and should be neck-and-neck with Miami (Ohio) for the MAC East title.
85. Incarnate Word at Fresno State (Saturday, Sept. 2 at 10 p.m.)
Jeff Tedford has a significant rebuilding effort ahead in his first season at Fresno State. The good news? The Bulldogs shouldn’t have too much trouble with Incarnate Word. The main storyline to watch? The quarterback battle for Fresno State. How much will Oregon State transfer Marcus McMaryion play?
Prediction: Fresno State
84. Southeastern Louisiana at Louisiana (Saturday, Sept. 2 at 7 p.m., ESPN3)
These two schools are separated by just over 100 miles, but this will be the first meeting between Southeastern Louisiana and Louisiana since 1981. With matchups against Tulsa and Texas A&M up next, this game is critical for Louisiana to work out some of the kinks on both sides of the ball. The Ragin’ Cajuns are deep at running back and solid up front, but question marks remain about the passing game.
83. Tennessee State at Georgia State (Thursday, Aug. 31 at 7 p.m., ESPN3)
A new era for Georgia State’s football program begins on Aug. 31 with the official opening of the stadium formally known as Turner Field. The former home for the Atlanta Braves has been renovated into a football field, which should create a better atmosphere on gameday for the Panthers. New coach Shawn Elliott takes over after Georgia State finished 3-9 last fall, and the first-year coach has enough returning talent to push for a bowl trip or a finish among the top five in the Sun Belt. While the opener at Georgia State Stadium is a big night for the program, Tennessee State shouldn’t be overlooked. The Tigers went 7-4 last fall and feature a couple of FBS transfers, including former Florida quarterback Treon Harris and Clemson defensive end Ebenezer Ogundeko.
Prediction: Georgia State
82. Austin Peay at Cincinnati (Thursday, Aug. 31 at 7 p.m., ESPN3)
New Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell shouldn’t have to sweat too much in his debut. Austin Peay is led by promising second-year coach Will Healy, but the Governors went 0-11 last fall. This matchup should allow the Bearcats to get quarterbacks Hayden Moore and Ross Trail some extended work, as the battle to start went deep into fall camp. With a trip to Michigan up next in Week 2, Thursday night’s game is also a good opportunity for Fickell to get the first look at his roster in game action.
81. Rhode Island at Central Michigan (Thursday, Aug. 31 at 7 p.m., ESPN3)
The post-Cooper Rush era at Central Michigan begins on Thursday night, as the Chippewas take on a Rhode Island team that went 2-9 last fall. The Rams lost to Kansas (55-6) and was also crushed by James Madison (84-7) in 2016. The favorable matchup is a welcomed opener for coach John Bonamego’s team, especially with an ongoing quarterback battle between Michigan transfer Shane Morris and sophomore Tony Poljan. Sorting out the options under center is critical for Central Michigan with trips to Kansas Syracuse and Boston College, along with a game against MAC East favorite Miami (Ohio) looming in September.
Prediction: Central Michigan
80. Holy Cross at UConn (Thursday, Aug. 31 at 7:30 p.m., ESPN3)
Randy Edsall is back on the sidelines at UConn. Will the second act be as successful as the first go-around in Storrs? For that to be the case, Edsall has a lot of work to do over the next couple of seasons. The offense desperately needs a spark after averaging just 14.8 points per game last fall. The addition of coordinator Rhett Lashlee and junior college quarterback David Pindell should help this unit improve in 2017. A defense that returns six starters should rank among the best in the AAC. Holy Cross went 4-7 last fall and is playing its first game against a FBS opponent since 2002.
79. Abilene Christian at New Mexico (Saturday, Sept. 2 at 8 p.m.)
New Mexico led the nation in rushing offense last season and won’t slip too far from that spot in 2017. Look for the Lobos to have their way against an Abilene Christian team that finished 2-9 in 2016. New Abilene Christian coach Adam Dorrel went 76-8 and won three Division II championships in six years at Northwest Missouri State.
Prediction: New Mexico
78. Western Carolina at Hawaii (Saturday, Sept. 2 at 11:59 p.m.)
After a 5,000-plus mile trek to the East Coast for a Week 0 win at UMass, the Rainbow Warriors are back at home for Week 1 against Western Carolina. Dating back to last season, Hawaii has won four in a row and should extend (rather easily) that streak to five against Western Carolina (2-9 last year).
77. Lamar at North Texas (Saturday, Sept. 2 at 7 p.m., ESPN3)
Even though the final record read 5-8, the Mean Green showed marked improvement in coach Seth Littrell’s first season. Look for North Texas to challenge for a bowl trip once again, and the quest to six wins starts with an easy win over Lamar.
Prediction: North Texas
76. Alabama A&M at UAB (Saturday, Sept. 2 at 3:30 p.m.)
UAB football is back after a two-year hiatus on the gridiron. Coach Bill Clark’s team is a complete mystery with a roster full of new faces, but this program is in better long-term shape than before the shutdown. Alabama A&M went 4-7 last year, but the Bulldogs finished 15-8 over the previous two years.
75. Cal Poly at San Jose State (Saturday, Sept. 2 at 7:30 p.m.)
San Jose State was a heavy underdog against USF in Week 0, but the Spartans gave the Bulls a battle for a half. New coach Brent Brennan has a lot of work to do to get this team competitive in the Mountain West. However, the performance against USF showed plenty of positives to build upon for Week 1. Cal Poly owns one of the top rushing offenses at the FCS level and ranked No. 22 in Athlon’s projected FCS top 25 for 2017. This won’t be an easy matchup for San Jose State.
Prediction: San Jose State
74. Howard at UNLV (Saturday, Sept. 2 at 9 p.m.)
The debut of UNLV redshirt freshman quarterback Armani Rogers makes this game worth a look late Saturday night. The Rebels are also trending up under coach Tony Sanchez and should handle a Howard team that finished 2-9 last year.
73. Sacramento State at Idaho (Thursday, Aug. 31 at 9 p.m., ESPN3)
The 2017 season will be Idaho’s last as an FCS member. While this is the swan song for coach Paul Petrino’s team in the Sun Belt, the Vandals should be able to return to the bowl scene. Quarterback Matt Linehan is one of college football’s most underrated signal-callers and will ensure the offense doesn’t miss a beat despite a few losses in the trenches and at receiver. The Hornets are led by former Pac-12 assistant Jody Sears (with former Washington State head coach Paul Wulff working as an assistant coach) and finished 2-9 last fall. Look for Idaho to pick up where it left off in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
72. VMI at Air Force (Saturday, Sept. 2 at 2 p.m., ESPN3)
Air Force coach Troy Calhoun is one of the best in the Group of 5 ranks, and despite the return of just seven starters, this team will be a tough out in the Mountain West all year. Junior quarterback Arion Worthman is primed for a breakout season as the Falcons’ full-time starter. VMI hasn’t had a winning season since 1981 and has just seven wins over the last three years.
