Ultimate Guide to Week 1 of 2014 College Football Season

Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistAugust 26, 2014

Ultimate Guide to Week 1 of 2014 College Football Season

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    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    The wretched stink of the offseason is wearing off, and real college football is (finally!) almost back in our lives.

    Last week's FCS kickoff was a suitable appetizer, but the real (FBS) schedule kicks off with Abilene Christian at Georgia State Wednesday night before a stream of high-profile games on Thursday, Friday and straight through the weekend.

    In preparation for this all-you-can-watch football buffet, we've put together a handy little guide to help keep things together. It highlights all of the biggest storylines, games, matchups and players you'll want to keep track of during the first week of the season—plus more.

    The start of the College Football Playoff era brings myriad questions, but nothing about the CFP can change the fact that college football has, and will continue to have, the best regular season in sports. 

    The five-month sprint begins…now!

Top Storylines

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    USA TODAY Sports

    New Coaching Regimes at Power Programs

    You never get a second chance to make a first impression. And no matter what you think about the introductory press conference, the end of the recruiting cycle, spring camp, the spring game, the summer press junket, media days and fall camp, there's no denying that, for first-year head coaches, the first impression starts now.

    Charlie Strong takes over for Mack Brown at Texas. James Franklin steps in for Bill O'Brien (and just three years after Joe Paterno) at Penn State. Steve Sarkisian replaces Lane Kiffin/Ed Orgeron at USC. Those are three of, what, the 10 biggest programs in the country? And they're all starting new regimes.

    None of that trio gets a true cupcake to start the season, either. Strong plays a North Texas team that went 9-4 last year and has been likened to Stanford, Franklin gets a UCF team that only lost to South Carolina and won the Fiesta Bowl and Sarkisian gets a Fresno State team that went 11-2 to win the Mountain West.

    All of them will invariably make a statement this weekend. But all of them could realistically make the wrong one.

     

    The Next Era of SEC Quarterbacks

    The SEC lost a historic group of signal-callers this offseason. It was arguably the most talented mass exodus we have ever seen.

    Johnny Manziel is gone from Texas A&M, AJ McCarron is gone from Alabama, Aaron Murray is gone from Georgia, Connor Shaw is gone from South Carolina, Zach Mettenberger is gone from LSU—the list goes on and on. And of the five teams mentioned above, like those first-year coaches, none plays a cupcake opponent in Week 1.

    The next era of SEC quarterbacks will be pushed into the deep end without floaties and asked to swim. Whether it's Kenny Hill at Texas A&M, Hutson Mason at Georgia, Dylan Thompson at South Carolina or the ongoing battles at Alabama and LSU, questions about the future will be answered at the league's top schools.

     

    Let the College Football Playoff Era Begin!

    We might as well get used to talking about it. Even during last week's FCS kickoff, the booth spent extended segments breaking down the FBS playoff: how it will work, what it means, who will make it, whether it's a good thing, et cetera, et cetera, ad nauseam.

    But love it or hate it, the College Football Playoff era is officially upon us. And while it should be a mid-game talking point throughout the season, it will be especially pervasive during Week 1. Will everything still feel the same? Will the old problems still exist? Or will it feel like waking up at dawn after the Battle of Yorktown?

    It's the start of a new world order, people. And this is our first chance to see what that might mean. 

     

    Three More to Watch

    • UCF and Penn State Play in Ireland During Volcano Warning
    • First Live Football Games on the SEC Network
    • Who Will be the Inevitable Week 1 Upset?

Games of the Week

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    No. 21 Texas A&M at No. 9 South Carolina

    Thursday, Aug. 28  6 p.m. ET (Columbia, South Carolina) – SEC Network

    Johnny Manziel is gone. So is Jadeveon Clowney. Last year, these teams were led by the two most polarizing players in college football, so it's kind of fitting for them to start the season against one another. It's the dawn of a new era on both sides.

    The SEC at large should revert to its defensive roots this season, but expect this game to be an exception. According to the F/+ offensive ratings at Football Outsiders, Texas A&M was the No. 1 offense in college football last year, and South Carolina was not far behind at No. 5. They were the two best offenses in the conference.

