It’s one of the best kickoff weekends ever in college football, and the LWOS CFB team is on hand to offer their previews and predictions for the five biggest matchups of week 1. Traditional powerhouses Florida and Michigan face off Saturday afternoon, Florida State and Alabama are facing off in a potential preview of the College Football Playoff, West Virginia faces rival Virginia Tech in a battle for bragging rights, and possibly more, the PAC-12 and SEC will face off as UCLA takes on Texas A&M, and the ACC and SEC will clash as Tennessee and Georgia Tech get a nationally relevant game on Monday night. Our panel of Steen Kirby, Yesh Ginsburg, John Bava, Mike Loveall, and Bret Margolies are on hand to preview all the action.
#11 Michigan vs. #17 Florida (Saturday 3:30 P.M. in Arlington, TX)
Line: Michigan by 4
Steen: Florida was already having to break in some new players, starting with the quarterback position, but the additional chaos of multiple suspensions this week only makes the task in front of the Gators even more daunting. Antonio Callaway is out, and he’s their biggest offensive weapon on a given Saturday. Michigan replaces a lot too, but Harbaugh has recruited well, and running back Chris Evans should be able to bang away in the backfield. Michigan 24, Florida 14
Yesh: It’s been two full seasons, but I can’t help but think back to Michigan’s dominant win over Florida in the Gator Bowl. Michigan was physically more dominant in that game and has only gotten faster and bulkier under John Harbaugh. Florida can hang in the trenches with almost all of their opponents, but I can’t see it against Michigan. Without a clear quarterback, Florida will have way too much trouble moving the ball all game.
Michigan 31, Florida 14
Mike: The battle of the invisible rosters. Jim Harbaugh and Jim McElwain have both played coy with their starting quarterbacks. Of course, Harbaugh has played games with his entire roster. This match-up might not have the headlines, but it’s certainly the opening game that has the most questions. Which, of course, probably makes it the toughest call of the weekend. This is Harbaugh’s first team with all of his players. Michigan answers the most questions in Dallas. Michigan 27, Florida 20
John: Believe it or not, these two storied programs have never faced off during the regular season. All three of their previous meetings took place in bowls, the most recent being Michigan’s 41-7 shellacking of the Gators in the Citrus Bowl on January 1, 2016.
The Wolverines must find a way to replace a significant amount of departing talent. All in all, 11 players were taken in the 2017 NFL Draft, a program record. But that leaves just five returning starters on both sides of the ball, including just one on defense. Still, Jim Harbaugh’s last two recruiting classes were top five according to Rivals.com so UM should be able to reload fairly seamlessly.
Much like Harbaugh with Michigan, Jim McElwain is entering his third season as Gators head coach. During his tenure, he’s continued to deal with uncertainty at quarterback and 2017 is no different. He still has yet to name a starter for Saturday’s clash in Arlington. But Luke Del Rio, Felipe Franks and graduate transfer Malik Zaire are all in the running.
You never want to have question marks at quarterbacks heading into such a tough game, and that may give Michigan the edge in this one. Michigan 34, Florida 27
Brett: Going in, Florida has revenge on their minds after the 41-7 loss in the Citrus Bowl in 2015. It’s going to be tough with all the suspensions, but the Gators are primed for a big season behind Felipe Franks. Look for WR Brandon Powell, and Lamical Perrine to step up in the absence of Antonio Callaway, and Jordan Scarlett. Florida 30, Michigan 24
#3 Florida State vs. #1 Alabama (Saturday 8:00 P.M. in Atlanta, GA)
Line: Alabama by 7
Steen: Both teams defenses are stacked, and I see this clash of titans coming down quarterback play. Both Deondre Francois, FSU’s tough as nails signal caller, and the shifty Jalen Hurts have a year of snaps under their belt and had solid debut seasons. They are back for more and whichever QB takes advantage of the limited opportunities that the secondaries they are facing will present, will probably win his team the game. Nick Saban is the best coach in America for a reason though, and his teams come out to play starting in week 1. Alabama 31, Florida State 17
Yesh: I don’t know if Florida State will win this, but this game will be close. This will be Nick Saban’s worst defense at Alabama since 2008 (not that that’s saying much), and aside from Minkah Fitzpatrick, good quarterbacks will be able to exploit this Alabama secondary. Florida State has the quarterback and receivers to take advantage of Alabama’s weaknesses. The only question is whether Florida State’s offensive line can hold off Alabama long enough to give Deondre Francois time. I’m guessing no.
Alabama 28, Florida State 24
Mike: The Crimson Tide start the season atop almost everyone’s list yet again. But there doesn’t seem to be the same dominance around this team. The Tide’s offense struggled at times, and without Lane Kiffin around, there is a question about Jalen Hurts’ development. The Tide lose a ton of talent on defense, and everyone knows that mobile quarterbacks like Deondre Francois have been the achilles heel for Saban defenses. The Seminoles should have a dominant defense, especially at linebacker. Is this the first step on another march to the CFP, or is this the first stumble of the fall of Rome? Florida State 31, Alabama 20
John: The first college football game at super state-of-the-art Mercedes-Benz Stadium is a mouth-watering clash between two teams expected to contend for the title at year’s end even if they end up losing here. This is just the fifth all-time meeting between these two programs located a mere 300 miles away from each other. Florida State’s lone win in the series came in the most recent game back in 2007.
Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide find themselves as the preseason number one for the second straight season. They return a dual-threat sensation in quarterback Jalen Hurts and a running back in Bo Scarbrough who came on big-time late in the year. Hurts is certainly in the conversation for the Heisman, but watch out for Minkah Fitzpatrick. If there’s any defensive player capable of putting together a Heisman caliber campaign, it’s the ball-hawking safety who finished with six interceptions and two pick sixes last year.
