B/R Experts Answer Biggest CFB Questions for Week 1

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystAugust 29, 2019

B/R Experts Answer Biggest CFB Questions for Week 1

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    Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn
    Auburn head coach Gus MalzahnMark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Nearly half of college football's Week 1 games (41 of 83) will feature a Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) team hosting a Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) team. For the most part, those will be merciless blowouts.

    But don't even think about writing this off as a boring start to the year. Rather, get ready for upsets. Yes, plural. There have been at least four FCS over FBS upsets in Week 1 in four consecutive seasons, and there have been multiple Week 1 upsets of that ilk in every year dating back to 2009.

    There are also 42 "normal" games, including a handful of early conference battles and one AP Top 25 vs. AP Top 25 game bound to have long-lasting implications.

    To help you figure out what to expect, Bleacher Report's college football experts—David Kenyon, Kerry Miller, Brad Shepard and Ian Wharton—joined forces to offer up predictions on the hottest burning questions, such as:

    • Will it be Auburn or Oregon that picks up a massive early win?
    • Will an unranked team beat a ranked one in Week 1?
    • Which Heisman afterthought will burst onto the scene with a big opener?
    • And which FCS teams are going to win road games against FBS foes?

    Our experts are on the case to let you know.

No. 11 Oregon vs. No. 16 Auburn: Who You Got?

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    Justin Herbert
    Justin HerbertRick Scuteri/Associated Press

    David Kenyon

    Justin Herbert faces a difficult task in 2019. While the Oregon Ducks return an experienced offensive line with a few well-regarded NFL prospects, they're thin on proven pass-catching options. Penn State transfer Juwan Johnson had a disappointing junior year following his breakout sophomore campaign and is hoping to rebound at Oregon. But if he struggles, who is going to fill the massive void left behind by Dillon Mitchell? If this is a low-scoring game as I anticipate, it favors Auburn.

                          

    Kerry Miller

    Auburn is going to be more of a factor in the SEC West race than most seem to be expecting, but I have to go with Oregon here because of the quarterback discrepancy. No disrespect to Bo Nix, but putting a true freshman up against a senior like Herbertone of the top candidates both for the Heisman and for the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NFL draftis a little unfair in Week 1. Veteran poise prevails in a 24-21 type of battle.

                                  

    Brad Shepard

    I can't wait to watch Auburn's vaunted defensive front four against Oregon's veteran offensive line. Whoever wins that trench war is going to get the victory. The Ducks are going to do everything they can to protect Herbert and will do a commendable job, but the Tigers have too many defensive weapons. Oregon can lose this game against a top-half-of-the-SEC opponent and still win the Pac-12, and I think that ends up happening. Yes, Auburn starts a true freshman quarterback in Nix, but the Ducks D will be young too. Look for AU to win a close one 24-21.

                        

    Ian Wharton

    Oregon. I stuck with the Ducks last year despite their penchant for blowing games late, and I can't help but put faith into their hyped offensive line and a healthy Herbert. There's a lot of pressure on both sides to win this game. A bad performance for Herbert would be a tough blow to his bounce-back campaign, but head coach Gus Malzahn has the wolves breathing down his neck at Auburn. Both teams are talented, so this comes down to the Ducks having a senior quarterback against a Tigers freshman. 

Which AP Top 25 Team (if Any) Will Lose to an Unranked Foe?

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    Stanford's Paulson Adebo
    Stanford's Paulson AdeboJason O. Watson/Getty Images

    David Kenyon

    This is an underwhelming slate of nonconference games. I'm not complaining about it because these mismatches are essential to the entirety of college football. Lower-tier and lower-division programs need these buy games. OK, that's enough soapbox. I'll say no Top 25 upsets in Week 1. However, I'm interested in seeing Houston's offense under Dana Holgorsen and whether No. 4 Oklahoma will show immediate and major improvement with new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch. The Sooners will win, but I'll be hooked.

                

    Kerry Miller

    Realistic options are few and far between. Maybe No. 14 Utah struggles on the road against BYU. No. 25 Stanford could lose its home game against Northwestern. Even No. 22 Syracuse at Liberty might get a little weird with a new quarterback (Tommy DeVito) running the show for the Orange. But outside of the mandatory loss in the Oregon-Auburn game, I don't see any ranked teams going down on opening weekend.

