Every Friday, NCAA.com will run ‘Third and Long,’ a look at three different questions facing the college football world. This week, our three respondents are Joe Boozell, Jack Freifelder and Courtney Martinez.
JB: Mark me down for the first big showdown of the day, Oklahoma vs. Houston.
The Cougars are a tough team to peg. Between Tom Herman and Greg Ward’s combined genius, it’s tempting to put them in the College Football Playoff discussion. The logic: Houston was awesome last season, returns most of its offense and probably has an easy schedule. Right? Not quite.
Houston opens up play against national title contender Oklahoma at NRG Stadium, and the Cougars would likely need to go undefeated in order to reach the playoff. The stakes are high, and these two teams are explosive offensively. It’s also the best quarterback matchup of the weekend in Ward vs. Baker Mayfield. I’ll be watching.
JF: The game that has a little extra oomph is the meeting between LSU and Wisconsin.
It may not be the most high-profile matchup on the docket, but there’s still a chance to watch Leonard Fournette and see what Wisconsin’s defense brings to the table to stop him. There’s also the secondary plot line around LSU’s defensive coordinator new defensive coordinator Dave Aranda.
A year ago he was the defensive coordinator for the Badgers before leaving for the same position with the Tigers this offseason, so here’s hoping there’s no hard feelings.
And that’s without mention of the fact that the game will be played at the hallowed grounds of Lambeau Field or that College Gameday will precede this meeting.
The largest NFL single-game rushing record in the history of Lambeau Field is a 218-yard performance courtesy of former Nebraska Huskers running back Ahman Green. Fun fact: Fournette topped that figure three times last season.
CM: How are we supposed to choose just one game out of the packed schedule in Week 1?
But you know, I have a feeling the Tide-Trojans and Cougars-Sooners will get plenty of love. So I’m going to go with the North Carolina-Georgia match up in Atlanta.
Larry Fedora and the Tar Heels were one of the bigger surprises in 2015 and gave Clemson their best shot in the ACC championship game. Meanwhile Kirby Smart makes his head coach debut for the Bulldogs. Fedora’s offensive scheme vs. Smart’s defensive plan will be quite the battle.
The same goes for the running backs. Nick Chubb returns healthy for Georgia and Elijah Hood looks to top his numbers from last season.
With the SEC East and ACC Coastal open for both teams, this could be an opening statement for the winner: Watch out.
What is the biggest storyline in college football heading into Week 1?
JB: I had so much fun watching Appalachian State’s near upset of Tennessee on Thursday and Jacksonville State’s near triumph over Auburn last season. The SEC is a great football conference, but the guaranteed Twitter freak out over an SEC power losing to a non-power five school is a great way to spend a Saturday. Week 1 has upset potential; teams are still finding themselves, and even some bluebloods will use multiple quarterbacks. It’s the perfect time for an underdog to strike.
Massachusetts over Florida, anyone? It’s just crazy enough to happen.
JF: The biggest question in college football revolves around the ACC and whether or not Clemson will face any competition in its quest to repeat as conference champions.
An ACC team went toe-to-toe with the best the SEC had to offer a year ago in the title game, and now fans get to start the year with a bevy of cross-conference matches.
Florida State takes on Ole Miss on Monday night, while the Chick-Fil-A kickoff game this year features the Georgia Bulldogs and North Carolina Tar Heels in a Saturday evening affair.
Clemson was the team there right at the end of the season battling with Alabama, but it was the Tar Heels who almost stole the ACC crown a year ago if not for an onside kick gone awry.
Only time will tell how things play out in 2016, but there’s reason to expect some fireworks from the ACC teams this weekend.
CM: In honor of Will Muschamp’s first win at South Carolina, I’m curious to see how the rest of the new coaches handle their first games given the expectations many will face.
Justin Fuente replaces the beloved Frank Beamer, who coached Virginia Tech for 29 years. I already talked about the huge task Kirby Smart has in his first game with Georgia. And if there’s anyone else than has more pressure than Smart, it’s Mark Richt who returns to his alma mater Miami in hopes of turning around "The U".
We are familiar with how those coaches and the others have done in the past. But this is their chance to show how their future seasons could unfold.
Each year, a star is born in Week 1 that we’d previously heard little about. Who will that player be this year?
JB: This is a safe choice, sure. But I’d be shocked if Scarbrough doesn’t become at least a very good running back this season.
The Tide’s track record in churning out ball carriers speaks for itself. Derrick Henry, T.J. Yeldon, Mark Ingram, Eddie Lacy, Trent Richardson, etc. Scarbrough is next in line, and he’s got a size and speed combination that should work behind Alabama’s dominant offensive line.
JF: I'll go with Florida State QB Deondre Francois. The redshirt freshman has been thrust into the spotlight with a preseason injury to FSU’s senior quarterback Sean Maguire, so maybe not the ideal circumstances for your first college start. However, head coach Jimbo Fisher has had some experience starting a redshirt freshman under center (Jameis Winston being the most recent example).
And the learning curve is sure to be a quick one with a very rough first half of the schedule for the Seminoles, including matchups with Ole Miss and North Carolina, as well as trips to Louisville and Miami.
However, Francois gets to take his first snaps as a collegiate quarterback at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, which just happens to be his hometown. If there’s any boost from the hometown crowd he may need it because Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly has shown a tendency to play his best games against top-flight opponents.
Week 1 might just be saving its best game for last.
CM: A big key for Houston obviously will be how its defensive line can slow down the high-power Oklahoma offense. Consider true freshman Ed Oliver part of that plan. The 6-foot-2, 290 pound lineman grew up in Houston and chose his hometown team over offers from LSU and Texas among others.
Tom Herman has been impressed by what the freshman has shown during preseason camp. Oliver should get plenty of reps with Houston’s front seven, so be on the lookout for No. 10.