2) No. 1 Alabama vs. Virginia Tech (at Atlanta), 5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN: The Tide will have a bullseye on their back all season long, and open the year against a Virginia Tech squad coming off a disappointing 2012. / USA TODAY Sports
The Front Seven is back from vacation. Now it's time for more recreation.
1. Anticipation: Most observers had No. 5 Georgia at No. 8 Clemson pegged as week one's "Game of the Century" all along. The offensive fireworks Saturday (ABC, 8 p.m. ET) might not live up to the lofty billing, but there should be quite a few points. The Tigers lost several key playmakers to the professional ranks, but the ability to build around QB Tajh Boyd and WR Sammie Watkins is a major plus. They'll need TB Roderick McDowell to provide balance. The Bulldogs' backfield is the envy of offensive coordinators everywhere with veteran QB Aaron Murray calling the shots and rotating TBs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall capable of breaking off big runs at any time. Both defenses will be on the spot for much of the night, but look for Clemson DE Vic Beasley and Georgia LB Jordan Jenkins to distinguish themselves.
2. Initialization: The second-most-anticipated contest of the opening weekend pits a pair of three-letter programs on a neutral field as No. 13 LSU and No. 20 TCU meet at Jerry's place in Arlington, Texas (Saturday, ESPN, 9 p.m. ET). The always-formidable Horned Frogs defense, led this year by DE Devonte Fields (if he returns early from a suspension) and CB Jason Verrett, will test LSU QB Zach Mettenberger as he looks to put his stamp on the Tigers' attack. He has plenty of explosiveness on the outside if he can find WRs Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry. TCU QB Casey Pachall is back after missing the last nine games last year (in rehab after DUI arrest), though he had to compete with Trevone Boykin to regain his job. Both might be needed against the hard-hitting Tigers defense, whose leadership this year will come from LB Lamin Barrow.
3. Aspiration: That No. 1 Alabama expects to play for championships is nothing new. The Crimson Tide's quest for a third consecutive national crown begins Saturday (ESPN, 5:30 p.m. ET) in Atlanta against Virginia Tech. It's a daunting opening challenge for the Hokies, who barely made it to the postseason last year and still have a lot of inexperience. One key returnee for Tech is QB Logan Thomas, though he has few proven playmakers around him. Facing the Alabama defense is also a tough ask. Though that group will be breaking in new starters, LBs C.J. Mosley and Trey DePriest can clean up just about anything. It is the defense that gives Hokies fans hope of keeping the game close - for a while at least - with LB Jack Tyler and CB Kyle Fuller able to cut down on big plays. But QB AJ McCarron knows how to sustain marches, and TB T.J. Yeldon will be eager to add his name to the long list of Alabama backfield stars.
4. Acclamation: Welcome to the neighborhood, Pittsburgh. The Panthers have little time to enjoy the amenities of their new league home. Their first ACC visitor is No.12 Florida State for the Labor Day night matchup (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET). The Seminoles also have a newcomer to the world of college football, and QB Jameis Winston isn't likely to disappoint in his debut. He'll face Pitt's stronger unit, fronted by DT Aaron Donald anchored in the secondary by FS Jason Hendricks, but his own mobility and top WRs Rashad Greene and Kenny Shaw should help him adjust quickly to live action. Panthers QB Tom Savage has a solid deep target in WR Devin Street, but DT Timmy Jernigan and the Seminoles' front will try not to give them time to connect.
5. Neutralization: No. 14 Oklahoma State takes on Mississippi State in another of the weekend's neutral-site contests (Saturday, ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET). The Cowboys, projected to be at or near the top of the Big 12, are a difficult draw for the Bulldogs, whose schedule is daunting enough just by being in the SEC West. Oklahoma State has a good problem with two experienced QBs. Clint Chelf and J.W. Walsh are both likely to see the field, and they should both have success with a deep corps of pass catchers led by WR Josh Stewart. LB Benardrick McKinney will be the centerpiece for the Bulldogs' defense, which will get a strong early test no matter who is calling the signals for the Cowboys. Finding ways to score has been tough for Miss State, particularly against conference competition. The Bulldogs do get back QB Tyler Russell and TB LaDarius Perkins. They seek room to operate against Oklahoma State DT Calvin Barnett.
6. Reputation: The script has flipped in recent years for Boise State. The No.19 Broncos are more the Goliath than the David these days, but that makes this opening-week visit to Washington (Saturday, Fox Sports 1, 10 p.m. ET) all the more dangerous. The Huskies would love to send a message that they're ready to compete in the loaded Pac-12 North. BSU tends to do well when it has an incumbent QB, and Joe Southwick hopes that trend continues. RB Jay Ajayi has breakout potential, though he'll likely become well acquainted with Washington LB John Timu. Ultimately, however, the game will hinge on how the Huskies' offense, with most of its top producers returning, handles the stingy Broncos defense. UW QB Keith Price has proven options at most positions at his disposal. WR Kasen Williams and RB Bishop Sankey can produce. BSU will counter with DE Demarcus Lawrence and S Jeremy Ioane.
7. Temptation: Most of the expected contenders in the Big Ten are steering clear of troublesome trap games on opening day. Give No. 22 Northwestern credit, then, for embarking on a long trip to California (Saturday, ESPN2, 10:30 p.m. ET) that might be viewed as tempting the fates. The Golden Bears are under new management with Sonny Dykes at the coaching reins. The personnel for his wide-open offense might not be in place yet, but true freshman Jared Goff will get the first turn with the keys at QB. He has dependable hands such as WR Chris Harper to ease his introduction, but a nasty Wildcats' defense anchored by LB Damien Proby and DE Tyler Scott will look to make his night difficult. Northwestern QB Kain Colter is back for his senior campaign, and flashy RB Venric Mark will be with him. Colter's mobility will help him adjust while a rebuilt line finds its footing, but Cal NT DT Deandre Coleman could challenge the unit.
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