Bleacher Report Expert Predictions for Week 1 in College Football

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    Jarrett Stidham

    Jarrett StidhamJohn Bazemore/Associated Press

    Here’s hoping your couch cushions are comfy, your refrigerator is stocked and your channel-flipping skills are in midseason form, because the 2018 college football season is coming in hot with four Week 1 battles between teams in the AP Top 25.

    OK, fine, the season technically started a week ago. But the four games played last Saturday could hardly be considered a snack compared to the five-course meal coming our way this weekend. It’s not just wall-to-wall action on Saturday. There are multiple ranked teams playing on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. It’s almost too good to be true.

    To help you figure out what to expect, Bleacher Report’s college football experts—Matt Hayes, David Kenyon, Adam Kramer, Kerry Miller, Brad Shepard and Ian Wharton—joined forces to offer up predictions on the hottest burning questions, such as:

  • Will it be Auburn or Washington that picks up a massive early win?
  • How about Michigan or Notre Dame?
  • Will an unranked team beat a ranked one in Week 1?
  • Which Heisman afterthought will burst onto the scene with a big opener?

Our experts are on the case to let you know.

1 of 9

    Jake Browning

    Jake BrowningRoss D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Matt Hayes

    Washington. Two stout defenses, two star quarterbacks. I expect Auburn QB Jarrett Stidham to have a huge season in his second as a starter, and Washingotn QB Jake Browning to bounce back from his “regression” in 2017. (We should all be so lucky to regress by completing 68.5 percent of our passes with a 19-to-5 TD to INT ratio.) The Huskies will run with more consistency, and Browning will make a few critical throws in the fourth quarter. 

                    

    David Kenyon

    Browning has a whole lot to prove in 2018 and about 60 minutes to show it. His effectiveness will shape whether the Huskies back up their billing as a CFP contender, and he must play well immediately. I do believe that’ll happen, and UW’s loaded—and I mean loaded—secondary will slow Stidham enough for a tight Washington win. 

                     

    Adam Kramer

    Give me Washington, although I like both of these programs a great deal (and also really love this game). I see this being low-scoring, and perhaps a little bit ugly at times. Washington will have its work cut out trying to block Auburn, while Stidham must contend with a talented secondary. It’ll be close, thrilling and a brilliant way to kick off a new season, but give me Washington in a win that would really go a long way in improving the reputation of the Pac-12.

                      

    Kerry Miller

    If this game were in November or December, I’d probably pick Auburn, as I think the Tigers will be the better team in the long run. But with Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway gone and both Eli Stove and Will Hastings banged up, I question how much offensive firepower Auburn will have in this game. And against a Washington defense that may have the best secondary in the nation, that’s not a great position to be in. Give me four-year starters Jake Browning and Myles Gaskin in a close one. Washington, 24-22.

                          

    Brad Shepard

    The Tigers are going to win thanks to the strength of their defense. This game will go a long way in determining how far Browning can take the Huskies this year, but while I believe they’ll be good enough to sit at the top of the Pac-12, they won’t be able to muster enough points to beat one of the SEC’s top three teams.

                         

    Ian Wharton

    Washington is the more experienced team, but Browning’s limitations as a passer are a major concern against a speedy defense. Auburn will be comfortable in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and its defense will clamp down on the Huskies offense. I’ll take Auburn in a defensive struggle.

2 of 9

    Shea Patterson

    Shea PattersonTony Ding/Associated Press

    Matt Hayes

    This is a tough road spot for Patterson and Michiganbut also a must-win spot for the Wolverines and coach Jim Harbaugh. He can’t keep losing these big games. (See: Ohio State, Michigan State, bowl games, etc.) The Irish defense is loaded, but the ND offense is trying to find a quarterback who isn’t careless with the ball. Patterson’s ability to scrambleand make accurate throws on the runwill be enough in a tight game.

                      

    David Kenyon

    Yes, though I believe it’s more of a credit to Michigan’s defense. I don’t expect Notre Dame to be successful on the ground, and passing against the UM secondary is beyond challenging. The Wolverines losing Tarik Black to another foot injury is a problem, but they’ll go into South Bend and leave with a win.

