College football is finally back. While Week 0 provided us with a much-needed taste, Week 1 is here to bring you the goods with an array of intriguing matchups.
But before we dive into the weekend slate, we decided to take a look at what lies ahead on Thursday night. There are 16 FBS games to sort through, but we’ve narrowed it down to the best three you should have your eyes on. We’ll also hit on a few others worth monitoring.
UCLA at Cincinnati
Time: 7 p.m. ET | TV: ESPN | Line: Cincinnati -2.5
A year ago, Cincinnati spoiled Chip Kelly’s big debut at UCLA by upsetting the Bruins 26-17 in Los Angeles. At that point, everybody knew Kelly was in for a rebuilding effort in Westwood, but there weren’t many who anticipated the Bearcats being one of the top teams in the AAC. In just his second season, Luke Fickell coached Cincy to an 11-2 record, including a Military Bowl victory over Virginia Tech.
Entering 2019, the Bearcats — with QB Desmond Ridder and RB Michael Warren back on offense and seven returning starters on defense — are considered the top threat to UCF in the AAC. They’ll get a chance to sweep the home-and-home series with the Bruins at Nippert Stadium where they’ll have to contend with shifty sophomore QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson and bruising senior RB Joshua Kelley.
Picks: Sam: Cincinnati -2.5, Nick: Cincinnati -2.5
Georgia Tech at No. 1 Clemson
Time: 8 p.m. ET | TV: ACC Network | Line: Clemson -36.5
Your first chance to see the defending national champions is in one of three ACC games in Week 1. The top-ranked Clemson Tigers host Georgia Tech in Geoff Collins’ debut as the Yellow Jackets’ head coach. On the Clemson side, you’ll see the familiar faces of QB Trevor Lawrence, RB Travis Etienne and receivers Justyn Ross and Tee Higgins. But the defense, on the other hand, will have an entirely new defensive line — full of blue-chip recruits, of course — and a few new names to learn at linebacker as well.
For Georgia Tech, there are a lot of questions. The Yellow Jackets spent the last 11 seasons running a triple-option offense under Paul Johnson. You can’t just transition from an option team to something else overnight. It’s going to take some time for Collins, a Georgia native, to build things from the ground up. The fact that the new-look Yellow Jackets will debut against the defending national champions will only put a spotlight on the work to be done in the coming years.
Picks: Sam: Clemson -36.5, Nick: Clemson -36.5
No. 14 Utah at BYU
Time: 10:15 p.m. ET | TV: ESPN | Line: Utah -5.5
Utah is coming off its first Pac-12 South title last year and is entering 2019 as the media favorite to win the conference crown. The Utes have an absolutely loaded defense, especially on the defensive line, and also have quarterback Tyler Huntley and running back Zack Moss back for their senior seasons. Both Huntley and Moss are coming off injury and will be playing under a new offensive coordinator: Andy Ludwig. Ludwig is back in Salt Lake City after previously coaching on Kyle Whittingham’s staff from 2005-2008.
The Utes open the year in Provo against rival BYU. Utah has dominated the series as of late, winning nine straight. But eight of those nine wins came by just one possession, including last year when the Utes overcame a 20-0 halftime deficit to win 35-27. BYU has taken a step back since Bronco Mendenhall left for Virginia. The Cougars are 20-19 in three years under Kalani Sitake, but looked much improved down the stretch in 2018 with true freshman Zach Wilson at quarterback. The Cougars would love to pull off the upset both to break the series losing streak and to quell some of the hype surrounding the Utes nationally.
Picks: Sam: Utah -5.5, Nick: BYU +5.5
Other games of note
Florida A&M at No. 17 UCF (7:30 p.m., CBSSN): Florida A&M won’t give UCF much of a fight, but it will be interesting to see how Notre Dame transfer Brandon Wimbush looks leading the UCF offense. True freshman Dillon Gabriel will see time at QB as well.
Florida International at Tulane (8 p.m., ESPN3): This should be one of the more competitive games of the night. Butch Davis has won 17 games in just two seasons at FIU and the team has the talent, especially on an offense led by QB James Morgan, to win Conference USA. Tulane is coming off its first bowl win since 2002 and could be a sleeper team in the AAC West.
Texas State at No. 12 Texas A&M (8:30 p.m., SECN): This game will give us a look at some new faces on an A&M defense that lost its top six tacklers from a year ago. On the other side, Texas State made an intriguing hire in former West Virginia OC Jake Spavital. Spavital brought the innovative Bob Stitt (of #StittHappens fame) as his offensive coordinator, so we could see some cool plays from the Bobcats.
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