Week zero is in the books and time to look towards week one. Typically the first week of the season does not have many exciting matchups but this year appears to be an exception. Thursday night kicks off an eventful week one which has numerous marque games to keep fans entertained throughout the entire weekend. The week culminates on Monday night with Georgia Tech and Clemson finishing off the weekend. We are here to rank the top five games for this weekend to help you know which games to keep an eye on while you are tailgating.
5. West Virginia vs Pitt (Thursday, 7:00 EST ESPN) – Spread Pitt -7.5: The Backyard Brawl is back. One of the most intense rivalries is returning to your screen on the opening night of week one. The storylines following this game have been underrated but should provide us an entertaining matchup. Pitt is replacing a plethora of offensive talent after winning the ACC last season. Kenny Pickett is being replaced by USC transfer Kedon Slovis. Konata Mumpfield is another key transfer for the Panthers. He will look to replace Addison’s production after being named a Freshman All-American at Akron last season. West Virginia will be starting a transfer quarterback of their own. J.T. Daniels was named the starter for the Mountaineers after transferring from Georgia this past off-season. Daniels was originally the starter at USC before being replaced by Slovis. West Virginia head coach, Neal Brown, is in his fourth season and has yet to win more than six games. An early season loss to Pitt would likely put him on the hot seat early in the season. The Backyard Brawl will be decided on quarterback play. Which quarterback will be more comfortable in their first start with a new team and be able to limit their mistakes?
4. #23 Cincinnati vs #19 Arkansas (Saturday 3:30 EST, ESPN) – Spread Arkansas -6: Cincinnati is coming off of an appearance in the College Football Playoffs but is replacing key contributors all over the field. Defensive backs Coby Bryant and Sauce Gardner are in the NFL along with quarterback Desmond Ridder and running back Jerome Ford. Luke Fickell announced he has picked a quarterback but he has not publicly announced the winner. Arkansas is a trendy pick to jump up the SEC standings and potentially contend for the SEC West. Quarterback KJ Jefferson is a dynamic playmaker with his legs and his arm. Jefferson could be an sleeper candidate for the Heisman this fall. Sam Pittman used the transfer portal to find key playmakers on both sides of the ball such as wide receiver Jadon Haselwood. Haselwood played at Oklahoma last season totaling 399 receiving yards and six the touchdowns. Former Alabama linebacker Drew Sanders is a player to watch on the Razorback’s defense this weekend. Cincinnati’s biggest question is about the depth on their team. Can the Bearcats reload on both sides of the ball to be one of the best teams in the nation again?
3. #7 Utah vs Florida (Saturday 7:00 EST, ESPN) – Spread Utah -3: Rarely do we see Pac-12 teams make the journey to the east coast in week one. This is one of the most intriguing matchups because many experts are picking Utah to make the College Football Playoffs. Utah returns a bulk of their offense including starting quarterback Cam Rising. Rising helped lead the Utes to a Pac-12 championship and an appearance in the Rose Bowl last season. Tavion Thomas also returns at running back after finishing with 21 rushing touchdowns last season. The Utah defense is led by defensive back Clark Phillips who is expected to be an an early round draft pick in next year’s NFL Draft. Florida’s season was the complete opposite of Utah last year. The Gators fired Dan Mullen and hired Billy Napier to take over the program. Anthony Richardson is expected to lead the Gators at quarterback and help set the tone for the program. He split time with Emory Jones last fall but Jones has since transferred to Arizona State. Richardson has one of the highest ceilings in the SEC and the Utah defense will put him to the test early and often. Florida is the team in question for this matchup. Will the Gators find consistency on the offensive side of the ball to keep pace with the Utes?
2. #11 Oregon vs #3 Georgia (Saturday, 3:30 EST, ABC) – Spread Georgia -17: Dan Lanning will make his homecoming in his very first game as a head coach. Lanning was the defensive coordinator for Georgia last season when the Bulldogs won the national title. Lanning has decided on a quarterback for the Ducks but will not publicly announce his starter before the game. Bo Nix, Ty Thompson and Jay Butterfield are all fighting for the starting spot. Nix is expected to win the job after starting three seasons for the Auburn Tigers. The defense for Oregon should be their bread and butter. The Ducks will be led by linebackers Justin Flowe and Noah Sewell. Flowe and Sewell have All-American potential and will play major roles on the Oregon defense this season. The biggest question for Georgia is how they replace all of their talent on defense. The Bulldogs had six defensive players taken in the first round of the NFL draft which did not include Butkus winner Nakobe Dean. Georgia has recruited well over the past few years so Kirby Smart has plenty of talent on the defensive side of the ball. Stetson Bennett is back at quarterback with a stable of running backs to assist him. This game will come down to Oregon’s offense. Will the Ducks be able to score consistently or will this matchup mirror last season’s Georgia vs Clemson game?
1. #5 Notre Dame vs #2 Ohio State (Saturday 7:30 EST, ABC) – Spread Ohio State -17: A matchup between the blue bloods. Two of the biggest brands in college sports clash on Saturday night. Ohio State is a favorite to compete for the national championship with three possible Heisman contenders on the roster. CJ Stroud, TreVeyon Henderson and Jaxon Smith-Njigba are all considered to be favorites for the award. Ohio State’s defense was abysmal last season which resulted in the hiring of Jim Knowles from Oklahoma State. Knowles will be tasked with improving the Ohio State defense to a championship level expectation. Notre Dame is breaking in a new head coach for the first time since 2010. Marcus Freeman was named the head coach after spending last season as the defensive coordinator under Kelly. Freeman played linebacker for Ohio State from 2004 to 2008 which adds additional intrigue to this game. Brandon Joseph will look to replace former All-American Kyle Hamilton on defense. Joseph was an All-American at Northwestern before transferring to Notre Dame. Tyler Buchner will be making his first start at quarterback for the Fighting Irish. Buchner played in 10 games last season throwing for 298 yards and rushing for 336 yards. The Notre Dame offense is the biggest factor in this game. How will Buchner fare against the Buckeyes defense as Ohio State attempts to revamp the defense?
Bonus: #24 Houston vs UTSA (Saturday 3:30 EST, CBSSN) – Spread Houston -4: Experts have already tabbed Houston as the Group of Five team to make a New Year’s Six bowl game. Dana Holgorsen is entering his fourth season as the head coach of the Cougars. He helped lead the Cougars to a 12-2 record last season where they finished 17th in the AP poll. Clayton Tune and Nathaniel Dell were one of the most lethal quarterback to wide receiver connections in the country last season. The duo returns after they combined for 1,329 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. UTSA is coming off an magical season where they surprised the entire country. The Roadrunners started the season 11-0 before losing to North Texas in the regular season finale. UTSA won Conference USA and finished the season 12-2. Sincere McCormick departed for the NFL after registering more than 1,500 rushing yards last season. Brendan Brady and Trelon Smith will combine to replace McCormick. UTSA returns four starters on the offensive line which will assist the rushing attack. The biggest factor will be the Houston wide receivers against the UTSA defensive backs. UTSA is one of the best teams at taking the ball away while Houston’s passing attack helps make them one of the best team’s in the country.
Honorable Mentions: Penn State vs Purdue, Memphis vs Mississippi State, Boise State vs Oregon State, Florida State vs LSU