NCAAF Games of the Week: Week 1 – a dormant rivalry erupts, a top-5 matchup for the ages, and more

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We’re officially underway with the start of the college football season! While a few games were played last Saturday – what’s known as ‘Week Zero’ – all the teams in the FBS are playing this week for the first time in months.

Welcome to College Football Games of the Week, the series from DailyMail.com where we take a look at the five biggest games across the FBS landscape as a part of the march to the College Football Playoff.

These games will all take different priority over the course of the next few weeks. They will not always be ranked teams vs. ranked teams. Sometimes, we’ll feature matchups that have long histories, or even recent histories of fantastic matchups.

This will help get you excited and ready for each week of the college football season. 

The format of each piece will stay the same, we give some honorable mentions, then five games to watch Рending with our game of the week. 

Honorable Mentions

  • Penn State Nittany Lions @ Purdue Boilermakers (Thursday @ 8:00 [Fox], Ross-Ade Stadium, West Lafayette, IN): A fun little matchup between two teams that finished fourth in their respective Big Ten divisions last season. Penn State makes its first trip to West Lafayette since October of 2016 – back when they had a much better team.¬†
  • No. 4 Clemson Tigers v. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (Monday @ 8:00 [ESPN], Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta): The Tigers look to get back on track and towards the playoffs, taking on a Yellow Jackets team facing an incredibly tough schedule. Then again, a sea lion did predict Tech would win, so who knows?
  • No. 23 Cincinnati Bearcats @ No. 19 Arkansas Razorbacks (date/time, Razorback Stadium, Fayetteville, AR): One of three ranked v. ranked matchups this week features a Cincy team taking a massive step back from last year’s team that made the playoffs and an Arkansas team set to take a big step forward and challenge the traditional powers of the SEC West.

Florida State Seminoles head coach Mike Norvell

LSU Tigers new head coach Brian Kelly

LSU Tigers new head coach Brian Kelly

Two mighty programs are in coaching transition, with Florida State in Year 3 of the Mike Norvell experiment and LSU entering a new era with Brian Kelly

Game 1: Florida State Seminoles v. LSU Tigers 

  • Sunday, September 4th at 7:30pm (ABC)
  • Caesars Superdome, New Orleans¬†

We start with this intriguing matchup between two superpowers of the sport in different stages of a transition.

Seminoles fans have been waiting for their answer to Jimbo Fisher for years after the national championship winning head coach left for Texas A&M back in 2017. 

The short lived Willie Taggart era was not the solution and fans hope that Mike Norvell Рwho took the job in 2020 Рcan right the ship in Tallahassee and bring the team back to the top of the ACC and the college football world. 

That hasn’t exactly been the case over his first two seasons, going 3-6 in a shortened 2020 campaign and 5-7 the year after that. If it weren’t for the university still paying the buyout of Taggart, it could be argued that this is a make or break season for Norvell.

A great 47-7 Week 0 victory over Duquesne isn’t exactly going to help things, but a win this week over a marquee name in transition might raise some spirits ahead of a dogged ACC slate.

LSU is beginning a new era under a new head coach. After Ed Orgeron won the Tigers a national title in 2019, he went a combined 11-11 in the next two seasons and resigned after his last regular season game in the 2021 season.

Baton Rouge will now be home to longtime Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, who last went to the national championship in 2013 when his Fighting Irish were embarrassed by Alabama. He inherits a squad with great individually talented players at some positions, but one with glaring holes in others.

The quarterback position is one to keep an eye on. Arizona State sophomore transfer Jayden Daniels has made his mark, but is locked in a battle with redshirt freshman Garrett Nussmeier for the starting spot. 

Kelly knows who has the job, but doesn’t plan on publicly revealing that before this game. Finding out the answer to that question will make this worth tuning in for.¬†

Utah Utes quarterback Cameron Rising

Utah Utes quarterback Cameron Rising

Florida Gators quarterback Anthony Richardson

Florida Gators quarterback Anthony Richardson

Utah is a team primed for a Cinderella run at the playoffs, while the Gators hope for a bowl

Game 2: No. 7 Utah Utes @ Florida Gators

  • Saturday, September 3rd at 7:00pm (ESPN)
  • ‘The Swamp’ / Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Gainesville, FL

A typically dominant team in the midst of a rebuilding year welcomes a team with a great shot at making the college football playoff.

