The Cold Hard Truth: On Sports

Looking Ahead to College Football: Big Games in Week One

Looking Ahead to College Football: Big Games in Week One

BY Kevin Krest

@KevinKrest

With the college football season fast approaching, in the coming weeks I’ll be focusing on the sport in a number of ways. Starting out, it will be to shine the spotlight on the handful of top games for each week. My criteria for a Big Game are not necessarily rankings of the teams or even that the match-up will result in a close score. I’m more interested in highlighting those games that have some factor to create interest or entertainment value. You’ll have to wait until game week for any predictions.

Washington @ Rutgers: Washington is one of the best teams in the country, a conference champion and playoff semifinalist in 2016. Rutgers is one of the worst teams in the country, losers of their last nine games to close out last season, including four by shutout and two others where they scored only seven points. It’s not like the season started out all that well, either for Rutgers, traveling to Washington to open their schedule with a 48 – 13 drubbing by the Huskies. So why, you ask, is this game on the list, and the first one at that? West Coast teams don’t traditionally travel east all that well. The Friday night 8:00 pm EDT start will benefit the Huskies, but I’m still interested if the combination of the time zone difference combined with some overconfidence will affect their effort. Rutgers returns eight starters off a really bad defense, but part of that is the fact that their offense was rarely on the field. Improvement in one could benefit the other unit.

Alabama vs. Florida State, Atlanta, GA:  Many prognosticators have these two teams making the playoffs. I can see ‘Bama getting there even with a loss in this game, but the ‘Noles have a killer schedule and it will be tough for them to recover from a defeat and still run the table. If the experts are to be believed, Florida State has a plethora of young talent coming into Tallahassee, and Alabama, well, uh, hmm…okay, they’re Alabama. There are a number of commentators, myself included, who believe that despite recent SEC successes, the ACC was a better league in 2016. Not that Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban cares about that kind of thing, but the last second loss to Clemson out of the ACC in the national championship game could serve as a little bit of extra motivation.

West Virginia vs. Virginia Tech, Landover, MD: If you’re looking for dark horses on the national scene in 2017, this game features a couple of candidates. This is the renewal of a long-standing rivalry, with the teams meeting 51 times dating from 1912, and annually from 1973 – 2005, when Va. Tech joined the ACC.  Last season, the Hokies gave eventual national champion Clemson all they could handle in the ACC Championship  Game, then exploded for 35 straight points in the second half of the Belk Bowl to beat Arkansas. West Virginia went 10-2, with defeats at Oklahoma State and at home to Oklahoma before a disappointing loss to Miami in the Russell Athletic Bowl. The Mountaineers get Florida transfer Will Grier eligible at quarterback, but an inexperienced defense could be a problem.  After quarterback Jerod Evans left early for the NFL, Tech was left without any experienced signal callers. Who will emerge as the starter is still undetermined.

Michigan vs. Florida, Arlington, TX: After a 31 – 10 loss at Arkansas last season, the Gators had fallen to 4 – 2 in the SEC and head coach Jim McEwain’s seat in Gainesville was starting to get a little warm. But a big upset at LSU gave Florida the SEC East title and despite a drubbing from Alabama in the SEC championship game, the Gators throttled Iowa 30 -3 in the Outback Bowl and things are a bit more optimistic starting 2017. They will still need to gain more consistency on offense if they want to contend for a SEC crown and playoff spot. After faltering at the end of last season, Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines are expected to take a step back and for that reason, this game will generate a lot of interest nationally. Michigan only returns one starter from last year’s stellar defensive unit, but I’m certain Harbaugh will have some extra motivation to beat a SEC team.

BYU vs. LSU, Houston, TX: This is a so-called neutral site contest, but with Baton Rouge (the home of LSU) about four hours from NRG Stadium, it will seem more like a Tiger home game. LSU will be a heavy favorite, but BYU’s four losses in 2016 were at Utah, home against UCLA, to West Va. in Landover, Md. and at Boise State by a total of eight points. Head coach Ed Orgeron can’t let his LSU team take the Cougars lightly if they want to make some noise nationally in his first full year at the helm.

South Carolina @ NC State: These are two teams that went 6 – 6 in the regular season a year ago and haven’t been particularly relevant in their respective leagues in a while. So what is my fascination with just another early season interconference game between middling opponents? Both have a lot of experience coming back (South Carolina has seventeen returning starters, NC State sixteen) and my feeling is that at least one of them, if not both, will find a way to score a major upset at some point in the season. The Wolfpack was within a field goal of knocking off both Clemson and Florida State last season. South Carolina avoids the big boys in the SEC West, taking on Arkansas and Texas A&M instead of Alabama, Auburn or LSU. This could be a key non-conference win for one of them as the season plays out.

Texas A&M @ UCLA: The Aggies began a 6 – 0 start last season with a big overtime win over the Bruins, a team that was highly touted in preseason. But UCLA lost QB Josh Rosen for the season and won only four games while A&M went on their traditional late season swoon. This year, both programs are expecting better things but for that to happen, it will have to start with a win in the Rose Bowl. For UCLA, Rosen needs to return from injury and play like the Heisman Trophy candidate he was a year ago. For Texas A&M, they need to shore up a defense that despite having top overall NFL pick Myles Garrett, was among the worst in the nation. Both of these coaches need to show some improvement to keep their jobs, which is what makes this a compelling opening weekend inter-regional battle.

Tennessee vs. Georgia Tech, Atlanta, GA: Last year, Tennessee won their first five games, raising expectations to an unrealistic level, given the talent on defense. Then they did the unthinkable in losing to Vanderbilt to end the regular season. Georgia Tech righted the ship to win six of their last seven and return fifteen starters as they look to challenge for the ACC Coastal Division title. This is another SEC – ACC match-up with a lot on the line, especially for Volunteer head coach Butch Jones. Even though he scratched out nine wins, that loss to Vandy had to hurt in Knoxville. The Yellow Jackets will be playing about four miles from their campus, so it’s hardly a neutral site. However, Tennessee travels well and could have more fans in attendance than Georgia Tech. It won’t be the Battle at Bristol, but the Vols will still be looking to take out a Tech from the ACC for the second consecutive year.

 

[Photo: CBS Sports]

 

 

For more follow Kevin Krest on Twitter @KevinKrest and don’t forget to check out my new book, “Offsetting Penalties – A PK Frazier Novel” and my first two, “Illegal Procedure – A PK Frazier Novel” and “Roughing the Passer – A PK Frazier Novel”, available in print and e-formats at Amazon.com, iBooks and Smashwords.  Tune into www.WPFLRADIO.com at 8:40 am EST every Friday for my Beyond the Commentary segment on “Lou in the Morning” with Lou Vickery and Jonathan McMath.

Looking Ahead to College Football: Big Games in Week One
Copyright GoLong Media & The Cold Hard Truth: On Sports


Looking Ahead to College Football: Big Games in Week One

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