Top 14 storylines for saturday’s college football action

The college football season kicks off on Saturday, with five FBS games throughout the day. With Oregon State-Colorado State being the best matchup of the five, it’s unlikely we see national attention turning to them anytime soon. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth watching.

Here’s the full list of games

  • Oregon State at Colorado State
  • Portland State at BYU
  • Hawaii at UMass
  • #19 South Florida at San Jose State
  • #14 Stanford vs. Rice (neutral site)

We won’t see No.1 Alabama, defending champion Clemson or any other top-10 teams this Saturday. However, we will see two top-25 teams, a possible Heisman Trophy contender, and two Pac-12 teams.  It may not be Alabama-Florida State, but you should care about Saturday’s slate. Here are the 14 best reasons to watch.

This is college football and upsets happen

Stanford is currently favored by 30.5 points over Rice, South Florida by 22 over San Jose State. Don’t let that deter you. There is always potential for something crazy to happen in this sport.

Remember, Stanford wants to contend for a Pac-12 title and, by doing so, the College Football Playoff. A loss to Rice probably ends their hopes for the latter and deals a major setback to the former before any of their rivals have so much as kicked off.

As for South Florida, the Bulls are looking forward to a potential New Year’s Six Bowl if they can win the AAC. They’re coming off their best record in school history, 11-2, and a Birmingham Bowl victory over South Carolina. A loss to San Jose State crushes that momentum and gets new head coach Charlie Strong off on the wrong foot. Don’t think it can’t happen.

USF quarterback Quinton Flowers’ Heisman campaign kicks off

Sure, it’s a long shot, but Flowers has a better chance to compete for the Heisman than any Group of 5 player this season. He was the 2016 AAC Offensive Player of the Year after throwing for 2,812 yards and rushing for 1,530 last season. Flowers also led the conference in both rushing and passing yards per attempt. An opening day beatdown of San Jose State could get some buzz going for Flowers early.

Charlie Strong’s debut as South Florida head coach

Strong’s tenure at University of Texas did not go well. He failed to go above .500 in three seasons, taking the Longhorns to just one bowl game and losing an embarrassing game against Kansas last season. At USF, he inherits a top-10 offense in the country and a team expected to win. He’s also replacing Willie Taggart, who left the school to take the head job at Oregon. In other words, there are real expectations here that Strong will have to meet.

USF could be this year’s Western Michigan

The Bulls finished 19th in the AP poll last season, missing the AAC Championship Game due to a tiebreaker. However, an 11-2 overall record and a 7-1 conference record allowed them to be the only ranked team in the conference at the end of the season. With Flowers under center and Strong at the helm, South Florida could easily improve on that this season. If the pieces are ever going to come together for a New Year’s Six bowl, as it did for Western Michigan last season, this is the year.

Oregon State’s run defense gets a test

The Beavers were 49th in defensive S&P+ last season despite ranking 115th in run defense. This is Gary Andersen’s third year in Corvallis and the goal should be a bowl game. That goal is very much attainable. Oregon State has a strong pass defense and junior running back Ryan Nall could potentially make up for deficiencies at quarterback. However, if they can’t stop the run, it could all go to you-know-what.

Colorado State might need this win

Non-conference games aren’t of the highest importance, but the Rams have a tough schedule. After facing Oregon State at home, they play in-state rival Colorado. After what should be an easy win against Abilene Christian a week later, the Rams head to Tuscaloosa and play Alabama. If they can’t win this game, Colorado State could very easily head into conference play with a 1-3 record. There’s not really such a thing as a must-win non-conference game during the regular season, but this is as close as it gets.

Jake Luton’s debut at quarterback for Oregon State

Luton, a JUCO transfer, was named the starter by Gary Andersen after a three-way competition. The 6-foot-7 Luton played at Idaho in 2015, but threw just 80 passes, four of which were intercepted. With newly installed passing game coordinator Jason Phillips bringing in an Air Raid pedigree, Luton could have a large role in the offense despite the Beavers ranking 112th in passing S&P+ last season. This will be his first test.

Hawaii’s offense has a chance to be good

Quarterback Dru Brown heads into his junior season with something to build on. Brown threw for 2,488 yards on a 62.4 completion percentage with 19 touchdowns and only seven interceptions last season. Though he loses top target Marcus Kemp, nearly every other receiver could return. Watch out for John Ursua, who had 53 catches for 652 yards in his freshman year. Running back Diocemy Saint Justice is a senior coming off a 1,000-yard season as well. Though the Rainbow Warriors may be better than UMass on paper, it’s a long trip from Honolulu to Amherst. If Hawaii competes in the Mountain West this year, it will be in large part because of this group.

UMass has to show some progress under Mark Whipple

Whipple is in his fourth year coaching the Minutemen. He has won eight games, combined. Nobody thinks UMass is going to be in a bowl, or even over .500 this season, but this is a winnable game. Hawaii was a .500 team last year in the Mountain West. They are also traveling across the country. If there’s some modicum of progress happening in Amherst, this is a good place for it to show.

BYU has to replace running back Jamaal Williams

Williams, taken in the fourth round of the draft by the Green Bay Packers, was the Cougars’ best offensive weapon last season. He ran for 1,375 yards, averaging 5.9 per carry and scoring 12 touchdowns. Junior Squally Canada is set to replace him. Last season, he averaged 4.3 yards per carry on 74 carries, so these are big shoes to fill. Expect KJ Hall and Trey Dye to see time against Portland State as well. If the Cougars want to go to a decent bowl this season, the run game will need solving.

BYU can build momentum going into a tough stretch in the schedule

Anything can happen, but it feels safe to expect BYU to beat Portland State, an FCS team. After that game, however, the Cougars have a tough three-week stretch in which they face LSU, Utah and Wisconsin. Those could be their three toughest games of the year, so it will be important for BYU to gain some momentum heading into them. Portland State is a good team to do that against, however, a lackluster performance could precede a 1-3 start.

Stanford quarterback Keller Chryst looked like a star at the end of last year

Here are Chryst’s numbers over the last three regular season games last year, the last of which happened to be against Rice: 43-of-65 passing for 610 yards, seven touchdowns and zero interceptions. If we see that level of play from Chryst this season, the Cardinal could end up in the top-10. They return a lot of talent in the passing game and, other than Solomon Thomas, most of the defense is back. Chryst could be the last piece of the puzzle.

Stanford has to replace running back Christian McCaffery

Of course, Chryst being the last piece of the puzzle assumes that replacing Christian McCaffrey is easy. The good thing is that Stanford knew from the beginning that Bryce Love was going to replace McCaffrey. Love had 111 carries and averaged 7.1 yards per carry last season, including a 129-yard performance against Notre Dame in South Bend. When the Cardinal were without McCaffrey in the Sun Bowl, Love also had 21 carries for 119 yards. However, that was the test run. This season, he becomes the workhorse and Saturday will be the first indication of how that will go.

Football is back

Yeah, we’ve had preseason NFL for a couple weeks, but that doesn’t really count. This is real, competitive football where everyone is trying and the starters play the whole game. Even if all these games end up being terrible, there is nothing better than having football back in our lives. We’re about to head into one of the best times on the sports calendar. Let’s be happy about it.