College football is officially a week away. There are preliminary games amongst smaller schools this Saturday, August 26, but the real action doesn’t start until that upcoming Thursday, August 31.
When the Labor Day weekend starts, college football is back in full swing. Below are the five games to watch on Labor Day weekend that will really kick off the college football season:
Tulsa Golden Hurricanes @ No. 10 Oklahoma State Cowboys
Thursday, August 31 | 7:30 p.m. ET
Boone-Pickens Stadium | Stillwater, OK
THE TEAMS: The Golden Hurricanes of Tulsa bring a squad with seven returning offensive starters from the fourth-ranked offense in the NCAA in 2016. Tulsa as a program has historically put up impressive numbers in recent years and the Golden Hurricanes will need it desperately if they wish to compete against Mason Rudolph and the Pokes. Senior running back D’Angelo Brewer and junior receiver Justin Hobbs will be leading the offense for Tulsa and will be expected to carry the brunt of the effort as new starting QB Luke Skipper will be making his first start in a hostile environment.
The Oklahoma State Cowboys come into the 2017 season with a lot of preseason hype. Many news outlets have the Cowboys as a dark horse to make the College Football Playoff, powered by a remarkably strong offensive attack that is led by senior quarterback Mason Rudolph. Rudolph is surrounded by returning offensive talent in the form of senior receiver James Washington, junior receiver Jalen McCloskey, and sophomore running back Justice Hill. The Cowboys bring back seven offensive starters to an offense that ranked ninth in the NCAA in passing and fourteenth overall a season ago. Recently turned fifty-year-old head coach Mike Gundy is bringing in possibly his most touted Cowboys team in his thirteen-year tenure in Stillwater.
THE MATCHUP: Two of the nation’s most impressive offensive-minded programs face off in what is sure to be a +100 total point matchup. Big 12 games have typically been high-scoring but the Golden Hurricanes have been even more effective than many of the teams Oklahoma State has seen in the past. The running game led by Brewer, who had over 1400 rushing yards in 2016, will be the most effective method of keeping Mason Rudolph off the field. If Tulsa can maintain drives against the Cowboys defense, this will be closer than is comfortable for the best mullet in sports this side of Barry Melrose. Look for an offensive onslaught the likes of which we haven’t seen in years.
PREDICTION: OKST, 51-45
Wyoming Cowboys @ Iowa Hawkeyes
Saturday, September 2 | Noon ET on Big Ten Network
Kinnick Stadium | Iowa City, IA
THE TEAMS: All that needs to be said about Wyoming is encapsulated in one name: Josh Allen. Any astute ESPN viewer will know that name because Todd McShay can’t stop mentioning the 6’5, 230-pound junior quarterback for the Cowboys. Last year, Wyoming was a pleasant surprise, finishing 8-6 with an appearance in the Mountain West Championship game. Fourth-year coach Craig Bohl has brought the Wyoming program out of obscurity with his solid recruiting effort and building up a talent like Allen. The offensive effort from Wyoming will deal with a lot of deep passing patterns and methodical drives that Allen will helm with precision and intelligence that NFL scouts are already raving about.
Iowa is back to their old ways. Projected to finish middle of the Big Ten, led again by Kirk Ferentz in his 19th year; the question will be how the Hawkeyes will play in 2017. Will they finish on the path that they started last year? Or will they surprise many like they had in 2015 and have a patented Iowa “shocker” season? The Hawkeyes offense is led by senior receiver Matt VandeBerg and running back Akrum Wadley. Michigan fans will remember Wadley very soundly as the man who almost single-handedly beat the Wolverines back in the Hawkeyes’ 2016 upset victory. If Ferentz wants to avoid finishing again middle of the pack, the Hawkeyes will need to avoid losing yet again at home to a non-Power Five non-conference opponent.
