This could possibly be the best opening week of college football in the past decade. As a college football fan this what separates college football from the rest-each and every week is critical to making or breaking which teams reach the playoff at the end of the season. When taking at week one, there happen to be some interesting match-ups that might play out in determining the final outcome for some of the biggest games.
Here are some match-ups you want to keep your eye on as these games play out in September:
Saturday Sept. 3rd:
Georgia Tech vs. Boston College 7:30 AM EST (Ireland)
Georgia Tech runs a triple option attack that averaged 256 rushing yards per game last season. Led by quarterback Justin Thomas, the Yellow Jackets are vulnerable when they fall behind in games because of their one dimensional offense. In 2014, the offense averaged 342 yards per game and the significant drop off in rushing yards put pressure on the offensive line and forced the offense out of their game plan in many games last year. The offense will be facing a Boston College defense that was ranked 3rd in FBS last year in rushing defense allowing 83 rushing yards per game. In the first part of the season, the Eagles had the nation’s best statistical defense and after the first six games only allowed 41.6 rushing yards per game. In order for Georgia Tech to win this game they will need to run the football consistently and not fall behind in this game.
On the other hand, Boston College struggled offensively to stretch teams vertically last year. Quarterback Darius Wade was hurt in the loss to Florida State at home and was lost for the year. The Eagles were forced to play three freshman quarterbacks to replace Wade in Jeff Smith, Troy Flutie and John Fadule. All three players struggled in making proper reads and progressing as the season progressed. Running back Jon Hillman also was lost for the season and the Eagles struggled in all facets of offense scoring 17 points per game. Boston College averaged 111 passing yards per game in 2015. This year, the Eagles get former Kentucky QB Patrick Towles on the team and his ability to stretch Georgia Tech in this game will be the key if the Eagles are to pull out the victory. Georgia Tech allowed 203 passing yards per game and only recorded 14 sacks in 2015.
Missouri vs. West Virginia 12:00 pm (Morgantown,WV)
Missouri struggled in 2015 averaging 15 points per game and was inconsistent in running the football rushing for 115 rushing yards per game. In 2014, the Tigers loved to run the football averaging 178 rushing yards per game . The lack of rushing attack forced freshman quarterback Drew Lock to step up in Maty Mauk’s absence (suspension). Missouri averaged 166 passing yards per game in 2015 and will need to stretch the Mountaineers to open up running lanes. West Virginia was very good in forcing teams to methodically work down the field in the Big 12 and held opponents to 159 rushing yards per game. If Missouri falls behind on the road, they might be forced out of their game plan and cannot get into an offensive shootout with the Moutaineers. It is critical for the Tigers to run the football and take time off of the clock on the road.
Southern Miss vs. Kentucky 7:30 pm (Lexington, KY)
Southern Miss had a very potent offense last season led by quarterback Nick Mullens (38 passing TDs, 3 rushing TDs). The Golden Eagles averaged 39 points per game and were very balanced rushing for 180 yards per game along with passing for 330 yards per game. The offense is a tempo offense that likes to work very fast and catch opposing defenses off balance. Southern Miss will look to run the football against a Kentucky Wildcat defense that yielded 196 rushing yards per game in 2015. Kentucky could not shut down the run effectively and struggled against mobile quarterbacks last year. In games against Miss. St., Tennessee and Louisville (Dak Prescott, Josh Dobbs and Lamar Jackson) the Wildcats gave up 255 rushing yards per game. Look for Southern Miss to run the football with running back Ito Smith (1,128 rushing yards 10 Tds). Kentucky recorded 17 total sacks last year and the failure to stop the run along with lack of pass rush could allow Mullens to feast on the defense. Kentucky is also starting three sophmores in the secondary.
Clemson vs Auburn 9:00 pm EST (Auburn, AL)
Clemson averaged 38 points per game in 2015 and had a very balanced offense led by quarterback DeShaun Watson (67% 4,104 passing yds. 35 TDs, 1,105 rushing yds. 12 TDs). Clemson rushed for 224 yards per game and passed for 291 yards per game. The Tigers had 11 straight games in 2015 in which they totaled 500 yards or more of total offense. In 11 of 15 games, the offense rushed for 200 yards or more. In 13 of 15 games, Watson completed 60% or more in the passing game. The only two games in which the Tigers did not complete 60% or more was against Notre Dame (47%) and Oklahoma (53%).
Clemson will be facing an Auburn defense that allowed 26 points per game in 2015. Auburn allowed 182 rushing yards per game and 222 passing yards per game. In Auburn’s six losses last year (to opponents with a combined record of 59-19), the defense gave up 211 rushing yards per game. Auburn also failed to generate a pass rush in 2015. The Tigers had 19 total sacks which ranked 104th of 127 teams in FBS.
