Ranking the Best Week 1 Games of the 2013 College Football Season

Michael CarrollFeatured ColumnistAugust 21, 2013

Ranking the Best Week 1 Games of the 2013 College Football Season

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    Which games of Week 1 of the 2013 college football season will be the best?

    To come up with the list, I looked at the Week 1 schedules of all FBS teams. Next, I consulted Athlon Sports’ 2013 preseason rankings of all FBS teams. Then, I gave a number to each game according to the rankings; the number is the sum of the rankings of each team in the game.

    This list is the result of these rankings.

    In addition to being two highly ranked teams going against each other, I have given other reasons for watching each game.

    Why did I choose 14 games? There were 14 games with a score under 100.

    With that, let’s start the list.

     

    *Stats courtesy of Sports-Reference.com, unless noted otherwise. 

14. Ohio at Louisville

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    The Louisville Cardinals have their sights set on an undefeated run through the American Athletic Conference, which they hope will get them into the 2014 BCS National Championship Game. They also have a Heisman contender in quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. With that said, they shouldn’t overlook the Ohio Bobcats.

    In 2012, Ohio earned its first ranking in the AP poll since 1968. The Bobcats have been a good program under Frank Solich for a few years now, but they really broke onto the national scene with a win at Penn State in the Nittany Lions’ first game following the death of Joe Paterno.

    Ohio has a nice quarterback-running back combo in Tyler Tettleton and Beau Blankenship. The latter is on the 2013 Maxwell Award watch list.

    The media has picked Ohio to win the MAC East in 2013. The media picked Louisville to win the AAC.

    The Cardinals are the overwhelming favorite to win this game, as they are the ninth-ranked team in the AP and USA Today coaches polls heading into Week 1, but beating the Bobcats won’t be a breeze.

13. Louisiana-Monroe at Oklahoma

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    The Oklahoma Sooners come into the 2013 season with the 16th spot in both the AP and coaches polls, but they shouldn’t consider their date with the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks a cupcake game.

    Louisiana-Monroe is coming off its best season in program history. For the first time as an FBS member, the Warhawks won eight games and reached a bowl game. Head coach Todd Berry and quarterback Kolton Browning hope to improve on these milestones this season.

    ULM got college football’s attention by beating Arkansas in the season opener in 2012. The Razorbacks were a Top 10 team in the preseason, and though they ended up 4-8 on the year, the Warhawks’ triumph over them was still a big moment for them.

    In lesser-known parts of the 2012 season, ULM lost to BCS opponents Auburn and Baylor by three and five points, respectively.

    Browning, the star of the program, is on the 2013 Maxwell Award watch list. The defending Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year can beat you with his arm and his legs, and the Sooners would be foolish to overlook him.

    All things considered, the Sooners shouldn’t take this team lightly.

12. Toledo at Florida

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    College football’s current image of Florida is the Gators getting embarrassed by Louisville in the 2013 Sugar Bowl. The offense hasn’t improved much since then, and the defense lost five players to the 2013 NFL draft. Even so, the Gators are stockpiled with talent, and because of it, the 10th spot in both the AP and coaches polls is theirs.

    Toledo has a running back in David Fluellen to watch. Fluellen, a 2013 Maxwell Award watch-list member, had 259 carries for 1,498 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2012. The Gators face more highly touted running backs in the SEC, but Fluellen will provide the defense with a good test prior to conference play.

    The Rockets dropped their season opener at Arizona last year by seven points before reeling off eight straight wins. They earned a spot in the AP poll for the first time since 2001, their last 10-win season.

    Florida should prevail at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, but Toledo is no walkover. 

11. Rice at Texas A&M

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    Johnny Manziel starts his Heisman defense against an improving Rice Owls squad. Though the Owls shouldn’t get any closer to consecutive seasons ending with a bowl game for the first time since 1960-61 after Week 1, they aren’t going to be a cupcake for the Texas A&M Aggies.

    If this game comes down to the wire, Rice has the advantage. Kicker Chris Boswell is Phil Steele’s second- team All-American at the position. Texas A&M better hope it doesn’t get close.

    Another major advantage for Rice in this game is experience. The Owls return 17 starters from 2012, which is tied for eighth in FBS. On the other side, Texas A&M returns only 10 starters, which is tied for 112th in FBS. The Aggies have more talent for sure, but the discrepancy in experience could play a factor.

