College Football Picks: Week 1 Predictions for Every Game

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystAugust 31, 2021

College Football Picks: Week 1 Predictions for Every Game

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    Georgia RB Zamir White
    Georgia RB Zamir WhiteIcon Sportswire/Getty Images

    Week 0 was a nice appetizer of five games, but Week 1 is where we really dive into the 2021 college football season with 84 games spread out across six days.

    Not only is the slate large, but it is also loaded. There are five matchups pitting preseason AP Top 25 teams against one another, including the "whatever you do, don't miss it" clash between No. 3 Clemson and No. 5 Georgia on Saturday night.

    And we have predictions for all of it.

    After this week, most of the analysis will pertain to what we've seen thus far this season. We'll also aim to be a little less loquacious in future installments. But we wanted to dig deep into this initial buffet of games.

    B/R's predictions for each Week 1 game are broken into four sections: AP Top 25 teams, best games between unranked teams, FCS against unranked FBS games and the rest of the slate. In the FCS/FBS section, instead of forecasting the scores of those 33 games, we've ranked which ones are most likely to result in a loss for the FBS team.

    The AP Top 25 games are listed in ascending order of ranking. Each other section is presented in chronological order of kickoff time. Unless otherwise noted, games are assumed to take place on Saturday.

AP Nos. 25-21

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    Coastal Carolina QB Grayson McCall
    Coastal Carolina QB Grayson McCallVasha Hunt/Associated Press

    No. 25 Arizona State vs. Southern Utah, 10:30 p.m. ET (Thursday)

    Southern Utah got taken to the cleaners by San Jose State in Week 0 in what was their 25th loss in their last 30 games.

    This Week 1 matchup with Arizona State isn't going to be any prettier.

    SJSU did most of its damage via the passing game, but look for ASU to smoke the Thunderbirds with its rushing attack. Rachaad White, DeaMonte Trayanum and quarterback Jayden Daniels all return for the Sun Devils after combining for 933 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns in only four games played this past fall.

    When they do take to the air, look for the LV Bunkley-Shelton breakout season to begin.

    Prediction: Arizona State 55, Southern Utah 7


    No. 24 Utah vs. Weber State, 7:30 p.m. ET (Thursday)

    At least this "FCS against a ranked Pac-12 opponent" game features an underdog that has been competent in recent years. While Southern Utah has gone 5-25 since the start of 2018, Weber State has gone 37-11 since the start of 2017. That includes a few close calls against both San Diego State and Nevada in 2019.

    But it also includes a 31-point loss to Utah when less was expected of the Utes than is the case this year.

    Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham treated the transfer portal like a farmer's market this past offseason, picking up two new quarterbacks, three new running backs and two new wide receivers, all but one of whom came from Power Five programs. Whittingham also added both a linebacker and a safety from Washington to help plug some holes in what should be a very good defense.

    It'll take some time to get used to watching Baylor's Charlie Brewer either handing the ball off to LSU's Chris Curry and Oklahoma's T.J. Pledger or throwing to USC's Munir McClain and Oklahoma's Theo Howard, but this should be a relatively easy warm-up to help integrate those new guys.

    Prediction: Utah 38, Weber State 16


    No. 23 Louisiana at No. 21 Texas, 4:30 p.m. ET

    See No. 21 Texas for prediction


    No. 22 Coastal Carolina vs. The Citadel, 7 p.m. ET (Thursday)

    On the one hand, The Citadel was the FCS team that played No. 1 Alabama to a 10-10 draw in the first half of a November 2018 game, and the Bulldogs scored a surprising road win over Georgia Tech in September 2019.

    On the other hand, they went 2-10 last season, including a game against Clemson in which they had 38 total yards compared to 49 Clemson points in the first half.

    Coastal Carolina isn't as good as that Clemson team was, but the Chanticleers should have little to no trouble shutting down this triple-option offense. It's just a question of how long they want to leave quarterback Grayson McCall in there to pad his stat line.

    Prediction: Coastal Carolina 52, The Citadel 7


    No. 21 Texas vs. No. 23 Louisiana, 4:30 p.m. ET

    Is Texas back or is Louisiana still here?