Utah was a dominant force in the Pac-12 all last season, but they were never truly in the national conversation as one of the best teams in the land. Sure, back-to-back early losses to BYU and San Diego State didn’t look great – nor did a midseason loss to a bad Oregon State team – but the Utes won nine games ahead of the Pac-12 title match.

That was against an Oregon team Utah previously beat when the Ducks were ranked 3rd in the country by a score of 38-7. The Pac-12 title game was mostly the same story, but Utah generously let Oregon put up an extra three points, winning the title 38-10.

The nation didn’t truly take notice of how good Utah was until an amazing showing in the Rose Bowl Game against Ohio State. Despite losing the 48-45 shootout, Utes QB Cameron Rising showed off in the air and on the ground before being injured.

This year, Utah is being noticed and recognized as an outside pick for the College Football Playoff thanks to a weak Pac-12 and potential trouble for other teams elsewhere in the country. 

Florida is unlikely to be one of those teams, as the Gators of Gainesville undergo a transition from top to bottom.

After head coach Dan Mullen was fired toward the end of last season, a number of players chose to transfer out of the program – including multiple starters.

Met with a tough schedule in the SEC East, Florida is expected to at best replicate last year’s 6-6 regular season record.

However, the Gators could shock the nation by pulling a fast one over the Utes at home, with Ben Hill Griffin Stadium – affectionately nicknamed ‘The Swamp’ – known as one of the toughest places to play in all of college football.¬†¬†¬†

Pittsburgh and West Virginia have played a number of important games, including this one from 2007 that sunk the Mountaineers chances of playing for a title

Pittsburgh and West Virginia have played a number of important games, including this one from 2007 that sunk the Mountaineers chances of playing for a title

Pittsburgh and West Virginia have played a number of important games, including this one from 2007 that sunk the Mountaineers chances of playing for a title

Game 3: West Virginia Mountaineers @ No. 17 Pittsburgh Panthers 

  • Thursday, September 1st at 7:00pm (ESPN)
  • Acrisure Stadium, Pittsburgh, PA¬†

One of the greatest rivalries in all of college football comes back to life after being put on ice since 2011. 

The rivalry between West Virginia and Pittsburgh has been nicknamed the ‘Backyard Brawl’ given the short 70 mile distance on Interstate 79 between Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Morgantown, West Virginia.¬†

A first meeting between these schools took place all the way back in 1895 when West Virginia beat the then-known-as Western University of Pennsylvania by an 8-0 scoreline. 

Since then, Pittsburgh has been the better of the two teams – leading the all-time series 61-40-3.

Some notable games include a winless WVU beating Pittsburgh in 1961, a massive Pitt rally in the 1970 edition of the game that legendary coach Bobby Bowden called his, ‘darkest day in coaching’, and a match referred to as the ‘Garbage Game’ after a Pitt player’s insult spurred on a Mountaineers win.

But no game was as important in this rivalry than the night of Saturday, December 1st, 2007. That season is widely regarded as one of the best in college football history, earning monikers like the ‘Year of the Upset’ and featuring a rare phenomenon known as the ‘Curse of the No. 2’.

Going into that game, six number 2 ranked teams had fallen that season, including three in a row during the month of October.

On the final weekend of the regular season, the No. 2 ranked Mountaineers faced off against a Pittsburgh Panthers squad that went into the game 4-7 and out of a bowl spot.

On a frigid night in Morgantown, the Panthers were able to upset West Virginia, spoiling the Mountaineers’ closest chance they ever had of playing for the national title. The game is known by Pitt fans as ’13-9′, the final score of the game.¬†

Going into this matchup, West Virginia has a three-game winning streak, with the last game coming in 2011 Рthe final time both teams were a part of the Big East Conference. 

