MEMPHIS, Tenn. — College football owns Labor Day weekend and has turned it into five-day football holiday.
Sure, it would be nice to have a few more of these enticing neutral site games played on campuses instead of NFL stadiums. Looking at you Alabama, Florida State, Michigan and Florida. And for every juicy nonconference opener, there are a lot of likely mismatches. Some will provide a surprise or two, but most will be lopsided tuneups for the name-brand schools.
Still, the season is here. Well, it was sort of here last Saturday, but now it is REALLY here. From Thursday through Monday, fans can plan their days around watching college football games.
Here are five things to watch for in Week 1.
No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 3 Florida State at Atlanta’s new stadium, the home of this season’s national title game. The top-ranked team in the country has never started a season against a more highly ranked team than No. 3, making Tide-’Noles unprecedented in college football history.
Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide has routinely turned these neutral site openers into routs, but Florida State is probably the best team Alabama has opened against. The Seminoles have a potentially nasty defense led by preseason All-Americans Derwin James at safety and Tavarus McFadden at cornerback. Alabama has some reloading to do on defense, but quarterback Jalen Hurts is back after a brilliant freshman season.
The last time the No. 1 team in the AP preseason poll lost its opener was 1990 when No. 16 BYU upset Miami.
It is always fun to see what players emerge as Heisman Trophy contenders in September. Many fade away by mid-October. Denard Robinson did this a couple times during his time at Michigan.
Last season Lamar Jackson of Louisville proved to have staying power. A brilliant first month carried him all the way to the Heisman, even though there were some stumbles late.
Only one Heisman winner has repeated: Ohio State’s Archie Griffin in 1975. Jackson hasn’t been getting a ton of love this offseason, but he can provide a reminder as to why he won the Heisman last year against a Purdue defense that will be hard-pressed to stop him at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
NUMBERS TO KNOW
3 — Georgia Tech has won three straight games against SEC teams, and five of its last six going back to 2015. The Yellow Jackets open Monday night against No. 25 Tennessee at the Mercedes-Benz Dome in Atlanta.
10 — No. 7 Oklahoma has the longest current winning streak in the country. The Sooners should not have much trouble making it 11 against UTEP, but a trip to No. 2 Ohio State lies ahead.
10 — Fresno State will try to break the longest current losing streak in FBS against Incarnate Word in coach Jeff Tedford’s debut.
27 — Florida’s winning streak in season openers, the longest current streak of its kind in college football. The No. 17 Gators put that on the line against No. 11 Michigan in Arlington, Texas.
UNDER THE RADAR
Eastern Washington at Texas Tech.
Buckle up. The Eagles have been one of the top teams in FCS, with an offense that has routinely lit up FBS defenses in recent seasons. Texas Tech has been perpetually deficient on defense under coach Kliff Kingsbury, but the Red Raiders can score. Last year, they lost five games in which they scored at least 37 points. EWU quarterback Gage Gubrud could have a huge game.
HOT SEAT WATCH
Texas A&M starts the season at UCLA on Sunday night, and the losing coach will immediately face a frustrated fanbase.
Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin has been rattling off solid seasons for the last four years, but solid might not be enough to solidify his status with athletic director Scott Woodward. Bruins coach Jim Mora’s program has never quite reached the promise of his first few seasons, and is coming off an ugly 4-8 record in 2016. The return of quarterback Josh Rosen from injury means much more is expected of UCLA in 2017.