The week's intriguing college football matchups
August 29, 2018 3:00 AM
by Tony Mejia
We’re now off and running in college football with every other team set to debut in games scheduled daily between Thursday and Monday. Here’s a look at those I’m most excited about between now and Saturday, a top ten you can’t miss and should be wagering on if so inclined.
UCF -21.5 at Connecticut: After proclaiming itself national champions following a Sugar Bowl win over Auburn wrapped up the only unblemished season in college football a year ago, UCF turns the page and begins the Josh Heupel era. QB McKenzie Milton is still at the controls and should put up prolific numbers in an up-tempo system.
It’s important for the Knights to supply a strong first impression as they move on from Scott Frost, who left for alma mater Nebraska and took basically the entire coaching staff from Orlando to Lincoln. They’ll be the better team in Storrs, but it remains to be seen whether they’ll be able to cover a healthy 21.5-point spread against the rebuilding Huskies.
Northwestern +1 at Purdue: Two teams with aspirations of making a big splash in the Big Ten West after winning seasons that culminated in bowl victories square off here. Jeff Brohm’s Boilermakers lost at Northwestern last year, being held to just 13 points. They haven’t lost since and are favored but must replace multiple defensive standouts to overcome QB Clayton Thorson if he makes it out there after undergoing offseason ACL surgery.
Western Kentucky +37.5 at Wisconsin: With Jonathan Taylor back to run behind a loaded offensive line, hopes are high in Madison. The Hilltoppers lost five of six to end Mike Sanford’s first season with a thud, losing to Georgia State in the Care Bowl. They’ll play five running backs and are breaking in a new signal-caller, so keep that in mind if you’re tempted to take the 37.5 points.
San Diego St +14.5 at Stanford: SDSU’s star running back Rashaad Penny is now with the Seahawks but there are high hopes Juwan Washington can follow adequately in his footsteps. Counterpart Bryce Love should already be playing in the pros, so we’ll see if his gamble to stay in school pays off beyond getting a degree in human biology to realize his other dream of becoming a pediatrician. Stanford is laying 15.
Fla Atlantic +21 at Oklahoma: Points are expected to pile up here as early numbers have placed this total at 68. It’s Lane Kiffin vs. Lincoln Riley, two offensive masterminds, going at it in a season opener, so they’ll have had plenty of time in the lab to show off a few wrinkles that could overwhelm the defense. The Owls are stepping up in weight class significantly and haven’t seen a quarterback emerge to take the reins. The Sooners are laying 21, so the expectation is he’ll be sharp, and impressive RB Rodney Anderson will shoulder a heavy load.
BYU +11.5 at Arizona: The Cougars are looking to bounce back from their first losing season since 2004 and have chosen Tanner Mangum over highly touted freshman Zach Wilson to lead the offense out on the field in Tucson. Kevin Sumlin has taken over after the Rich Rodriguez era ended and promises to push tempo in order to make QB Khalil Tate continue to shine since he’s got Lamar Jackson-like skills. This is a compelling contest.
Louisville +24.5 vs. Alabama: Nick Saban has another tremendous defense in place, but the Crimson Tide will have to prove it on the field given the roster turnover. Juniors Raekwon Davis and Anfernee Jennings are worthy leaders who should make life difficult for Lamar Jackson’s replacement, Jawon Pass. Bobby Petrino will have a strong offensive game plan in place with so long to prepare for a daunting challenge, so we’ll likely see this QB race between Heisman Trophy favorite Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts play out immediately. They’ve been listed as co-starters. The Tide are a 25-point favorite in Orlando, where rain is always a concern.
Washington +1.5 at Auburn: This one is at a neutral site too and easily reigns as the top matchup of the weekend given the rankings and title aspirations for both. Jake Browning has gotten a reputation as a player who struggles in the biggest moments and took a step back after a brilliant sophomore season, so we’ll see how he is as a senior. The dome at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium puts any weather concerns out the window. The SEC’s Tigers rate an edge since their fan base will help create a great atmosphere and make life difficult for an offense that will lean on elite running back Myles Gaskin. Auburn is favored by 2.
W. Virginia -10 vs. Tennessee: The Mountaineers have the nation’s most prolific returning passer in Will Grier and genuine Big 12 title aspirations, so it’s no surprise to see them as a 10-point favorite against the rebuilding Vols. There is significant SEC talent, especially on the defensive side of the ball, that West Virginia must contend with in order to move the football. Tennessee has entrusted Jarrett Guarantano over Stanford transfer Keller Chryst with the keys to the offense despite a shaky freshman season, so the offense is somewhat of a mystery.
Michigan +1 at Notre Dame: We’ve got ourselves a pick’em here in addition to potential thunderstorms, so I’d wait until closer to kickoff to pick a side in this potential classic. Jim Harbaugh has his best QB since arriving back at his alma mater with Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson at the controls. Unfortunately, talented receiver Tarik Black has been ruled out for a few months with an injury so Michigan will have that obstacle to overcome in South Bend. The Wolverines topped the country in pass defense and will pose a major challenge for Irish QB Brandon Wimbush with so many starters back.