It’s finally here, the 2013 college football season has officially arrived.
Every year opening weekend seems to get better and better. It’s not to say that watching the top teams in the country completely annihilate a cupcake team isn’t fun to watch, but games such as the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game and the Cowboys Classic are making the first weekends of college football more intense, as well as enjoyable to watch.
With the anticipation of tonight’s, as well as this weekend's games, here are the top-10 games to watch in Week 1:
South Carolina junior defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
Thursday, Aug. 29: North Carolina at No. 6 South Carolina
6 p.m. EST (ESPN)
The 2013 football season will kickoff in Columbia, S.C. The Gamecocks are talented and have aspirations of being even better than their 2012 record of 11-2, but they will need to make sure they are ready for the Tar Heels.
North Carolina is no slouch, as they could have advanced to the ACC Championship last year, if not for a one-year postseason ban.
All eyes, of course, will be on All-American defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, as he begins his Heisman candidacy.
Don’t count on a physical South Carolina defense to completely shut down North Carolina’s offense, though. The Tar Heels have talented quarterback Bryn Renner back at the helm of a high-tempo offense that ranked eighth nationally in scoring last season with 40.6 points per game.
The North Carolina offensive line, which lost three starters from last season, must protect Renner from Clowney and the North Carolina defense will need to cause quarterback Connor Shaw to commit turnovers if they want any chance at knocking off South Carolina.
The Tar Heels will stay in the game, but in the end fall short of pulling off the upset in a hostile Williams-Bryce Stadium.
Prediction: South Carolina 28, North Carolina 20
Ole Miss junior quarterback Bo Wallace.
Thursday, Aug. 29: Ole Miss at Vanderbilt
9:15 p.m. EST (ESPN)
A late Thursday night game consisting of two teams from the SEC that exceeded expectations in 2012 and are on the rise. This will be a tight game with both teams wanting to start the season off on the right foot.
Ole Miss comes in after a big offseason where they landed highly touted recruit Robert Nkemdiche. Nkemdiche was the No. 1 recruit in the nation according to ESPN and is the younger brother of current Ole Miss linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche. Now it’s time to see how Hugh Freeze’s bunch performs on the field.
The Rebel offense will be improved with quarterback Bo Wallace being a better game manager. The offense will also look to cause problems for opposing teams’ defenses with running back Jeff Scott and receivers Donte Moncrief and incoming freshman Laquon Treadwell. The Rebel defense should also be improved with both Nkemdiche brothers.
Last season, James Franklin’s Commodores had there first nine-win season since 1915. All-SEC wide receiver Jordan Matthews will lead the Vanderbilt offense and the defense should be ranked in the top half again in a strong SEC.
Ole Miss still has a bad taste in its mouth after blowing a 23-6 lead in the second half and losing 27-26 last year. With both teams consisting of threats on the offensive end, don’t assume a shootout to erupt. Defense is going to play a big role in this game.
Prediction: Ole Miss 30, Vanderbilt 24
Oklahoma State senior quarterback Clint Chelf.
Saturday, Aug. 31: Mississippi State vs. No. 13 Oklahoma State (Houston, Texas)
3:30 p.m. EST (ABC/ESPN2)
Mike Gundy’s Cowboys will again be one of the most lethal offenses in the country. Whether it’s Clint Chelf or J.W. Walsh playing quarterback, the offense will not miss a beat. The offense also has wide receiver Josh Stewart back as well.
Mississippi State started 7-0 last season, but completely collapsed once they hit the back end of its conference schedule. All eyes are on fifth-year senior quarterback Tyler Russell, who is looking to exceed his 2,897 passing yards and 26 total touchdowns from last season.
It will be difficult to do though, with his main targets no longer in the passing game. This means 1,000 yard rusher LaDarius Perkins will be even more important this season in the backfield.
It should be of no surprise that this game comes down to the Mississippi State defense trying to prevent the Oklahoma State offense from lighting up the scoreboard. If they can’t stop the Cowboys on defense, it is going to get ugly because the Bulldog offense will not be able to go score-for-score.
Prediction: Oklahoma State 41, Mississippi State 24
Northern Illinois senior quarterback Jordan Lynch.
Saturday, Aug. 31: Northern Illinois at Iowa
3:30 p.m. EST (Big Ten Network)
The Hawkeyes scored a game-winning touchdown with 2:15 remaining in the game to win 18-17. With that being the only blemish of their regular season for the Huskies, they advanced to their first BCS bowl game in school history.
