Despite the sport’s best attempts to distract us with a summer of talk about the transfer portal, realignment, NIL and governance, we’ve made it to college football season. Sometimes it can be hard to remember why we love sports, but a palate-opening fun Thursday night should have quickly refreshed the memory. Yes, real football is back and not too soon. In this semi-live blog, we’ll be tracking stats, rarities, and general craziness from week to week throughout the season. For now, here are three games to keep an eye on on the second screen while you watch your team on the big TV. Welcome back, football; We’ve missed you.
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NC State (-11.5) vs. ECU
Watch out for the ACC team going to a Group of 5 opponent in Week 1. Watch out for a Carolinas team going to Greenville (ask South Carolina, which barely survived such a season opener). pass). NC State brings in a lot of talent and quarterback Devin Leary as a constant force behind center. Replacing both offensive tackles can be a challenge early in the season, but the Wolfpack has its sights set on being a serious ACC challenger for the great Clemson this season.
UNC (-1.5)vs. Appalachian State
The Tarheels came out of the blocks slowly in Week Zero, with a halftime lead closer than they’d like over FAMU before getting things rolling after the break. Sophomore Drake Maye has his second start here and will be looking to build. But if the spread in this game is any indication, UNC should have its hands full with App State down the road. Shawn Clark’s Mountaineers gave Miami all they could handle last September in a two-point loss, and their only other losses last season came to conference champion Louisiana. App State has been a legitimate top 40 team every year under Clark with a solid defense year after year for much of the past decade. But to match UNC’s firepower, their new receivers will have to show up fast.
Colorado State vs. Michigan (-30.5)
Don’t expect the Rams to give the Wolverines much play, but pay attention to how quarterback Cade McNamara fares in this game. He may be last year’s starter, but his job is on the line in this game. The Wolverines will start him this week and JJ McCarthy next week in what Jim Harbaugh called a “biblical” approach to a QB career.
Oregon vs. Georgia (-17/Atlanta)
The champions are back, and they’re playing not far from home in what can hardly really be considered a neutral site game. Georgia’s tight ends should be the story this season, as the offense looks to adjust with veteran quarterback Stetson Bennett. The three-headed monster of Arik Gilbert, Darnell Washington and Brock Bowers represents a nightmare for the Ducks (and just about everyone else in college football). Fortunately for them, there is institutional acquaintance with former UGA defensive coordinator Dan Lanning taking over as head coach for his first game. Unfortunately for the Ducks, that works both ways, as starter Bo Nix is 0-3 against UGA in his previous matchups against them with Auburn, and his last two performances were particularly poor. He’s in a new place with new talent around him, and we’ll see how he fares against a new Georgia defense replacing the transcendent talent that propelled him to a national title.
Cincinnati vs. Arkansas (-6.5)
Cincinnati had its roster raided by the NFL, which is both good and bad, particularly when you consider it’s facing an SEC team on the road. Arkansas has been competent and fun under coach Sam Pittman and is one of the few teams to actually come back with a head coach and both coordinators for three straight seasons. The Hogs have continuity and identity and will try to intimidate the Bearcats on offense. But don’t expect Luke Fickell’s Cincy squad to go down without a serious fight if he loses.
Houston (-4) vs. UTSA
The dream season for the Roadrunners is in the rearview as they look to open this year with a big win in the state. But Houston has big aspirations this season, and even without running back Alton McCaskill, who was injured in the spring, this offense should light up the scoring. But it’s the defense the Cougars bring to the table that could give them more than enough to seriously contend for the G5 New Year’s Six spot at the end of the season, but the Roadrunners could be an early spoiler.
Utah (-2.5) vs. Florida
There is perhaps no worse type of opponent for Billy Napier to begin his tenure with than a Utah team planning to drag the Gators into a bar fight over 60 minutes of physical football. The Utes have Pac-12 title hopes in their sights and maybe even more if the season starts well. Expect Florida’s running game to be good, but the big question is how good is Anthony Richardson’s pass?
Army vs. Carolina Coast (-2)
If you like unique offenses, this is your game. The Army option is surgical in its accuracy, and the classic version of the triple. Coastal has a new-school approach with a great quarterback in Grayson McCall. Pay attention to the Andre Carter II army advantage, because the coastal schemes around the lanky defensive force will go a long way in determining how this game plays out.
Notre Dame vs. Ohio State (-17)
The Marcus Freeman era opens in the weekend’s marquee helmet game against a team many have targeted for the national championship game. How Notre Dame plans to defend Ohio State’s explosive passing attack will be fascinating. When he was in Cincinnati, Freeman’s defenses went man-to-man all day. That can be tough against Ohio state guns. As for OSU’s defense, look at how far along the transition is for new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles’ unit from a mostly single Cover 1 and Cover 3 team to something more multifaceted. Tightness has been Ohio State’s death knell against championship-level opponents in recent years.
FSU vs. LSU (-3/Sunday/New Orleans)
The weekend mystery box will open at the SuperDome on Sunday night. With new coach Brian Kelly and a Florida State team looking to return to expected heights, expect the unexpected in this game, but like last year’s opener between FSU and a Brian Kelly-led team, be careful to put too much value in the early season result.