Tyler Van Dyke (Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Miami (Ohio) at No. 20 Kentucky, 7 p.m. ET Saturday
Speaking of Mark Stoops, he’s pushed Kentucky into thin air. The Wildcats went 10-3 last season, which marked their second 10-win season since 2018. Their only other 10-win seasons were in 1950 and 1977.
Returning quarterback Will Levis was a big part of that success. The Penn State transfer threw for 2,826 yards and 24 touchdowns with 13 interceptions. He also became the seventh player in program history to amass more than 3,000 yards of total offense.
Miami (Ohio) has found consistency under head coach Chuck Martin, who is entering his ninth season. Since 2018, the Redhawks have finished .500 or better, including going 7-6 last year.
Kentucky is 21-1 in home openers against non-Power Five opponents. Levis and the Wildcats should have a great day.
Prediction: Kentucky 45, Miami (Ohio) 13
No. 23 Cincinnati at No. 19 Arkansas, 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday
This game is a pretty intriguing non-conference matchup for Week 1. The Bearcats are coming off a historic season as the first team from the Group of Five to make it to the CFP. Cincy’s 13-1 record was the best finish in the show’s history.
Arkansas finished 9-4, a drastic improvement from its 3-7 mark in 2020.
Cincinnati has a lot of talent to replace, including quarterback Desmond Ridder. The Bearcats also lost six starters defensively.
Their biggest question is whether head coach Luke Fickell can keep them relevant on the national level. Teasing Arkansas down the road would be a good start.
I think it will be entertaining for three quarters. But expect quarterback KJ Jefferson and the Razorbacks to finish late.
Prediction: Arkansas 38, Cincinnati 28
Illinois State at No. 18 Wisconsin, 7 p.m. ET Saturday
Wisconsin went 9-4 last season but missed the Big Ten title game. The Badgers return with just eight starters from last season, including just three on defense. Fortunately, star running back Braelon Allen and three offensive linemen are back.
Illinois State went 4-7 last season under head coach Brock Spack. The offense struggled, averaging just 252.4 yards and 18.4 points per game.
Wisconsin is 9-0 against FCS teams since 2006. We probably won’t get many conclusions about how the Badgers can compete in the Big Ten West, but Wisconsin should win big. Allen should have a good day too.
Prediction: Wisconsin 35, State of Illinois 6
West Virginia at No. 17 Pitt, 7 p.m. ET Thursday
College football fans rejoice. The rivalry coined the “Backyard Brawl” will be renewed as West Virginia faces Pitt for the first time since 2011. These rivals have played 104 games since their first meeting in 1895, and the Mountaineers have won the last three meetings.
Pitt won the ACC last season and went 11-3. The Panthers, however, have to replace two of their biggest stars in quarterback Kenny Pickett and wide receiver Jordan Addison, both of whom have been traded to USC. Head coach Pat Narduzzi hired quarterback Kedon Slovis from USC, so we’ll see how he fits into the new system.
West Virginia has been mediocre under coach Neal Brown, who is 17-18 in three seasons. The Mountaineers will initiate the transfer of Georgia JT Daniels behind center.
This could come down to which quarterback performs better. I like Slovis, who played 27 games for the Trojans over three seasons, and his experience in a tight, fun game.
Prediction: Pitt 24, West Virginia 21
Bethune-Cookman at No. 16 Miami, 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday
There has been a lot of buzz around Miami since Mario Cristobal was hired in December. It’s no secret that hurricanes are looking to become nationally relevant again. A former Miami offensive lineman, Cristobal went 35-13 over five seasons at Oregon and could be the answer. It’s likely one of the main reasons the Canes are the favorites to win the ACC Coastal Division this year.
Another reason is the return of starting quarterback Tyler Van Dyke. He threw for 2,931 yards and 25 touchdowns with just six interceptions in 10 games after starting the season behind D’Eriq King, who underwent season-ending shoulder surgery.
Hailing from the MEAC, Bethune-Cookman went 2-9 last season. These programs have met five times and Miami has won all five by an average of 39 points. Expect Van Dyke and the Canes to have a great day against the Wildcats.
Prediction: Miami 52, Bethune-Cookman 14