With the demise of the BCS it’s tempting to jump right ahead to thoughts of the College Football Playoff.
The regular season still matters, though. By spring, every college football fan will be hungry for the first week of the season, not debates concerning selection committee criteria.
Week 1 of 2014 will be plenty of interesting games, not least of which the opener for the defending national champions and their opponent in the national title game.
Top 10 Games for Week 1 in 2014
*all games Saturday, Sept. 1 unless noted
Oklahoma State vs. Florida State (Arlington)
The defending national champions won’t ease into the 2014 season as they open with a Cowboys team that was in the driver’s seat for the Big 12 title until the last week of the season. The draft announcements are still trickling out for both teams, but Heisman winner Jameis Winston will be back for Florida State with plenty around him to make another run at the national title. Oklahoma State may be in a bit of transition, though. Clint Chelf is on his way out as a senior, and Josh Stewart declared for the draft via Instagram. A number of defensive stalwarts (Shaun Lewis, Caleb Lavey and Justin Gilbert) are also gone. Rising junior J.W. Walsh needs to prove he can hang onto the job.
LSU vs Wisconsin (Houston)
Who passes first? With the returning running backs spurning the draft, there might be a lot of reason. Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon rushed for 1,609 yards while LSU’s Jeremy Hill used a dominant bowl game performance to push his total to 1,401 yards. LSU continues its tradition of tough season openers, a run that’s included TCU, Oregon, North Carolina and Washington since 2009.
Clemson at Georgia
Don’t expect the offensive showdown that featured 72 points at Clemson to open 2013. No more Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins or Aaron Murray means this game will have a different character. Georgia running back Todd Gurley is still around, so that gives the Bulldogs the early edge.
Ole Miss vs. Boise State (Atlanta, Thursday)
A Boise State team without Chris Petersen will be a strange sight on the first day of the season, but Bryan Harsin has enough pieces returning in running back Jay Ajayi, wide receiver Matt Miller and linebacker Ben Weaver to contend in the Mountain West, but is it enough to beat Ole Miss? The Rebels’ star-studded freshman class is poised to take over as sophomores behind returning starting quarterback Bo Wallace.
Texas A&M at South Carolina (Thursday)
It’s a shame this game never took place during the last two seasons when it would have featured Johnny Manziel vs. Jadeveon Clowney. Alas, we’ll have to settle for two SEC teams whose division credentials are up in the air. New full-time starting quarterback Dylan Thompson has plenty of experience to go with running back Mike Davis. Kevin Sumlin has some rebuilding to do on offense with Manziel, offensive tackle Jake Matthews and wide receiver Mike Evans gone.
Arkansas at Auburn
Expect this storyline to get a lot of run early in the year: Is Arkansas the next Auburn? The Razorbacks went 0-9 in the SEC and return a stud running back (Alex Collins). Projecting another Auburn turnaround is impossible, but Arkansas improved late in Bret Bielema’s first season.
West Virginia vs. Alabama (Atlanta)
Nick Saban’s West Virginia roots may be the most interesting part of this game if the Mountaineers don’t make dramatic improvement from the team that lost to Kansas and Iowa State at the end of 2013. Alabama should be fine, but this is the start of the post AJ McCarron/C.J. Mosley era.
Penn State vs. UCF (Dublin)
UCF defeated Penn State at Happy Valley in 2013, so maybe Nittany Lions fans are happy to see this game played overseas, even if it means missing the debut of James Franklin.
Appalachian State at Michigan
Michigan fans will cringe at the rematch of the worst loss in Wolverines history, but if it’s any consolation, Appalachian State, despite moving up from FCS to the Sun Belt, isn’t what it was back in 2007. The Mountaineers are coming off a 4-8 season. Then again, Michigan isn’t what it was back in 2007, either.
Fresno State at USC/North Texas at Texas
USC’s Steve Sarkisian and Texas’ Charlie Strong make their debuts for their respective powerhouse programs against in-state bowl teams from 2013. Both should win their first games, but, hey, you never know.