Ten Best Games for College Football Opening Weekend
The 2017 college football season won’t be messing around. From the very start, the upcoming season — so far in the distance it takes binoculars to see from damp and miserable February — features high-profile tilts between national powers.
Yes, from the very, very start. Week 1 of the 2017 season has been inked into calendars for years, ever since programs such as Alabama and Florida State, among others, decided to trade cupcakes for potentially season-making matchups against fellow championship contenders.
On the flip side, with these pairings comes the possibility of seeing those College Football Playoff hopes go up in the smoke. In the three-year history of the Playoff, just one team has lost in non-conference play yet gone on to reach a national semifinal.
That would be Ohio State in 2014, and the Buckeyes went on to win the title — so there’s precedent. But much is on the line even as early as the first week of the season.
In this week’s top 10 list, let’s look ahead to the kickoff to the 2017 season. A glance at the best games of the opening weekend begins with two teams pegged to rank among the best in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
1. Alabama vs. Florida State, Sept. 2 (in Atlanta)
Alabama’s nearly a consensus preseason No. 1, based on early polls, and the Seminoles aren’t too far behind. The winner — especially if it’s the Crimson Tide — will take an early turn behind the driver’s seat in the race for a Playoff berth.
2. Florida vs. Michigan, Sept. 2 (in Arlington, Texas)
After a disappointing end to last season, look for Michigan to explode out of the gate in this neutral-site matchup against a fellow blueblood. Is Florida overmatched? Of course not: Jim McElwain’s third team may be his best, especially if the offense cooperates. But this game looks like the Wolverines’ leaping-off point following an offseason spent focusing on last year’s narrow misses.
3. Virginia Tech vs. West Virginia, Sept. 2 (in Landover, Md.)
It’s an extremely intriguing matchup of former conference cohorts — long, long ago in the days of the Big East Conference — even if neither team is included among the top two favorites in its own league. What ties each team together is the feeling of building upon successful 2016 campaigns: Virginia Tech had a great first go-around under Justin Fuente, and Dana Holgorsen solidified his job security by leading the Mountaineers to a 10-3 finish.
LSU’s talent edge can’t be ignored. But as the Tigers find their rhythm behind a new offensive coordinator, Matt Canada, could the Cougars’ consistent approach yield a major victory? It’s something to consider: BYU’s style under Kalani Sitake should keep this one in striking range into the second half.
5. Texas A&M at UCLA, Sept. 2
A question: Which team needs a season-opening win more, the Aggies or Bruins? Kevin Sumlin again occupies shaky ground at A&M following another second-half swoon. UCLA’s 2016 season ran off the rails amid injuries and general ineffectiveness. The likely answer is A&M, but can Jim Mora and the Bruins afford another middling start?
6. Ohio State at Indiana, Aug. 31
Two story lines stand out among the many. One is the sight of Ohio State’s reworked offense under new co-coordinator Kevin Wilson, Urban Meyer’s choice to rejuvenate a tired attack. The second is Wilson’s matchup against Indiana, where he spent the previous six seasons before being fired in December amid allegations of player mistreatment. The question isn’t whether Ohio State will win. But how will the Buckeyes look?
7. Troy at Boise State, Sept. 2
This pits two of the best Group of Five teams. Boise State we know; the Broncos rank among the most consistent teams in the country. But Troy is set to make national noise out of the Sun Belt Conference, one year after its breakthrough under Neal Brown and his staff.
8. Appalachian State at Georgia, Sept. 2
Are the Bulldogs on upset alert? Absolutely. Though Kirby Smart’s second team should be drastically better than his first — good enough to be considered the favorite in the SEC East Division — Georgia will face a serious challenge from Appalachian State, one of the most balanced and effective teams on the Group of Five level.
9. Tulsa at Oklahoma State, Sept. 2
Oklahoma State has eyes on a Big 12 Conference title, a realistic aspiration for a team with this level of returning contributors and experience. But the Cowboys can’t afford to look past Tulsa, which won 10 games last fall under former Baylor assistant Philip Montgomery and should challenge for the American Athletic Conference crown in 2017.
10. Temple at Notre Dame, Sept. 2
This game lost some juice following Matt Rhule’s departure for Baylor, even if his replacement, Geoff Collins, should do a fine job with the foundation Rhule and his staff left in the place. The focus is instead on Notre Dame, which after a rare losing season begins 2017 with significant concerns about its future under Brian Kelly. To remove some of that pressure, the Irish can’t simply beat the Owls; they need to dominate.