    Aside from needing to replace running backs Elijah Mitchell and Trey Ragas, the Ragin' Cajuns basically have the same starting roster that went 10-1 with road wins over Iowa State, Appalachian State and UAB last fall. Head coach Billy Napier could have taken just about any opening he wanted this offseason, but he opted to remain in Lafayette for at least one more season.

    A win here would cement him as the most coveted Group of Five coach in the country.

    Were this a battle decided on paper by recruiting stars, Texas would win in a landslide. However, experience and team chemistry aren't exactly on the Longhorns' side for this opener. They're breaking in a new head coach, a redshirt-freshman quarterback and a bunch of new starters on defense.

    How well Texas quarterback Hudson Card can thread the needle against a ball-hawking ULL secondary isaside from Georgia vs. Clemson—the biggest thing I have my eye on this weekend. Because if Card picks the Ragin' Cajuns apart in a Longhorns victory, he's going to vault into the Heisman conversation.

    Prediction: Texas 31, Louisiana 27

AP Nos. 20-16

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    LSU's Derek Stingley Jr.
    LSU's Derek Stingley Jr.Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

    No. 20 Washington vs. Montana, 8 p.m. ET

    Montana is a solid FCS program, but recent games against ranked Pac-12 opponents haven't gone well for the Grizzlies. In 2019, they lost 35-3 to Oregon. Two years before that, Washington drilled them 63-7.

    While this rematch isn't likely to get that out of hand, we don't anticipate keeping tabs on this one deep into the fourth quarter. What we will be closely monitoring, though, is how well second-year quarterback Dylan Morris starts out.

    The redshirt sophomore had only four passing touchdowns and three interceptions last season, but he was taking over an offense that was replacing its leading rusher, its star tight end and two of its top three wide receiversin a four-game season that was originally postponed, no less. Let's give him a mulligan on that one and see how crisp he looks against Montana before trying to forecast his ceiling.

    Prediction: Washington 45, Montana 9


    No. 19 Penn State at No. 12 Wisconsin, Noon ET

    See No. 12 Wisconsin for prediction


    No. 17 Indiana at No. 18 Iowa, 3:30 p.m. ET

    For the first time in more than a half-century, Indiana is in the preseason AP Top 25. It might be a short stay, though, because this road opener against Iowa is rough.

    Opponents averaged only 16.0 points per game against the Hawkeyes last year, and no foe managed to exceed 24 points or reach 400 yards of total offense. Dating back to the end of the 2018 regular season, Iowa has held 22 consecutive opponents to 24 points or fewer.

    Can Hoosiers quarterback Michael Penix Jr. snap that streak in his first game back from the torn ACL that he suffered in November? And/or can the Indiana defensewhich brings back most of its leaders except for Jamar Johnson—outperform Iowa's in a low-scoring affair?

    I'm going with the home team in a tight one, but I fully expect this one to be decided by a back-breaking fourth-quarter turnover. It's just a question of which defense makes it happen.

    Prediction: Iowa 24, Indiana 21


    No. 16 LSU at UCLA, 8:30 p.m. ET

    UCLA made light work of Hawai'i in a 44-10 Week 0 victory in which the Bruins scored on each of their first five possessions. It wasn't a particularly efficient performance for fourth-year quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, but it didn't matter since they were running the ball at will.

    Incredibly, it was UCLA's first nonconference win since hiring Chip Kelly in November 2017. Extending that to a two-game winning streak will be quite the uphill battle.

    Last year unraveled in a hurry for LSU. Between graduations, early departures for the NFL draft, opt-outs and injuries, the Tigers opened the 2020 season with two active players who started in the 2019 national title game. They lost that first game to Mississippi State, and things didn't get much better from there.

    After that rebuilding year, they should be back with a vengeance in 2021.

    Instead of hitting the reset button on defense again, the Tigers pretty much just need to replace Jabril Cox and JaCoby Stevens. With any luck, star cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. will be healthy this season to lead a drastically improved D. Thompson-Robinson will need to be on his A-plus game in this one.

    Prediction: LSU 35, UCLA 27

AP Nos. 15-11

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    Wisconsin RB Jalen Berger
    Wisconsin RB Jalen BergerTony Ding/Associated Press

    No. 15 USC vs. San Jose State, 5 p.m. ET

    This could be a fun one for the hot seat conversation, where USC head coach Clay Helton enters yet another season near the top of the list.

