Fans know games aren’t played on paper.
Which is why week one is intriguing as ever, with all of the tasty matchups across the non-conference. Several ranked teams will be in action. Some will even be put to the test right off the bat. With all eyes on the sport over the next four days, every team will get their chance to rise to the occasion.
Labor Day weekend is always full of surprises and now it’s time to separate the pretenders from the contenders.
No. 10 North Carolina at Virginia Tech: Night games at Lane Stadium are as tough as they come for visitors. Now the atmosphere will be amplified because it’s Virginia Tech’s season opener and North Carolina is a top-10 team. The Tar Heels received their highest ranking in the AP preseason since 1997, but it seems a bit premature. The voters must’ve put all of their eggs in the Sam Howell basket. Howell is one of the best quarterbacks in the country, but he lost receivers Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome, who combined for 109 receptions, 1,783 receiving yards and 14 touchdown catches last season. Not to mention North Carolina lost two 1,000-yard rushers, who combined for 28 touchdowns on the ground. That’s a massive loss of production for the Tar Heels’ offense. Mack Brown is a great game day motivator though. This is a make or break season for Justin Fuente, so the pressure is there on him to win every game.
No. 19 Penn State at No. 12 Wisconsin: Both teams are coming off strange 2020 campaigns. The Badgers suffered a three-game losing streak in Big Ten play and failed to produce a 1,000-yard rusher for the first time since 2015. The Nittany Lions lost their first five games for the first time in school history. Which is why both teams are expecting to rebound in a big way this fall. Camp Randall Stadium will be rocking for this one, despite it being an early kickoff. However, Penn State has won the last four meetings in this series. Both squads have experienced quarterbacks, but will need to establish the run early on. Penn State’s receivers are one of the best position groups in the Big Ten, and will challenge Wisconsin’s secondary on several occasions. This will be a physical game in the trenches and both teams will field elite defenses. Penn State has more firepower on offense, so don’t be surprised if this clash turns into a shootout.
No. 23 Louisiana at No 21 Texas: The Longhorns haven’t won a Big 12 Title since 2009, and are on their fourth coach over the past eight seasons. Texas hasn’t faced a ranked team in a season opener since 2016. Louisiana is one of the best Group of Five teams in the country, with an elite quarterback in Levi Lewis. The Ragin Cajuns shouldn’t be overlooked, and are no strangers to smacking a ranked Big 12 team in the mouth on the road either. Just ask Iowa State about its’ season opener in 2020. Make no mistakes, this will be the Ragin Cajuns’ Super Bowl, considering the Longhorns are the highest-ranked opponent on their schedule. Texas is expecting Steve Sarkisian to have immediate success, but the job is harder than it looks. Bijan Robinson has a bullseye on his back because of all the preseason hype. Sarkisian plans on playing both quarterbacks too. We all know Texas’ roster isn’t full of five stars like Alabama’s.
No. 16 LSU at UCLA: Chip Kelly’s offense finally looked up to par last Saturday. Now the Bruins have scored 43-plus points in each of their last two games. UCLA steamrolled for 244 yards on the ground in the blowout win over Hawaii, but Dorian Thompson-Robinson will have to throw the ball more this Saturday. The Bayou Bengals are a high-caliber opponent, and the most talented team the Bruins will see all season. Ed Orgeron’s team will enter the Rose Bowl with a chip on their shoulder, considering how they underachieved last year. The quarterback position has been a liability for LSU ever since Joe Burrow left the building. On top of that, the Bayou Bengals will be operating under a new Defensive Coordinator. LSU is considered ‘Defensive Back U’ and finished 127th in the FBS in pass defense. Texas A&M was the last SEC team to make a trip to the Rose Bowl and it was a shootout. This matchup could easily end in similar fashion.
San Jose State at No. No. 15 USC: The Spartans are no pushovers and have won eight of their last nine games overall. Quarterback Nick Starkel is a former Texas A&M recruit, who threw for 17 touchdowns and led San Jose State to a 7-0 start in 2020. He picked up right where he left off last week’s win with 394 passing yards, four touchdowns and an interception. San Jose even scored more points on Southern Utah than Utah did Thursday night. Meanwhile the Trojans are expected to be the class of the Pac-12 this fall. And rightfully so, with the return of Kedon Slovis, who’s one of the best quarterbacks in the country. The Trojans’ defensive front seven is talented and experienced. It’s going to be intriguing watching Starkel and Slovis match wits. Slovis is no stranger to fourth quarter comebacks either. This matchup has all the ingredients of a shootout, with the last signal-caller possessing the ball, winning the game.
No. 9 Notre Dame at Florida State: The College football world lost a legend in Bobby Bowden last month and this is going to be an emotional opener for the Seminoles. Which is why the Doak will be turned up for this clash under the Sunday night lights. No one is expecting much out of the Seminoles this fall, so they have nothing to lose and this is their perfect opportunity to change the narrative. It has been a long rehabilitation process for signal-caller McKenzie Milton and now he’s back in the spotlight. Meanwhile Notre Dame lost Ian Book, who’s the winningest quarterback in program history. Now former Wisconsin quarterback Jack Coan is trying to fill Book’s shoes. Having Kyren Williams to hand the ball off to will make the transition easier and tight end Michael Mayer is a clutch safety net. Florida State will need to attack Notre Dame’s inexperienced offensive line. The Fighting Irish defense will likely dictate the game’s flow.