Week Zero is in the books as college football has finally arrived. Tthings really heat up this week with virtually every team in the country playing either Thursday, Friday or Saturday.
There are plenty of intriguing stories engulfing the season as things get started. Whether it is the coaching mess at Ohio State, or the quarterback controversy at Alabama, or Lane Kiffin’s hilarious Twitter rants, there is plenty to spark us this coming season. Here is a look at five things to watch in Week 1.
Washington – Auburn: Right out of the chute, one of these teams will be swimming uphill after Week 1. Washington, ranked No. 6, brings plenty of firepower to attack the Tiger defense. Led by all conference quarterback Jake Browning, the Huskies look to make a serious run at the Pac-12 title and a spot in the College Football Playoff. While Browning is accomplished and experienced, it is the Washington defense that makes things tough on opponents. Led by All American safety Taylor Rapp and a defensive line that is stingy and underrated, expect the Huskies to give Auburns spread offense fits. No. 10 Auburn brings what they do best to the table, which is run the football. Jarrett Stidham returns to provide experience and talent at the quarterback position. In 2017, he was 100 yards shy of breaking Auburn’s single season passing record. The Tigers are going to have trouble running the football against the Huskie defense, so expect Stidham to air it out early and often.
Michigan – Notre Dame: This game is all about tradition. The two teams renewed their rivalry after a sabbatical, so it should be no surprise that both programs, as well as the nation, are excited to see the renewal. There are two exciting components to this game — coaching and defense. Jim Harbaugh brings his quirky nature, smash mouth style back to a rivalry that was one of the most cherished in all of sports. And, while Harbaugh can baffle us at times, it is his defense that stands out at Michigan. They have play makers all over the field, so expect Notre Dame to struggle on offense in a low scoring affair. Offensively, the Wolverines might be the best they have been since Harbaugh took the job. Shea Patterson, a transfer from the Ole Miss, is an experienced quarterback who is a top-quality gun slinger. At Notre Dame, Brian Kelly just hasn’t been able to get over the hump to greatness. While his teams have been solid, he always seems to start slow, then gain some momentum. This year starting slow means getting beat opening day, so the Irish need to be ready. You think Oregon, you think Justin Herbert; you think Stanford, you think Bryce Love; you think West Virginia, you think Will Grier; you think Houston, you think Ed Oliver. Can you name one player on Notre Dame’s team? Unless you are a Fighting Irish faithful, probably not.
Jonathan Smith, Oregon State: Smith takes his Oregon State Beavers into Ohio State, who will be without Urban Meyer. While the Beavers will be big underdogs, don’t be surprised if Smith’s offense gives the Buckeyes fits. Smith was the quarterback on the best Oregon State team in history, going 11-1 and beating Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl in 2001. He has a gunslinger mentality and isn’t afraid of any challenge. A lot of people questioned this hired when Smith got the job, but I for one am sold on the guy. He tutored his coaching skills at Washington under Chris Peterson, one of the very best in the business, and his offensive genius was a big reason for Washington’s success the last few years. It wouldn’t surprise me if Ohio State dominates the Beavers, but it also would not surprise me if Oregon State sprung a monumental upset.
Clemson Defensive Line: Dabo Swinney has built a dynasty at Clemson, so don’t expect things to change this season. I will be shocked — SHOCKED — if they aren’t in the College Football Playoff at the end of the season. There are a lot of reasons Clemson is great, but none bigger than their defensive line. The 2018 edition might very well be the best defensive line in the history of college football. Anchored by first-team All Americans Clelin Ferrell, a junior defensive end, senior defensive tackle Christian Wilkins, and two other All Americans, Austin Bryant and Dexter Lawrence, Clemson is hands down the best D in the country. Rarely do you have All Americans on your defensive line. In this case, the Tigers have four. When all the dust settles, you have to score points to win games. Teams that play Clemson are going to have a hard time doing so.
West Virginia Wide Receivers: While all the talk about West Virginia surrounds Heisman Trophy candidate and preseason All American QB Will Grier, the real weapons at West Virginia are on the outside. The Mountaineers return the finest receiving duo in the country in David Sills and Gary Jennings Jr. Jennings is a break away threat who can beat you from anywhere on the field. A home run hitter, Jennings led the Big 12 in receptions last season with 97. Sills, at 6’4 a superior athlete, is a big Red Zone target who hauled in 18 touchdowns a year ago. If Grier can stay healthy, these two guys are going to have monster seasons that might just lead to West Virginia’s first Big 12 title.