College Football Picks: Week 1 Predictions for Every Game

Brian Pedersen@realBJPFeatured ColumnistSeptember 1, 2016

College Football Picks: Week 1 Predictions for Every Game

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    After nearly seven months, our long national nightmare is over. 

    The 2016 college football season is here, and to reward you for your patience, we have one of the best opening weeks of competition ever assembled. It will also be one of the largest slates ever, though the 86 games on tap between Thursday evening and Monday night is one fewer than in 2015.

    You can thank an overabundance of FCS/FBS clashes for this large schedule—46 to be exact—but even with those mostly lopsided matchups, there are still plenty of great games. How do four matchups of Top 25 teams and 14 pitting power-league foes or top independents sound? There's even a trio of conference pairings, one of which is taking place in Ireland.

    There's a little something for every kind of college football fan this week, and to help get you ready, we've made predictions for all 86 contests. We'll do this every week throughout the 2016 season, updating these predictions in real time as games go final. So if you think our picks are way off base, make sure to weigh in with your comments and check back later to see how we did.

    NOTE: All rankings for teams are from the Associated Press poll.


    Last season: 607-206 (.747)

No. 11 Ole Miss vs. No. 4 Florida State (in Orlando)

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    Mark Wallheiser/Associated Press

    When: Monday, Sept. 5, 8 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Ole Miss notched a 33-0 win over Florida State in October 1961.

    What to watch for

    Labor Day has become an unofficial college football holiday thanks to the NFL not starting up until the following week, and with games like this one, it's worth stretching the first week of the season a little longer.

    Ole Miss is coming off its first 10-win campaign since 2003, beating Oklahoma State in the Sugar Bowl but then saying goodbye to three first-round NFL draft picks (defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche, receiver Laquon Treadwell and offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil). Their replacements have promise but lack the experience, though the Rebels still have plenty of quality returners including quarterback Chad Kelly.

    Kelly set a slew of Ole Miss records in 2015, his first season with the program after starting at Clemson and then spending time in junior college. He's declared himself the "best quarterback in the nation" to reporters and gets a great opportunity to prove that against Florida State's stellar secondary.

    FSU also won 10 games last season, but that was considered a bit of a down year after winning the 2013 national title and reaching the semifinals the following year. The Seminoles appear ready to return to the championship conversation, maybe hoping history can repeat itself with another redshirt freshman (Deondre Francois) at quarterback.

    He'll get to make some plays, but the difference will be Dalvin Cook, who had 1,691 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns in 2015 and could easily top those numbers this fall.

    Prediction: Florida State 29, Ole Miss 22

    FINAL: Florida State 45, Ole Miss 34

Hampton at Old Dominion

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    Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

    When: Sunday, Sept. 4, 3:30 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Taylor Heinicke threw for 281 yards and three touchdowns in Old Dominion's 41-28 season-opening win over Hampton in August 2014.

    What to watch for

    Hampton was 6-5 overall and 5-3 in the MEAC last season, winning its final two games by a combined 72 points. The Pirates are winless in two tries against FBS opponents.

    Old Dominion enters its third season of FBS play trying to reverse a diminishing win total. The Monarchs were 6-6 in their first full year and then went 5-7 last season when they were eligible for a bowl invite but lost their final two games.

    With 17 starters back, as well as plenty of games against teams with losing records from a year ago, the conditions are ripe to get into a bowl. But Old Dominion can't squander winnable games like this one.

    Prediction: Old Dominion 43, Hampton 21

    FINAL: Old Dominion 54, Hampton 21

No. 10 Notre Dame at Texas

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    LM Otero/Associated Press

    When: Sunday, Sept. 4, 7:30 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Notre Dame held Texas to 163 yards in a 38-3 home win over Texas to open last season.

    What to watch for

    Shootouts are often described as first team to 50 points wins, while defensive struggles might come down to who manages to find the end zone first. This one? Whoever settles on a quarterback figures to come out on top.

    "I think it's the right thing to do is to get them both on the field against Texas," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly told WNDU's Angelo Di Carlo, referring to the decision to play both junior Malik Zaire and redshirt sophomore DeShone Kizer equally.

    Texas is leaning the same way, with Charlie Strong expected to play both senior Tyrone Swoopes and true freshman Shane Buechele.

    "You’re going to have a starter, but the reason both are going to play is because of the work they put in," Strong said, per's Chris Vannini. "There’s going to be a starting quarterback. The next one, you package plays where he might go in the third or fourth series, but you’re going to play both because of the work they put in."

    The shuffling at QB could lead to mistakes for both teams on offense but will make reacting on defense a huge part of the process. It's also where playing at home should give Texas the advantage, though it lost three times in Austin last season.

    Prediction: Texas 23, Notre Dame 20

    FINAL: Texas 50, Notre Dame 47 (2 OT)

Boston College vs. Georgia Tech (in Dublin, Ireland)

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    Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

    When: Saturday, Sept. 3, 7:30 a.m. ET

    Last meeting: Georgia Tech ran for 391 yards in a 37-17 home win over Boston College in October 2012 in ACC play.

    What to watch for

    Either set the alarm super early or stock up on Red Bull and stay up extra late if you want to watch a matchup of the ACC's last-place teams from 2015. No judgment.

    Boston College was 0-8 in league play and 3-9 overall despite having the No. 1 defense in the country last season. That's because the Eagles couldn't move the ball to save their life, especially through the air, though that figures to be fixed with Kentucky graduate transfer Patrick Towles on board.

    Georgia Tech was eighth in rushing in 2015, at 256.2 yards per game, but that was almost 86 yards fewer than in 2014 when it played in the ACC Championship Game. The Yellow Jackets allowed 35.2 points per game during a five-game losing streak, and they couldn't pass well enough to catch up.

    Expect BC's defense to remain strong, even with coordinator Don Brown now at Michigan. Will it be able to stop the run and make enough plays on offense to snap an eight-game losing streak? Just barely.

    Prediction: Boston College 20, Georgia Tech 18

    FINAL: Georgia Tech 17, Boston College 14

No. 3 Oklahoma vs. No. 15 Houston (in NRG Stadium)

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    When: Saturday, Sept. 3, noon ET

    Last meeting: Oklahoma claimed a 63-13 win over Houston in September 2004.

    What to watch for

    Of all the high-profile Week 1 matchups, this one is the most unlikely. Not just because it pits a power-conference team against a Group of Five standout but also because no one could have predicted how good Houston was going to turn out.

    "It's not quite David vs. Goliath," Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer wrote. "David doesn't beat Florida State by two touchdowns; Goliath, while No. 3 in the AP Top 25 poll to start the season, typically doesn't feel this vulnerable."

    Oklahoma scheduled this as part of a pseudo home-and-home series in 2014, probably thinking it would help the Sooners with their Texas-based recruiting. Houston went 8-5 that season, firing coach Tony Levine and replacing him with Tom Herman, who promptly went 13-1 in his first year with wins over three power-conference teams (including Florida State in the Peach Bowl).

    The Sooners were 11-2 last season, winning the Big 12 and then falling to Clemson in the playoffs. They return 13 starters, including quarterback Baker Mayfield and standout rushers Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine, but their defense is in rebuilding mode and figures to be put to the test by Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr.

    Ward had more than 3,900 yards of total offense (including 1,108 rushing yards) and 38 total touchdowns in 2015.

    It's not a do-or-die situation for each team, but a win here could serve as a springboard for the rest of the season. Oklahoma has another one of these games in two weeks, at home against Ohio State, while for Houston this is a program-defining opportunity.

    The Cougars keep it close but don't have the horses to keep up in the long run.

    Prediction: Oklahoma 30, Houston 23

    FINAL: Houston 33, Oklahoma 23

Bowling Green at No. 6 Ohio State

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    Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

    When: Saturday, Sept. 3, noon ET

    Last meeting: Ohio State scored a 35-7 win over Bowling Green in October 2006.

    What to watch for

    Bowling Green is the defending Mid-American champion, but a lot figures to be different this season. Dino Babers is now at Syracuse, getting replaced by first-time head coach Mike Jinks, while nearly 80 percent of the Falcons' offensive production has graduated, turned pro or transferred, per Defense will be the focal point at first, but it might be hard to assess that unit based on the first game.

    That's because Ohio State is primed for another big offensive year despite only returning three starters. Junior quarterback J.T. Barrett returns, which is more than enough to build around, and his experience should quickly rub off on the inexperienced skill players.

    One Buckeye who fans were anxious to see won't be on the field, as redshirt freshman wideout Torrance Gibson was suspended for the season for violating the school's student code of conduct.

    Ohio State's defense is young but loaded with talent and should pounce on a rebuilding Bowling Green attack.

    Prediction: Ohio State 41, Bowling Green 15

    FINAL: Ohio State 77, Bowling Green 10

Hawaii at No. 7 Michigan

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    Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

    When: Saturday, Sept. 3, noon ET

    Last meeting: Michigan went to Hawaii to end the regular season in 1998 and pulled out a 48-17 win.

    What to watch for

    Hawaii got an early start on 2016 by playing last weekend in Australia, losing 51-31 to California in a game that wasn't that close. The Rainbow Warriors allowed 630 yards overall and more than seven yards per play, and there's been little time to regroup with a 9,400-mile trip from Sydney to Ann Arbor.

    Michigan won 10 games last season, exceeding all expectations that came with Jim Harbaugh's first year in charge. That means even loftier goals for this fall, despite uncertainty at quarterback and no defined standouts in the running game. Harbaugh knows who he's going to start at QB, either Houston transfer John O'Korn or junior Wilton Speight, but he says that information is not "for public consumption," per David Ubben of Sports on Earth.

    Either one figures to have little trouble with a Hawaii defense that allowed 441 yards and four touchdowns through the air to Cal, and the Wolverines defense will dominate in new coordinator Don Brown's aggressive scheme.

    Prediction: Michigan 50, Hawaii 10

    FINAL: Michigan 63, Hawaii 3

Missouri at West Virginia

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    Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

    When: Saturday, Sept. 3, noon ET

    Last meeting: Missouri squeaked out a 34-31 win over West Virginia in the 1998 Bowl.

    What to watch for

    Missouri enters a new era after 15-year coach Gary Pinkel retired for health reasons. Defensive coordinator Barry Odom, a Tigers alum, takes over, looking to lean on the defense while the offense searches for consistency.

    Last year, Mizzou averaged 13.6 points per game, second-lowest in FBS, at one point going a whole month without scoring a touchdown. After winning two consecutive SEC East Division titles, the Tigers were 1-7 in the league.

    West Virginia went 8-5, but the season is better described in streaks, first a 3-0 start followed by four straight losses and then four wins in a row. Through it all, the Mountaineers allowed only 24.6 points per game but were torched for 40-plus on four occasions.

    Dana Holgorsen is 15-21 in Big 12 play but has handled most nonconference challenges with ease. Missouri won't give too much resistance in this one.

    Prediction: West Virginia 30, Missouri 16

    FINAL: West Virginia 26, Missouri 11

Western Michigan at Northwestern

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    Matt Marton/Associated Press

    When: Saturday, Sept. 3, noon ET

    Last meeting: Treyvon Green ran for 158 yards and two touchdowns in Northwestern's 38-17 home win over Western Michigan in September 2013.

    What to watch for

    Western Michigan went 8-5 last season, tying for first place in the Mid-American's West Division and winning the program's first bowl game in seven tries. Coach P.J. Fleck's #RowTheBoat mantra has caught on, and the Broncos should again be in the mix in the MAC thanks to eight returning offensive starters including quarterback Zach Terrell and receiver Corey Davis.