    Manziel and Shaw are gone, but Hill and Dylan are explosive quarterbacks in their own right, and both teams have good offensive lines and a bevy of talented skill-position players (in addition to young, rebuilding defenses).

    There's a reason the over/under here is 58 points.

     

    No. 16 Clemson at No. 12 Georgia

    Saturday, Aug. 30 – 5:30 p.m. ET (Athens, Georgia) – ESPN

    This is part two of a home-and-home that started last season, when Clemson beat Georgia, 38-35, in Week 1 at Memorial Stadium.

    Like the Texas A&M-South Carolina game, the story here should be a new pair of quarterbacks, as Mason and Cole Stoudt are set to replace Murray and Tajh Boyd, respectively. Both players are seniors, though, and both have only played for one offensive coordinator. They know their systems like the back of their hands.

    The real story of this game might actually be the defenses. Questions pervade in both secondaries, but you'd have a hard time finding two better front sevens than Clemson's and Georgia's. On my list of the best position groups in college football, the Tigers defensive line ranked No. 10 and the Bulldogs linebackers came in at No. 5.

    Whichever team wins the line of scrimmage should win the game.

     

    No. 14 Wisconsin at No. 13 LSU

    Saturday, Aug. 30 – 9 p.m. ET (Houston, Texas) – ESPN

    Another Week 1 game between two ranked teams…another Week 1 game between two new starting quarterbacks. 

    Unlike the others, though, Wisconsin chose to bench a 19-game starter (Joel Stave) in favor of 6'6" athletic specimen Tanner McEvoy, whose legs open up a new dimension for the offense. As for LSU, head coach Les Miles said sophomore Anthony Jennings and true freshman Brandon Harris will both be taking snaps, per ESPN.

    But the quarterbacks, in all likelihood, will not be the ones deciding the outcome. Wisconsin and LSU are, in many ways, mirrors of one another: strongest along the offensive line, committed to running the football and completely rebuilding the defensive front seven.

    Like Clemson-Georgia, this game should come down to the trenches.

     

    Three More to Watch

    • Boise State at No. 18 Ole Miss

              Thursday, Aug. 28 – 8 p.m. ET (Atlanta, Georgia) – ESPN

    • No. 1 Florida State at Oklahoma State

              Saturday, Aug. 30 – 8 p.m. ET (Arlington, Texas) – ABC

    • Miami at Louisville 

              Monday, Sept. 1 – 8 p.m. ET (Louisville, Kentucky) – ESPN

Upset Alert

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Temple at Vanderbilt

    Thursday, Aug. 28 – 9:15 p.m. ET (Nashville, Tennessee) – SEC Network

    Vanderbilt starts the post-Franklin and -Jordan Matthews era with a tricky game against an underrated Temple team. The Owls started last season slow but got better each week, peaking with a near-upset of Fiesta Bowl champion Central Florida in November.

    Returning for Temple this year is sophomore quarterback P.J. Walker, who might be the best offensive player on either team. And the team with the best offensive player always has at least a chance. Walker had 423 total yards and four touchdowns against UCF in 2013.

    New Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason is a defensive guru, coming to the SEC after two years leading the defense at Stanford, but who can say for sure how quickly his system will take in Nashville? If it's not by Thursday night, Walker can make Mason's team pay.

     

    No. 5 Ohio State at Navy

    Saturday, Aug. 30 – noon ET (Baltimore, Maryland) – CBS Sports

    Here is a loose—but relevant—application of the transitive property:

    1. Navy lost at Notre Dame last year, 38-34.
    2. Michigan State lost at Notre Dame last year, 14-10.
    3. Ohio State lost to Michigan State on a neutral field last year, 34-24.

    If Navy was at least comparable with Michigan State last year, and Michigan State was 10 points better than Ohio State, would it really be unheard of for Navy to stay competitive with Ohio State?

    Would it matter that the game is being played in Baltimore?

    Yes, that example is dripping with confirmation bias, but it might not be so crazy. Ohio State just lost star quarterback Braxton Miller to a season-ending shoulder injury, but Navy returns record-breaking signal-caller Keenan Reynolds in full health. That matters.

