College football does not return in full until next weekend, but there are two games Saturday night that will serve as an aperitif of sorts while we wait to gorge on a full slate of games over Labor Day weekend. Here’s a look at what to expect from Week Zero.
Clemson, Alabama unsurprisingly sit atop the AP preseason top 25
All times Eastern.
No. 8 Florida vs. Miami
When: 7 p.m.
Point spread (as of Friday): Florida by 7.
These Sunshine State stalwarts played annually until 1987, when the Gators’ increasing SEC schedule demands turned the series from a yearly battle into a more sporadic one: They’ve played only four times in the regular season and twice in bowl games since then. The Gators finished 2018 ranked in the AP top 10 for the first time since 2012, their offense showing signs of life for the first time since Urban Meyer’s departure earlier this century. The skill-position players who got Florida back on track — quarterback Feleipe Franks, running back Lamical Perine and a five-headed beast at wide receiver — all return, though the offensive line will get an overhaul. Eight starters return on defense, too. Since starting the 2017 season 10-0 (remember the turnover chain?), Miami has gone just 7-9. Mark Richt surprisingly stepped down after last season and has been replaced by his former defensive coordinator, Manny Diaz, who likely will have that side of the ball humming along as usual. The offense remains a question, with redshirt freshman Jarren Williams — he of three career NCAA passes in garbage time last season against FCS Savannah State — beating out N’Kosi Perry (six starts last year) and heralded Ohio State transfer Tate Martell for the starting quarterback job.
Arizona at Hawaii
When: 10:30 p.m.
TV: CBS Sports Network.
Point spread (as of Friday): Arizona by 11.
Wildcats quarterback Khalil Tate is one of the nation’s most thrilling players when healthy. Unfortunately, he spent a sizable chunk of last year battling ankle, toe and shoulder injuries and was a shadow of his 2017 self, when he rushed for 1,411 yards and 12 touchdowns. Arizona Coach Kevin Sumlin has liked what he’s seen from Tate in preseason practices, telling reporters recently that the difference between last year this one is “night and day.” Running back J.J. Taylor, who’s just 5-feet-6 but rushed for 1,434 yards last season, also returns and has an experienced offensive line (four returning starters) paving the way. A defense that surrendered big plays at a dismaying clip last season also should improve simply because of returning production, which could be a good thing considering that Hawaii quarterback Cole McDonald threw for nearly 4,000 yards last season and has almost his entire receiving corps back. But like Arizona, the Warriors’ young defense surrendered yardage in big chunks last year, with opposing teams averaging 35.1 points per game against them (109th nationally).
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