Week 1’s Ten Most Meaningful Matchups
The 10 Games that Matter Most in College Football This Week
It’s finally here – college football’s real Week 1! After a truly bizarre season last year, we are returning to some level of normalcy – although there could still be some COVID-caused interruptions – and everyone is back on the field…(even UConn although they maybe should’ve stayed home last week).
Each week, barring the real world intruding, I’m going to lay out the top 10 most meaningful matchups on the college football calendar and whooooo boy is this a tall task this weekend to narrow it down.
A quick reminder – I mentioned when I started writing on college football last year that the beauty of it is that it’s like a symphony with all the different conferences, teams and games joining together to make beautiful music all day Saturday from noon EST through as late as 2:00-3:00 AM Sunday morning. There’s even opening acts on Thursday and Friday nights – and sometimes even an earlier mid-week game. (I credit Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports with where I got the “Symphony”. My analogy was college football as a massive buffet which also works!)
The point is – unlike the NFL where (unless you have Sunday Ticket or RedZone Channel) you get at most two games at a time to watch – and often just one in a time slot – with college football, you can literally flip between 3, 4 or even 5-6 games during most of the day. For the uninitiated – or the casual fan – it can seem overwhelming – but if you keep reading me and take in some of the great college football writers, Twitter follows and podcasts that are out there, a sports and particularly football lover will realize it’s a dream come true.
So here’s my Week 1 Top 10 Most Meaningful in ascending order (all times EST):
10. #4 Ohio State @ Minnesota – 8:00 PM THURS on FOX – National television is a way of life for Ohio State but Minnesota rarely gets these opportunities. The Gophers wet the bed to open 2020 on national TV against Michigan and struggled all year to replicate their 2019 breakthrough. However, their team – particularly on defense – was ravaged by COVID protocols and opt-outs. Can they rekindle the magic from ’19? Meanwhile Ohio State is again stacked at multiple positions but breaking in a new (albeit talented) QB. The Buckeyes also need to improve defensively to win a national championship. I think they will and I think they’ll pull away after halftime to win this game comfortably.
9. #9 Notre Dame @ Florida State – 7:30 PM SUN on ABC – In the 1990’s and early 2000’s this rivalry helped define the sport’s modern era. Both programs have alternatively been through difficult times. Now Notre Dame appears to be on solid footing nationally – even if they won’t be as good this year as the last couple – while the Seminoles are trying to get untracked. QB Mackenzie Milton’s return to the field from catastrophic injury (for the Noles rather than for his original team UCF) is a must watch here as well.
8. #10 North Carolina @ Virginia Tech – 6:00 PM FRI on ESPN – If you’re eager to see if all the North Carolina hype heading into the season is real, this will be a pretty good test on the road in Blacksburg. Virginia Tech, meanwhile, goes into the season with questions about head coach Justin Fuente’s job security as well as who will play at some key positions. A close loss here may not doom Fuente, but a blowout could cause a downward spiral. Conversely, UNC could be in for a bit of a trap as they break in new skill position players and linemen. I’m betting UNC wins but narrowly.
7. #17 Indiana @ #18 Iowa – 3:30 PM on Big Ten Network (BTN) – Two top 20 teams trying to get off to a good start in B1G conference play. Indiana has been a great story the last two seasons and returns Michael Penix at QB. However, Iowa is always well-coached and disciplined and does very well at home. This may not be the prettiest aesthetically but it IS an important game for both teams.
6. Boise State @ UCF – 7:00 PM THURS on ESPN – Arguably the two most successful G5 programs on average in the past 10 years, facing off on Thursday night. Ohio St-Minnesota may get more casual fan interest, but this is the best matchup of Thursday night. Can the Gus Bus get rolling in Orlando or can Boise do what they did against FSU in 2019 and win a road game in muggy Central Florida?
5. #16 LSU @ UCLA – 8:30 PM on FOX – UCLA started the year off with a huge win against undermanned Hawaii. They look to be improving more and more as a program. Key for them in this game is if they can establish the run on LSU, who was bad on run defense last year but isn’t usually. If Bruins can’t run, not sure they can matchup well in the air. The Tigers should win this game but I would bet it won’t be a runaway, especially considering the trauma they’ve dealt with in the past week due to Hurricane Ida. A must-watch in the beautiful Rose Bowl – flip between this and Georgia-Clemson.
4. #21 Louisiana @ #23 Texas – 4:30 PM on FOX – Louisiana is legitimately good – I would argue they should probably be a few slots higher in rankings as they return everyone from a phenomenal team. This is Steve Sarkisian’s first game as Longhorns head coach and it comes with the pressure of facing what uninformed people could call an “upset” but it really wouldn’t be. I wouldn’t bet this with your money. I *think* Texas finds a way.
3. #19 Penn State @ #12 Wisconsin – Noon on FOX – two teams that really want to start the year off with a conference win. Probably more important for Penn State to get a win considering how bad their season was last year – but Badgers’ fans want to see if their team can take a big step back into more of a national contention space. I’m betting it’s a close game.
2. #1 Alabama vs. #14 Miami – 3:30 PM on ABC (Neutral Site – Atlanta, GA) – two brand name programs, obviously the Tide are the cream of the crop in the sport but are breaking in new QB, new WRs and a lot of new faces in general. Defense should be improved however. For Miami, can QB D’Eriq King look similar to his old self coming off of torn ACL in their December bowl game? Can the Canes throw the ball enough to loosen up run game? And, can Miami stop the run and for new QB Bryce Young and younger receivers to beat them?
1. #3 Clemson vs. #5 Georgia – 7:30 PM on ABC (Neutral Site – Charlotte, NC) – the best matchup of the day, two Top 5 teams. This should be your “main TV screen” game on Saturday night. I predict this is a game that could be Part 1 as I think both teams end up in playoffs. Georgia’s defense may be the best in college football and it feels like Clemson will have a small step down for a little while breaking in a lot of new or lightly experienced offensive playmakers. They are deep on defense as well however – I expect this to be a close Georgia win.
In addition, here’s games that didn’t quite make the cut – but are super watchable, fun matchups to flip between during commercials (something that I do constantly, annoying my kids who like commercials) – in no particular order:
Louisville vs. Ole Miss – 8:00 PM MON on ESPN (Neutral Site – Atlanta, GA) – (should be lots of points between two teams trying to get back into the mid-to-upper tier of their conferences.)
Fresno State @ #11 Oregon – 2:00 PM on PAC-12 Network (possible upset potential)
San Jose State @ #15 USC – 5:00 PM on PAC-12 Network (another game that could be tight for three quarters)
Nevada @ California – 10:30 PM on FS1 (I’m calling this – upset special)
West Virginia @ Maryland – 3:30 PM on ESPN (An old rivalry rekindled – both teams need a fast start to season, but especially the Terps)
Texas Tech @ Houston – 7:00 PM on ESPN (Two teams that need to start off the year with a win for a lot of reasons)
Marshall @ Navy – 3:30 PM CBSSN (Two really good G5 programs – Navy had a down year, looking to rebound, Marshall breaking in new coach)
If you’re ever looking for how to watch even an obscure FBS or FCS game, by the way, the heroes at LSUFootball.net do incredible work laying it out for us way in advance, monitoring even constantly changing streaming/ESPN+ schedules to keep us all up to date.
Enjoy this weekend – college football’s back! Be sure to follow along with me on Twitter @ReadyCFB for witty remarks, live tweeting and questioning stupid things announcers say and/or coaches do!