College Football Week 1: Previews and Predictions for the Top 5 Games

Josh SachnoffContributor IIIAugust 29, 2014

College Football Week 1: Previews and Predictions for the Top 5 Games

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    It’s the most wonderful time of the year! College football is back in full swing with a full slate of games that will have national significance. 

    Kenny Hill and Texas A&M went into Columbia, S.C., on Thursday evening and blew out the Ol' Ball Coach's Gamecocks 52-28. While that was viewed as a big upset already for Week 1, this weekend could be presented with upsets that have significance on the new College Football Playoff.

    Clemson and Georgia, as well as LSU and Wisconsin, are all teams that could be playing in the six major bowl games at the end of the season.  

    With that said and a lot to look forward to this weekend, here are the top five games to watch. 

West Virginia vs. No. 2 Alabama (Atlanta)

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    Alabama junior wide receiver Amari Cooper
    Alabama junior wide receiver Amari CooperUSA TODAY Sports

    West Virginia vs. No. 2 Alabama (Atlanta), 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday, ABC/ESPN2

     

    Alabama will take part in its fourth Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in seven years. It’s a game the Crimson Tide have not lost and has been a quality win to start the season.

    With two-time national championship starting quarterback AJ McCarron no longer under center, Nick Saban will look to Blake Sims and Florida State transfer Jacob Coker to run the offense. Sims will start this game, but we'll more than likely see Coker as well. 

    The playmakers for the Alabama offense, though, will be running back T.J. Yeldon and wide receiver Amari Cooper. Both have the potential to be threats to a West Virginia defense that should be improved under new defensive coordinator Tony Gibson, after surrendering 33.3 points per game last season. If the Mountaineers have any chance of pulling an upset, it will be up to the offense. 

    West Virginia senior quarterback Clint Trickett, who has been in the news the past few days over his comment concerning his first kiss being Nick Saban’s daughter, will need help from his offensive line to allow time for him to get the ball to senior wide receivers Mario Alford and Kevin White. If the pass game is shut down by a stellar Crimson Tide defense, it’s going to be hard for the Mountaineer offense to get in the end zone. 

    In the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game, Alabama has held its opponents to an average 14.7 points, meaning this contest should be no different with another solid defensive performance from the national title contender. 

     

    Prediction: Alabama 38, West Virginia 17

No. 16 Clemson at No. 12 Georgia

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    Georgia junior running back Todd Gurley
    Georgia junior running back Todd GurleyUSA TODAY Sports

    No. 16 Clemson at No. 12 Georgia, 5:30 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPN

     

    Clemson got the best of Georgia last season with a 38-35 win in Death Valley. Now the Tigers will go “Between the Hedges” and try to upset the Dawgs for a second consecutive year. 

    Dabo Swinney’s squad will be without the ACC’s second-leading all-time passer in Tajh Boyd and speedster Sammy Watkins, putting a lot of pressure right out of the gate on Cole Stoudt, who will be starting his first game after backing Boyd up the last three seasons. 

    The Georgia offense is in a similar situation with school career-leading passer Aaron Murray gone, leaving the job to senior Hutson Mason. Mason has experience, after playing in two-and-a-half games last season when Murray went down with an ACL injury.

    What the Bulldogs have going for them, though, is a run game that is among the best in the country. Todd Gurley, along with Keith Marshall, could be the difference-maker in this matchup. Despite losing last season to Clemson, Gurley ran for a career-high 154 yards and two touchdowns. 

    The Clemson defense, led by All-American defensive end Vic Beasley, must contain the Bulldog rush attack to stay in this one. Getting run over by Gurley and not forcing Mason to make decisions with the football is what will hurt the Tigers on the scoreboard. 

    Clemson is always a team that will put up a fight, but in the end it will be a big win for a Mark Richt Georgia team that hopes to find itself in the top four of the College Football Playoff.