    All that's missing from Western Michigan's rise is a signature non-league win. It beat Illinois in November 2008 and since has gone 0-17 against power-conference teams, including losing last year to Michigan State and Ohio State.

    Northwestern won 10 games in 2015, matching the win total from the previous two seasons combined, thanks to an ironclad defense and a ball-control offense. This produced a lot of low-scoring games—the Wildcats beat Stanford 16-6, Duke 19-10 and Wisconsin 13-7—but when they struggled, they really struggled, losing to Michigan, Iowa and Tennessee (in the Outback Bowl) by a combined 107 points.

    The same formula figures to be in place for this season as junior running back Justin Jackson gets a ton of carries with junior linebacker Anthony Walker involved in every play on defense. Western Michigan will push Northwestern to the limit, though, and it will be touch and go until the end.

    Prediction: Northwestern 26, Western Michigan 20

    FINAL: Western Michigan 22, Northwestern 21

South Alabama at Mississippi State

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    Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

    When: Saturday, Sept. 3, noon ET

    Last meeting: Dak Prescott had 340 yards of total offense and two touchdowns in Mississippi State's 35-3 win at South Alabama in September 2014.

    What to watch for

    South Alabama lost its final three games last season to finish at 5-7, and most of the key members of that team have departed. According to college football expert Phil Steele, the Jaguars rank 118th out of 128 FBS teams in terms of returning experience.

    Mississippi State isn't much better at 97th, but a great deal of that lost production and experience was in the form of one player. Quarterback Dak Prescott, now in line to start for the Dallas Cowboys, was the Bulldogs' main weapon, and replacing him isn't going to be easy. Coach Dan Mullen has junior Damian Williams and redshirt sophomore Nick Fitzgerald battling, telling reporters he sees "Nick Williams" starting the opener.

    As important as finding Prescott's replacement is, so too is developing a traditional run game. Brandon Holloway and Ashton Shumpert will get more work, and this is the game to use as a confidence-builder.

    Prediction: Mississippi State 37, South Alabama 14

    FINAL: South Alabama 21, Mississippi State 20

Boise State at Louisiana-Lafayette

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    Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

    When: Saturday, Sept. 3, noon ET

    Last meeting: Jay Ajayi ran for 150 yards and three touchdowns in Boise State's 34-9 home win over Louisiana-Lafayette in September 2014.

    What to watch for

    Boise State is the gold standard of mid-major programs, having won 10 or more games 13 times since 1999. During that span, the Broncos have played in (and won) a trio of Fiesta Bowls, including the memorable overtime triumph against Oklahoma in 2007.

    But last year was a bit of a hiccup, a 9-4 record that included three Mountain West losses, two of which were on the blue turf that Boise normally dominates. Turnovers were the big issue, going plus-nine for the season but minus-six in the defeats.

    Louisiana-Lafayette was making strides toward being the Sun Belt version of Boise with four consecutive 9-4 seasons from 2011 to 2014, but then the bottom fell out last year at 4-8. The Ragin' Cajuns dropped their final four games, including at home to bad New Mexico State and Troy teams.

    The slate has been wiped clean with coach Mark Hudspeth adding new pieces through recruiting and transfers, including former LSU quarterback Anthony Jennings. However, he's still not as good as Boise sophomore Brett Rypien, and that will prove to be the difference.

    Prediction: Boise State 27, Louisiana-Lafayette 21

    FINAL: Boise State 45, Louisiana-Lafayette 10

Fordham at Navy

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    Matt Rourke/Associated Press

    When: Saturday, Sept. 3, noon ET

    Last meeting: None

    What to watch for

    Fordham was 9-3 overall and 5-1 in the Patriot League last season, losing at Chattanooga in the FCS playoffs. The Rams won, 37-35, at Army to start 2015, their second win in the last three years against an FBS team, but since then have seen coach Joe Moorhead leave to become Penn State's offensive coordinator. They begin the year ranked 20th in the FCS poll.

    Navy suffered some significant losses but one major win during the offseason, retaining coach Ken Niumatalolo after he passed on the BYU job. But he inherits a dearth of experience from the 2015 team that won a school-record 11 games and was 7-1 in the American in its first season of conference play.

    Among those who have moved on: all-time FBS touchdowns leader Keenan Reynolds and running back Chris Swain, who last year combined for 2,396 rushing yards and 34 touchdowns. Tago Smith, a senior who backed up Reynolds the last two years, takes over at quarterback and should run it a lot in the triple-option.

    Navy has 41 wins against FCS teams and hasn't lost to one since 2007. There's no better time for the Midshipmen to be facing one this season.

    Prediction: Navy 27, Fordham 16

    FINAL: Navy 52, Fordham 16

Eastern Kentucky at Purdue

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    Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

    When: Saturday, Sept. 3, noon ET

    Last meeting: Robert Marve threw for 295 yards and three touchdowns in Purdue's 48-6 home win over Eastern Kentucky to open the 2012 season.

    What to watch for

    Eastern Kentucky was 6-5 overall and 5-3 in the Ohio Valley in 2015 under Dean Hood, who is now assistant head coach at Charlotte. Last season, the Colonels lost 35-0 at North Carolina State and 34-27 at Kentucky, blowing a 14-point fourth-quarter lead against the Wildcats before falling in overtime. They're 7-25 all-time against FBS opponents, with their most recent win coming in 2014 at Miami (Ohio).

    Purdue was 2-10 overall and 1-7 in the Big Ten last season, dropping coach Darrell Hazell's record to 6-30 and 2-22, respectively. The Boilermakers bring back 16 starters and will need them to build on their past experience to help Hazell keep his job.

    Quarterback David Blough and running back Markell Jones, both of whom emerged as freshmen last year, will now need to be leaders. Purdue is 11-0 against FCS teams. Half of Hazell's six career victories have come in those games.

    Prediction: Purdue 40, Eastern Kentucky 20

    FINAL: Purdue 45, Eastern Kentucky 24

Howard at Maryland

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    Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

    When: Saturday, Sept. 3, noon ET

    Last meeting: None

    What to watch for

    Howard was 1-10 overall and 1-7 in the MEAC last season, beginning with a pair of shutout losses at FBS schools. The Bison lost 49-0 at Appalachian State and then 76-0 at Boston College, going winless in 12 all-time meetings with FBS opposition.

    Maryland begins the D.J. Durkin era with by far the easiest game on the schedule, the start of four straight against teams that were a combined 8-39 last season. Senior Perry Hills is Durkin's choice for quarterback, hoping he won't be as turnover-prone (13 interceptions on 180 attempts) as in 2015 when the Terrapins gave the ball away an FBS-worst 36 times.

    Unavailable is top returning running back Wes Brown, who is suspended for the first three games after also sitting out Maryland's final two games of 2015. Plenty of others will get touches in a game that should get out of hand quickly.

    Prediction: Maryland 54, Howard 17

    FINAL: Maryland 52, Howard 13

Liberty at Virginia Tech

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    Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

    When: Saturday, Sept. 3, 12:30 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: None

    What to watch for

    Liberty was 6-5 overall and 3-3 in the Big South last year, its fourth season under former Buffalo and Kansas coach Turner Gill. The Flames split a pair of games against FBS teams in 2015, losing 41-17 at West Virginia in September and then winning 41-33 at Georgia State in October. They're 4-20 against the FBS with three of those wins coming since 2010.

    Justin Fuente turned Memphis from a doormat into a mid-major power in four seasons, and now he takes on a completely different project. With Virginia Tech, he's hoping to carry on the success that legendary coach Frank Beamer had for so long while creating his own tradition—and hopefully get the Hokies out of the rut that has seen them win seven or eight games for four straight seasons after averaging 10.5 from 2004 to 2011.

    Among the most notable changes implemented by Fuente is the installation of a newcomer at quarterback, as he is going with junior-college transfer Jerod Evans over senior Brenden Motley. Evans won't lack for options to hand off and throw to, including 1,000-yard rusher Travon McMillian and school single-season receiving leader Isaiah Ford.

    Longtime defensive coordinator Bud Foster remains in his role, so expect Tech to fare well on that side, too. For this game, though, all eyes will be on the Hokies offense, as it should put up some promising numbers.

    Prediction: Virginia Tech 44, Liberty 15

    FINAL: Virginia Tech 36, Liberty 13

Villanova at Pittsburgh

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    When: Saturday, Sept. 3, 1:30 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Pittsburgh outlasted Villanova, 48-41, to open the 1998 season.

    What to watch for

    Villanova was 6-5 overall and 5-3 in the Colonial Athletic Association last season, falling to co-champion James Madison in its finale to finish one game out of first place. The Wildcats lost, 20-15, at Connecticut to open 2015 after leading during the first half and come into this season ranked 22nd in the preseason FCS poll.

    Pittsburgh won eight games in Pat Narduzzi's first season despite losing top running back James Conner to a knee injury in the 2015 opener. Conner then dealt with cancer but has recovered from both. He will be in the starting lineup, which is one of the best stories of the offseason.

    Conner adds to the 15 other starters the Panthers have back, several of which are seniors, including quarterback Nathan Peterman and sixth-year defensive end Ejuan Price. Pitt will regroup for a much better performance than it had to open 2015, when it struggled to a 45-37 win over FCS Youngstown State.

    Prediction: Pittsburgh 37, Villanova 19

    FINAL: Pittsburgh 28, Villanova 7

Rutgers at No. 14 Washington

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    Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

    When: Saturday, Sept. 3, 2 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: None

    What to watch for

    Rutgers begins in Seattle for the second time in three years, winning there against Washington State in August 2014. A lot has changed since then, with Chris Ash taking over for the fired Kyle Flood and the Scarlet Knights coming off a 4-8 season instead of a fifth consecutive bowl campaign.

    The Knights have 16 starters back, including electric playmaker Janarion Grant, who had touchdowns as a receiver and on punt and kickoff returns in 2015. But for Rutgers to contend in the Big Ten, it needs to be better on defense, having allowed 46 or more points on five occasions last season.

    Washington is the trendy dark-horse pick of this offseason, having stood just 4-6 in mid-November but then dominating in its final three games with a young team that is just scratching the surface. Quarterback Jake Browning and running back Myles Gaskin started as true freshmen and will only get better, while the Huskies defense is loaded with rising stars.

    The TV people took away any advantage the time change would have resulted in by scheduling this at 11 a.m. local time, but that's about all Rutgers has going for it.

    Prediction: Washington 41, Rutgers 14

    FINAL: Washington 48, Rutgers 13

Abilene Christian at Air Force

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    Otto Kitsinger/Associated Press

    When: Saturday, Sept. 3, 2 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: None

    What to watch for

    Abilene Christian was 3-8 overall and 3-6 in the Southland Conference last season, its third at the FCS level. The Wildcats lost, 34-13, at Fresno State to open 2015 to fall to 1-3 against FBS opponents, with their sole win coming in 2014 at Troy.

    Air Force won the Mountain West's Mountain Division but lost its final three games, including to San Diego State in the conference title game and California in the Armed Forces Bowl to finish 8-6. The Falcons were 2-6 when allowing 27 or more points but return nine defensive starters, including All-Name Team nominee Weston Steelhammer at safety.

    Most of the skill players from an offense that ran for 319.4 yards per game in 2015 are back, but the offensive line has been rebuilt. There's no better way to see how the new unit plays together than with a soft opponent out of the gate.