    Is redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett ready to replace Miller on short notice and run the offense? Does a top-heavy defensive line have the depth to stomach Noah Spence's suspension? If not, Ohio State might be ripe for the picking against a sneaky good opponent.

     

    No. 7 UCLA vs. Virginia

    Saturday, Aug. 30 – noon ET (Charlottesville, Virginia) – ESPN

    I listed UCLA as my trendiest team of the offseason—and with good reason. The Bruins don't have a hole on their roster on paper, which has made them a popular pick to win the Pac-12.

    But they shouldn't get ahead of themselves in a Week 1 road game against Virginia. The Cavaliers went 2-10 last year, but one of those wins came over a good BYU team during nonconference play, and their defense is probably one of the five best in the ACC.

    UCLA has more talent (by a long shot), but it's always scary when a West Coast team plays a noon kickoff out East. To its players, midday feels like 9 a.m., and Virginia might have just enough talent to make it pay for coming out lethargic.

     

    Three More to Watch

    • Jacksonville State at No. 8 Michigan State

              Friday, Aug. 29 – 7:30 p.m. ET (East Lansing, Michigan) – BTN

    • Wofford at Georgia Tech

              Saturday, Aug. 30 – 12:30 p.m. ET (Atlanta, Georgia) – ESPN Gameplan

    • Rice at No. 17 Notre Dame

              Saturday, Aug. 30 – 3:30 p.m. ET (South Bend, Indiana) – NBC

     

    (One More to Watch…

     

    *Note: Only underdogs of 14 points are more were considered for this list. All lines courtesy of VegasInsider.com (LVH).

Players to Watch

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    RB Mike Davis, South Carolina (vs. Texas A&M)

    Thursday, Aug. 28 – 6 p.m. ET (Columbia, South Carolina) – ESPN

    Mike Davis laughed so hard he cried when he read reports that he might miss the season opener, but his health remains a concern.

    He missed the start of fall camp with a hamstring injury and the end of it with a rib injury, and while neither is likely to jeopardize his season, it's never good when bumps and bruises snowball.

    Backups Brandon Wilds and Tra Carson are fine and all, but South Carolina needs Davis in top form to contend for an SEC title. When healthy, he is Maurice Jones-Drew incarnate, and a young Gamecocks defense could use the help of a ball-control offense.

    Let's see what he can do against (what should be) a vulnerable Texas A&M run defense. In theory, he should have a big game.

     

    QB Jake Coker and/or Blake Sims, Alabama (vs. West Virginia)

    Saturday, Aug. 30 – 3:30 p.m. ET (Atlanta, Georgia) – ABC

    Alabama always starts the year with a decent opponent, and West Virginia, while down a little bit, is no exception. Especially with safety Karl Joseph patrolling the back end, it will pose a reasonable test to Coker and/or Sims in their first live exhibition.

    According to Marc Torrence of Bleacher Report, Nick Saban hasn't made up his mind on whether both quarterbacks will play. Last time he had a quarterback competition, though, he did have McCarron and Phillip Sims rotate in the opener. He let the cream rise to the top.

    My best guess? Sims gets the start, Coker rotates in and Saban decides from there. That, of course, would mean that the quarterback of the No. 2 team in the country would be decided on national TV against an opponent that played in the Orange Bowl three years ago.

    How could you not tune in to watch that?

     

    QB Tanner McEvoy, Wisconsin (vs. LSU)

    Saturday, Aug. 30 – 9 p.m. ET (Houston, Texas) – ESPN

    Adam Rittenberg of ESPN.com hit the nail on the head with his job description for a traditional Wisconsin quarterback:

    "Game manager, adept at handoffs and play-action, accurate passer in limited opportunities, careful with the ball at all times, mobility not required, playmaking skills optional."

    McEvoy might be none of the above.

    The Badgers' new quarterback is 6'6" and played safety after losing the job to Stave last offseason. He didn't play half bad on the other side of the ball, either. His passing is a work in progress, but if nothing else, his ability to run adds a much-needed wrinkle to Wisconsin's offense, which otherwise might have been woefully predictable.

    Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen helped make Chuckie Keeton a superstar at Utah State, and this is the first mobile QB he has worked with since leaving. If McEvoy provides even 80 percent of Keeton's excellence, this Wisconsin team could be scary.