Iowa, on the other hand, hasn’t won a game since Oct. 13, when it upset Michigan State on the road. They lost their last six games of the season and went a disappointing 4-8.
Northern Illinois comes in with new head coach Rod Carey, after Dave Doeren darted for NC State, but don’t expect dangerous dual-threat quarterback Jordan Lynch and company to slow down on offense. Lynch rushed for 119 yards and one touchdown against Iowa last season.
Even though former Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg struggled against a Husky defense that only gave up an average of 19.9 points per game last season, at least he was an experienced veteran quarterback.
The Hawkeyes will start Jake Rudock, who has never played a down at Iowa. With that said, look for the Hawkeyes to rely heavily on the offensive line and running back Mark Weisman to move the ball downfield.
Iowa has defeated Northern Illinois three times since 2006, but will this finally be the opportunity for the Huskies to knock off the Hawkeyes? Expect a game similar to last season’s, where the outcome is decided in the last few minutes.
Prediction: Northern Illinois 26, Iowa 20
Alabama sophomore wide receiver Amari Cooper.
Saturday, Aug. 31: No. 1 Alabama vs. Virginia Tech (Atlanta, Ga.)
5:30 p.m. EST (ESPN)
The Alabama Crimson Tide are coming off their second consecutive BCS title, their third in four years, while Virginia Tech experienced its worst season since 1997 under 27-year head coach Frank Beamer.
In recent big season openers the Hokies have been unsuccessful. They have lost three of their last five openers, which includes a loss to Alabama in this same Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in 2009.
This will be a critical game for senior quarterback Logan Thomas, who underachieved tremendously last season. Also, a Hokie defense that basically returns everyone from 2012 will need to be physical right out of the gates against a powerful Alabama offense.
The Crimson Tide offense, which can give defenses nightmares by passing and running right over them, includes a triple threat offensive attack consisting of quarterback AJ McCarron, running back T.J. Yeldon and speedy receiver Amari Cooper.
Expect Virginia Tech to at least stay close throughout most of the first half, but eventually lose control of the game as Alabama’s offense starts putting points up and the defense led by C.J. Mosley and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix start getting to Thomas, causing him to make mistakes and the offense to go three and out.
It will be a typical Alabama win where the opposing team can simply not keep up physically and is eventually worn out by the second half.
Prediction: Alabama 38, Virginia Tech 17
Georgia senior quarterback Aaron Murray.
Saturday, Aug. 31: No. 5 Georgia at No. 8 Clemson
8 p.m. EST (ABC)
This will be the biggest game on College Football's opening Saturday. These are two top-10 teams that are not only contenders to win their conferences, but be in the BCS National Championship picture as well.
One aspect of this game is there won’t be any lack of scoring. Both Georgia and Clemson have elite offenses that consist of All-American caliber type quarterbacks, as well as running backs and wide receivers that are big playmakers.
Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray, who threw for 3,893 yards and 36 touchdowns last season, will have one of the best backfield tandems in the country with Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. Murray will also have one of his top targets from last season back in Malcolm Mitchell.
The Clemson offense lost two of its main weapons from last season, but still have one of the most dangerous pass-catch tandems in the nation with quarterback Tajh Boyd (3,896 passing yards and 46 total touchdowns in 2012) and dynamic wide receiver Sammy Watkins.
With so much emphasis on both teams’ offenses, there is going to be a lot of pressure on the defenses as well, especially Georgia's. The Bulldog defense is young with just two returning starters back from last season.
Even with all of the hype surrounding both offenses, the game will come down to the defense that makes key stops in the fourth quarter. In the end, Georgia will outlast Clemson in Death Valley.
Prediction: Georgia 38, Clemson 28
LSU senior quarterback Zach Mettenberger.
Saturday, Aug. 31: No. 12 LSU vs. No. 20 TCU (Arlington, Texas)
9 p.m. EST (ESPN)
It’s the annual Week 1 Cowboys Classic in JerryWorld. Even though both teams want to start off the season 1-0, this game means more to the TCU Horned Frogs. After a uncharacteristic first season in the Big 12, where they went 7-6, TCU wants to make a statement that they are a team to be feared.
A big story surrounding TCU is the return of senior quarterback Casey Pachall, who returns for his first game since being suspended for a DWI and entering rehab. With a lot hype concerning the Horned Frogs, you can’t help but figure that LSU will be ready to go as always.