    Prediction: Air Force 33, Abilene Christian 17

    FINAL: Air Force 37, Abilene Christian 21

No. 16 UCLA at Texas A&M

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    Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

    When: Saturday, Sept. 3, 3:30 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: UCLA earned a 29-23 win over Texas A&M in the 1998 Cotton Bowl, the 10th victory in a 20-game winning streak for the Bruins.

    What to watch for

    UCLA was picked to win the Pac-12's South Division this season despite losing seven offensive starters. But one of those returning is the reason for the rising expectations.

    Sophomore quarterback Josh Rosen is coming off a masterful first college season, one that began with a stellar debut and remained solid for most of the year. Aside from some accuracy issues and a few too many interceptions, he did everything expected of him, but now Rosen is being asked to be a leader for an offense that's young across the skill positions.

    "He’s holding people more accountable this year, holding himself more accountable this year," receiver Eldridge Massington said, per SB Nation's Robert Bastron.

    Texas A&M enters this season at a crossroads, with coach Kevin Sumlin feeling the pressure after consecutive 5-0 starts in 2014 and 2015 were followed by dismal finishes. The team has a revamped offense, both in terms of personnel—Oklahoma graduate transfer Trevor Knight is the quarterback, replacing two who transferred out of College Station—and coaching, as the Aggies hired coordinator Noel Mazzone from UCLA.

    The Aggies need this game far more than UCLA and will play with a level of intensity that didn't exist during much of last year.

    Prediction: Texas A&M 37, UCLA 21

    FINAL: Texas A&M 31, UCLA 24 (OT)

No. 5 LSU vs. Wisconsin (in Green Bay, Wisconsin)

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    When: Saturday, Sept. 3, 3:30 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: LSU rallied from a 17-point deficit to beat Wisconsin, 28-24, in Houston to open the 2014 season.

    What to watch for

    Lambeau Field is one of the most iconic stadiums in football, yet it's never hosted a college game before. This should make for a heck of a first impression.

    LSU brings with it an impressive winning streak against nonconference opponents, having won the last 52 regular-season games it's played against non-SEC teams. The last loss was in 2002 to Virginia Tech, though few contests during that streak have been as tough as having to face a perennial Big Ten power on its own turf.

    Wisconsin won 10 games in Paul Chryst's first season, but it wasn't with the usual Badgers formula on offense. The run game produced some of the lowest numbers in more than a decade, partly due to Corey Clement not being healthy. He's at full strength for 2016, but the line isn't after senior guard Dan Voltz was forced to retire because of injury.

    The Badgers also lost a key defender to injury in linebacker T.J. Edwards, who is unavailable for the opener because of a broken foot. He was their top returning tackler and would have been a huge part of the game plan to at least try to stop LSU's Leonard Fournette.

    Fournette had his own injury issue in the preseason, an ankle sprain, but coach Les Miles has said there's "no issue with his health," per James Bewers of the Advocate.

    Wisconsin ranked fourth nationally against the run in 2015 but doesn't have enough to slow Fournette down.

    Prediction: LSU 24, Wisconsin 20

    FINAL: Wisconsin 16, LSU 14

Southeastern Louisiana at No. 21 Oklahoma State

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    Jonathan Bachman/Associated Press

    When: Saturday, Sept. 3, 3:30 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: None

    What to watch for

    Southeastern Louisiana was 4-7 overall and 3-6 in the Southland last season, dropping its final four games, including three by five or fewer points. The Lions lost, 35-14, at Ohio last September to put their record against FBS competition at 5-20, with their last victory coming in 1981 against Louisiana-Monroe.

    Oklahoma State won its first 10 games of 2015 but lost the last three, including to Ole Miss in the Sugar Bowl. The poor finish served as fuel for the Cowboys to improve their run game and work on stopping the run, two things that did them in as last season wore on.

    One place OK State needed no help was in the passing game, as Mason Rudolph is back for his third season as the starter and won't be splitting snaps like he did last year with run-first J.W. Walsh. For Rudolph to be successful, though, he'll need a running back (or two) to emerge.

    Look for coach Mike Gundy to try out all of his backs during this warm-up before bigger challenges against Central Michigan and Pittsburgh.

    Prediction: Oklahoma State 38, Southeastern Louisiana 17

    FINAL: Oklahoma State 61, Southeastern Louisiana 7

Miami (Ohio) at No. 17 Iowa

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    When: Saturday, Sept. 3, 3:30 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Iowa scored a 21-3 win over Miami to open the 2003 season.

    What to watch for

    Miami went 3-9 last season, but that was its most wins since 2012, and 16 starters are back from that team including nearly everyone on offense. Then again, that unit averaged 17.9 points and 338.2 yards per game in 2015, so expectations for a sudden rise by the RedHawks should be tempered, especially outside of Mid-American play.

    Their last nonconference win against a non-FCS team came in 2011 against Army.

    Iowa shocked the world by winning its first 12 games last year and then nearly knocked off Michigan State for the Big Ten title, before Stanford blew it out in the Rose Bowl. Now come all the questions about whether the Hawkeyes can recapture lightning in a bottle or admit that 2015 was a fluke.

    A strong group of returners are back, including senior quarterback C.J. Beathard and senior cornerback Desmond King, who won the Thorpe Award in 2015 as the nation's top defensive back. Those two are more than enough to ensure an easy win, but look for some new faces to pop up as well.

    Prediction: Iowa 43, Miami (Ohio) 13

    FINAL: Iowa 45, Miami (Ohio) 21

Kent State at Penn State

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    When: Saturday, Sept. 3, 3:30 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Zach Zwinak ran for three touchdowns in Penn State's 34-0 home win over Kent State in September 2013.

    What to watch for

    Kent State won 11 games and played for the Mid-American championship in 2012 and has gone 9-26 in the three seasons since. Last year's 3-9 team averaged 270.8 yards and 13.1 points per game, getting shut out three times during a season-ending five-game losing streak.

    Penn State brings a four-game skid into 2016, though it's worth noting those losses were all to teams that won 10 or more games. The Nittany Lions offense was a mess, which prompted James Franklin to hire Fordham coach Joe Moorhead and have him install a spread attack that will emphasize the run but also allow the quarterback to thrive.

    Christian Hackenberg regressed in the previous system, but new starter Trace McSorley has a chance to thrive, at least in this game against an overmatched opponent.

    Prediction: Penn State 39, Kent State 13

    FINAL: Penn State 33, Kent State 13

Texas State at Ohio

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    Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

    When: Saturday, Sept. 3, 3:30 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: None

    What to watch for

    Texas State dipped to 3-9 last season, its fourth at the FBS level, after which coach Dennis Franchione retired. His replacement, Everett Withers, won 18 games and made two FCS playoff appearances in two seasons at James Madison and was 7-6 as North Carolina's interim coach in 2011.

    Texas State gave up 39.2 points per game in 2015, yielding 50 or more four times. Making matters worse, only 10 starters are back from either side, so some lean times could be in store.

    Ohio won eight games in 2015, reaching a bowl game for the sixth time in the last seven years. Bobcats coach Frank Solich, who turns 72 next week, doesn't look like he's hanging up the headset any time soon.

    Potential starting quarterback J.D. Sprague left the program late in training camp—one of three passers to depart this offseason—which elevated Greg Windham into the role. His first career start will result in a win.

    Prediction: Ohio 29, Texas State 21

    FINAL: Texas State 56, Ohio 54 (3 OT)

Richmond at Virginia

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    Steve Helber/Associated Press

    When: Saturday, Sept. 3, 3:30 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Matt Johns and Greyson Lambert each had touchdown passes in Virginia's 45-13 home win over Richmond in September 2014.

    What to watch for

    Richmond was 10-4 overall and 6-2 in the Colonial Athletic Association last season, reaching the FCS semifinals before falling to five-time champion North Dakota State. The Spiders are ranked fourth in the FCS preseason poll and have one of the top FCS receivers in the country in senior Brian Brown, who had 1,450 yards in 2015 that included 68 in the loss at Maryland.

    New Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall spent most of the offseason living in an RV, but now he moves to the sidelines in Charlottesville with a debut that won't be a cakewalk. But with the Cavaliers set to visit Oregon and Connecticut in the following weeks, a challenge right off the bat could prepare his rebuilding team for what lies ahead.

    East Carolina grad transfer Kurt Benkert beat out Johns for the starting quarterback job, part of a handful of tweaks Mendenhall has made to get the Cavaliers moving in the right direction. They should win, but there will be some tense moments in the second half, maybe even in the fourth quarter.

    Prediction: Virginia 31, Richmond 24

    FINAL: Richmond 37, Virginia 20

Murray State at Illinois

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    Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

    When: Saturday, Sept. 3, 3:30 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: None

    What to watch for

    Murray State was 3-8 overall and 2-6 in the Ohio Valley last season but returns senior quarterback KD Humphries, who led FCS with 3,778 passing yards. He had a combined 585 yards and three touchdowns in the Racers' losses last year at Northern Illinois and Western Michigan, which dropped their record to 3-27-2 against FBS opponents.

    Illinois went into the offseason with Bill Cubit as coach but came out of it with Lovie Smith at the helm. The former NFL head coach hasn't been in the college game since the 1990s, but he's still managed to reinvigorate a Fighting Illini program that hasn't won more than seven games since 2007.

    Smith is known for his defensive mindset, and that's where he is going to need to make his biggest mark, since only four starters return from 2015. Illinois did pick up a key addition in Hardy Nickerson Jr., a grad transfer from California whose father is the team's defensive coordinator.

    Illinois may give up a lot of yards and a fair number of points, but the Lovie Smith era will begin victorious.

    Prediction: Illinois 50, Murray State 30

    FINAL: Illinois 52, Murray State 3

Louisiana Tech at Arkansas

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    Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    When: Saturday, Sept. 3, 4 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Arkansas posted a 17-13 win over Louisiana Tech in September 1997.

    What to watch for

    Louisiana Tech is coming off back-to-back nine-win seasons but lost some major components of those teams, most notably touchdown machine Kenneth Dixon and stud defenders Vernon Butler and Nick Thomason. Overall, the Bulldogs return nine starters, fewest of any team in Conference USA.

    Arkansas has been on a steady rise since Bret Bielema showed up in 2013, going from 3-9 that first season to 8-5 this past year with a 5-3 mark in the tough SEC West. Whether the Razorbacks can continue that climb, or at least maintain the current level, depends on how good the next crop of starters fares.

    Austin Allen takes over at quarterback for older brother Brandon, while the running game that's produced four individual 1,000-yard rushing seasons the past three years is skewing younger. There's much more experience on defense, and that could help allow the Razorbacks offense to take its time developing.

    Still, expect Arkansas to put up a bunch of points in an effort to see who it can turn to in Week 2's trip to TCU.

    Prediction: Arkansas 43, Louisiana Tech 19

    FINAL: Arkansas 21, Louisiana Tech 20

UC Davis at No. 24 Oregon

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    When: Saturday, Sept. 3, 5 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: None

    What to watch for

    UC Davis was 2-9 overall and 2-6 in the Big Sky in 2015, including losses at Nevada (31-17) and Hawaii (47-27). The Aggies are 2-14 all-time against FBS teams, with their last win coming in 2010 against San Jose State.

    Oregon went 9-4 overall and 7-2 in the Pac-12 last season, with shoddy defense leading to six opponents topping the 40-point barrier. That includes TCU in the Alamo Bowl, after the Ducks led 31-0 but then fell 47-41, which prompted coach Mark Helfrich to bring in ex-Michigan coach Brady Hoke as defensive coordinator.