                                

    Brad Shepard

    BYU cranks up its rigorous early-season schedule with a home game against "rival" Utah, and the No. 14 Utes are in for a handful. This is a crossroads campaign for the Cougars under fourth-year coach Kalani Sitake, and they'll open the year with a shocker Thursday night to get a season of upsets underway.

    Elsewhere, Northwestern may not have named a starting quarterback yet between TJ Green and Clemson transfer Hunter Johnson, but the Wildcats are going to beat No. 25 Stanford in California. And while part of me believes South Florida can pull off an upset of No. 19 Wisconsin, I'm not willing to pick it.

                 

    Ian Wharton

    Northwestern over Stanford. They're similarly built programs, as each preaches toughness and consistency over flash and swag. Although the Cardinal have a known quality quarterback in K.J. Costello and the Wildcats don't, Johnson is the X-factor in this matchup. Costello must prove he can be successful without JJ Arcega-Whiteside winning all of his jump balls. If Costello faltersand I think he'll struggle herethe Wildcats can win in a nail-biter.

Which Heisman Co-Favorite Has a Better Game: Tua Tagovailoa or Trevor Lawrence?

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    Tua Tagovailoa
    Tua TagovailoaJohn Bazemore/Associated Press

    David Kenyon

    Tua Tagovailoa has a super-elite receiving corps, and Alabama's depth at running back is limited after Trey Sanders' injury. Clemson, meanwhile, has a couple of explosive runners in Travis Etienne and Lyn-J Dixon. Both games are going to be blowouts, but the Crimson Tide will lean a little more heavily on Tagovailoa, and he'll deliver.

                 

    Kerry Miller

    Both teams are five-touchdown favorites, so who knows if we'll even see either quarterback in the second half. I'll go with Tagovailoa, though, because I believe Alabama is on a revenge tour, while Clemson is in more of a "Try to not get injured before the Texas A&M and Syracuse games" mode. The Tigers will give Chase Brice a few series at quarterback and try to figure out their No. 3 running back while keeping Trevor Lawrence out of harm's way against Georgia Tech. Still, I expect Lawrence and Tagovailoa to account for at least three scores each.

                                     

    Brad Shepard

    Duke returns eight defensive starters and has a secondary that could be its strength, so Tagovailoa faces a stiffer challenge. Nobody knows what to expect from Clemson opponent Georgia Tech under new head coach Geoff Collins, who will rebuild the team in his image. It boils down to Lawrence against the unknown, and I like the Tigers to produce a lot of points through the air.

                                                                

    Ian Wharton

    Neither will play into the second half of their respective games, and they will both put up gaudy numbers regardless. Neither Duke nor Georgia Tech has a defender capable of slowing down the slew of great playmakers both Alabama and Clemson have. But I'll say Tagovailoa just for the sake of making a prediction.

Which Transfer Quarterback Makes the Biggest Splash with His New Team?

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    Jalen Hurts
    Jalen HurtsSue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    David Kenyon

    Justin Fields and Jalen Hurts have the best opportunity to put up impressive numbers because of several factors: competition level, expected role and mobility. Fields and the Buckeyes host Florida Atlantic, which surrendered 650 yards and 63 points to Oklahoma last season. Hurts will probably have a slightly higher output since Houston is more likely to compete with OU, meaning he'll be in the game longer than Fields.

                      

    Kerry Miller

    Got to go with Jalen Hurts on Sunday night against Houston. The Cougars had a downright awful defense last season, and they lost seven of their nine leading tacklers. Hurtswho was highly efficient during his three seasons with Alabama despite losing the job to Tua Tagovailoa—has big shoes to fill, but his dual-threat skills should fit in beautifully in Lincoln Riley's offense.

