2017 Week 1 NCAAF Weekend Preview

September 2, 2017

Anybody out there?

Last time I wrote anything for Around The Corn, Gonzaga had never played for a men’s basketball national title, the Cavs and Warriors were still working hard towards a rubber match series and Kyrie Irving was supposedly content playing Robin to Lebron’s Batman.

My, how things change in five months.

For the first time since high school, I didn’t post my preseason college football thoughts on a medium that the entire world could access. Time is precious, ladies and gentlemen. For the first time in my life I can say with honesty that posting thoughts that would only be read by a handful of people had to take a backseat to more important endeavors. Hopefully, you found someone else out there willing to ink LSU as their national title pick (disclaimer: I don’t think the Tigers will be lifting the trophy this season. But for those that remember my Arkansas pick back in 2013, that would be the 2017 equivalent).

Luckily, it doesn’t take a lot of time or effort to pick five games every weekend. And the head-to-head pick ’em game that has become a staple of Around The Corn’s content brings together friends and family in a way that isn’t usually possible for 15 consecutive weeks. This series is about bragging rights that don’t go away for an entire year. Trust me.

So for the real opening weekend of the 2017-2018 college football season, I’ve invited back my buddy Keegan to kick off the festivities. Keegan has been a guest prognosticator every year since the game began and is a prime example of not only why this blog still exists, but also one of the only reasons its readership has extended beyond the central Ohio region.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time breaking down the upcoming season or romanticizing about how exciting it is that meaningful football is back, because I’ve done that before and it’s a waste of time. This series is about five games you should be watching every week.

Here are our picks for them.

5 Games to Pay Attention to This Weekend

Maryland at #23 Texas (Saturday, 12 PM ET)

The expectations for Tom Herman at his new program are not high – they’re normal for the rabid Longhorns fans that think they should be competing for a national title every single season. They’re not wrong, however, and with a changing of the guard at both historically dominate Big 12 schools, anything less than being in the hunt for a conference championship on the last week of the regular season would be a disappointment for this football team. We’ll get a chance to see just how difficult that will be when the Terps come down to Austin with an offense capable of giving the Longhorns fits.

Maryland’s run first offensive philosophy will likely be in stark contrast to the more up-tempo attack that Herman will employ at Texas, but if the Terrapins can get some stops then this game has the potential to be close. Running back Ty Johnson averaged a monster 9.1 yards per carry last season, and it wasn’t because he was a minor threat in the rushing game. The junior had over 1,000 yards and will be the focal point of an attack that starts over at quarterback. A retooled Texas defense will need to be on its game early to avoid falling behind to Maryland’s underrated offense.

At home, it would be a disaster to the Herman campaign to start with anything other than a comfortable victory over a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten opponent. While it’s entirely possible that the offense will respond immediately to Herman’s changes, it’s more likely that it will take some time for Texas to settle in. Expect a tight first half before the Longhorns settle down on defense and prevent Maryland from eclipsing the 30 point mark.

My Pick: 41-27 Texas

Keegan’s Take: The Tom Herman era at Texas begins with a bang, Texas wins big 38-17.

North Carolina State vs. South Carolina [game in Charlotte, NC] (Saturday, 3 PM ET)

Neither of these teams comes into the season ranked, but the winner may crack one of the polls on Monday if this is a well-played game. Both North Carolina State and South Carolina are poised for a breakout season, but only one of them can get that started on the right foot. A neutral site takes away much of the crowd factor, as both fanbases should be out in full force for this one.

The Wolfpack may have one of the best defenses in the entire country, and it starts up front on the defensive line. This group will be put to the test early against Will Muschamp’s offense, which returns nearly every player from last season’s squad and it looking to make the next step as one of the premier units in the SEC. While those two battle strength against strength, N.C. State will look to improve upon a passing game that looked pretty competent with Ryan Finley behind center last season. If the Gamecocks don’t figure out a way to put more pressure on quarterbacks this season, it will put a lot of pressure on a secondary that just isn’t quite up to spec with the rest of the SEC in terms of athleticism.

There isn’t a lot to separate these two teams, which almost goes without saying considering we’re at Week 1 of the season. But assuming that the Wolfpack defense is indeed as good as advertised, they should be able to do enough to allow Finley & Co. on the offense to play smart and not need to push to keep up on the scoreboard. I like Dave Doeren’s team this season and think they’ll begin with a nice victory.

My Pick: 31-24 North Carolina State

Keegan’s Take: NC State 27-20

#11 Michigan vs. #17 Florida [game in Arlington, TX] (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET)

This is the most hyped game of the weekend outside of the big one down in Atlanta, but both teams have a lot of question marks heading into the season. A win here is likely going to propel one team up the rankings at least a few spots, but is either one really deserving of the current ranking it holds? Only time will tell, but until then this is going to be considered one of the heavyweight battles of 2017.

The Wolverines may be essentially starting over on both ends of the football, but the advantage Coach Harbaugh has in this game is that he’s had the entire offseason to deal with that fact. Jim McElwain has had a much shorter time frame to deal with the 10 players that will not be eligible for this game due to various issues, including most recently a suspension of two players for an incident at a campus bookstore. Two of the players suspended, wideout Antonio Callaway and running back Jordan Scarlett, figured to be integral parts to the offense and were both returning starters. Thus, the offensive productivity for the Gators in this game will be a key factor. Michigan’s rebuilding defense may have been given a major gift.

The biggest question for this Michigan football team is going to be whether it still requires a rebuilding period, or if Harbaugh has already created a shark’s teeth atmosphere, where it is essentially a next man up culture and anyone can step in and do the job. In a few years, that will almost undoubtedly be the case. I think it may have already begun to an extent. Add in the suspensions for Florida, and I think this is a hill too steep for the Gators to climb in Arlington.

