The 2016 opening weekend of the college football was hyped as one of the biggest in history. And it didn’t disappoint.
Expected to be the biggest games of that weekend included:
- Alabama vs. USC
- Clemson at Auburn
- LSU vs. Wisconsin
- UCLA at Texas A&M
- Georgia vs. North Carolina
- Arizona vs. BYU
- Notre Dame at Texas
But only two of those games grabbed the attention it deserved: LSU-Wisconsin and UCLA-Texas A&M. Notre Dame-Texas was a fun game to watch, but neither team looked nearly as good as advertised. Clemson struggled with Auburn but prevailed as expected (Furthermore, it went on to be national champs).
2016 opening weekend recap
The LSU-Wisconsin game received the hype of a much-anticipated, SEC-Big Ten showdown played at historic Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. Because of the outcome, it didn’t disappoint: The Badgers’ defense easily handled the No. 5 Tigers’ offense for a 16-14 victory (Rafael Gaglianone kicked a 47-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter to clinch it for Wisconsin).
In the UCLA-Texas A&M game, former Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight made it clear he was back at full strength as he led the unranked Aggies to a 31-24, overtime victory over the No. 16 Bruins. Most noteworthy, Knight threw for 239 yards and a touchdown and ran for two more scores, including one in overtime.
But the weekend was marked historically also by its surprises and disappointments.
Outside of the A&M victory, Georgia’s 33-24 win over North Carlina and Alabama’s 52-6 romp over USC (introducing Jalen Hurts to the world), it was a sad day for the SEC. Along with losses by LSU and Auburn, Kentucky blew a 25-point lead to lose to Southern Mississippi, 44-25, and Mississippi State lost to fledgling South Alabama, 21-20, on a last-second field goal. And to wrap things up on Monday, Ole Miss let an 18-point lead slip through its hands in a 45-34 loss to Florida State. Oh, who can forget the near-loss that then-No. 10 Tennessee almost suffered to Appalachian State (Vols won, 20-13, in overtime)?
But the shocker of the weekend had to be No. 3 Oklahoma’s 33-23 loss to No. 15 Houston, which had been angling for a Big 12 invitation. After falling behind 10-3 in the first quarter, the Cougars outscored the Sooners, 30-13, over the final three. Although it was a huge victory, the Cougars didn’t move into the Big 12 … but Coach Tom Herman did (he’s now the coach at Texas).
Opening weekend for 2017
So taking a look at 2017, let’s just get one thing straight: It’s going to take a lot of surprises for it to be as good as 2016. To look at the 2017 lineup, it’s not close. However, there are some of the games that could make opening weekend of Aug. 31-Sept. 4 eventful (and, FYI, we’re not including any of the games on Aug. 26 as an opening weekend … Ugh!).
Should match the hype
Alabama-Florida State (Saturday, Sept. 2, 8 p.m. ET, Atlanta, Mercedes-Benz Stadium): Many feel these two teams will meet again in the College Football Playoff at season’s end. Florida State is coming off a 10-3 season and returns quarterback Deondre Francois (3,350 yards passing in 2017 as a freshman). Though Alabama lost some key players on defense, those holes will be filled with four- and five-star talent. Quarterback Jalen Hurts will test the Seminoles’ talented secondary.
Virginia Tech-West Virginia (Sunday, Sept. 3, 7:30 p.m. ET, Landover, Md., FedEx Field): Both teams should start the 2017 season ranked. Second-year coach Justin Fuente has the Hokies going in the right direction, leading them to a 35-24 Belk Bowl victory over Arkansas at the end of last season. Plus, Virginia Tech is expected to win the ACC Coastal Division. West Virginia adds former Florida quarterback Will Grier, who joins RB Justin Crawford, the Big 12’s top returning back. This combination should give the Mountaineer’s offense some balance.
Florida-Michigan (Saturday, Sept. 2, 3:30 p.m. ET, Arlington, Texas, AT&T Stadium): I realize this is the first game of the season, but it’s going to be a battle of two schools in need of a signature, non-conference win. Michigan quarterback Will Speight returns, but his top three receivers are gone. Florida returns WR Antonio Callaway, but it’s starting quarterback situation is unsettled (though freshman Feleipe Franks or Notre Dame transfer Malik Zaire likely will be the starter for this game).
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Looks better than it will be
BYU-LSU (Saturday, Sept. 2, 9:30 p.m. ET, Houston, NRG Stadium): BYU will have a slight advantage of this being its second game (Cougars play Portland State on Aug. 26). Plus, BYU coach Kalani Sitake had an impressive first season, going 8-4 with a Poinsettia Bowl victory (24-20 over Wyoming) and quarterback Tanner Mangum returns. LSU, though, will be returning one of the nation’s top offensive players (RB Derrius Guice) and one of the nation’s top defensive players (DE Arden Key). This could be a long night for BYU.
Appalachian State-Georgia (Saturday, Sept. 2, 6:15 p.m. ET, Sanford Stadium, Athens, Ga.): OK, maybe, I’m thinking this will match Appalachian State’s 2016 opener at Tennessee. But Appalachian State is a good football program that thrives when it plays against the big boys (reminds one of how it used to be with Fresno State in the 2000s). Also, the passing tandem of QB Taylor Lamb and WR Shaedon Meadors return from last season’s 10-3 team. Georgia has outstanding RB Nick Chubb and talented quarterback in Jacob Eason. Yet, in 2016, Tennessee had outstanding running backs in Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara and an experienced, talented quarterback in Josh Dobbs. … Just sayin’.
South Alabama-Ole Miss (Saturday, Sept. 3, 7:30 p.m. ET, Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, Oxford, Miss.): South Alabama has proven it’s not afraid to travel and play SEC teams on the road (as mentioned, it beat Mississippi State in the 2016 opener). Furthermore, the Rebels, already operating with an interim coach, also could be distracted by the impending sanctioning from the NCAA, expected in late August or early September.
Tempting upset pick, but no way
Ohio State-Indiana (Thursday, Aug. 31, 8 p.m., ET, Memorial Stadium, Bloomington, Ind.): The last time these two teams played at Bloomington, the Buckeyes struggled and won by a narrow margin (34-27). This won’t be repeated. Indiana’s head coach in that 2015 game, Kevin Wilson, is now Ohio State’s offensive coordinator.
Kentucky-Southern Mississippi (Saturday, Sept. 2, 4 p.m. ET, M.M. Roberts Stadium, Hattiesburg, Miss): Kentucky is a team that was markedly improved at season’s end, and that should continue into 2017. Expect USM to struggle this season as it tries to replace quarterback Nick Mullens.
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