The magical time is upon us. College football is back for it’s 146th season, and week one is shaping up to be a slambang fun time for fans across the country. You’ve read lists aplenty telling you the biggest games to watch, so we’ll take it in a different direction with five games of varying importance and intrigue that will make the opening week of 2015 one of the best season premieres college football’s ever had.
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GAME OF THE WEEK: TEXAS at NOTRE DAME
Two of the grand, old bluebloods of college football meet under the lights in a game that could go a long way in defining both programs this year. Texas has been in a malaise, at least by Longhorn standards, the last four years. After having nine wins or more every year from 1998 through 2009, the Longhorns have touched nine wins only one time since. After a 6-7 campaign last year, Charlie Strong will need to put his stamp on the program going forward. A win over the Irish, in South Bend, will be the perfect first step.
For the Irish and Brian Kelly, the goal is to reassert themselves as one of the nation’s best and prove, unequivocally, that 2012 wasn’t a flash in the pan. The Irish faceplanted last season, losing five of their last six regular season games. Beating Texas would get the snowball rolling down the hill for Notre Dame.
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UPSET SPECIAL: ILLINOIS STATE at IOWA
Illinois State will win this game. The Redbirds, the preseason No. 2 in the FCS coaches poll, return one of the best backfields in all of Division I football. Quarterback Tre Roberson, and Indiana transfer, and running back Maurice Coprich formed the engine that powered the Redbirds to last year’s FCS title game. Roberson threw for 3,221 yards and rushed for 1,029, while Coprich rushed for 2,274 yards and 27 touchdowns. Defensively, the Redbirds allowed 21.4 points a game and held their opponents under 20 points seven times. The Hawkeyes are coming off a rough 7-6 season that included just scraping by a Northern Iowa team which split a pair of games with Illinois State.
Last year Illinois State finished 41st in the Sagarin rankings. Iowa finished 47th. Expect a good game under the midday sun in Iowa City, but expect the Redbirds to win and light a fire under Kirk Ferentz’s seat.
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NERDOUT OF THE WEEK: MICHIGAN STATE at WESTERN MICHIGAN
This is a game which is receiving minimal national attention, but will get the juices flowing for any and all fans of college football.
Michigan State has legitimate playoff aspirations this season. So, starting the year by cannonballing into a tank full of piranha is a risky move, but it is also an intoxicating one for fans. Western Michigan is the type of MAC team “MACtion” was born to describe. A deep offense which carried the Broncos to a seven-win improvement last season (compared to 2013), combined with a young coach in P.J. Fleck who has a vision for the future that’s already unfolding, make the Broncos a dangerous opponent in East Lansing.
Then add a home-field advantage (yes, many Spartan fans will travel, but this is still a road game) which will be unlike anything MSU will face all season. How will the Spartans handle a loud, intimate crowd? What tricks does Fleck have up his sleeve? Can Western’s offense thrive against State’s punishing defense? So many subplots exist in this one.
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THE UNIMPORTANT GAME OF IMPORTANCE: CHARLOTTE at GEORGIA STATE
This is a game that is remarkable for one reason or another. It might be a key game in a Group of 5 race or have some historic significance, as this one does.
Charlotte-Georgia State isn’t raising the blood pressure of fans across the country, but it will set an interesting precedent for college football going forward. The game will be played at the Georgia Dome at 3:30 pm on Friday. That is a game, on a non-holiday weekday, being played during work hours. Matt Zemek touched on this earlier in the week, but the precedent is now set for midday, workday college football.
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THE ODDITY OF THE WEEK: LOUISVILLE vs. AUBURN in ATLANTA
I expect this game to be exciting especially because it’s a chance for Bobby Petrino to bury an odd hatchet from his coaching career. Not counting his time at Arkansas, for obvious reasons, Petrino has never lost to an SEC team from Kentucky or beaten one from outside the state of Kentucky. He is 6-0 against the Wildcats but 0-2 against the rest of the league. He has a tall mountain to climb against a talented Auburn team on a neutral field, in what will be a stadium tilted in Auburn’s favor.