Just 234 days ago, we were treated to the first ever College Football National Championship. The favorites, Alabama Crimson Tide and Florida State Seminoles, lost in the first round to set up the finale, where the Ohio State Buckeyes defeated the Oregon Ducks 42-20. It was a historic and eventful tournament and one that was well received with the public.
Now we are on the eve of a brand new football season and hundreds of teams across the nation have their sights set on the ultimate prize, the 2016 National Championship. Ohio State will defend their title with a number one ranking in the AP Top 25, followed by TCU, Alabama and Baylor in the top four.
With alumni, boosters and fans across the country already wearing their favorite team’s colors and greeting each other with a familiar expression such as, “Roll Tide” or “War Eagle,” the season is just about here. Let’s take a look at the premiere games in the first week of the college football season.
Thursday night #16 Georgia Tech and #22 Arizona open up with separate home games that should each result in blow out wins for both ranked teams. The intriguing game of the night will be when the Minnesota Golden Gophers host the 2nd ranked TCU Horned Frogs. TCU is going to be playing with a chip on their shoulder, as they expected, and believed, they were going to be in last year’s Championship bracket. Quarterback Trevone Boykin is coming off a 42-touchdown campaign last season where also threw for 3,901 yards. He will be in the conversation for the Heisman Trophy all season long. On offense, they are solid, returning 10 starters, but they do however only return two of their starting 5 defensive backs in their base 4-2-5 defense. The Horned Frogs ranked 75th in the nation in passing yards allowed last season and will need to improve to keep their top four ranking this year. Fortunately for TCU, in week one, they do not run into a high-profile passing game in the Golden Gophers. On the other side of match up, Minnesota will run the ball well but will need the passing game to contribute. I don’t see both facets of their offense clicking in week one, so it’s the perfect time for TCU to pounce. They should win this game by at least a touchdown, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the game were close going into the second half.
On Friday, three more ranked teams are in action with #23 Boise State hosting Washington, #5 Michigan State traveling to Western Michigan, and #4 Baylor taking the trip to SMU. All three ranked teams should win handily, especially Baylor. They are a whopping 35-point favorite with an over/under of 75. Baylor should put up the most points in the nation in Week 1.
Saturday is going to be an entire day spent in front of the television, as games kick off at noon and won’t end until the early hours of Sunday morning. 17 ranked teams will be in action, and just #21 Stanford, #20 Wisconsin and #15 Arizona State will open up on the road.
The marquee game of the night is #3 Alabama hosting #20 Wisconsin. In a game that would highlight the Saturday slate in any week of the season, fans are able to kick off the season right with this game. Alabama did loose some important pieces of last year’s campaign, including quarterback Blake Sims and wide receiver Amari Cooper, but Nick Saban is one the best, if not the best, recruiter in sports, so I expect his team won’t skip a beat. Hiss teams are known for great defense and power running, which is what we will see plenty of this year. Running back Derrick Henry is going to be one of 9 new starters on offense on Saturday. He rushed for 11 scores and 990 yards last season as a back up. Expect them to feature a heavy-dose of Henry in week 1.
They boast one of the strongest front seven in the nation and with starters A’Shawn Robinson, Jarran Reed and Jonathan Allen back, we can expect opposing offensive coordinators to throw plenty of headsets in frustration. Alabama has not lost a season-opener in 15 years, but they also haven’t played anyone the likes of this Wisconsin team. The Badgers open up as 11-point underdogs and with a new coach at the helm. After being blown out by Ohio State in the Big 12 title game, head coach Gary Anderson left the University and former Badger defensive coordinator Paul Chryst took over. He recently coached three seasons at Pittsburgh where he went 19-20. They do return some stud players on defense like Vince Biegel, but they also need to fill holes on offense now that their star running back Melvin Gordon is cashing checks in the NFL. They will get better as the season goes along, unfortunately, they face a hungry and upset Crimson Tide team who will look to make a statement on opening night. I expect Alabama to do more than cover this spread.
Another intriguing first week match up Saturday is #15 Arizona State traveling to Texas A&M. The only ranked team that is a Vegas underdog with a +3 spread, the Sun Devils head into Texas looking to improve on last season’s 10-3 mark, which included wins over four ranked teams. They have just about the whole defense back minus two starters, but they should be able to fill those gaps well. Offensively they return DJ Foster, a running back that tallied 1,081 yards and 9 scores last season, however, he will now be a full time wide receiver. They have the talent to make a serious run at the Pac-12 title and could finish as high as a top 10 team just outside of the final four. Texas A & M had a bad run defense last season, and that will be key in the opening game against a good running team in the Sun Devils. They have an inexperienced offense but one that is also dangerous and can score many points. They will turn the ball over a lot, but they should score just as much. I think the Sun Devils are riding too much momentum lately and A&M is in a downward spiral. I know Vegas predicts them to loose by 3, but I think Arizona State wins by a touchdown.
Finally, the reigning champions, the #1 Ohio State Buckeyes, will open up their season on Monday when they visit Virginia Tech. Maybe more intriguing than the actual match up will be how head coach Urban Meyer chooses to use his quarterbacks, Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett. Jones has started just three games in his collegiate career, but those games happened to be the Big Ten Championship and the semi-finals and finals of the 2015 College Football Playoff National Championship, Not only did he win all three games in convincing fashion, but he defeated Wisconsin 59-0, the #1 seeded Alabama 42-35 and then the #2 seeded Oregon 42-20 in the title game. Jones got the nod to start those three games once J.T. Barrett was injured. Barrett had thrown for 34 touchdowns, ran for another 11, only threw 10 interceptions and racked up 2,834 yards throughout the season. He is a very solid quarterback who can throw, and run, rushing for 938 yards last year as well. Both signal-callers are quality players, so it will be interesting to see how Meyer rotates them. I am also excited to see the return of running back Ezekiel Elliott who turned the college football world upside down in the championship game.
The Virginia Tech Hokies open up an 11-point underdog, with the over/under at 53.5 points. The VT defense is largely untested. They have some quality players under Frank Beamer and they boast the best pass rush and cornerbacks in the country. They should be in contention for an ACC title, but I don’t think they have enough to take down the top ranked Buckeyes on opening night. Last season they went into Columbus and lost 35-21 in week two. I see a similar score for Ohio State, but not for the Hokies. I just don’t see senior quarterback Michael Brewer putting up three scores in this game. As a junior he threw for 2,692 yards, but also threw 15 picks to just 18 touchdowns. He was also sacked 30 times. Ohio State should win this game 35-10.
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