After what seemed like an endless season, dominated by transfer portal discussions, NIL ‘railings’, conference realignment and now TV media rights deals, actual football is here.
We got a taste in Week 0, but a five-day football holiday is coming. Here’s an early viewer’s guide to Week 1 of the college football season.
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Thursday, September 1
Big Screen TV: West Virginia at Pitt, 7 p.m. (ESPN)
Backyard Brawl returns after an 11-year hiatus, and the quarterback matchup is a battle of former USC quarterbacks in Kedon Slovis and JT Daniels. The Mountaineers have lost their first game against a Power 5 opponent each of the last three years.
Second TV option: Penn State at Purdue, 8 p.m. (FOX)
The Big Ten has had success pushing the Week 1 conference opener and this should be a fun matchup with veteran QBs Aidan O’Connell and Sean Clifford. The Nittany Lions have won the last nine meetings in the series; a streak dating back to 2004.
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Ball State at Tennessee, 7 p.m. (SEC Network)
Central Michigan at Oklahoma State, 7 p.m.
Louisiana Tech at Missouri, 8 p.m. (ESPNU)
Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker could build some early Heisman buzz against the Cardinals. Central Michigan and Oklahoma State meet for the first time since the infamous Hail Mary in 2016 gave the Chippewas a last-second victory. Sonny Cumbie makes his coaching debut with Louisiana Tech.
Friday, September 2
Big Screen Game: Illinois at Indiana, 8 p.m. (FS1)
Another entertaining Big Ten opener is the best bet on an easy Friday night schedule. The Illini were knocked off by Nebraska on the road in the opener last season. Can Bret Bielema do it again in the Big Ten? Indiana was the breakout story of 2020 before it bottomed out last season. Tom Allen will try to get Indiana back into the Big Ten mix.
Second TV option: Western Michigan at Michigan State (ESPN)
The Spartans have made the Friday night opener a tradition since 2011, and they are 9-0 in those games. Transfer defenders Jalen Berger and Jarek Broussard will be in the spotlight as Kenneth Walker III’s replacement. Western Michigan running backs Sean Tyler and La’darius Jefferson combined for 1,986 yards and 19 TDs in 2021.
Virginia Tech at Old Dominion, 7 p.m. (ESPNU)
Temple at Duke, 7:30 p.m. (ACC Network)
TCU at Colorado, 10 p.m. (ESPN)
Brent Pry and Mike Elko make their respective debuts with the Hokies and Blue Devils, and Sonny Dykes leads the Horned Frogs into a late night matchup with the Buffaloes. When you first get late Friday night football, you get it.
Saturday, September 3
Big Screen TV: North Carolina at Appalachian State, 12 p.m. (ESPNU)
Mack Brown began his coaching career at Appalachian State in 1983. Now, he returns to Boone, NC The Mountaineers have a chance to play spoiler, and the Tar Heels are looking to bounce back from a difficult 2021 season.
Second TV option: Colorado State at Michigan, 12:00 p.m. (ABC)
Jay Norvell is making his Colorado State head coaching debut, and better things are ahead for the Rams. Michigan begins defense of Big Ten title under Jim Harbaugh. How will quarterbacks Cade McNamara and JJ McCarthy split reps in the Big House?
Sam Houston State at Texas A&M, 12:00 p.m. (SEC Network)
NC State at East Carolina, 12 p.m. (ESPN)
Buffalo at Maryland, 12 p.m. (BTN)
The Aggies open a trying season under Jimbo Fisher against a quality FCS opponent in Sam Houston State. Expectations are high for quarterback Devin Leary at NC State, and they open against an improved ECU program. Maryland’s Taulia Tagovailoa will look to get Maryland off to a fast start against the Bulls.
Big Screen TV: Oregon vs. Georgia, 3:30 p.m. (ESPN)
The Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta has history. Former Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning takes over at Oregon, and former Auburn quarterback Bo Nix could be his starter. The Ducks are underdogs against defending national champion Georgia. Kirby Smart brings a loaded defense around Nolan Smith, Jalen Carter and Kelee Ringo. Quarterback Stetson Bennett also has favorite target Brock Bowers.