#22 West Virginia vs. #21 Virginia Tech (Sunday 7:30 P.M. in Landover, MD)
Line: Virginia Tech by 4.5
Steen: Virginia Tech as a strong defense, but West Virginia probably has a slight talent edge. Virginia Tech has multiple options at QB and a young receiving corps overall. West Virginia has an explosive offense, and a talented transfer in Will Grier to lead it. West Virginia will leave D.C. the happy team. West Virginia 41, Virginia Tech 35
Yesh: I’m really not positive what to do with either team this season. Virginia Tech is replacing a lot, but Justin Fuente has earned the benefit of the doubt. West Virginia has weapons all over the offense, but I don’t think that Florida transfer Will Grier is the right guy to lead an “air raid” style attack.
Virginia Tech 34, West Virginia 21
Mike: West Virginia has started strong under Dana Holgorsen. The Mountaineers will have Will Grier running their high-powered offense, which averaged 34 points a game last season. The question with West Virginia is always with defense. WVU returns only three starters on defense (all three linebackers). It’s the opposite in Blacksburg, where the Hokies have started slow in the last few years and have question marks on offense. Bud Foster’s defense has had some issues with similar offenses in the past. Look for this to be a high scoring opener. Virginia Tech 38, West Virginia 35
John: This is the 52nd meeting between the Hokies and Mountaineers, who both were part of the Big East from 1991-2003. But this rivalry, the winner of which gets the Black Diamond Trophy, has been on hiatus since 2005. Though West Virginia leads the overall series, they have just three wins over VT since 1994.
UCLA vs. Texas A&M (Sunday 7:30 P.M. in Pasadena, CA)
Line: UCLA by 3.5
Steen: A&M usually starts hot and finishes cold, while UCLA has underachieved despite having the talent and facilities to win their conference at a minimum. Josh Rosen would like to do more with his career prior to the NFL than fellow PAC-12 QB (and #1 NFL draft pick) Jared Goff did at Cal, and I have a feeling he’ll be hungry this year to make a push. Both coaches face pressure and this will be a hard fought game, but I’ll back UCLA’s talent. UCLA 30, Texas A&M 24
Yesh: I don’t know what to do with this game either. UCLA has so much talent and has done so little with it the past few years. This game could go either way. I have to decide which I have more faith in–UCLA’s ability at home or Jim Mora’s ability to lose big games. Mora’s job probably depends on this season. For UCLA’s sake, hopefully that means his team doesn’t underperform again.
Texas A&M 28, UCLA 24
Mike: The Bruins lost in overtime last season at College Station. With a revamped offensive line (can’t be worse than last season), a healthy Josh Rosen, and the home field advantage, UCLA should start this season with a win. Texas A&M lost three top receivers, Myles Garrett, and quarterback Trevor Knight. There’s a lot of uncertainty in College Station, and Saturday won’t help calm the Aggies nervousness. UCLA 35, Texas A&M 24
John: Both coaches in this matchup, A&M’s Kevin Sumlin and UCLA’s Jim Mora, are under a lot of pressure in 2017. For Sumlin, it involves getting the Aggies over the hump in the SEC West after three straight 8-5 seasons. In Mora’s case, there are no excuses for another below average campaign with nine returning starters on offense including quarterback Josh Rosen.
Last year, the Bruins made a huge fourth quarter comeback in College Station only to fall in overtime. And they had issues adjusting to Rosen’s season-ending shoulder injury, going 2-7 in Pac-12 play. But assuming he’s back to 100 percent and can regularly connect with an experience receiving corps, this is a team that can make some noise in the conference. A win at the Rose Bowl against an Aggies team with a new starting quarterback will certainly help spearhead a comeback campaign after so much disappointment in 2016. UCLA 33, Texas A&M 27
Brett: All eyes will be on Josh Rosen as he makes his return from shoulder surgery which shortened his 2016 season. He’s facing off against a team in Texas A&M that returns a lot of players on defense from last year. Look for Rosen to be rusty as A&M gets to him and pulls off the week 1 upset. UCLA 21, Texas A&M 24
#25 Tennessee vs. Georgia Tech (Monday 8:00 P.M. in Atlanta, GA)
Line: Tennessee by 3.5
Steen: Tennessee faces less national pressure than they did last season, but Volunteer fans aren’t going to let up in terms of their expectations. Georgia Tech would be happy to finish the year ranked, and will once again look to beat teams that are better than they are with the option run attack. The Tennessee defense will need to figure out Georgia Tech’s running game, but presuming they do that, Georgia Tech won’t score enough to win. Tennessee 21, Georgia Tech 17
Yesh: Georgia Tech has to replace a great option quarterback, but Tennessee has a lot to replace too. The Yellow Jackets were very quietly very good last year. It won’t be quiet this year, assuming Paul Johnson has a quarterback to run the option efficiently.
Georgia Tech 35, Tennessee 21
Mike: Georgia Tech could claim the 2016 SEC East title after beating three teams from that division last season. Will they start off 2017 where they left off 2016? The defense looks capable, with eight returning starters. And the offense returns seven, even after the dismissal of top returning running back Dedrick Mills. Butch Jones enters the season firmly in some people’s sights. The quarterback play, whoever it is, will go a long way in determining this outcome as both teams will be breaking in a new signal caller. The Vols will be thin at linebacker after the injury of Darren Kirkland, Jr. At least Tennessee can prepare for the triple option for more than a week. Tennessee 31, Georgia Tech 28
John: Two days after Alabama and Florida State christen Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Tennessee and Georgia Tech get their 2017 seasons fired up there. This series goes back to 1902 and they’ve played one another 43 times since. But the last meeting took place way back in 1987, a 29-15 Tennessee win.