    Hoke has switched to a 4-3 alignment, but the depth up front has already taken a hit with defensive end Torrodney Prevot's suspension after being accused of assaulting a female student.

    The Ducks offense should again be explosive, but with another new quarterback from the FCS level. After Vernon Adams Jr. excelled in 2015 Montana State graduate transfer Dakota Prukop has picked up the reins.

    Not much defense will be needed to win this one, though Oregon wouldn't mind seeing some progress.

    Prediction: Oregon 53, UC Davis 23

    FINAL: Oregon 53, UC Davis 28

No. 18 Georgia vs. No. 22 North Carolina (in Atlanta)

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    When: Saturday, Sept. 3, 5:30 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Georgia earned a 7-3 win over North Carolina in the 1971 Gator Bowl.

    What to watch for

    To call this a neutral-site game is to ignore where each team's fans are located. Georgia is the team in the Peach State and will have grabbed every available seat in the cavernous Georgia Dome in hopes that it's the first of two or three times the fans get to watch the Bulldogs there. The others would be the SEC title game, where Georgia hasn't been since 2012, and the Peach Bowl that serves as one of the playoff semifinals this season.

    But we're getting ahead of ourselves. After all, Georgia has undergone a coaching change and shouldn't be expected to do much this season, right? Think again.

    The school parted ways with Mark Richt after 15 seasons, replacing him with first-time coach Kirby Smart. He spent the previous nine years on Nick Saban's staff at Alabama, overseeing the defense and being a part of four national championship teams including the 2015 version that he coached even after accepting the Georgia job.

    He inherits a talented team, but one that has a big question mark at quarterback. Either senior Greyson Lambert or true freshman Jacob Eason will get the nod, possibly both.

    North Carolina decided on its new passer a while ago, putting its faith in junior Mitch Trubisky. He was Marquise Williams' backup the previous two seasons and got into plenty of games, and the Tar Heels think highly of him.

    "There’s no doubt in my mind he’s prepared because of the reps he’s had, meaningful reps in games, and also there was a spring where he was the No. 1 quarterback the entire spring," UNC coach Larry Fedora told's Brant Wilkerson-New.

    UNC won 11 games in 2015, all in a row, but ended with two straight losses including to Baylor in the Russell Athletic Bowl. It allowed a bowl-record 645 rushing yards in that contest, and Georgia figures to try to exploit the Heels defensive line. Helping in that cause will be junior Nick Chubb, who is expected to play after tearing knee ligaments in October.

    Prediction: Georgia 33, North Carolina 19

    FINAL: Georgia 33, North Carolina 24

Southern Illinois at Florida Atlantic

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    Rob Foldy/Getty Images

    When: Saturday, Sept. 3, 6 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: None

    What to watch for

    Southern Illinois was 3-8 overall and 2-6 in the Missouri Valley last season, firing coach Dale Lennon and replacing him with co-offensive coordinator and former Salukis quarterback Nick Hill. The Salukis are 3-35 against FBS teams and haven't beaten one since 2007 (Northern Illinois), but last September they fell 48-47 at Indiana when they couldn't convert a two-point try with 18 seconds left.

    Florida Atlantic was 3-9 overall and 3-5 in Conference USA in 2015, its sixth losing record in the last seven seasons. It could have been a lot different if the Owls were able to win a close game, dropping four by seven or fewer points (including in overtime at Florida).

    An FBS program since 2004, Florida Atlantic is 6-0 against FCS teams but hasn't played one since squeaking out a 7-3 win over Wagner in 2012. This is a dangerous game, despite Southern Illinois' record, and an upset wouldn't be shocking.

    Prediction: Florida Atlantic 29, Southern Illinois 27

    FINAL: Florida Atlantic 38, Southern Illinois 30

North Carolina Central at Duke

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    Lance King/Getty Images

    When: Saturday, Sept. 3, 6 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Thomas Sirk had 401 yards of total offense and four total touchdowns in Duke's 55-0 home win over North Carolina Central last September.

    What to watch for

    North Carolina Central went 8-3 overall and 7-1 in the MEAC, tying for the conference title with Bethune-Cookman and North Carolina A&T. The Eagles ended on a seven-game win streak after a 1-3 start that included losses to Duke and Florida International, giving them an 0-8 record against FBS opponents.

    Duke is coming off its first bowl win since 1960, an overtime triumph over Indiana in the Pinstripe Bowl in which Sirk ran for 155 yards and two scores and added 163 passing yards and a TD. Since then, Sirk has injured his Achilles tendon twice, including during training camp, which will likely sideline him for all of 2016.

    That means the Blue Devils will turn to untested redshirt freshman Daniel Jones, a former walk-on. Don't expect him to be asked to do much, given the strong running back depth on the roster, but he'll get chances to gain confidence against a team Duke had no trouble with a year ago.

    Prediction: Duke 38, North Carolina Central 14

    FINAL: Duke 49, North Carolina Central 6

Western Carolina at East Carolina

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    Eric Christian Smith/Getty Images

    When: Saturday, Sept. 3, 6 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: East Carolina opened the 1981 season with a 42-6 win over Western Carolina.

    What to watch for

    Western Carolina was 7-4 overall and 5-2 in the Southern Conference last season, its second straight winning record after eight consecutive losing marks. The Catamounts' losses in 2015 included at Tennessee (55-10) and Texas A&M (41-17), which made them winless in 50 tries against FBS competition.

    East Carolina fired Ruffin McNeill in the winter and replaced him with Duke offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery, who inherits a team that went 5-7 overall and 3-5 in the American. Half the starters are gone, but the Pirates added former Minnesota and Rutgers quarterback Philip Nelson, who is listed as the starter for the opener.

    History shows that a few FBS teams get tripped up, and since 2010, at least one has happened during the first week of the season and at least one first-year head coach has lost to an FCS school. Western Carolina running back Detrez Newsome will help his team make history while continuing the FCS tradition of pulling off shockers.

    Prediction: Western Carolina 27, East Carolina 24

    FINAL: East Carolina 52, Western Carolina 7

Florida A&M at Miami (Florida)

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    Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

    When: Saturday, Sept. 3, 6 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Coach Al Golden coached his 100th career game in Miami's 41-7 home win over Florida A&M in September 2014.

    What to watch for

    Florida A&M was 1-10 overall and 1-7 in the MEAC last season, the first under coach Alex Wood. The Rattlers opened 2015 with a 51-3 setback at South Florida, making them 2-25 all-time against FBS opponents with their last victory coming against Miami in 1979.

    Mark Richt returned to his alma mater after spending 15 seasons coaching Georgia, a move that quickly moved Miami to the national spotlight. Since then, he's been trying to focus on getting the Hurricanes ready for 2016 but instead has had to deal with numerous off-field incidents. The latest led to the dismissal of junior defensive lineman Al-Quadin Muhammad and senior linebacker Jermaine Grace.

    Of those who are still on the roster, there's plenty of promise. This starts with junior quarterback Brad Kaaya, who should make great strides in his third year as a starter under Richt's tutelage. Expect a performance that will at least temporarily make the recent news go away.

    Prediction: Miami 47, Florida A&M 13

    FINAL: Miami 70, Florida A&M 3

Savannah State at Georgia Southern

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    Todd Bennett/Getty Images

    When: Saturday, Sept. 3, 6 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Georgia Southern ran for 564 yards in an 83-9 home win over Savannah State in September 2014.

    What to watch for

    Savannah State was 1-9 overall and 1-7 in the MEAC last season, its sixth year with no more than one victory. Regularly a sacrificial lamb to FBS teams, the Tigers lost 65-13 at Colorado State and 52-9 at Akron to sit at 0-9 against the upper level in 2015.

    Georgia Southern has had about as successful a transition from FCS to FBS as possible, going 18-7 in two seasons, including a win over Bowling Green in December's GoDaddy Bowl. The Eagles have done this with an option run game that's led the nation in rushing the past two years, last year averaging 363 yards per game.

    Senior Matt Breida had 1,609 yards and 17 touchdowns as a junior, and the Eagles return their top five rushers, all of whom had at least 500 yards and combined for 51 rushing scores. They could all hit the century mark in what might be the biggest romp of Week 1.

    Prediction: Georgia Southern 68, Savannah State 10

    FINAL: Georgia Southern 54, Savannah State 0

Austin Peay at Troy

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    Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

    When: Saturday, Sept. 3, 6 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Troy claimed a 41-3 win over Austin Peay in October 2002.

    What to watch for

    Austin Peay was 0-11 overall and 0-8 in the Ohio Valley last season, bringing a 16-game losing streak into 2016. The Governors have lost 34 of their last 35 games, including at Southern Mississippi (52-6) and Vanderbilt (47-7) last year to put their record against FBS competition at 2-22 all-time.

    Troy was 4-8 overall and 3-5 in the Sun Belt in Neal Brown's first season, one in which the Trojans had the fourth-worst time of possession in the country. There are 14 starters back, including junior quarterback Brandon Silvers, who has thrown for 4,207 yards and 31 touchdowns in the past two seasons.

    With the Trojans going to Clemson in Week 2, they'll want to have as many feel-good plays as possible in the opener. Austin Peay should oblige.

    Prediction: Troy 45, Austin Peay 17

    FINAL: Troy 57, Austin Peay 17

VMI at Akron

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    Loren Orr/Getty Images

    When: Saturday, Sept. 3, 6:30 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Jawon Chisholm ran for 188 yards and a touchdown in Akron's 36-13 win over VMI in September 2011.

    What to watch for

    VMI went 2-9 overall and 1-6 in the Southern Conference in 2015, losing eight of its final nine games. The Keydets, who fell 48-36 at Ball State to open last season, are winless in 31 tries against FBS opponents.

    Akron went 8-5 last season, its first winning record since 2005, capped by a 23-21 win over Utah State in the Potato Bowl for the program's first bowl victory. The Zips take a five-game win streak into this season, tied for fifth-longest in the country and their best since winning five in a row in 2004.

    Coach Terry Bowden has only seven returning starters, but there's enough here to get through the opener without much difficulty.

    Prediction: Akron 33, VMI 21

    FINAL: Akron 47, VMI 24

SMU at North Texas

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    Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

    When: Saturday, Sept. 3, 7 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Matt Davis had 300 yards of total offense and four touchdowns in SMU's 31-13 home win over North Texas last September.

    What to watch for

    SMU was 2-10 in Chad Morris' first season, but that was still a vast improvement from the year before—particularly on offense, where an uptempo attack produced 27.8 points per game after the 2014 version surpassed 27 points just once.

    The Mustangs likely would have won more if their defense could have contributed just a few stops. Instead, they allowed 45.7 points per game and were torched for 50 or more on five occasions.

    North Texas can empathize, as it allowed 41.3 points per game en route to a 1-11 season that bottomed out in mid-October with 66-7 home loss to FCS school Portland State. Dan McCarney was fired after that, and though the Mean Green managed to beat UTSA a few weeks later, they still needed a change.

    That's come in the form of North Carolina assistant head coach Seth Littrell, who hopes to speed things up and will have Alabama grad transfer quarterback Alec Morris running things.

    Considering the coaches' offensive backgrounds and their respective teams' lack of defense, expect plenty of scoring. SMU has more overall talent and a more established system and thus gets the win.