Auburn averaged 27 points per game in 2015. The Tigers rushed for 158 yards in the team’s six losses and will be facing a Clemson defense that held opponents to 125 rushing yards per game. The lack of rushing put pressure on quarterbacks Sean White and Jeremy Johnson (11 Tds, 11 INTs) as the offense only had one game in which it passed for over 300 yards (loss to Ole Miss). Clemson held 8 of 15 opponents to 43% or less completions and held 10 of 15 offenses to 150 rushing yards or less. Clemson held offenses to 27% on third downs in 2015.
UCLA vs. Texas A&M 3:30 pm EST (College Station, TX)
UCLA’s offensive line played very well in 2015 allowing 14 sacks as a unit. The Bruins rushed for 177 yards per game and passed for 288 yards per game. UCLA will look to attack an Aggies defense that allowed 213 rushing yards per game in 2015. If the Bruins have success that could open up the passing game with quarterback Josh Rosen (3,669 yards, 23 TDs). UCLA will need to keep the Aggies defense off balance in this game which will force defensive ends Daeshon Hall and Myles Garrett (19.5 total sacks in 2015) to play against the run. This will give Rosen time to locate his wide receivers. The strength of the Aggies defense in 2015 was the secondary which gave up 166 passing yards per game and held 6 of 13 opponents to under 170 passing yards.
Texas A&M averaged 27 points per game and rushed for 169 yards per game in 2015. Texas A&M must be able to attack the middle of the UCLA defense in this game running the football. UCLA allowed 198 rushing yards per game and in their five losses last year the defense gave up 220 rushing yards per game. In three games last year, UCLA gave up 300 rushing yards or more. This is the match-up that the Aggies offense must take advantage of in this game.
LSU vs. Wisconsin 3:30 pm EST (Lambeau Field-Green Bay, WI)
LSU averaged 32 points per game in 2015 and was a run heavy offense that averaged 257 rushing yards per game with Heisman trophy candidate Leonard Fournette (1,953 rushing yards, 22 TDs). In the Tigers three losses in 2015 to Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss the offense averaged 99 rushing yards per game with Fournette averaging 76 yards on the ground in those games with 2 rushing touchdowns. LSU will be facing a Wisconsin defense that had the fourth best rushing defense in the country allowing 95 rushing yards per game. However, in the Badgers three losses to Alabama, Iowa and Northwestern the defense allowed 177 rushing yards per game.
Wisconsin averaged 26 points per game in 2015 and passed for 221 yards per game which was the team’s highest total since the 2011 season with quarterback Russell Wilson. The Badgers will need to attack a LSU defense that allowed 24 points per game which was the highest total since the 2008 season. More importantly, the Tigers allowed 224 passing yards per game which was their highest total since prior to the 2008 season.
North Carolina vs. Georgia 5:30 pm EST (Atlanta, GA)
North Carolina lost three games in 2015 all on neutral field sites. Two of the games were played in Charlotte. North Carolina averaged 40 points per game last year and had a very balanced offense that rushed for 224 yards per game and passed for 262 yards per game. The Tar Heels will look to attack a Georgia defense that gave up 16 points per game and gave up 149 rushing yards per game along with giving up 156 passing yards to their opponents. However, the Bulldogs lost 3 games to opponents with a combined record of 33-9 (Alabama, Tennessee and Florida) and in those games the defense surrendered 218 rushing yards per game. More importantly, was the lack of pass rush by the unit. Last year, Georgia recorded 21 sacks which ranked 97th of 127 teams in FBS. If the Bulldogs can generate a pass rush against quarterback Mitch Trubisky (85% 555 yds. 6 TDs), it can put pressure on their secondary.
Georgia averaged 26 points per game (their lowest total since prior to 2008) and rushed for 192 yards per game along with 185 passing yards per game. Georgia will look to attack a Tar Heel defense that gave up 24 points per game and 247 rushing yards per game in 2015. On the road, the Tar Heels allowed 294 rushing yards per game and in their three losses to South Carolina, Clemson and Baylor they allowed 407 rushing yards per game!
The strength of the North Carolina defense was the secondary which gave up 188 passing yards per game. In Georgia’s 3 losses, the offense failed stretching teams vertically completing 41 of 98 passes (41%) with 2 TDs and 7 INTs.