Georgia Bulldogs wide receiver KJ

Georgia Bulldogs wide receiver KJ

Oregon Ducks wide receiver Kris Hutson

Oregon Ducks wide receiver Kris Hutson

A fun top-15 matchup pits last year’s national champs with a team that can rock the CFP boat

Game 4: No. 11 Oregon Ducks v. No. 3 Georgia Bulldogs 

  • Saturday, September 3rd at 3:30pm (ABC)
  • Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta¬†

The defending national champions invite a familiar face back to the ATL in a fun little afternoon matchup. 

Former Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning packed his bags and left for Eugene, Oregon to take over for the Ducks after their head coach Mario Cristobal returned to his alma mater Miami (FL). 

Lanning led Georgia’s defense full of superstars to become the best in the country, allowing under 10 points per game in 2021. He also knows the Bulldogs have a lot of talent to replace after last year’s team saw a high number of players drafted into the NFL.¬†

This unique insight could provide Oregon with the boost they need to upset the Dawgs – however unlikely that may seem.

Oregon has been a school with a lot of transfers surrounding the quarterback position after Justin Herbert was drafted after the 2019 season. 2020 starter Tyler Shough left for Texas Tech. 2021 saw the final college season for Boston College transfer Anthony Brown. Now, former Auburn QB Bo Nix is poised to take the reins for the Ducks. 

It will take a lot to beat Georgia in their own backyard, but with someone like Lanning leading them, it isn’t an impossibility.¬†

New Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman

New Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman

Ohio State quarterback CJ Stroud

Ohio State quarterback CJ Stroud

New Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman has his hands full with Ohio St. QB CJ Stroud

Game of the Week: No. 5 Notre Dame Fighting Irish @ No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes 

  • Saturday, September 3rd at 7:30 pm (ABC)
  • ‘The Horseshoe’ / Ohio Stadium, Columbus, OH

These two historic power houses haven’t played each other that often despite only being separated by 200 miles. Notre Dame and Ohio State share a common rival in Michigan, but these two have played only six times in their history.¬†

To give context, here’s a small list of things both teams rank in the top-5 for in all of college football history.

  • All-time record (OSU 1st, ND 3rd)
  • Wins all-time (OSU 3rd, ND 4th)
  • Consensus All-Americans (OSU 2nd, ND 1st)
  • Heisman winners (tied for 1st)
  • NFL Draft picks (OSU 3rd, ND 1st)
  • First-round NFL Draft picks (OSU 1st, ND 4th)
  • Weeks in the AP Top-25 Poll (OSU 1st, ND 4th)
  • Weeks at No. 1 in the AP Poll (OSU 2nd, ND 4th)

Notre Dame does have an advantage when it comes to national championships. The 11 crowns claimed by the Fighting Irish is good for 2nd most all-time. Meanwhile the 8 owned by the Buckeyes sees them just outside the top-5 all-time in 6th.

However, Ohio State is more likely to win a title sooner than their Indiana neighbors.

The Buckeyes have made two of the last three College Football Playoffs. That includes the time they made it all the way to the 2020 National Championship, where they were promptly curb stomped by Nick Saban’s Alabama 52-24. Head coach Ryan Day has a powerful squad that’s a favorite to win a fifth Big 10 Championship Game in the last six seasons.

As for this game, Ohio State has won the last four matchups against Notre Dame – the most recent being the 2016 Fiesta Bowl. The Buckeyes enter this game as -17.5 point favorites in the betting world.

According to ESPN’s Football Power Index, Ohio State has an 83.5% chance of winning this game. Additionally, the Buckeyes haven’t lost to a top-5 team at home since September 2017.¬†

All this is being used as motivation by the Fighting Irish and new head coach Marcus Freeman. When asked about being +17.5 point underdogs at a press conference Monday, Freeman was unaware of the discrepancy but made a note of it. 

‘I didn’t know that. I’m gonna write that down, you said 17.5 points? Right? We’ll use that in the team meeting today… I haven’t paid much attention to the spread, but I remember that one time we were on (ESPN’s)¬†College Gameday¬†I said “just keep making it go up and up.”‘