    Prediction: SMU 43, North Texas 38

    FINAL: SMU 34, North Texas 21

San Jose State at Tulsa

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    Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

    When: Saturday, Sept. 3, 7 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Tulsa scored a 34-24 win over San Jose State in November 2004, when both teams were part of the Western Athletic Conference.

    What to watch for

    San Jose State qualified for a bowl game last year, despite a 6-7 record, and cashed in on that opportunity by beating Georgia State in the AutoNation Cure Bowl. The Spartans return 15 starters and can build off that victory, though they'll be doing so without their best offensive weapon, as 1,600-yard rusher Tyler Ervin has graduated.

    Tulsa also went 6-7 in 2015, but that's because it lost to Virginia Tech in the Independence Bowl to end the season. The Golden Hurricane were one of the fastest-moving teams in FBS, averaging 83.3 plays per game and gaining better than six yards per snap in eight games.

    Senior quarterback Dane Evans has thrown for more than 7,400 yards with 48 touchdowns over the last two years and is among the most underrated passers in FBS. He'll get a test from a San Jose State defense that was second nationally against the pass in 2015, but Tulsa will still come out ahead.

    Prediction: Tulsa 27, San Jose State 20

    FINAL: Tulsa 45, San Jose State 10

Alabama A&M at Middle Tennessee

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    When: Saturday, Sept. 3, 7 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: None

    What to watch for

    Alabama A&M was 3-8 overall and 3-6 in the SWAC last season, the program's third straight losing campaign. The 2015 Bulldogs opened with a 52-10 loss at Cincinnati, making them 0-5 all-time against FBS teams.

    Middle Tennessee went 7-6 a year ago; six of those wins came in Conference USA, and the other was a blowout of FCS Jackson State to open the season. The Blue Raiders' other nonconference games were all major challenges: losses at Alabama, Illinois and Vanderbilt. They dropped the last two by a combined six points.

    There's another tough non-league slate on board for MTSU, including at Vandy and Missouri, but after the way quarterback Brent Stockstill played (4,005 yards, 30 touchdowns) as a redshirt freshman, the chance of pulling off an upset is possible. Not so for A&M being able to win here.

    Prediction: Middle Tennessee 55, Alabama A&M 23

    FINAL: Middle Tennessee 55, Alabama A&M 0

Towson at South Florida

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    When: Saturday, Sept. 3, 7 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: None

    What to watch for

    Towson was 7-4 overall and 5-3 in the Colonial Athletic Association last season, two years removed from playing in the FCS championship game. The Tigers are 1-8 against FBS competition, beating Connecticut in 2013, but will start a former FBS quarterback in Oregon transfer Morgan Mahalak.

    South Florida caught fire during the second half of 2015, winning seven of its last eight regular-season games before falling to Western Kentucky in the Miami Beach Bowl. The Bulls' 8-5 record was their best mark since 2010, and with 14 starters back (including quarterback Quinton Flowers and running back Marlon Mack), a push for the American's East Division is doable.

    The Bulls have some statement-making opportunities later this month, particularly when they host Florida State, but first they need to take care of business in what could be a tricky game.

    Prediction: South Florida 37, Towson 24

    FINAL: South Florida 56, Towson 20

South Carolina State at UCF

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    When: Saturday, Sept. 3, 7 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: UCF opened the 2008 season with a 17-0 win over South Carolina State.

    What to watch for

    South Carolina State was 7-4 overall and 6-2 in the MEAC last season, its third straight winning record under coach Oliver "Buddy" Pough. The Bulldogs are winless in 12 meetings with FBS opponents, most recently in 2014 when they lost 73-7 at Clemson.

    UCF went winless in 2015, with coach George O'Leary retiring midway through. Former Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost has come in with the hope of being able to make the Knights #UCFast with better tempo and production, though it's hard to be any worse. Last season, UCF averaged 268.4 yards and 13.9 points per game; the former was the worst in FBS, and the latter was third from the bottom.

    The Knights go to Michigan in Week 2, which means any momentum that might come from a successful opener won't last long. That's assuming they're able to avoid losing to an FCS team for the second year in a row after falling to Furman last September.

    Prediction: UCF 26, South Carolina State 20

    FINAL: UCF 38, South Carolina State 0

Rhode Island at Kansas

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    Jackson Laizure/Getty Images

    When: Saturday, Sept. 3, 7 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: None

    What to watch for

    Rhode Island was 1-10 overall and 1-7 in the Colonial Athletic Association in 2015 and has lost 25 of its last 27 games. That includes a 47-0 loss last season at Syracuse, dropping the Rams to 2-18 against FBS schools, with their last win coming in 2000 against Connecticut.

    Kansas lost all 12 games in David Beaty's first season as head coach and takes an FBS-worst 15-game skid into what might be its only winnable game of his second go-around. The Jayhawks' roster started small and kept getting smaller as the fall went on, leading to eight losses by at least 25 points and four by 48 or more.

    It can only get better in Lawrence, but that depends on how many of the 16 returning starters are good enough to be starting for a power-conference team. The Jayhawks should get some answers—and a much- needed win.

    Prediction: Kansas 37, Rhode Island 17

    FINAL: Kansas 55, Rhode Island 6

Southeast Missouri State at Memphis

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    Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    When: Saturday, Sept. 3, 7 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Southeast Missouri State beat Memphis 6-0 in October 1934, when both teams were at the Division II level.

    What to watch for

    Southeast Missouri State was 4-7 overall and 3-4 in the Ohio Valley last season, notching the program's fifth straight losing record. The Redhawks lost 34-3 at Missouri to open 2015, making them 1-20 all-time against FBS schools, with their only win coming in 2002 against Middle Tennessee.

    Memphis rose to prominence the past two seasons thanks to head coach Justin Fuente and quarterback Paxton Lynch, both of whom have moved on. What the Tigers have in their place are former Arizona State offensive coordinator Mike Norvell and ex-Tennessee quarterback Riley Ferguson, who was at a junior college in 2015.

    There are 13 returning starters from last year's team that went 9-4 but dropped four of five after an 8-0 start. Another winning streak will get going this weekend.

    Prediction: Memphis 46, Southeast Missouri State 14

    FINAL: Memphis 35, Southeast Missouri State 17

Alabama State at UTSA

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    Brody Schmidt/Associated Press

    When: Saturday, Sept. 3, 7 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: None

    What to watch for

    Alabama State was 6-5 overall and 5-4 in the SWAC last season, securing its sixth consecutive winning record. The Hornets are winless in four tries against FBS teams, the most recent of which was a 48-14 loss at Kentucky in 2013.

    The only coach in UTSA's short football history retired last winter, with Larry Coker having built the program from the ground up but unable to sustain success since moving to FBS in 2012. The Roadrunners have won fewer games each year since then, bottoming out at 3-9 last year, and former LSU assistant Frank Wilson is tasked with reversing that skid.

    Wilson is deciding between junior Dalton Sturm, who started the final seven games of 2015, or Sam Houston State graduate transfer Jared Johnson at quarterback. Expect both to get a chance in what will be a wildly successful debut for Wilson.

    Prediction: UTSA 51, Alabama State 20

    FINAL: UTSA 26, Alabama State 13

Southern at Louisiana-Monroe

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    Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

    When: Saturday, Sept. 3, 7 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: None

    What to watch for

    Southern was 6-5 overall and 6-3 in the SWAC in 2015, finishing in third place in the West Division after winning it the previous two seasons. The Jaguars' non-league losses last year came at Louisiana Tech (62-15) and Georgia (48-6), which made them 0-12 all-time against FBS opponents.

    Louisiana-Monroe lost 11 games last season, including 10 in a row (with a coaching change in the middle) before beating New Mexico State in December. The Warhawks still allowed 35 points in that win, which was just one of nine times opponents scored at least 30 against them.

    New head coach Matt Viator went 78-33 in 10 seasons at FCS McNeese State, but he has a major rebuilding project on his hands. Louisiana-Monroe's next three games are at Oklahoma, Georgia Southern and Auburn, so expect it to score as much as possible.

    Prediction: Louisiana-Monroe 51, Southern 17

    FINAL: Louisiana-Monroe 38, Southern 21

Massachusetts at No. 25 Florida

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    Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

    When: Saturday, Sept. 3, 7:30 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: None

    What to watch for

    Massachusetts begins life as an independent after spending its first four FBS seasons in the Mid-American Conference. The Minutemen went 8-40 overall with seven of those wins in league play, so 2016 is going to be an adventure that starts in The Swamp with the first of four games against Power Five opponents.

    Florida won the SEC East division in 2015, Jim McElwain's first in charge, but dropped its final three games and looked awful in the process. The Gators scored 24 total points in those three games, including a 41-7 loss to Michigan in the Citrus Bowl, and the offseason has been focused on retooling that offense to make it respectable.

    Former Alabama and Oregon State quarterback Luke Del Rio won the starting job and he'll be surrounded by plenty of other first-time starters. Getting wide receiver Antonio Callaway back after he was suspended for most of the offseason will give Del Rio a great target.

    Gators fans shouldn't get too excited about how the offense looks based on this game, but they'll still enjoy the results.

    Prediction: Florida 53, Massachusetts 14

    FINAL: Florida 24, Massachusetts 7

Southern Mississippi at Kentucky

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    Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

    When: Saturday, Sept. 3, 7:30 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Kentucky notched a 32-0 win over Southern Mississippi in October 1986.

    What to watch for

    Southern Mississippi won Conference USA's West Division title and nine games overall in 2015, a far cry from the team that lost 23 straight at one point and was 4-32 over the previous three seasons. Quarterback Nick Mullens threw for for 4,476 yards with 38 touchdowns as a junior, though his top two receivers have graduated.

    Also gone is head coach Todd Monken, who left in January for an NFL assistant job, but new head coach Jay Hopson won consecutive SWAC titles at FCS Alcorn State with high-scoring teams.

    Kentucky enters Mark Stoops' fourth season needing to progress and become bowl-eligible. The Wildcats were 5-7 each of the past two years, but they started 5-1 in 2014 and 4-1 last season before fading. Fourteen starters return with Drew Barker taking over the quarterback job on a full-time basis.

    Seven Kentucky games were decided by one score last year, with the Wildcats winning four, but that included early non-league clashes against Louisiana-Lafayette and Eastern Kentucky. Southern Miss is better than those foes and is more than capable of pulling off the upset.

    Stoops' already hot seat will get even warmer after this one.

    Prediction: Southern Mississippi 33, Kentucky 31

    FINAL: Southern Mississippi 44, Kentucky 35

No. 20 USC vs. No. 1 Alabama (in Arlington, Texas)

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    When: Saturday, Sept. 3, 8 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Alabama and USC met in the 1985 Aloha Bowl, with the Crimson Tide winning 24-3.

    What to watch for

    Defending national champion Alabama opens with a neutral-site game for the fifth year in a row, though AT&T Stadium is somewhat of a second home for the Crimson Tide. They won twice there in 2015, including a Cotton Bowl thrashing of Michigan State en route to their fourth national title since 2009.

    The Tide have the nation's longest win streak at 12 games, though they're starting over at some key positions. In 2015, they had Jake Coker and Heisman winner Derrick Henry manning the quarterback and running back spots, respectively. Coach Nick Saban said both junior Cooper Bateman and redshirt freshman Blake Barnett will play the former, while sophomores Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough will get the bulk of the carries.

    USC also has a new quarterback in junior Max Browne, who is replacing three-year starter Cody Kessler, and it's not the best situation for him to get his first significant action. According to SEC Network's Cole Cubelic, passers making their first career start against a Saban-coached Alabama team are 0-3, and their teams have been outscored 125-13.