                     

    Adam Kramer

    Yes, but I would say the more appropriate label will be “Michigan’s defense leads the Wolverines to a victory in Week 1.” Patterson will eventually do his part, but I could see this marriage taking some time to really find its rhythm. Michigan’s defense, however, should be problematic for a Notre Dame team looking to establish its identity. The front seven will generate enough pressure, and that should allow Patterson and Co. to do enough to win. Oh, and because we’re feeling frisky to open the season: I’ll say Michigan scores a touchdown on defense.

                

    Kerry Miller

    A week ago, I would’ve confidently said yes. But now that we know Black is going to be out indefinitely, it’s a much tougher call. This figures to be a low-scoring, defensive grind in which one QB mistake proves to be the difference. Given that expectation, I will still take Patterson and the Wolverines over Brandon Wimbush and the Fighting Irish by a score of 20-17.

                

    Brad Shepard

    Yes. Harbaugh finally has a talented, strong-armed quarterback with whom to work, and it’s going to revolutionize Michigan. The Wolverines defense already was going to be stout, and now Patterson gives them another dimension on offense. He’ll have to knock some rust off, but a strong Week 1 win will set the stage for a Big Ten run. 

                   

    Ian Wharton

    Yes. The loss of Black is a tough blow, but Harbaugh will use Patterson’s mobility and create easy reads for him to keep the offense moving. Michigan’s defense is arguably the best in the country outside of Tuscaloosa, so Patterson won’t have to put as many points on the board as he did when he was with Ole Miss.

3 of 9

    Bryce Love

    Bryce LoveMarcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Matt Hayes

    SDSU lost defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales to Arizona State, but it still has terrific talent returning from a group that finished No. 11 in the nation in total defense last season. Long story short: Bryce Love isn’t getting 200-plus here. More like 140 tough, well-earned yards.

               

    David Kenyon

    My favorite question from 2017 returns! I’ll say 160 yards. Bryce Love is so much fun. San Diego State has a relatively experienced front seven, and the Aztecs allowed only 3.8 yards per carry last season. But Stanford should actually have a competent passing game (80 yards against SDSU last year) to complement him this time around.

                     

    Adam Kramer

    Can you imagine what Bryce Love would have done last season if he were running on two healthy ankles? I hope we get to find that out this year. For what it’s worth, SDSU’s rush defense last year was more than admirable—allowing just 136.2 yards per game. The bad news is that Love ran for 184 yards on just 13 carries against the Aztecs. New year, new team etc. But that’s not optimal. So let’s go with 198 yards for Love, which would seem aggressive for anyone else. Not him, though. This kid is the real deal.

                     

    Kerry Miller

    When is the last time the preseason Heisman favorite dominated the opener? It almost never happens. Sam Darnold had an absolute dud in Week 1 last year. In 2016, Leonard Fournette was held without a touchdown in a loss to Wisconsin. The year before that, Trevone Boykin was just OK against Minnesota. You get the point.

    All of the 2017 highlights point to a monster game from Love, but I’m projecting a conservative 98 yards and one touchdownin part because I suspect David Shaw will want to use this one-week warm-up before the USC game to figure out his quarterback situation. But if I’m horribly wrong and Love explodes for 225 yards and three scores, I won’t be upset.

                

    Brad Shepard

    The Aztecs are a sneaky-good team that actually beat the Cardinal a season ago. In that game, Love rushed for 184 yards and averaged more than 14 yards per carry. Though a SDSU unit that returns seven starters will key on Love, he’ll still get his. Look for him to finish with around 150 yards and a couple scores, and David Shaw will lean a little more on K.J. Costello in a win. 

                   

    Ian Wharton

    192. The Aztecs have a more experienced defense this year, but they won’t keep Love contained. It’s only a matter of time until he breaks a few chunk runs and his total amasses in a hurry.

4 of 9

    Tom Herman

    Tom HermanEric Gay/Associated Press

    Matt Hayes

    None. The best chance may be Tennessee over West Virginia. If the Vols are solid in one area, it’s defense. If they can get a couple of turnovers and short fields for the offenseand control tempothey can get the game to the fourth quarter.

