With 85 games played across six days, you need a plan for the 2014 kickoff of college football—who to watch, when to watch and why to watch.
Here’s a blueprint for how to approach what’s being served up on national television for Week 1. Think of it as a guiding light for you—and your remote—as you gird your loins for the glorious return of college football.
Wednesday, Aug. 27
7pm ET, ESPNU: FCS ABILENE CHRISTIAN at GEORGIA STATE: The official start to the 2014 season, Georgia State kicks off its fifth campaign ever in football and it’s second as an FBS program. The Panthers haven’t won a game since Oct. 13, 2012 when they pounded Rhode Island 41-7 on the road. The last win on their home turf came in the 2011 season finale when they beat FCS Campbell 42-35 in Atlanta. FCS Abilene Christian finished last season 6-5, its worst mark in a decade but also its first campaign after moving up from Division II to the FCS ranks.
Thursday, Aug. 28
6pm ET, SEC Network: #21 TEXAS A&M at #9 SOUTH CAROLINA: The first-ever meeting between the Aggies and Gamecocks, South Carolina hasn’t lost an opener since 1999. Tune in to watch Johnny Manziel’s replacement—sophomore Kenny Hill—in his first game as the starter. With a bunch of skill players gone from A&M’s #5-ranked scoring offense from a year ago, the new-look Aggies are tasked with getting their feet wet against a Gamecock defense that ranked #12 in the nation in 2013 in points allowed.
8pm ET, ESPN: #18 OLE MISS–BOISE STATE (Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Ga.): Another first-time meeting, the Rebels haven’t lost a season opener away from home since 1995 when they traveled to #6 Auburn and got whacked 46-13. This is Boise State’s first game since 2005 without head coach Chris Petersen, who makes his debut at Washington on Saturday against Hawaii. Tune in to see how the Broncos’ #89-ranked passing defense from last season deals with Ole Miss’ #23-ranked passing attack, led by senior quarterback Bo Wallace.
10pm ET, FOX Sports 1: RUTGERS at WASHINGTON STATE (CenturyLink Field, Seattle, Wash.): Yet another combo that has never met in football, Rutgers has never won a game on the west coast. The Cougars will have a chance to beat a Big Ten foe—the Scarlet Knights joined up this season—for the first time since they bested Purdue 33-27 in the 2001 Sun Bowl. Washington State hasn’t won a season opener against an FBS team since 2005 when it beat Idaho. This one could get interesting as Rutgers’ #122-ranked pass defense from a year ago tries to contain Washington State’s #4-ranked passing attack, led by senior quarterback Connor Halliday and all three of his top targets from 2013.
Friday, Aug. 29
7pm ET, ESPN: BYU at UCONN: The game to remote swap with Colorado-Colorado State, it’s the first-ever football meeting between the Cougars and Huskies. UConn finished last season with three consecutive wins but before that hadn’t won a game since Nov. 24, 2012 when it upset #19 Louisville in triple overtime. Watch for BYU quarterback Taysom Hill—who ran for 1,344 last season—pick apart the Huskies #86 ranked scoring defense from last season. To make matters worse, the Cougars have return all five starters from their O-line.
9pm ET, FOX Sports 1: COLORADO–COLORADO STATE (Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver, Col.): Colorado is 5-1 against Colorado State in Denver since 2007, but the Buffaloes have only won five games against FBS opponents since 2011, two of these came against the Rams. This game will be a good early gauge of how second-year head coach Mike MacIntyre is doing in his efforts to right the ship at Colorado. He led San Jose State to a 10-2 mark in 2012 and engineered a 4-8 finish in Boulder last season, the best record for the Buffaloes since 2010. Also check out Colorado State tight end Kivon Cartwright, on the watch list for the John Mackey Award, given to the best tight end in college football.
10:30pm ET, ESPN: UNLV at ARIZONA: The late game on Friday night, Arizona hasn’t dropped a home opener since falling 15-14 to Iowa in 1987. UNLV hasn’t won a road opener since 2007, when it traveled to Utah State and won 23-16. Look for Arizona’s young running back corps—tasked with replacing the top three backs from a year ago—to make an impressive debut against the Rebels’ #97-ranked rushing defense from last season. The Wildcats had the tenth best rushing attack in the FBS in 2013 and return four starting members of their O-line.