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Second TV option: Cincinnati at Arkansas, 3:30 p.m. (ESPN)
It’s a top 25 game in Fayetteville. The Bearcats sent a school-record nine players to the NFL Draft from last year’s College Football Playoff team. Now, Cincinnati has its most important non-conference game on the road against Arkansas, which returns one of the best QBs in the SEC in KJ Jefferson.
Halftime Option: Rice at USC, 6 p.m. (Pac-12 Network)
No team generated more buzz during the offseason than the Trojans, who could carry a top-10 ranking into new head coach Lincoln Riley’s debut. The transfer trio of quarterback Caleb Williams (Oklahoma), running back Travis Dye (Oregon) and receiver Jordan Addison (Pitt) comes into focus against the Owls.
MORE: Take the Sporting News QB Transfer Quiz!
UTEP at Oklahoma, 3:30 p.m. (FOX)
North Dakota at Nebraska, 3:30 p.m. (Big Ten Network)
Arizona at San Diego State, 3:30 p.m. (CBS)
Brent Venables and Dillon Gabriel make their debuts for the new-look Sooners. Nebraska will make the long trip back from Dublin. Yep, that’s the Wildcats and Aztecs on CBS in the afternoon window.
Prime time games
Big Screen TV: Notre Dame at Ohio State, 7:30 p.m. (ABC)
The Buckeyes and Irish meet for the first time in the regular season since the legendary home-and-home series in 1995-96. Marcus Freeman, a former Ohio State linebacker, returns as the Irish’s head coach with a talented roster that includes All-American Michael Mayer. Ohio State coach Ryan Day hired Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles to rebuild a shaky defense. How will the Irish slow down the Buckeyes’ high-powered offense that features Heisman contenders CJ Stroud and Jaxon Smith-Njigba?
BENDER: The Big Ten should stop playing Notre Dame
Second TV option: Utah at Florida, 7 p.m. (ESPN)
Billy Napier makes his Florida debut, but it’s not easy maturing in The Swamp. Utah, the defending Pac-12 champion, is a CFP contender with a roster that features quarterback Cam Rising with a strong running game and defense. This is a big game for Kyle Whittingham, the Utes and the Pac-12. Will quarterback Anthony Richardson counter with a strong opening statement for the Gators?
Halftime Option: Utah State at Alabama, 7:30 p.m. (SEC Network)
The Crimson Tide aren’t in one of those neutral-site openers this year under Nick Saban. Instead, the Crimson Tide will be at home. Heisman Trophy contenders Bryce Young and Will Anderson are part of another loaded car. Saban will not take these Aggies (or any Aggies for that matter) lightly. Utah State won the Mountain West Conference in 2021 under Blake Anderson.
UL-Monroe at Texas, 8 p.m.
Memphis at Mississippi State, 7:30 p.m. (ESPNU)
Boise State at Oregon State, 10:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Speaking of Texas, all eyes will be on Quinn Ewers against UL-Monroe. Memphis defeated Mississippi State 31-29 last season. Will the last six minutes be crazy? The Broncos and Beavers close out Saturday’s schedule with that late-night fixture.
Sunday, September 4
Big Screen TV: Florida State vs. LSU, 7:30 p.m. (ABC)
Brian Kelly makes his LSU debut at Caesars Superdome in New Orleans. Will Arizona State transfer Jayden Daniels be the starting quarterback? The Seminoles started 0-2 in Mike Norvell’s first season and 0-4 last year. Florida State hasn’t won their opener since 2016.
Monday, September 5
Big Screen TV: Clemson vs. Georgia Tech, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN)
This Labor Day game is at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The Tigers needed a goal line position to go 14-8 against the Yellow Jackets in 2021. Clemson has won its last seven meetings and all eyes will be on DJ Uiagalelei to see what has changed after a season inconsistent of 2021.