College football is back!
The early season college football season usually sees a bunch of ranked teams playing teams from non-Power Five conferences, or the Football Championship Subdivision, like the Utah Utes playing Weber State University. But there are also a lot of games that will set the tone at the top of the rankings and could ultimately impact the College Football Playoffs at the end of the season.
I’m going to highlight four of the five “kickoff” games that will be played this Labor Day weekend (Chris previewed the fifth game – the Chic-fil-A Kickoff Game in Atlanta between Washington and Auburn – a bit in his Washington season preview). No matter who your team is (I am personally college football agnostic for the most part), it’s nice for the games to be back, especially so we can talk more about the games and less about the stuff that has happened off the field this offseason.
Here’s a quick look at those four games:
Belk Kickoff Game (Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte)
Tennessee Volunteers v. #17 West Virginia Mountaineers
September 1, 2018 – 3:30pm EST
Tennessee is looking for a turn-around season after going 4-8 last season, including 0-8 in the SEC. Getting off to a good start against what is probably the 3rd-best Big 12 team heading into the season. They finished 7-6 last year – and are projected to do about the same this year – so they are hoping to come out on top against a much weaker team.
West Virginia’s 2017 was defined by the presence of quarterback Will Grier, or at least his absence in late season games. Through the first ten games, West Virginia was 7-3 and had a quality offense with him at the helm. Without him, they lost the final three games and looked rather pedestrian on offense. Nevertheless, he returns this season, as well as most of his offensive weapons. If they have their health, they could surprise teams in the Big 12, but I doubt they will compete for a playoff spot.
Camping World Kickoff (Camping World Stadium, Orlando)
#1 Alabama Crimson Tide v. Louisville Cardinal
September 1, 2018 – 8:00pm EST
Defending champion Alabama (13-1, 7-1 SEC) starts their inevitable march to the Playoff against a Louisville team that went 8-5 (4-4 ACC) last season. Louisville was not without their own off-field drama this offseason, though it will probably have less on field impact than some of other big headlines.
I don’t really think that Louisville has a chance in this one; Alabama has reloaded again as always, and have one of the most exciting players in college football, 2017 Championship game hero Tua Tagovailoa… who may not even be the starting quarterback. Is a championship-sealing play enough to cement him as the starter? Or will he split time with Jalen Hurt? A game against Louisville seems like a good place to find out, and the college football watchers will be tuning in to see who actually starts Saturday night.
Advocare (Cowboy) Classic (AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX)
#25 LSU Tigers v. #8 Miami Hurricanes
September 2, 2018 – 7:30pm EST
Two southern teams from different conferences meet in “the House that Jerry Built” in the rebranded Cowboy Classic (thanks Advocare!). Miami won the ACC Coastal Division last season, ending with an overall record of 10-3 (7-1 in conference). They lost in the ACC Championship in a blowout to Clemson, followed by a loss to Wisconsin in the Orange Bowl. It was a disappointing end to a season affected by hurricanes for the Hurricanes, as they started out 10-0 (and a #2 ranking) before ending the season with three losses.
The LSU Tigers had a pretty average season by their once lofty standards, though a midseason non-conference loss to Troy was definitely out of the ordinary. They finished the season 9-4 (6-2 in SEC), ending the season ranked #16 after a Citrus Bowl loss to Notre Dame. Miami seems to be the favorite in this game if you want to base it on preseason rankings, but I could easily see it going either way unless Miami can return to their early season success from last year.
Texas Kickoff (NRG Stadium, Houston)
Ole Miss Rebels v. Texas Tech Red Raiders
September 1, 2018 – 11:00am EST
The Texas Kickoff (also sponsored by Advocare but they didn’t want to confuse us by calling it the “Advocare Kickoff”) is the only one of the “kickoff” games to not feature a team ranked in the preseason polls. Ole Miss finished last season at 6-6 (3-5 SEC) but didn’t go to a bowl game because of self-imposed sanctions for NCAA violations over former coach Hugh Freeze.
Texas Tech, on the other hand, finished 6-7 (3-6 Big 12) last season, and were doomed by a midseason swoon that saw four losses in a row after achieving the #24 ranking after a 4-1 start (and a dominating 65-19 win over Kansas). They made it to a bowl game (Birmingham Bowl), if only because there are too many bowl games, and they lost to a 10-2 USF Bulls team in an otherwise forgettable game. Either way, the teams are looking to start the season off on the right foot with their game in Houston, and it could honestly go either way.
There are plenty of other games besides these four all throughout the weekend, so your favorite team is probably playing somewhere. Either way, the start of college football season also means that we are less than a week away from NFL football, which kicks off next Thursday with the Battle of the Birds – Atlanta Falcons versus the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles.
Until next time…
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