Saturday, Aug. 30
8:30AM ET, ESPN2: PENN STATE–UCF (Croke Park, Dublin, Ireland): Rise and shine for James Franklin’s debut as the head coach at Penn State and Central Florida’s first game since Nov. 3, 2011 without quarterback Blake Bortles. The Knights beat the Nittany Lions at Happy Valley last season and streaked to a 12-1 record, including a 52-42 win over #6 Baylor in the BCS Fiesta Bowl. Though UCF will miss both Bortles and running back Storm Johnson, it returns nine starters to its #17-ranked scoring defense from a year ago. The unit is led by senior linebacker Terrance Plummer—on both the Lombardi and Butkus watch lists—who had 110 tackles, two interceptions, 8.5 tackles for a loss and 2.5 sacks last season.
12pm ET, ESPN: #7 UCLA at VIRGINIA: Tune in to watch Virginia attempt to win its first game against a power-five team since beating Miami (Fla.) 41-40 in 2012. The Cavaliers haven’t lost a home opener since 2009 when they were upset by FCS William & Mary. UCLA won its opener at Rice in 2012 and vs. Nevada in 2013, but hasn’t won three in a row since 1980-82. This is the first-ever meeting between the two schools. Watch out for junior UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley—on many early Heisman watch lists—as he squares off with Virginia’s #99-ranked scoring defense from a year ago.
12pm ET, ESPN2: APPALACHIAN STATE at MICHIGAN: The game to remote-swap with UCLA-Virginia, Appalachian State and Michigan meet for the first time since the iconic upset game in 2007 when the then #5 Wolverines got shocked 34-32 in the Big House. Only this time App State is no longer an FCS school, moving up to the FBS this season via the Sun Belt, and Michigan isn’t ranked. Though it’s unlikely that lightning will strike twice with these two, remember that Michigan barely survived last season at home against Akron, it was favored by 37 and won 28-24.
3:30pm ET, ABC/ESPN2: #2 ALABAMA–West Virginia (Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Ga.): The anchor game to switch from in the afternoon time slot is the first-ever football meeting in history between the Crimson Tide and Mountaineers. Alabama hasn’t dropped a season opener since 2001, when the #25 Tide fell 20-17 to #17 UCLA. It will be interesting to see what offensive wizard Dana Holgorsen will have dialed up for Nick Saban’s #4-ranked scoring defense from last season. On the other side of the ball, keep in mind that Alabama will be breaking in a new starting quarterback, a perfect set-up for running back T.J. Yeldon, who might have his way with West Virginia’s #91-ranked rush defense from last season.
3:30pm ET, ABC/ESPN2: CAL at NORTHWESTERN: One of two nationally televised options at 3:30pm to alternate with the Alabama-West Virginia game, Cal and Northwestern combine for a 1-15 record in their last 16 games. The Golden Bears haven’t beaten an FBS opponent since 2012 when they dropped Washington State 31-17. The two teams also met in last season’s opener, Northwestern won 44-30 but gave up 460 yards of passing. Cal returns eight offensive starters from last season, including quarterback Jared Goff, his top two receivers and four members of the O-line. The Wildcats finished last season ranked #101 vs. the pass.
3:30pm ET, NBC: RICE at #17 NOTRE DAME: Though not a blockbuster, this game is a good back-up plan if Alabama-West Virginia is a blowout. Keep in mind that Rice improved to 10-4 last season, including capturing its first conference crown (it won C-USA) since 1994. The Irish return only 11 starters this season, earning them the #100 rank in the FBS. Notre Dame should wallop the Owls, but if the young Irish come out shaky, this one could get interesting.
4pm ET, SEC Network: ARKANSAS at #6 AUBURN: Don’t forget to include this game in your line-up after the 3:30pm games get cranked up. Tune in to see which of these two SEC West programs get off to a fast start in conference play. The Razorbacks haven’t won a league game since beating Kentucky in 2012, the Tigers haven’t lost one since falling to LSU early last season. Though this one looks like a blowout at first glance, remember that Arkansas closed out last season with a seven-point loss to Mississippi State (in overtime) and a four-point loss at #15 LSU. The Razorbacks did make progress last season, but the improvements were more difficult to see with six ranked opponents in their final eight games.
