Grand Opening: College football begins with marquee games

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Now this is the way to start the college football season.

The usual steady stream of games from Thursday through Monday night this year includes four matchups of ranked teams and six more ranked teams facing Power Five opposition, four of those away from home.

In some cases, regardless of the quality of the competition, the names alone scream big-time college football game. Alabama vs. USC. Texas vs. Notre Dame.

Since the NFL moved the start of its season to the week following Labor Day in 2001, college football has turned summer's last hurrah weekend into a delightful opening act. But it tended to be quantity — lots of games on TV spread out over five games — over high quality. Most top teams were playing cupcakes.

The College Football Playoff has encouraged teams to play step-up nonconference scheduling since one loss early won't kill a team's national championship hopes. The demands of television networks and fans — who are paying the bills in college football — also pushed schools to accept more challenging games.

This opening weekend is not quite the greatest in college football history. In 1998, eight games matched Top 25 teams. But it is better than most.

The last time four games paired ranked teams in the first week of the season was 2009. The opening slate that year included a top-10 matchup in Atlanta between No. 5 Alabama and No. 7 Virginia Tech, won by the Crimson Tide, and No. 20 BYU upsetting No. 3 Oklahoma at the Dallas Cowboys' stadium in Arlington, Texas.

A third-ranked Sooners team losing in an NFL stadium to a school from outside the power conferences? Houston fans would like to see a repeat of that Saturday.

The picks:

THURSDAY KICKOFF

Appalachian State (plus 20) at No. 9 Tennessee

Vols offensive coordinator Mike DeBord was Michigan's OC when it lost to App State in 2007. Bad omen? ... TENNESSEE 38-14.

Charlotte (plus 40) at No. 19 Louisville

A fun full season of Lamar Jackson at quarterback for the Cardinals should start with one big half and then some work for the backup ... LOUISVILLE 58-14.

FRIDAY NIGHT AT THE FARM

Kansas State (plus 15 1/2) at No. 8 Stanford

Wildcats coach Bill Snyder begins season with 193 victories. Getting to 200 might be a nice way for the 76-year-old Hall of Famer to head into retirement ... STANFORD 38-20.

SATURDAY MAIN EVENTS

No. 1 Alabama (minus 11 1/2) vs. No. 20 Southern California at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas

The thought of losing to the defending national champions might not be so bad for USC fans. The thought of losing to former Trojans coach Lane Kiffin, now the Tide's offensive coordinator, probably won't be as easy to take ... ALABAMA 27-14.

No. 3 Oklahoma (minus 11) vs. No. 15 Houston at NRG Stadium in Houston

The last time the Cougars went into a huge early season game this highly ranked was 1991 against Miami, and it did not turn out well for Houston. Can another much-hyped bunch of Coogs be heading for a similar fate? ... OKLAHOMA 38-24.

No. 18 Georgia (minus 2 1/2) vs. No. 22 North Carolina at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta

The Kirby Smart era begins for the Bulldogs. More importantly, the Nick Chubb era continues after last year's knee injury put it on hold ... GEORGIA 28-23.

UNDERCARD

No. 2 Clemson (minus 7 1/2) at Auburn

QB DeShaun Watson was last seen putting up 478 total yards against Alabama's defense. Auburn does not have Alabama's defense. ... CLEMSON 35-21, BEST BET.

No. 5 LSU (minus 10) vs. Wisconsin at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin

Badgers best bet to stop RB Leonard Fournette was defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, but he is with the Tigers now ... LSU 28-10.

No. 16 UCLA (plus 3) at Texas A&M

Pac-12-SEC matchup could feature the No. 1 pick in this year's NFL draft, Aggies DE Myles Garrett, and next year's, Bruins QB Josh Rosen ... UCLA 27-24, UPSET SPECIAL

EASY OPENERS

Bowling Green (plus 28) at No. 6 Ohio State

Urban Meyer gets to ease in a bunch of new Buckeyes ... OHIO STATE 45-14.

Hawaii (plus 40) at No. 7 Michigan

Back-to-back road trips to Australia and Ann Arbor. The Rainbow Warriors might need a new travel agent ... MICHIGAN 48-7.

Rutgers (plus 26 1/2) at No. 14 Washington

The Huskies' hype machine is not likely to be interrupted by a visit from the rebuilding Scarlet Knights ... WASHINGTON 31-7.

Miami of Ohio (plus 27) at No. 17 Iowa

Kirk Ferentz begins his 17th seasons at Iowa, tied with Bob Stoops of Oklahoma as the longest tenured coach in major college football ... IOWA 45-10.

UMass (plus 35) at No. 25 Florida

The first of three SEC opponents for the Minutemen. Only SEC teams play more ... FLORIDA 56-13.

SUNDAY SHOWDOWN

No. 10 Notre Dame (minus 3) at Texas

The first of many referendum games for Longhorns coach Charlie Strong ... NOTRE DAME 24-20.

MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL

No. 4 Florida State (minus 4) vs. No. 11 Mississippi at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida

Among running backs with at least 100 carries, the Seminoles' Dalvin Cook had the highest average per carry against Power Five opponents at 7.69 ... FLORIDA STATE 27-17.

TWITTER REQUESTS

BYU (plus 1) vs. Arizona at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona — (at)RustyHink

QB Taysom Hill, who was in the same recruiting class as former USC quarterback Matt Barkley, is starting again for the Cougars after two seasons lost to injuries ... ARIZONA 28-24.

Missouri (plus 10) at West Virginia — (at)watt11

It's been a few years since realignment, but this still qualifies as an odd SEC-Big 12 matchup ... WEST VIRGINIA 23-17.

Colorado (minus 7 1/2) vs. Colorado State at Sports Authority Field in Denver, Colorado — (at)MackinnonisGod

An often entertaining rivalry game ... COLORADO 30-24.

South Carolina (plus 4 1/2) at Vanderbilt — (at)BCrawford247

Will Muschamp's first season as Gamecocks coach is going to be a long one if it starts with a loss to Vandy ... SOUTH CAROLINA 15-12.

Western Michigan (plus 5) at Northwestern — (at)MatthewHLeach

Broncos were second in the nation in time of possession per game last season at 34:33 ... NORTHWESTERN 24-21.

Georgia Tech (minus 3) vs. Boston College at Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland — (at)RustyHink

Two teams coming off awful seasons, open in Ireland hoping to change their (wait for it) luck ... GEORGIA TECH 24-17.

Last year's record: 227-88 straight; 149-152-5 vs. spread.


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