There’s nothing quite like the luminous return of college football.
While some of the action has already got underway, don’t fret—most of the highly-anticipated excitement in Week 1 of the college football season kicks into swing on Saturday, September 3rd. The season starts off with a bang with a great slate of games spanning around the country from Honolulu to Boston to the Bayou and everywhere in between.
Before I deliver the coverage for the games on tap, I must apologize for not putting together the preview earlier. A quick wrap-up of Thursday night’s action—11th-ranked Wisconsin badgered the Rebels (51-17), Kentucky and Louisville conquered their smaller school opponents by just 23 combined points, the Rockets and Yellow Jackets soared, Temple and the Sun Devils put on a show, No. 23 Mississippi State beat Memphis senseless (49-14) and the Orange of Syracuse outlasted Wake Forest in overtime fashion (36-29).
Now without further adieu, I present my Week 1 CFB predictions! Hope you enjoy! Be sure to tune into ESPN College Gameday and stay with us for the latest on analysis on college football!
The Golden Gophers will need to have their guns loaded facing a gradually rebuilding and far superior USC program in Pasadena. At the end of the day, Minnesota won’t have enough ammo. Lane Kiffin and the Trojans win in comfortable fashion. Prediction: USC 31, Minnesota 16
Marshall at No. 24 West Virginia (Sun, 3:30pm ET)
The Mountaineers have high hopes this season, but Geno Smith and company have a long ways to climb to enter the national conversation. West Virginia’s prolific offense bulldozes the Thundering Herd. Prediction: West Virginia 38, Marshall 14
Utah State at No. 23 Auburn (Sat, 12:00pm ET)
The defending National Champs will be lucky to finish fourth in their division this year and analogous to the Aggies of Utah State, the Tigers will also be lucky to make a bowl appearance. However, no luck will be needed to survive the wrath of the non-existent Utah State defense. Prediction: Auburn 30, Utah State 16
Florida Atlantic at No. 22 Florida (Sat, 7:00pm ET)
The last meeting held between Florida Atlantic and Florida was on November 17th, 2007, where the Gators swallowed the Owls whole, 56-20. Despite many lingering questions in a new regime under Will Muschamp, don’t expect very contrasting results this time around, either. Prediction: Florida 48, Florida Atlantic 14
Miami (OH) at No. 21 Missouri (Sat, 12:00pm ET)
Blaine Gabbert and the high-powered Missouri Tigers annihilated the RedHawks last year, 51-13. The offense is now led under James Franklin, a dual-threat signal-caller, who’s drawn comparisons to former Tigers star quarterback, the “Swiss Army Knife” Brad Smith. Prediction: Missouri 55, Miami (OH) 20
Akron at No. 18 Ohio State (Sat, 12:00pm ET)
Akron hopes to zip through this one-sided matchup and catch the Buckeyes caught off guard. But that’s not going to happen. New head coach Luke Fickell (say his name 10 times fast) will have the Ohio State ready to roll. Prediction: Ohio State 45, Akron 13
Youngstown State at No. 17 Michigan State (Fri, 7:30pm ET)
The Penguins face their toughest test on the year in Week 1 for the second straight season. Kirk Cousins and the Spartans could be a dark horse national title contender and easily take care of business here. Prediction: Michigan State 41, Youngstown State 10
South Florida at No. 16 Notre Dame (Sat, 3:30pm ET)
One of the marquee matchups of the week, this is an intriguing matchup and a trendy upset pick as well. The outcome could set the tone for each program this season. Both teams have the ability to pile points on the board, but look for this one to be dictated by the defenses. Prediction: Notre Dame 20, South Florida 16
Missouri State at No. 15 Arkansas (Sat, 7:00pm ET)
Tyler Wilson and the razor-sharp Razorbacks likely saw their title hopes shatter when Knile Davis suffered a season-ending injury, but his presence won’t stop the Hogs from beating up the Bears of Missouri State like they did back in the 2009 season opener, 48-10. Prediction: Arkansas 51, Missouri State 7
No. 14 TCU at Baylor (Fri, 8:00pm ET)