                         

    David Kenyon

    I’m not projecting a loss for any Top 25 team playing an unranked school, largely because it’s cupcake city. The best possibility is Boise State, which plays at Troy. I’m also interested in Florida Atlantic at Oklahoma and West Virginia vs. Tennesee, though I don’t expect an upset in either one.

                

    Adam Kramer

    I hate to be That Guy Who Doesn’t Pick Any Notable Upsets, but I will be that guy. It is cupcake season, after all, and many of these games are not exactly delightful out of the gate. However, I will say that Maryland-Texas feels like it could get weird for the second straight season. That would not go over well on Texas message boards, but we shall see.

                     

    Kerry Miller

    There are two barely-ranked teams playing on the road against competent opponents: No. 23 Texas at Maryland and No. 22 Boise State at Troy. Those are the only places I could see an upset happening, but I’m not picking either one. Troy is going to need a few weeks after losing Brandon Silvers and Jordan Chunn, and there’s just no way Maryland hangs 51 on the Longhorns again, right?

                

    Brad Shepard

    There are plenty of intriguing matchups like Stanford-SDSU and Oklahoma-Florida Atlantic, but the most worrisome game for a Top 25 foe is West Virginia having to play a Tennessee team that has a lot of unknowns. We know what to expect from Will Grier and the high-flying Mountaineers. But the Vols could be a completely different team than last year’s 4-8 campaign. The slight edge still goes to WVU, but that’s a toss-up.

                        

    Ian Wharton

    Texas looks the most vulnerable in Week 1. The Longhorns lost to Maryland 51-41 in a stunning upset last year, and they are at risk of dropping their opener again. The uncertainty at quarterback for Tom Herman is an issue that may haunt them.  

5 of 9

    East Carolina's Trevon Brown

    East Carolina’s Trevon BrownKarl B DeBlaker/Associated Press

    David Kenyon

    Nicholls over Kansas is a legitimate choice, but I’ll move away from the Jayhawks. North Carolina A&T finished 12-0 last season, and the reigning MEAC champions opened 2018 with a victory over No. 6 Jacksonville State. Look out, East Carolina.

                     

    Adam Kramer

    So after I ripped on cupcake games, let me just say that nothing brings me more joy than watching a Power Five football program pay a team to come to its stadium only to get beaten. And yes, it probably will happen again.

    I think James Madison could give N.C. State a good scare, and this is a game that would terrify me as a fan. The Dukes are not just a fun story; this is a team that regularly wins the FCS title, and I could see another close one here.

                

    Kerry Miller

    I mean, the obvious pick is Northern Arizona over UTEP, right? The last time a FBS team went winless in back-to-back seasons was Duke in 2000 and 2001, but UTEP figures to be one of the worst teams in the nation for a second straight year. And Northern Arizona is typically an above-average FCS squad. Also, don’t be shocked if South Dakota State gives Iowa State a run for its money. The Jackrabbits are one of the best FCS teams, and the Cyclones might get caught peeking ahead to upcoming games against Iowa and Oklahoma.

                

    Brad Shepard

    North Carolina A&T didn’t lose a game last year and already upset the FCS’s sixth-ranked team with a Week 0 win over Jacksonville State. Now, it gets a mediocre East Carolina team in Week 1. That’s got upset special written all over it. Also, watch for Nicholls over Kansas because that definitely could happen, too.

                   

    Ian Wharton

    Richmond over Virginia. The Spiders have to replace quarterback Kyle Lauletta, but the team’s high-powered spread offense will give Virginia’s youthful defense trouble as it jells. The Cavaliers also have to find production from the quarterback spot as Bryce Perkins takes over for Kurt Benkert.

6 of 9

    Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts

    Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen HurtsButch Dill/Associated Press

    Matt Hayes

    Jalen Hurts at Alabama, and Kelly Bryant at Clemson. But by the time both teams are in the College Football Playoff, it will be Tua Tagovailoa at Alabama and Trevor Lawrence at Clemson.

               

    David Kenyon

    Tagovailoa for Alabama and Bryant for Clemson. The Crimson Tide should have little issue dispatching Louisville, but Tagovailoa—despite his national title heroics—is still somewhat inexperienced. For Clemson, it’s a matter of preparing the quarterback who will start Week 2 at Texas A&M. At this point, that’s Bryant. Let him get you to 3-0, then decide on Lawrence’s role.