    Texas A&M should win easily as the seventh- and sixth-ranked team in the AP and coaches polls, respectively, but the Aggies could’ve drawn an easier opponent to start the season.

10. Northwestern at California

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    In 2012, Northwestern surprised college football by earning its first ranking in the final AP poll since 1996, but can the Wildcats be a Top 25 contender again in 2013?

    Pat Fitzgerald’s quest to prove his team is a legitimate Big Ten contender begins in California. This game will feature a difference in styles. Northwestern likes to run the football a ton, while Cal’s offense should be balanced, but potent, under new head coach Sonny Dykes.

    The Wildcats have to travel over 2,100 miles west of their Evanston, Ill., campus to Berkeley. This could make a difference in the game.

    This should be the first game on the list without an overwhelming favorite. The Wildcats have the edge, along with the best player on the field in all-purpose back Venric Mark, but the Bears should be much improved from their 3-9 record in 2012.

9. Rutgers at Fresno State

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    The Rutgers Scarlet Knights and the Fresno State Bulldogs have a few similarities heading into 2013.

    Both have a returning starter at quarterback, questions at running back and second-year head coaches. Additionally, both are in the second tier of teams in their respective conferences below the clear favorites (Boise State in the Mountain West and Louisville in the American).

    The biggest differences are the quality of quarterback (Heisman contender Derek Carr for Fresno State and inconsistent Gary Nova for Rutgers), as well as the huge chunk of the Scarlet Knights’ 2012 defense that went to the NFL. Advantage Bulldogs.

    Rutgers has to travel a longer distance to California than does Northwestern. Over 2,800 miles separate the two schools, as compared to over 2,100 between Northwestern and Cal. That’s another check for Fresno State.

    The Bulldogs are on the inside of the Top 25, and the Scarlet Knights are on the inside of the Top 50. We’ll see soon enough if those rankings are justified.

8. Florida State at Pittsburgh

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    The Florida State Seminoles welcome the Pittsburgh Panthers into the ACC. Pitt will see just how ready it is to compete in its new conference by opening the 2013 season against one of its top teams.

    Both programs have starting quarterbacks itching to get into a live football game. Whoever starts for the Seminoles, whether it’s Jameis Winston or Jacob Coker, is new to the college football spotlight. Winston is a redshirt freshman, and Coker appeared sparingly in four games as a redshirt freshman last season.

    Tom Savage, the Panthers starting quarterback, hasn’t played since 2010 when he was at Rutgers. Savage has been enrolled at three FBS schools in as many years (Rutgers, Arizona, Pittsburgh). His last full season ended with a spot on the 2009 Freshman All-America Team.

    Including quarterback EJ Manuel, 11 Florida State players from 2012 were selected in the 2013 NFL draft. Jimbo Fisher has brought elite recruiting classes to Tallahassee, but it's hard to replace 11 NFL-caliber players.

    As the 11th- and 12th-ranked team in the AP and coaches polls, respectively, Florida State is the favorite in this game. The Seminoles have been close to the national championship a few times recently, but they’ve tripped up enough times to take themselves out of the race. Pitt could be one of those teams Florida State loses to in 2013.

7. Ole Miss at Vanderbilt

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    This game features two SEC programs on the rise. Each team could be a thorn in the side of the conference’s titans (Alabama, LSU, Florida, etc.) down the line, and what a treat it will be to see them play each other.

    James Franklin led Vanderbilt to its first ranking in the final AP poll since 1948, and the Commodores are seeking their first 10-win season ever.

    Hugh Freeze turned Ole Miss from a 2-10 team to a bowl winner in just one season. The Rebels are seeking their first Top 25 finish in the AP poll since 2009.

    Not too many years ago, this game might have been one of the least important in the SEC. Now, it’s one of the biggest for the entire first week of FBS football.

6. Mississippi State at Oklahoma State

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    Both the Mississippi State Bulldogs and the Oklahoma State Cowboys are coming off 8-5 seasons. The Cowboys are Big 12 favorites, while the Bulldogs are anything but in the SEC.

