Top 10 college football games: Week 1
College football is back. Here are 10 off the best games to watch to kick off the season.
10. BYU at Virginia, Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU
It’s a make or break year for Virginia coach Mike London after an underachieving 2012 season. Along with several fresh faces on his staff, he will turn to redshirt sophomore David Watford as his starting quarterback. The Cavaliers will have a tough task getting off on the right foot against a BYU team on the rise. The Cougars’ offense is experienced, and the defense has the talent to be one of college football’s best again. Kyle Van Noy could make it a long day for Watford in the season opener. The Cougars’ senior linebacker tied for third in the nation with 13 sacks in 2012.
PREDICTION: BYU 28, Virginia 13
9. Utah State at Utah, Thurs., 8 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1
Before joining the Pac-12, Utah was the Cinderella story and BCS buster. Now, in-state rival Utah State has taken the spotlight. The Aggies snapped a 12-game losing streak to the Utes last season, and their two 2012 loses were by a combined five points. Even with coach Gary Andersen deciding to move to Wisconsin, Utah State shouldn’t miss a beat with quarterback Chuckie Keeton and a veteran team returning. Utah on the other hand has a number of issues heading into the season. Quarterback Travis Wilson will try to turn things around after the Utes finished 105th in total offense last season. The Aggies look to be in good shape to win back-to-back games in this series for the first time since 1996-97.
PREDICTION: Utah State 35, Utah 24
8. Washington State at Auburn, Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPNU
Auburn couldn’t be more ready to start making last season’s nightmare a distance memory and begin the Gus Malzahn era. Washington State also finished 3-9 in 2012, but a big win over rival Washington to cap Mike Leach’s first season gave Cougar fans hope for the future. Both coaches are some of the brightest offensive minds in the game, so it should be an entertaining high-scoring contest between two programs trying to get back on track.
PREDICTION: Auburn 45, Washington State 28
7. No. 19 Boise State at Washington, Saturday, 10 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1
Boise State has opened the last four seasons against a nationally ranked BCS opponent. The Broncos continued to prove doubters wrong, winning three of those contests, and coming up just short against Michigan State in 2012. This season they hope to start the same way they finished last year — beating Washington. The Broncos edged the Huskies 28-26 in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas, but Washington running back Bishop Sankey was the game’s MVP after rushing for 205 yards. He’ll have another shot to get the win this time when Joe Southwick and the Broncos come to town.
PREDICTION: Washington 34, Boise State 31
6. No. 11 Florida State at Pittsburgh, Monday, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
It’s a new beginning for Pittsburgh in a new conference and also with a new quarterback. Tom Savage, who made stops at Rutgers and Arizona before transferring to Pitt, won the starting job earlier this month. He’ll be thrown into the fire right away as the Panthers host Florida State in their first-ever ACC game in the season opener. The Seminoles will also be adjusting to a new quarterback, but coach Jimbo Fisher has yet to name if it will be freshman Jameis Winston or sophomore Jacob Corker. Either one will make the defending ACC champs a contender again with plenty of playmakers and offensive linemen returning.
PREDICTION: Florida State 42, Pitt 17
5. Mississippi State vs. No. 13 Oklahoma State, Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2
Mississippi State was 2012’s surprise team in the first half of the season. Then the Bulldogs were knocked back down to Earth once they hit the meat of their schedule, losing five of their last six games. We won’t have to wait until mid-season to find out if they’re for real this time as they open against Big 12 preseason favorite Oklahoma State in Houston. Mississippi State has quarterback Tyler Russell (left) back, but most of his favorite targets from last season at receiver are gone. The Cowboys never have that problem and it doesn’t ever seem to matter who is taking the snaps. Three quarterbacks started for OSU last season, but now there are only two left after Wes Lunt decided to transfer. The Bulldogs will have to be ready for both Clint Chelf (right) and J.W. Walsh.
PREDICTION: Oklahoma State 38, Mississippi State 28
4. North Carolina at No. 6 South Carolina, Thurs., 6 p.m. ET, ESPN
All the talk this offseason has been about Jadeveon Clowney (right) and the South Carolina defense. The Gamecocks’ star defensive end has been banged up during fall practice with a shoulder injury, but he’ll be ready for the season opener and put to the test early against a fast-paced North Carolina offense. Bryn Renner (left) is one of the most underrated quarterbacks in college football. He threw for 3,356 yards and set the single-season school record with 28 touchdown passes in 2012. But we’ll find out how effective Renner can be from the start without some key offensive players returning this season.
PREDICTION: South Carolina 37, North Carolina 14
3. Virginia Tech vs. No. 1 Alabama, Saturday, 5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Many are already penciling in Alabama for the BCS championship game, but coach Nick Saban will never let his team think they’re a lock for the three-peat. The Crimson Tide certainly have all the pieces to win their fourth title in five years. Quarterback AJ McCarron is back, and the defense will be dominate as usual. Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer’s team is in a much different situation. The Hokies are coming off their worst season in 20 years, which led to an offensive staff overhaul. This game sounds like it will be a blowout, but don’t be surprised if Virginia Tech makes it interesting. Beamer may still have a few tricks up his sleeve.
PREDICTION: Alabama 38, Virginia Tech 17
2. No. 20 TCU vs. No. 12 LSU, Saturday, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN
TCU earned its way into a BCS conference last season, but the Horned Frogs are still out to prove they can play with anyone. They’ll get another chance on the big stage against a SEC powerhouse in this year’s Cowboys Classic at AT&T Stadium. LSU is hoping to fix its offensive woes with new coordinator Cam Cameron coming in. He’ll try to light a spark in senior quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who struggled to get much going last season. Meanwhile, TCU is still working out its quarterback situation with the return of Casey Pachall from rehab. Unfortunately, the Horned Frogs will be without star defensive end Devonte Fields, who is serving a two-game suspension to start the season.
PREDICTION: LSU 27, TCU 20
1. No. 5 Georgia at No. 8 Clemson, Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, ABC
Here is Clemson’s chance. In a prime-time season opener, the Tigers can show the nation they are legit by knocking off one of the SEC’s elite. It should be an entertaining shootout with so much firepower returning for both teams on offense. The Tigers will have a veteran offensive line protecting quarterback Tajh Boyd, which will face a Bulldogs defensive line returning only one starter. UGA will have senior quarterback Aaron Murray returning along with nine other starters on offense. The winner of this top-10 showdown will get an early lift in the national title race.
PREDICTION: Clemson 31, Georgia 27