By Bryan Foti
Week One of the College Football season is here. The first weekend features a ton of high-profiled matchups between top 25 teams. It will be interesting to see if a team’s playoff chances go out the window with a loss this weekend. Here are the games you’ll want to watch and pick this week.
#3 Oklahoma at #13 Houston
Time: Saturday, 12:00 p.m. EST.
Location: NRG Stadium
Line: Oklahoma -11.5
One of the most fascinating stories in College Football in 2015 was the Houston Cougars. Houston Head Coach, Tom Herrmann led the Cougars to a (13-1) record that culminated with a Peach Bowl win over Florida State. Houston returns Senior Quarterback Greg Ward Jr., who has potential to be one of the Heisman finalists if he has a strong 2016 campaign. His running ability makes him difficult to stop, and gives defensive coordinators fits. Wide Receiver Chance Allen should be Ward’s number one target this season, he caught six touchdown passes a year ago.
On the other side Oklahoma is coming off a wonderful year as well. The Sooners qualified for the College Football Playoff, losing to Clemson on New Year’s Eve last year in the Orange Bowl. Bob Stoops returns for his 17th season as the Head Coach for Oklahoma. The Sooners return Junior Quarterback Baker Mayfield, and also boast a strong running game. Tailback Samaje Perine became a household name two years ago in Norman, rushing for over 20 touchdowns in 2014. Last year he followed it up with 16 rushing touchdowns. Joe Mixon should see a bigger role in the offense this year. Mixon is still looking to repair his image, stemming from a misdemeanor charge of assaulting a woman back in October of 2014. Mixon rushed for 753 yards and seven touchdowns in his first year with OU last year.
So how will it play out Saturday: Tom Herrmann is already the hottest commodity in College Football coaching to date. If Herrmann and the Cougars can pull the upset over Oklahoma, Herrmann will likely have offers from every major program in the country seeking a Head Coach. The crowd shouldn’t really play a role in this game, because it is considered a neutral site game that happens to be played in Houston. The Sooner fans travel well, and it won’t be hard on Mayfield to hear the snap count.
The Key in this game will be the Oklahoma defense vs. Greg Ward Jr. If the Sooners contain the dual-threat quarterback they will win easily. Ward Jr. should have a few tricks up his sleeve, and the Cougars will be in the game throughout. Oklahoma has more talent than Houston and will hold on, but it will be close. This should be one of the better games Week One. Take Houston with the points.
Final: Oklahoma 34, Houston 29
#16 UCLA at Texas A&M
Time: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. EST
Location: Kyle Field
Line: Texas AM -3
One of the more shocking lines of the week, Texas AM favored by three, against #16 UCLA. Aggies Head Coach Kevin Sumlin comes into the 2016 season on the hot seat after (8-5) 2015 season. The Aggies had a wild offseason as Quarterbacks Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray left the program this summer. Texas AM obtained former Oklahoma Quarterback Trevor Knight, who had his best season two years ago throwing 14 touchdown passes and racking up 2,300 yards in the air.
The Aggies still have questions on defense. Texas AM was awful at stopping the run last year they allowed 213.7 yards per game in 2015. Luckily for the Aggies, UCLA was ranked 56th in the country last year in total rushing.
Speaking of the Burins, Jim Mora Jr. leads his team into 2016 with big expectations. UCLA expects to play in the PAC 12 Championship this December. A non-conference win against an SEC team could help boost their confidence even more.
UCLA returns Quarterback Josh Rosen, who threw for 23 touchdowns in his freshmen season. This year Rosen will have a challenge in front of him as he acclimates to a new offensive system, and adjusts to a new cast of charters at the wide receiver position.
The Burins should have the advantage in this game, however playing in the unfriendly confides of Kyle Field may make it difficult. It will be loud and it will be Rosen’s first game in the West Coast Offense. Look for Texas AM to try to be aggressive in their blitzing schemes. The Aggies have a good secondary and can make plays to keep UCLA off balance.
This game should be a close one, but if UCLA wants to be taken seriously in 2016 they win this game. It will be close, but in the end the Burins will be able to run the ball effectively in the 4th quarter. Plus Rosen’s talent will allow him to make enough plays in the end to preserve the win. This should be the lock of the week take UCLA and the points.
Final: UCLA 27, Texas A&M 20
#18 Georgia at #22 North Carolina
Time: Saturday, 5:30 p.m. EST
Location: Georgia Dome
Line: Georgia -2.5
Georgia fans are excited to see the debut of new Head Coach, Kirby Smart. Smart was the Alabama Defensive Coordinator under Nick Saban from 2008-2015.
The biggest question for the Bulldogs coming into the weekend was who would start at quarterback? We found out Thursday that veteran Greyson Lambert will start over true Freshmen, Jacob Eason.
Eason is a 5-star recruit from Lake Stevens, Washington. He was also the Gatorade National Player of the year last year in high school. Lambert played at Georgia last season and threw for 3,931 yards and tossed 23 touchdowns. However, Lambert played poorly in the Dawgs most important game of the season last year, against Alabama. He finished the afternoon 10-24 for 86 yards and two interceptions.