    It's hard to imagine a better litmus test than LSU.

     

    Three More to Watch

    • QB Devin Gardner, Michigan (vs. Appalachian State)
    • QB Cole Stoudt, Clemson (vs. Georgia)
    • WR D'haquille Williams, Auburn (vs. Arkansas)

Freshman Debuts to Watch

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    Credit: 247Sports

    RB Leonard Fournette, LSU (vs. Wisconsin)

    Saturday, Aug. 30 – 9 p.m. ET (Houston, Texas) – ESPN

    It's supposed to be sacrilege to compare a running back with Adrian Peterson—especially one who has never played a college snap.

    But whom else can Leonard Fournette be compared to? He was the No. 1 overall recruit on the 247Sports composite rankings, and he's big (6'1", 230 lbs) and strong and fast and tough. He's unlike any prospect we have seen since, well, Peterson himself in 2004.

    Terrence Magee might technically be listed as the starter, and he's sure to see plenty of work, but make no mistake about it: Fournette is going to play against Wisconsin. He's going to play a lot.

    We'll finally get to see what he can do.

     

    QB Brad Kaaya, Miami (at Louisville)

    Monday, Sept. 1 – 8 p.m. ET (Louisville, Kentucky) – ESPN

    Along with John Wolford at Wake Forest, Brad Kaaya is one of just two confirmed true freshman starting quarterbacks at a power-five school. And Wake Forest only fits under that heading technically.

    For all intents and purposes, Kaaya is alone.

    At 6'4" with a long, wiry frame, Kaaya has a strong enough arm to make college-level throws. He was a late bloomer as a recruit, not coming on until the end of 2014 cycle, but he finished as a consensus top-150 overall player and top-10 pro-style quarterback.

    Louisville lost two first-round NFL draft picks, Marcus Smith and Calvin Pryor, from last year's stingy defense. More than that, Strong left and took defensive coordinator Vance Bedford with him to Texas, leaving embattled former Georgia DC Todd Grantham in charge of the rebuilding project. There will be holes for Kaaya to exploit.

    Still, Louisville's non-freshmen all got to learn under Strong and Bedford for at least one season, and Papa John's Cardinal Stadium is a tough place for an 18-year-old to make his college debut.

     

    CB Jabrill Peppers, Michigan (vs. Appalachian State)

    Saturday, Aug. 30 – noon ET (Ann Arbor, Michigan) – ESPN 2

    If not for Fournette stealing all of the headlines, more would be made of the hype surrounding Michigan's Jabrill Peppers.

    Rated the No. 3 overall player in the country, Peppers is a two-way star who will play nickelback as a freshman and probably pop up in a few offensive sets. According to Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com, he was also announced as the team's primary punt returner.

    That versatility has led to obvious Charles Woodson comparisons—something that will not go away for as long as Peppers plays in Ann Arbor. If he does anything to help Michigan exorcise some demons against Appalachian State, his legend will get an early start.

     

    Three More to Watch

    • DE Myles Garrett, Texas A&M (vs. South Carolina)
    • LB Raekwon McMillan, Ohio State (vs. Navy)
    • OT Cam Robinson, Alabama (vs. West Virginia)

     

    Note: All recruiting info refers to the 247Sports composite rankings.

Best One-on-One Matchups

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    USA TODAY Sports

    RB Kevin Parks (Virginia) vs. ILB Eric Kendricks (UCLA)

    Saturday, Aug. 30 – noon ET (Charlottesville, Virginia) – ESPN

    Kevin Parks is a shifty, do-it-all running back and one of the most underrated players at his position in the country.

    Eric Kendricks is a rangy, do-it-all linebacker and…well, one of the most underrated players at his position in the country.

    With a new full-time quarterback (Greyson Lambert) and the loss of last year's two leading receivers, Virginia will have to lean heavily on Parks to get its offense going. He can be deployed in myriad ways, which will test Kendricks' sideline-to-sideline speed and play-recognition skills in the middle of UCLA's 3-4 defense.

