Caleb’s Best games from each conference: Preview and predictions
After what feels like an eternity to wait, the college football season is finally upon us. Fans got a taste of the season last week in a match up of two classic in-state rivals in Florida and Miami and another game of two lower-tier teams that turned out to be a barn burner in Hawaii and Arizona.
Now, the real fun begins. Clemson is coming off their 44-16 drubbing of Alabama in Part 4 of their College Football Playoff saga and Trevor Lawrence is looking to solidify his spot as a top Heisman Trophy contender this season. There is also the question of if the Georgia Bulldogs will finally be able to get over the hump and lock up a national championship for the first time since 1980.
There are a number of big match ups this week, as is customary with the first week of the college football season. What are the best match ups from each FBS conference? Let’s take a look and make some predictions!
ACC: Georgia Tech at No. 1 Clemson (THURSDAY)
For the first time ever, College Gameday will be going to two spots in one week. They will first head to Clemson, South Carolina for the Tigers’ opening game of their defense of the national championship on Thursday. They open up with a big conference match up against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.
Georgia Tech has a new leader in Geoff Collins, who takes over for the retiring Paul Johnson. Collins pulls the Jackets out of the traditional Wing-T offense and has put an emphasis on leadership this summer. Juanye Thomas and Tariq Carpenter are two deadly defensive backs who have stepped up for Georgia Tech this off season and they could both certainly give the Tigers fits on Thursday.
Clemson did not lose much offensively with Lawrence and running back Travis Etienne back in the fold. Defensively though, they had to reload. With the Yellow Jackets breaking in a new offense themselves, it might be a good test for the Tigers as they try to settle in a relatively young defense. However, Lawrence should be able to fight through an early sophomore slump and lead Clemson to a win, but not as lopsided as many might think.
Prediction: Clemson 28, Georgia Tech 17
American Athletic: Ole Miss at Memphis
I think everyone marked this one as a possible upset as soon as the 2018 season ended in January. The Memphis Tigers are figured to be a favorite in the American Athletic this season and the Ole Miss Rebels, despite being an SEC team, come into this game as not being the favorite to win.
Head coach Mike Norvell has the Rebels on the right track and if they can pull out the upset in Week 1, they could be an early favorite to make a New Year’s Six bowl game out of the Group of Five. Quarterback Brady White should have his offense’s eyes set on another big year as he aims to raise his NFL draft stock while leading his team back to the AAC Championship Game.
The Rebels had a forgetful 2018 season under Matt Luke, mostly because the team knew they couldn’t make a bowl game due to previous sanctions. They lost Jordan Ta’amu to graduation and both AJ Brown and DK Metcalf to the NFL, so they have looked to reload on offense. On defense, they did not look like the Landsharks that existed during the Nkemdiche days with them only recording 15.5 sacks and seven interceptions on the year.
Ole Miss comes out slow and Memphis goes swinging on the first play and never really slows down.
Prediction: Memphis 34, Ole Miss 21
Big 12: Houston at No. 4 Oklahoma (SUNDAY)
This game should not feel much different from a previous Big 12 match up with former West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen at the helm of the Cougars. A few years back, this game would have had a different feel and some may have believed that Houston had a chance at the upset.
Oklahoma, however, is entering year three under coach Lincoln Riley and also has quarterback Jalen Hurts, a legitimate favorite to win the team’s third straight Heisman Trophy. There is reason to believe that the Sooners will be favorites to not only the Big 12 this year but finally play their way into the National Championship game in the College Football Playoff in January.
The Sooners have something to prove and with a quarterback that has a large amount of hype surrounding him, it is hard to pick against Oklahoma here. Expect the Sooners to come out swinging, but the Cougars should still put some points on the board.
Prediction: Oklahoma 48, Houston 24
Big Ten: No. 19 Wisconsin at South Florida
With all the Heisman Trophy candidates playing in big games this week, one player that many may have forgotten about is Badger running back Jonathan Taylor. He has been a fixture at the list of top backs in the country since his freshman season in 2017 and now, as a junior, he should be ready to take the next step towards giving Wisconsin a Big Ten title and their first Heisman winner in 20 years (Ron Dayne, 1999).
This game should be an interesting one to follow because it is not very often a Power Five conference travels to a Group of Five. The Bulls will look to come out and make a statement in this game after their epic collapse last year. The team started off 7-0 and looked to challenge UCF in the American, but lost their last six games, a streak that included a loss differential average of almost 20 points a game.
South Florida must strike early and find the will to step up and shut down Taylor if they want any success in their first game of the third season under Charlie Strong. However, the Badgers’ defense will be too strong and Taylor should have a good day in the first game of his 2019 Heisman campaign.
Prediction: Wisconsin 28, South Florida 13
Conference USA: Florida International at Tulane (THURSDAY)
The Florida International Panthers had a pretty great 2018 season as they finished just one win shy of double digits and won the Bahamas Bowl. Butch Davis has helped turn the Panthers around and they should make a big push towards winning the Conference USA crown this year.
Tulane has also made some pretty good strides under Willie Fritz and they could be a dark horse to win the AAC this year. With that being said, this opening game could be a fun one on Thursday. The Green Wave had one of the better defenses in the AAC last year, while the Panthers had one of the better offenses in the nation. That makes for an interesting match up between these two teams.
Both teams have something to prove going into the 2019 season. Austin Maloney returns for the Panthers after he was second on the team with over 600 receiving yards in 2018. P.J. Hall should be a big piece for the Green Wave on defense. That could be an interesting match up, but Tulane should be able to pull out the big win thanks to some stingy defensive play.