Oklahoma vs. Houston 12:00 pm (NRG Stadium Houston, TX)
Houston will look to attack an Oklahoma defense that allowed 313 rushing yards to Texas and 313 rushing yards to Clemson in both losses last year. Both Texas and Clemson used their mobile quarterbacks (Jerrod Heard, Tyrone Swoopes and DeShaun Watson) to catch the edge of the Sooners defense. The Cougars have dual threat quarterback Greg Ward Jr. that rushed for 1,108 yards with 21 rushing touchdowns last year along with 17 passing touchdowns.
Oklahoma will try and attack a Cougar defense that allowed 274 passing yards per game in 2015 and loses three starters from the secondary (Brandon Wilson only returning starter). Last year, Oklahoma averaged 308 passing yards per game and had two big play wide receivers in Dede Westbrook and Durron Neal, who combined for 90 receptions for 1,302 receiving yards with 7 touchdowns. Both Neal and leading wide receiver, Sterling Shepard (86 rec. 1,288 yds 11 TDs) have moved on to the NFL. Westbrook will be Mayfield’s go-to target early on in the season.
In Oklahoma’s two losses last year they failed to run the football and rushed for 67 yards in both games. Oklahoma must protect quarterback Baker Mayfield and give him time locating his wide receivers. The offensive line allowed 41 sacks while the Cougars utilized multiple blitz packages in recording 36 sacks in 2015.
USC vs. Alabama 8:00 pm EST (Arlington, TX)
USC will need to protect quarterback Max Browne and give him time in the passing game. Last year, the Trojans allowed 38 sacks as an offensive line and will be facing an Alabama defense that led FBS in total sacks with 53 last season.
It is important for USC to score first in this game. Last season, Alabama scored first in every game except one- the loss to Ole Miss. USC struggled in their losses scoring first which put pressure on the offense to come from behind. In USC’s six losses to opponents with a combined overall record of 48-18 overall, the Trojans trailed in four of the six games at the half and was outscored by a margin of 103-70 in the second half of those games. The Trojans rushed for 169 yards per game last year and will be facing the nation’s best rushing defense last year in Alabama which allowed 75 yards per game. USC will need to win the turnover battle as well as the team finished 2015 with a +11 margin. However, the Trojans lost the turnover battle in 4 of the team’s 6 losses in 2015.
Alabama has won 14 straight season openers by an average of 22.1 points per game. The Crimson Tide averaged 35 points per game and rushed for 199 yards on the ground while passing for 222 yards through the air last year. In this game the Crimson Tide will look to attack a USC defense that gave up 251 passing yards per game in 2015 and 192 rushing yards per game in the Trojans six losses.
Sunday September 4th
Notre Dame vs. Texas 7:30 pm EST (Austin, TX)
Notre Dame averaged 34 points per game in 2015 and had a very balanced offense that rushed for 207 yards per game and passed for 258 yards per game. The Fighting Irish will look to attack a Longhorns defense that allowed 30 points per game (most since prior to 2008). The Longhorns gave up 219 rushing yards per game and 233 passing yards per game which was their highest total since the 2008 season when the team allowed 259 passing yards per game.
Texas lost seven games in 2015 and was outscored by a score of 273 to 146 in those games. The Longhorns averaged 26 points per game and rushed for 224 rushing yards per game. Texas struggled stretching defenses vertically and overage 145 passing yards per game. Texas will look to run the football against a Notre Dame defense that allowed 175 rushing yards per game in 2015. However, in the Fighting Irish’s three losses in 2015 (Clemson, Stanford and Ohio State) the defense allowed 216 rushing yards per game.
Turnover margin could be a factor as well. Last year, Notre Dame was -6 in total turnover margin but -9 on the road. On the other hand, Texas finished the 2015 season with +11 in turnover margin with a +12 margin at home and -1 on the road.
Monday September 5th (Labor Day)
FSU vs. Ole Miss 8:00 pm EST (Citrus Bowl Orlando, FL)
Last year, Florida State averaged 31 points per game and rushed for 169 yards on the ground while passing for 255 yards through the air. Wide receivers Travis Rudolph, Kermit Whitfield and Jesus Wilson combined for 174 receptions for 2,336 yards with 16 TDs and will look for the Seminoles to attack an Ole Miss defense that gave up 258 passing yards per game their highest total since prior to 2008. In the Rebels three losses to Memphis, Florida and Arkansas the defense allowed 365 passing yards per game with allowing 13 TDs with only forcing one interception.
Ole Miss averaged 40 points per game in 2015 and rushed for 183 yards per game while passing for 334 yards through the air. Look for the Rebels to run the football on a Seminoles defense that gave up 149 rushing yards per game in 2015. However, in the Seminoles three losses too Georgia Tech, Clemson and Houston (30-11 combined record), the defense allowed 221 rushing yards on the ground.