                         

    Brad Shepard

    Everybody is looking forward to watching Hurts' Oklahoma debut against a competitive Houston team.  Fields will take the field for Ohio State against head coach Lane Kiffin and FAU. And Kelly Bryant's new Tigers (Missouri) should pile up points in an odd road tilt in Laramie against Wyoming. But you may have forgotten about No. 13 Washington's Jacob Eason, who was a freshman starter at Georgia before Jake Fromm took his place. Eastern Washington replaced three starters in the secondary, and Eason is going to have a huge Huskies debut.

                 

    Ian Wharton

    Kelly Bryant. While Bryant may not be an upgrade over Drew Lock, he's a gamer and brings a different skill set to the Missouri program. Bryant should find comfort where Lock didn't, specifically throwing on the move and improvising under pressure. Winning at Wyoming should be expected, but it's a tough enough test in Week 1 to give extra value to his performance. 

Which Team Is Your FCS-over-FBS Upset Special?

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    Connecticut head coach Randy Edsall
    Connecticut head coach Randy EdsallRich Barnes/Getty Images

    David Kenyon

    How bad (funny?) would it be if Indiana State topples Kansas in Les Miles' debut as Jayhawks head coach? The reactions would be a-ma-zing. Anyway, it would be silly to trust Connecticut until the defense shows it can stop anybody. Even Rhode Island put 49 points on the Huskies last year. Wagner brought in Florida International transfer Christian Alexander under center, so the Seahawks are worth monitoring Thursday night.

            

    Kerry Miller

    There's usually one that sticks out like a sore thumb as a downright awful FBS team is pitted against one of the better FCS squads. I don't see that this year, though, and no FBS team is playing North Dakota State this week. I guess give me Colgate over Air Force, since the Raiders had an absurdly good defense last year and even gave Army a bit of a run for its money.

                         

    Brad Shepard

    Every single year, this happens. It's like a No. 12 seed beating a No. 5 seed in the first round of the NCAA men's basketball tournament, right? There are several intriguing options, such as Portland State against Arkansas, Sam Houston State against New Mexico, Wagner at UConn, and FCS powerhouse James Madison at the rebuilding West Virginia. But the most likely is Incarnate Word over UTSA in the Alamodome. The Southland Conference Cardinals will be jacked up to face their in-city rival and will win the game.

                           

    Ian Wharton

    Sam Houston State over New Mexico. Sure, the Bearkats are coming off a down season (6-5 record), but having Ty Brock as the incumbent starter gives needed continuity. The Lobos are coming off a dreadful 3-9 campaign, and it's hard to pinpoint any real strength.

Which Heisman Long Shot Rockets into the Conversation with a Big Season Debut?

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    D'Andre Swift
    D'Andre SwiftJohn Bazemore/Associated Press

    David Kenyon

    Warm up the take machine. This one isn't particularly hot, but it might be unexpected: Running back D'Andre Swift, not Jake Fromm, is Georgia's top Heisman contender. The Bulldogs look like they'll have one of the nation's best offensive lines, and Elijah Holyfield's departure should give Swift the leading role most anticipated he'd have in 2018. Given the competition level (Vanderbilt) compared to that of other long-shot winners, Week 1 is a perfect chance for Swift to rise in the conversation.

                                           

    Kerry Miller

    Houston quarterback D'Eriq King has the best opportunity to make a huge splash against Oklahoma, but I'm rolling with Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins. He's a little undervalued because A) he's a running back, B) teammate Justin Fields is getting more attention and C) he had a bit of a disappointing 2018 season. But Dobbins is the man in that backfield with Mike Weber out of the picture, and he should have no trouble ripping through Florida Atlantic's defense.

                                          

    Brad Shepard

    Purdue's electrifying receiving corps is going to be fun to watch, and the star of that group is rising do-it-all sophomore Rondale Moore. What can he do as an encore to his brilliant first year in head coach Jeff Brohm's offense? We'll see Friday night when the Boilermakers travel to Nevada to take on a suspect Wolf Pack defense. Brohm will get the ball to Moore in all kinds of ways, and Heisman voters love utility-knife players. Moore will be college football's best this year, and he'll get off to a huge start. (Arizona State running back Eno Benjamin is a close second.)