THE MATCH-UP: Iowa faces yet another upstart non-conference team at home. Bohl has a history of upsetting Power Five opponents; notching victories at against the likes of Minnesota in 2007 and 2011, Kansas in 2010, and Kansas State in 2013. All of these wins came when he was the head coach at North Dakota State (2003-13). Josh Allen is going to cause problems for an Iowa team that is without former standout corner Desmond King. Iowa will be looking to avoid a second colossal upset at home in as many seasons. Ironically, last year’s such loss came against Bohl’s former employer. They will be faced with a non-Power Five team with an NFL talent behind center and it will be up to Wadley and VandeBerg to right the ship for Ferentz. It is sure to be a thriller, however, and could be Josh Allen’s coming out party to the college football nation.
PREDICTION: WYO, 27-17
No. 3 Florida State Seminoles vs. No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide
Saturday, September 2 | 8 p.m. ET on ABC
Mercedez-Benz Stadium | Atlanta GA
THE TEAMS: What more needs to be said of these two teams that hasn’t been already? Florida State brings a daunting defensive side to AT&T Stadium. Led by star defensive players Ro’Derrick Hoskins, Josh Sweat, and the NCAA”s best safety-Derwin James, the Seminoles will have a defense ready to cause all kinds of problems for an Alabama offense filled with uncertainty. James, in particular, has a very good chance of causing havoc for new offensive coordinator Daboll and will be chasing Hurts all around the football field if the QB decides to scramble. On the offensive side, FSU losses all-time great Dalvin Cook but replaces him with a lot of talent around sophomore QB Deandre Francois. Francois was put on his back far too often in the Seminoles’ lukewarm 10-3 campaign and the offensive line that had been so suspect in 2016 will be tested by a program known for causing issues to opposing quarterbacks. Running back duo Cam Akers and Jacques Patrick will be relied on heavily to take pressure off of Francois as the Seminoles test just how much the Crimson Tide lost on defense.
Alabama comes off a heart-wrenching loss to Clemson in the national title Game. The Crimson Tide lost a substantial amount of starters from another vaunted Alabama defense and there was turnover again on the offensive coaching side of the ball as Lane Kiffin moved on to FAU and was replaced by Brian Daboll. Questions surround Alabama on whether arguably the weakest Nick Saban defense can hold up against a strong offensive opponent in Florida State. Whispers around Tuscaloosa also involve second-year starter Jalen Hurts and whether he can take the next step to being another field general for the Crimson Tide. Their first test against an upstart Florida State squad will answer the myriad of offseason questions that has Nick Saban acting much more eccentric than usual.
THE MATCH-UP: This match-up is one of the most highly-anticipated opening weekend matchups we have seen in college football in a long time. Both programs come into 2017 with a number of questions, but those questions revolve around national title aspirations. With Alabama: can Jalen Hurts really evolve as a quarterback? Will the losses on defense hurt the Crimson Tide when they face superior offensive opponents? For the Seminoles: Will Jimbo Fisher have his offensive line ready to protect Francois better this year? Will the loss of Dalvin Cook be too much to bear? All of these questions will be emphatically answered under the big lights at AT&T Stadium.
PREDICTION: FSU, 31-28
BYU Cougars vs. No. 13 LSU Tigers
Saturday, September 2 | 9:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
NRG Stadium | Houston TX
THE TEAMS: The BYU Cougars start an absolutely brutal September against the Bayou Bengals of LSU. BYU has done well in the past against Power Five competition since they’ve turned into an independent and no one should expect the Cougars to be intimidated by this challenge. While the location of the game in Houston, only a four-hour drive from Baton Rouge, isn’t favorable for BYU, the leadership of junior QB Tanner Mangum is sure to help. Kalani Sitake did an admirable job in his first year at BYU, recording nine wins including victories over Arizona, Michigan State, Mississippi State, and Cincinnati. The Cougars bring back six starters from a defense that ranked 14th in scoring defense and ninth in rushing defense. This will be extremely important when the Cougars face one of the best running backs in the country.
