Week 1 Preview: Pac-12 statement; transfer QBs; USC’s start
The first full slate of the college football season brings with it another referendum game for the Pac-12, highlighting a schedule light on marquee matchups.
No. 11 Oregon against No. 16 Auburn in Arlington, Texas, on Saturday is the only game of Week 1 with two ranked teams. It’s a big opportunity for the Ducks and the Pac-12, which has not sent a team to the College Football Playoff since 2016.
Last season, Washington came all the way across the country to face Auburn in Atlanta on opening weekend, and the Huskies were handed a loss that helped keep the eventual Pac-12 champions out of the playoff.
The Ducks will try to set a new narrative.
After a Week 0 warmup, the season goes full throttle Thursday. Defending champion and No. 1 Clemson helps launch the ACC Network with a home game against Georgia Tech that doesn’t figure to be all that competitive. No. 2 Alabama opens its season on Saturday against Duke. The Crimson Tide lost preseason All-America linebacker Dylan Moses to a knee injury this week, which could be a bigger issue for Alabama later in the season.
Things to know as the season starts with a long Labor Day weekend filled with football.
GAME OF THE WEEK
Oregon vs. Auburn
The Ducks are a trendy pick to win the Pac-12 after going 9-4 last season. They have a highly touted pro prospect at quarterback in Justin Herbert and one of the best offensive lines in the country. Guard Shane Lemieux was a first-team AP preseason All-American and tackle Calvin Throckmorton was selected to the second team.
Auburn counters with one of the top defensive lines, led by preseason All-America tackle Derrick Brown.
Tigers coach Gus Malzahn, perpetually on the hot seat with a finicky fanbase, is going with freshman and former five-star recruit Bo Nix at quarterback.
A big game against Auburn would help Herbert make an early statement in the Heisman race. A couple of transfer quarterbacks get the opportunity to make good first impressions with their new teams against far less daunting competition.
No. 5 Ohio State opens against FAU at home on Saturday with former Georgia quarterback Justin Fields running the show. Fields had some promising moments has a backup last season for the Bulldogs, but saw little action when games were in doubt. New Buckeyes coach Ryan Day should be able to ease Fields in against the Owls.
Former Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts gets his first start with No. 4 Oklahoma on Sunday against Houston. Hurts replaces Heisman winner Kyler Murray, who replaced Heisman winner Baker Mayfield. Can Sooners coach Lincoln Riley make it three straight?
NUMBERS TO KNOW
8 — Consecutive victories for No, 14 Utah against in-state rival BYU in the Holy War. The Utes and Cougars play Thursday night in Provo.
11 — Consecutive losses by Rutgers entering the season, the longest active losing streak in the country. The Scarlet Knights open the season against UMass on Friday. Rutgers is also celebrating the 150th anniversary of the first college football game, played on the campus in 1869 between Rutgers and Princeton.
15 — Consecutive victories for Clemson entering the season, the longest current streak in the country. The Tigers will also put a 15-game home winning streak and 13-game conference streak on the line.
UNDER THE RADAR
Lots of coaching debuts that aren’t getting much of attention. Most notably:
— Colorado coach Mel Tucker’s first game is against rival Colorado State on Friday night.
— Mack Brown coaches his first game in his second stint at North Carolina against South Carolina in Charlotte on Saturday.
— Les Miles’ first games as Kansas coach comes against Indiana State, an FCS opponent, on Saturday.
Southern California coach Clay Helton begins a pivotal season Saturday against Fresno State, the defending Mountain West champions. USC is coming off a losing season that nearly cost Helton his job. Instead, he was allowed to overhaul his coaching staff and give it another go. Helton will need to have the Trojans clicking early. Fresno State is coming off consecutive double-digit victory seasons, though has some reloading to do this year under coach Jeff Tedford. After Fresno State, USC faces No. 25 Stanford, BYU, No. 14 Utah and No. 13 Washington, all bowl teams last season.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at https://podcastone.com/AP-Top-25-College-Football-Podcast