Prediction: Air Force
71. UC Davis at San Diego State (Saturday, Sept. 2 at 8:30 p.m.)
Replacing Donnel Pumphrey and a couple of key players on defense won’t be easy for San Diego State coach Rocky Long. However, the Aztecs still return one of the nation’s top tandems at running back in Rashaad Penny and Juwan Washington, and there’s no shortage of talent on defense. San Diego State should cruise to the Mountain West title game and have a shot at a third consecutive conference championship.
Prediction: San Diego State
70. Stephen F. Austin at SMU (Saturday, Sept. 2 at 7 p.m., ESPN3)
SMU just missed out on a bowl in coach Chad Morris’ second year. The Mustangs are a team on the rise, and with 11 returning starters – including All-America receiver Courtland Sutton – should post a winning record in 2017. Look for SMU to start the year off on an impressive note against Stephen F. Austin.
69. Albany at Old Dominion (Saturday, Sept. 2 at 6 p.m., ESPN3)
Old Dominion is a program on the rise under coach Bobby Wilder. The Monarchs are coming off a 10-win season and earned their first bowl trip in program history. Quarterback David Washington leaves big shoes to fill under center, but the one-two punch of Ray Lawry and Jeremy Cox is among the best in the Group of 5 ranks at running back. Albany ranked No. 20 in Athlon’s projected FCS top 25 for 2017.
Prediction: Old Dominion
68. Northwestern State at Louisiana Tech (Saturday, Sept. 2 at 7 p.m., ESPN3)
Louisiana Tech sophomore quarterback J’Mar Smith is a breakout candidate in 2017. Against a Northwestern State team that finished 1-10 last year, look for Smith to get the season started off in a big way.
Prediction: Louisiana Tech
67. Eastern Kentucky at WKU (Saturday, Sept. 2 at 7 p.m.)
WKU and Eastern Kentucky haven’t met on the gridiron since 2008. The Hilltoppers have claimed the Conference USA title in each of the last two seasons and start 2017 at the top of the league under new coach Mike Sanford. Quarterback Mike White needs to find new playmakers after losing his top two receivers from 2016, but this matchup against an Eastern Kentucky team that finished 3-8 last year is a good opportunity to tune up the offense.
66. Elon at Toledo (Thursday, Aug. 31 at 8 p.m., ESPN3)
Toledo’s high-powered offense should flex its muscles on Thursday night. Quarterback Logan Woodside (45 TDs in 2016) returns standout receivers Cody Thompson and Jon’Vea Johnson from a unit that averaged 38 points per game last year. Elon finished 2-9 last fall and is under the direction of a new coach in former Alabama, NC State and Pitt assistant Curt Cignetti. The Phoenix gave up 30.7 points per game last season and averaged only 12.2 points a contest.
65. North Carolina Central at Duke (Saturday, Sept. 2 at 6 p.m., ACC Network)
The Blue Devils handled North Carolina Central 49-6 in last year’s opener, and there’s little reason to doubt much will change in 2017. Duke quarterback Daniel Jones had a promising freshman campaign in 2016 and should take another step forward this fall.
64. William & Mary at Virginia (Saturday, Sept. 2 at 3:30 p.m., ACC Network)
The Cavaliers ended 2016 with a seven-game losing streak and getting off to a good start would help coach Bronco Mendenhall build momentum in his second year in Charlottesville. Even though William & Mary went 5-6 last season, Virginia can’t afford to overlook the Tribe. The Cavaliers lost 37-20 to Richmond in the 2016 season opener and open 2017 with remaining question marks on the offensive line, rushing attack and with a secondary that ranked 119th nationally in pass efficiency defense.
63. Southeast Missouri State at Kansas (Saturday, Sept. 2 at 7 p.m., ESPN3)
Kansas is trending in the right direction under coach David Beaty, but this team still has a ways to go after finishing 2-10 last fall. After winning two games in 2016, a step forward for the Jayhawks would be to simply double that victory total. New coordinator Doug Meacham was an outstanding hire this offseason to improve an offense that averaged only 20.3 points per game in 2016. Meacham’s top priority is identifying a quarterback after the battle between Peyton Bender and Carter Stanley went deep into the fall. Southeast Missouri State finished 3-8 last year and is 12-22 under coach Tom Matukewicz.
62. Jackson State at TCU (Saturday, Sept. 2 at 8 p.m., FOX)
With a matchup against Arkansas in Week 2, this game is critical for TCU’s offense to get on track. Quarterback Kenny Hill was up and down last season and needs to limit the mistakes. The Horned Frogs return seven starters on a defense that could be one of the best in the Big 12. This matchup against Jackson State (3-8 last year) is a mismatch.
61. Presbyterian at Wake Forest (Thursday, Aug. 31 at 6:30 p.m., ESPN3)
The Demon Deacons hope to build off last year’s seven-win campaign and Military Bowl victory. Coach Dave Clawson’s team returns a solid core with 13 returning starters. Junior Kendall Hinton and senior John Wolford offer two experienced options under center. Senior end Duke Ejiofor might be the nation’s most underrated defender after recording 10.5 sacks last fall. Presbyterian played two FBS teams last year (South Alabama and Central Michigan), losing by a combined score of 80-10.
Prediction: Wake Forest
60. Central Connecticut at Syracuse (Friday, Sept. 1 at 7 p.m., ESPN3)
Dino Babers’ second year at Syracuse should be a little better than the first. If quarterback Eric Dungey manages to stay healthy for the full season, a bowl isn’t out of the question. Top receiver Amba Etta-Tawo must be replaced, but the Orange return two potential All-ACC pass catchers in Steve Ishmael and Ervin Phillips. The defense is equipped with more depth and talent than last year but still remains a concern after giving up 38.6 points per game in 2016. Central Connecticut went 2-9 last year and the matchup with Syracuse is just the second game against a FBS opponent in program history.
59. Stony Brook at USF (Saturday, Sept. 2 at 4 p.m., ESPN3)
The Bulls started slow in their Week 0 opener against San Jose State but came alive in the second quarter to pull away for a 42-22 victory. Coach Charlie Strong won’t have to issue a halftime wakeup call to his team this week.
