We’ve been given the appetizer with week 0, now we’re on to the main course. The biggest and the best weekend of the season is here as week one commences. Please feel free to use this as your sick days, as the couch should get plenty of attention with wall-to-wall action that begins this evening and doesn’t finish until the late hours of Sunday night. Dig in as we have great college football action spread out through these next five days Now, let’s get into it as we look at the best matchups in college football with our 2021 week 1 college football watch guide.
Note: All game times are in central standard time
2021 Week One College Football Watch Guide
Week one kicks off on Wednesday as UAB faces Jacksonville State in the Montgomery Classic at the Cramton Bowl. The Blazers completed a 6-3 season a year ago with two of those three losses coming by a total of seven points. However, the Blazers did secure a Conference USA championship. Comparatively, Jacksonville State had a season that began in September but did not conclude until May with a split schedule. In total, the Gamecocks finished 10-3 with one win against FBS Florida International.
Our Thursday gets started with one of the best games of the weekend, and certainly one of the better Group of Five games. Andy Avalos and Gus Malzahn will be patrolling the sidelines respectively for the Broncos and the Knights this season. Both teams are coming off of relatively disappointing seasons in 2020 as neither team competed for a conference championship in 2020.
Appalachian State played second fiddle to Lousiana and Coastal Carolina last year but still finished two a 9-3 season in 2020. Double transfer Chase Brice will look to find his comfort zone in Boone. The Mountaineer defense returns 10 starters from a unit that only relinquished 20 points per game. Comparatively, East Carolina should have its best and most experienced team with 20 starters returning. The Pirates return one of the best quarterbacks in the AAC in Holton Ahlers.
The Buckeyes will be breaking in new quarterback CJ Stroud as they open the season on the road at Minnesota. Even with the inexperience at the quarterback position Ohio State will bolster one of the best receiving corps in the country along with very good offensive and defensive lines. The Golden Gophers are a popular pick to have a bounce-back season in 2021. 20 returning starters including quarterback Tanner Morgan and running back Mohamed Ibrahim will give the Buckeyes a big challenge.
The upstart Tar Heels are a potential College Football Playoff darkhorse selection this season. However, that season begins with a tough road opener in Blacksburg against one of the most rabid fan bases in the country. Sam Howell is a future first-round pick and a Heisman contender. But, for Virginia Tech this could be a big season for Justin Fuente as the Hokies have underachieved under him. However, a win over a top 10 team can be a big feather in their cap.
Unfortunately, for Blue Devil fans, Duke limped to a 2-9 finish in 2020. The bad news is that they only return 12 starters, but that could end up being beneficial. A 3-1 start to the season is possible with non-conference games against North Carolina A&T, Northwestern, and Kansas so this could be a swing game. After a bowl appearance in 2019, the 49ers went 2-4 in 2020. They have hit the transfer portal hard and this could very well be their most talented team this year.
A Big 10 clash ends our day as the Spartans face Northwestern under the lights. Michigan State struggled to a 2-5 record last year but did beat both Michigan and Northwestern. They will rely on Temple transfer Anthony Russo to jumpstart an offense that only averaged 18 points per game in 2020. Meanwhile, Northwestern is looking to get back to the Big 10 Championship but must do so by replacing 14 starters on both sides of the ball.
Our 2021 week one College Football watch guide Saturday begins right after our Friday ends with a key Big 10 clash between Penn State and Wisconsin. For the Badgers, which Graham Mertz will be under center. The pre-COVID Mertz who was nearly flawless against Illinois or the post-COVID Mertz that struggled to move the ball. Comparatively, Penn State looks to erase the 0-5 start to the season from a year ago. But, can Sean Clifford be the man to give the Nittany Lions a Big 10 Championship?
The Cardinal were much improved in 2020 by matching the 2019 win total (4) in half as many games. But, they must replace five starters from an offense that averaged over 29 points per game last year. For the Wildcats, it was a tale of two halves last year. Will this team more closely resemble the team that started 4-1 and upset Oklahoma or will they look like the team that lost five in a row to end the season?
The venue has flip-flopped from New Orleans to Norman as Hurricane Ida has given the state of Louisiana an all too familiar feeling. On the field, the Green Wave may bring their most potent offense to Norman than they have in quite some time under Sophomore quarterback Michael Pratt. This will be a nice early test for a much-improved Alex Grinch defense. Furthermore, this looks to be the best team that Lincoln Riley has put together as head coach of the Sooners who will start the year with four straight home games now.