    San Jose State is a solid team. The Spartans went 7-1 last year, holding opponents below 20 points per game, and all of the leaders of that defense are back for another year with the exception of defensive back Tre Webb. They also still have quarterback Nick Starkel and running back Tyler Nevens, which made for a lethal combo in 2020.

    But if the Trojans have any trouble winning this home openeror, heaven forbid, actually lose itagainst a team that has had only one winning season since joining the Mountain West Conference in 2013, the backlash will be swift and fierce. 

    Thankfully, Kedon Slovis should have minimal difficulty picking apart a secondary that had only three interceptions last year.

    Prediction: USC 38, San Jose State 21


    No. 14 Miami vs. No. 1 Alabama, 3:30 p.m. ET

    See No. 1 Alabama for prediction


    No. 13 Florida vs. Florida Atlantic, 7:30 p.m. ET

    At long last, it's time to find out what Emory Jones can do.

    After three years of backing up Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask, Jones will take over at quarterback and will be the biggest rushing threat the Gators have had at the position since Tim Tebow. Thus far in his college career, Jones has 92 rushing attempts against 86 pass attempts.

    After leading the nation in passing yards per game last year, the Gators offense will look far different this season. However, they should still be potent, especially if former top-10 overall recruit Justin Shorter starts living up to the hype at wide receiver.

    Florida Atlantic was the only team in the country to both score and allow fewer than 20 points per game in 2020, so this should be a decent first test for the Gators offense without putting much strain on the defense.

    Prediction: Florida 34, Florida Atlantic 10


    No. 12 Wisconsin vs. No. 19 Penn State, Noon ET

    Both of these Big Ten contenders had some brutal stretches last fall. The Nittany Lions started out 0-5, allowing at least 30 points in each of those games. Wisconsin had a three-game losing skid in which it was held to seven points or fewer in each contest.

    On the plus side, Penn State rushed for at least 240 yards in five of its nine games, and Wisconsin's defense held all six of its regular-season opponents below 240 passing yards. Both of these teams have the potential to challenge Ohio State for Big Ten supremacy if they can tap into those good traits more consistently.

    In this head-to-head showcase, the defensive back sevens should rule the day. There are questions along the defensive line for both the Nittany Lions and the Badgers, but they should each be strong at linebacker and in the secondary. Chunk gains will be tough to come by, and turnover margin should be the most important data point in what may well be a race to 21 points.

    Home-field advantage might be enough to push Graham Mertz and Co. over the top. Look for Wisconsin running back Jalen Berger to make a few key plays in Week 1 of his breakout campaign.

    Prediction: Wisconsin 23, Penn State 20


    No. 11 Oregon vs. Fresno State, 2 p.m. ET

    Like USC, Oregon's 2021 season will begin against a respectable Mountain West foe who scored 45 points in a Week 0 blowout victory.

    Fresno State quarterback Jake Haener averaged 336.8 passing yards per game in 2020, and he efficiently lit up Connecticut for 331 yards and three scores on Saturday afternoon. He has never faced a defense like Oregon's, though.

    Edge-rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux will keep Haener from feeling any comfort in the pocket. Linebacker Noah Sewell will relentlessly patrol the middle of the field. And Mykael Wright and Verone McKinley III will make sure space is limited for wide receivers.

    The Ducks won't pitch a shutout, but they'll get more than enough stops for new starting quarterback Anthony Brown to get the W.

    Prediction: Oregon 41, Fresno State 13

AP Nos. 10-6

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    North Carolina QB Sam Howell
    North Carolina QB Sam HowellGerry Broome/Associated Press

    No. 10 North Carolina at Virginia Tech, 6 p.m. ET (Friday)

    It's time to find out how well North Carolina can withstand wholesale changes on offense.

    It's bad enough that the Tar Heels need to replace Javonte Williams, Michael Carter, Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome. In addition, veteran wide receiver Beau Corrales is reportedly out for the season opener, while fellow wide receiver Khafre Brown has been dealing with a lower-body injury since the spring and might not be at 100 percent.

    They still have sensational quarterback Sam Howell, but he's now without the vast majority of his supporting cast. Playing on the road against a Virginia Tech team desperate to get a marquee victory for the first time since September 2018, that could prove problematic.

