College Football 2017: Week 1 Preview (Under-the-Radar Games)
Under-the-Radar Games That Could Influence the Playoff Field
Because it’s never too early to talk about the College Football Playoff! If you want to join the Playoff field, every game matters. But unless you are a Power 5 team that runs the table at 13-0, and so few teams do, then you could find yourself lumped in with several one, even two-loss teams with not enough bids to go around. That’s where other factors come in to play where you hope to stand out. One of those factors is often out of your control….how good your schedule was, and more specifically how good your conference was. So these early weeks that feature mostly non-conference games aren’t just about the elite teams hoping a signature OOC win for their own resume. It’s also about conferences as a whole laying the groundwork for just how competitive they are, and how the pecking order should be when it comes to which 12-1 team is better than the other 12-1 team(s)….because until they expand the field, at least one Power 5 conference will always lose the musical chairs game.
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
While the two Week 1 headliner games (Alabama/FSU and Florida/Michigan) obviously carry the most weight, not to mention viewer appeal, there are several other games that could make a difference in the minds of the committee down the road. So these are my three games to watch if you are looking for some under-the-radar action with potential importance.
1) West Virginia vs VA Tech (Landover, MD), Sunday 7:30pm ET, ABC (Vegas Insider: VT -4)
For a game that features two Top 25 teams this matchup doesn’t seem to have generated much talk. Maybe it’s the Sunday night time slot, or maybe it’s because the two programs typically only have regional appeal. Whatever. But now that Game of Thrones has concluded its season there’s no reason not to watch. This is a quality matchup, especially when VT’s typically stout, Bud Foster-coached defense tries to halt WVU’s Air Raid offense, which will be led by Florida transfer Will Grier.
But this is a big game for the two conferences too. I don’t need to remind anyone that the Big 12 has been left out of two of three CFPs so far. And since the Mountaineers carry expectations of being one of the top representatives, albeit not an early Playoff contender, getting an early win against a quality ACC opponent can go far in forming perceptions. Likewise, many believe the Hokies are an ACC Coastal contender. If they advance to the conference title game, even if they lose against FSU/Clemson/or whoever, a victory here could be as much a feather in the cap of the ACC Champ as that of the Hokies.
2) Texas A&M at UCLA, Sunday 7:30pm ET, FOX (Vegas Insider: UCLA -3.5)
If my first choice isn’t to your liking, here’s another option for your last Sunday before NFL takes over. Both of these teams have been somewhat disappointing the past couple seasons. Both head coaches are likely on hot seats. Both really need a win to start with positive momentum.
This game very likely matters more to the Pac-12 than the SEC. It would take an unexpected set of circumstances for the SEC Champion (read: Alabama) to be left out of the Playoff. The Pac-12’s place in the Final Four is not so secure. UCLA faces all three of the conference’s likely Playoff hopefuls (Stanford, USC, Washington). Unlucky for the Bruins that they draw both North Division favorites (and both on the road to boot). But a nice win against a respectable SEC West opponent should do a lot for the Bruins and the Pac-12 in the eyes of the committee.
3) Maryland at Texas, Saturday, noon ET, FS1 (Vegas Insider: Texas -18.5)
Maybe I’m being a bit of a homer for the Terps in hyping the importance of this game, but hear me out. Yes, Maryland is likely to be no more than a middling team in the Big Ten. But Texas cracked most of the Top 25 polls and some even consider them a dark horse Big 12 contender, despite this being Tom Herman’s inaugural campaign in Austin.
If the Longhorns win comfortably, it will justify many of the preseason accolades and set them up as a factor in a conference that could be pretty deep in quality teams (though Texas’ performance in a Week 3 trip to USC will go a long way in determining that as well). On the flip side, an upset, or simply a much-better-than-expected showing by the Terps could not only raise red flags over the quality of the Big 12, but it builds the case that the Big Ten, and specifically the Big Ten East, is worthy of the hype it’s received.