LSU’s Derrius Guice comes into his junior season with a lot of anticipation. Not only does he have first-year head coach Ed Orgeron relying on him to carry most of the offense, but he replaces the extremely talented Leonard Fournette. Guice has been listed on may preseason All American and All-SEC teams and the spotlight will be shone on No. 5 at NRG Stadium against a BYU team that is extremely hard-nosed against the run. What will be even more interesting for LSU will be the offensive changes that take place under Coach O. Much of the maligned tenure of Les Miles at LSU involved the quarterback play and it will be fascinating to see the type of changes Orgeron makes to the position. With Guice taking up a substantial amount of BYU’s attention, how will senior Danny Etling fare LSU fans hope for drastic improvement of the offense to potentially take advantage of a “down year” by Alabama, and to keep up with the potentially lethal attack of the Auburn Tigers led by Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham?
THE MATCH-UP: The match-up will be primarily on LSU’s offensive side of the ball. Ed Orgeron has to take the skill and ability that he exhibited at USC and the second half of 2016 and mold Etling into something more than a game manager. With offenses in the SEC West not getting any weaker, it will be pertinent for the Bayou Bengals to use a tandem of Guice and Etling to possibly win the West. BYU will pose a huge challenge for that goal, however, as the Cougars are always a hard victory to obtain and their run defense has been consistently stout.
PREDICTION: LSU, 21-17
Texas A&M Aggies @ UCLA Bruins
Sunday, September 3 | 7:30 p.m. ET on FOX
Rose Bowl | Pasadena CA
THE TEAMS: Kevin Sumlin trots into the Rose Bowl with his job on the line. it has been no secret that Sumlin has performed below standard for an SEC West school and a victory in the Rose Bowl would go a long way. Despite defensive improvements in 2016, Sumlin still has many questions to answer in the face of Josh Rosen leading UCLA. Much will be revealed on whether Sumlin’s tenure will be up, or whether guys like Christian Kirk, Trayveon Williams, Armani Watts, and Priest Willis can save him for one more year. Kirk, in particular, will stand out in this game, as he looks to build up a possible run at the 2017 Biletnikoff Award. He will be the key to whether Texas A&M can keep up with a UCLA offense that is primed and ready.
Josh Rosen is the talk of Tinsel Town coming into 2017. It was no secret that he had a less than stellar 2016 campaign. With Jim Mora Jr. on the hot seat, it will be pertinent for the junior quarterback to help out his head coach, but also his NFL prospects. Rosen has been eyed for the NFL ever since his freshman year and it will be high time for him to do so far better than he did against Texas A&M last year. Supporting players Darren Andrews, Jordan Lasley, and Eldridge Massington will be looking for a lot of open space against a Texas A&M secondary that is historically susceptible to potent passing attacks. The Rose Bowl will be the perfect place to start for Rosen & Co. to possibly make a run at the Pac-12 title that is projected to be in favor of their cross-town rival Trojans.
The Matchup: The secondary of Texas A&M led by Armani Watts and Priest Willis will have to hold their own against Rosen. In previous big-time matchups, Texas A&M’s secondary has crumbled under the pressure of playing solid passing attacks. UCLA were 19th in passing in a down year for Mora Jr.’s squad while the Aggies defense gave up 250 passing yards per game; good enough for 13th in the SEC. If the Aggies cannot get the ball into Christian Kirk’s hands enough, they will fall behind very swiftly and will be playing catch up the entire game behind a motivated UCLA Bruins team.
PREDICTION: UCLA, 35-21
- BIGGEST WINNER: No. 7 Oklahoma Sooners (-44.5) vs. UTEP Miners
- UPSET PICK: Wyoming Cowboys (-12.5) @ Iowa Hawkeyes
- TEAM TO WATCH: No. 25 Tennessee Volunteers (vs. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets)
- PLAYER TO WATCH: Josh Allen, QB Wyoming (@ Iowa)