    Both of these defenses have a lot of room for improvement upon last season. But even without knowing who will be on the receiving end of Howell's passes, we have to give the edge to the team with a Heisman candidate at quarterback.

    Prediction: North Carolina 31, Virginia Tech 28


    No. 9 Notre Dame at Florida State, 7:30 p.m. ET (Sunday)

    Five years ago, Notre Dame began the season at No. 10 in the AP poll with a Week 1 game on Sunday night against a down-on-its-luck former powerhouse. The Fighting Irish lost that game to Texas and went on to have one of the worst seasons in program history.

    Can they avoid a similar fate against Florida State? That might depend upon how ready McKenzie Milton is to hit the ground running in his first regular-season action in nearly three years.

    The Seminoles are hoping the former UCF star is the answer they've been searching for at quarterback. They had only 10 passing touchdowns against 13 interceptions in nine games last fall, so they can't fare much worse with Milton running the show.

    But as was the case when these teams met last October, Notre Dame's ground game should dominate. Kyren Williams and Chris Tyree led a Fighting Irish rushing attack that gutted FSU's defense for 353 yards and four touchdowns. That will help ease Wisconsin transfer Jack Coan into his new gig as Notre Dame's quarterback.

    Prediction: Notre Dame 41, Florida State 27


    No. 8 Cincinnati vs. Miami-Ohio, 3:30 p.m. ET

    Cincinnati has a nonconference schedule daunting enough to warrant consideration for the College Football Playoff if it runs the table, but this opener isn't part of the gauntlet. While the RedHawks should be one of the better teams in the Mid-American Conference, that doesn't mean they'll challenge the Bearcats.

    Cincinnati won its first seven games last season by an average margin of 29.1 points, and this game should bear a striking resemblance to that dominant start. The defense will clamp down on a Miami-Ohio offense that averaged fewer than 310 yards per game in 2019, and the combination of Desmond Ridder at quarterback and Jerome Ford at running back will be more than the RedHawks can handle.

    Prediction: Cincinnati 49, Miami-Ohio 17


    No. 7 Iowa State vs. Northern Iowa, 4:30 p.m. ET

    Northern Iowa upset Iowa State in both 2013 and 2016 and took the Cyclones to triple overtime in 2019, but this is the best team Iowa State has ever had.

    Northern Iowa does return all 22 starters from a team that only allowed 15.3 points per game this past spring. The Panthers could be an intriguing FCS contender.

    But as long as the Cyclones take this game seriously and don't just assume that their preseason ranking will be enough to get the win, their talent and experience should reign supreme. 

    Prediction: Iowa State 35, Northern Iowa 7


    No. 6 Texas A&M vs. Kent State, 8 p.m. ET

    Quiz time: Which team led the nation in points per game in 2020?

    That's right: It was Kent State. The Golden Flashes averaged 49.8 points.

    Granted, they only played four games, two of which were against the atrocious defenses of Akron and Bowling Green. And their star wide receiver (Isaiah McKoy) is no longer on the team. But they do still have efficient dual-threat quarterback Dustin Crum, who has 32 passing touchdowns and 10 rushing touchdowns against only four interceptions since the beginning of 2019.

    Getting that to translate to a game against Texas A&M's defense will be a challenge to say the least, but they should be able to put some points on the board, putting at least a little pressure on new Aggies quarterback Haynes King. How he fares in this opener against a not-great Kent State defense will provide an early indication of how legitimate Texas A&M's College Football Playoff dream is.

    Prediction: Texas A&M 49, Kent State 21

AP Nos. 5-1

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    Clemson QB D.J. Uiagalelei
    Clemson QB D.J. UiagaleleiJared C. Tilton/Getty Images

    No. 5 Georgia vs. No. 3 Clemson, 7:30 p.m. ET

    See No. 3 Clemson for prediction


    No. 4 Ohio State at Minnesota, 8 p.m. ET (Thursday)

    If it's possible to open the season with a trap game, this could be exactly that for Ohio State.

    After so much offseason focus on either A) who will win the quarterback battle or B) the Week 2 game against Oregon, this road opener against Minnesota has flown below the radar as an assumed victory for the Buckeyes. But it bears mentioning that Minnesota brings back a veteran quarterback in Tanner Morgan and one of the best running backs in the nation in Mohamed Ibrahim.

