College Essentials – Week 1

The first weekend of the college football season featured only two games where FBS teams squared off against one another and produced an upset right out of the gate.

Hawai’I had a great weekend, capturing the Little League World Series less than 24 hours after its largest university held off 17-point favorite Colorado State to start 1-0 in Mountain West play. Wyoming won its first game post-Josh Allen thanks to an impressive defensive effort in a 29-7 victory at New Mexico State.

We’re now off and running with every other team set to debut in games scheduled daily beginning Thursday.

Here’s a look at the games I’m most excited about between Friday and Monday, a top ten that you can’t miss and should be wagering on if so inclined.

Saturday, Sept. 1

Florida Atlantic at Oklahoma (-21/68.5), 12:00 p.m. ET, FOX: Points are expected to pile up here as early numbers have placed this total near 70 and the ‘over’ should still be a popular play. It’s Lane Kiffin vs. Lincoln Riley, two offensive masterminds, going at in a season opener, so they’ll have had plenty of time in the lab to show off a few wrinkles that could overwhelm the defense. The Owls are stepping up in weight class significantly and haven’t seen a quarterback emerge to take the reins, so that’s going to be a concern in a hostile atmosphere in Norman. It would spice things up if Oklahoma transfer Chris Robison starts for Florida Atlantic. Kyler Murray replacing Baker Mayfield was always the expectation, so now it’s time to see if the former elite recruit who never lost in high school can produce at a high level consistently before beginning his journey in the A’s farm system. The Sooners are laying a big number, so he’ll need to be sharp to keep this from getting too interesting. Impressive OU RB Rodney Anderson will shoulder a heavy load, but FAU’s Devin Singletary is also a pro. It’s expected to be sunny, so weather shouldn’t be a concern.

Washington at Auburn (-1.5/49), 3:30 p.m ET, ABC: This one reigns as the top matchup of the weekend given the rankings and title aspirations both harbor. Huskies QB Jake Browning has gotten a reputation as a player who struggles in the biggest moments and took a step back after a brilliant sophomore year, so we’ll see how he attacks his senior season. Counterpart Jarrett Stidham is a potential No. 1 NFL overall pick given his arm and athleticism. Going up against SEC defenses will test him weekly, but don’t sell Washington short. Taylor Rapp is a tremendous safety leading one of the country’s top secondaries to the table. If Greg Gaines is back to his old self up front, Auburn will have some trouble moving it effectively. The dome at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium takes any weather concerns out the window and certainly gives the SEC’s Tigers the edge since their fan base will help create a great atmosphere and make life difficult for an offense that will lean on elite running back Myles Gaskin. It’s easy to dismiss what looks to be the Pac-12’s top team entering the season due to the league’s lack of success over the past few years but that would be foolish in this case. Washington has the coaching talent to take advantage of a season opener in which Gus Malzahn may believe his defense is ahead of the offensive, potentially slowing this contest down.

West Virginia (-10/61) vs. Tennessee, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS: The Mountaineers have the nation’s most prolific returning passer in Will Grier and genuine Big 12 title aspirations, so it’s no surprise to see them as a double-digit favorite against the rebuilding Vols. There is significant SEC talent, especially on the defensive side of the ball, that West Virginia must contend with in order to move it. The prospect of WR David Sills and Gary Jennings helping Grier light up a Vols’ defensive backfield that will start a pair of true freshmen. New head coach Jeremy Pruitt can coach and scheme up a defense, but this will be a tough first test for him and his staff in Charlotte. Tennessee has entrusted Jarrett Guarantano over Stanford transfer Keller Chryst with the keys to the offense despite a shaky freshman season, so the offense is somewhat of a mystery. Thunderstorms are a possibility here as well.

Michigan at Notre Dame (PK/47), 7:30 p.m. ET, NBC: We’ve got ourselves a pick’em here in addition to the possibility of inclement weather, so I’d wait until closer to kickoff to pick a side in this potential classic. Jim Harbaugh is entering a critical fourth season in Ann Arbor and has his best quarterback since arriving back at his alma mater with Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson at the controls. Unfortunately, talented receiver Tarik Black has been ruled out for a few months with an injury so Michigan will be down a playmaker in South Bend. The Wolverines topped the country in pass defense last season and will pose a major challenge for Irish QB Brandon Wimbush with so many starters back. Sophomore Ian Book might get in a series if the junior incumbent can’t produce results early but has remained the backup despite helping take down LSU in January’s Citrus Bowl. There are plenty of moving parts here. The last meeting between these former annual rivals saw Notre Dame help usher in the Harbaugh era with a 31-0 home win in 2014 that spelled the beginning of the end for Brady Hoke’s tenure. How will Brian Kelly fare now? Whichever team loses faces a major buzzkill.