     

    OT John Theus (Georgia) vs. DE Vic Beasley (Clemson)

    Saturday, Aug. 30 – 5:30 p.m. ET (Athens, Georgia) – ESPN

    John Theus manned the right tackle spot at Georgia the past two seasons, but a switch to left tackle in 2014 means an upgrade in competition. Now he is protecting the blind side, which means shutting down an opponent's best pass-rusher.

    Against Clemson, though, he might not just be facing the opponent's best pass-rusher; he might be facing the country's best. Vic Beasley had 13 sacks and 23 tackles for loss last season, both of which were the most (or tied for the most) among returning players.

    Theus actually got benched at one point last season after getting abused by Dee Ford against Auburn, but now that facing All-America candidates will become the norm instead of the exception, he is ready to live up to his former 5-star pedigree.

    "I’m going to have my hands full," he told Marc Weiszer of the the Athens Banner-Herald"I’m going to have be on the top of my game.

    "(But) We've played good players in the past. It’s not like our first time playing a good player…We can do whatever we want to. We’ve just got to put our minds to it and go out and do it."

     

    OT Rob Havenstein (Wisconsin) vs. DE Jermauria Rasco (LSU)

    Saturday, Aug. 30 – 9 p.m. ET (Houston, Texas) – ESPN

    Jermauria Rasco is the best run defender on a line with run-defense questions. He will be counted on to set and hold the edge against a team, Wisconsin, that relies on getting the edge consistently.

    In his way, though, will be hulking right tackle Rob Havenstein, a 6'8", 333-pound monster with 28 career starts under his belt. He's not one of those nimble, new-age, get-out-in-space tackles, but he's one of the most physical run-blockers in the country.

    Rasco has the advantage of going against LSU's offensive line every day in practice—which might be the best simulation of Wisconsin's that one could ask for—but in a real game, everything is different. 

     

    Three More to Watch

    • WR Shaq Roland (S. Carolina) vs. CB Deshazor Everett (Texas A&M)
    • C Nick Martin (Notre Dame) vs. DT Christian Covington (Rice)
    • WR Kenny Bell (Nebraska) vs. CB D'Joun Smith (Florida Atlantic)

Heisman Contenders in Statement Games

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    RB Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin (at LSU)

    Saturday, Aug. 30 – 9 p.m. ET (Houston, Texas) – ESPN

    Unless Wisconsin makes the Big Ten Championship Game, Melvin Gordon will never have a bigger stage than this one. The Badgers miss Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State and Michigan from the Big Ten East, which severely limits Gordon's national exposure.

    He's got a great chance to win some believers against LSU, though. The Tigers defense was comparatively bad on the ground last season, finishing No. 40 in the S&P+ run defense ratings at Football Outsiders, and it should be even more vulnerable as it integrates a group of young starters to the front seven this season.

    This is an important spot for Gordon to announce himself as a Heisman contender with a big performance. One or two of his patented long touchdown runs would look nice on a highlight reel.

    (Especially with the Purple and Gold in pursuit.)

     

    RB Todd Gurley, Georgia (vs. Clemson)

    Saturday, Aug. 30 – 5:30 p.m. ET (Athens, Georgia) – ESPN

    Even in a loss, Todd Gurley made Clemson cry uncle last season—and he only needed 12 carries (on an injured thigh) to do it.

    On those 12 carries, Gurley went for 154 yards and a pair of equally impressive touchdowns: the first a downhill 75-yarder where he showcased his breakaway speed, the second after shedding four tackles on a broken play from Clemson's 12-yard line.

    Since then, though, Clemson's defense has gradually improved. It now looks like one of the best units in the country. Georgia's offensive line should take a small step back from last year, and Gurley still has to prove that last year's bum ankle is at or near 100 percent.

    There is reason to believe Gurley won't replicate last year's performance, but if he does, there would be nothing left for doubters to say. Gashing this Clemson front seven for a second straight year would go a long way for his Heisman candidacy.

     

    QB Jameis Winston, Florida State (at Oklahoma State)

    Saturday, Aug. 30 – 8 p.m. ET (Arlington, Texas) – ABC

    Unlike Manziel, last year's polarizing reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Jameis Winston's offseason capers did not land him any sort of Week 1 suspension. However, also unlike Manziel, Winston is not starting his Heisman defense against Rice.

