Season of Change
The 2020 college football season was unlike any other. The COVID epidemic resulted in hundreds of cancelled games and, in the case of the Big Ten and Pac-12, temporarily cancelled seasons.
After the Pac-12 reversed course, Cal played four games. Stanford played six. Meanwhile, in the SEC, Alabama played 13, including the conference championship game and the College Football Playoff (CFP).
Yet there is no question that this season will be even more unusual—and consequential—than last.
While still in the throes of the pandemic, college football will deal with a host of other major changes in 2021, including: payments to college athletes for the use of their name, image and likeness (NIL); transfers to different schools without the penalty of having to sit out a year; and the NCAA’s gift of an extra year of eligibility to thousands of athletes because of last year’s COVID cancellations
Indeed, over 3,000 seniors from 279 schools took advantage of the NCAA’s largesse and will return to the football field as graduates this fall.
Lurking in the future are two other important changes—expansion of the playoff and realignment of at least two major conferences. The CFP will be increased from a four team field to, in all likelihood, 12 teams by 2026, if not sooner. And the two biggest names in the Big 12, Texas and Oklahoma, are moving to the SEC in 2025, if not sooner.
In this environment of change and confusion, a season of football is to be played. After a mini-schedule last weekend, the season begins in earnest this weekend with a full slate of games. Here’s a look at some of the top matchups (all times Pacific):
Boise State at UCF 4:00 ESPN
Two teams who’ve spent a lot of time in the top 25 in recent years and are most often mentioned as possible additions to the Big 12 should provide an entertaining, high scoring game.
North Carolina at Virginia Tech 3:00 ESPN
A lot of people think North Carolina junior Sam Howell is the best quarterback in the country. In the past two seasons he’s thrown for over 7,000 yards and 68 touchdowns, with only 14 interceptions.
Penn State at Wisconsin 9:00AM Fox
The two teams with the best chance to unseat Ohio State as Big Ten champions meet in a crucial early season matchup.
Stanford vs. Kansas State 9:00AM FS1
David Shaw’s team travels to Arlington, Texas to face Kansas State in one of those made-for-tv kickoff “classics.” Biggest question for the Cardinal: who’s the quarterback?
Alabama at Miami 12:30 ABC
The presumptive national champion Crimson Tide faces a tough Miami team on the road in a big early-season test.
Louisiana at Texas 1:30 Fox
The Longhorns have a new head coach in former Washington and USC head man Steve Sarkisian and a new starting quarterback in redshirt freshman Hudson Card.
San Jose State at USC 2:00 Pac-12
The Spartans, who went 7-0 last year and won the Mountain West championship, want to prove they can play with the big boys.
Georgia at Clemson 4:30 ABC
A huge game with playoff implications between two top five teams.
LSU at UCLA 5:30 Fox
Is Chip Kelly regaining his mojo? Kelly’s team showed signs of life last year, going 3-4 with the losses coming by 6 (Colorado), 3 (Oregon), 5 (USC) and 1 point (Stanford). Last week the Bruins blasted Hawaii 44-10 led by running back Zack Charbonnet, a Michigan transfer.
Nevada at Cal 7:30 FS1
Quarterback Chase Garbers hopes to have a breakout senior year under the tutelage of longtime NFL offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave.
BYU at Arizona 7:30 ESPN
The Cougars are auditioning for an invitation to the Big 12, while Arizona is hoping to bounce back from a winless 2020 season.
Notre Dame at Florida State 4:30 ABC
Coach Brian Kelly has to replace the departed Ian Book, one of the most successful quarterbacks in Irish history. Florida State is still looking to return to the glory years of the late Bobby Bowden.