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The Real is Back: TGIF, it’s officially Week 1
We had fun in Week 0. It was nice seeing college football back on the TV. But it didn’t feel real. Not yet.
This weekend is the real stuff. So during our last few hours to get pre-Saturday thoughts in, I turned to our talented college football team for a wide-ranging Q&A. We talk about this weekend, the entire season at large and something absurd to root for.
Let’s start small. What’s the best game of the weekend?
Stewart Mandel, senior columnist: Well, there’s only one game pitting top-10 teams — you just have to wait an extra 24 hours to watch. LSU–Florida State on Sunday night could have huge ramifications. Both teams could be CFP contenders, but a loss puts pressure on FSU to run the table from there. LSU could probably make it as a two-loss SEC champion, but I’d want to leave margin for error since Georgia and Alabama are still in their conference.
Now we zoom out. What’s the best game of the year, right now?
Ari Wasserman, senior writer: There’s no other answer than Ohio State’s road game at Michigan. We’re talking about two teams people view as legitimate national title contenders, and it just happens to be the most bitter rivalry, which Michigan has taken back the last two years by spanking the Buckeyes.
Ohio State is built like Alabama and Georgia, while Michigan has done a tremendous job of developing lower-ranked recruits into NFL Draft picks. Which one will win out with College Football Playoff stakes? That’s about as compelling as this sport gets.
How weird is this year going to be in light of conference realignment? Should we make a scrapbook?
Nicole Auerbach, senior writer: I’m always pro-scrapbook, so I say yes! But it really is going to be an odd season, the last of its kind considering just how much conference movement will be finalized next summer — in addition to the CFP expanding next year. So, let’s treasure the rivalries and the history and all that jazz.
Colorado will have one of the brightest spotlights and maybe one of the worst rosters. What’s our realistic expectation?
David Ubben, senior writer: We don’t know! That’s the beauty of this grand experiment, even though Deion Sanders and others around the program scoff at that word. The bar was underground when he took over, so the surest bet will be “improvement.” That said, I’ve talked to a lot of coaches around the country who have scoffed at the idea that adding 69 scholarship newcomers in one offseason can work.
But talent is talent, and they’re using a cousin of the Baylor power spread on offense and Alabama’s 3-4 on defense. It may look messy at times. A bowl game would be a monumental achievement, but the schedule is brutal, and three to five wins seems more realistic. And for as much print as Shedeur Sanders and Travis Hunter have gotten, look out for Dylan Edwards, a four-star Sanders flipped from Notre Dame four days after Colorado’s hire. The running back’s blown up in preseason camp.
What transfer makes the biggest impact this year?
Max Olson, senior writer: We put Notre Dame quarterback Sam Hartman No. 1 in our transfer portal top 100 last week, and his Week 0 debut certainly made us feel good about that. It’s extremely rare to find a QB in the portal with his combination of age (24!), experience (45 career starts) and production (an ACC-record 110 career touchdown passes). The Wake Forest transfer was as good as advertised in the 42-3 rout of Navy and is the kind of difference-maker who’ll elevate the program in Year 2 under Marcus Freeman, giving the Irish a shot to win some of their big-time battles against Ohio State, USC and Clemson.
What’s the funniest possible outcome this year?
Jason Kirk, senior newsletters editor: Oregon State, left behind by realignment, wins the final (probably) Pac-12 Championship against the Big Ten’s USC, beats Georgia or whoever in a Playoff semifinal and beats Clemson — former home of Beavs quarterback DJ Uiagalelei — in the title game. The humbled Big Ten (those four words are what most strain the creative license of “possible”) bows before the national champions and extends a long-delayed invite. They decline.
Tomorrow will bring more change: The new “College GameDay” theme song. I didn’t forget about your votes. Our best/most entertaining entries:
- Trans-Siberian Orchestra: I’m all for letting the hardcore Christmas Eve guys do this. We also got a vote for The Tesh Brothers from SNL. Yes.
- Tyler, the Creator: Big fan of imagining how mad this would make people.
- Spinal Tap: No explanation needed.
- Creed and Nickelback: Both made multiple appearances. It appears to be a sign that our opinions of these two are softening.
Our biggest vote getters: Taylor Swift, Chris Stapleton, Morgan Wallen and Darius Rucker. There were also multiple votes for my mother, and one of you rickrolled me.
One suggestion shined above all, though: Bubba Sparxxx. The man has experience doing this exact thing, as he was the theme song guy before Big & Rich. He is a paragon of culture and college sports fan. I hope Bubba is back on my TV screen tomorrow.
For final weekend prep, check out our college football staff’s CFP and national championship picks. I am uneasy with how much love LSU’s getting. Geaux Tigers?
News to Know
Injured Utes roll, Huskers collapse again
College football’s Week 1 actually got off to a pretty big start last night. No. 14 Utah’s backup-quarterbacks platoon was too much for Florida, 24-11. And Matt Rhule’s Nebraska debut looked downright Scott Frost-ian: In the final three minutes, Minnesota scored the tying touchdown and won on a walk-off field goal.
Guardians claim Angels castoffs
Cleveland, sitting at 64-70, decided to take in Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo López and Matt Moore yesterday, a slight surprise. Despite the record, they’re just five games back in the no-good AL Central and appear to be loading up for Terry Francona’s last ride. Also on the waiver wire: The Reds claimed two outfielders.
Vikings ink Hockenson
One lingering contract issue is done before the season begins: Tight end T.J. Hockenson agreed to terms with the Vikings on a contract that will make him “one of the highest-paid tight ends in the league.” Minnesota acquired him midseason last year. Another holdout is over.
The pressure’s on Bill O’Brien, back in New England as offensive coordinator. He’s also a Massachusetts native, so Steve Buckley talked to a bunch of the coach’s lifelong buddies.
It would be easy to call Falcons coach Arthur Smith a nepo baby, but as Josh Kendall writes, he followed his own path.
Who could attempt to top Nebraska’s new women’s sports attendance record? Gotta be somebody in the Big Ten or SEC, right?
The Luis Rubiales scandal is still rocking the international soccer scene. Dermot Corrigan dives deep on Rubiales, the man at the center of it.
Jeff Gluck and Jordan Bianchi pick the NASCAR playoffs round-by-round, including an overall winner.
One last college football thing: Our new video series, “The Official Visit,” debuted yesterday. Max Olson and Ari Wasserman take us through everything to do during a visit to Ohio State. It’s great fun. Read about the show and watch here.
We also have a new podcast out this week: The Athletic Women’s Basketball Show, which features our industry-leading staff. It’s never been more evident that women’s sports are on the rise. Catch up on all things women’s hoops with this one.
(Photo: John Korduner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)