58. Missouri State at Missouri (Saturday, Sept. 2 at Noon, SEC Network)
Missouri State coach Dave Steckel is a name familiar to many in Columbia after working under Gary Pinkel from 2001-14. While Steckel is likely going to get a warm welcome, Missouri is a tough matchup for his FCS program. The Tigers averaged 49 points in non-conference play last season and return one of the SEC’s top offenses, including quarterback Drew Lock. With South Carolina ahead in Week 2, this game is an important tune-up for coach Barry Odom’s team.
57. Charleston Southern at Mississippi State (Saturday, Sept. 2 at 4 p.m., SEC Network)
Mississippi State lost in surprising fashion to South Alabama in last year’s opener. Don’t expect a repeat for coach Dan Mullen’s team. While all eyes will be on quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, the development of the Bulldogs’ defense is the biggest offseason storyline in Starkville. Charleston Southern has played three SEC teams over the past three seasons, losing 21-20 to Vanderbilt and 55-9 to Georgia in 2014 and dropping a 56-6 visit to Tuscaloosa in '15.
Prediction: Mississippi State
56. Grambling at Tulane (Saturday, Sept. 2 at 8 p.m., ESPN3)
The Green Wave are a sleeper team to watch under second-year coach Willie Fritz. Junior college recruit Jonathan Banks should provide a spark for an offense that averaged only 24.1 points per game last fall. Grambling went 12-1 last year and is led by Ole Miss transfer DeVante Kincade at quarterback. The Tigers put a scare into Arizona (31-21) last fall and won’t be an easy opening opponent for Tulane.
55. Fordham at Army West Point (Friday, Sept. 1 at 6 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
The Black Knights are trending up entering coach Jeff Monken’s fourth season at West Point. Last year’s team defeated Navy for the first time since 2001, claimed a bowl win over North Texas and finished with eight victories. Monken’s team is positioned for another bowl trip this fall but can’t afford to overlook Fordham. The Rams finished 8-3 last year and ranked No. 21 in Athlon’s FCS Top 25 for 2017. Army defeated two FCS opponents by a combined score of 122-10. This one figures to be a little closer.
54. Bethune-Cookman at Miami (Saturday, Sept. 2 at 12:30 ACC Network)
The showdown against Florida State in Week 3 looms large in Miami’s early-season slate. With Bethune-Cookman and Arkansas State up first, these two games are a good opportunity for coach Mark Richt to get new starting quarterback Malik Rosier live work with the No. 1 offense. The Hurricanes beat Florida A&M 70-3 last season in Week 1. Another blowout should be expected against a FCS opponent once again.
53. Northern Arizona at Arizona (Saturday, Sept. 2 at 11 p.m., Pac-12 Networks)
Arizona got a scare against a FCS opponent (Grambling) last year. And after a 3-9 record last season, coach Rich Rodriguez can’t afford a slow start in 2017. Expect the Wildcats to get the new year started off on a high note, as Northern Arizona finished 5-6 and lost to Arizona State 44-13 last fall. Two keys for Arizona this year: Improve a defense that surrendered 38.3 points per game and get more out of a passing game that ranked near the bottom of the Pac-12.
52. Montana State at Washington State (Saturday, Sept. 2 at 10:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
Here’s an odd stat: Washington State has lost its last two games against FCS opponents. Don’t expect that streak to run to three against Montana State (4-7 last year). The Cougars return one of the nation’s top offenses, but a few question marks remain at receiver after the departure of Gabe Marks and River Cracraft.
Prediction: Washington State
51. New Mexico State at Arizona State (Thursday, Aug. 31 at 10:30 p.m., Pac-12 Networks)
The Sun Devils open 2017 looking to rebound after last year’s disappointing 5-7 record. New Mexico State’s struggling defense (38.8 ppg last year) should allow Arizona State’s offense an opportunity for a fast start. But the big question remains for coach Todd Graham’s offense: Can Manny Wilkins hold off Blake Barnett for the starting quarterback job? New Mexico State running back Larry Rose is one of the Sun Belt’s top playmakers and is back to full strength after being limited to nine games due to injuries in 2016.
Prediction: Arizona State
50. Southern Utah at Oregon (Saturday, Sept. 2 at 8:15 p.m., Pac-12 Networks)
Coming off its first losing season since 2004, Oregon is looking to build momentum under new coach Willie Taggart. The Ducks have a favorable schedule to get off to a fast start, and there’s more talent in the program than last year’s record would suggest. Running back Royce Freeman is one of the best in the nation, and quarterback Justin Herbert is primed for a breakout season. Oregon’s offense rolls to a huge day against Southern Utah.
49. Florida A&M vs. Arkansas in Little Rock (Thursday, Aug. 31 at 8 p.m., SEC Network)
The Razorbacks are the only SEC team in action on Thursday night, and Bret Bielema’s program kicks off the year in Little Rock (as opposed to the home atmosphere in Fayetteville). This game is the first opportunity to get an extended look at the new 3-4 defense at Arkansas under coordinator Paul Rhoads. The Razorbacks struggled mightily on defense last fall, giving up 31.1 points and more than 200 rushing yards per game. Considering Arkansas should dominate this game, it’s hard to read too much into the numbers. But a good showing here would build some confidence for the Week 2 matchup against TCU. On the other side of the ball, this game is a good opportunity for Arkansas to work in some of its new receivers, as well as freshman running back Chase Hayden to spell starter Devwah Whaley.
48. Portland State at Oregon State (Saturday, Sept. 2 at 2 p.m., Pac-12 Networks)
Both teams enter this matchup looking to rebound after losses in Week 0. Portland State battled in a 20-6 defeat at BYU, while Oregon State fell 58-27 at Colorado State. Getting a victory here is essential for the Beavers in their quest to go to a bowl in coach Gary Andersen’s third year. New quarterback Jake Luton showed promise but was also up and down (27-for-47 for 304 yards, two touchdowns and three picks) in last week’s opener.
Prediction: Oregon State
47. ULM at Memphis (Thursday, Aug. 31 at 9 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
After an impressive 8-5 debut at Memphis last year, coach Mike Norvell has Memphis positioned as the preseason favorite (at least by Athlon Sports) to win the American Athletic Conference’s West Division. The combination of quarterback Riley Ferguson and wide receiver Anthony Miller is among the best in the nation. The biggest concern for Norvell remains on defense. The Tigers have holes to fill in the secondary and finished 10th in the AAC against the run last year. ULM improved late in the 2016 campaign during coach Matt Viator’s first season. Another step forward isn’t out of the question for 2017, but Viator’s team faces a tough schedule and needs more out of a defense that ranked near the bottom of the Sun Belt. Garrett Smith returns at quarterback after suffering a season-ending injury midway through the year, but he’s being pushed by sophomore Caleb Evans.