Lambert and the rest of the Bulldogs will be happy to know that running back Nick Chubb is full go for Saturday. Chubb is coming off a devastating knee injury that he suffered in the Tennessee game a year ago. When healthy, Chubb can be one of the most dynamic players in the country. During his freshmen season Chubb ran for 1547 yards and scored 14 touchdowns. Chubb had scored seven times last year before his season ending knee injury.
On defense the Dawgs are much more inexperienced from a year ago. Georgia lost all four starters on their defensive line due to graduation. This year Georgia will look for younger players to step up. Sophomore Trenton Thompson will play a key role in the Bulldog defense. Junior John Atkins will start at nose tackle and look to clog the middle for Georgia.
People tend to forget that in 2015 North Carolina was a couple of plays away from winning the ACC and possibly headed to the College Football Playoff. The Tar Heals lost to Clemson 45-37 in that game, and they look to improve in 2016.
The first question for Larry Fedora will be who will replace Marquise Williams? The answer: Mitch Trubisky.
Trubisky did not see much playing time a year ago, he only attempted 47 throws in 2015, but he did throw six touchdown passes, which isn’t bad. However, look for him to struggle against a tough Georgia defense that has five starters back from a year ago.
As far as the game goes, North Carolina will need to strike early if they want to win. It is a neutral site game, but most of the crowd will be cheering for the Bulldogs, as it’s in the Georgia Dome. Chubb will provide some stability to the Georgia offense, and Smart will have a good game plan in place to shut down UNC’s offense. Trubisky will struggle, and the Bulldogs will force a couple of turnovers to boot. Give me the Dawgs in this one.
Final: Georgia 28, North Carolina 20
#20 USC at #1 Alabama
Time: Saturday, 8:30 p.m. EST.
Location: AT & T Stadium
Line: Alabama -11.5
Probably the biggest game on schedule for week one, as two prestigious programs collide at Jerry World, when USC meets Alabama.
Nick Saban and the Tide are the defending National Champions. USC will be a tough opponent for the Tide in their opening game. Saban has not yet named a starter at quarterback yet. The battle is between Junior Cooper Bateman and red-shirt Freshmen Blake Barnett. Bateman saw a tiny bit of playing time in 2015, so he should have the leg up, but whoever wins the job will have a ton of talent around them.
Receivers Calvin Ridley and ArDarius Stewart are back this year and will make the quarterbacks job that much easier. Lets also not forget O.J. Howard who had the game of his life in the National Championship last year. Howard provided the spark in the Tide’s win over Clemson, catching five balls for 208 yards, and scoring two touchdowns. Defenses this year have to respect Howard’s pass catching ability, and this should allow for more receivers to get open.
Defensively there is really not much to say about Alabama, they are loaded and once again should have one of the top defenses in the country.
USC is an interesting team to watch in 2016. They had big expectations a year ago and failed to live up to them. USC knocked off #3 Utah, but lost all of their other marquee matchups from a year ago.
Preparing for Alabama should help USC for the rest of the 2016 season. If they want to pull the upset over Alabama, they will need to be perfect in every facet of the game.
Offensively USC will look to Ronald Jones II and Justin Davis to lead the rushing attack this year. The two backs combined produced over 1,900 yards and 15 rushing touchdowns. At Quarterback USC will turn to redshirt Junior Max Browne, who will be making his first career start. Browne backed up Cody Kessler the past two seasons. Facing Alabama will be a tough challenge for Browne, who has no real game experience.
On defense USC has two solid cornerbacks in Adoree’ Jackson and Iman Marshall, however the rest of the unit has question marks. Defensive Coordinator Clancy Pendergast will be mixing and matching a lot this year to find his best eleven guys to put on the field.
Alabama should roll in this game. USC doesn’t have the talent to stay with Nick Saban’s group. Unfortunately for USC fans, this game should be over by the middle of the third quarter. There are just too many question marks on the defensive side of the ball for the Trojans. Browne will be in situations that you can’t prepare for in practice. Give me Alabama and lay the points.
Final: Alabama 41, USC 17
#2 Clemson at Auburn
Time: Saturday, 9:00 p.m. EST
Location: Jordan-Hare Stadium
Line: Clemson -7.5
We get our first look at Deshaun Watson and the Clemson Tigers this season as they travel down to Alabama, to take on Auburn. Auburn is coming off a lackluster (7-6) season, which has put Gus Malzahn right on the hot seat.
His first challenge of 2016 will be to slow down the Heisman favorite Watson.
Besides Watson, Clemson returns its top offensive threats from a season ago. Artavis Scott will be Watson’s go to receiver again. Scott’s playmaking ability makes him a matchup nightmare. Along with Scott, the Tigers return leading rusher Wayne Gallman, who found the endzone 15 times last year.
Auburn will have a young defense on the field Saturday night. In the Secondary the Tigers have two underclassman starting at cornerback, and on the defensive line true freshmen Marlon Davidson will make his first career start.
On offense Auburn will start Quarterback Sean White, but the most important position in Malzhan’s offense is the running back position. Auburn will feature Kerryon Johnson, who only rushed for 208 yards a season ago. Kamryn Pettway will also get some playing time in the backfield.
This will be a tough task for Auburn to start the season. The Tigers will be motivated by the atmosphere of Jordan-Hare Stadium, but that can only carry them so far. Clemson will run away with this game in the second half. Dabo Swinney’s group has too much firepower and will win easily. Give me Clemson.
Final: Clemson 44, Auburn 24