By Jonathan Lowe
September 1, 2017
With the beginning of the college football season happening last Saturday, this does feel a bit awkward (even though I missed getting this out by Thursday’s games anyway). You can’t say “Happy College Football New Year!” There aren’t enough fireworks yet to compare it to the Fourth of July. Of course, Thanksgiving actually falls in the sport’s calendar. So…happy College Football President’s Day? We promise lots of touchdowns and half off of a new mattress? Sounds plausible. Anywho, tonight (Friday) kicks off my list of intriguing games for the first full week of the season.
Colorado State vs. Colorado: This may be one of the most underserved rivalries in FBS. Sure, the Rocky Mountain Showdown has really been a Rocky Mountain Beatdown over the decades (the Buffaloes lead the series 64-22-2), but the “brotherly” animosity stretches the roughly 45 miles between campuses. Last season, the Buffs used a 44-7 whuppin’ as a spark plug to its most successful season in 15 years. It resulted in a 10-win campaign, a Pac-12 South title, and a top ranking of 9th in the country. But CU graduated its all-everything QB, Sefo Liufau. This means that the Rams, who blew out Oregon State in one of the few “Pre-Opening Week” openers, could be in line to institute a little get-back on Saturday. CSU QB Nick Stevens now becomes the veteran signal caller in this matchup, and he’ll look to rebound from a disastrous performance (6-20, 31 yds., 2 INTs, 0.6 QBR) last season.
Appalachian State at Georgia: One year ago, the Mountaineers pushed Tennessee to the bitter end in Knoxville. In my estimation, they missed a big opportunity to get the biggest victory of its FBS lifespan. Now, App State has another chance to knock off a historical SEC brand name in its own backyard. They don’t return as many starters as they did off of their 11-2 2015 season, but key starters are back from last year’s 10-3 campaign (including QB Taylor Lamb and leading rusher Jalin Moore). On the other sideline, the Bulldogs have their own multi-punch offense, with QB Jacob Eason and the backfield tandem of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. You’d also have to think that Kirby Smart will have his guys on edge. They know that a well-hyped Volunteer squad had to pull out last year’s victory in OT. The Mountaineers couldn’t provide another scare, could they?
Wyoming at Iowa: A year ago, I thought that Craig Bohl needed one of those breakout seasons to feel safe about another season (and beyond) in Laramie. Boy, did he deliver. The Cowboys finished with a share of the MWC’s Mountain Division crown and, based on tiebreakers, earned a spot in the conference’s championship game. The program also made its first bowl appearance since 2011. Going into this season, Cowboy signal-caller Josh Allen is not only an All-American candidate. He’s being looked at as the potential #1 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Plus, this team is headed to a place that’s lost some of its mojo over the last few years.
I don’t know if many folks know what to expect from the Hawkeyes this season. Two years ago, they shocked everyone (admit it die-hard Hawk fans, you too) by riding an undefeated regular season into the Big Ten Championship game. Last year was good, but still a slide back at 8-4. The real problem, though, might be the expectations of holding serve at Kinnick Stadium. Since 2012, the Hawkeyes have lost an early-season, non-conference home game four out of five years. That includes last year’s walk-off stunner at the hands of North Dakota State. And what should happen the next season? In walks the same coach that built the Bison program which knocked you off the season before. Hmmm…
Troy at Boise State: I’m just going to continue down my list of MWC Mountain Division contenders, if you don’t mind. The Broncos have been voted the favorites (yet again) to represent the de facto East Side in the league’s title game. But they welcome in another worthy Mid-Major opponent to open the season. The Trojans aren’t the favorites to win the Sun Belt, but they are in the mix, ranking second in the league’s preseason poll. Both teams come into this matchup with proven quarterback play (Brandon Silvers for Troy; Brett Rypien for BSU). Both teams will also hope to get a leg up on the other. We don’t know if Colorado State, Appalachian State, or Wyoming can knock off their Power 5 opponents. We do know that the winner of this game should have a quality win on its resume be season’s end. That would be a helpful factor when parsing through candidates for the Group of 5 spot in the New Years’ Six bowls.
West Virginia vs. Virginia Tech: In this part of the world, it’s more about the Backyard Brawl (WVU-Pitt) and the Commonwealth Cup (Va. Tech-UVA). However, this battle for the Black Diamond Trophy has some history to it as well. The two programs have met 51 times going into Sunday night’s matchup. They played every season for 32 consecutive seasons, but their 2005 meeting was the most recent in the series. This matchup features two teams coming off of 10-win seasons and sporting new leaders under center. The Mountaineers will rely on Florida transfer Will Grier. The Hokies announced that redshirt freshman Josh Jackson will take the helm. Neither team is considered a favorite in the top-heavy conferences that play in. Va. Tech will play Clemson and at Miami later in the season. WVU will have to contend with the Oklahoma schools. A win, though, could be a good kickstarter to another successful season.
Michigan vs. Florida: I’m not quite sure what to make of Jim Harbaugh. At times, his eclectic outlook of life provides a chuckle. At times, that same aloofness makes him somewhat insufferable. I believe it’s the latter feeling that Jim McElwain has toward the Head Wolverine at this point. Besides the verbal back-and-forth about which players will make it on the field Saturday, there’s opportunity for each program in this game. Both are trying to re-establish themselves as rightful owners to their respective conference crowns. To get there, both will have to overcome their most bitter (and, right now, more talented) rival. The winner of this game in Jerry Jones’ palace will at least get their momentum headed in the right direction as they ultimately eye the end of the season.
Florida State vs. Alabama: I’m sure you already know that Nick Saban has never lost to one of his former assistants. Thanks to SB Nation, I’m certain that you’re aware of the thrashings that have taken place in these matchups. That includes Bama’s 38-0 victory over Mark Dantonio’s Michigan State team in a national semifinal and two wins (by an average of 26 ppg) over McElwain’s Gators in SEC title games. You already know this. But you also know that Jimbo Fisher might be different. He’s already done a fabulous job of following the legendary Bobby Bowden, amassing a 78-17 record since taking over (an .821 winning percentage). And that notation comes after his national championship and subsequent semifinal appearance. The Seminoles have the talent to guide Fisher to another title. However, the mystique of Saban is potent, and the command in these situation is powerful. We’ll see which team gets a leg up on the rest of the country after Saturday’s showdown.