College football Week 1 preview: Notre Dame, Ohio State highlight opening slate
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After most of the offseason was devoured by conversations focused on the name, image and likeness (NIL) rules, and as conference realignment continues to shake up the sport, Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher put it best:
“It's time to shut up and play. Just go play.”
And while Fisher was referencing his offseason war of words with Alabama head coach Nick Saban, the sentiment applies as Week 1 of the college football season is finally upon us.
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Let’s take a look at a few games to be aware of on Saturday as the college football season officially kicks off.
No. 8 Michigan vs Colorado State – Noon ET, ABC
While Jim Harbaugh’s job is no longer a hot topic, whether the 2021 season in Ann Arbor was a fluke or a sign of a burgeoning dynasty is still up for debate.
But before anyone can begin that conversation, Michigan must first decide who will be under center during the 2022 season.
Redshirt junior Cade McNamara will get the start against Colorado State a year after leading the Wolverines to their first Big Ten championship since 2004. He passed for 2,576 yards and 15 touchdowns and led a Michigan team in a win over Ohio State for the first time since 2011.
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“I feel like it's my team,” McNamara said, according to The Detroit News. “Nothing against anyone, I just think I've put myself in a position that, if I say something, I will be listened to. … No matter what position you’re in, if you become complacent, you become vulnerable. I have zero complacency to what my situation is and where I am on the depth chart. If anything, I’m just getting better faster than if I were sitting in the quarterback room comfortably.”
Sophomore J.J. McCarthy will get the start in Week 2 against Hawaii, meaning that the offseason quarterback battle is far from over.
“They’re actually both playing their best football since they’ve been here,” Harbaugh said Monday. “Cade is arguably one of the most improved players on the team. … It’s not a demotion for Cade McNamara. It is a promotion for J.J. based on what he’s been able to do, as well.”
The Rams enter the 2022 season coming off a 3-9 campaign and with a new head coach in Jay Norvell, who brings the “air raid” offense with him to Fort Collins.
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“Our leadership needs to understand that if we want to be different, we have to do things differently and look at things differently,” Norvell said this week, according to 247 Sports. “We’ve had a great camp that way. … We’re going to be challenged as the season goes through. We're going to have our ups and our downs, and how we handle those is going to determine what kind of year we have.”
The Wolverines are 30.5-point favorites.
No. 3 Georgia vs No. 11 Oregon – 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
Whoa, Nelly. We have a wonderful matchup to kick off the afternoon slate of games, with all eyes on Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
Georgia, fresh off a national championship, will face off against their former defensive coordinator in Dan Lanning, who takes over the head coaching job in Eugene, Oregon, after the departure of Mario Cristobal.
“There's definitely some feelings of excitement for me to go play a team that I care about and was a big part of for a long time,” Lanning conceded.
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Auburn transfer Bo Nix is expected to get the start under center for the Ducks, facing a defense that had a total of eight players drafted in the 2022 NFL Draft.
“The skill we have, the skill set that we present,” Nix said at Oregon’s preseason media day, “if we just go out there and compete, we’re going to be really good.”
“I wanted to have a chance to play in the playoff,” he added, “and with my skill set I know I could contribute. And with the guys we have here, obviously we’re loaded.”
Nix will work behind an offensive line that returns all five starters from the 2021 season. If Oregon finds a way to get the upset, it would be Nix’s first win against Georgia in four tries.
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The Bulldogs have a proven commodity at quarterback with Stenson Bennett returning for his sixth and final college football season. Bennett enters the season as the unquestioned leader of the offense, one year after starting the season as the third-string QB.
“I think he just wanted to know that we had his back and that he was going to be the guy and to make it worth coming back,” Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said. “He went through a lot of time here where he didn't get reps, he didn't get quality reps.”
Georgia enters the game as 17-point favorites.
No. 19 Arkansas vs No. 23 Cincinnati – 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Don’t sleep on the least talked about game of the afternoon schedule, as a top-25 matchup in Fayetteville, Arkansas, could be the game of the day.
It’s a matchup between two up-and-coming teams, with Arkansas going 9-4 in Sam Pittman’s third year at the helm, and Cincinnati coming off the best season in program history (13-0 in the regular season) with a berth in the College Football Playoff.
It’s another opportunity for the Bearcats to prove that they belong in the conversation with the big boys.
“I know it's going to be loud,” Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell said. “I know it's going to be a hostile environment. I know it's going to be one of those ones that you want your guys to be able to play in and enjoy, because this is what college football's all about.”
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Fickell is tasked with the unenviable job of replacing quarterback Desmond Ridder, and while he hasn't shown his cards just yet, it will either be Ben Bryant or Evan Prater.
“They’ve got two separate quarterbacks that who knows who’s gonna play,” Pittman told reporters on Monday. “Not positive who the running backs gonna be yet. And they got a new coordinator. So, you don’t know exactly what they’re going to do. But I think we’ve got enough defense in that we can attack whatever we see.
Pittman doesn’t have the same problems as Fickell, with KJ Jefferson heading into his second season as the starter. Jefferson threw for 2,676 yards and 21 touchdowns in 2021 while rushing for 664 yards and six scores.
“It's hard to simulate a 6-foot-4, 245-pound guy running downhill as a quarterback,” Fickell said. “You just got to be prepared for it. You got to be able to tackle well, you got to be able to tackle physically. You know, and you've got to be able to do it on consistent basis.”
Cincinnati enters the game a 6.5-point underdogs.
No. 1 Alabama vs Utah State – 7:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network
Prior to Utah State’s surprisingly close win over UConn, the potential for a close game may have gone by the wayside. Alabama enters the game as 45-point favorites, and with a head coach in Nick Saban, who is determined to not allow his players to look ahead to Week 2.
“I think the rat poison this year, not to bring up a sore subject, it’s worse than ever,” Saban said Thursday on the weekly radio show “Hey Coach.” “I’ve had more people ask me about how we’re going to do against Texas this week than how we’re going to do against Utah State.”
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It could be a long day for the Aggies.
Alabama enters the season as the No. 1 team in the country and the heavy favorites to win Saban’s eighth national title. Reigning Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young is back for his junior year. He loses his top two wide receivers from last year in Jameson Williams and John Metchie III, but Georgia transfer Jermaine Burton enters the fold after catching 26 balls for 497 yards and 5 touchdowns last season.
Alabama has won its last 20 home openers and is 2-0 all-time against Utah State.
No. 2 Ohio State vs No. 5 Notre Dame – 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC
The crown jewel of the weekend.
First-year Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman returns to the Horseshoe — Freeman was a linebacker at Ohio State — to take on what some consider to be the best team in the country.
“Any competitor, you want an opportunity to go and play against the best,” Freeman said. “There's no better way to see where we're at as a football team.”
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Freeman will enter the top-25 matchup with a first-year starting quarterback in Tyler Buchner, a dual-threat quarterback who rushed for 336 yards and three touchdowns in his freshman season.
“I like to have the idea that my confidence will stay the same no matter the external factors,” Buchner said. “I try to keep it level at all times, try not get too high or too low. But I'd say, honestly, since spring ball, through camp and to now, my confidence has just gone up and up. I feel like I'm in a good spot.”
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Ohio State will have Heisman favorite C.J. Stroud under center with wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba becoming his top target after losing Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave to the NFL draft. Running back TreVeyon Henderson is a Heisman dark horse after a stellar freshman season.
“I think coming off of last year, there are no big heads,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “I mean, this team is hungry. This team has been hungry. It's been great. We've got to win this first game. They know that. We've got a lot to prove.
“The nation,” he said, “will be watching.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.