The Crimson Tide come into the season with the number one ranking but much to replace on the offensive side of the ball. New faces at quarterback, running back, receiver, and the offensive line will get tested early on in this top 15 matchup. For Miami, it looks like a healthy D’Eriq King will hit the field with an excellent offensive football team under offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee. However, will the Hurricanes have enough defense to keep them in the game?
Another great matchup in the Big 10 could set up much bigger things down the stretch for both teams. The Hawkeyes are a trendy pick to come out of the Big 10 West if they can get past Wisconsin later in the season. Meanwhile, Indiana was one of the darling children of the college football world a year ago. They could have a better team, but a much tougher schedule. Can they get off to another hot start in 2021?
The Mountaineers have steadily improved under third year head coach Neal Brown. But, have they improved enough to make some noise in the Big 12? An early schedule that includes road games here at Maryland and Oklahoma sandwiched with a home tilt against Virginia Tech will be telling. For the Terps, an inconsistent 2-3 record showed glimpses of what this program could be under Mike Locksley. The development of Taulia Tagovailoa will be important for a team that could flirt with bowl eligibility.
This could be a sneaky great game of the opening weekend of college football. Louisiana comes in very respected with a number 23 national ranking. That ranking is deserved for a team that beat Iowa State by 17 and came within a field goal of an undefeated season. Meanwhile, Texas is breaking in a new head coach (Steve Sarkisian) and a new quarterback (Hudson Card) both of those guys will have no room for error against the Rajun Cajuns.
The Spartans come into this game 1-0 after a 45-14 victory over Southern Utah. The reigning Mountain West Conference champions have an experienced quarterback in Nick Starkel with all kinds of weapons to throw it to. Comparatively, few teams have the weapons at the skill positions that the Trojans have with Kedon Slovis, Keaontay Ingram, and Drake London. There will be no shortage of points put up in the Coliseum.
Speaking of points, defensive stops could be a rare occasion as Texas Tech faces Houston at Reliant Stadium. Oregon transfer Tyler Shough will take the reins of a Red Raider offense that is not short on weapons. Meanwhile, Houston comes off a 3-5 campaign in 2020 but benefits from a fairly easy schedule that avoids Cincinnati and UCF. With 18 returning starters, Dana Holgorsen has his most complete team.
The game of the week and our first top-five matchup of the year brings us a critical game in week one. Although, Clemson appears better able to absorb a loss here than Georgia. New-ish starting quarterback DJ Uiagalelei will now have full control of the Tigers offense that only returns five starters. Georgia returns what could be the best offense they’ve had in Athens in years headlined by JT Daniels. Both defensive lines are among the best in the country, so this game could boil down to which quarterback makes enough plays.
Even with it being a small sample size, UCLA looked different in their dismantling of Hawaii in week o. However, Dorian Thompson-Robinson was inconsistent in the passing game and will need to show that game one to two improvement for the Bruins to complete the upset. The Tigers were uncharacteristically average in 2020. However, they were much better down the stretch. Big improvements must be shown on the defensive side of the ball to get back to expectations.
Doesn’t PAC 12 after dark just bring a smile to your face? We have a couple of good ones to finish out our Saturday. First, we have the best quarterback that you may have never heard of in Nevada’s Carson Strong. Strong threw for 27 touchdowns and only four interceptions last year. He’ll face the best defense he’s played as they travel to Berkeley. Cal will have a solid back seven on defense, but can their offense keep up. They must improve on their 20.3 points per game from a year ago.
What better way to end your night than in Las Vegas! Both the Wildcats and the Cougars find themselves in transitions for the 2021 season. Arizona has transitioned to new head coach Jedd Fisch and talent-wise are probably towards the bottom of the PAC 12. Comparatively, BYU must find a way to replace Zach Wilson at quarterback. However, the greater question might be replacing the Cougar defense which was the best in Provo in nearly a decade.
Our bonus action for week one begins on Sunday night as Notre Dame travels to Tallahassee to face the Seminoles. For the Irish, Wisconsin transfer Jack Coan will take the reigns at quarterback but it could be a work in progress for a team that returns only three starters on offense. Florida State is still a work in progress as Mike Norvell is building his program. Even though a starter has not been named, most expect McKenzie Milton to make his debut in garnet and gold on Sunday night.
As we conclude our 2021 week one College Football watch guide with a game that promises to be an offensive showcase. Ole Miss brings one of the best offenses in the country behind Matt Corral and his 3,300 yards from a year ago. But, can the Rebels stop anyone? That could prove to be a tough chore ahead of them with experienced quarterback Malik Cunningham opposing him. The Cardinals took a small step back in 2020 but should hit the 30-point mark with regularity in 2021.