                                                         

    Ian Wharton

    I'll go with a semi-expected player Oklahoma Sooners running back Kennedy Brooks. He had a productive 2018 (119 rushing attempts for 1,056 yards and 12 touchdowns on 8.9 yards per carry), and he will again benefit from having a dual-threat quarterback (Hurts) to take some of the attention away from him. Sure, he'll split duties with Trey Sermon, but Brooks is the superior talent. He'll dominate Houston's smaller defense Sunday night. 

Which Game Not Involving a Ranked Team Will Be Most Entertaining?

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    Jordan Love
    Jordan LoveSteve Conner/Associated Press

    David Kenyon

    If you're looking for scoring, Ole Miss at Memphis is a good start. Rich Rodriguez is now coordinating the Rebels offense, and Brady White is back for the Tigers after throwing for 3,296 yards and 26 touchdowns in his first season as a starter. But I'll give plenty of attention to Boise State against Florida State too. True freshman Hank Bachmeier will open 2019 as the Broncos' starter, and FSU is desperate to rebound from an abysmal 5-7 year. It's a must-watch game.

                                     

    Kerry Miller

    Maybe I'm just desperately hoping something will be worth watching Thursday, but I think we get the party started early in the UCLA-Cincinnati game. The Bruins offense was drastically improved over the second half of last season, and it should have gotten better under head coach Chip Kelly's tutelage this summer. But Cincinnati has an incredible rushing attack and should be one of the best Group of Five teams for a second straight year. This should be a fun one.

                   

    Brad Shepard

    While I think Virginia-Pittsburgh is going to be exciting for knockdown, defensive-minded college football fans like myself, it's not going to have a lot of intriguing storylines from a national perspective. That's not the case in the battle of the Carolinas, though, so I'll roll with South Carolina-North Carolina. Yes, head coach Will Muschamp's Gamecocks are more talented and should win to start a season that features an exceptionally difficult schedule. But Mack Brown's UNC starts a true freshman quarterback in Sam Howell, and there's a renewed excitement for Tar Heels football.

                           

    Ian Wharton

    Utah State at Wake Forest. The Aggies have a terrific quarterback in Jordan Love and linebacker Jordan Woodward, giving this game the star power needed for a fun non-ranked battle. The Demon Deacons offense hit its stride at the end of 2018 and can take advantage of Utah State's adjustment period under new head coach Gary Andersen, who's in his second stint with the program. Incumbent quarterback Sam Hartman needs to re-establish himself as the clear starter for the Demon Deacons, so there's another interesting wrinkle to watch in this battle.

Obligatory Preseason Prediction: Which 4 Reach the Playoff, and Who Wins It All?

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    Dabo Swinney
    Dabo SwinneyDavid J. Phillip/Associated Press

    David Kenyon

    You might be bored of Alabama vs. Clemson. I understand why. I'm also content to see the nation's two best teams play for the national title, and I expect that to happen again this season. And, like last year, give me Clemson. Also, it's probably safe to say I'm predicting this next year too. Trevor Lawrence is such a special player. I'll take Ohio State and Washington to round out the CFP field. Whew, how angry will Georgia fans be if that happens?

                              

    Kerry Miller

    No hot-take curve balls here. Give me Alabama, Clemson, Michigan and Oklahoma, with the Crimson Tide winning it all. I believe Georgia is the third-most talented team in the country, but the aforementioned four squads have considerably better chances of going undefeated—especially after factoring in projected conference championship games. But I look forward to being wrong on two of those four teams, just like every year.

                                                              

    Brad Shepard

    Ho-hum, Clemson and Alabama again will be among the final four teams standing. But the other two are anybody's guess. I love Georgia's makeup—young defense and veteran leadership at quarterback, along the offensive front and at running back. For that reason, I think the Bulldogs will make it two SEC teams in the final four. And I think this is finally Michigan's year to win the Big Ten, so I'm going with the Wolverines as a shocker to get in over Oklahoma and Texas. In the end, Clemson will knock off UGA for the title.

                                                  

    Ian Wharton

    Clemson, Alabama, Oklahoma and LSU. It's three of the usual teams, plus another SEC member. Clemson wins it all again, claiming one more national title than the Tide since the inception of the playoff.