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Most compelling matchups in college football Week 1

Matt Fitzgerald
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The college football season has officially kicked off already, but this week is when all the ranked teams take the field for their openers.

This weekend’s slate will see the vast majority of the country’s best programs and players in action as they try to start the 2018 campaign off right.

Here is a closer look at the most compelling matchups in Week 1 of the new college football year.

San Diego State at No. 13 Stanford

Before the big batch of Saturday games, this Friday clash stands out. That’s because the Cardinal lost to the Aztecs 20-17 last September.

Stanford has solidified its quarterback position with K.J. Costello and features Heisman Trophy front-runner Bryce Love in the backfield. Love easily exceeded 2,000 yards rushing a season ago. With steadier play under center from Costello, the Cardinal offense will be better balanced.

The Aztecs lost tailback Rashaad Penny to the NFL, but senior quarterback Christian Chapman is still around, and SDSU has an explosive Penny replacement in Juwan Washington. He’s smaller in stature, yet runs tough and is the new workhorse who’ll keep the Aztecs within striking distance.

No. 6 Washington vs. No. 9 Auburn

There are numerous matchups within this contest to monitor. It’s the highest-ranked battle of Week 1 after all.

A compelling place to start is quarterback, with Huskies tenured starter Jake Browning and Auburn’s cannon-armed Jarrett Stidham. Browning is more of a precision passer who lacks arm strength, while Stidham will look to stand out on the big stage in control of a run-heavy offense.

Washington can hand the ball to three-year starter Myles Gaskin to take the pressure off Browning. It’ll be tough for Gaskin to find running lanes against a stout Tigers front, headlined by potential first-round NFL draft pick Derrick Brown.

No. 14 Michigan at No. 12 Notre Dame

Jim Harbaugh is one of the best active coaches in all of football. Now he has a viable quarterback in Shea Patterson. The Ole Miss transfer fits the Wolverines’ pro-style system well and could make Michigan a dark-horse playoff contender.

Right out of the gates, though, lies the tremendous challenge of getting a win in South Bend. The Fighting Irish named Brandon Wimbush their starting signal-caller, and he’ll go up against a defense anchored by former 247Sports No. 1 overall recruit Rashan Gary in the trenches.

Wimbush’s rushing ability may be an X-factor, but his lackluster passing accuracy could also lead to costly giveaways.

Florida Atlantic at No. 7 Oklahoma

Don’t be fooled by the lack of ranking for the Owls program. They finished last season on a 10-game winning streak under coach Lane Kiffin. Florida Atlantic returns leading rusher Devin Singletary, who racked up 32 touchdowns on the ground in 2017.

The Sooners have an explosive offense of their own triggered by quarterback Kyler Murray. He’s replacing Baker Mayfield, and has his work cut out to live up to the Heisman Trophy winner’s standard.

Mayfield had 138 total touchdowns in three years as a starter. For Murray, a quality home victory will do to start, regardless of the numbers.

No. 18 West Virginia vs. Tennessee

College Football Quarterbacks Will Grier and WVU should dominate this week

Mountaineers quarterback Will Grier is in the early conversation among field generals who could become future NFL stars. It helps that he’ll have two premier receivers from last year returning in touchdown machine David Sills and sure-handed senior Gary Jennings Jr.

The Volunteers have a new head coach in Jeremy Pruitt. Facing West Virginia’s high-octane offense threatens to be an early setback in his bid to help Tennessee become more competitive.

But Pruitt was most recently Alabama’s defensive coordinator, so he knows firsthand what it takes to be a top-tier team — and what it takes to beat one.

Tua Tagovailoa vs. Jalen Hurts

Speaking of Alabama, one big storyline following the reigning national champions is their quarterback controversy. The Crimson Tide released a depth chart for Saturday’s opener versus Louisville, listing Tagovailoa and Hurts as co-starters.

Tagovailoa relieved Hurts in the most recent national title game and threw the winning touchdown pass to beat Georgia. However, the dual-threat Tagovailoa is not as dynamic a runner as Hurts, so both bring strengths to the gridiron.

Coach Nick Saban has said both quarterbacks could play in a Week 1 affair that’ll be interesting to watch for Alabama’s position battle, not necessarily competitiveness on the scoreboard.

Ahmmon Richards vs. Greedy Williams

For NFL draft gurus, this is the receiver-cornerback showdown to lock onto for Week 1.

Richards is a potential first-round pick who set the Miami Hurricanes’ freshman receiving record in 2016 with 934 yards. He had a stellar but injury-shortened sophomore campaign and has averaged 18.8 yards on 73 receptions to date.

There’s a reason LSU is nicknamed “DBU.” The Tigers are a factory of NFL talent at defensive back, and Williams is no exception. His breakout redshirt freshman season in 2017 resulted in six interceptions, and he figures to draw Richards most often in coverage on Sunday.

Brian Burns vs. Virginia Tech offensive line

No. 19 Florida State hosts the 20th-ranked Hokies on Monday night in new Seminoles coach Willie Taggart’s maiden game.

In order to defend home turf, Florida State must apply pressure to gifted Virginia Tech sophomore quarterback Josh Jackson, who has the makings of a star. Burns will be the chief catalyst for that movement.

After a breakout freshman season saw him rack up 8.5 sacks, Burns managed only 4.5 for Florida State in 2017. Now he’s up from 218 to 235 pounds, and has a real chance to boost his NFL draft stock against a reshuffled Hokies line.

JT Daniels vs. Tim Skipper

This duel pits USC’s true freshman quarterback against UNLV’s new defensive coordinator, who takes over a unit that yielded 458.7 yards and 31.8 points per contest in 2017.

Skipper has a background coaching linebackers and running backs. His expertise in rushing attacks should translate to schematic creativity, thrusting exotic looks upon Daniels and inviting him to beat the Rebels through the air.

Daniels is successor to Sam Darnold — a difficult act to follow. UNLV posted a 5-7 record last season, yet were rarely blown out. A seven-point, season-finale loss to Nevada excluded the Rebels from bowl eligibility. They’re a scrappy bunch who figures to give the debuting Daniels a tough test.

Matt Canada vs. Tom Herman

Terrapins coach DJ Durkin has been suspended. It’s up to his offensive coordinator, Canada, to get the team ready against Herman’s Texas Longhorns.

Replacing a first-round NFL draftee is never easy, either. Canada will have to manufacture big plays elsewhere in the wake of receiver DJ Moore’s departure. Maryland must rally behind whoever starts under center between Kasim Hill and Tyrrell Pigrome.

After posting a 7-6 record in his first Longhorns campaign, Herman nabbed a talented 2018 recruiting class and fields a stout defense. If he shows out as a spread-offense guru for quarterback Sam Ehlinger, Texas could be in the Big 12 title hunt.