Yesterday, I told you there are a lot of big games in Week 1. Today, we keep it rolling. Here are some notes on three more games you’ll be watching this holiday weekend:
Saturday, September 1
Louisville vs. #1 Alabama
8 on ABC
The Tide’s title defense tour begins at a neutral site in prime time. It doesn’t really matter that their opponent isn’t quite as formidable as you’d expect in a kickoff special like this. Just being able to watch Alabama play football is a treat, regardless of how hard they’re pushed by the competition.
Louisville is doomed in this game. Lamar Jackson is gone to the NFL. There is no replacing such a player. Trying to do so would be frustrating and futile. No matter what the new guy is able to do this year, it’s not going to equal what Jackson accomplished. Then again, as athletically amazing as Jackson was, it never did the Cardinals much good. They sandwiched a nine-win season with two eight-win runs. When you have a world-class playmaker like Lamar Jackson, you expect more. Now, he’s gone, the defense is still in shambles, the conference is getting crowded, and the foreseeable future is not looking bright for Louisville.
Who’s going to play quarterback for Alabama? That’s what everyone wants to know. Truth is, like the opponent, it won’t matter much. Whether it’s Jalen Hurts (my pick) or Tua Tagovailoa under center, Alabama will be the best team on the field. That’ll be the case in every one of their games until the Iron Bowl, and it might even be true for that one too. The Tide never have a stud QB, and it’s never made much of a difference. They win on the power of an unbreakable defense and a fundamentally sound performance. That’s why I say you go with Hurts. You know what the team is with him, and it’s damn good. A bird in the hand is better than two in the bush. Tagovailoa might be better, though, and this might be the perfect spot to give him a go. Honestly, I think it’s a no-lose situation.
Speaking of no-lose situations, I like Alabama’s chances to win this by three touchdowns. That’s not normally their style, but I think this is one of those rare opportunities Nick Saban will take to have some fun and run up the score a little.
Sunday, September 2
#8 Miami (FL) vs. #25 LSU
7:30 on ABC
These are two immensely talented teams playing at a time when there should be no other distractions, two prideful powerhouse programs that find themselves not quite where they want to be. Sign me up. I’ll be locked in on this one. It’s got that big game feel to it.
I’m not going to go so far as to say that The U is “back.” Truthfully, I doubt they’ll ever be able to replicate what they did in their heyday around the turn of the century (or better yet in the 80s). Last year was a step in the right direction, though. Mark Richt’s second season brought 10 wins, a strong follow-up to the nine-win mark Richt reached in his first year. The Hurricanes haven’t won 10 games since 2003. Let that sink in and think about everything that’s happened down in Miami since then. I won’t run through it all. I’ll just say that Mark Richt has done a tremendous job bringing this program back into national focus in such a short time. Now, the question is: can he continue to build upon that positive momentum? Bagging Miami’s first win over an SEC opponent since 2013 would certainly help.
LSU’s got plenty of talent. That’s been the case for as long as I can remember. There’s always something going on in Baton Rouge though, isn’t there? This year, it’s head coach Ed Orgeron entering his second full season with plenty of questions to pair with that talent. A brand-new offensive scheme tops the list. It also makes you a bit queasy if you’re an LSU fan trying hopelessly to forget the struggles on that side of the ball in recent years. Then again, liberating themselves from an unhealthy overreliance on beastly running backs might be exactly what this unit needs to kick into high gear. Expect more passing and less ground-and-pound. I know it’ll take some getting used to. We’ll find out Sunday night how smooth the transition will be.
I’m more excited about this game than I am about any other in Week 1 (except for Michigan at Notre Dame, of course). I don’t know why. It just seems to me that the Canes and the Bayou Bengals will be fired up and ready to put on a show for us.
Monday, September 3
#20 Virginia Tech at #19 Florida State
8 on ESPN
It doesn’t feel natural to be talking about such an important conference game so early in the season. Yet, here we are breaking down two teams that are probably both the second-best in their divisions of the ACC. It’s also cool when teams ranked directly above and below each other get together, even if the AP voters do that on purpose.
I love talking Va Tech because it’s been the same scouting report for as long as I’ve been doing this. The Hokies are in a transition period now, though. Justin Fuente is entering his third year in charge. He’s on his way to leaving his own mark on the program, but it’s going to be a long time before people move on from Frank Beamer. Part of that is because Beamer’s right-hand man and defensive coordinator, Bud Foster, is still there. Bud is still doing his thing, but this year’s team is looking at a set of unfamiliar question marks on the defensive side. They’re inexperienced at linebacker and in the secondary. The new guys will have to learn quickly because those are some of the most important positions on Virginia Tech’s team.
Florida State has to be better on the offensive line. Deondre Francois got injured in the first game of last year because his left guard watched as a blitzing cornerback blazed past on his way to blindsiding the QB. We didn’t know it at the time, but that was a metaphor for the Seminoles’ season. They were never able to sort things out in the trenches and continually suffered the consequences for it. So much so that the unthinkable happened, and Jimbo Fisher left for Texas A&M. That led to the hire of Willie Taggart. I’m a big Willie Taggart fan. He is what everyone thought Charlie Strong could be. Taggart will have to address his offensive line first and foremost. The Hokies are young, sure, but the one thing every linebacker knows how and loves to do is blitz. Bud Foster will let them loose and the Seminole O-line will need to figure it out quickly or Francois will be in trouble in his first game back.
If it were my team (or my conference, for that matter) I would not want this slobberknocker leading off the calendar. Alas, it is not, and I’m more than happy to watch. Enjoy your college football holiday weekend!
All time Eastern