    Ohio State should win. It should do so comfortably. If Ryan Day made the right choice at quarterback with C.J. Stroud, he, Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson and Co. should score at will against a Golden Gophers defense that had a lot of trouble with competent offenses last fall.

    But don't be surprised if this Thursday night opener stays close for longer than expected, much like the 2017 game against Indiana in which the Buckeyes trailed in the final 20 minutes before pulling away.

    Prediction: Ohio State 42, Minnesota 27


    No. 3 Clemson vs. No. 5 Georgia (in Charlotte, North Carolina), 7:30 p.m. ET

    Will the "Game of the Year" live up to the hype, or will one of these teams run away with an early statement victory?

    We're hoping for the former and struggling to come up with a reason it could be the latter, as Georgia and Clemson are equally matched on paper. Both teams are loaded in the trenches, have a big-armed quarterback and have a ton of speed in both the backfield and in the receiving corps.

    Frankly, the biggest difference in this contest might be the pregame injury/availability report.

    Georgia will be without wide receiver George Pickens (ACL) and might be without defensive back Tykee Smith (foot), tight end Darnell Washington (foot) and wide receiver Arik Gilbert (personal reasons). If all of those guys miss the game while Clemson's Justyn Ross is able to suit up after missing last year because of a spinal condition, advantage Tigers.

    I had been planning on picking Georgia in this one for most of the offseason, but I'm leaning in the direction of Clemson unless/until we find out that those important Bulldogs will be able to go.

    Prediction: Clemson 35, Georgia 31


    No. 2 Oklahoma vs. Tulane, Noon ET

    This game was originally scheduled to take place at Tulane, but the damage from Hurricane Ida has forced a change of plans. Per Yahoo Sports' Pete Thamel, the two sides are working on a contingency plan to either postpone/cancel the game or play it in Norman.

    Regardless of when or where, Oklahoma will win this game if it gets played.

    Dating back to September 2016, the last nine teams to beat the Sooners scored at least 37 points. Tulane doesn't have enough of a passing game to do so against this defense. And seeing as Oklahoma might have the best offense in the country this season, even 37 points might not be enough to pull off the upset.

    I don't think Spencer Rattler will win the Heisman Trophy, but he will at least take an impressive first step in that direction with a big performance in this one.

    Prediction: Oklahoma 56, Tulane 20


    No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 14 Miami (in Atlanta, Georgia), 3:30 p.m. ET

    Quiz time part two. Can you name the last time Nick Saban lost a regular-season game against a nonconference opponent?

    It was November 17, 2007, and the opponent was Louisiana-Monroe. Suffice it to say, it's been a while.

    Since then, Alabama has won 48 consecutive nonconference games by an average margin of more than 35 points. A good chunk of those were against FCS foes, but they have also routinely crushed ranked opponents, winning each of those eight games by double digits.

    All good (or bad) things must come to an end, but is Miami the team to snap that streak?

    Even if D'Eriq King shows no ill effects from the torn ACL he suffered in late December, Alabama's defense should be more than the Hurricanes can handle. And even though the Crimson Tide need to replace five starters on offense who were first-round draft picks in April, Bryce Young and the new starters should make a great first impression in a season-opening win.

    Prediction: Alabama 41, Miami 24

Best Unranked Clashes

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    Boise State QB Hank Bachmeier
    Boise State QB Hank BachmeierJohn Locher/Associated Press

    Boise State at UCF, 7 p.m. ET (Thursday)

    Most of the 24 FBS games taking place on either Thursday or Friday are of the "Well, at least college football is back" variety. But this showdown between two of the most talked-about Group of Five programs of the past decade could be a real gem.

    And, frankly, this Week 1 game might determine whether Boise State or UCF emerges as the team with the best shot at challenging Cincinnati for the Group of Five's spot in a New Year's Six bowl.

    Compared to their usual standard of excellence, each of these teams was just OK last fall. UCF was great on offense but couldn't stop anything on defense, averaging 42.2 points per game en route to a 6-4 record. Boise State went a respectable 5-2 but got destroyed by BYU and had an atypically difficult time establishing the ground game throughout the course of the truncated season.

    Home-field advantage could prove to be the difference for the Knights, but I like the Broncos to get the road W because of better defense and an offense that brings back more starters. Should be a great game.