5:30pm ET, ESPN: #16 CLEMSON at #12 GEORGIA: Plan to check-out this matchup as the mid-afternoon games wrap up. Clemson has only played seven road openers since 1970 and have won only twice—in 2012 in Atlanta over Auburn and in 1985 at Virginia Tech. Both sides will debut new starting quarterbacks and both return the bulk of their experience on the defensive side of the ball. Though this year’s game might not get the hype that last season’s top ten battle did, it’s every bit as meaningful. Both are legitimate College Football Playoff teams and both need a win in this game to make their case later in the season.
7:30pm ET, FOX: FRESNO STATE at #15 USC: An early jump on the primetime games, the last time Fresno State and USC hit the field it was against each other in the 2013 Las Vegas Bowl. The Trojans won that game 45-20, holding a Bulldogs’ offense that had averaged 546 yards per game last season to 253 yards of total offense. Look for USC’s stellar defense—seven starters are back from the #16-ranked scoring D last season—to make Fresno State’s young offense—only five starters are back from last year’s #6-ranked scoring unit—struggle.
8pm ET, ABC: #1 FLORIDA STATE–OKLAHOMA STATE (AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas): The last time a defending national champion lost the season opener was in 1998 when #5 Michigan fell 36-20 at #22 Notre Dame. If you are wondering how good the ‘Noles #1 defense will be after the loss of five starters, tune in to watch them square off with the #13 Cowboys’ scoring offense from 2013. The two have met four times previously with Oklahoma State’s only win coming in the 1958 Bluegrass Bowl in Louisville, Ky.
9pm ET, ESPN: #14 WISCONSIN –#13 LSU (NRG Stadium, Houston, Texas): The other primetime game worth watching, the Badgers’ 16-game winning streak in season openers is on the line vs. LSU. The last time Wisconsin lost the first game of the year was in 1997 when it got blanked 34-0 by Syracuse in East Rutherford, NJ. This will be the story of two very young units squaring off for a crucial non-conference win: Wisconsin’s #6 scoring defense from a year ago returns only three starters while LSU’s #23- ranked scoring offense brings back just five starters.
Sunday, Aug. 31
7pm ET, SEC Network: UTAH STATE at TENNESSEE: The Volunteers are 19-0 in home openers and haven’t dropped one since losing to Pitt in 1983. Utah State comes off back-to-back, nine-plus win seasons but haven’t won an opener on the road since 1997 when it beat Utah 21-14. It’s unfortunate that the Aggies return only seven starters this season, the least in the FBS, otherwise they may have made this game very interesting.
7:30pm ET, FOX Sports 1: SMU at #10 BAYLOR: The first game ever in Baylor’s new McLane Stadium in Waco, Texas. The Bears haven’t lost a home game against a non-conference opponent since falling to UConn in 2009. SMU hasn’t won a road opener since beating Rice 45-3 in 1986. This is the fourth meeting between the two former league-mates since the Southwest Conference disbanded in 1995. If you like points and yards, tune in to see the Mustangs’ #99-ranked scoring defense from a year ago try and contain the Bears’ #1 scoring offense from last season.
Monday, Sept. 1
8pm ET, ESPN: MIAMI (FLA.) at LOUISVILLE: The Cardinals will make their ACC debut by welcoming the Hurricanes to Louisville for the first time since 2006. The game is a rematch of last season’s Russell Athletic Bowl, a game #18 Louisville won 36-9. Though the loss of Teddy Bridgewater is sure to impact the Cardinals on offense, the heart-and-soul of last year’s team was its #2-ranked scoring defense, led in 2014 by senior defensive end Lorenzo Mauldin who registered 12 tackles for a loss and nine-and-a-half sacks last season. This unit combined with the resurrection of Bobby Petrino’s offense in Louisville will challenge the Hurricanes to get off to a good start in 2014.