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Stan Becton | | September 5, 2021

The college football fan's guide to Week 1 games

Preseason AP football poll: Breaking down the first 2021 rankings

After a long offseason, college football is finally returning. Week 1 opens with a bang featuring intriguing matchups across the country between teams with championship aspirations.

Every team begins the season hoping to lift the College Football Playoff trophy when the final whistle blows in Indianapolis. Every game and snap along the way matters. With major out-of-conference play returning in 2021, Week 1 is sure to have an impact on the entire season.

There is one top-5 matchup this week: No. 5 Georgia against No. 3 Clemson in Charlotte, North Carolina. But there are some other games you shouldn't miss.

Week 1 preview: Top games to watch 

Week 0 - Saturday, Aug. 28

Nebraska 30, Illinois 22

The 2021 FBS season officially kicks off in Week 0 when Nebraska visits Illinois. The Huskers and Illini will look to rebound from a rough 2020 season with an early season Big Ten win. Nebraska’s offense is led by do-it-all QB Adrian Martinez, who impacts the game through the air and on the ground. For Martinez to be successful, he will have to avoid Illinois DE Owen Carney, who got 1.5 sacks in the Nebraska backfield in the last meeting. 

Players to watch: QB Adrian Martinez (NEB), TE Austin Allen (NEB), DT Ben Stille (NEB), LB JoJo Domann (NEB), CB Cam Taylor-Britt (NEB), RB Chase Brown (ILL), TE Daniel Barker (ILL), C Doug Kramer (ILL), DE Owen Carney (ILL), LB Jake Hansen (ILL)

MORE: Recapping lllinois' season-opening win against Nebraska

Week 1 - Thursday, Sept. 2

UCF 36, Boise State 31

Two of the premier Group of Five programs square off in a Thursday night clash. Since the days of Chris Petersen, Kellen Moore and others starting in the mid-2000s, Boise State has always kept itself in the conversation for a New Year’s Six bowl. More recently, UCF has placed itself in that same conversation since going undefeated in 2017. Led by returning QB Dillon Gabriel, the UCF will look to show they are one of the best Group of Five programs in the country against a Boise State team that returns 16 starters.

Players to watch: QB Dillon Gabriel (UCF), WR Jaylon Robinson (UCF), DL Big Kat Bryant (UCF), DB Kekaula Kaniho (Boise St), WR Khalil Shakir (Boise St)

Week 1 - Saturday, Sept. 4

No. 19 Penn State 16, No. 12 Wisconsin 10

A Week 1 Big Ten battle features two of the conference's best. Both teams are out to prove that last year's disappointing seasons were aberrations. The Nittany Lions will look to QB Sean Clifford and playmaking WR Jahan Dotson to improve an offense that struggled at times last year. Meanwhile, the Badgers hope that the flashes they saw from QB Graham Mertz can lead them back to the top of the Big Ten West. This conference battle might come down to the wire.

Players to Watch: WR Jahan Dotson (PSU), OT Rasheed Walker (PSU), S Jaquan Brisker (PSU), TE Jake Ferguson (WIS), QB Graham Mertz (WIS), LB Jack Sanborn (WIS)

No. 18 Iowa 34, No. 17 Indiana 6

Indiana enters the season with its first preseason ranking since 1969, in part thanks to the return of dynamic passing combo QB Michael Penix and WR Ty Fryfogle. The Hoosiers will face an early conference test against an always physical Iowa team. The Hawkeyes will look to build off a rushing attack that averaged 4.7 yards per carry behind All-American C Tyler Linderbaum. In what's looks to be a competitive game, it may come down to special teams where K Charles Campbell will look to shine for the Hoosiers.

Players to Watch: QB Michael Penix (IU), WR Ty Fryfogle (IU), TE Peyton Hendershot (IU), LB Micah McFadden (IU), CB Tiawan Mullen (IU), K Charles Campbell (IU), RB Tyler Goodson (Iowa), C Tyler Linderbaum (Iowa), DE Zach VanValkenburg (Iowa), S Jack Koerner (Iowa)

No. 1 Alabama 44, No. 14 Miami (FL) 13

The U is back! Or is it? There’s no better way to find out than when the Hurricanes take on defending champion Alabama on Saturday afternoon in Atlanta. All eyes will be on Miami QB D’Eriq King as he returns from an ACL injury suffered last year. For the Crimson Tide, they hope new QB Bryce Young can follow in the footsteps of the two prior quarterbacks under center in Tuscaloosa, each a first-round pick and Heisman finalist. As always, Alabama is loaded with future NFL talent, especially on defense. Miami has a big challenge ahead of them as they look to return their program to the glory days.