TCU has had Baylor’s number in the last three meetings, beating the Bears 17-7 on the road in the 2006 season opener, 27-0 at home in the 2007 season opener and 45-10 in Fort Worth again last year in Week 3. However, Baylor leads the incredibly highly-contested series, 50-49-7 and the Horned Frogs are on upset alert in this Friday night special. In a classic irresistible-force vs. immovable-object, Robert Griffin and the Bears stun the nation in the post-Andy Dalton era. Prediction: Baylor 34, TCU 30
Appalachian State at No. 13 Virginia Tech (Sat, 12:30pm ET)
Appalachian State has a history of making headlines with huge upsets and Virginia Tech of course fell apart to James Madison last season. Nevertheless, the Hokies won’t enter this game sleeping. This one will be over by halftime. Prediction: Virginia Tech 37, Appalachian State 3
East Carolina vs. No. 12 South Carolina (Sat, 7:00pm ET)
The Pirates look to give the Gamecocks a run for their money in this potential trap game. A night game, neutral field and both teams play ranked opponents the following week. Look for East Carolina to keep South Carolina restless, but no cigar. Prediction: S. Carolina 34, E. Carolina 24
Chattanooga at No. 10 Nebraska (Sat, 3:30pm ET)
Even if injured and aging alum Terrell Owens decided to show up and start in the line-up, the Mocs wouldn’t stay in this game for longer than 10 minutes. The Cornhuskers roll. Prediction: Nebraska 47, Chattanooga 0
UL Lafayette at No. 9 Oklahoma State (Sat, 7:00pm ET)
The Cowboys had little trouble wrapping up the Ragin’ Cajuns with a rope in last year’s meeting, dominating 54-28. The electrifying combo of Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon will be too much to tame and the Louisiana Lafayette defense leaves lame. Prediction: Oklahoma State 61, UL Lafayette 18
SMU at No. 8 Texas A&M (Sun, 7:30pm ET)
The Texas A&M Aggies lead the all-time series against the Southern Methodist Mustangs, 41-29-7. The Aggies have won six straight times by an average of 33 points and haven’t lost in the series since 1984. Texas A&M is the fourth team on upset alert this week. SMU has enough confidence, offensive balance and veteran talent to make things interesting. Not to mention the potential distractions with the SEC expansion conversation and primetime Sunday night time slot will play a factor. SMU won’t be able to shut down A&M, the team will have to play very smart, methodical football and force a couple of Aggie errors to really pull off the upset. Prediction: Texas A&M 31, SMU 23
San Jose State at No. 7 Stanford (Sat, 5:00pm ET)
If you’re watching this game on Saturday afternoon, you either love your Cardinal or Spartans or you’re in the front office of an NFL team that will be in the running for the Andrew Luck sweepstakes. Prediction: Stanford 54, San Jose State 7
UL Monroe at No. 6 Florida State (Sat, 2:30pm ET)
The Warhawks of Louisiana Monroe fly into Florida State in rather familiar territory having faced three ranked opponents three years in a row to open the season (No. 10 Auburn in ’08, No. 2 Texas in ’09 and No. 14 Arkansas in 2010). EJ Manuel and the ‘Noles have sky-scraping expectations this year and hope to run the table under second-year head coach Jimbo Fisher. Prediction: Florida State 49, UL Monroe 17
No. 5 Boise State at No. 19 Georgia (Sat, 8:00pm ET)
Choosing between the best games of the week that air at the same time is like choosing wings or barbeque—or, you know, the more commonly used phrase apples or oranges. Aaron Murray and Georgia have great talent and are chock-full of potential, but Boise’s star signal-caller Kellen Moore and the nation’s top defensive line leads the Broncos to a thrilling victory. Prediction: Boise State 30, Georgia 20
No. 3 Oregon vs. No. 4 LSU (Sat, 8:00pm ET)
Chip Kelly and the heart-stopping quick 3rd-ranked Quack Attack go toe-to-toe with Les Miles and the 4th-ranked LSU Tigers, who will be sure to have a few tricks up their sleeve. You’ll see everything from aforementioned blazing speed and jaw-dropping trick plays to head-scratching color schemes, attention-craving mascots and smokin’ cheerleaders to excellent play in all phases of the game in an arduous high-stakes battle for all four quarters in a neutral location. With the Tigers’ schedule, the team can afford a loss and still have a realistic shot at a national title if it runs the table the rest of the way. After what Oregon has gone through in the last few years, the program can ill-afford another loss to an SEC team and make a case to return to the big stage even with just one loss against a top five team in the season opener. The Ducks come in more prepared and prevail with smarter play and a better performance under center. Prediction: Oregon 25, LSU 22
