After a long off-season, the great sport of college football is officially back. Because of the exclusivity of the playoff and the importance of each game, the college football regular season creates a sense of urgency and excitement that is unmatched by any other sport. As always, week one kicks off with high-profile matchups featuring traditional powers and playoff contenders that are hoping to earn the opportunity to play for a national championship. Let’s take a look at the three best games of the weekend.
After a four-year hiatus, this rivalry of traditional powers is back in a big way. Both teams enter the season ranked in the top 15 and have playoff aspirations.
Michigan will start Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson at quarterback, who many believe will be Jim Harbaugh’s most talented signal caller he has had in his time at Michigan. Patterson, a former 5-star recruit, is a dual threat quarterback who showed flashes of brilliance last season. However, he is also a bit of an unknown due to his struggles against better opponents a season ago. He will also have to manage without his best receiver Tarik Black and an offensive line with major question marks entering this season.
Notre Dame will face its own set of challenges, namely having to replace a pair of offensive lineman who were top ten picks in the 2017 NFL draft and anchored a run game that averaged nearly 300 yards per game. Assuming that the Irish wont be as dominant on the ground, quarterback Brandon Wimbush will need to make some plays throwing the football downfield against the Wolverines, which he did not do particularly well last year. While he is a talented runner, he will face a Michigan defense that many believe is one of the best in college football and will certainly not allow Wimbush to break big plays with his legs.
All things considered, expect a close, low-scoring game highlighted by two great defenses. The winner of this game must win the turnover battle and make a big play or two on special teams.
This is a matchup of top ten teams that could have a direct impact on the College Football Playoff. After a dismal bowl record and missing out of the playoff once again, the Pac-12 desperately needs Washington to make a statement with a win over a quality SEC opponent.
Offensively, Washington returns a large portion of its backfield production from last year, including quarterback Jake Browning and running back Myles Gaskin. However, they will need to replace big play receiver Dante Pettis and will have to find a way to move the ball through the air against a stout Auburn defense. Defensively, Washington is poised for another top nationally ranked defense. Despite the loss of Vita Vea, they return nearly everyone else and will be able to match the speed of Auburn’s perimeter players.
Auburn is coming off of a strong 2017 season where they reached the SEC championship game. They return one of the best quarterbacks in the country, Jared Stidham, who led the SEC in completion percentage and will likely be a high pick in next year’s draft. Despite having to face a strong Washington secondary, expect Stidham to move the ball through the air on a consistent basis. The challenge will be replacing running back Kerryon Johnson and producing a rushing attack against the Washington's talented front seven.
This theme of this game is the speed of Washington vs. the physicality of Auburn. The last time the Huskies faced a physical SEC team was in the 2016 national semifinal against Alabama in which the huskies were ineffective running ball, which forced Browning to try and win the game with his arm. That proved to be unsuccessful, as Alabama handled them easily. Like the ND-Mich game, expect a low scoring, defensive battle with the advantage lying with Auburn because of their superior quarterback.
This will be another early top 25 matchup that is a battle of a Miami team looking to prove that they are here to stay vs. an LSU team that is desperately trying to regain the relevance both in the SEC and on the national stage.
Last season Miami was one of the most surprising teams in college football, as they finished 10-3 and were in the playoff conversation until a late season loss on the road to Pitt. Many are claiming that “The U” is back, but they must come out strong against an LSU team that is looking to pull off the upset. Miami returns some of the nations best offensive skill players, including running back Travis Homer and a group of talented receivers. The issue could be at quarterback even though they return last year’s starter Malik Rosier. Despite his experience, Rosier is limited in his ability to make plays throwing downfield and struggled late in the year against good defenses.
For LSU, this could be a make or break year for Ed Orgeron, who finished 9-4 in his first season in Baton Rouge. They will likely start Ohio State transfer quarterback Jake Burrows, who is looking to provide a playmaking ability that LSU quarterbacks have lacked for a long time. As always, the LSU defense will be fast, physical and will produce multiple NFL players. But in order to be effective, they will need their offense to move the ball so that they won't be on the field as much as they were last year.
This is a huge game for both teams, but particularly for LSU because of how difficult of a schedule they play. If they can pull off an upset against a top ten opponent to start the year, it will be a great momentum builder for a team looking to re-enter the playoff conversation.