We’ve almost reached the beginning of college football season. Here are the six best, most important, or just most fun games to watch in Week 1, because friends don’t let friends watch Stanford/Rice.
Washington/Rutgers: Friday, 2:00 ET
Let’s start with a fun little blowout. Michigan put up 78 points on this Rutgers team last year, so let’s see if:
- Washington can also complete the shutout, and
- Washington can beat Michigan’s high score.
Jake Browning’s lost the fastest receiver in the history of professional football, so he’ll have to find some other options in this game. Washington’s looking to start another playoff season with a bang. Rutgers is looking forward to 2018. This has all the potential to be a bloodbath.
- Odds Washington shuts-out Rutgers: 6/1
- Odds Washington scores more than 78 points: 12/1
Michigan/Florida: Saturday, 9:30 ET
This game is a torrent of question marks. Is this the year Michigan puts it all together? Is Florida going to be able to move the ball? Did Florida torpedo itself by suspending those seven players? Is Wilton Speight a real name? Did Florida really win the SEC East last year?
Oddsmakers have it pretty close, because it’s a mighty difficult game to predict. The last time the two teams met, in the venerable 2016 Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl, the Wolverines ran away with it, 41-7. A lot has changed since then. Florida won an SEC East Championship and might have even found a quarterback in Luke Del Rio. Michigan lost its entire team to the NFL draft.
To make things more complicated, Florida suspended seven players for misconduct, including leading receiver Antonio Callaway. For a team that has struggled to move the ball, against a team that fields one of the best defenses in the game, that could be crucial.
- Odds one of these teams makes the College Football Playoff: 4/1
- O/U number of times Jabrill Peppers is mentioned in the broadcast: 6.5
UCLA/Texas A&M: Sunday, 1:30 ET
Somebody’s going to get fired. I don’t know who. It could be Kevin Sumlin, who keeps putting together teams that collapse late in the season and disappoint Aggie fans; it could be Jim Mora, who brought in a quarterback prospect people actually call “The Chosen One” and has batted .500 since then.
It’s always fun when two air-raid teams square off against each other. Texas A&M loses the best pass rusher of his generation in Myles Garrett, so Josh Rosen might do a little better than his one-TD, three-interception performance in this game last year. He’s still going to have to throw the ball, because UCLA remains incapable of identifying, developing, or understanding the concept of a “running back.”
- O/U Josh Rosen pass attempts: 45.5
- Odds the losing coach is fired before January 1st, 2018: 13/7
Alabama/Florida State: Saturday, 2:00 ET
You have to watch this game because it’s important. It’s also going to be one of the best games played all year, between two teams with playoff aspirations. One of these two teams is going to spend the rest of 2017 trying to make Week 1 a “quality loss” and the other is going to become the #1 team in the country.
You also have to watch this game because it’ll be interesting: Alabama has been moving further and further from the very traditional offense they’ve run in years past, adopting some of the power-spread concepts that opponents have used against them. Last year, this meant depending on a true freshman to throw the ball and make complicated reads, and the team came up just short of the national title. With the hiring of Brian Daboll from the New England Patriots, will we see the Crimson Tide move back to a more traditional scheme? Is Florida State’s offense going to work without the impossible Dalvin Cook? Is Deondre Francois the real deal?
- Odds either Alabama or FSU makes the College Football Playoff: 8/11
- Odds someone calls FSU an “SEC-quality team” in the year of our Lord two thousand and seventeen: 1/99
Tennessee/Georgia Tech: Monday, 2:00 ET
Obviously, Tennessee doesn’t want to start its season 0-1. Butch Jones’ seat is warming up under him, and there’s only so many “Champions of Life” pennants you can pin up in Knoxville. Unfortunately, Georgia Tech really, really wants to win this one. The game’s in Atlanta, and Paul Johnson has built his career around upsetting brand-name teams with crucial flaws. If you’re a little shaky, you really don’t want to play a Paul Johnson team with nothing to lose.
Tennessee’s missing the quarterback they’ve been riding for the last three years. Josh Dobbs and the Volunteers offense managed to squeeze the defense out of some pretty tight spots last year, and with him gone, things are going to get real honest in Knoxville. This looks like a seven-win team, but one that could hover below .500 deep into November and drive Jones out of town quick. Just in time to hire up-and-coming FAU coach Lane Kiffin, that is.
- Odds Georgia Tech wins: 11/9
- Odds Butch Jones gets fired this year if Tennesee loses: 3/2
Louisville/Purdue: Saturday, 1:30 ET
We might have seen the most spectacular form of Lamar Jackson in 2016. Towards the end of the season, teams with stout defensive fronts found that they could clip Jackson’s wings by overwhelming the somewhat lacking Louisville offensive line, and more teams will adopt that strategy in 2017. Despite its struggles in 2016, Purdue has a legitimately stout front seven, coached by a new head coach known for such things, and featuring one of the best linebacking corps in the Big Ten. This game could thus be a good early test for Louisville to see if it’s made the right changes in the offseason to protect Jackson’s magic. It could also be the Lamar Jackson Show: Episode 9. And that’s always worth tuning in for.
- O/U Lamar Jackson touchdowns: 4.5