46. UMass at Coastal Carolina (Saturday, Sept. 2 at 7 p.m., ESPN3)
This matchup against UMass is Coastal Carolina’s first game as a member of the FBS. The Chanticleers finished 10-2 as an FCS Independent last season but return only eight starters and had a quarterback competition that went deep into fall practice. Additionally, coach Joe Moglia is sidelined for 2017 due to medical reasons. Offensive coordinator (and former Charleston Southern coach) Jamey Chadwell will serve as the interim coach. UMass fell just short in Week 0 against Hawaii, falling 38-35 after the Rainbow Warriors scored the game-winning touchdown with less than a minute to go. The connection of Andrew Ford to tight end Adam Breneman will test a Coastal Carolina defense with three new starters in the secondary.
45. Charlotte at Eastern Michigan (Friday, Sept. 1 at 6:30 p.m., ESPN3)
Eastern Michigan was one of the biggest surprises from the 2016 season. In addition to earning a winning record, the Eagles made their first bowl trip since 1987. Coach Chris Creighton’s team can take a step forward in the hopes of getting to a bowl for a second year in a row with a victory over Charlotte on Friday night. These two teams played last season, with the Eagles winning 37-19. EMU has to reload up front but features one of the MAC’s top quarterbacks in Brogan Roback. The 49ers are beginning their third season at the FBS level and hope to parlay last year’s four-win campaign into a winning mark in 2017. Coach Brad Lambert returns 12 starters, including quarterback Hasaan Klugh and safety Ben DeLuca.
Prediction: Eastern Michigan
44. Ball State at Illinois (Saturday, Sept. 2 at Noon, Big Ten Network)
With a roster still in need of major repair, wins could be tough to come by in coach Lovie Smith’s second season in Champaign. The opener against Ball State is one of the few games the Fighting Illini are likely to be favored to win in 2017. With WKU, USF, Nebraska and Iowa the next three games on the schedule, Saturday’s game is a must-win for Illinois. Ball State lost 30-20 to Indiana in its only matchup against a Big Ten team last year. The Cardinals have a second-year coach (Mike Neu), and junior running back James Gilbert (1,332 yards) will test an Illinois defense that is in rebuild mode up front and gave up 219.2 yards per game on the ground in 2016.
43. Bowling Green at Michigan State (Saturday, Sept. 2 at Noon, ESPNU)
Rebounding from last year’s disappointing 3-9 record starts on Sept. 2 for coach Mark Dantonio’s team. But with only five returning starters, a new quarterback, and question marks on both sides of the ball, the Spartans have a significant amount of preseason question marks. Bowling Green’s defense gave up 38.3 points per game last fall and should present a favorable opportunity for new Michigan State starting quarterback Brian Lewerke to get comfortable with his young receiving corps.
Prediction: Michigan State
42. Miami (Ohio) at Marshall (Saturday, Sept. 2 at 6:30 p.m.)
After an 0-6 start last year, Miami finished 2016 on a tear. The RedHawks won six in a row and barely lost to Mississippi State in the St. Petersburg Bowl. With 16 returning starters and one of the MAC’s top quarterbacks (Gus Ragland), Miami is the favorite to win the East Division. While Miami is on the rise, Marshall is a team looking to rebound after a disappointing 3-9 mark last fall. The three-win season was a stark drop from the 33 victories accumulated from 2013-15.
Prediction: Miami, Ohio
41. Buffalo at Minnesota (Thursday, Aug. 31 at 7 p.m., Big Ten Network)
P.J. Fleck’s debut in Minneapolis is one of the top storylines to watch on the first Thursday of action. The Golden Gophers boast one of the Big Ten’s top running back tandems in Shannon Brooks and Rodney Smith, but the quarterback spot remains a mystery. Conor Rhoda and Demry Croft are expected to share the duties in the opener. Will Rhoda or Croft emerge in game action as the clear No. 1 answer? Buffalo enters its third season under coach Lance Leipold with just seven wins over the last two years. The Bulls have a promising quarterback in Tyree Jackson, and a defense that should show marked improvement after giving up 32.3 points per game last fall. In its only game against Power 5 competition last year, Buffalo was dominated by Boston College 35-3. The Bulls should keep this one a little closer – but not enough to spoil Fleck’s debut.
40. Liberty at Baylor (Saturday, Sept. 2 at 7 p.m., Fox Sports 2)
Matt Rhule’s tenure at Baylor gets underway on Saturday against Liberty (and coach Turner Gill), a team in the process of transitioning to the FBS level. The Bears have new schemes on both sides of the ball, but Rhule and this staff should keep Baylor in the mix for seven wins. Senior (and Arizona graduate transfer Anu Solomon was named the starting quarterback for this game, with sophomore Zach Smith working in as the backup. Running back Terence Williams won’t play due to injury.
39. UTEP at Oklahoma (Saturday, Sept. 2 at 3:30 p.m., FOX)
The Sooners are heavy favorites (44.5 points) for Lincoln Riley’s debut. In addition to replacing Bob Stoops as head coach, Riley once again plans to call the plays for an offense that averaged 43.9 points per game last fall. Even though receiver Dede Westbrook and running backs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon must be replaced, Oklahoma’s offense remains one of the best in the nation with quarterback Baker Mayfield at the controls. UTEP finished 4-8 last season and must replace standout running back Aaron Jones and improve a defense that gave up 34.9 points per game last fall.
38. North Dakota at Utah (Thursday, Aug. 31 at 7:30 p.m. Pac-12 Networks)
Utah hasn’t lost a season opener since 2007, and coach Kyle Whittingham’s team should extend that victory streak to 10 in a row on Thursday night. As usual in Salt Lake City, look for the Utes to rank among the best in the Pac-12 on defense. The front seven is among the best in the nation, while the rebuilding effort in the secondary should be eased by All-America safety Chase Hansen (recovering from injury in July). In an effort to upgrade the offense (specifically the passing game), Whittingham hired Troy Taylor from Eastern Washington call the plays. Taylor is one of college football’s top offseason hires and ended fall practice with a surprise announcement at quarterback. Sophomore Tyler Huntley was named the starter over senior Troy Williams. Huntley only attempted seven passes in 2016 but is a future star for the Utes. The addition of Darren Carrington (Oregon transfer) was a huge pickup in the fall, giving Huntley a proven No. 1 weapon on the outside. While this matchup clearly favors the Utes, North Dakota shouldn’t be overlooked. The Fighting Hawks ranked No. 5 in the Athlon FCS Top 25 for 2017 and lost all three of their games by four points or less last season.
