Ok, we can say it and really mean it now: college football is back! Week 0 is great but now the big boys get in on the action and the games take on more importance. Now the games are super real and the stakes are high. But overall we can all agree that football is back and the world is a much better place because of it. All games are listed in chronological order and all times listed are Central Time. All rankings reflect the most recent AP Poll. And remember, if your team doesn’t make this list, it’s only because I hate them. Here are the games to watch in Week 1.
Thursday August 30
Northwestern @ Purdue
Ross-Ade Stadium – West Lafayette, IN
Why you should watch: It’s the first big game on the first big night of college football season. It’s the only Power 5 vs. Power 5 matchup of the night. Both teams won a bowl game last year and figure to be trending upwards this year. Purdue coach Jeff Brohm typically does well in Thursday night opening games.
Friday August 31
Western Kentucky @ #4 Wisconsin
Camp Randall Stadium – Madison, WI
Why you should watch: Of all the meh type games on Friday night this is probably one of the best of the bunch. Wisconsin has been a consistent 10 or 11 win team the last few years and Western Kentucky has gone ton bowl games four straight years and five of the last six.
San Diego State @ #13 Stanford
Stanford Stadium – Palo Alto, CA
Why you should watch: San Diego State pulled the upset over Stanford last year in San Diego but now comes the return trip to Palo Alto. The Aztecs have been one of the best teams from the Group of 5 the last several years and Stanford has been among the most consistent Power 5 teams.
Saturday September 1
FAU @ #7 Oklahoma
Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium – Norman, OK
Why you should watch: An Oklahoma team that won 12 games last year and an FAU team that won 11 games last year? Check. Two good coaches in Lincoln Riley and Lane Kiffin? Check. Gus Johnson calling the game? Check. What else do you need?
Ole Miss vs. Texas Tech*
NRG Stadium – Houston, TX
Why you should watch: Two Power 5 teams squaring off to start the season is never a bad thing. This game figures to be a track meet as both teams figure to have very high octane offenses and porous defenses. The only thing detracting from this game is that it’s at a neutral site instead of a home and home scenario.
#6 Washington vs. #9 Auburn*
Mercedes-Benz Stadium – Atlanta, GA
Why you should watch: Massive implications for the College Football Playoff are on the line in this one. A loss for either team is going to be very difficult to overcome because Auburn doesn’t figure to be any better than the 3rd best team in the SEC and a loss to them would really hurt Washington’s resume while a loss for Auburn would likely leave them with at least three losses on the year. Fun fact: this will be Auburn’s third consecutive game at the new stadium in Atlanta. They lost the SEC Championship Game to Georgia in December and followed that up with a loss to UCF in the Peach Bowl in January.
#17 West Virginia vs. Tennessee*
Bank of America Stadium – Charlotte, NC
Why you should watch: This is another game that everybody circled over the summer when looking at Week 1. Two Power 5 teams but again the neutral site hurts the matchup. West Virginia has possibly the best QB in the country with Will Grier, whom Tennessee fans are all too familiar with after he led Florida to victory against the Vols in 2015. How will Tennessee look in year 1 under new coach Jeremy Pruitt? (I think it’s safe to say that the Team 121 trash can will not be making an appearance).
#14 Michigan @ #12 Notre Dame
Notre Dame Stadium – South Bend, IN
Why you should watch: The unquestioned biggest game of the week. It’s between two of the biggest programs in the history of college football. College GameDay will be in South Bend for the first time since 2012. You never really want to say that a week 1 game is a must win, but this game feels like a must win for both teams because of the pressure on each coach. Brian Kelly routinely fails in big games for the Irish and the natives are starting to get a bit restless. Meanwhile, Jim Harbaugh has yet to finish higher than 3rd in his division and has a very bad track record against Michigan’s traditional rivals (going just a combined 1-5 against Michigan State and Ohio State) and Notre Dame certainly counts as a big rival for the Wolverines.
#1 Alabama vs. Louisville*
Camping World Stadium – Orlando, FL
Why you should watch: Two Power 5 programs squaring off, but again the neutral site kills some of the vibe. Obviously Alabama has been the most dominant team in college football over the last decade and is the reigning national champions. Meanwhile, Louisville has lost Lamar Jackson to the NFL Draft but that hasn’t stopped a number of the Louisville players from popping off and saying that they can and will beat Alabama. Even Bobby Petrino has gotten in on it. You can bet your bottom dollar than Nick Saban is just drinking all of that in and smiling.
Sunday September 2
#8 Miami (FL) vs. #25 LSU*
AT&T Stadium – Arlington, TX
Why you should watch: Two big time programs playing a neutral site game but at least this one is at Jerry World, which does already have something of a tradition of hosting college football games. A loss for either team would be a huge blow going forward. Miami surprised everybody last year and won 10 games for the first time since 2003 and made the fashion statement of the year with the debut of the dreaded Turnover Chain. LSU meanwhile is starting to realize that Ed Orgeron is not the Cajun genius they had hoped he was (he lost games to Mississippi State, Troy and Notre Dame last year and has had a mass exodus of QBs out of the program this offseason).
Monday September 3
#20 Virginia Tech @ #19 Florida State
Doak Campbell Stadium – Tallahassee, FL
Why you should watch: It’s the traditional Labor Day game. And over the last few years the Labor Day game has typically been one of the best of the opening weekend (Tennessee’s OT win over Georgia Tech last year, Florida State’s comeback against Ole Miss in 2016, Ohio State’s title defense at Virginia Tech in 2015 or Louisville’s ACC debut against Miami in 2014). Florida State figures to have a rebuilding year this season with a new coach and Virginia Tech appears to be ahead of schedule under Justin Fuente. But Doak Campbell is a tough place to get a win.