Louisville vs. Alabama (-24.5/60), 8 p.m. ET, ABC: Nick Saban has another tremendous defense in place, but the Crimson Tide will have to prove it on the field given the roster turnover. Redshirt senior Christian Miller and juniors Raekwon Davis and Anfernee Jennings are worthy leaders who should make life difficult for Lamar Jackson’s replacement, Jawon Pass. Bobby Petrino will have a strong offensive game plan in place with so long to prepare for a daunting challenge, so we’ll likely see this QB race between Heisman Trophy favorite Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts play out immediately. They’ve been listed as co-starters. The Tide are a 25-point favorite in Orlando, where rain is always a concern. Will having a new set of coordinators and a host of new faces derail the Tide or have them ready to show out. The ‘Ville will need standout WR Jaylen Smith to prove he’s a quick learner. He underwent an emergency appendectomy at the start of fall camp and is still coming along, which is unfortunate timing given the opening game opposition.

BYU at Arizona (-11.5/60.5), 10:45 p.m. ET, ESPN: The Cougars are looking to bounce back from their first losing season since 2004 and have chosen Tanner Mangum over highly touted freshman Zach Wilson to lead the offense out on the field in Tucson. Former Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin has taken over after the Rich Rodriguez era ended and promises to push tempo in order to make QB Khalil Tate continue to shine since he’s got Lamar Jackson-like skills. This should be compelling given where both programs are entering the season. BYU tight end Matt Bushman was a freshman All-American last season but wasn’t handed the starting job, which is likely a message thing. With WR Dylan Collie and RB Squally Canada in the mix, Mangum will have weapons to move the ball on the road. The speculation is he’ll have a long leash. The ‘Cats will have to give Tate time and room to work without suspended senior left tackle Layth Friekh after losing three starters to graduation. The other key returnee, center Nathan Eldridge, has been hampered by knee issues and may not be up to speed if he can go. Getting the offensive line prepared has been one of Sumlin’s top objectives upon arrival.

Sunday, Sept. 2

Miami, FL (-3.5/48) vs. LSU, 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC: The luster off the Bayou Bengals since they’ve been denied double-digit victories for four years and counting. The chances of Ed Orgeron changing that this season don’t look great and will be virtually non-existent if they fail at Arlington’s AT&T Stadium given the schedule ahead. LSU’s defense will have to replace a number of key figures but has a chance to again be solid with coordinator Dave Aranda at the controls. The Tigers have a new quarterback too, though Orgeron won’t say who he’s chosen between Ohio State transfer Joe Burrow and lightly experienced sophomore Myles Brennan. Miami hadn’t won 10 games since their 2003 team finished in the top-5 but won its first 10 last year in Mark Richt’s second season at the helm. They were beaten in their final three games last season but return plenty of talent on both sides of the coin, including QB Malik Rosier and RB Travis Homer. Rosier has been streaky, so improved consistency will likely end up being the key to this game and the Hurricanes’ season. Keep an eye on the matchup between UM receiver Ahmonn Richards and LSU corner Greedy Williams.

Monday, Sept. 3

Virginia Tech at Florida State (-7/57), 8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN: The Willie Taggart era in Tallahassee opens against one of his new conference’s top programs, so there’s the potential for a rough start. Of course, the ‘Noles could also hit the ground running if Deondre Francois can pick up where he left off before being injured last season. He beat out James Blackman for the QB job and has a lot of talent to work with against a Hokies defense that lost a significant amount of talent. Bud Foster is one of the best in the business but it’s tough to expect to put together one of his typical stingy units immediately, especially since this opener is on the road. In Josh Jackson, Virginia Tech has perhaps the ACC’s top offensive threat and is capable of stealing this one. The schedules ease up for both teams in the first few weeks, so this is no deal-breaker even though it doubles as a crucial league game right out of the gate. The winner is set up to go on a run, so our Monday night college fill-in carries major consequences.

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