    The Trojans lost their final two last season after winning the Pac-12 South under interim head coach Clay Helton, who has since taken over the gig permanently. A three-game skid seems very likely unless Helton has put together a world-class game plan.

    Prediction: Alabama 31, USC 17

    FINAL: Alabama 52, USC 6

South Dakota State at No. 13 TCU

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    When: Saturday, Sept. 3, 8 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: None

    What to watch for

    South Dakota State was 8-4 overall and 5-3 in the Missouri Valley last season, losing at Montana in the opening round of the FCS playoffs. The Jackrabbits began 2015 with a 41-38 win at Kansas that marked their first win in eight tries against FBS competition, and they're ranked 14th in the FCS preseason poll.

    TCU somehow navigated a seemingly nonstop rash of injuries to go 11-2 last season, ending 2015 (early 2016, to be exact) with a miraculous comeback to beat Oregon in the Alamo Bowl. But most of the Horned Frogs' best offensive players have departed, leaving three starters on that side of the ball.

    Former Texas A&M quarterback Kenny Hill returns to action for the first time since midway through the 2014 season, when he helped the Aggies to a 5-0 start but then lost his job. In his 2014 season debut, he threw for 511 yards and three touchdowns to take down No. 9-ranked South Carolina. All that might stop him from repeating that effort is getting pulled early in a romp despite SDSU's ranking.

    Prediction: TCU 59, South Dakota State 20

    FINAL: TCU 59, South Dakota State 41

Fresno State at Nebraska

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    Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

    When: Saturday, Sept. 3, 8 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Tommy Armstrong Jr. threw for 260 yards and three touchdowns in Nebraska's 55-19 win at Fresno State in September 2014.

    What to watch for

    Fresno State won 11 games in 2013 when Derek Carr was its quarterback, but since he moved into the NFL, his alma mater has gone 9-17, including 3-9 last season. The Bulldogs gave up 38.1 points per game in 2015, including 73 at Ole Miss, while cycling through four different quarterbacks.

    Chason Virgil, who played in Fresno's first three games before suffering a season-ending injury, is getting the starting nod for the 2016 opener.

    Nebraska turns to Armstrong for the third year in a row, and expect his production to keep going up. He went from 2,695 yards and 22 touchdowns as a sophomore to 3,030 with 22 scores last year, becoming less of a runner and more of a pocket guy who fits into Mike Riley's offense. That didn't lead to wins in 2015, though, as the Cornhuskers only went 6-7.

    Riley got somewhat of a pass for that first year, but that won't continue. Winning is required in Lincoln, and this will be a much better start than the Hail Mary-fueled home loss to BYU from last September.

    Prediction: Nebraska 47, Fresno State 21

    FINAL: Nebraska 43, Fresno State 10

New Mexico State at UTEP

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    Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

    When: Saturday, Sept. 3, 8 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Cedrick Lang's six-yard touchdown catch gave UTEP a 50-47 overtime win at New Mexico State last September.

    What to watch for

    The New Mexico State/UTEP rivalry rarely fails to excite, as these teams separated by less than 50 miles treat each other like the biggest game of the year. And since neither program is known for winning, that makes sense.

    NMSU hasn't had a winning record 2002 and has lost nine or more games in nine consecutive seasons. UTEP's 7-6 mark in 2014 was its only one above .500 since 2005, and the Miners dipped back down to 5-7 last year.

    Yet there are some notable players to keep an eye on in this game, particularly on the ground. Larry Rose III ran for 1,651 yards for the Aggies last year, while UTEP's season might have been different if Aaron Jones (1,321 yards in 2014) hadn't gotten hurt after two games.

    Expect points aplenty and likely some late craziness, but also an eighth straight win for UTEP.

    Prediction: UTEP 44, New Mexico State 35

    FINAL: UTEP 38, New Mexico State 22

Northern Iowa at Iowa State

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    David Purdy/Getty Images

    When: Saturday, Sept. 3, 8 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Iowa State opened the 2015 season with a 31-7 home win over Northern Iowa behind 233 passing yards and two touchdowns from Sam Richardson.

    What to watch for

    Northern Iowa was 9-5 overall and 5-3 in the Missouri Valley in 2015, losing to five-time FCS champion North Dakota State in the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs. It was the Panthers' second loss to NDSU last year, and it snapped a seven-game win streak after a 2-3 start. UNI is 10-27 against FBS opponents all-time, including a 2013 win at Iowa State.

    First-year ISU coach Matt Campbell faces an uphill battle with a program that's averaged 8.2 losses per season the past decade, with just one winning record in that span. The Cyclones will struggle to do much better than their 3-9 mark from 2015, but they should be more competitive as some of last year's young stars (such as rising sophomore running back Mike Warren) continue to develop.

    Last September's win over Northern Iowa was much easier than expected, but the Panthers team that comes to Ames this time will be more like the one that's deserving of a No. 5 preseason FCS ranking. ISU still wins, but not by going away.

    Prediction: Iowa State 28, Northern Iowa 19

    FINAL: Northern Iowa 25, Iowa State 20

Eastern Washington at Washington State

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    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    When: Saturday, Sept. 3, 8 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Mike Leach earned his first victory at Washington State, a 24-20 home win over Eastern Washington in September 2012.

    What to watch for

    Eastern Washington was 6-5 overall and 5-3 in the Big Sky last season, ending a three-year run of making it to at least the FCS quarterfinals. The Eagles' 2015 record included a 61-42 loss at Oregon in which receiver Cooper Kupp had 15 catches for 246 yards and three touchdowns en route to leading FCS with 1,642 receiving yards.

    The Eagles are 8-24 all-time against FBS teams, including wins in 2013 (Oregon State) and 2012 (Idaho) and enter this season 17th in the preseason FCS poll.

    Washington State won nine games in 2015 despite losing to FCS school Portland State in its opener. The Cougars' other losses included a six-point defeat at California and a two-point loss at home to Stanford, while they knocked off four bowl teams and beat Miami (Florida) in the Sun Bowl.

    Junior quarterback Luke Falk led FBS in passing, averaging 380.1 yards per game with 38 touchdowns, and he completed 69.4 percent of his 644 throws. Ten Cougars players had at least 20 receptions in 2015, and the majority return.

    After last year's embarrassing start, WSU should be more than ready for the season opener this time around, but that won't make this game any easier. Defense figures to be optional, but it might come down to which team can make a few stops, which is where the Cougars get the edge.

    Prediction: Washington State 57, Eastern Washington 46

    FINAL: Eastern Washington 45, Washington State 42

Stephen F. Austin at Texas Tech

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    Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

    When: Saturday, Sept. 3, 8 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Baker Mayfield threw for 367 yards and three touchdowns in Texas Tech's 61-13 home win over Stephen F. Austin in September 2013.

    What to watch for

    Stephen F. Austin was 4-7 overall and 4-5 in the Southland Conference last season, winning four of its final six games after an 0-5 start that included a 70-7 loss at TCU. The Lumberjacks are 2-18 all-time against FBS teams, with their last win coming in 2003 against Louisiana-Monroe.

    Texas Tech is always a threat to score, and because of its defense, it more or less needs to every time. The Red Raiders went 7-6 in 2015 thanks to the second-best scoring offense in FBS (45.1 points per game) and in spite of the fourth-worst defense (43.6).

    Thankfully, junior quarterback Patrick Mahomes II is capable of leading Tech to a score on every drive. Last year, he led FBS in total offense at 393 yards per game, throwing for more than 4,600 yards and accounting for 46 total touchdowns. He also had 15 interceptions, and those mistakes must decrease as long as the defense remains suspect.

    A few miscues won't hurt the Red Raiders this time, however.

    Prediction: Texas Tech 58, Stephen F. Austin 28

    FINAL: Texas Tech 69, Stephen F. Austin 17

New Hampshire at San Diego State

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    Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

    When: Saturday, Sept. 3, 8:30 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: None

    What to watch for:

    New Hampshire was 7-5 overall and 5-3 in the Colonial Athletic Association last season, losing to Colgate in the opening round of the FCS playoffs. The Wildcats lost 43-13 at San Jose State to open 2015, making them 7-9-1 against FBS teams with their last victory coming in 2009 at Ball State.

    San Diego State takes a 10-game win streak into the season, second only to defending national champion Alabama, after winning the Mountain West title. The Aztecs won nine of those games by at least 14 points, including a 42-7 destruction of Cincinnati in the Hawaii Bowl.

    Senior running back Donnel Pumphrey is the active FBS rushing leader at 4,272 yards, and a 23rd career 100-yard game seems like a lock. The win itself isn't as guaranteed, but expect SDSU to claim an 11th straight victory.

    Prediction: San Diego State 34, New Hampshire 20

    FINAL: San Diego State 31, New Hampshire 0

No. 2 Clemson at Auburn

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    When: Saturday, Sept. 3, 9 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Tajh Boyd's four-yard touchdown pass to DeAndre Hopkins midway through the fourth quarter gave Clemson a lead it would not relinquish in its 26-19 win over Auburn to open the 2012 season in Atlanta.

    What to watch for

    A few stops in the title game and Clemson would be the team defending a national championship instead of Alabama. Regardless of what happened seven months ago, it still has a dangerous opener against an Auburn team that is desperate for a big win.

    Gus Malzahn took Auburn to the BCS title game in his first season, but since then the results have been far less impressive, to the point he's entered year four on the hot seat. It hasn't helped that he dismissed his leading returning rusher (Jovon Robinson), and now safety Stephen Roberts has been suspended after an arrest.

    Sean White won the quarterback job over junior college transfer John Franklin III and could be in for a big game against a Clemson defense that's retooling following several key departures. But with Clemson's offense returning almost completely intact, it can afford to let the defense come along slowly.

    Quarterback Deshaun Watson, running back Wayne Gallman and a cadre of receivers will be too much for Auburn to handle, though it won't be a blowout.

    Prediction: Clemson 30, Auburn 21

    FINAL: Clemson 19, Auburn 13

Arizona vs. BYU (in Glendale, Arizona)

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    Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

    When: Saturday, Sept. 3, 10:30 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Arizona earned a 31-21 win over BYU in the 2008 Las Vegas Bowl.

    What to watch for

    Arizona finished 7-6 last season and beat New Mexico in the New Mexico Bowl, its fourth consecutive season that included a bowl since Rich Rodriguez took over. The Wildcats play fast and are mostly successful, averaging at least 33.5 points each year, but the defense gave up 35.8 points in 2015.

    Rodriguez overhauled his defensive staff, but it's still probably going to be a case of winning shootouts, at least early on. And who will be orchestrating those shootouts at quarterback remains a secret, with two-year starter Anu Solomon battling Brandon Dawkins for the job.

    BYU hired Oregon State defensive end Kalani Sitake to replace Bronco Mendenhall as coach, but the Cougars are still going to be known for their offense. And a familiar face is back at quarterback in Taysom Hill, who turned 26 during training camp.

    Hill was injured in BYU's opener last September and went down with season-ending injuries in 2012 and 2014 as well.

    Arizona is 12-0 in nonconference games under Rodriguez, but this will be the best such opponent since beating Oklahoma State in 2012. And it's on grass, where the Wildcats are 2-8 (with both wins at Colorado) the last four years, including the 2014 Fiesta Bowl on the same surface. Despite that stat, they outlast BYU in a high-scoring tilt.