Players to watch: QB D’Eriq King (MIA), S Bubba Bolden (MIA), RB Cam’Ron Harris (MIA), CB Tyrique Stevenson (MIA), QB Bryce Young (ALA), WR John Metchie III (ALA), OT Evan Neal (MIA), LB Christian Harris (ALA), LB Henry To’o To’o (ALA), CB Josh Jobe (ALA)

RANKINGS: All major college football polls

No. 21 Texas 38, No. 23 Louisiana 18

The Sam Ehlinger era is over and the Steve Sarkisian era has begun at Texas. It will kick off with a Top 25 battle to open the season. As Texas’ new quarterback gets settled under center, he’ll be able to hand the ball off to a dynamic running back, Bijan Robinson, poised for a breakout season. Louisiana has an explosive running back of its own in Chris Smith. Smith is joined in the backfield by playmaking QB Levi Lewis. The Ragin’ Cajuns will look to land a Big 12 upset for the second consecutive year after shocking Iowa State in 2020.

Players to Watch: QB Levi Lewis (ULL), RB Chris Smith (ULL), LG Ken Marks (ULL), DT Tayland Humphrey (ULL), S Bralen Trahan (ULL), RB Bijan Robinson (TEX), WR Jordan Whittington (TEX), DT Keondre Coburn (TEX), LB DeMarvion Overshown (TEX), CB D’Shawn Jamison (TEX)

No. 5 Georgia 10, No. 3 Clemson 3

A trip to Charlotte will take you to the most anticipated game of the week, a matchup between two top 5 teams. Clemson is coming off a loss in last year's semifinals. Anything less than a Playoff appearance in 2021 is a disappointment for the Tigers. For Georgia, they will look to return to the Playoff for the first time since 2017. The Bulldogs hope that a full offseason for highly regarded QB JT Daniels can pay dividends this year. There is talent across the board for both teams with experience or a top recruit at every position. This game is an early candidate for game of the year.

Players to watch: QB JT Daniels (UGA), RB Zamir White (UGA), RB James Cook (UGA), DL Jordan Davis (UGA), CB Derion Kendrick (UGA), QB DJ Uiagalelei (CLEM), WR Justyn Ross (CLEM), DT Bryan Bresee (CLEM), CB Andrew Booth (CLEM)

RECAP: Georgia shuts down Clemson in top-5 battle

Big Week 1 questions 

What impact will Week 1 games have on the CFP?

Yes, it’s only Week 1. However, an early loss to another elite team could be all she wrote for a College Football Playoff contender with only four CFP spots available. Head-to-head results is one of the factors the Playoff committee takes into consideration after all. While a team can still recover from an early setback, it’s better to have the win under your belt than to play catch up the rest of the season.

SCHEDULE: Full FBS tv schedule and times

Will new faces in big places live up to the hype?

A quick look at the top 10 teams in the preseason poll will show you plenty of familiar teams. However, many of these teams have unfamiliar faces at the quarterback position. Big-name programs such as Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Texas A&M, Oregon, Notre Dame and Florida all will have new starting quarterbacks under center to open 2021. While some of these players have experience in spots, others have none at all. Some teams are looking to fill their quarterback position with a top recruit, some an impact transfer. Regardless, the play of these new quarterbacks in Week 1 could foreshadow how each team’s season goes this fall.

Can FBS teams avoid the FCS upsets?

Every year, teams at the FBS level schedule games against FCS competition. Yet, these games are not always a walk in the park for the FBS school. Year after year, a handful of FCS schools upset their FBS opponents. Watch out for teams like UAB, Utah, UNLV, Colorado State, UConn, Wyoming when they play some of the better FCS teams in Week 1.

UPSET WATCH: 6 potential FCS-over-FBS upsets

College football rankings: Preseason Top 25

AP Poll Ranking Coaches Poll
Alabama 1 Alabama
Oklahoma 2 Clemson
Clemson 3 Oklahoma
Ohio State 4 Ohio State
Georgia 5 Georgia
Texas A&M 6 Texas A&M
Iowa State 7 Notre Dame
Cincinnati 8 Iowa State
Notre Dame 9 North Carolina
North Carolina 10 Cincinnati
Oregon 11 Florida
Wisconsin 12 Oregon
Florida 13 LSU
Miami (FL) 14 Southern California
Southern California 15 Wisconsin
LSU 16 Miami (Fla.)
Indiana 17 Indiana
Iowa 18 Iowa
Penn State 19 Texas
Washington 20 Penn State
Texas 21 Washington
Coastal Carolina 22 Oklahoma State
Louisiana 23 Louisiana
Utah 24 Coastal Carolina
Arizona State 25 Ole Miss

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