Rejoice, college football fans, because the 2017 season has finally begun.
You probably missed it last weekend, but Stanford, South Florida, Oregon State and a handful of other schools played their first games of the season. Many more are scheduled for the next five days, giving us a jam-packed slate that’s sure to keep everyone entertained over Labor Day weekend.
But you only have two eyes, and presumably one or two TVs, and the human attention span can only carry us so far when we’re 10 beers deep on Saturday night. So, with efficiency in mind, SEC Country has created a comprehensive viewing guide that highlights all the games you should be focused on throughout Week 1.
Let’s get to it. All times listed are ET.
Thursday: The appetizers
- Marquee matchup: No. 2 Ohio State at Indiana (8 p.m., ESPN)
- For SEC diehards: Florida A&M at Arkansas (8 p.m., SEC Network)
- Other games of note: Tulsa at Oklahoma State (7:30 p.m., FS1)
The first SEC game of the year kicks off in Fayetteville, where the Hogs will square off against presumed Rattlers quarterback and mullet-haired wonder Ryan Stanley. In four years with the Razorbacks, Bret Bielema is 10-8 in games played before October, including an 0-4 record against Texas A&M and losses to Rutgers, Toledo and Texas Tech. Disaster seems unlikely, however, against a Florida A&M program that’s been outscored, 162-13, in its last three FBS matchups.
If watching Arkansas pummeling a cupcake isn’t your thing, there’s ex-Indiana coach Kevin Wilson — now Ohio State’s offensive coordinator — squaring off against off against his old team in Bloomington. The Buckeyes are a College Football Playoff contender with a dynamic offense, and Indiana played several of its Big Ten foes close last season.
Elsewhere, another man defined by his mullet (Mike Gundy) will lead Oklahoma State into battle against a Tulsa program that scores points at an obscene rate. The Golden Hurricane 42.5 points per game in 2016, good for No. 7 in the country.
Bonus: Navy at FAU (Friday, 8 p.m., ESPNU)
If you still aren’t tired of Lane Kiffin, and if the idea of college football being played on Friday night doesn’t appall you, the perpetual Nick Saban antagonist will host Navy. The Midshipmen are favored by double digits and should throttle the fightin’ Kiffins.
Saturday, early: The snoozers
- Marquee matchup: Maryland at No. 23 Texas (Noon, FS1)
- Also pretty good: Cal at North Carolina (12:20 p.m., ACC Network)
- For SEC diehards: Missouri State at Missouri (Noon, SECN)
The Tom Herman era begins in Austin against a Maryland team most don’t expect to be any good. But these days, there’s always a chance Texas shoots itself in the foot and makes this a game, as it did last season in a 50-47 double-overtime win against Notre Dame. Likewise, the Cal-North Carolina matchup has the potential to produce a wacky result, with first-year coach Justin Wilcox assuming command of a Bears program that was all-offense, no-defense under Sonny Dykes.
For Missouri fans and those absolutely itching to watch an SEC game, there’s Missouri hosting its in-state counterpart in a likely beatdown. Josh Heupel’s offense is entertaining, if nothing else, and Drew Lock has a chance to put up some big numbers in 2017. Missouri State should allow him to begin padding his stats right away.
Saturday, mid-afternoon: Now we’re talking
- Marquee matchup: No. 11 Florida vs. No. 17 Michigan (3:30 p.m., ABC)
- Also pretty good: N.C. State vs. South Carolina (3 p.m., ESPN)
- For SEC diehards: Kentucky at Southern Miss (4 p.m., CBS Sports Network), App State at No. 15 Georgia (6:15 p.m., ESPN)
This is more like it. Florida and Michigan meet less than two years removed from the 2016 Citrus Bowl, where the Gators were manhandled in embarrassing fashion. The Wolverines have to replace a ton of talent from last year’s 10-win squad, including 10 of 11 starters on defense, but they have an absolute beast up front in Rashan Gary. Florida still has question marks at quarterback amid a three-way competition for the starting job, but Malik Zaire seems to have a leg up on Feleipe Franks and Luke Del Rio.