    Prediction: Arizona 41, BYU 34

    FINAL: BYU 18, Arizona 16

Northern Illinois at Wyoming

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    William Mancebo/Getty Images

    When: Saturday, Sept. 3, 10:30 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: None

    What to watch for

    Northern Illinois has appeared in six consecutive Mid-American title games, but last year's squad lost six games, its most since 2009, as injuries piled up down the stretch. The Huskies went into the offseason humbled by a 55-7 loss to Boise State in the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego, so another trip out West might not seem that appealing.

    Wyoming was 2-10 last year, its worst record since 2002. Coach Craig Bohl has lost 18 games in his two seasons, compared to a 104-32 record from 2003-13 at FCS powerhouse North Dakota State.

    Seventeen starters return for the Cowboys, including prolific running back Brian Hill, who in 2015 had 1,631 yards including four 200-yard efforts. Add in the home-field advantage that comes from playing at 7,220 feet above sea level, and Wyoming scores a big victory.

    Prediction: Wyoming 30, Northern Illinois 23

    FINAL: Wyoming 40, Northern Illinois 34 (3 OT)

Northern Arizona at Arizona State

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    Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

    When: Saturday, Sept. 3, 11 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Marion Grice had three rushing touchdowns in Arizona State's 63-6 home win over Northern Arizona to open the 2012 season.

    What to watch for

    Northern Arizona was 7-4 overall and 5-3 in the Big Sky last season, which included a 77-13 loss at Arizona. The Lumberjacks, ranked 18th in the FCS preseason poll, are 2-33 all-time against FBS competition that includes a 2012 win at UNLV.

    Arizona State went 6-7 last season, falling under .500 after losing 43-42 to West Virginia in the Alamo Bowl. That game was like many others for the Sun Devils in that it was fueled by big plays allowed on defense, 30 of which went for at least 40 yards and 19 that topped 50 yards.

    The Sun Devils don't figure to change their aggressive ways too much but might need to before sorting out their quarterback situation. Either redshirt sophomore Manny Wilkins or redshirt freshman Brady White, neither of whom has thrown a pass in a college game, will get the start.

    This NAU team is better than the one that gave up 77 points at Arizona last September and should still be within reach at halftime before ASU pulls away.

    Prediction: Arizona State 40, Northern Arizona 26

    FINAL: Arizona State 44, Northern Arizona 13

Charlotte at No. 19 Louisville

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    When: Thursday, Sept. 1, 7 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: None


    What to watch for

    Charlotte went 2-10 last year in its first full FBS season, losing the final 10 after a 2-0 start. The 49ers couldn't take care of the ball, turning it over 35 times—including 23 interceptions spread over three quarterbacks. But now it has former Miami (Florida) recruit Kevin Olsen under center and returns 17 starters.

    Louisville started 0-3 but then won eight of 10 in 2015 as its defense jelled and true freshman quarterback Lamar Jackson came into his own. Jackson led the Cardinals in rushing (960 yards) and had 200-plus yards both passing and rushing in the Music City Bowl, making him a hot topic heading into the offseason.

    How Jackson develops his passing skills to complement his established running ability will determine whether Louisville can contend with Clemson and Florida State in the ACC Atlantic Division. This first game won't answer all the questions but will start to provide clarity.


    Prediction: Louisville 43, Charlotte 19

    FINAL: Louisville 70, Charlotte 14

Tulane at Wake Forest

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    Lance King/Getty Images

    When: Thursday, Sept. 1, 7 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Tulane scored a 35-9 win over Wake Forest in September 1995.


    What to watch for

    Tulane went 3-9 overall and 1-7 in the American last season under Curtis Johnson, who's been replaced by former Georgia Southern coach Willie Fritz. He ran the triple-option at Georgia Southern and is implementing that system with the Green Wave, which ranked 119th in rushing in 2015.

    Wake Forest ranked 123rd on the ground, though its 105.2 yards per game were nearly triple the production from 2014 in head coach Dave Clawson's first season (39.9). Offensive production has been an issue for the Deacons, who averaged 17.4 points last season. They went 3-9 (1-7 in the ACC) and topped 20 points only three times.

    The Deacons were above-average defensively last year and return seven starters, including linebacker Marquel Lee. That unit will be the difference in what figures to be one of the lowest-scoring games of the opening weekend.


    Prediction: Wake Forest 19, Tulane 13

    FINAL: Wake Forest 7, Tulane 3

Presbyterian at Central Michigan

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    Associated Press

    When: Thursday, Sept. 1, 7 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: None


    What to watch for

    FCS school Presbyterian went 2-9 overall and 1-5 in the Big South Conference last year to fall to 19-58 under coach Harold Nichols. The Blue Hose are 0-11 all-time against FBS competition, including last year at Miami (Ohio) and Charlotte, two teams that went a combined 3-19 against everyone else.

    Central Michigan went 7-6 overall and 6-2 in the Mid-American in 2015, finishing in a four-way tie for first in the West Division. The Chippewas played in the Quick Lane Bowl, falling 21-14 to Minnesota, but return 13 starters including quarterback Cooper Rush.

    Rush, a senior, threw for 3,848 yards and 25 touchdowns last year, and his 9,351 career yards are the most of any active FBS passer.

    Central Michigan has won eight straight against FCS teams, last losing in 2007 to North Dakota State. That streak will continue with a convincing opening victory.


    Prediction: Central Michigan 40, Presbyterian 17

    FINAL: Central Michigan 49, Presbyterian 3

Tennessee-Martin at Cincinnati

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    Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

    When: Thursday, Sept. 1, 7 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: None


    What to watch for

    Tennessee-Martin went 7-4 last season, and its 6-2 conference record was good enough for third place in the Ohio Valley. The Skyhawks played Ole Miss and Arkansas in 2015, losing by a combined score of 139-31, and are 1-20 all-time against the FBS. Their only win came in 2012 at Memphis.

    Cincinnati went 7-6 overall and 4-4 in the American in 2015, ending on a sour note with a 42-7 loss to San Diego State in the Hawaii Bowl. It was the Bearcats' worst record since going 4-8 in 2010.

    Coach Tommy Tuberville is going with redshirt sophomore Hayden Moore at quarterback, eschewing well-traveled senior Gunner Kiel. Moore had 1,885 passing yards with nine touchdowns and 11 interceptions last year. He started a handful of games but made his biggest mark when he came off the bench for an injured Kiel to throw for 557 yards and four TDs in a loss at Memphis.

    Moore will work with a young receiving corps—Cincy's top five targets have departed—but a game like this is a good chance to let new faces gain experience and confidence.


    Prediction: Cincinnati 46, Tennessee-Martin 24

    FINAL: Cincinnati 28, Tennessee-Martin 7

Maine at Connecticut

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    When: Thursday, Sept. 1, 7 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Connecticut blanked Maine 38-0 in September 2007 as part of a 5-0 start.


    What to watch for

    Maine was 3-8 last season, going 3-5 in the Colonial Athletic Association. The Black Bears started 2015 with losses at Boston College (24-3) and Tulane (38-7) to fall to 3-15 against FBS competition. Their last win against the upper level came in 2013 against Massachusetts.

    Connecticut finished 6-7 overall and 4-4 in the American but made a bowl game for the first time since 2010, losing 16-10 to Marshall in the St. Petersburg Bowl. The Huskies ranked 15th nationally in scoring defense last season, allowing 19.5 points per game. They were the only team to beat Houston.

    While UConn brings back many notable defenders such as junior cornerback Jamar Summers, who had eight interceptions in 2015, the progress of the offense is more critical. It scored 20 or fewer points in 10 of 13 games, including the last four. Junior quarterback Bryant Shirreffs is looking to improve in his second year as starter.

    The Huskies' last three games against FCS opponents have been stressful, as they beat Villanova by five last year and Stony Brook by three in 2014. They lost to Towson in 2013.

    This one shouldn't cause as much grief.


    Prediction: Connecticut 30, Maine 14

    Prediction: Connecticut 24, Maine 21

Appalachian State at No. 9 Tennessee

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    Mike Carlson/Getty Images

    When: Thursday, Sept. 1, 7:30 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: None


    What to watch for

    Appalachian State has done quite a lot in its first two years of FBS play, going 18-7 and winning a bowl game. The one thing the Mountaineers haven't done yet is knock off a big-name opponent, as they lost to Michigan in 2014 and Clemson last year.

    A balanced offense averaged 36.7 points last season, getting 25 rushing touchdowns and 33 passing scores. Per, 82.7 percent of the yardage is coming back, thanks to quarterback Taylor Lamb and running back Marcus Cox.

    Tennessee enters its opener riding another wave of offseason hype thanks to a hot finish to 2015, when it won six straight after a 3-4 start. The Volunteers are the SEC East favorites but face all of their toughest opponents in the first seven weeks, and that includes Appalachian State.

    The Vols are loaded and deep at every position, the product of head coach Butch Jones' strong recruiting and player development since coming from Cincinnati in 2013. Everything has been building to this point, and anything short of a division title will be a major disappointment.

    Tennessee is the better team, but it will get tested, not feeling safe about a win until the second half.


    Prediction: Tennessee 36, Appalachian State 23

    FINAL: Tennessee 20, Appalachian State 13 (OT)

Indiana at Florida International

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    Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

    When: Thursday, Sept. 1, 7:30 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Nate Sudfeld threw a touchdown pass and ran for two more in Indiana's 36-22 home win over Florida International last September.


    What to watch for

    Indiana hasn't started on the road since 2005, and it might not want to again if this opener doesn't go well. The Hoosiers went 6-7 last year, falling to Duke in overtime in the Pinstripe Bowl, and to make another bowl game they need all the wins they can get outside of Big Ten play.

    The Hoosiers led their conference in offense last year and have a chance to be just as explosive, assuming junior college transfer Richard Lagow does as well at quarterback as Sudfeld did. The defense is a major weakness, however, giving up 37.6 points per game in 2015.

    Florida International was 5-7 last season, losing its final two games by a combined score of 115-7, but before that it averaged nearly 30 points per contest. Nine starters are back on offense, including the talented junior trio of quarterback Alex McGough, running back Alex Gardner and receiver Thomas Owens.

    The Golden Panthers are 1-28 all-time against power-conference teams, with their only win coming against Louisville in 2011. They'll pick up a second such victory in a barnburner.


    Prediction: Florida International 41, Indiana 37

    FINAL: Indiana 34, Florida International 13

William & Mary at North Carolina State

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    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    When: Thursday, Sept. 1, 7:30 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: North Carolina State earned a 34-24 win over William & Mary in September 2008.


    What to watch for

    William & Mary went 9-4 overall and 6-2 in the Colonial Athletic Association last season, reaching the second round of the FCS playoffs. The Tribe lost 35-29 at Virginia last September but led by six late in the first half thanks to quarterback Steve Cluley, a three-year starter who is rebounding from offseason sports hernia surgery. They open 2016 ranked 10th in the FCS preseason poll.

    North Carolina State went 7-6 overall but only 3-5 in the ACC, ending the 2015 season with a 51-28 loss to Mississippi State in the Belk Bowl. The Wolfpack went 6-0 against teams that finished with losing records and 0-6 against FBS foes that had winning marks, losing six of nine after a 4-0 start.

    Two-year starting quarterback Jacoby Brissett is gone, which leaves the job to either redshirt sophomore Jalan McClendon or Boise State graduate transfer Ryan Finley.

    "We’ll both be playing in the first game and I can’t wait," McClendon told Joe Giglio of the News & Observer.

