Yes, there were five college football games last Saturday, but we shall refer to that as “Week Zero” because the true Week 1 kicks off this Thursday night and runs right through Labor Day. It might be the best group of opening-week games in history, and one clearly stands out above the rest.
On Saturday night from the sparkling new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, No. 1 Alabama faces No. 3 Florida State. It’s the first time ever that the nation’s top-ranked team has played another inside the Top 3 in Week 1. The Seminoles finished only 18 points behind No. 2 Ohio State in the preseason AP poll and FSU got more first-place votes.
Since the first preseason poll in 1950, there have only been 11 occasions where the No. 1 team faced a ranked opponent in the season opener for both. The top-ranked team is 9-2, and Alabama is a 7-point betting favorite at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com against the Seminoles.
The Tide, who were No. 1 when they clobbered No. 20 USC 52-6 to open the 2016 season, are always favored, though. They have been in every single matchup since the 2009 SEC Championship Game but one: Oct. 3, 2015, at Georgia, which Alabama won 38-10. The Seminoles have covered only two of their past 10 games as a 7-point dog.
No two-loss team has played for the national championship since LSU in the 2007 season. This year’s title game is at the same Mercedes-Benz Stadium, so the loser Saturday might have to then run the table to reach the College Football Playoff.
Two other schools with playoff hopes are No. 11 Michigan and No. 17 Florida, and they square off Saturday afternoon from AT&T Stadium in Arlington. The Wolverines are 4-point betting favorites despite bringing back the fewest starters in the nation with five.
The Gators, who have lost to Alabama decisively in the past two SEC title games, will be without eight suspended players. The main one is star receiver Antonio Callaway, also a good return man. UF coach Jim McElwain hasn’t named a starting QB yet and says he might use each of junior Luke Del Rio, redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks and Notre Dame graduate transfer Malik Zaire. Florida has covered just two of its past eight as an underdog.
Other interesting openers: No. 2 Ohio State has won 22 in a row over Indiana and is a 21-point favorite in Bloomington on Thursday night; the Tom Herman Era kicks off at Texas with his No. 23 Longhorns -17 at home vs. Maryland; No. 5 Clemson begins defense of its national championship and life without star QB Deshaun Watson at -40 vs. Kent State; and Heisman Trophy betting favorite Sam Darnold starts that campaign with his USC Trojans at -27 vs. Western Michigan.