37. FIU at UCF (Thursday, Aug. 31 at 6 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
Scott Frost guided UCF to a six-game improvement in the win column in his first year as the program’s head coach. What’s in store for an encore? The Knights are the biggest threat to USF in the AAC East Division – provided Frost can find a spark for an offense that averaged 28.8 points per game last fall and rebuild a defense that returns only four starters. Former Miami and North Carolina coach Butch Davis returns to the sidelines on Thursday night in his first game at FIU. The veteran coach is in familiar territory and inherits a team that returns 14 starters from last year. The Panthers will be an intriguing team to watch in 2017.
36. James Madison at East Carolina (Saturday, Sept. 2 at 6 p.m., ESPN3)
This isn’t your normal FBS-FCS matchup. James Madison is the defending FCS champion and should be in the mix to win it all once again in 2017. East Carolina finished 3-9 in coach Scottie Montgomery’s first year and lost nine out of the final 10 games. In an effort to find instant help, Montgomery hit the transfer ranks. Gardner Minshew won the quarterback job, but Duke transfer Thomas Sirk will play, along with graduate transfers Gaelin Elmore (DL, Minnesota), running back Tyshon Dye and safety Korin Wiggins (Clemson).
Prediction: East Carolina
35. Eastern Washington at Texas Tech (Saturday, Sept. 2 at 4 p.m., FSN)
Patrick Mahomes is gone, but the Texas Tech offense isn’t going to miss too much of a beat in 2017. That’s due to the development of senior Nic Shimonek and a solid group of receivers on the outside. Shimonek played sparingly last season, completing 38 of 58 pass attempts for 464 yards and six touchdowns. Scoring points won’t be a problem for the Red Raiders, but coach Kliff Kingsbury has to find answers for a defense that has allowed more than 40 points a game for three consecutive years. The opener against Eastern Washington should be a good barometer test. The Eagles lost coach Beau Baldwin to California, but quarterback Gage Gubrud is one of the best in the FCS.
Prediction: Texas Tech
34. Central Arkansas at Kansas State (Saturday, Sept. 2 at 7:10 p.m., ESPN3)
The Wildcats will be an interesting dark horse team to watch in the Big 12 this year. With 12 returning starters, and the development of quarterback Jesse Ertz, Kansas State should factor into the conference title conversation. Central Arkansas ranked No. 17 in Athlon’s projected FCS top 25 for 2017, and the Bears knocked off FBS opponent Arkansas State last fall. However, winning in Manhattan against K-State is a tougher proposition.
Prediction: Kansas State
33. Northern Iowa at Iowa State (Saturday, Sept. 2 at 8 p.m.)
Northern Iowa stunned Iowa State 25-20 in last year’s opener. If the Cyclones want to go bowling in coach Matt Campbell’s second season, they can’t afford another upset loss. Quarterback Jacob Park is a rising star, and the Iowa State receiving corps is one of the best in the Big 12. Assuming Iowa State fills a few voids in the trenches, this team can contend for a bowl in 2017.
Prediction: Iowa State
32. Nevada at Northwestern (Saturday, Sept. 2 at 3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network)
After a disappointing 0-2 start last season, the Wildcats quietly rebounded to win six out of their last nine games. Can Northwestern avoid another slow start? Nevada is under the direction of new coach Jay Norvell, who plans to transition the offense to more of a spread attack. Alabama transfer David Cornwell is expected to get the nod under center for Norvell. However, the Wolf Pack suffered a significant setback on offense after running back James Butler decided to transfer to Iowa. After the departure of receiver Austin Carr, Northwestern needs to identify early on some targets for quarterback Clayton Thorson.
31. Youngstown State at Pitt (Saturday, Sept 2 at 1 p.m., ACC Network)
Bo Pelini’s Penguins nearly defeated Pitt (45-37) in 2015 and finished as the runner-up to James Madison at the FCS level last season. Needless to say, even though Youngstown State is replacing some of last year’s key cogs, this is a dangerous game for Pitt. The Panthers won’t have safety Jordan Whitehead (suspension), and this is the first game for the new quarterback (Max Browne) and play-caller (Shawn Watson) duo after losing Nathan Peterman and Matt Canada. With Penn State up next, Pitt’s offense needs to work out a few of the kinks before the trip to Happy Valley.
30. Georgia Southern at Auburn (Saturday, Sept. 2 at 7:30 p.m., SEC Network)
All eyes on the Plains will be on new Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham. The sophomore should be the missing piece for an offense that already has one of the SEC’s best rushing attacks and offensive lines. Georgia Southern is in need of a bounce-back season following last year’s 5-7 record. Second-year coach Tyson Summers wants to get the offense back to running the option, and the hire of coordinator Bryan Cook should help this unit in 2017. The Eagles also have intrigue at quarterback, as redshirt freshman Shai Werts is slated to make his first start on Saturday night.
29. Akron at Penn State (Saturday, Sept. 2 at Noon, ABC)
The Nittany Lions aim to pick up where they left off at the end of the 2016 season. Matching last year’s run to the Big Ten title and College Football Playoff push is certainly within reach for coach James Franklin’s team with quarterback Trace McSorley and running back Saquon Barkley returning for 2017. Akron earned a bowl victory and posted eight wins in 2015 but took a step back last fall with a 5-7 record. Coach Terry Bowden’s team has a tough assignment in trying to contain Barkley. The Zips ranked 107th nationally against the run and return just four starters on defense. Pulling off the upset is a lot to ask for Akron, but this game will be critical to assess how far along quarterback Thomas Woodson is after offseason shoulder surgery.
Prediction: Penn State
28. Kent State at Clemson (Saturday, Sept. 2 at Noon, ESPN)
The post-Deshaun Watson era at Clemson officially gets underway on Saturday, Sept. 2. Junior Kelly Bryant won the starting job this offseason and this matchup against the Golden Flashes is a good opportunity to build confidence before the Week 2 showdown against Auburn. In addition to Bryant’s debut, the development of Clemson’s running backs is another factor to watch on Saturday. Sophomore Tavien Feaster and junior C.J. Fuller are vying to replace Wayne Gallman at running back, and both players should get plenty of work against a Kent State team that went 3-9 last year and is picked to finish sixth in the MAC East by Athlon Sports. Expect Clemson to win this one... and rather easily.
