Picking the first full weekend of college football

Published 7:41 pm Wednesday, August 30, 2023

The Associated Pres

The opening weekend of college football — the full opener, not the Week 0 appetizer — is a five-day immersive course to get you prepared for an intense and unpredictable 14-week class.

The final is due on Jan. 8. Everybody gets an A just for showing up.

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This season feels like the end of an era in college football, but when the games kick off all the off-the-field messiness drifts away.

Week 1 is light on marquee matchups and heavy on potential mismatches. Twelve ranked teams are favored by at least 20 points against FBS opponents.

Only one game matches ranked teams, but it’s a really big one and easily the most intriguing of Labor Day weekend: No. 5 LSU faces No. 8 Florida State in Orlando, Florida, on Sunday night.

The Seminoles won a wild Week 1 game last year in New Orleans against the Tigers. Neither was ranked at the time, but they both went on to have big seasons to set up this top-10 matchup.

Quarterbacks Jayden Daniels for LSU and Jordan Travis for Florida State are two of the most exciting players in the country, both getting Heisman Trophy buzz. Each side has a preseason All-America game-wrecker on defense: linebacker Harold Perkins for LSU and defensive end Jared Verse for LSU.

The Labor Day weekend Sunday night game has a history of being highly entertaining and everything sets up for this to be a good one. The line, according to FanDuel Sportsbook, is LSU by 2 1/2. Our pick: Florida State, 28-24.

Florida at No. 14 Utah, Thursday

The Utes lost to Anthony Richardson and the Gators in a Gainesville thriller last year. It turned out to be the highlight of the season for Florida and its future first-round NFL draft pick.

Utah seems primed for payback, but injury questions hang over the two-time defending Pac-12 champion. QB Cam Rising’s status after a knee injury is uncertain and his back-up is banged up, too. It is also unclear whether star TE Brant Kuithe (knee) will play.

For Florida, Wisconsin transfer Graham Mertz takes over at quarterback.

LINE: Utah by 6 1/2. PICK: Utah, 24-20.

Boise State at No. 10 Washington, Saturday

QB Michael Penix Jr. and the Huskies have big expectations after a turnaround in 2022. They face a real test in the opener against a Broncos team that is favored to win the Mountain West, but hasn’t in recent years had many of those upsets against Power Five teams they used to be famous for.

LINE: Washington by 14 1/2. PICK: Washington, 35-27.

South Alabama at No. 24 Tulane, Saturday

A matchup of teams that had double-digit wins last year that could turn out to be pivotal in the race to determine which Group of Five champion earns a New Year’s Six bowl bid.

LINE: Tulane by 6. PICK: South Alabama, 23-20.

Colorado at No. 17 TCU, Saturday

Coach Prime unveils his new-look Buffaloes. Who knows how good they will be — projections suggest not at all — but finding out is must-see TV.

LINE: TCU by 20 1/2. PICK: TCU, 52-24.

Other Top 25 Games

(lines from FanDuel Sportsbook, FCS walkovers not included)


East Carolina at No. 2 Michigan (minus 36)

First game of coach Jim Harbaugh’s three-game suspension … MICHIGAN, 49-10.

No. 3 Ohio State (minus 30 1/2) at Indiana

Buckeyes debut a new quarterback in Kyle McCord against a team they have beaten 28 straight times … OHIO STATE, 45-10.

Middle Tennessee at No. 4 Alabama (minus 39 1/2)

Crimson Tide’s quarterback competition will likely continue through at least Week 1 … ALABAMA, 56-14.

Nevada at No. 6 Southern California (minus 38 1/2)

Trojans freshman Zachariah Branch was the breakout star of Week 0 … USC, 52-10.

West Virginia (plus 20 1/2) at No. 7 Penn State

Renewal of an old-school Eastern rivalry that hasn’t been played since 1992 … PENN STATE, 31-14.

Rice (plus 35 1/2) at No. 11 Texas

Longhorns tune-up for next week’s trip to Alabama … TEXAS, 38-10.

No. 12 Tennessee (minus 28 1/2) vs. Virginia at Nashville, Tennessee

It’s QB Joe Milton’s show for the Vols now … TENNESSEE, 45-13.

Buffalo at No. 19 Wisconsin (minus 28)

Badgers debut Dairy Raid offense… WISCONSIN, 42-10.

Arkansas State at No. 20 Oklahoma (minus 35 1/2)

Sooners trying to bounce-back from first losing season in more than two decades … OKLAHOMA, 48-10.

No. 21 North Carolina vs. South Carolina (plus 2 1/2) at Charlotte, North Carolina

Tar Heels star QB Drake Maye gets an early test from QB Spencer Rattler and the Gamecocks … SOUTH CAROLINA, 31-28.

New Mexico at No. 23 Texas A&M (minus 38)

Aggies unveil their new offense under coordinator Bobby Petrino … TEXAS A&M, 42-3.

Utah State at No. 25 Iowa (minus 25)

Drive for 325, the number of points the Hawkeyes need to score this season for offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz to keep his job, begins … IOWA, 34-7.


No. 18 Oregon State at San Jose State (plus 16 1/2)

Clemson transfer DJ Uiagalelei is latest quarterback seeking fresh start in Pac-12 … OREGON STATE, 31-17.


No. 9 Clemson (minus 13 1/2) at Duke

In line with a theme of opening weekend, Tigers are another ranked team rolling out a new offense … CLEMSON, 31-14.


Miami, Ohio at Miami, Florida (minus 17 1/2), Friday — @BrandonOCook.

Only the second meeting of the Miamis, and first since 1987 … HURRICANES, 42-14.

Fresno State (plus 4 1/2) at Purdue, Saturday — @zachdavis_nd

Bulldogs pull the upset in debut of Boilermakers coach Ryan Walters … FRESNO STATE, 27-21.

UTSA (minus 1) at Houston, Saturday — @CapstoneCowboy

New AAC vs former AAC. Score one for the new guys … UTSA, 26-20.

Northwestern (plus 6 1/2) at Rutgers — @KnightFan27

After a tumultuous offseason, Wildcats get to work … RUTGERS, 23-17.


Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at http://www.appodcasts.com