Prediction: Tulane 23, Florida International 10
Mid-American: Toledo at Kentucky
The MAC does not have very many exciting games to pick from this week, but the Toledo Rockets always promise to throw up some fireworks any time they take the field. Why would you not want to talk about them possibly trying to upset an SEC team?
The Kentucky Wildcats more than exceeded expectations in 2018, going 10-3, beating Florida for the first time in history, and winning the Citrus Bowl. They expect to have just as much success in 2019 with some big defensive names like Kash Daniel still on the team. This could be a good warm up for Kentucky, but it could be a trap game if they aren’t careful.
The Rockets have improved tremendously from last year and they look to contend for the MAC crown this year. If, and that is a big if, they can come out and shock the Wildcats to open the season, it could be a big year for Toledo. However, I think Kentucky takes care of business early and shows they can compete in the SEC East.
Prediction: Kentucky 35, Toledo 17
Mountain West: Boise State at Florida State
This game could go a long way in determining how the season goes in both the ACC and the Mountain West. The Florida State Seminoles had a pretty terrible first season under Willie Taggart in 2018, going 5-7 and missing a bowl game for the first time since 1981, so they will be looking to turn things around. The Boise State Broncos went 10-2 in the regular season before losing to Fresno State in the conference championship game and having their bowl game canceled due to weather.
Both of these teams will have a lot to play for this year with Taggart needing to give the Seminoles a turnaround and the Broncos looking to compete as one of the Group of Five qualifying teams. Boise State lost Brett Rypien and Alexander Mattison to the NFL on offense. They also lost Jabril Frazier to the league and Tyson Maeva to transfer. They luckily retain Curtis Weaver, who had an astonishing 10 sacks as a sophomore in 2018.
James Blackman will have to step up as a redshirt sophomore quarterback for the Seminoles after the Deondre Francois saga came to an end in Tallahassee last year with him transferring to FCS school Hampton. Luckily, he will have running back Cam Akers behind him after an impressive sophomore year.
This could be one of the best games of opening week as both teams have a lot to play for going into the season. The Seminoles know they need to come away with a big win if they want to have any momentum for 2019. They will do just that.
Prediction: Florida State 24, Boise State 19
Pac-12: No. 14 Utah at BYU (THURSDAY)
There are probably some more interesting games to check out from the Pac-12 this week, but I am more excited about the Holy War. This is always an exciting game, regardless of the two teams’ rankings and this should be no different. The game used to be a Rivalry Week staple, but it feels more appropriate that these two teams are opening the season.
Many feel as though Utah could be a surprising fit into the College Football Playoff this season. They will have a big platform to show what they can do when they take on BYU on Thursday. Zach Wilson should lead the Cougars into the season after showing up and showing out in 2018. The defense should also be pretty good this year too with Isaiah Kaufusi and Austin Lee returning to the fold.
For the Utes, Tyler Huntley returns at quarterback with Zack Moss back at running back. On defense, they have the possibility of having one of the best units in the country in 2019 with Jaylon Johnson coming off a four interception season and Bradlee Anae racking up 15 sacks over the last two seasons. Utah wants to prove themselves early and they should be able to do that with their ninth straight win over their in-state rival.
Prediction: Utah 31, BYU 13
SEC: No. 11 Oregon vs No. 16 Auburn (Arlington, Texas)
College GameDay makes its second stop in three days when they head to Arlington, Texas to watch the only top 25 matchup of Week 1 as the Oregon Ducks take on the Auburn Tigers at AT&T Stadium. Both of these teams are looking to get back into title contention and this game should go a long way to show the country where we are at for the 2019 season.
The Ducks probably would not have nearly as much hype as they do had Justin Herbert not returned for his senior year. But he did and that will make a huge difference for the team this year. Auburn’s defense looks to be one of the best upfront units this year with both Nick Coe and Derrick Brown back on the defensive line.
A great offense against a great defense always makes for a fun night. The Ducks should be able to put some points up on the board with Herbert and running back CJ Verdell, but Auburn should be able to do the same with highly-touted freshman quarterback Bo Nix and running backs Jartavious Whitlow and Kam Martin.
The Ducks and Tigers are ready for a big throwdown at Jerry’s World. Expect some fireworks. Expect some excitement. Expect Nix to struggle in his first big game. Oregon wins.
Prediction: Oregon 35, Auburn 24
Sun Belt: Georgia Southern at No. 6 LSU
This game could be one to watch if we are talking about upset alerts. Everyone believe LSU will be very good this year with Joe Burrow improving dramatically throughout the 2018 season. Most also believe that the Georgia Southern Eagles could not only contend in the Sun Belt, but compete for a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl. A good showing in Death Valley could help their cause.
The Eagles had an unbelievable turnaround last year, winning 10 games and the Camellia Bowl after going 2-10 in 2017. LSU also had a much better season than expected last year, going 10-3 and winning the Fiesta Bowl over the UCF Knights. The Eagles are led by quarterback Shai Werts, who might have a chip on his shoulder starting the season after his controversial run-in with police in July. They also have former Oklahoma State running back J.D. King eligible to lead a cavalcade of talented backs, so LSU could have their hands full.
The Tigers should, however, be more than ready for Georgia Southern. Grant Delpit is back to lead the secondary with K’Lavon Chaisson, Breiden Fehoko, and Rashard Lawrence all ready to give any offense they face hell. The Tigers don’t want to look past the Eagles for their top ten meeting with the Texas Longhorns next week.
It should be a pretty good game, but LSU gets past Georgia Southern.
Prediction: LSU 34, Georgia Southern 23