In Charlotte, N.C., South Carolina and N.C. State square off in a battle of two underrated teams. The Will Muschamp-led Gamecocks could author a couple of SEC upsets this year with Jake Bentley, Deebo Samuel and Hayden Hurst leading a potentially high-powered passing attack. Dave Doeren, meanwhile, has guided the Wolfpack to three consecutive winning seasons. At least one prominent analyst thinks this team has playoff potential.
Kentucky lost to Southern Miss in its 2016 opener, but the Wildcats went on to win seven of their last 11 games. Benny Snell, a standout offensive line and a young, hungry defense give them the tools to be even better in 2017. App State gave Tennessee a major scare in Week 1 last season, and very well could do the same to Georgia.
Saturday, late: Sweet football Jesus
- Marquee matchup: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 3 Florida State (8 p.m., ABC)
- Also pretty good: BYU vs. No. 13 LSU (9:30 p.m., ESPN)
- For SEC diehards: Georgia Southern at No. 12 Auburn (7:30 p.m., SEC Network), South Alabama at Ole Miss (7:30 p.m., ESPNU), Vanderbilt at Middle Tennessee (8 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
- Other games of note: No. 16 Louisville vs. Purdue (7:30 p.m., FOX)
There’s three relatively sleepy SEC nonconference matchups, Lamar Jackson facing Purdue and Ed Orgeron leading LSU against the Cougars in Houston. But none of that really matters, because Alabama and Florida State will be playing the most-hyped Week 1 game in recent memory.
And for good reason, we should add.
Elite coaches? Check. Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher have won a combined 164 games since 2010.
Quarterbacks? Check. Sophomores Jalen Hurts and Deondre Francois are two of the most dynamic signal callers in the country. They combined for 61 touchdowns last season and could be even better with another offseason under their belts.
Elite playmakers? Check. Alabama has Bo Scarbrough, Calvin Ridley and Minkah Fitzpatrick spearheading its blue chip-filled roster. FSU has the freakish Derwin James, shutdown corner Tarvarus McFadden and emerging wideout Nyqwan Murray.
You have two clear playoff contenders, one a living dynasty that came within one play of another national championship, squaring off in a brand-new stadium in prime time. This is the kind of college football matchup that can get any fan excited, and every other game pales in comparison.
Sunday: But wait, there’s more!
- Marquee matchup: Texas A&M at UCLA (7:30 p.m., FOX)
- Other games of note: No. 21 Virginia Tech vs. No. 22 West Virginia (7:30 p.m., ABC)
The first half of A&M’s home-and-home against the Bruins ended in thrilling fashion, and there’s premier talent on both sides in Round 2. For UCLA, there’s Josh Rosen at quarterback and two tantalizing 5-stars on the front seven — outside linebacker Mique Juarez and defensive end Jaelan Phillips, the country’s No. 1 recruit.
There’s no replacing Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall on the edge, try as the Aggies might, but their interior defensive line is one of the SEC’s best and deepest. Christian Kirk might be the conference’s most exciting player to watch, too. But Kevin Sumlin has a steep mountain to climb to keep his job; a win in the Rose Bowl would do him plenty of good on that front.
Monday: Labor Day dessert
- Marquee matchup: No. 25 Tennessee vs. Georgia Tech (8 p.m., ESPN)
After spending the entire offseason trying to portray the Vols’ 9-4 campaign in 2016 as successful, Butch Jones will have the unpleasant task of facing Georgia Tech in Atlanta to open 2017. The Yellow Jackets are gunning for a fourth straight win over the SEC East following victories against Vandy, Georgia and Kentucky, and their triple option is no joke. The Vols, meanwhile, have to replace Josh Dobbs, Derek Barnett, Cam Sutton and Jalen Reeves-Maybin. Their defensive line contains serious question marks, as well.
This one could be fun for Tennessee haters.
— WSB-TV (@wsbtv) August 26, 2017
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