After an eight-month offseason that seemed like 80, such were the wearying scandals that roiled the sport, college football at last returns to the field this weekend. Ohio State and Maryland will obviously draw gawkers to their season openers Saturday, but those games will be out of the way by midafternoon. There is a wealth of watchable college football sandwiched around those two curiosities, so let’s get to it.
All times Eastern.
|7||No. 21 Central Florida at U-Conn.||ESPNU|
|7||New Mexico St. at Minnesota||Big Ten Network|
|8||Northwestern at Purdue||ESPN|
|8||Wake Forest at Tulane||CBS Sports Network|
|8||Missouri St. at Oklahoma St.||Fox Sports 1|
|8||Weber St. at Utah||Pac-12 Network|
|8:30||Northwestern St. at Texas A&M||SEC Network|
College football’s opening Thursday night has never been about the glitzy powerhouses — you’ll probably never see Alabama playing on the Thursday before Labor Day — and as usual most of the teams kicking things off this season are either meat-and-potatoes FBS or paycheck-seeking FCS. We do have “national champion” Central Florida, kicking off its “defense” at Connecticut. Scott Frost left to coach Nebraska in the most obvious move ever, so the school tabbed another former quarterback who shined in the early days of the Big 12: Former Oklahoma signal-caller Josh Heupel, who if anything may make the Knights’ offense go even faster (he’s also serving as offensive coordinator, the same position he held at Missouri last season). He’ll have the pleasure of coaching quarterback McKenzie Milton, who — as SB Nation’s Bill Connelly notes — was plenty good against UCF’s strong opponents last season but devastating against the bad ones, and U-Conn. should again be pretty bad as Randy Edsall continues to build for seasons down the line. . . .
Northwestern-Purdue is the only game Thursday featuring two Power Five teams, and today I learned that the Wildcats have the nation’s longest active winning streak among major-conference teams (eight), which nevertheless wasn’t good enough to put them into the AP’s preseason top 25. Perhaps it’s because Northwestern has gone just 3-6 in the early going of the past two seasons (2-3 start last year, 1-3 in 2016). Justin Jackson, Northwestern’s leading career rusher, was a big part of the Wildcats’ three straight bowl berths, but now he’s off to the Los Angeles Chargers. Purdue, which hasn’t beaten Northwestern since 2010, got new life and its first bowl bid in five years last season, its first under Coach Jeff Brohm, but now the defense needs to be rebuilt and another step forward may have to wait.
We’ll learn little about Jimbo Fisher’s new team when Texas A&M hosts Northwestern State, which not only is an FCS team but an FCS team that hasn’t posted a winning season since 2008. We’ll learn far more next weekend when the Aggies host No. 2 Clemson, then travels to No. 1 Alabama two weeks after that.
|6||Syracuse at Western Michigan||CBS Sports Network|
|7||Utah St. at No. 11 Michigan St.||Big Ten Network|
|7||Army at Duke||ESPNU|
|9||Western Kentucky at No. 4 Wisconsin||ESPN|
|9||San Diego St. at No. 13 Stanford||Fox Sports 1|
|9:30||Colorado vs. Colorado St. in Denver||CBS Sports Network|
San Diego State-Stanford stands far above the rest on this limited slate. The Aztecs beat the Cardinal last season on their way to their third straight year with at least 10 wins and currently own a three-game winning streak against the Pac-12. Having 2,000-yard rushers in consecutive seasons (D.J. Pumphrey in 2016 and Rashaad Penny in 2017) will do that. Juwan Washington will attempt to become the third, and he’s averaged 6.6 yards per carry over his first two seasons. He’ll have a perhaps-dominant offensive line blocking for him, too. Bryce Love, meanwhile, is back for the Cardinal after his own 2,000-yard season and second-place finish in the Heisman Trophy race. He showed up to training camp a little bulkier and more adept as a receiver, which makes his possibilities for 2018 even more endless.
