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College Football Kickoff Week Preview — Alabama Faces An Early Test

CFP National Championship
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After a light Saturday that included just five games last week, college football formally kicks-off its 2017 season with a full slate of contests over the next five days. Here’s a preview of the most interesting games:

Thursday, Aug. 31

How Many Points Will Ohio State Score?

(2) Ohio State at Indiana | Memorial Stadium, Bloomington Ind.; 8 p.m. (ET) on ESPN

Michigan v Ohio State
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For the duration of head coach Urban Meyer’s tenure at Ohio State, the Buckeyes have been among the best teams in the country (61-6 combined record). That likely won’t change this year as quarterback J.T. Barrett and four of five offensive linemen return.

What’s new? Former Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson steps in as offensive coordinator; you’ll remember OSU lost 31-0 to Clemson in the CFB semifinals last January. Obviously, Wilson, who resigned amid questions of player treatment last year, has serious knowledge of the Hoosiers’ personnel. He is also a sharp offensive mind who’s been put in charge of better skill players than he’s ever had before. Meyer already has his own rep for running up the score, but Wilson could take the brutality to another level.

Saturday, Sept. 2

Could Michigan or Florida Be Out Of The CFB Playoff Already?

(11) Michigan vs. (17) Florida | AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Tex.; 3:30 p.m. (ET) on ABC

Capitol One Orange Bowl - Florida State v Michigan
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So much for easing into the regular season, eh? Traditional football powers No. 11 Michigan and No. 17 Florida square off in Arlington, Texas this Saturday. The winner immediately jumps into the national title hunt, while the loser is likely to have no chance at a College Football Playoff bid. Sucks, right? It’s not that a one-loss team won’t make the CFB field, but these teams are each likely to drop one conference game this year, too. Maybe more.

The Gators announced earlier this week that redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks will start at quarterback, but it’s who won’t play that hurts Jim McElwain’s team: junior running back Jordan Scarlett and redshirt freshman receiver Rick Wells are among 10 players suspended for the game for various reasons, including misuse of school funds. Advantage Wolverines, who will likely start returning junior Wilton Speight under center and a ton of new blue-chip players on both sides of the ball.

Will Alabama Lose Two Games In A Row?

(3) Florida State vs. (1) Alabama | Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta; 8 p.m. (ET) on ABC

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl - Washington v Alabama
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The top-ranked Crimson Tide isn’t coasting prior to the SEC schedule. Fresh off last season’s 35-31 upset loss to Clemson in the national title game, Nick Saban’s team battles third-ranked Florida State in Atlanta’s fancy new stadium in Week 1. The duel is easily this weekend’s biggest, most anticipated game.

Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts dominated as a true freshman last season, but he scuffled a bit in the title game. Hurts will be challenged by the Seminoles strong and quick defensive unit, led by safety Derwin James. If Crimson Tide running back Bo Scarbrough can support Hurts with a strong ground game, it could open up the field for ‘Bama. If not, highly lauded Florida State newcomer Cam Akers could run over a rebuilding Tide defense. Truth: Alabama has lost back-to-back games just once since the 2008 season: Auburn and Oklahoma in 2013.

Sunday, Sept. 2

Which Coach Will Start The Season On The Hot Seat?

Texas A&M at UCLA | Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif; 7 p.m. (ET) on Fox
UCLA AM

For coaches, college football basically has one metric: current wins. Despite impressive past seasons, both UCLA’s Jim Mora and Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin find themselves under the microscope this year after lackluster 2016 campaigns. The losing coach of this Sunday’s nationally televised game will likely be the first to start hearing whispers.

Bruins quarterback Josh Rosen is considered to be among the best passers in the country. If the Aggies haven’t fortified a defense that lost top-overall draft pick Myles Garrett, UCLA could put up big numbers — and big pressure on Sumlin. Mora’s defense won’t be great, but they’ll have an advantage in facing first-time A&M starter Nick Starkel.

Monday, September 4

Who Will Quarterback Tennessee?

(25) Tennessee at Georgia Tech | Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta; 8 p.m. (ET) on ESPN

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl - Nebraska v Tennessee
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Twenty-fifth ranked Tennessee has stockpiled talent over the past few years and it hopes to become more than a footnote in the SEC this season. Of course, the Vols will need a quarterback to lead the offense, but head coach Butch Jones still hasn’t named Quinten Dormady or Jarrett Guarantano as the starter. That could be a bad sign for most teams, but given that Tennessee running back John Kelly will run behind a huge O-line this season, it might not matter if the Vols even have a quarterback for this game.

Georgia Tech’s frenetic triple-option offense won’t have star running back Dedrick Mills, who was dismissed from the team two weeks ago. The Yellow Jackets will need to control the clock and force turnovers to stay in this game.

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