    Oklahoma State enters the season as the 13th- and 14th-ranked team in the AP and coaches polls respectively, but Mississippi State plays in the country’s deepest conference. The Bulldogs are no strangers to playing Top 25 teams, so the Cowboys shouldn’t faze them.

    Whereas Mississippi State has two 2013 Maxwell Award watch-list players in running back LaDarius Perkins and quarterback Tyler Russell, Oklahoma State has yet to determine a clear No. 1 starting quarterback. Heck, the Pokes may never decide on one.

    Will Perkins and Russell work in tandem to beat the Cowboys defense, or will whoever starts at quarterback for OSU tear up the Bulldogs secondary, which lost its starting cornerbacks from 2012 to the second round of the 2013 NFL draft? Watch to find out.

5. Boise State at Washington

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    The Boise State Broncos and the Washington Huskies will start 2013 like they ended 2012: by playing each other.

    Boise State beat Washington in the Las Vegas Bowl by a score of 28-26. With this game at Husky Stadium rather than a neutral site, how much of an advantage will Washington have?

    The last time the Broncos visited the Huskies—September 8, 2007—they lost.

    Washington isn’t the best BCS team Boise State has faced during its rise to the top of college football, but this season’s Broncos team isn’t expected to be its best in recent years.

    If Boise State wins this game, expect the program to compete for another BCS bowl berth. A loss for the 19th-ranked team in both the AP and coaches polls would make college football voters wonder if the program has already experienced its best days.

4. North Carolina at South Carolina

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    South Carolina has a chance to reach the 2014 BCS National Championship Game on the back of arguably the sport’s best player in defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, but the start of the chase won’t be easy. North Carolina has Top 25 and ACC title aspirations after being ineligible for the 2012 postseason.

    Steve Spurrier and Larry Fedora, the teams' head coaches, like to put points on the board. Clowney and fellow defensive end/2013 Bednarik Award watch-list member Kareem Martin will try to get to the quarterback on every play, which could divert the offensive plans on each side.

    People will tune in to this game just to see if Clowney is worth the Heisman hype, but the Tar Heels are a respectable opponent that could knock off the Gamecocks.

    This game is ripe with storylines and easily one of the five best of Week 1.

3. LSU at TCU

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    In the first of two games on this list to have Top 25 teams on both sidelines, LSU and TCU will do battle in the 2013 Cowboys Classic at AT&T Stadium. Jerry Jones will see a great game and a lot of purple in his football castle.

    The Tigers and the Horned Frogs are both dark horses to win the SEC and Big 12 titles, respectively. The result will have a big impact on the Week 2 rankings, and the game is sure to draw a large audience.

    TCU might have an advantage. The Horned Frogs are playing in their home state of Texas, and they didn’t lose as much to the 2013 NFL draft as did the Tigers.

    In a game that could go either way, I’m picking TCU.

     

2. Alabama vs. Virginia Tech

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    On a neutral surface, the Georgia Dome, Alabama begins its quest for a fourth BCS National Championship in five seasons against Virginia Tech.

    The Crimson Tide opened 2012 against Michigan, which was a Top 10 team heading into the season. The Hokies are just outside the Top 25, so considering what happened in that ‘Bama-Michigan game—which was also on a neutral field—it could get ugly quick.

    Even so, we need to respect Tech. Frank Beamer is the only FBS head coach hired by his current team before 1990, and there’s a reason why he hasn’t surrendered his position. 2012 marked the first time since 2003 that the Hokies didn’t earn a spot in the final AP Poll.

    Logan Thomas is the game’s X-factor. If he can quarterback the Hokies like he did in 2011 rather than in 2012, Alabama could go down out of the gate.

    Two college football coaching legends (the other being Nick Saban) will match wits in this contest, and it will be a pleasure to watch the chess match take shape.

1. Georgia at Clemson

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    In easily the top matchup of Week 1, Georgia and Clemson will try to put a dent in each other's chances at making the 2014 BCS National Championship Game.

    This is the only game of the week featuring two teams in the Top 10. One of their national title hopes will essentially end after the first game, and that’s what makes the college football regular season the most important in all of American sports.

    Will Georgia's Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall run through Death Valley with barely a stain, or will Clemson's Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins hook up for long gains down the sideline all day? Anyone with a fair-weather interest in college football should be watching.