27. Utah State at Wisconsin (Friday, Sept. 1 at 9 p.m., ESPN)
There’s some history between the Badgers and Aggies – at least in recent years. These two teams played in 2012, with Wisconsin escaping 16-14 in Madison. The coach for Utah State that year? Gary Andersen. And by the way, he just happened to take over the head coaching position in Madison from 2013-14 before leaving to replace Mike Riley at Oregon State. While the last meeting between the Badgers and Aggies was close, this season’s matchup should be more favorable for Wisconsin. Coach Paul Chryst’s team features one of the Big Ten’s best offensive lines, along with a talented stable of running backs to replace Corey Clement. The defense loses coordinator Justin Wilcox, and suffered a few losses at linebacker, but Chryst returns enough talent to keep this unit near the top of the Big Ten. After a 3-9 season in 2016, Utah State coach Matt Wells is under pressure to get this team pointed in the right direction. The hire of David Yost should help the offense, but both sides of the ball need to retool up front.
26. Boston College at Northern Illinois (Friday, Sept. 1 at 9:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
It’s a small sample size, but DeKalb, Illinois, hasn’t been an easy place for Power 5 teams to visit in recent years. Maryland (2003) and Kansas (2012) fell victim to the Huskies at home. Another home victory over a Power 5 opponent is certainly within reach for NIU on Friday night. After the first losing season for the program since 2007, coach Rod Carey is looking to get the program back on track. The quarterback position remains a concern, but the Huskies have one of the MAC’s top offensive lines and a solid group of running backs to lean on. However, running against Boston College isn’t going to be easy. The Eagles finished seventh nationally against the run last year, with All-America end Harold Landry leading the way. Coach Steve Addazio’s team also has an ongoing quarterback battle, with Darius Wade and Anthony Brown vying for the top spot. This one will be close.
Prediction: Boston College
25. South Alabama at Ole Miss (Saturday, Sept. 2 at 7:30 p.m., ESPNU)
Can the Jaguars make it two-for-two against SEC teams from Mississippi? South Alabama stunned Mississippi State last season and also knocked off Mountain West champ San Diego State. This is the first game for Ole Miss in the post-Hugh Freeze era, with Matt Luke leading the team for the rest of 2017. Expect the Rebels to showcase quarterback Shea Patterson and a deep receiving corps under new coordinator Phil Longo.
Prediction: Ole Miss
24. Washington at Rutgers (Friday, Sept. 1 at 8 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
These two teams met in the opening week last season, with Washington recording a dominant 48-13 victory over Rutgers. Expect much of the same this year, as the Huskies should be in the mix for a College Football Playoff spot, while the Scarlet Knights are looking for signs of progress in coach Chris Ash’s second season. Rutgers was shut out four times in 2016, but the combination of new coordinator Jerry Kill and graduate transfer quarterback Kyle Bolin should help this unit. However, Washington’s defense and offense will be simply too much to overcome or keep it close.
23. Houston at UTSA (Saturday, Sept. 2 at 7 p.m., Stadium) - Postponed due to Hurricane Harvey
This matchup is quietly one of the most intriguing games of Week 1. Houston is under the direction of new coach Major Applewhite, but there’s a strong foundation in place from former coach Tom Herman, including quarterback Kyle Allen and defensive tackle Ed Oliver. UTSA is a program on the rise under second-year coach Frank Wilson and has a chance to push Louisiana Tech for the C-USA West Division title. Linebacker Josiah Tauefa leads the way for a Roadrunner defense that ranked third in Conference USA in points allowed last year. He’s also one of the Group of 5’s top defenders.
22. Arkansas State at Nebraska (Saturday, Sept. 2 at 8 p.m., Big Ten Network)
The Cornhuskers are a team in transition. Adding to the challenge of a new quarterback (Tanner Lee), along with a defensive scheme change (3-4 under coordinator Bob Diaco) for coach Mike Riley is a road trip to Oregon in Week 2. Arkansas State is a dangerous Week 1 opponent for Nebraska, as coach Blake Anderson’s team has won 17 games over the last two years. The big concern for the Red Wolves in 2017 is a rebuilt offensive line that loses all five starters. The best defensive player on the field in Lincoln resides on the Arkansas State sideline with senior end Ja’Von Rolland-Jones.
21. Kentucky at Southern Miss (Saturday, Sept. 2 at 4 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
Can Southern Miss make it two in a row over Kentucky? The Golden Eagles knocked off the Wildcats 44-35 in Lexington last season, but both teams look significantly different than they did in last year’s opener. Southern Miss has a new quarterback (likely Kwadra Griggs) and only four starters are back on defense. Kentucky is coming off a breakthrough year (7-6) under coach Mark Stoops and hopes to take a step forward with 16 returning starters. Running back Benny Snell will challenge the Golden Eagles’ rebuilt front seven. Can Southern Miss slow Snell and force the Wildcats to win through the air?
20. Temple at Notre Dame (Saturday, Sept. 2 at 3:30 p.m., NBC)
The Fighting Irish are eager to erase the bad memories from last year’s 4-8 record. A revamped coaching staff, along with the emergence of quarterback Brandon Wimbush should help Notre Dame return to a winning record. Temple had its best two-year run in school history (20-8), but this program lost a good chunk of talent from last season’s AAC title team, and coach Matt Rhule left for Baylor. New coach Geoff Collins is a good hire and coordinated one of the SEC’s top defenses at Florida. The Owls head into the opener with uncertainty at quarterback and a revamped front seven on defense will have their hands full with a standout Notre Dame offensive line.
Prediction: Notre Dame
19. Tulsa at Oklahoma State (Thursday, Aug. 31 at 7:30 p.m, Fox Sports 1)
This battle between in-state foes has been branded as the Bank of Oklahoma Turnpike Classic and is the first meeting since 2011. Led by an explosive offense, Oklahoma State should be a Big 12 title contender this fall. Quarterback Mason Rudolph has the nation’s deepest receiving corps at his disposal, including college football’s No. 1 receiver in senior James Washington. Scoring points shouldn’t be a problem for Oklahoma State, but coach Mike Gundy’s team needs to shore up a defense returning only five starters. Tulsa also was dynamic on offense last fall, averaging 42.5 points per game. Coach Philip Montgomery’s team must replace quarterback Dane Evans, running back James Flanders and the team’s top two receivers from last year’s offense. But the cupboard is hardly bare, as running back D’Angelo Brewer (1,435 yards) and the AAC’s top offensive line return. Redshirt freshman Luke Skipper and sophomore Chad President are both expected to see time at quarterback.
Prediction: Oklahoma State
18. Vanderbilt at Middle Tennessee (Saturday, Sept. 2 at 8 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
Middle Tennessee knocked off one SEC East opponent (Missouri) last year and are less than a touchdown underdog for its home opener against Vanderbilt. The Commodores are trending up under coach Derek Mason, but linebacker Zach Cunningham is a huge loss for the defense. The battle between Vanderbilt’s defense against the Blue Raiders' offense – featuring quarterback Brent Stockstill and receiver Richie James – is the must-see matchup.
