GOOOOOOD MORNING, FOOTBALL FANS! Yes, we’re a day early with our “Friday Football Thoughts” this week, but with 16 games kicking off today (including one of the games we’ll talk about below), we couldn’t let you go uninformed!
So without further ado, here are a few games we’ll be watching this weekend, as college football officially kicks off the 2019 season in Week 1…
Game You Can’t Miss: (11)Oregon vs. (16)Auburn
Saturday, August 31 @ 7:30pm EST
AT&T Stadium (Arlington, TX)
ESPN Spread: Oregon -3.5
Clashes between two top-25 teams in Week 1 have become commonplace in the college game - but it’s rare to get battles between two top 25 teams whose preseason outlooks tell such interesting stories...
For Oregon, a seemingly cosmic rise in the ‘00s and early 2010s catapulted them into the same sphere as some of college football’s most storied programs. Yet, since their national championship loss to Ohio State in the first year of the College Football Playoff… we haven’t really seen them return to form. In fact, they haven’t won a Pac-12 title since 2014 - and their slight dip in national prominence has actually coincided with a similar dip for the West Coast’s top conference overall.
But beginning on Saturday, all of that can change. With senior QB Justin Herbert looking primed to step into the national spotlight, an experienced offensive line that highlights the nation's 32nd-ranked returning production, and the school’s best ever recruiting class... the Ducks are not only the favorite to win the Pac-12 once again this season, they’re a favorite to etch their names back into the history books with a CFP berth come season’s end.
Standing in their way, however, will be Auburn - whose strangely disappointing 2018 has once again left head coach Gus Malzahn on the hot seat, as the Tigers try to climb back up the ladder in the absolutely brutal SEC West.
And unlike Oregon, they’ll be entering Saturday with their biggest quest mark under center, as true freshman QB Bo Nix gets the call amidst the hottest spotlight in his young career. That youth isn’t unique to the quarterback, however - sophomore JarTarvious Whitlow figures to be the top RB in the backfield, while the loss of receivers Ryan Davis and Darius Slayton makes the performance of Seth Williams and Anthony Schwartz all the more important heading into 2019.
Still, if Auburn is to come out on top, it will need to begin on defense - primarily one of the country’s best defensive lines, led by Derrick Brown, whose 10.5 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks in 2018 make him the anchor of this unit.
Game I’m Most Intrigued By: (4)Oklahoma vs. Houston
Sunday, September 1 @ 7:30pm EST
ESPN Spread: Oklahoma -23
I’ve written about this game a few times now, and the closer it gets, the more I’ll say it: I’ve just got a feeling about this one.
Oklahoma’s is a system offense, and one that should, if logic holds, be able to once again land near the top of the country, at least in terms of production. They’ll add Jalen Hurts into the spot vacated by Kyler Murray's departure to the NFL - and lest we forget that Hurts will have preseason All-American Ceedee Lamb to throw to. All signs indicate that they’ll once again be one of the country’s best.
So what’s got me itching on this game?
Oklahoma’s lack of returning production, for one, which lands 109th in the country. Among those lost are four star offensive linemen (two All-Americans and two All-B1G plays), and leading receiver Marquise Brown, who nabbed more than 1,300 yards and 10 TDs alongside Lamb last season.
Plus, their defense, long a weak spot for Lincoln Riley’s squad, will have to adjust to a new defensive coordinator… and Houston isn’t the team you want to be facing if your defense isn’t firing on all cylinders.
The Cougars are experienced (82% returning production, good for 13th), and with QB D’Eriq King under center, they’ll be an explosive, high-flying team looking to make a statement early... and send shockwaves through the college football landscape.
Game to Turn On and See How It Goes: (1)Clemson vs. Georgia Tech
Thursday, August 29 @ 8:00pm EST
Memorial Stadium (Death Valley)
ESPN Spread: Clemson -36.5
No, I don’t expect for Clemson to fall to Georgia Tech in Death Valley - in fact, by most accounts the likelihood of Clemson losing to *checks* anyone this season is highly unlikely. But that doesn’t mean this game doesn’t have a bit of intrigue built in.
For starters, consider that for the first time in over 10 years, the Yellow Jackets will feature a name other than Paul Johnson roaming their sidelines. And without Johnson, we’ll also be losing the triple option attack that defined this program all of the previous decade.
First year head coach Geoff Collins, then, will be tasked not just with completely overhauling an offensive system with his own (for what it's worth, he’s opted for an NFL-spread style attack which, with a roster built for the triple option… should be very interesting) - but doing so in arguably the toughest place to play in college football against the consensus best team in the country.
And if nothing else, it’s our chance to see Heisman favorite Trevor Lawrence back in action, and get our first glimpse of just what we can expect from the defending national champion Clemson Tigers.
Other Games Of Note…
- (2)Alabama vs. Duke (Saturday, August 31 @ 3:30pm EST on ABC): The Crimson Tide ended their season with a thud against Clemson, but if there’s one thing to know about Saban’s squad… they always come back with a bang. They’ll kick off their season against a tough Duke team, however, whose secondary should put QB Tua Tagovailoa to the test early and often.
- Northwestern at (25)Stanford (Saturday, August 31 @ 4:00pm EST on FOX): Two programs on the verge of breaking through in their respective conferences will clash out west. For Northwestern, Clemson transfer QB Hunter Johnson could give their team just the shot of explosiveness they need to get over the hump and claim their first conference title since 2008 (so long as he can beat out TJ Green for the starting spot). Meanwhile, Stanford is as stable a program as they come under coach David Shaw… and can’t be counted out in the grueling Pac-12 North.
- Boise State at Florida State (Saturday, August 31 @ 7:00pm EST on ESPN): The disappointments of Willie Taggart’s first season in Tallahassee have been well documented, but the reset button gets hit on Saturday against Boise State, one of the country’s most explosive and dangerous Group of Six teams. A win against the Broncos, and the ‘Noles could have some momentum to get back on track towards national prominence. A loss, however, and Boise State picks up a major non-conference win that will look great come bowl time - no matter how FSU ends up this season.
Want to make your trip a game-changer this season?
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