    Instead, Winston draws an Oklahoma State defense that is short on experience but not talent. The Cowboys finished No. 8 in the defensive F/+ ratings at Football Outsiders last season, thanks in large part to defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer—one of their few returnees.

    Winston can silence all of the (mostly baseless) criticism he's faced this offseason by playing well in Arlington. No more baseball. No more Crabgate. He's back to doing what he does best: making good defenses look bad.

     

    Three More to Watch

    • RB Mike Davis, South Carolina (vs. Texas A&M)
    • QB Christian Hackenberg, Penn State (vs. UCF)
    • QB Brett Hundley, UCLA (at Virginia)

Players We're Happy to See Back in Uniform

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    Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

    QB Everett Golson, Notre Dame (vs. Rice)

    Saturday, Aug. 30 – 3:30 p.m. ET (South Bend, Indiana) – NBC

    It's been a long road back for Everett Golson, who missed last season with a university-imposed academic suspension, then had to scratch and claw during fall camp to win his old job back from Malik Zaire.

    The 18-month hiatus has been especially tough to swallow because the last image Golson left us—a 42-14 defeat against Alabama in the BCS National Championship—was not indicative of his brilliant season in 2012. He hasn't had a chance to redeem himself.

    We'll learn a lot more about Golson against Michigan in Week 2 and later in a three-game stretch against Stanford, North Carolina and Florida State, but for now, even if the opponent is Rice, it will just be nice to see him back on the field.

     

    WR Austin Hill, Arizona (vs. UNLV)

    Friday, Aug. 29 – 10 p.m. ET (Tucson, Arizona) – ESPN

    Austin Hill might be the most quickly forgotten 1,300-yard receiver in college football history. It was only two years ago that he was posting those ridiculous numbers, but hardly anyone outside of Pac-12 country seems to realize that he disappeared and returned.

    The torn ACL that cost Hill his 2013 season occurred during spring camp, though, placing it more than 16 months in the past. He's ready to get back to making Pac-12 defenders look helpless.

    "I’m planning on being better than I was," Hill told Daniel Berk of the Arizona Daily Star during fall practice. "(Even) If I’m not where I want to be at the beginning of the season, I believe in myself that I’ll work to become better than I was."

    Arizona opens Friday night against UNLV.

     

    QB Chuckie Keeton, Utah State

    Sunday, Aug. 31 – 7 p.m. ET (Knoxville, Tennessee) – SEC Network

    Keeton suffered one of the ugliest injuries we've ever seen against BYU last year, tearing the ACL and the MCL in his left knee. (Seriously, please, do not go look up the video. You'll regret it.)

    At the time, it was unclear when—or if—he would return to the football field, but after an offseason of nonstop rehab, he is on track to start in Neyland Stadium against Tennessee this weekend.

    Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer called Keeton the "most exciting talent" in college football this spring, and it's hard not to agree. Ever since his first career game—when, as a true freshman, he almost led a road upset over the defending national champion (Auburn)—it was clear that we were watching something special.

    His return means we don't have to stop.

     

    Three More to Watch

    • WR Stefon Diggs, Maryland (vs. James Madison)
    • QB Jeff Driskel, Florida (vs. Idaho)
    • DB Tyler Hunter, Florida State (vs. Oklahoma State)

Best Tailgating Spots

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Columbia, South Carolina

    In 2013, nothing drew a better, more spirited tailgate than heckling Texas A&M when Johnny Football came to town. In 2014, nothing will draw a better, more spirited tailgate than heckling Texas A&M because Johnny Football isn't coming to town.

    The Gamecocks think this is their season, and their fans agree. Being voted the favorite to win the SEC East at media days only added fuel to that fire. The chance to get things going at Texas A&M's expense will mean a delightfully boisterous atmosphere in Columbia.

    DJ Darude—cue up that overplayed track!

     

    Athens, Georgia

    Georgia fans have been waiting for this all offseason. Longer. They've been waiting for this since the final whistle blew at Memorial Stadium last August. They've been waiting for a full Gregorian year.

    Athens is a mainstay on these lists, but with Clemson coming to town and revenge on the student section's mind, the city should be in rare form, even for itself, during Saturday afternoon's tailgate. 

     

    Austin, Texas

    Texas fans need something to cheer for. A reason to get excited.