     

    Prediction: Georgia 35, Clemson 24  

No. 1 Florida State vs. Oklahoma State (Arlington)

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    Florida State senior wide receiver Rashad Greene
    Florida State senior wide receiver Rashad GreeneKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    No. 1 Florida State vs. Oklahoma State (Arlington), 8 p.m. ET Saturday, ABC

     

    Jameis Winston and Co. will play their first game since winning the BCS National Championship. The 'Noles will have competition from a fiery Mike Gundy Oklahoma State squad, which hopes to pull off the huge upset with an offense that averaged 39.1 points per game last season. 

    Florida State’s offense will clearly be a threat to the Pokes in this Saturday night showdown with all the talent it has.

    Besides Winston, All-ACC wide receiver Rashad Greene and potential All-ACC running back Karlos Williams return to an offense that averaged 51.6 points per game last season.

    While all eyes will be on Winston’s performance, a stout Florida State defense could be the main reason why the 'Noles have a dominating performance. Junior defensive end Mario Edwards and linebacker Terrance Smith were part of a defense last season that ranked first in the country in allowing the fewest points and passing yards per game.

    Oklahoma State quarterback J.W. Walsh will get help from running back Desmond Roland, but not being able to open up the passing game will hurt the Cowboys tremendously. 

    Florida State should have a convincing win over the Pokes to give it a 17th straight victory.  

     

    Prediction: Florida State 38, Oklahoma State 16

No. 14 Wisconsin vs. No. 13 LSU (Houston)

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    LSU senior running back Terrence Magee
    LSU senior running back Terrence MageeUSA TODAY Sports

    No. 14 Wisconsin vs. No. 13 LSU (Houston), 9 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPN

     

    The Badgers and Tigers, who both hope to be in the national spotlight this season, will battle it out in the trenches down in Houston. 

    Wisconsin is expected to go with converted safety Tanner McEvoy as its starting quarterback on Saturday night, while Les Miles will go with both Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris. 

    The Badgers will look to its dual tandem in the backfield consisting of fourth-team All-American running back Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement to move the offense downfield. The run game must rely on an experienced offensive line, led by right tackle Kyle Costigan, to create running room against an always physical LSU defense. The Badger run game against the Tiger defense will be the biggest matchup in this football game. 

    It should be interesting to see how LSU does with the loss of last season’s team-leading rusher, Jeremy Hill, and team-leading wide receivers Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry. Jennings has the most experience under center because of his start in the Outback Bowl against Iowa, but look for the run game consisting of Terrence Magee, Kenny Hilliard and highly touted freshman Leonard Fournette to get a lot of touches in the backfield. 

    Expect both teams to take their chances down the field, but it’s going to be a pound it out on the ground kind of game. Wisconsin will play tough, but the Tigers will come away with their fourth neutral field opening week win in five years. 

     

    Prediction: LSU 37, Wisconsin 30

Miami (Fla.) at Louisville

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    Miami junior running back Duke Johnson.
    Miami junior running back Duke Johnson.USA TODAY Sports

    Miami (Fla.) at Louisville, 8 p.m. ET Monday, ESPN

     

    Louisville will have its ACC debut at home against Miami, who will have revenge on its mind after being manhandled by the Cardinals 36-9 in the Russell Athletic Bowl last season.  

    Al Golden needs to have his Hurricanes ready to go Monday night with a game that could shape how their season goes. 

    Golden has decided to go with true freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya, but the main focus will be on All-ACC running back Duke Johnson in the ground game. Johnson returns to the lineup after he went down with a season-ending broken ankle injury in the eighth game last season. 

    On the other hand, Bobby Petrino will make his comeback debut at Louisville. Petrino will look to sophomore quarterback Will Gardner, who has the task of replacing star quarterback Teddy Bridgwater, to head an offense that returns seven starters from 2013. All-AAC wide receiver DeVante Parker, though, is out indefinitely with a foot injury. 

    Gardner will lean on veteran Dominique Brown to get things going in the run game with the hope of coming at the Hurricane defense with a more balanced attack. Last season, Gardner completed eight of his 12 pass attempts for two touchdowns. 

    In a highly intriguing defensive Labor Day matchup, the Hurricanes will spoil the Cardinals near the end of regulation and look to be undefeated when they travel to Nebraska on Sept. 20. 

     

    Prediction: Miami 26, Louisville 24