    Both should get the ball in junior tight end Jaylen Samuels' hands as often as possible. Last year he had team highs in receptions (65), receiving yards (597) and receiving touchdowns (seven) and added nine rushing TDs on just 56 carries.


    Prediction: North Carolina State 37, William & Mary 28

    FINAL: North Carolina State 48, William & Mary 14

South Carolina at Vanderbilt

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    When: Thursday, Sept. 1, 8 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Pharoh Cooper's 78-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter helped South Carolina to a 19-10 home win last October in SEC play, making interim coach Shawn Elliott a winner in his debut.


    What to watch for

    South Carolina is coming off its worst season in 16 years, going 3-9 overall and 1-7 in the SEC. The only league victory came against Vanderbilt, immediately after Steve Spurrier resigned.

    Now the Gamecocks are led by former Florida coach Will Muschamp, who is getting a second chance after going 28-21 with the Gators from 2011 to 2014. It won't be an instant turnaround in Columbia, and no one should expect as much, Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee wrote.

    "Muschamp will get South Carolina there," he wrote. "It'll just take some time and patience, as he navigates the program through some high hurdles early."

    Vanderbilt enters its third year with Derek Mason in charge and is hoping this is when the breakout happens. The Commodores went 4-8 with two SEC wins last year, but that's two more than in his first season. And with the East Division featuring several struggling programs, a few more victories seem possible if the offense keeps improving.

    While neither of these teams figures to contend for the division title, one of them will be in first place for at least one week. Vandy will win its first season opener since 2011.


    Prediction: Vanderbilt 20, South Carolina 14

    FINAL: South Carolina 13, Vanderbilt 10

Rice at Western Kentucky

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    When: Thursday, Sept. 1, 8 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Brandon Doughty threw for 409 yards and four touchdowns in Western Kentucky's 49-10 home win over Rice last October in Conference USA action.


    What to watch for

    Rice dipped to 5-7 last season after three consecutive bowl appearances mostly because its defense couldn't make a stop. The Owls allowed an FBS-worst 7.13 yards per play in 2015, with seven opponents scoring 30 or more points.

    Sixteen starters are back, but most of the big names have moved on, so it could take a few weeks for Rice to get settled. That makes opening on the road against the defending Conference USA champions a tough scenario.

    Western Kentucky was 12-2 in 2015, with its losses coming at Indiana and LSU. The Hilltoppers averaged 44.3 points per game thanks to an explosive passing attack led by Doughty, who has graduated and is succeeded by former South Florida quarterback Mike White. He appeared in 17 games with the Bulls in 2013-14 and inherits some great weapons to work with including receiver Taywan Taylor and running back Anthony Wales.

    The Hilltoppers might not win 12 games again, but they remain the C-USA favorites, something they will show in this one.


    Prediction: Western Kentucky 50, Rice 20

    FINAL: Western Kentucky 46, Rice 14

Weber State at Utah State

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    Joe Scarnici/Getty Images

    When: Thursday, Sept. 1, 8 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Chuckie Keeton threw five touchdown passes in Utah State's 70-6 win over Weber State in September 2013.


    What to watch for

    Weber State was 6-5 overall and 5-3 in the Big Sky last season, its first winning record since 2010. The Wildcats opened 2015 with a 26-7 loss at Oregon State that dropped their record to 3-47 against FBS competition. Their last win against an FBS team was in 1993 against Nevada.

    Utah State made a bowl game for a fifth consecutive season, but four losses in the last five games—including to Akron in the Potato Bowl—led to a 6-7 record. The Aggies will be rebuilding on the defensive side after losing eight starters, including six players who combined for 63 tackles for loss.

    Devante Mays nearly ran for 1,000 yards, while quarterback Kent Myers threw 16 touchdown passes against just three interceptions. Those weapons will be on display in the opener.


    Prediction: Utah State 36, Weber State 17

    FINAL: Utah State 45, Weber State 6

Southern Utah at Utah

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    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    When: Thursday, Sept. 1, 8 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: None


    What to watch for

    Southern Utah was 8-4 last season, winning the Big Sky with a 7-1 record before falling to Sam Houston State in the FCS playoffs. The Thunderbirds lost 12-9 in last year's season opener at Utah State, giving up a punt return touchdown late in the fourth quarter that prevented their fourth win against an FBS team and first since beating South Alabama in 2013.

    Utah is coming off its first 10-win season since 2010, going 6-3 in the Pac-12. But since beating rival BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl, it's had a changing of the guard on offense. Longtime starting quarterback Travis Wilson and workhorse rusher Devontae Booker have graduated, and last year's top receiver (Britain Covey) is on a Latter-Day Saints mission.

    Former Washington passer Troy Williams, who spent last year at a junior college, will succeed Wilson. This will be his first FBS action since starting a 2014 loss against Arizona State in which he threw for 139 yards and two interceptions.

    Defense will carry the Utes early on, including in this tougher-than-it-looks opener against the No. 23 team in the FCS preseason poll.


    Prediction: Utah 24, Southern Utah 14

    FINAL: Utah 24, Southern Utah 0

Oregon State at Minnesota

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    Mark Cunningham/Getty Images

    When: Thursday, Sept. 1, 9 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Minnesota posted a 42-12 win over Oregon State in September 1981.


    What to watch for

    Oregon State went winless in the Pac-12 and finished 2-10 overall last season, its first under Gary Andersen. He had one of the youngest teams in the country, and it showed, particularly on offense where the Beavers couldn't throw the ball and didn't score often.

    It will be a more experienced team this time, with Utah State transfer Darell Garretson serving as the new quarterback. He threw for 1,140 yards in six games in 2014, roughly 60 percent of what Oregon State did through the air (1,909 yards) last season.

    Minnesota posted a 6-7 record in 2015, but that included a bowl win; it was one of three 5-7 teams that got to play in the postseason. The Golden Gophers were 2-4 after Tracy Claeys replaced Jerry Kill midway through the season, and Claeys remains the permanent coach with much of the same outlook in terms of a methodical, balanced offense and a good, not great, defense.

    The Gophers lost by six at home to TCU to open last season but will get back to their early winning ways.


    Prediction: Minnesota 24, Oregon State 14

    FINAL: Minnesota 30, Oregon State 23

South Dakota at New Mexico

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    Loren Orr/Getty Images

    When: Thursday, Sept. 1, 9 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: None


    What to watch for

    South Dakota was 5-6 overall and 3-5 in the Missouri Valley last season, logging a road win over five-time FCS national champion North Dakota to its credit. The Coyotes began 2015 with a 34-0 loss at Kansas State to drop to 1-7 against FBS opponents, with their only win coming in 2010 at Minnesota.

    New Mexico went 7-6 with a 5-3 mark in the Mountain West, with wins over Boise State and Mountain Division champion Air Force helping the Lobos finish above .500 for the first time since 2007. From 2008 to 2014, the Lobos went 18-67.

    The No. 9 rushing offense in FBS from a year ago loses the bulk of its production but still has quarterback Lamar Jordan, who ran for 807 yards and nine touchdowns and added another 1,006 passing yards and five scores. Expect plenty of running out of the triple-option.


    Prediction: New Mexico 38, South Dakota 23

    FINAL: New Mexico 48, South Dakota 21

Montana State at Idaho

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    Michael Chang/Getty Images

    When: Thursday, Sept. 1, 9 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Idaho registered a 56-7 win over Montana State in 2000.


    What to watch for

    Montana State was 5-6 overall and 3-5 in the Big Sky last season, despite having current Oregon quarterback Dakota Prukop at its disposal. The Bobcats last played an FBS team in 2014 when they lost at Arkansas State, dropping their record to 4-35 against that level.

    Idaho enters its second-to-last season of FBS play—it will move down to FCS in 2018 after getting booted from the Sun Belt—hoping to make a bowl for the first time since 2010. Last year's 4-8 record exceeded the win total from 2012 to 2014, and 14 starters are back from that team, including junior quarterback Matt Linehan, who has thrown for more than 5,500 yards over the last two seasons.

    The Vandals have lost nine times to FCS teams including to Old Dominion in 2013 and Eastern Washington in 2012. A 10th is possible but not probable.


    Prediction: Idaho 40, Montana State 30

    FINAL: Idaho 20, Montana State 17

Jackson State at UNLV

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    David Becker/Getty Images

    When: Thursday, Sept. 1, 10 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: None


    What to watch for

    Jackson State was 3-8 overall and 3-6 in the SWAC last season, which included a 70-14 loss at Middle Tennessee to open 2015. The Tigers are 2-7 all-time against FBS opponents; their last win came in 1979 against a Tennessee State program that dropped down to FCS in 1981.

    UNLV went 3-9 in 2015 in Tony Sanchez's first season as coach, but progress was noticeable. The Runnin' Rebels lost six of their final seven mostly because of a porous defense that allowed 6.23 yards per play.

    A bump up to four or five wins is doable thanks to having four of its five easiest opponents coming to Vegas, starting with this one.


    Prediction: UNLV 48, Jackson State 19

    FINAL: UNLV 63, Jackson State 13

Mississippi Valley State at Eastern Michigan

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    Andrew Weber/Getty Images

    When: Friday, Sept. 2, 6 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: None


    What to watch for

    Mississippi Valley State was 1-10 overall and 1-8 in the SWAC in 2015, its ninth consecutive losing season. The Delta Devils opened last fall with a 66-0 loss at New Mexico to drop to 0-4 against FBS opponents.

    Eastern Michigan was 1-11 overall and winless in the Mid-American last season, its fourth straight year with 10 or more losses and sixth in the past seven. The only victory was a 48-29 triumph at Wyoming in Week 2. Ten straight losses followed, the longest skid since the program dropped 18 in a row in 2009 and 2010.

    The Eagles lost to an FCS school in 2012, but two of their last six victories have been from the lower division.


    Prediction: Eastern Michigan 41, Mississippi Valley State 26

    FINAL: Eastern Michigan 61, Mississippi Valley State 14

Furman at No. 12 Michigan State

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    When: Friday, Sept. 2, 7 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: None

    What to watch for

    Furman was 4-7 overall and 2-5 in the Southern Conference last season, though one of its wins came against an FBS opponent. The Paladins won 16-15 at UCF (which went winless) in September, a week after falling 42-3 at Virginia Tech, and are 6-27-1 against FBS teams since dropping down from that level in the 1980s.

    Michigan State's final FCS opponent—the Big Ten no longer allows its members to schedule those games—will serve as a coming-out party for a new crop of playmakers. The previous senior class helped the Spartans win 36 games from 2013 to 2015, including 12 last year en route to a second Big Ten title in three seasons and a trip to the playoffs.

    Fifth-year senior Tyler O'Connor takes over for Connor Cook at quarterback, while MSU's defense is now in the hands of senior linebacker Riley Bullough and junior lineman Malik McDowell. Many other spots will feature underclassmen, who will use this soft opener as a showcase for what's to come.


    Prediction: Michigan State 47, Furman 13

    FINAL: Michigan State 28, Furman 13

Ball State at Georgia State

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    Todd Bennett/Getty Images

    When: Friday, Sept. 2, 7 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Nick Arbuckle threw for 412 yards and had three total touchdowns in Georgia State's 31-19 win at Ball State last October.


    What to watch for

    Ball State dipped to 3-9 last season, its worst record since 2009, and then saw coach Pete Lembo leave to join new Maryland coach D.J. Durkin's staff. The Cardinals replaced him with Mike Neu, a former Ball State quarter