17. California at North Carolina (Saturday, Sept. 2 at 12:20 p.m., ACC Network)
Transition is the word to remember for this matchup. North Carolina must replace quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, running backs Elijah Hood and T.J. Logan, and three of the team’s top four receivers from 2016. Coach Larry Fedora brought in LSU graduate transfer Brandon Harris to battle with Nathan Elliott and redshirt freshmen Chazz Surratt and Logan Byrd for the starting quarterback job. Harris’ experience should give him the inside track, but Fedora may not announce a starter until pregame warmups. California hit the reset button after last year’s 5-7 record, with Justin Wilcox replacing Sonny Dykes as the program’s head coach. The Golden Bears are changing schemes on both sides of the ball, and there’s uncertainty under center. How will all of the new pieces fit together for both teams?
Prediction: North Carolina
16. Western Michigan at USC (Saturday, Sept. 2 at 5:15 p.m., Pac-12 Networks)
USC’s College Football Playoff hopes and Sam Darnold’s Heisman campaign officially begin on Saturday afternoon in the Coliseum. Western Michigan returns a solid core from last year’s 13-1 team, but coach P.J. Fleck left for Minnesota, wide receiver Corey Davis went in the first round of the NFL draft, and quarterback Zach Terrell expired his eligibility. Protecting Darnold with a revamped offensive line is critical to USC’s national title hopes. And the Trojans won’t have much game action for this unit to mesh, especially with a huge test against Stanford in Week 2.
15. Navy at FAU (Friday, Sept. 1 at 8 p.m., ESPNU)
In terms of intrigue for the first Friday night games of the season, it doesn’t get much better than this one. Lane Kiffin makes his debut in Boca Raton against a Navy program that ranks among the best in the American Athletic Conference in 2017. The Owls allowed 245.4 rushing yards per game last fall and will have their hands full against the Midshipmen's option attack. In an effort to upgrade the roster, Kiffin brought in a handful of transfers, including former Pitt tackle Jeremiah Taleni and junior college recruits/former Power 5 players De’Andre Johnson (Florida State) and DeAndre McNeal (Texas). Johnson was expected to claim the starting job under center, but he ended fall practice in a tight battle with Daniel Parr and Jason Driskel. Expect Kiffin to showcase running back Devin Singletary, who rushed for 1,016 yards on just 151 attempts last fall.
14. Maryland at Texas (Saturday, Sept. 2 at Noon, FS1)
The Tom Herman era in Austin gets underway on Saturday with a visit from another rising star in the head coaching ranks in Maryland’s DJ Durkin. The Longhorns have posted three consecutive losing seasons, but things should be different with Herman at the controls. The first priority for Herman: Settle on a quarterback. Sophomore Shane Buechele has the edge over freshman Sam Ehlinger but needs to get off to a good start. And on defense, Texas simply has too much talent to finish eighth in the Big 12 in points allowed. How much better will this unit look under new coordinator Todd Orlando? Maryland showed marked improvement under Durkin’s first season in 2016 but progress could be tough to come by in 2017. The schedule is tough, and there’s uncertainty at quarterback to open the season.
13. Troy at Boise State (Saturday, Sept. 2 at 3:45 p.m., ESPNU)
This matchup will get overshadowed by some of the neutral-site games in Week 1, but this battle between two of the top Group of 5 teams isn’t hurting for intrigue. Troy and Boise State each averaged just over 33 points a game in 2016 and return standout quarterbacks (Brandon Silvers and Brett Rypien, respectively). Both teams enter this game with preseason question marks on defense and up front on the offensive line. There should be no shortage of offensive fireworks on the blue turf.
Prediction: Boise State
12. Appalachian State at Georgia (Saturday, Sept. 2 at 6:15 p.m., ESPN)
Appalachian State should have Georgia’s attention. After all, the Mountaineers nearly defeated Tennessee in Knoxville last season. The Bulldogs are expected to challenge for the SEC East title in coach Kirby Smart’s second year. With a defense that returns 11 starters, along with the one-two punch of running back Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, Georgia has the necessary pieces to take a step forward in the win column. Of course, the Bulldogs still need to solidify the offensive line and passing attack. The strength of Appalachian State is a standout ground game and a defense that returns six starters. This veteran team won’t be intimated by a trip to Athens.
11. Wyoming at Iowa (Saturday, Sept. 2 at Noon, Big Ten Network)
This game is one of the sneaky-good matchups to watch in Week 1. Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen is projected to be one of the top picks in the 2018 NFL Draft and faces off against an Iowa defense that limited opponents to just 18.8 points per game last fall. In his only matchup against a Power 5 defense (Nebraska) last year, Allen tossed five picks on 32 attempts. The Hawkeyes' front seven is strong once again, but coordinator Phil Parker must replace standout cornerback Desmond King, while sophomore Manny Rugamba – a breakout candidate – is suspended. While the Allen versus Iowa defense is the top storyline to watch, this is the first game for the Hawkeyes under new play-caller Brian Ferentz. Expect to see the one-two punch of running backs Akrum Wadley and James Butler to be featured by Ferentz against a Wyoming run defense that allowed more than 200 yards per game in 2016.
10. Louisville vs. Purdue in Indianapolis (Saturday, Sept. 2 at 7:30 p.m., FOX)
Lamar Jackson’s Heisman defense begins on Saturday night, but that’s not the only intriguing storyline in this game. Purdue made one of the offseason’s best hires by luring Jeff Brohm to West Lafayette. Brohm produced some of the nation’s top offenses during his time at WKU and should provide a spark for an offense that managed only 24.6 points per game last year. However, the Boilermakers will have their hands full against a Louisville defense that features All-America cornerback Jaire Alexander and standout linebacker Stacy Thomas.
9. Colorado State vs. Colorado in Denver (Friday, Sept. 1 at 8 p.m., Pac-12 Networks)
The Rocky Mountain Showdown was a one-sided affair last season, with Colorado beating Colorado State 44-7. Expect things to be much closer this year. The Rams scored an impressive 58-27 victory against Oregon State in Week 0, with receiver Michael Gallup catching 11 passes for 134 yards. Gallup will challenge a Colorado secondary that must replace three standout defensive backs. However, the Rams gave up 456 yards to the Beavers and also figure to have their hands full against a Colorado passing attack that should rank among the best in the Pac-12. Quarterback Steven Montez is a breakout candidate, while the Buffaloes are deep at receiver.