    Prediction: Boise State 38, UCF 35


    Stanford vs. Kansas State (in Arlington, Texas), noon ET

    Neither of these teams received a single vote in the preseason AP Top 25, but they each feel like the wild-card team in their respective conferences.

    Kansas State started out 4-1 last season, but the offense never recovered from losing senior quarterback Skylar Thompson to an injury in the third game. He's back for a fifth season alongside a bevy of skill-position players (Deuce Vaughn, Phillip Brooks and Malik Knowles) with big-play potential. The Wildcats won't be the highest-scoring team in the Big 12, but there will be games where it clicks and they look downright unstoppable.

    Stanford's offense is a much bigger question mark following the departures of quarterback Davis Mills and wide receiver Simi Fehoko. In fact, it's still unclear whether Jack West or Tanner McKee will be the starting quarterback for this one. But David Shaw has a career winning percentage of .714 over the past decade with the Cardinal.

    The real wild card is that both of these teams were unusually porous on defense last fall, each allowing more than 31 points per game. The side that fares better on D will win this contest and enter Week 2 as one of the most intriguing under-the-radar teams to monitor.

    Prediction: Kansas State 31, Stanford 28


    West Virginia at Maryland, 3:30 p.m. ET

    Here we have another matchup between Power Five wild cards.

    Both Maryland and West Virginia were markedly better in 2020 than they were in 2019, but they both still have ample room for improvement, particularly on offense. The good news on that front is the Mountaineers bring back just about every offensive contributor from last season, while the Terrapins have now had a normal offseason to help further cement former Alabama transfer Taulia Tagovailoa as their star quarterback.

    Athlon Sports ranked Tua's younger brother as the fifth-best quarterback in the Big Ten heading into the 2021 season, and Maryland might put together its first eight-win season in over a decade if he lives up to that billing. The Terps won both games in which he threw for multiple touchdowns last fall and also lost both games in which he threw multiple interceptions. His level of consistency in leading this offense will determine their ceiling.

    In this game, though, he'll likely have a harder time navigating the WVU defense than Jarret Doege will have picking apart the MD secondary. But if Tagovailoa has a big game, it could be the start of a breakout year for the Terrapins.

    Prediction: West Virginia 34, Maryland 27


    Texas Tech at Houston, 7 p.m. ET

    Both of these third-year head coaches could desperately use a season-opening win after back-to-back years with losing records.

    Texas Tech's Matt Wells is 8-14, and his hopes of preserving his job for a fourth year rest on the shoulders of Oregon transfer Tyler Shough. He was impressive last year with the Ducks before surprisingly landing in the transfer portal. Perhaps he can bring some stability to a position that has been in a near-constant state of flux since Patrick Mahomes left to dominate the NFL.

    Houston's Dana Holgorsen is 7-13, which has been a big disappointment after he had West Virginia in the AP Top 25 in seven out of eight years from 2011-18. This should be a breakthrough year for the Cougars, though, if only because of how forgiving the schedule is. They won't face Cincinnati or UCF, and their remaining nonconference games are against Rice and Grambling State.

    One fun X-factor in play: Former Texas Tech running back Ta'Zhawn Henry is now suiting up for Houston. Mulbah Car will probably start in the backfield for the Cougars, but wouldn't it be something if Henry scored the game-winning touchdown?

    Prediction: Houston 35, Texas Tech 30


    Nevada at California, 10:30 p.m. ET

    Nevada quarterback Carson Strong certainly could have gone pro after a redshirt-sophomore year in which he completed better than 70 percent of his passes, averaged 317.6 yards per game and racked up nearly seven passing touchdowns per interception. 

    He decided to return, though, as did basically everyone else—on both offense and defensefrom a team that went 7-2 last fall.

    The Wolf Pack might be the team to beat in the Mountain West Conference this year, and a season-opening road win over a Pac-12 foe will drive that point home. Cal usually has a solid defense, but its offense has averaged fewer than 22 points per game in each of the past three seasons. That type of output won't cut it against this Nevada squad.

    Prediction: Nevada 31, California 20


    Louisville vs. Ole Miss (in Atlanta, Georgia), 8 p.m. ET (Monday)

    There are 84 Week 1 games, but the highest-scoring of the bunch may well be the last one. This Monday night showdown will feature the high-octane offense of Ole Miss and a Louisville defense that allowed at least 42 points three times last season. The Rebels D also got torched on a regular basis last fall, allowing 519.0 total yards per game, dead last among Power Five teams.

