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Friday, April 19, 2024
The Observer

Top five games to watch in the first week of college football

Move over Nebraska and Northwestern, the big boys are ready to play this weekend. Week 1 of college football offers a flurry of games from Thursday through Monday, which is a treat for all sports fans. Without further ado, here’s my top five games to watch this weekend.

5. Florida State @ LSU — Sunday, Sept. 4 at 7:30 p.m. on ABC

Without NFL action this week, this game will serve as Sunday Night Football, featuring two proud programs in a neutral site game in New Orleans. The Seminoles are looking to regain their footing in the ACC this season and take a step forward under head coach Mike Norvell’s third season at the helm. All-ACC safety Jammie Robinson is a great player for the Seminoles, adept at patrolling the middle of the field. Winning this game would put them in a good position to have their first winning record since 2017. LSU boasts the likes of wide receiver Kayshon Boutte, a player who is likely to be drafted next April, and quarterback Jayden Daniels, transferring in from Arizona State. This is also the debut game of new LSU Head Coach Brian Kelly, a name undoubtedly very familiar to Irish fans. This will be the first time Kelly has ever coached in any capacity a team located south of Ohio. Will Kelly continue to build momentum in his pursuit to dethrone the titans of the SEC West? Will the Seminoles put his tenure off to an inauspicious start? Irish fans will surely want to know.

4. No. 7 Utah @ Florida — Saturday, Sept. 3 at 7:00 p.m. on ESPN

Continuing the PAC-12 vs. SEC showdown is another matchup that could drastically affect the course of each teams’ seasons. Utah, coming off of a 10-4 record last season, returns a bevy of talent. Quarterback Cameron Rising and running back Tavion Thomas have earned All-PAC-12 honors. Clark Phillips is seen as one of the best cornerbacks in the country. Some have projected Utah as a playoff team this season. 

Florida is coming off of a disappointing 6-7 record last season that resulted in the firing of Dan Mullen. New head coach Billy Napier would love nothing more than to get his tenure at Florida started with a marquee upset win. Quarterback Anthony Richardson will have to prove he is capable of starting. Linebacker Brenton Cox is coming off of an All-SEC season. The ingredients for an upset are there, with the game being held in one of college football’s most hostile environments. Can Utah endure for four quarters in the muggy humidity and with the roar of opposing fans against them? In order to accomplish their goals for this season, they’ll have to do just that. 

3. No. 23 Cincinnati @ No. 19 Arkansas — Saturday, Sept. 3 at 3:30 p.m. on ESPN

An intriguing out-of-conference matchup in Fayetteville, Arkansas between two teams looking to prove themselves. The Razorbacks, under head coach Sam Pittman, look to continue their rise after earning a 9-4 record last fall, their best record in a decade. Quarterback KJ Jefferson has drawn comparisons to Cam Newton with his skill at both running and passing. Center Ricky Stromberg anchors an Arkansas line that looks to bully the Bearcats. Linebacker Drew Sanders is earning preseason All-SEC hype. 

Cincinnati, meanwhile, comes off the best season in program history, going 13-1 and earning a trip to the college football playoff, bowing out to runner-up Alabama. Notable losses to the NFL Draft include quarterback Desmond Ridder and cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner. Their main strengths this season should be a bruising offensive line for LSU transfer running back Corey Kiner to run through, in addition to a punishing defense. The Bearcats are set to join the Big 12 after this season, so a win here would prove without a doubt that no matter what conference they’re in, that they’re here to stay. A win for the Razorbacks would set their season off to a jumpstart headed into SEC play.

2. No. 11 Oregon @ No. 3 Georgia — Saturday, Sept. 3 at 3:30 p.m. on ABC

Immediately preceding the No. 1 game of the week is a titanic game in its own right. Dan Lanning’s first game as head coach of the Ducks comes against the defense he previously coached for the Bulldogs. Oregon, coming off a 10-4 season, has experience beating marquee teams on the road early, knocking off Ohio State just last year. Georgia is coming off a wildly successful year which saw them go 14-1, earning a National Championship in the process. In addition, the Bulldogs saw 15 of their players selected in last April’s NFL Draft. 

Stars remain on Georgia’s roster, however. Tight end Brock Bowers is the only player in the country comparable to Michael Mayer for the Irish. Stetson Bennett IV returns as quarterback. Oregon is experiencing a quarterback competition, but Auburn transfer Bo Nix is seen as the projected starter. Linebacker Noah Sewell is a consensus preseason All-American. The game is technically at a neutral site — Atlanta — but the crowd will surely be primarily Georgia fans. With a win, Oregon immediately becomes the favorite in the PAC-12 and a college football playoff contender. A win for Georgia is the first step toward back-to-back national championships. 

1. No. 5 Notre Dame @ No. 2 Ohio State — Saturday, Sept. 3 at 7:30 p.m. on ABC

The stakes couldn’t be higher for a Week 1 showdown. Notre Dame returns potential first round picks in the upcoming NFL Draft in tight end Michael Mayer and defensive end Isaiah Foskey. Ohio State possesses what many believe to be the greatest offense in college football this year with quarterback CJ Stroud coming off of a Heisman finalist season. Running back TreVeyon Henderson and wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba give Stroud no shortage of weapons. 

Questions still remain, however, for both sides. How will new starter Tyler Buchner look under center for the Irish? Buchner was unable to play in this year’s spring game and was reserved to a backup role last season. Meanwhile, can the Buckeyes solve their own defensive issues from last season? Their fans hope the hire of former Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles is the solution. It all shapes up for a potential classic in the Horseshoe. 

Ohio State is looking to avenge a “disappointing season” which resulted in losses to Oregon and Michigan. Notre Dame is looking to prove that they are a legitimate force under new head coach Marcus Freeman. A win for either team would set each up for a playoff run.

Joseph Tunney

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