Some are calling it the greatest opening weekend in the history of college football, with a dizzying array of blockbuster matchups to kickoff the 2016-2017 season.
As the bonanza unfolds, here’s a quick preview of the best games that you don’t want to miss.
#3 OKLAHOMA vs #15 HOUSTON – NRG Stadium, Houston
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 3 at 12 p.m. ET on ABC
Oklahoma wants to get back into this year’s College Football Playoff after last year’s surprising run ended in 37-17 loss in the Orange Bowl to Clemson. Houston, the best contender outside the usual blue-bloods with a chance to earn an invite to this year’s semifinals, is coming off a magnificent 13-1 season that culminated with a 38-24 beatdown of Florida State on New Year’s Eve in the Peach Bowl.
Anybody who thinks Houston will be severely overmatched here didn’t see the Cougars play at all last year, where they received the school’s first top ten post-season ranking in the AP poll since 1979.
The Sooners have what many believe to be the best backfield in the nation, with running backs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon and with quarterback Baker Mayfield controlling an offense more explosive than a Black man with an afro kneeling during the national anthem.
Perine, a junior, is a straight up beast who bullies defenses into submission. He needs just 1,057 yards to surpass the great Billy Sims as Oklahoma’s all-time leading rusher.
With both teams combining for a 24-3 record last year, this looks like the most scrumptious opening weekend game. Mayfield, the reigning Big 12 Conference Offensive Player who racked up 3,700 passing yards and 36 touchdowns with just seven interceptions, plus 405 rushing yards and seven TD’s on the ground, is exceptional.
Bob Stoops’ Sooners scored 44 points per game in the Big 12 last year. As the season progressed, they got better and better, boasting a balanced offense that averaged 300 rushing 293 passing yards in their last seven regular season games.
But the OU signal caller just might be the second-most electrifying QB in this game. Houston’s Greg Ward Jr. and Clemsons phenomenal Deshaun Watson were the only players to pass for more than 2,000 yards and run for more than 1,000 last year. Ward’s quickness, elusiveness, speed and wiggle eats up defenses in eye-popping fashion. He ran for 21 touchdowns last year, threw for 17 and only had six interceptions in 345 pass attempts.
When Houston’s on defense, keep an eye on linebacker Steven Taylor, who had 10 sacks, 92 tackles, 18.5 of those for a loss, and three interceptions. The Cougars are very good at stopping the run, but they’ll have their hands full with Perine and Mixon.
There’s pro talent all over Oklahoma’s defense, headlined by lineman Charles Walker, linebacker Jordan Evans and defensive back Jordan Thomas.
#20 USC vs #1 ALABAMA – AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 3 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC
It’s been 31 years since these powerhouses knuckled up. Might as well call this the Name-Brand Tradition Bowl, as these programs, among the sexiest in college football, have combined for 27 national championships. But over the last few years, there’s been a divergence of epic proportions.
Head coach Nick Saban has led Alabama to four of the past seven national titles. If you did’t just stop right there and say, “Holy Smokes!!!”, you have no concept of how difficult that is to accomplish in the modern era.
USC, however, hasn’t won the Pac-12 since Pete Carroll had the Trojan machine humming over eight years ago.
And while everyone’s talking about Alabama’s inexperienced quarterback situation, they should be talking about the squad’s true strength, a defense that was historically great last year in giving up a miserly 15 points per game. Linebackers Tim Williams and Reuben Foster, and defensive end Jonathan Allen could all be getting tailor made suits for next year’s NFL Draft.
Alabamas secondary, with cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Minkah Fitzpatrick, and safety Eddie Jackson, will be tested by USC’s talented receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. But the one-on-one battle that everyone is salivating for is the Trojans’ gifted DB Adoree’ Jackson going up against the Crimson Tide’s Calvin Ridley.
Ridley and Smith-Schuster are among the most electrifying pass catchers in the land. Let’s hope both offenses have QB’s that are capable of getting them the ball. I’ll be looking to see if Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris can replace the insane production of departed Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry in the Alabama backfield, and if O.J. Howard, who looked like a mix on Mark Bavaro and Tony Gonzalez in Bama’s 45-40 national championship game win over Clemson with 208 yards and two touchdowns on only five catches, can become a consistent weapon of mass destruction.
#11 OLE MISS vs #4 FLORIDA STATE – Camping World Stadium, Orlando, Florida
Kickoff: Monday, Sept. 5 at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN
Florida State’s new starting quarterback Deondre Francois is an unproven commodity as a redshirt freshman while Ole Miss’ Chad Kelly is one of the best flamethrowers in the country.
Francois, however, has the luxury of handing the ball off to Heisman hopeful Dalvin Cook, who has rushed for 2,699 yards during his two years in Tallahassee. Cook needs just 1,261 yards to surpass Warrick Dunn’s as the Seminoles all-time leading rusher.
Rebels junior defensive end Marquis Haynes tied a school record with ten sacks last year. If Francois is forced to throw, he better have eyes in the back of his head, because Ole Miss brings the heat. Junior outside linebacker DeMarquis Gates, who had a team-high 76 tackles in 2015, is a star in the making.
Florida State finished 10-3 in 2015, but they’re gunning for a spot in the playoffs this year. Cook, who averaged an insane 7.4 yards per carry last year while struggling through hamstring and ankle injuries, is worth the price of admission and can carry a team. DeMarcus Walker and Josh Sweat could form one of the most vicious defensive end combos in the country.
THE BEST OF THE REST:
#16 UCLA vs TEXAS A&M – Kyle Field, College Station, Texas
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 3 at 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS
Quarterbacks Josh Rosen for UCLA and Oklahoma transfer Trevor Knight for the Aggies will get most of the spotlight, along with A&M’s mesmerizing receiver Christian Kirk, who caught 80 passes for 1,009 yards and seven touchdowns as a freshman last year.
But the best player on the field will be Texas A&M’s junior defensive Myles Garrett, who had 12.5 sacks last year and is considered by many to be the future #1 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.
#5 LSU vs WISCONSIN – Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wisconsin
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 3 at 3:30 p.m. on ABC
SEC vs Big Ten, mediocre QB’s, Cheeseheads, blah blah blah. just watch The Tigers’ remarkable junior Running back Leonard Fournette. ‘Nuff said!
#18 GEORGIA vs #22 NORTH CAROLINA – Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Georgia
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 3 at 5:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
Let’s see if Bulldogs running back Nick Chubb can return to form after a devastating knee injury sidelined him from a remarkable start to his career. He’s rushed for almost 2,300 yards in just 14 career starts over the last two seasons. UNC struggled to stop the run last year, giving up close to 250 per game. Baylor ate them alive, romping for 645 in the Champs Sports Bowl. SIX-HUNNITT AND FORTY FIVE!!!
Georgia’s new head coach Kirby Smart comes over from Alabama, where he oversaw some incredible defenses as Nick Saban’s D-Coordinator. The Tar Heels play at a fast pace and put points on the board in a hurry.
Their quarterback Matt Trubisky, who has shined in his limited appearances, has the skills to pay the bills. And UNC’s running back Elijah Hood just might be the best college running back you’ve never heard of if you’re one of those folks that thinks the school only plays basketball.