    Will the Cardinals have enough firepower to keep pace, though?

    Quarterback Malik Cunningham is back for a fourth season, but the three best parts of his supporting castJavian Hawkins, Dez Fitzpatrick and Tutu Atwell—are no longer on the roster. Redshirt freshmen Jalen Mitchell (RB) and Jordan Watkins (WR) will be stepping into much bigger roles, and I'm particularly intrigued to see how Shai Werts fares as a utility guy after spending the past four seasons as Georgia Southern's quarterback.

    In the end, though, this prime-time clash will cement Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral as one of the top 10 or so candidates for the Heisman. He'll throw for 400 yards and four touchdowns in a Rebels victory

    Prediction: Ole Miss 45, Louisville 34

FCS vs. Unranked FBS Matchups

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    UNLV RB Charles Williams
    UNLV RB Charles WilliamsJohn Locher/Associated Press

    Rather than coming up with score predictions for 33 games in which the vast majority are expected to be blowout wins for the FBS team, we're going to briefly highlight the six games where an FCS upset is most plausible. Of the teams ranked in the Top Nine of the preseason FCS Top 25, only No. 3 South Dakota State is facing an unranked FBS opponent this weekend, so don't expect too much carnage.


    6th-Most Likely Upset: Jacksonville State over UAB (7:30 p.m. ET Wednesday)

    Jacksonville State has won at least nine games in seven of the past eight seasons and was the No. 4 seed in the 16-team FCS tournament this past spring. If the Gamecocks were facing some "bottom 25 percent of the FBS" opponent, they would be our No. 1 upset pick. But UAB has won two of the last three Conference USA championships and should be able to avoid a 0-1 start to the year.


    5th-Most Likely Upset: Monmouth over Middle Tennessee (7 p.m. ET Saturday)

    From 2012-18, MTSU was consistently an above-average Group of Five squad. The Blue Raiders even knocked off a few Power Five foes during that seven-year window. But the past couple of years have been rough, and this season might be even worse if former Florida State, Hutchinson Community College and NC State transfer Bailey Hockman isn't the answer at quarterback. Monmouthwhich has a 31-10 record over the past four years—might be able to get the job done.


    4th-Most Likely Upset: Central Arkansas over Arkansas State (7 p.m. ET Saturday)

    The Red Wolves lost a bunch of key players from last year's offense, including primary quarterback Logan Bonner, leading rusher Jamal Jones and star receiver Jonathan Adams Jr. And their defense was already a hot mess, so a significant drop-off on offense could prove catastrophic. Central Arkansas, on the other hand, is No. 14 in the FCS preseason poll and would love to defend that ranking with an in-state victory.


    3rd-Most Likely Upset: South Dakota State over Colorado State (9 p.m. ET Friday)

    South Dakota State always seems to be a candidate to win the FCS championship, and 2021 expectations for Colorado State aren't exactly sky high after three consecutive losing seasons. But perhaps seventh-year senior defensive end Scott Patchan can help lead the Rams to victory.


    2nd-Most Likely Upset: Holy Cross over Connecticut (noon ET Saturday)

    Connecticut didn't play in 2020 and managed just 107 total yards in the process of losing 45-0 to Fresno State in Week 0. Holy Cross isn't a preseason Top 25 FCS team, but pretty much anyone facing the Huskies has a good chance at winning.


    Most Likely Upset: Eastern Washington over UNLV (10 p.m. ET Thursday)

    Eastern Washington has participated in three of the last five FCS tournaments and has not had a losing season since 2006. UNLV has only had one winning season (7-6 in 2013) thus far in the 21st century and is coming off a 0-6 season in which all six losses were by double digits. The Rebels have also lost three games against FCS foes in the past decade: Southern Utah in 2011, Northern Arizona in 2012 and Howard in 2017. 