There was a lot of hype over the 2011 Cowboys Classic between LSU and Oregon. Les Miles' Tigers took care of business by creating turnovers and shutting down an explosive Duck offense.
Whether it’s Pachall or Trevone Boykin in at quarterback, the offensive line has to hang tough because if the Tiger defense starts to get in the backfield and put pressure on the quarterback, the Horned Frogs are going to be in trouble.
With a lot of focus on LSU’s defense, the Tiger offense should be better than last season, even without potentially having Jeremy Hill starting in the backfield for now.
The LSU offense will also benefit with an improved Zach Mettenberger under center and TCU not using star defensive end Devonte Fields, who was initially suspended for the first two games of the 2013 season. There is still a chance that he could not see playing time until TCU travels to Texas Tech on Sept. 12.
Expect TCU to keep the game close until at least the third quarter. LSU’s defense though, will eventually cause turnovers and put the game out of reach.
The Tigers will move to 3-0 all-time at AT&T Stadium.
Prediction: LSU 38, TCU 24
Washington quarterback Keith Price and running back Bishop Sankey.
Saturday, Aug. 31: No. 19 Boise State at Washington
10 p.m. EST (Fox Sports 1)
An evening battle in the Pacific Northwest between two teams that will play a second consecutive game against each other.
The Huskies are seeking revenge and hoping to ruin the Broncos BCS hopes in their newly renovated stadium.
Husky senior quarterback Keith Price has a big opportunity to redeem himself after taking a step back last season, if he can pick apart Boise State’s defense. Price, of course, will need help up front, as well as 1,000-yard rusher Bishop Sankey to make plays out of the backfield.
For Boise State, the offense was not always its usual self last season. Not having Boise State All-time career passing leader Kellen Moore is more or less the reason why. They still managed to obliterate six opponents with quarterback Joe Southwick, but it was the defense that stepped up.
The Bronco defense ranked eighth nationally in points per game (15.8), fifth in passing yards per game (169.5) and 12th in total yards per game (315.6). Unfortunately, Boise State will be breaking in players at its linebacking corps, as well as at cornerback. On the other hand, Washington returns a majority of its defensive starters from last season.
This will be one of the most evenly matched games of the opening weekend with Washington having its best home-field advantage in years. This game will be close like last season, but this year the Huskies come out on top.
Prediction: Washington 26, Boise State 23
Northwestern senior running back Venric Mark.
Saturday, Aug. 31: No. 22 Northwestern at California
10:30 p.m. EST (ESPN2)
This is the starting point for what could be a magical season for Pat Fitzgerald’s Northwestern Wildcats. Cal, on the other hand, will have new head coach Sonny Dykes testing his fast-paced, no-huddle offense out with true freshman quarterback Jared Goff.
The Wildcats head into Berkeley with an offense that consists of a duo quarterback unit with Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian. The Wildcat offense also includes one of the top running backs in the nation in Venric Mark.
The Golden Bears are coming off a tough 3-9 season, where 11-year head coach Jeff Tedford was fired. This will basically be viewed as a rebuilding year for a program that has struggled as of late. The new offensive scheme will take time to learn as well. Junior running back Brendan Bigelo will be the catalyst for the offense this season.
With Northwestern being the clear favorite in this game, don’t put it past Cal to at least keep it close. Over the years, when Northwestern has traveled for non-conference games, they have played close games. Berkeley is not always the easiest to play at either.
Prediction: Northwestern 31, California 20
Florida State senior linebacker Christian Jones.
Monday, Sept. 2: No. 11 Florida State at Pittsburgh
8 p.m. EST (ESPN)
It wouldn’t be right if we didn’t finish the first week of the season with a dramatic Labor Day night game.
Pittsburgh will make its ACC debut and have hopes of starting the season off with an upset win over the No. 11 team in the nation.
The Noles’ scored 39.3 points per game and were the second best defense in the nation last season. The biggest question will be the offense without EJ Manuel. The defense lost talent, but they still have Christian Jones and Telvin Smith.
The Panthers will also be starting a new quarterback after losing three-year starter Tino Sunseri to graduation, but the defense will be solid with eight returning starters back. The Pittsburgh defense held opponents to just 330.5 yards per game last season.
This is a critical game for Florida State if the team wants to win the ACC Atlantic Division this season and continue to be a BCS caliber bowl team. An early season loss at a mediocre Pittsburgh team could come to haunt them at the end of the season.
Expect a close game with the Noles’ hanging on to avoid the upset.
Prediction: Florida State 24, Pittsburgh 17