Kent State at No. 2 Alabama (Sat, 12:20pm ET)
The Kent State Golden Flashes will be out of this game in a flash as the Crimson Tide rolls. Prediction: Alabama 56, Kent State 6
Tulsa at No. 1 Oklahoma (Sat, 8:00pm ET)
Last season I had the Sooners on upset alert more than any program. I received a lot of heat, but I knew the program would fall short of the National Championship as a one or two-loss team. While I firmly believe the schedule sets up to be extremely daunting, Oklahoma has a strong chance to run the table and might have even more drive after the recent loss at linebacker. Having the Seminoles and Missouri Tigers in the next two weeks could translate this test into a surprise trap game, but even if the Golden Hurricane make this game competitive, they won’t win…and also face Oklahoma State and Boise State in their next three games. Prediction: Oklahoma 65, Tulsa 27
Northwestern at Boston College (Sat, 12:00pm ET)
Since I missed two Top 25 teams (Wisconsin and Mississippi State), I’m going to pick a winner from two of the toughest and most marquee matchups outside of the Top 25. The Wildcats claw and scratch their way to a thrilling win here. Prediction: Northwestern 27, Boston College 21
UCLA at Houston (Sat, 3:30pm ET)
For the Bruins, this game can mean the difference between a bowl appearance or another missed opportunity. For the Cougars, it presents a mental markup of the program for 2011. The team believes 12-0 is a possibility, and if UH can get by UCLA and Case Keenum can stay healthy in his final season, finishing unbeaten is a realistic goal. The Cougars get revenge from last year’s 31-13 dilemma and win in classic Houston fashion—a shootout. Prediction: Houston 44, UCLA 41
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Verse Of This Piece: “Fools don’t care if they sin, but honest people work at being right.” — Proverbs 14:9
Game Updates (Friday Night): Michigan State defeated Youngstown State, 28-6. It wasn’t an impressive win by any means, but it was victory with conviction. Baylor shocked 14th-ranked TCU in an amazing thriller, 50-48. Robert Griffin III & co. put on a show against a defense that finished first in the nation for the last three years amd lead the Bears to overcome an astonishingly Houston Texans-type rally against the Horned Frogs. And to think the real action hasn’t even started! This is going to be one heck of a season!
Saturday Game Score Updates (3:55pm ET): Northwestern knocks off Boston College down to the wire, 24-17 without the services of Dan Persa. The Auburn Tigers escapes the Aggies of Utah State, 42-38 in amazing comeback fashion. Missouri handles Miami (OH), 17-6. Guess I was off on that game prediction, eh? The Boilermakers survive the Blue Raiders, 27-24. Penn State annihilates Indiana State, 41-7 and the Buckeyes took the Zips by storm in a 42-0 shutout.
Saturday Game Score Updates (4:55pm ET): The Hawkeyes pick apart the Golden Eagles, 34-7. ’Bama rolls past Ken State, 48-7. Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy provided a promising duo and showed a glimpse of what could be as lethal as when Ingram and Richardson were playing together. The Hokies hammered Appalachian State, 66-13 and Tulane defeated SE Louisiana, 47-33.
Games Going Into Halftime (5:00pm ET): USC is walking over Minnesota 19-3, Illinois leads Arkansas St 14-8, Florida State is pitching a 17-0 shutout over UL Monroe and Nebraska 20-0 over Chattanooga. Troy also leads Clemson in a good one and brewing upset, 16-13, Michigan is on top of Western Michigan 20-10, South Florida is winning without a fight against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, 16-0, North Carolina is all over James Mad 28-7 and Houston has a 17-14 advantage over UCLA.
Saturday Game Score Updates (6:55pm ET): Air Force takes care of South Dakota, 37-20. USC survives Minnesota in the final seconds, 19-17. North Carolina puts a beating on James Madison, 42-10. The Clemson Tigers dodge a bullet in a 43-19 triumph against Troy. Navy and Nebraska have their cupcakes and eat them too, both putting up 40 points (NEB 40, CHATT 7 and Navy 40, DEL 17). Florida State also won with ease in a 34-0 shutout against UL Monroe and Illinois beat up Arkansas State, 33-15.