8. Ohio State at Indiana (Thursday, Aug. 31 at 8 p.m., ESPN)
New Indiana coach Tom Allen has already indicated Thursday night’s matchup against Ohio State is the “biggest opener in the history of Indiana football.” In addition to the conference and new era implications for Allen, the Hoosiers are also welcoming Kevin Wilson back to Bloomington. Wilson was hired as the Buckeyes’ new play-caller following his dismissal at Indiana. He’s tasked with generating more big plays on offense, as well as getting quarterback J.T. Barrett back to his 2014 level of production. In a reversal of recent trends, Indiana’s defense – with Allen’s play-calling - should be the strength of this team in 2017. Can the Hoosiers find a way to slow down Barrett and generate enough production on offense against the Big Ten’s best defense?
Prediction: Ohio State
7. NC State vs. South Carolina in Charlotte, North Carolina (Saturday, Sept. 2 at 3 p.m., ESPN)
Both of these programs picked up consideration over the preseason as a sleeper team to watch in 2017. That designation is justified considering NC State returns one of the nation’s best defensive lines, along with eight starters from an offense that averaged 27 points a game last fall. South Carolina showed marked improvement in coach Will Muschamp’s first year and returns a strong supporting cast, including sophomore quarterback Jake Bentley. Expect this meeting to be significantly more entertaining than the 7-3 matchup between these two teams in 2009.
Prediction: NC State
6. BYU vs. LSU in Houston (Saturday, Sept. 2 at 9:30 p.m., ESPN)
BYU opened up the 2017 season with a 20-6 victory over Portland State. The Week 0 contest allowed coach Kalani Sitake to work out a few things, but the Cougars will need a better effort if they want to knock off LSU. The Tigers are not expected to have standout linebacker/end Arden Key due to a shoulder injury. However, LSU’s defense is loaded with athleticism and speed off of the edge, which will give BYU’s offense a lot of trouble. When the Tigers have the ball, the Cougars have to find a way to slow down running back Derrius Guice. While Guice is a Heisman candidate, the real intrigue with this offense remains at quarterback and in the passing game. How big of a difference can new coordinator Matt Canada make in his first year in Baton Rouge? Note: The location of this game is uncertain due to flooding from Hurricane Harvey.
5. Tennessee vs.Georgia Tech in Atlanta (Monday, Sept. 4 at 8 p.m., ESPN)
The Florida State-Alabama heavyweight matchup is generating most of the buzz from Week 1, but the other non-conference tussle in Mercedes-Benz Stadium between Tennessee and Georgia Tech should also provide plenty of entertainment value. Can the Volunteers slow down the Yellow Jackets’ option/flexbone offense? Tennessee’s defense was hit hard by injuries last fall and finished 11th in the SEC against the run. Adding to the concerns for coach Butch Jones is a preseason injury to linebacker Darrin Kirkland, who is not expected to play on Monday night. On the other side of the ball, junior Quinten Dormady is expected to start at quarterback over redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano. Behind running back John Kelly, the Volunteers should be able to take advantage of a Georgia Tech defense that ranked 10th in the ACC against the run last year. Will the Yellow Jackets establish their style of play and dominate the line of scrimmage and time of possession? Or can the Volunteers get a couple of stops and force Georgia Tech to play from behind and out of its comfort zone?
4. Texas A&M at UCLA (Sunday, Sept. 3 at 7:30 p.m., FOX)
Considering how critical the 2017 season is to both Jim Mora (UCLA) and Kevin Sumlin (Texas A&M), it’s appropriate these two teams meet in the season opener. Last year’s matchup between the Bruins and Aggies went into overtime and another tight contest should be anticipated. For UCLA, the return of quarterback Josh Rosen and the addition of new play-caller Jedd Fisch provide optimism after a 4-8 campaign last fall. But the biggest concern for the Bruins’ offense remains up front. Even without standout end Myles Garrett, Texas A&M has the talent in the trenches to disrupt UCLA’s offense. The Aggies also feature their share of question marks on offense, as Sumlin is set to break in a new starting quarterback (likely Nick Starkel), and this unit must replace three of the top four receivers. Expect Texas A&M to lean heavily on running backs Trayveon Williams and Keith Ford to win this one.
Prediction: Texas A&M
3. West Virginia at Virginia Tech in Landover, Maryland (Sunday, Sept. 3 at 7:30 p.m., ABC)
The Black Diamond Trophy will be on the line when West Virginia and Virginia Tech meet on Sunday night for the first time since 2005. Quarterback play will be under the microscope when this game kicks off. Will Grier transferred from Florida and will make his first start with the Mountaineers in this game. Grier’s arm strength should allow West Virginia to stretch the field more in 2017, but his first start presents some challenges. The receiving corps is a little shorthanded with Marcus Simms suspended for the opener, and Virginia Tech’s secondary is one of the best in the nation. For the Hokies, redshirt freshman Josh Jackson won the battle to replace Jerod Evans. Jackson faces a rebuilt West Virginia defense, but this unit reloaded quickly behind coordinator Tony Gibson last fall.
Prediction: Virginia Tech
2. Michigan vs. Florida in Arlington (Saturday, Sept. 2 at 3:30 p.m., ABC)
Points should be at a premium in this Big Ten-SEC matchup in Arlington. While the personnel has changed for both teams, Michigan and Florida each finished inside of the top 10 in scoring defense last fall. Additionally, both teams head into the opener with question marks on offense. There’s more stability under center for the Wolverines with Wilton Speight returning, while the Gators could play three quarterbacks in this matchup. Florida also is down one key playmaker, as receiver Antonio Callaway is suspended due to an off-field incident. Interesting sidenote: Michigan and Florida have met three previous times – all in bowl games and zero regular season contests.
1. Florida State vs. Alabama in Atlanta (Saturday, Sept. 2 at 8 p.m., ABC)
This matchup is already billed as the best opener in college football history. And considering what’s at stake and the players or coaches involved, it’s hard to argue that point. Alabama’s Nick Saban is the No. 1 coach in the nation, and Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher isn’t too far behind. These two programs recruit at a high level, and this game features a deep collection of individual talent. Sophomore quarterbacks Jalen Hurts and Deondre Francois are expected to take a step forward in their second year as the starter, while All-Americans like Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick and Florida State’s Derwin James are set to create havoc on defense once again. Also, these two programs will feature a handful of talented freshmen in this game, including five-star running back Cam Akers for Florida State. The battle in the trenches is likely to decide this game. The Seminoles need to get better play from their offensive line, while the Crimson Tide have a rebuilt front seven on defense.