The preseason Amway Coaches Poll is out. USA TODAY’s Paul Myerberg breaks down the biggest college football story lines from the top 25.
The return of college football is almost here. The opening weekend is full of overreactions as the one game provides a limited sample size to evaluate how good teams are or will be during the course of the season..
Not that there aren’t real takeaways to consider. Looking to last season: Florida State really was as bad as it looked against Virginia Tech; the Pac-12 had concerns about their place in the College Football Playoff when Washington fell to Auburn; and there was definitely a change at Notre Dame after the Irish kicked off with a win against Michigan.
For this season, Week 1 will inevitably yield a few dozen hot takes — prepare yourself in case Clemson doesn’t dominate its ACC opponent by 35 points, or if Tua Tagovailoa doesn’t complete every pass — and provide legitimate insight into what to expect from several teams over the course of the regular season.
Here are the 10 games that will decide the weekend:
1. Auburn vs. Oregon, Aug. 31 (in Arlington, Texas)
Much like its major non-conference matchup last year involving the Tigers and Huskies, this has the potential to be a decisive moment for the Pac-12 and its College Football Playoff hopes. On the flip side, an Oregon win against Auburn could impact the national perception of the depth in the SEC beyond Alabama and Georgia, What’s assured: Oregon winning this game would vault the Ducks in the polls and set up what could be a highly successful season.
2. Florida vs. Miami (Fla.), Aug. 24 (in Orlando)
While Florida aims to build on Dan Mullen’s successful debut after a rocky offseason, Miami is hoping to use its in-state rival as a springboard into the Manny Diaz era. There is a question at quarterback as redshirt freshman Jarren Williams beat out Tate Martell and N’Kosi Perry. The rivalry gets bonus points for coming first: Miami and Florida will meet on Aug. 24. (That’s Week 0, technically.)
3. Fresno State at Southern California, Aug. 31
Two programs headed in opposite directions. As Fresno State has won 22 games in two seasons under Jeff Tedford, USC has undergone a troubling slide under Clay Helton. Talent favors the Trojans; execution favors the Bulldogs. A loss for USC would be a disaster for Helton, who will hope JT Daniels is ready to emerge at quarterback in his sophomore season.
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4. Utah at Brigham Young, Aug. 29
A rivalry win for Utah would set the Utes on pace for a torrid start that could put them on the path to Playoff contention. After BYU, the Utes have just one tough road game, at USC on Sept. 20, until heading to Washington on Nov. 2. Meanwhile, Utah is the first test in BYU’s daunting stretch to open the year: Utah, Tennessee on the road and then back home for USC and Washington.
5. Northwestern at Stanford, Aug. 31
Northwestern will try to repeat its first division championship with a new quarterback in former Clemson transfer Hunter Johnson. Stanford has a potential star under center in K.J. Costello but must rediscover its productive running game to climb back to the top of the Pac-12. It’s a barometer game for both programs and for each conference, too.
6. Georgia Tech at Clemson, Aug. 29
It’s our first glimpse of the defending national champions and sophomore sensation Trevor Lawrence, last seen picking apart Alabama’s defense in January. And it’s our first look at the Yellow Jackets under Geoff Collins, who will revamp the offense and rebuild the roster but likely not in time to beat Clemson in the opener.
7. Boise State vs. Florida State, Aug. 31 (in Jacksonville)
This neutral-site affair played in Florida State’s backyard is the first chance for the Seminoles to put a new stamp on the Willie Taggart era after an awful opening campaign that saw its run of 36 consecutive bowl games end. While Boise State will be better in November than August — there are several new pieces at key spots on offense — this would be a meaningful win for FSU and a sign that things may not be as bad as they seem. On the other hand, a loss would make things even more miserable in Tallahassee.
8. Alabama vs. Duke, Aug. 31 (in Atlanta)
If for no other reason than to see how Alabama performs behind a rebuilt coaching staff and with new starters at multiple positions: left tackle, running back, tight end, defensive tackle, safety and more. Tagovailoa is sure to impress Alabama’s track record in these neutral-site openers is impeccable. The Blue Devils will be breaking in a new quarterback after Daniel Jones’ departure.
9. Houston at Oklahoma, Sept. 1
New Houston coach Dana Holgorsen knows a thing or two about Oklahoma, though not quite enough to have actually beat the Sooners in his seven tries at West Virginia. While Holgorsen’s debut is an interesting story, the real focus will be on new OU starting quarterback Jalen Hurts and how he looks leading Lincoln Riley’s offense.
10. North Carolina vs. South Carolina, Aug. 31 (in Charlotte)
There are friendlier ways for Mack Brown to usher in his second tenure at UNC than with a matchup against an opponent from the SEC, albeit one that doesn’t seem likely to be a major factor in the East Division. If anything, the game is far bigger for Will Muschamp and the Gamecocks due to the schedule: South Carolina will take on Alabama, Florida and Clemson at home along with road trips to Georgia and Texas A&M. It’s a must-win for the Gamecocks’ bowl hopes.