                     

    Adam Kramer

    So this is a tough one, and here’s why. Regardless of whether you feel Trevor Lawrence is the starter or not, playing Furman means things will be different. That said, I say Lawrence makes the most of his time and doesn’t look back. By Week 4, this answer will be much easier.

    That is also the case at Alabama, where Tua Tagovailoa should start and get the most snaps. Health permitting, this will feel less and less like a QB race week after week.

                

    Kerry Miller

    Clemson has named Bryant the starter, but it’s a safe assumption that Lawrence is going to get an extended audition against Furman. He’ll take the most snaps in this one, but Bryant will still be the starter against Texas A&M in Week 2. And at Alabama, it seems the smart pick is Tagovailoa, even though it’s almost impossible to fathom any other scenario where a coach says “Thanks, but no thanks” to a QB with just one interception in his last 17 games as a starter.

                

    Brad Shepard

    If Tagovailoa isn’t the starter in Tuscaloosa, something’s wrong. Alabama shouldn’t have much trouble with post-Lamar Jackson Louisville, and it could be a strong opener for the sophomore. Meanwhile at Clemson, Lawrence may not take the first snap, but he’ll take the most. This is the perfect feet-wet game for a true freshman who is expected to be one of the next stars of college football.

                   

    Ian Wharton

    Talent almost always wins out, meaning that the two most talented passers will earn the most snaps. And Tagovailoa and Lawrence are easily the best natural passers on Alabama and Clemson, respectively. Both teams’ upsides increase if they have a dynamic passing threat in the pocket, and their coaching staffs will fall in love with the possibilities that each young signal-caller brings.

7 of 9

    Malik Rosier

    Malik RosierJoe Skipper/Associated Press

    Matt Hayes

    The Tigers better win, because for LSU fans, it’s not an upset. It’s an expectation. I still need to see Malik Rosier play well in a big games before I’m buying Miami.

                    

    David Kenyon

    Well, that’s mostly up to Rosier. Miami’s QB was decent as the ‘Canes started 10-0, but he was downright awful to close the season. Yes, a healthy Ahmmon Richards will be hugely beneficial, but LSU can counter with All-American corner Greedy Williams. A couple interceptions from Rosier, and LSU has a chance. But it’s tough to see the Tigers and a potentially mediocre running game knocking off Miami without the help of takeaways.

                

    Adam Kramer

    I actually like LSU in this game. It’s been a bizarre stretch for coach Ed Orgeron—and he needs to win games like these if he wants to keep his job—but I feel like this is a great spot, and I could see a close, ugly, defensively-charged LSU upset. Joe Burrow can play a little bit. I know we haven’t seen him much while being buried in the Ohio State depth chart, but he can sling it. Regardless, that position is in a much better place than it has been in some time.

                      

    Kerry Miller

    I know LSU has gobs of athleticism and talent, because it is always near the top of the recruiting rankings. But I also know the Tigers lost their starting quarterback, the top two rushers and the top two receivers from a team that already wasn’t anything special on offense. Now, I’m supposed to believe that team can score enough against the Turnover Chain to win this game? Please. Miami by two touchdowns.

                

    Brad Shepard

    No. Miami is going to be even better than it was in 2017, and Mark Richt is building a sturdy program in Coral Gables. LSU fans are going to be grumbling about Coach O after this loss, and this is going to be an interesting year for the Tigers in that regard. A green quarterback is not a good thing to have against the opportunistic Hurricanes defense. I like Miami to win a low-scoring affair.

                   

    Ian Wharton

    LSU will fall short against Miami. The Tigers defense will give Miami as much as it can handle, but the Hurricanes are primed to continue their turnover parade from 2017 as LSU breaks in Burrow at quarterback and new offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger. Richt is also more trustworthy in big-game situations, so Miami gets the nod from me.

8 of 9

    Deondre Francois

    Deondre FrancoisJohn Bazemore/Associated Press

    Matt Hayes

    FSU. I don’t think everyone remembers just how good FSU was with a healthy Deondre Francois. The ‘Noles could’ve beaten Alabama in last year’s season opener back before Francois was lost for the season with a knee injury.