My Pick: 28-23 Michigan

Keegan’s Take: Florida has too many important guys suspended for this game and we finally get to see Jim Harbaugh’s recruits. The young Michigan team squeaks out a win, 24-21.

#3 Florida State vs. #1 Alabama [game in Atlanta] (Saturday, 8 PM ET)

The No. 1 team in the country has never opened against a top three opponent, but until three seasons ago college football did not operate under a system that allows a one loss team the ability to easily climb back into national title consideration. Such is the case for the loser of this game, provided that it does not end as a blowout. In the history of monster first weekend matchups, some of them have been just that, but looking at the makeup of each of these squads it is hard to imagine anything but a tight, four quarter battle.

Both quarterbacks in this game are young and required offseason work in order to propel the notion that each of these teams were national title contenders, but the education of Alabama’s Jalen Hurts seemed like the more important one. Hurts was exposed in last year’s Playoff as someone that was still unsure of his downfield playmaking ability, something that Florida State will test right out of the gate in this game. If Hurts can put pressure on the secondary, it should open up some room for him to do what he is most comfortable doing as the game wears on. The Seminoles have a nasty defense, though, and won’t give Hurts much time to find his receivers downfield. Even when he does, the secondary won’t provide much space.

If Alabama wins this game, the job done by Brian Daboll will be praised to the nth degree, and for good reason. For as good as the running game appears to be, all eyes are on Hurts, who was within a terrific Clemson drive of becoming a true freshman quarterback that led his team to a national title. Daboll’s job was more than just maintaining what Lane Kiffin had done at Alabama – it was elevating the Crimson Tide to become a true, multi-threat offensive juggernaut. Until someone proves on the field that Alabama didn’t accomplish that, I’ll continue to pick Nick Saban’s team.

My Pick: 27-21 Alabama

Keegan’s Take: Bama always seems to win these high profile opening games pretty convincingly with their defense and I don’t see any difference this year, although it will be competitive. Bama wins a low scoring game 20-14.

#22 West Virginia vs. #21 Virginia Tech [game in Landover, MD] (Sunday, 7:30 PM ET)

It has been nearly 12 years since the Battle for the Black Diamond trophy has been played, a negative consequence of the conference realignment that ultimately began with the league in which these two teams used to compete. Luckily, the country can be reintroduced to one of college football’s more interesting rivalry games as it takes center stage on Sunday evening, the only one this late-summer/fall that will feature a game from the college ranks.

Dana Holgorsen’s 10-win campaign last season was largely ignored due to the fact that the only blemishes on the schedule were in the games people really cared about. The Mountaineers were soundly beaten by the Oklahoma schools and Miami last season due to a pass defense that probably would have had trouble with some West Virginia high school offenses. In this matchup, however, that shouldn’t be as big an issue. Virginia Tech is starting over at quarterback and the Hokies are better equipped to rely on the defense. Bud Foster’s squad will be one of the best in the ACC and appears good enough to put into question West Virginia’s supposedly retooled offense with Will Grier under center. The entire back half of Virginia Tech’s defense returns, which will be a major test for the former Gator Grier.

Holgorsen’s team is good enough to make noise on the national stage, which I expect from the Mountaineers a little ways down the road (I’m looking at you, Oklahoma State). In this game, though, I like what I see from Virginia Tech. Justin Fuente is the real deal and I like what he has been able to do taking over for a legend in Blacksburg. Fuente will outcoach Holgorsen in this one and the Hokies defense will win the day.

My Pick: 30-28 Virginia Tech

Keegan’s Take: West Virginia wins a shootout 45-35.

5 Games to Flip To

Eastern Washington at Texas Tech (Saturday, 4 PM ET)

The Red Raiders would have benefited from a Tackling 101 camp after last season, and Eastern Washington routinely fields an offense capable of taking down an FBS opponent or two. Even at home Texas Tech needs to be careful with this one.

Appalachian State at #15 Georgia (Saturday, 6:15 PM ET)

Ten years ago this week, the Mountaineers took down No. 5 Michigan at the Big House. Now that Appalachian State is an FBS program, it wouldn’t be nearly as shocking if it took down Georgia between the hedges, but still a major upset nonetheless.

BYU vs. #13 LSU [game in New Orleans] (Saturday, 9:30 PM ET)

So many questions surround this LSU team, which also happens to be some people’s dark horse candidate for the national title. It’ll be a fun, albeit headline grabbing season in Baton Rouge, but first the Tigers must deal with an always difficult BYU squad at a neutral site.

Texas A&M at UCLA (Sunday, 7:30 PM ET)

Could Kevin Sumlin be on the hot seat after Week 1 if the Aggies fail to win this game? It seems unlikely, but there is an air that both of these programs have underperformed in recent seasons and a win here would be crucial in setting a positive tone for 2017.

#25 Tennessee vs. Georgia Tech [game in Atlanta] (Monday, 8 PM ET)

Another program that has underperformed recently, Tennessee will have to stop Georgia Tech’s triple option attack if it wants to stay inside the Top 25 another week. Preparing for that type of offense is undoubtedly easier when you have an entire offseason to prepare, but Tennessee’s defense replaces a lot of pieces and Paul Johnson’s scheme is even more intricate than it looks on the field.

If you would like to become a guest prognosticator like Keegan did this week, please let me know in one of the following ways: email me at kbecks@aroundthecorn.com, send me a message on Around The Corn’s Facebook page, post a comment under this article or send me a tweet @KBecks_ATC. Opportunities to become a guest prognosticator will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis. Thanks everyone.

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