Reporting Matt Ryan
College Football is back after a near eight month hiatus. The season will begin tonight with games across the country, including a double-header involving three teams from the SEC. Below is a list of the 10 best matchups to watch for on opening weekend.
*Game times are for Saturday unless noted otherwise.
10. #19 Boise State at Washington (10pm, Fox Sports 1): The Broncos streak of double digit win seasons continued last year, even with the losses of Kellen Moore and Doug Martin. Boise State should be well on their way to an eighth straight season with 10+ wins with a favorable MWC schudele, but they wont have a chance for a BCS bowl without a late evening win in Seattle. Washington is a dark horse contender in a PAC-12 conference that may be the second best in the country heading in to this season. The Huskies are looking to move up the hierarchy of their league, after three straight 7-6 finishes.
9. #22 Northwestern at California (10:30pm, ESPN2): Northwestern is the dark horse contender in the Big Ten this year, after winning 10 games last season for the first time since their Rose Bowl season in 1995. The Wildcats will be on upset alert opening weekend with a road matchup on the West Coast against a program beginning a new era. Jeff Tedford is out after a 3-9 season in 2012. Replacing him is Sonny Dykes who has brought the Air Raid to Berkley, an offense that is similar to what Big 12 schools like West Virginia and Oklahoma State use. It will be the beginning of an interesting year for the Golden Bears, who host Ohio State two weeks later and also have road dates with Stanford, Oregon, and UCLA.
8. #11 Florida State at Pittsburgh (8pm, ESPN, Monday): Pittsburgh begins their ACC era by getting to host the reigning conference champion at Heinz Field. The Seminoles are coming off a 12-2 season and could very easily have a 5-0 record heading in to their October 19th showdown at Clemson. It could be a rough start in the conference for the Panthers who went 6-7 during their final season in the Big East.
7. Ohio at #9 Louisville (3:30pm, ESPN, Sunday): Louisville shocked the college football world in January by beating Florida in the Sugar Bowl and will be the run away favorites in the inaugural season of the American Athletic Conference. The Ohio Bearcats have made four consecutive bowl games under former Nebraska coach Frank Solich and are one of the MAC favorites. They could be the toughest team on Charlie Strong and Louisville’s schedule until their regular season finale on the road against Cincinnati.
6. #13 Oklahoma State vs. Mississippi State at Reliant Stadium (3:30pm, ESPN2/ABC): Oklahoma State fell back with middle of the pack in the Big 12 last year, after finishing 2011 as the third ranked team in the country. The Cowboys are looking to rise to the top of their conference again in what could be a wide open race for the Big 12 crown. Mississippi State has gone to a bowl game the last three years under Dan Mullen, but has yet to establish themselves as a true threat to make the SEC Championship Game. How they fare against the Cowboys could set the tone for what will be another tough season in the SEC West.
5. North Carolina at #6 South Carolina (6pm, ESPN, Thursday): The 2013 season will begin with the Gamecocks playing their former conference opponent for the first time since 2007. Their number six pre-season ranking is the highest in school history, bringing high expectations to a team that is expected to be one of the favorites in the SEC East. North Carolina will be one of the dark horses contenders in the ACC, coming off an 8-4 record during Larry Fedora’s first year as head coach.
4. #1 Alabama vs. Virginia Tech at Georgia Dome (5:30pm, ESPN): The Crimson Tide’s quest for a 3-peat will begin at the Georgia Dome on Saturday afternoon against a Virginia Tech squad they are favored to beat by nearly three touchdowns. Alabama is 3-0 in neutral site games on opening weekend under Nick Saban. The Hokies are looking to rebound after a 7-6 season in 2012, after failing to win 10+ games for the first time since 2003.
3. Ole Miss at Vanderbilt (9:15pm, ESPN, Thursday): Neither one of these schools is ranked in the pre-season, but a victory in this Thursday opener is crucial for a pair of SEC schools looking to move up the hierarchy in their divisions. The Commodores are coming off a 9-4 record heading in to the third year of the James Franklin era, while Ole Miss made headlines in the off-season by signing one of the most highly touted recruiting classes in the country.
2. #12 LSU vs. #20 TCU at Cowboys Stadium (9pm, ESPN): A lot of certainty surrounds LSU’s roster heading in to their showdown against the Horned Frogs, despite their high rank. The Bayou Bengals lose 13 players (including 10 underclassmen) from last year’s roster who are currently playing in the NFL. TCU will be a good test for them, heading in to their second season in the Big 12. Gary Patterson’s squad is looking to improve their record after going 7-6 (4-5 in conference play) during their inaugural year in the conference.
1. #5 Georgia at #8 Clemson (8pm, ESPN): There is no doubt or argument about which game is the most anticipated headed in to the opening weekend of the season. These old rivals haven’t met on the field in a decade and will be playing in a bowl like atmosphere in Death Valley. It will also mark the beginning of a gauntlet like schedule for Georgia, who host South Carolina the following week and LSU only three weeks after that. Clemson’s chances for a BCS bowl could depend on winning this game, with Florida State (October 19th) and South Carolina (November 30th at Columbia) the only other teams on their schedule currently ranked in the polls.