Games to Watch: Week One

Steve Helwick

No. 11 Michigan vs. No. 17 Florida

Saturday, 2:30 p.m., ABC

The Wolverines and Gators clash in Arlington to open 2017 as fringe contenders in their respective conferences. Michigan leads the all-time series 3–0 and pulverized Florida 41-7 in the Citrus Bowl during the 2015 postseason. Both teams suffered recent hardships but were quickly revived with the hirings of head coaches Jim Harbaugh and Jim McElwain. Both Jims are renowned for sporting impressive defenses — both are top 10 in points allowed and total yards allowed in 2016. Michigan, a fourth down stop away from the College Football Playoff last season, will earn another shot under senior quarterback Wilton Speight. Florida has shuffled through four different starting quarterbacks in the last two seasons but will try to upset the Wolverines with redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks under center.

Appalachian State at No. 15 Georgia

Saturday, 5 p.m., ESPN

Appalachian State famously kicked off the 2007 college football season with an upset for the ages over No. 5 Michigan. A decade later, the Mountaineers have surged to the FBS level and fit the part as favorites for the 2017 Sun Belt title. The Georgia Bulldogs should learn from their rivals in Knoxville that the Mountaineers aren’t scared of challenging premier SEC opponents. Georgia earns an edge over Appalachian State by returning senior running back Nick Chubb, who opened the 2016 season with 222 rushing yards and two touchdowns against North Carolina. Appalachian State owns the 12th-highest win percentage in playoff era but the Mountaineers are still seeking their first Power Five win as members of the FBS.

No. 3 Florida State vs. No. 1 Alabama

Saturday, 7 p.m., ABC

Two of college football’s greatest powers look to be promising contenders for the 2017 College Football Playoff, but one will be forced to start 0–1. Alabama and Florida State will kick off in the brand new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, likely fighting for the No. 1 spot in the polls. During the battle, 2 of 4 college football head coaches who have won a national title will be roaming the sidelines — Alabama’s Nick Saban and Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher. The Crimson Tide ended an otherwise perfect 2016 campaign with a last-second loss to Clemson in the title game but look to rebound with a relentless defense that features star junior free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. Looking to tear up the Alabama secondary is Seminoles’ redshirt sophomore starting quarterback Deondre Francois, who passed for 3,350 yards in a standout freshman season.

No. 22 West Virginia vs. No. 21 Virginia Tech

Sunday, 6:30 p.m., ABC

Although the two colleges sit 250 miles apart, they will head east to battle for superiority in Landover, MD. Both programs fell just short in their impressive quests for conference titles in 2016 and still feature impressive rosters. West Virginia will start junior, and former Florida quarterback, Will Grier (6–0 in career) to face the Hokies. Virginia Tech, under head coach Justin Fuente’s first season, fared 10–4 with an impressive 24-point comeback to defeat Arkansas in the Belk Bowl. The Hokies new starter, redshirt freshman Josh Jackson, begins his college career against head coach Dana Holgorsen’s 3-3-5 defense. This game should be tightly contested and the former Big East rivals will compete for the Black Diamond Trophy which was last awarded in 2005.