    Last year was deflated against BYU in early September and felt like a limp balloon thereafter. Even when the Longhorns found themselves contending for a Big 12 title, rumors of Mack Brown's firing cast a pall over any potential fun. The entire season was hollow.

    But 2014 signals a new beginning. Not just in the win-loss column but everywhere. Even against North Texas, the start of the Strong era will be reason enough to party. And heck, whooping up (hopefully) on an in-state school might actually make it even better.

     

    Three More to Watch

    • Auburn, Alabama (Arkansas at Auburn)
    • Knoxville, Tennessee (Utah State at Tennessee)
    • Waco, Texas (SMU at Baylor)*

     

    *Bonus points for the first game at new McLane Stadium

Betting Locks of the Week

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    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    COLORADO STATE (+3.0) over Colorado

    Friday, Aug. 29 – 9 p.m. ET (Denver, Colorado) – Fox Sports 1

    Colorado beat Colorado State, 41-27, in last year's season-opener, but it needed 10 catches, 208 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns from star receiver Paul Richardson to get there.

    This year, Richardson is gone, and the Buffaloes draw a CSU team that did a lot of growing in its second year under head coach Jim McElwain. Despite the early loss, the Rams finished almost 30 spots higher (66 to 95) than their in-state rival on the Football Outsiders F/+ ratings, and according to the Football Outsiders Almanac, they're projected to finish a solid 12 spots higher (86 to 98) in 2014.

    Colorado is the short favorite in small part because of last year's win, but in large part because it's the power-conference team. The first half of that holds some clout; the second half, not so much.

    Senior quarterback Garrett Grayson is an underrated game manager, and he has a future NFL starter (Ty Sambrailo) at left tackle to keep him clean. CSU can win this game outright.

     

    BOSTON COLLEGE (-16.0) over Massachusetts

    Saturday, Aug. 30 – 3 p.m. ET (Foxborough, Massachusetts) – ESPN3

    I'm not exactly bullish on Boston College in the ACC this season. The Eagles lost a lot of talent from last year's surprisingly plucky group, and they'll be lucky to get back to a bowl.

    Still, a Steve Addazio-coached team should be able to cover two touchdowns and a field goal on a neutral field against Massachusetts, right? Even without Andre Williams, Boston College will still be able to run the ball, and UMass allowed 5.39 yards per carry last year.

    In Week 1 last season, Wisconsin ran for 393 yards on 44 carries against the Minutemen and won 45-0. Boston College is no Wisconsin, but those numbers are staggering regardless. The narrative of head coach Mark Whipple returning to Amherst is winsome on paper, but it won't produce such a quick turnaround on the field.

    I'm willing to look like a sucker by laying three scores on the road. If it bites me in the butt, so be it—that's what I get.

     

    FLORIDA ATLANTIC (+22.5) over No. 22 Nebraska

    Saturday, Aug. 30 – 3:30 p.m. ET (Lincoln, Nebraska) – Big Ten Network

    Florida Atlantic was better last season than most people realize. 

    Even with the chaos surrounding surrounding head coach Carl Pelini—brother of Nebraska's head coach, Bo—the Owls played stingy defense and ended the year on a four-game winning streak. According to Bill Connelly of Football Study Hall, their adjusted margin of victory during those games was an impressive plus-13.1.

    This year, FAU returns nascent star quarterback Jaquez Johnson, a dual-threat weapon who can beat Nebraska's defense multiple ways. It also returns cornerback D'Joun Smith, arguably the best defensive back from outside of the power-five conferences and a good matchup for Nebraska's star receiver, Kenny Bell.

    Is Nebraska at risk of losing outright? Not really. If it was, it would have been on the "Upset Alert" slide. But covering three touchdowns against a solid defense with a rebuilt offensive line and secondary is a tall order. I'll jump on those points all day.

     

    Three More to Watch

    • WASHINGTON STATE (-8) over Rutgers (Pullman, Washington)
    • CLEMSON (+7.5) over Georgia (Athens, Georgia)
    • LOUISVILLE (-3) over Miami (Louisville, Kentucky)

     

    Note: All lines courtesy of VegasInsider.com (LVH).

     

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