The long summer lull has finally ended with the start of college football in 2014. There have been a few games already, but everyone knows that Saturday is the day to sit in front of your television from noon until you fall asleep in the middle of the night with West Coast games on.
It's also the first opportunity we have to evaluate the early-season favorites against competition. As is always the case, some Top 25 teams have opted to take a matchup that is a glorified preseason game. Others are giving themselves an early challenge to see how far along they are.
Whatever the games may look like, the excitement will be off the charts simply because football season has started. We have some more excitement to offer with odds and predictions for the Top 25 teams in Week 1.
|No. 1 Florida State vs. Oklahoma State||FSU (-18)||FSU 49, OSU 24|
|No. 2 Alabama vs. West Virginia||Alabama (-26)||Alabama 35, WVU 13|
|South Dakota at No. 3 Oregon||Oregon (-51)||Oregon 66, South Dakota 20|
|Louisiana Tech at No. 4 Oklahoma||OU (-38)||Oklahoma 45, La Tech 20|
|No. 5 Ohio State at Navy||OSU (-16.5)||OSU 20, Navy 10|
|Arkansas at No. 6 Auburn||Auburn (-18.5)||Auburn 30, Arkansas 13|
|No. 7 UCLA at Virginia||UCLA (-21)||UCLA 41, UVA 23|
|SMU at No. 10 Baylor (Sunday)||Baylor (-33)||Baylor 56, SMU 21|
|UC Davis at No. 11 Stanford||Stanford (-47)||Stanford 38, UC Davis 7|
|No. 16 Clemson at No. 12 Georgia||UGA (-7.5)||UGA 27, Clemson 20|
|No. 14 Wisconsin vs. No. 13 LSU||LSU (-5)||Wisconsin 20, LSU 17|
|Fresno State at No. 15 USC||USC (-21)||USC 37, FSU 23|
|Rice at No. 17 Notre Dame||ND (-21)||ND 24, Rice 10|
|Stephen F. Austin at No. 20 Kansas State||KSU (-43)||KSU 45, SFA 10|
|Florida Atlantic at No. 22 Nebraska||Nebraska (-21.5)||Nebraska 38, FAU 17|
|Liberty at No. 23 North Carolina||UNC (-26)||UNC 41, Liberty 13|
|South Dakota State at No. 24 Missouri||Missouri (-14)||Missouri 38, SDSU 20|
|No. 25 Washington at Hawaii||UW (-17.5)||UW 38, Hawaii 24|
Favorites on Upset Alert
No. 5 Ohio State (at Navy)
Even with the absence of Braxton Miller, Ohio State is still a big favorite going on the road against Navy. It's not a surprise because Urban Meyer has been able to recruit a lot of talent to the Buckeyes.
However, the oddsmakers are underselling what Navy has become as a program. The Midshipmen have won at least eight games in 10 of the last 11 years and have averaged more than 300 rushing yards per game two of the last three seasons.
Not surprisingly, the key to this game will be Ohio State finding a rhythm in the passing game with redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett playing in his first game since high school two years ago.
Barrett certainly isn't acting like a freshman around his teammates, according to Austin Ward of ESPN.com:
While the Buckeyes haven’t yet heard him in a game or seen what he can do on the field for a team with College Football Playoff aspirations, they’ve had the better part of a year to get used to him in Miller’s place on the practice field and also had plenty of time during his redshirt season to learn how Barrett carries himself. And to a man, the entire program has come away raving about his leadership skills, maturity -- and when it’s time to stop talking, his physical tools.
All of the talk about what Barrett is like off the field is nice, but performance between the lines on Saturday is what matters most. He's going to endure some growing pains early, which could allow Navy to sneak in and get the win.
Ultimately, because the Buckeyes have more talent and a huge defensive line anchored by star defensive tackle Michael Bennett that will contain Navy's rushing attack, it's hard to predict an upset.
But if Barrett struggles out of the gate and allows the Midshipmen to jump out to an early lead and control the clock, things will get very interesting.
No. 12 Georgia (vs. No. 16 Clemson)
While it doesn't seem like going out on a limb to project an upset in a game between two teams ranked in the Top 20, keep in mind that Clemson is replacing its starting quarterback (Tajh Boyd), top two receivers (Sammy Watkins, Martavis Bryant) and best cornerback (Bashaud Breeland).
Georgia, meanwhile, stands to benefit from last year's rash of injuries that doomed its season, because all of those young players and backups got valuable experience to prepare for this year.
Where Clemson shines, though, is on defense. Andrea Adelson of ESPN.com talked about Dabo Swinney's returning group, led by All-American defensive end Vic Beasley, in a preview for this game:
But it is impossible to overlook this defense, which should be the strength of this team going into the season.
That means advantage Clemson. Think about it. If you had to open the season on the road against a Top 25 team, would you want a stronger offense or stronger defense?
Georgia running back Todd Gurley is generating a lot of preseason Heisman buzz and torched Clemson for 154 yards on just 12 carries last year, but the passing game is a question mark for the Bulldogs. Aaron Murray graduated, transferring power to senior Hutson Mason. He did appear in four games last year, starting the last two after Murray tore his ACL.
However, the difference between Georgia Tech's and Nebraska's defense last season and Clemson right now is stark. The Tigers have the impact pass-rusher off the edge to make life miserable for Mason.
No. 13 LSU (vs. No. 14 Wisconsin)
In another case where two ranked teams doesn't necessarily make for a sexy upset pick, Wisconsin will be carrying the torch for the often-mocked Big Ten against the traditional SEC powerhouse, LSU.
Which favorite is going to have the toughest time getting a win?
The Tigers are five-point favorites, but Les Miles' group has a lot of questions to answer and a really good team on the other side of the field to do it against. Their biggest dilemma is trying to figure out the quarterback position.
Miles is going with a two-quarterback system in the opener, giving Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris opportunities to play. However, per CBSSports.com's Dennis Dodd, the LSU head coach didn't sound ecstatic about either player: "Right now, if there was a quarterback who gave us all the advantages to play, then at some point in time that would be our starter."
Wisconsin is going to break in a new quarterback as well. Gary Andersen is going into his second season as head coach with transfer Tanner McEvoy as his signal-caller. It's a bold risk to take with Joel Stave returning after starting every game for the Badgers last year.
The Badgers may not have a proven quarterback, but at least they have enough confidence in one to make a call. In a game between two teams that are otherwise evenly matched, the difference under center is huge.
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