2020 College Football Season's Week 1 Is Here...and We Need to Cherish It

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystSeptember 3, 2020

UAB QB Tyler Johnston III
UAB QB Tyler Johnston IIIBrett Duke/Associated Press

There were more than a few nights in the past five-plus months in which it felt like this day neither would nor should arrive, but the 2020 college football season will begin Thursday night when UAB hosts Central Arkansas.

Yes, there was an FCS game between Austin Peay and Central Arkansas last Saturday, but for the 99 percent of college football fans who only pay attention to the FBS standings, this is when things truly get underway.

(That said, we are more than happy to let Central Arkansas forever serve as the answer to the trivia question: Who was the only team to play in two college football season openers in the same week?)

In a normal year, a Thursday night opening platter of Central Arkansas at UAB and South Alabama at Southern Mississippi wouldn't tickle the fancy of many fans. As a matter of fact, there's neither an AP Top 25 team nor a single Power Five conference team playing this weekend (that's including a game on Monday), so it's entirely possible some of you weren't even aware these nine games were happening.

But if that's the case, it's time to amend your plans for the next few days to make sure you soak up every drop of college football that you can.

Treasure this weekend, because the journey to it was arduous, and the path forward is shrouded in uncertainty.

There might be Big Ten football before November and four Power Five champions in the College Football Playoff, or there might be so many COVID-19 outbreaks that the season abruptly ends before the SEC even plays its first game on Sept. 26. We'll all find out together.

I say that not to cast a pall over the next several months of what we all hope will be postponement-free football, but rather to stoke the flame of excitement for these initial few days of the fall season.

First of all, it's rather poetic that UAB is the FBS team getting this party started.

Five years ago, the Blazers didn't even have a football program, yet here they are leading the charge into 2020 in search of a third consecutive trip to the Conference USA championship. Their starting QB (Tyler Johnston III), top RB (Spencer Brown) and top WR (Austin Watkins Jr.) are all back, as well as a linebacker/edge-rusher quartet (Kristopher Moll, Jordan Smith, Noah Wilder and Alex Wright) that combined for 52.5 tackles for loss last year.

It's probably going to be a UAB blowout, but at least it's football, and I cannot wait.

The other Thursday night game might not be any more competitive, as South Alabama lost a 1,000-yard rusher (Tra Minter) from a team that couldn't even muster 4,000 yards of total offense last season. But while two wrongs don't make a right, two screens of ugly college football is a beautiful thing that we've dearly missed.

After that presumed 2-0 start for Conference USA, we start cooking with gas on Saturday with back-to-back-to-back games on ESPN.

Marshall RB Brenden Knox
Marshall RB Brenden KnoxBrett Carlsen/Associated Press

Marshall begins that 10- to 11-hour football marathon (at 1 p.m. ET) with what should be an easy home win over Eastern Kentucky. You're going to want to tune in to get a good look at Brenden Knox. The Thundering Herd's running back led Conference USA in rushing last season, and they didn't really start feeding him the ball until mid-October. Knox averaged 124.0 yards per game over the final eight contests, and this 6'0" bowling ball should have a field day against EKU.

Meanwhile, on CBS Sports Network (at 1:30 p.m. ET), it'll be Middle Tennessee and Army battling to see whose quarterback can run for the most yards.

MTSU's Asher O'Hara was one of the best rushing QBs in the nation last year, racking up 1,058 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground. And whether it's Jabari Laws or Christian Anderson taking snaps for the Black Knights, everyone knows to expect a ton of QB keepers in that triple-option offense. It should be the most competitive game of the day.

Then it's back to ESPN for the 4:30 p.m. ET kickoff between SMU and Texas State.

SMU started out 8-0 last year before eventually sputtering to a 10-3 finish, but that Shane Buechele-led Mustangs offense was all sorts of fun, averaging nearly 42 points per game. With that former Texas transfer back for (at least) one more year at quarterback, SMU could be a sleeper candidate in the AAC. Even though it's a road game, the Mustangs should certainly get out to a 1-0 start against a Texas State squad that has averaged fewer than 20 points per game for four consecutive years.

After a late-afternoon window with only one game, it's time to limber up the eyeballs for the ol' three-screen experience. My advice: Get Arkansas State at Memphis (8 p.m. ET on ESPN) on the main screen, with Houston Baptist at North Texas (7:30 p.m. ET) and Stephen F. Austin at UTEP (9 p.m. ET) streaming on the alternate devices.

Memphis' Brady White and Damonte Coxie
Memphis' Brady White and Damonte CoxieEric Christian Smith/Associated Press

That Memphis game lost a bit of its luster with the news breaking this past weekend that star running back Kenneth Gainwell will be opting out of this season. He rushed for 1,459 yards last year as a redshirt freshman and was expected to be one of the five most prominent running backs taking the field this fall. Without him, though, that just means more of Brady White and Damonte Coxie. White threw for 4,014 yards and 33 touchdowns last year, while Coxie led the AAC with 1,276 receiving yards.

Arkansas State can score in bunches, too, though. Layne Hatcher averaged better than 320 passing yards and three touchdowns in nine games as the Red Wolves starting quarterback last year. They lost top WR Omar Bayless, but with both an 800-yard rusher (Marcel Murray) and an 800-yard receiver (Jonathan Adams Jr.) returning, they should have enough potency to make this game entertaining.

As far as the other two games are concerned, perhaps we'll be treated to a classic FCS-over-FBS Week 1 upset or two?

The Athletic's Chris Vannini recently ranked all 76 teams playing this fall, and he slotted UTEP in dead last. Not much of a surprise there, given the Miners' 2-34 record over the past three seasons. And there's no telling what to expect from North Texas with a new offensive coordinator, a new defensive coordinator and someone other than Mason Fine starting at quarterback for the first time since 2016.

And after all that action on Saturday, the best game of the opening weekend will be the Monday night tilt between BYU and Navy.

With most leagues playing either a conference-only or one-nonconference-game slate, it has been a rough few months for independent BYU trying to put together a schedule. But here's hoping the Cougars have been working on their triple-option defense, because they will open the season with back-to-back road games against Navy and Army.

The last time they played Navy was in 1989, they have never faced Army and they haven't even played Air Force since leaving the Mountain West Conference after the 2010 season. It should be quite the trial by fire. But the Midshipmen are replacing Malcolm Perry, who rushed for more than 2,000 yards and threw for more than 1,000 yards last year, so it will be intriguing to see if they can maintain some of the momentum from that impressive and unexpected 11-win campaign.

It's not the opening weekend bonanza we were expecting. If you feel the need to spend part of Saturday mourning the loss of USC vs. Alabama, Michigan at Washington and even North Dakota State at Oregon, that's understandable.

However, try to revel in the joy of what we do have, instead of dwelling on what we don't. 2020 has been all about finding small victories, and the return of college football in any capacity is a colossal W.


Kerry Miller covers men's college basketball and college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @kerrancejames.