    Full slate of FCS vs. FBS games:

    • UAB vs. Jacksonville State (in Montgomery, Alabama), 7:30 p.m. ET (Wednesday)
    • Western Illinois at Ball State, 7 p.m. ET (Thursday)
    • Wagner at Buffalo, 7 p.m. ET (Thursday)
    • Long Island at Florida International, 7 p.m. ET (Thursday)
    • UC Davis at Tulsa, 7:30 p.m. ET (Thursday)
    • UT Martin at Western Kentucky, 8 p.m. ET (Thursday)
    • Houston Baptist at New Mexico, 8 p.m. ET (Thursday)
    • Eastern Washington at UNLV, 10 p.m. ET (Thursday)
    • St. Francis (PA) at Eastern Michigan, 7 p.m. ET (Friday)
    • South Dakota at Kansas, 8 p.m. ET (Friday)
    • Northern Colorado at Colorado, 9 p.m. ET (Friday)
    • South Dakota State at Colorado State, 9 p.m. ET (Friday)
    • Colgate at Boston College, noon ET
    • Fordham at Nebraska, noon ET
    • Holy Cross at UConn, noon ET
    • Lafayette at Air Force, 2 p.m. ET
    • Montana State at Wyoming, 4 p.m. ET
    • Gardner-Webb at Georgia Southern, 6 p.m. ET
    • Campbell at Liberty, 6 p.m. ET
    • Central Arkansas at Arkansas State, 7 p.m. ET
    • Nicholls at Memphis, 7 p.m. ET
    • Monmouth at Middle Tennessee, 7 p.m. ET
    • Missouri State at Oklahoma State, 7 p.m. ET
    • Abilene Christian at SMU, 7 p.m. ET
    • Eastern Illinois at South Carolina, 7 p.m. ET
    • Norfolk State at Toledo, 7 p.m. ET
    • Southern at Troy, 7 p.m. ET
    • Northwestern State at North Texas, 7:30 p.m. ET
    • William & Mary at Virginia, 7:30 p.m. ET
    • Duquesne at TCU, 8 p.m. ET
    • East Tennessee State at Vanderbilt, 8 p.m. ET
    • Bethune-Cookman at UTEP, 9 p.m. ET
    • Portland State at Hawai'i, 11:59 p.m. ET

The Rest of the Slate

8 of 8

    Illinois QB Artur Sitkowski
    Illinois QB Artur SitkowskiIcon Sportswire/Getty Images

    Temple at Rutgers, 6:30 p.m. ET (Thursday): Rutgers 31-14

    East Carolina vs. Appalachian State (in Charlotte, North Carolina), 7:30 p.m. ET (Thursday): App State 35-24

    South Florida at NC State, 7:30 p.m. ET (Thursday): NC State 45-13

    Bowling Green at Tennessee, 8 p.m. ET (Thursday): Tennessee 41-10

    Duke at Charlotte, 7 p.m. ET (Friday): Duke 35-31

    Old Dominion at Wake Forest, 7 p.m. ET (Friday): Wake Forest 45-21

    Michigan State at Northwestern, 9 p.m. ET (Friday): Northwestern 31-17

    Army at Georgia State, noon ET: Army 28-27

    UL Monroe at Kentucky, noon ET: Kentucky 42-16

    Western Michigan at Michigan, noon ET: Michigan 45-28

    Rice at Arkansas, 2 p.m. ET: Arkansas 37-14

    Marshall at Navy, 3:30 p.m. ET: Marshall 27-24

    Central Michigan at Missouri, 4 p.m. ET: Missouri 34-20

    Louisiana Tech at Mississippi State, 4 p.m. ET: Mississippi State 49-13

    Massachusetts at Pittsburgh, 4 p.m. ET: Pittsburgh 45-7

    Akron at Auburn, 7 p.m. ET: Auburn 45-7

    Baylor at Texas State, 7 p.m. ET: Baylor 40-23

    Oregon State at Purdue, 7 p.m. ET: Purdue 35-28

    Syracuse at Ohio, 7 p.m. ET: Ohio 31-24

    Northern Illinois at Georgia Tech, 7:30 p.m. ET: Georgia Tech 38-20

    UTSA at Illinois, 7:30 p.m. ET: Illinois 30-27

    Southern Miss at South Alabama, 8 p.m. ET: South Alabama 35-32

    BYU vs. Arizona (in Las Vegas), 10:30 p.m. ET: BYU 42-21

    New Mexico State at San Diego State, 10:30 p.m. ET: San Diego State 35-3

    Utah State at Washington State, 11 p.m. ET: Washington State 48-21               


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