Don Juan Moore/Getty Images
For those who watched Southern Florida and Stanford win decisively but crave competitive college football contests, look no further than a few Top 25 matchups on Saturday.
Despite quarterback questions for Michigan and Florida, the matchup between these ranked teams should whet your appetite before No. 1 Alabama and No. 3 Florida State square off in the evening slot.
An early loss for the Crimson Tide or the Seminoles won’t eliminate either program from the College Football Playoff race, but every school wants to start the season with a victory, especially with favorable rankings in the early polls.
Among the Top 25 teams, which programs take a dive in the opening week? How will the Seminoles replace running back Dalvin Cook’s production? Will Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh see offensive improvement in 2017?
Projected Standings After Week 1
2. Ohio State
5. Penn State
9. Oklahoma State
11. Florida State
17. West Virginia
19. South Florida
20. Kansas State
22. Washington State
Alabama Upstages Florida State in Premier Matchup
John Bazemore/Associated Press
College football fans will see two juggernauts on a neutral field at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday.
Coming off a loss to Clemson in the College Football Playoff Championship Game, Alabama looks to turn the page with a victory as the No. 1 program in the nation. Florida State finished the 2016 campaign with five victories, which included a 33-32 win over a tough Michigan team in the Orange Bowl.
Both programs hope to see progress with their second-year starting quarterbacks under center. Jalen Hurts earned SEC Offensive Player of the Year honors under former offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. Florida State’s offensive line faltered in pass protection and Deondre Francois often suffered the consequences.
As usual, the Crimson Tide will look to grind their opponent into dust with physicality in the trenches. Head coach Nick Saban will likely target the redshirt freshmen on the left side of the offensive line to pressure Francois. Look for safety Minkah Fitzpatrick to pounce on ill-advised passes in the secondary.
Florida State pass-rushers Josh Sweat and Brian Burns give the defense a chance to hang with the Alabama, but Saban’s running back stable will wear down the opposing defense.
Prediction: Alabama 31, Florida State 26
Michigan Pounds Florida in Low-Scoring Opener
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Both ranked within the Top 25, No. 11 Michigan and No. 17 Florida start the season with uncertainties at quarterback. Though, Free Press reporter Nick Baumgardner expects Wilton Speight to start on September 2.
“He knows what it takes to survive this,” Baumgardner wrote. “He understands what Harbaugh wants from his starters: Efficiency, ball security and being able to create something when everything else around you is falling apart.”
It’s anyone’s guess who Florida head coach Jim McElwain names as starter, but we know the quarterback will play without his top wide receiver Antonio Callaway. He’ll serve a one-game suspension and return to the field against Northern Colorado in Week 2.
Assuming Speight starts, he’ll attack the Gators secondary that lost its starting cornerbacks from the previous year with some success while mixing in runs for Chris Evans out of the backfield.
Harbaugh will field another fierce defense led by Mike McCray, who’s playing as a team captain. Florida’s offense won’t have enough firepower to pierce through Michigan’s defensive unit.
Prediction: Michigan 23, Florida 20
West Virginia Knocks Virginia Tech Out of Top 25
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
In June, West Virginia received good news about quarterback Will Grier’s eligibility for the season opener. Now, the Florida transfer can put his positive test for performance-enhancing drug use aside and focus on football.
Grier posted decent numbers as a true freshman at Florida before the PED violation ended his season after six games. He’ll resurface with wideout Ka’Raun White and running back Justin Crawford at his disposal. The senior ball-carrier will build on a solid junior year in which he ran for 331 yards against Oklahoma. This year, he must show more consistency in his production.
Virginia Tech will start redshirt freshman quarterback Josh Jackson who takes over a viable offense featuring running back Travon McMillian and wide receiver Cam Phillips. The quarterback-wideout tandem should connect frequently, but the Mountaineers’ experienced secondary will pose a tough test for the Hokies passing attack.
West Virginia ranks one slot below Virginia Tech in the Associated Press’ Top 25 Poll, but the Mountaineers take the victory with a balanced offensive attack on head coach Justin Fuente’s defense.
Prediction: West Virginia 34, Virginia Tech 30