College football season kicks off this week, with Saturday serving up the majority of season-openers that are likely to be the most thrilling games of Week 1.
The Alabama Crimson Tide are the two-time reigning national champions and will take on the unranked Virginia Tech Hokies, who will need a lot of luck and head coach Frank Beamer's trademark edge on special teams to have any chance of defeating the juggernaut.
Then there is the epic duel between AP No. 5 Georgia and eighth-ranked Clemson in Memorial Stadium, along with the Cowboys Classic, pitting No. 12 LSU against No. 20 TCU.
While other top-ranked teams are easing into the season, three of the most powerful SEC programs are taking on relatively formidable opponents. Let's take a look at how these games might play out and whether upsets are at all possible.
No. 1 Alabama vs. Virginia Tech
What an opportunity for Hokies quarterback Logan Thomas to make an early senior-year statement.
At 6'6" and 257 pounds with exceptional speed, Thomas has all the fathomable physical ability to be a top-flight NFL prospect with huge upside. However, his steep regression as a junior has hampered any potential professional aspirations.
Thomas' completion percentage dropped from 59.8 to 51.3, and his overall efficiency suffered from poor decision-making, leading to 16 interceptions against just 18 touchdowns.
The Crimson Tide will present a stiff test for Thomas, who could ignite Virginia Tech's season with a virtuoso performance.
That's far easier said than done, though, because Hokies defensive coordinator Bud Foster is going to have his hands full with the Alabama offense. Crimson Tide QB AJ McCarron has guided his team to two straight national championships and played at an extremely high level.
Virginia Tech will play two true freshmen in the secondary in Kyle Fuller and Brandon Facyson, according to ESPN.com's Matt Fortuna.
No matter how wise beyond their years those youngsters may be, McCarron will find a way to exploit matchups, likely finding preseason All-American receiver Amari Cooper with regularity.
Combine that with a powerful running game spearheaded by T.J. Yeldon, and the Hokies will likely be outmatched in Atlanta.
Prediction: Alabama 34, Virginia Tech 17
No. 5 Georgia vs. No. 8 Clemson
A battle of two of the most intriguing quarterbacks in the country defines this marquee matchup. Bulldogs QB Aaron Murray beat out Heisman winner Johnny Manziel as the preseason first-team All-SEC signal-caller, and expectations are higher than ever entering his senior year.
Clemson's Tajh Boyd is a dual-threat athlete who prefers to beat opponents from the pocket and only runs when absolutely necessary.
The departure of Houston Texans first-round pick DeAndre Hopkins hurts Clemson's passing attack, but Sammy Watkins is still firmly in the fold, bound to live up to his immense hype after being overshadowed by Hopkins a season ago.
Although Georgia's defense is reputedly and realistically better than the Tigers in many cases, the team did lose starters to the pros—most notably linebackers Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree.
Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley give the Bulldogs a solid running game capable of controlling the clock, but if the Tigers' up-tempo offense gets rolling, Death Valley will erupt.
This should be a shootout, but the hosting Tigers should buck the trend of SEC superiority and manage to squeak by with a victory.
Prediction: Clemson 45, Georgia 35
No. 12 LSU vs. No. 20 TCU
The AT&T Stadium venue alone for this edition of the Cowboys Classic will make this one of the can't-miss games of opening weekend.
The big question for the Horned Frogs is who will start under center—Casey Pachall or Trevone Boykin.
Pachall was magnificent before being suspended indefinitely after a DWI charge in 2012, which led him to leave the school voluntarily to seek drug and alcohol rehabilitation. Head coach Gary Patterson has not said whether Pachall or Boykin will get the nod.
Even though many have moved on from LSU's defense, B/R's resident NFL draft expert Matt Miller noted back in July that defensive coordinator John Chavis will have plenty of possible pros at his disposal yet again:
That's bad news for whoever starts for TCU at quarterback. There has to be a certain rust factor with Pachall despite his record-setting 2011 campaign and 4-0 start last year, and Boykin managed to go just 3-6 when he was handed the keys by default.
Les "The Mad Hatter" Miles isn't tipping his hand as to whether reinstated running back Jeremy Hill will play on Saturday, either. If Hill does and is as explosive as he was in 2012, when he ran for 755 yards and 12 touchdowns, he and the rest of the Tigers' deep backfield should be able to wear down TCU.
As long as QB Zach Mettenberger plays steadily, keeps the defense honest by stretching the field with his big arm and makes all the right reads, LSU should emerge victorious.
Prediction: LSU 24, TCU 14
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