|Noon||Oregon St. at No. 5 Ohio St.||ABC|
|Noon||Florida Atlantic at No. 7 Oklahoma||Fox|
|Noon||No. 23 Texas vs. Maryland||Fox Sports 1|
|Noon||Kent St. at Illinois||Big Ten Network|
|Noon||Texas St. at Rutgers||Big Ten Network|
|Noon||Coastal Carolina at South Carolina||SEC Network|
|Noon||Ole Miss vs. Texas Tech in Houston||ESPN|
|Noon||James Madison at N.C. State||ESPNU|
|Noon||Villanova at Temple||ESPNews|
|Noon||Houston at Rice||CBS Sports Network|
|Noon||Southern at No. 16 TCU||MASN2 (in D.C. area)|
|12:20||Furman at No. 2 Clemson||WDCA-20 (in D.C. area)|
|12:30||Alcorn St. at Georgia Tech||NBC Sports Washington (in D.C. area)|
|3:30||Austin Peay at No. 3 Georgia||ESPN|
|3:30||Central Michigan at Kentucky||ESPNU|
|3:30||No. 6 Washington vs. No. 9 Auburn in Atlanta||ABC|
|3:30||Tennessee vs. No. 17 West Virginia in Charlotte||CBS|
|3:30||Appalachian St. at No. 10 Penn St.||Big Ten Network|
|3:30||Northern Illinois at Iowa||Big Ten Network|
|3:30||Washington St. at Wyoming||CBS Sports Network|
|4||UNLV at No. 15 Southern Cal||Pac-12 Network|
|4||North Carolina at California||Fox|
|4||UT-Martin at Missouri||SEC Network|
|4||Eastern Illinois at Arkansas||SEC Network|
|6||No. 22 Boise State at Troy||ESPNews|
|7||Cincinnati at UCLA||ESPN|
|7||Indiana at FIU||CBS Sports Network|
|7:30||No. 14 Michigan at No. 12 Notre Dame||NBC|
|7:30||Stephen F. Austin at No. 18 Mississippi St.||ESPNU|
|7:30||Middle Tennessee at Vanderbilt||SEC Network|
|7:30||Charleston Southern at Florida||SEC Network|
|8||Louisville vs. No. 1 Alabama in Orlando||ABC|
|8||Bowling Green at No. 24 Oregon||Pac-12 Network|
|8||Akron at Nebraska||Fox|
|10:30||UTSA at Arizona St.||Fox Sports 1|
|10:45||BYU at Arizona||ESPN|
|11||Navy at Hawaii||CBS Sports Network|
One has to think Oklahoma envisioned an easygoing victory to open the 2018 season when it added Florida Atlantic to the schedule in April 2015. But then Lane Kiffin arrived in Boca Raton and — as usual when Lane Kiffin arrives anywhere — all kinds of crazy stuff happened. Now Sooners-Owls is expected to be one of the more fascinating games of the weekend. FAU had won nine games combined in the three seasons that preceded Kiffin’s arrival; it won 11 in his debut season alone and hasn’t trailed since a game against Western Kentucky on Oct. 28. This year could be more trying, especially considering the Owls’ attrition at quarterback, wide receiver and on the offensive line, but running back Devin Singletary has rushed for at least 100 yards in 12 straight games and 15 of his last 18. Oklahoma’s defense was young and inconsistent last year and is only slightly more seasoned this year, and of course Baker Mayfield is off to the NFL, but the Sooners reload with the best of them. . . .
This much we know: Urban Meyer won’t be on the sideline for Ohio State-Oregon State as he serves his school-issued three-game suspension over his handling of abuse allegations lodged against a former assistant. This much we also know: The Buckeyes should have little trouble with a Beavers team that was, by most accounts, the worst Power Five squad in the nation last season and seems pointed toward a similar fate this season under first-year Coach Jonathan Smith. . . .
Washington enters the season with its highest preseason ranking since 1997 and one of the nation’s best running backs in Myles Gaskin, who already holds the program record for both rushing and total touchdowns and very well could supplant Napoleon Kaufman atop the Huskies’ career rushing-yards list when Washington plays Auburn in Atlanta (Gaskin will get there with just 52 yards). Standing in his way is a Tigers run defense that was mostly great last season and possibly could be better in 2018 (basically everyone returns from a unit that allowed only 3.63 yards per carry last season, second in the SEC behind Alabama). . . .
Michigan-Notre Dame feels like the kind of rivalry game that should be played with leaves falling to the ground and the Midwestern sky a drab color that isn’t blue, but in truth the teams haven’t played later than September since 1943. Then again, the teams haven’t played at all since 2014, so that’s a little weird, too. Wolverines Coach Jim Harbaugh has won 28 games over his first three seasons in Ann Arbor, but last year’s 8-5 rebuild got people thinking that maybe the hype he’s built isn’t exactly matching the results. There’s something to it: Michigan has beaten just one top 10 team and is 5-7 against top 25 opponents during his tenure (it’s 23-4 against everyone else). The Fighting Irish obviously rank far above “everyone else” among the minds of Michigan Men and Women, and a win Saturday could go a long way toward changing the narrative.
|7:30||No. 8 Miami vs. No. 25 LSU||ABC|
Miami football became fun again in 2017, their swag (the Turnover Chain) and swagger making everyone notice the Hurricanes for the first time in what felt like forever. But then Miami suffered injuries all over the place and dropped its final three games, and things got at least a little less fun. The Turnover Chain allegedly will be back in 2018 along with nearly 70 percent of its combined offensive/defensive production, so maybe the ‘Canes can do it again. Miami’s first test is an LSU team that has long been a haven for dazzling running backs but starts this year with a combined 61 career carries on its roster. The Tigers’ defense should be good as usual, however.
|8||No. 20 Virginia Tech at No. 19 Florida St.||ESPN|
First-year Florida State Coach Willie Taggart has compiled only a 47-50 record over his eight-season career but is 25-12 over his last three. Two of those seasons were at South Florida, where he went 10-2 in 2016 and established inroads with the state’s ample recruiting base. Whether he can keep that up in Tallahassee remains to be seen. When Jimbo Fisher resurrected the program at the start of the decade, Miami and Florida were both swooning and Clemson had yet to put the rest of the ACC (and the nation) in a bear hug. But the ‘Canes appear to be back, the Gators just hired a coach who somehow turned Mississippi State into an SEC contender (Dan Mullen) and the Tigers appear to be as immovable as Howard’s Rock. It’ll be a taller task for Taggart, in other words, and it starts with a Virginia Tech team that had one of the weirder summers ever.
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