                    

    David Kenyon

    Who are the playmakers for Virginia Tech? The Hokies desperately need to discover them, otherwise FSU is putting Justin Fuente’s team in an early ACC hole. Josh Jackson is a fine quarterback, but he’s been more of a distributor than an explosive threat against top competition. If that doesn’t change, the Seminoles roll.

                

    Adam Kramer

    I like Florida State. Virginia Tech is just a tough team to forecast, especially with how up and down Jackson was at quarterback. But I also think we’re overlooking how much of a difference Francois can make when healthy. Now officially the starter, he should do well against a quality defense. I also think that, by the middle of the year, he and running back Cam Akers could become one of the best duos in America. I don’t think this will be a blowout, but I’ll take the Seminoles by double digits.

                     

    Kerry Miller

    I’m picking Florida State, and I think the margin could get ugly. The Seminoles have one of the best playmakers in the conference—in the entire country?in Akers, and Francois’s return at quarterback could be huge. The ‘Noles should also have one of the best defenses in the ACC anchored by Brian Burns and Levonta Taylor. Meanwhile, the Hokies simply lost too much talent from last season, especially on defense. I’ve got FSU winning 38-20.

                          

    Brad Shepard

    Florida State is going to be better this year than a lot of people are giving it credit for in the preseason. Willie Taggart is a known developer of running backs, and he’ll have the best one of his career with Akers. There are also defensive playmakers all over the field. This is a jewel of a season opener, but FSU is going to get off on the right foot with a strong, balanced attack.

                   

    Ian Wharton

    As much as I love Taggart’s fit with Florida State, the Hokies were a tough draw in Week 1 for a Seminoles team that lost its fire last year. Francois’ return from his torn ACL will take time for him to be 100 percent, but luckily Akers is primed to carry the offense until he’s ready. Fuentes and Jackson are a dangerous coach-quarterback duo, and the defense must be respected. I think Virginia Tech will be a little too much for the Seminoles to defeat in Week 1.

9 of 9

    Rodney Anderson

    Rodney AndersonMark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Matt Hayes

    AJ Dillon, Boston College. The Eagles play Massachusetts, and with an improved and stronger offensive line, Dillon might get 250 yards.

               

    David Kenyon

    Tearing apart an FCS opponent won’t be a deciding factor when it’s voting time, but Clemson’s Travis Etienne could have an enormous day against Furman. A 170-yard, two-touchdown day should vault him into the discussion.

                     

    Adam Kramer

    I’ll take Jake Browning at Washington. I don’t know what happened last year with Washington’s starting QB, but I think a win over Auburn would put him in as good of a spot as anyone to win the award. He plays the position you have to play if you want to win the award, he has talent around him and he has enough high-profile games to make an impression on voters. I’ll say last year was a mulligan and he returns to form in a big way, starting off with a win against a great team.

                

    Kerry Miller

    Give me Michigan State’s dual-threat QB Brian Lewerke. The Spartans open the season on Friday night against Utah State, which lost its two best defensive backs from last season. Lewerke could easily at least repeat what he did in the 2017 opener against Bowling Green: 250 passing yards, 3 TD, 69 rushing yards. Except this time, it’ll get national attention because he’ll be doing it for a highly ranked team instead of for one trying to rebound from a disastrous 2016 campaign.

                     

    Brad Shepard

    It’s easy to ignore video-game numbers against cupcake teams, so try not to get too excited when Drew Lock flings darts all over the field for Missouri against Tennessee-Martin. But it’s going to be routine to see huge numbers for the senior signal-caller. A player who could catapult up the rankings with a strong performance against an FBS team is Alabama’s Damien Harris, who will shred Louisville. But will he get enough carries in that crowded backfield to post big numbers?

                   

    Ian Wharton

    History says the Heisman winner will be a quarterback or running back. While Kyler Murray has better odds, it’s Oklahoma running back Rodney Anderson who will be the key cog for the Sooners offense. Anderson has terrific foot speed for his size and will vie for RB1 status in the 2019 NFL draft. Watch for him to run through and around Lane Kiffin‘s defense.

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