Clemson-Georgia, Alabama-Miami, and Notre Dame-Florida State are all on tap as college football takes over the first weekend in September.
It’s college football season. Read that sentence a couple more times. Let it wash over you. Close your eyes and embrace the return of the greatest time of the year.
Aside from a handful of games last weekend (apologies to Scott Frost), the season “really” gets going on Thursday evening and rolls all the way into Labor Day, with juggernaut matchups featuring national powers like Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, and Notre Dame.
Here’s Boardroom’s curated schedule of the college football games you should watch in Week 1, with all times Eastern.
Thursday, Sept. 2
The best game: Boise State at UCF, 7 p.m., ESPN (UCF -5)
Neither Group of Five stalwart enters the season in the Top 25, but both are receiving votes in both major preseason polls, and there’s a ton on the line right away. With other G5 schools like Coastal Carolina, Liberty, and Louisiana in the mix, the loser of this game will face an uphill battle to earn a New Year’s 6 bid. Coming off a down year and with coaching changes on both sides, this game is hard to predict, but the Knights and Broncos both boast experienced quarterbacks.
Ultimately, UCF probably has too much firepower, but this should still be a game deep into the fourth quarter.
The runner-up: Ohio State at Minnesota, 8 p.m., FOX (Ohio State -14)
The Buckeyes might be favored by two touchdowns, but it’s always worth watching when a top-five team is sent on the road to play a conference opponent in primetime.
Yes, Ohio State has much more talent, but Minnesota has the edge in experience. CJ Stroud is getting his first start under center for the Buckeyes. The redshirt freshman earned thestarting nod after a heated preseason competition, while the Gophers will counter with Tanner Morgan, who is one of the most decorated quarterbacks in school history.
Underrated: East Carolina at Appalachian State, 7:30 p.m., ESPNU (App State -10)
Keep an eye on this one. ECU ended last season with some momentum and returns 20 starters, including quarterback Holton Ahlers, who threw for 18 of the Pirates’ 19 passing touchdowns last year in an abbreviated season. The Mountaineers are experienced themselves, with 14 starters using a fifth year of eligibility afforded to them by COVID-19 rules introduced last year.
Friday, Sept. 3
The best game: North Carolina at Virginia Tech, 6 p.m., ESPN (UNC -5.5)
It’s been 12 years since the Hokies last beat a top 10 team in Blacksburg, and if they’re going to snap that skid, they’ll have to do it against one of the best quarterbacks in the country in UNC’s Sam Howell. He’s accounted for 7,224 yards and 68 touchdowns over the past two seasons, and has an imposing offensive line to help him.
Virginia Tech wide receivers Tre Turner and Tayvion Robinson will need to have big games for the Hokies to keep up.
The runner-up: Michigan State at Northwestern, 9 p.m., ESPN (Northwestern -3)
Oddsmakers give Northwestern the slight edge, but that’s hard to determine when Michigan State still hasn’t named a starting quarterback. For now, it looks like redshirt sophomore Payton Thorne will get the nod. He had his moments last year in limited action and will have to go up against one of the best defenses in the nation from last season. Northwestern was great at keeping opponents off the board, but the Wildcats enter the season with a ton of questions on offense.
Underrated: South Dakota State at Colorado State, 9 p.m., FS1 (SDSU -2.5)
The Jackrabbits lost in the FCS title game last season and have a long-standing reputation as a team that puts a scare into FBS opponents. This year, the No. 3 team in the preseason FCS rankings is actually favored against the Rams in Fort Collins.
SDSU had a short offseason, as the FCS postponed their 2020 season to spring ’21. And while the Jacks are only four months removed from their last game, the Rams played just four contests last season.
Saturday, Sept. 4
The best game: Georgia vs. Clemson (Charlotte, NC), 7:30 p.m., ABC (Clemson -3)
Without a doubt, this is your premier matchup of the week.
Georgia and Clemson features two elite quarterbacks who have proven themselves at the collegiate level: JT Daniels threw for 10 touchdowns in four games for the Bulldogs last year and completed 67% of his passes, while D.J. Uiagalelei gets the nod for the Tigers. He appeared in 10 games last year alongside Trevor Lawrence, throwing for five touchdowns and running for four more.
The runner-up: Alabama vs. Miami, 3:30 p.m., ABC (Bama -19.5)
The defending national champs technically open their campaign as the road team, but when they take the field at Atlanta’s Mercedez-Benz Stadium Saturday, they’ll do so in an atmosphere almost certain to be dominated by Tide fans. Miami’s D’Eriq King has star power and talent to match, so don’t count out the Canes keeping things interesting before Bama pulls away.
Under Nick Saban, they (almost) always do.
Underrated: Syracuse at Ohio, 7:30 p.m., CBS Sports (Syracuse -1.5)
It should be illegal to get through a first weekend of football without tuning into some MACtion.
The Bobcats kick off their season with a chance to pull a somewhat mild upset against a Syracuse team that had a dreadful 1-10 campaign in 2020. The Orange bring a lot of experience back, but it remains to be seen how much that will matter in a close matchup on paper. Expect Ohio’s offense to be efficient and methodical; if Syracuse is going to match wits, its O-line is going to have to show up give QB Tommy DeVito a fighting chance.
Sunday, Sept. 5
The best game: Notre Dame at Florida State, 7:30 p.m., ABC (Notre Dame -7.5)
Wisconsin transfer Jack Coan will start at quarterback for a Notre Dame team that went 10-2 last year, including a 16-point home win over the Seminoles. Coan threw for 2,727 yards with 18 touchdowns in 2019 before sitting out last year. The Irish are ranked seventh in the nation, but a raucous ‘Noles home crowd will be ready. It’s sure to be an emotional night in Tallahassee as Florida State will begin a season-long tribute to late legendary head coach Bobby Bowden.
The runner-up: Jackson State at Florida A&M, 3 p.m., ESPN2
The Orange Blossom Classic is a historic event, and it’s back for the first time since 1978 — this time, as the season opener rather than the finale.
The game has traditionally pitted the FAMU Rattlers against a fellow HBCU. Jackson State is the perfect choice as an opponent this year as head coach and Deion Sanders takes the Tigers into his second season. Coach Prime went 4-3 in 2020, while Florida A&M did not compete last season.
Underrated: Grambling vs. Tennessee State, 4 p.m., NFL Network
Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio plays host to a Sunday showcase featuring the two teams with the most all-time HBCU national championships: Grambling and Tennessee State. The game — which features two teams nicknamed the Tigers — is the headline event of the four-day Black College Football Hall of Fame Classic.
The teams last played in 2002, with Grambling earning a 49-14 victory. Overall, they own a five-game winning streak against head coach Eddie George’s Tennessee State squad.
Monday, Sept. 6
The only game: Louisville at Ole Miss, 8 p.m., ESPN (Ole Miss -10)
It’s a long weekend, folks — naturally, that means the college football schedule extends into Monday night.
And Week 1 could very well end in a shootout.
Ole Miss might not have the defense to contain Cardinals quarterback Malik Cunningham, but on the other side of the ball, the Rebels return enough of a vaunted offense that put up 40-plus points five times last season in 10 games. Given that attack-minded head coach Lane Kiffin is starting to get comfortable entering his second season in Oxford, all bets could be off.