Here we go. A full week of football games that count. College football might end with a predictable Clemson-Alabama national championship fight, but the journey to early January is always interesting.
You just have to be willing to look away from America’s obsession with the four-team College Football Playoff.
If you search in many other places, you will be rewarded.
This brings us to Week 1 of the 2019 season. Here is the full schedule.
You can see that there aren’t many showcase matchups. There is only one game between two top-25 teams: No. 11 Oregon versus No. 16 Auburn in Arlington, Texas.
The Florida State-Boise State game in Jacksonville might not even occur if Hurricane Dorian cuts through the area, but if that contest between two unranked teams is allowed to go on as scheduled, it could be very compelling.
Both programs need that game badly. Florida State missed a bowl game in 2018, snapping a 36-year bowl game streak which began in 1982. Second-year head coach Willie Taggart can’t afford to miss a bowl this year. He will be fired if he does. Even a 6-6 record would put his job in jeopardy.
Florida State doesn’t hire coaches to wallow in mediocrity. Head coaches generally aren’t fired after two seasons, but Taggart will make himself an exception if the Seminoles make no progress from their 2018 disaster.
Boise State hasn’t been to a New Year’s Six bowl game since 2014. The Broncos expect to make a big bowl game once every few years. The Group of Five race (the competition among the five smaller conferences in major college football — the AAC, Mountain West, Conference USA, Sun Belt, and Mid-American) is wide open this year.
The AAC champion has won the Group of Five in three of the last four seasons, but UCF — the two-time defending Group of Five champion — is a little thinner this season, including at quarterback.
This is the year when the Mountain West has to make a move. Boise State is the elite program in the MWC. A win in the state of Florida against Florida State would show that the Broncos still have their knack for making big national statements against brand-name schools. This is how Chis Petersen built Boise State into a national brand name a decade ago.
Other than Oregon-Auburn and Boise-FSU, the pickings SEEM to be slim in Week 1. Northwestern-Stanford might be the third-best game on Saturday’s slate of 57 games. Fresno State-USC and Virginia-Pittsburgh are also in the running.
The most fun game of the weekend comes not on Saturday, but Sunday, when Houston and electric quarterback D’Eriq King face No. 4 Oklahoma, the program which has won four straight Big 12 titles for the first time in that conference’s 23-year history. Houston and OU do not have good defenses. That game could end with a 56-49 final score… and some people might think the offenses left a few points on the field.
Oklahoma will be led by Jalen Hurts, the transfer from Alabama who led the Crimson Tide to a comeback win over Georgia last year in the SEC Championship Game. If you pay close attention to college football, you will immediately remember that one year before his SEC title game rescue act against Georgia, Hurts was on the other side of a relief effort in an Alabama-Georgia battle in Atlanta.
At the end of the 2017 season, Hurts was replaced. Tua Tagovailoa led Bama to a late rally and an overtime victory for the national title. Hurts was able to relieve Tua one year later and enable the Tide to return to the national championship game.
If Hurts plays the way he did in the 2018 SEC Championship Game — and not the way he did in the 2017 national championship game — Oklahoma should have a big year.
Those are the really interesting games, folks. Not many other games are compelling — on paper.
This is where college football works its magic.
People who have followed the sport for a long time will tell you that on the weekends when the larger glut of games doesn’t seem that attractive, the upsets emerge and ambush everyone.
Five, six, 10, 12 games which didn’t seem likely to provide fireworks suddenly burst into color and change the trajectory of the season.
In the cover photo for this story, you will see Nebraska coach Scott Frost. The Cornhuskers should handle South Alabama of the Sun Belt at home, but they have lost to small-conference teams at home in recent years. South Alabama (the University of South Alabama, otherwise known as “U-S-A”) doesn’t figure to beat Nebraska… and yet that’s when something crazy can happen.
Welcome to college football again. The calm suggested by the Week 1 slate might deceive you. We will find out soon enough.