College football games Week 1: Alabama, Ohio State among those on upset alert
Nothing is guaranteed in college football, so which five teams need to be on upset alert?
What gives college football so much life is also what reduces life expectancy for those who watch it, and that is its unpredictability. It's the ultimate give and take. On any given gameday, a favored college football team can go down in an upset. It's why the regular season is so important and unlike anything else of its kind.
People are imperfect by nature. College football players between the ages of 18 and 22 (or so) are even more prone to mistakes. It's what makes this sport so fun.
With all of that in mind, we're here to give you the top five upset alert games each week of the 2017 season based on matchups, injuries/suspensions/general absences and other factors. As a general rule, we try to avoid games whose lines are within a touchdown with exceptions being made for cases that warrant them. As you'll see below, we already have an exception in Week 1.
No. 2 Ohio State at Indiana
When: Thursday, 8 p.m. ET | Where: Bloomington, Indiana | Line: Ohio State -21
Why it's listed: Indiana's defense could actually be key. Its experienced secondary in this 4-2-5 base features an All-American caliber corner in Rashard Fant, who was second in the nation with 17 pass break-ups a season ago. Linebacker Tegray Scales offers a lot of versatility and led the team in tackles and sacks in 2016. There's not a ton of size on Indiana's defense, but it can matchup well against Ohio State's mostly unproven pass-catching unit. Former Indiana coach Kevin Wilson is Ohio State's offensive coordinator, so he has a lot of familiarity with this group and how to attack it. But as a coach, he can only call plays. He can't execute them.
Look, no one is saying Indiana has the same level of talent across the board as Ohio State. However, any Buckeyes fan will tell you that, despite some ultimately lopsided scores, the Hoosiers have given this team fits over the past three years. Ohio State certainly has the horses to pull away if it's tight. The longer Indiana can stick around, though, the better shot it has.
Indiana wins if: It can better capitalize on Ohio State's mistakes, however many that may be. Here's a crazy stat: the Buckeyes have eight turnovers in their last three games against the Hoosers, but Indiana has just one touchdown off of those takeaways.
Ohio State wins if: Its defense does the damn thing. It'd be nice to see a new name emerge at pass-catcher, and for pass protection to give J.T. Barrett time, but the Buckeyes probably can probably win this thing on defense alone.
When: Saturday, noon ET | Where: Iowa City, Iowa | Line: Iowa -11.5
Why it's listed: This is exactly the type of game where Iowa struggles. An early-season game against a respectable non-Power Five opponent. We've seen this movie play out before. The Hawkeyes face arguably the best quarterback they will all year in Wyoming's Josh Allen. It doesn't help that cornerback Manny Rugamba has been suspended for the game and safety Brandon Snyder is out recovering from an ACL injury. Allen's ability to push the ball downfield will test this secondary.
Wyoming wins if: Allen comes to play. The last time Allen played a Power Five opponent, he threw five interceptions against Nebraska. Not all were his fault -- a pick-six came off a tipped ball the receiver should have caught and he began forcing more throws as the Cowboys fell further behind -- but obviously he must play better this time. A shootout benefits Wyoming more.
Iowa wins if: It can lean on its veteran-laden defense while running the ball down Wyoming's throat (AKA, do what they do). The Cowboys had a putrid rush defense a season ago, so Iowa wins that matchup on paper.
Troy at Boise State
When: Saturday, 3:45 p.m. | Where: Boise, Idaho | Line: Boise State -10.5
Why it's listed: Calling for an upset alert on a team known for upsets is almost inception. (Question: did Leo's top keep spinning or did it stop?) Troy is no pushover itself, though. The Trojans, as you may recall, gave Clemson 50 different kinds of hell in a 30-24 loss last season. The over/under at 62 certainly isn't the highest, but there's some nice shootout potential in this one because of the quarterback duel between Boise State's Brett Rypien and Troy's Brandon Silvers. It's the Fun Belt at the Smurf Turf. Let's get weird, y'all.
Troy wins if: Its defensive line picks up where it left off last season. Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year Rashad Dillard is gone and the Trojans need help from its new edge rushers.
Boise State wins if: New names can emerge on offense around Rypien. Receiver Cedrick Wilson is a stud, but the Broncos will need more than a single quarterback-receiver connection.
When: Saturday, 9:30 p.m. ET | Where: New Orleans | Line: LSU -16.5
Why it's listed: It's not just that LSU linebacker Arden Key and that running back Derrius Guice is not yet 100 percent. Those certainly play into the upset factor, but they're not everything. If we learned one thing from BYU's 20-6 win over Portland State, it's that the Cougars are a grinder of a team. (Also, Portland State has a good defense.) As it so happens, that's how LSU plays. Does new offensive coordinator Matt Canada have some new tricks for the Tigers' offense? Perhaps, but style-wise, there doesn't appear to be much difference in game plan execution. Besides, holding off Portland State before going on the road and beating a ranked LSU in what is essentially the Tigers' backyard would be the most college football thing possible.
BYU wins if: It shortens the game. LSU is likely going to play a hand in this already, but the Cougars need to dictate the pace and the line of scrimmage. Even on a fast track indoors, grinding this thing out may be the way to go.
LSU wins if: It finds explosive plays, particularly in the passing game -- even if it's just a few well-timed ones. At the end of the day, LSU has a ton of talent. If guys break free, that will be the difference. This is where Canada's impact would be felt the most.
No. 3 Florida State vs. No. 1 Alabama
When: Saturday, 8 p.m. ET | Where: Atlanta | Line: Alabama -7
Why it's listed: I grappled with this one. This is the game of all games in Week 1. Favored as Alabama may be, would anyone be truly stunned if Florida State won? But by that very reason, though, the upset potential is at its peak. Alabama opened as a 6.5-point favorite and the line has moved a point in favor of the Tide. That qualifies by this piece's standards. Oh, and another thing: Nick Saban is perfect in season openers and insanely good in Atlanta (13-1).
The Crimson Tide are favored for a variety of sound reasons -- reasons that don't need repeating because they've been rehashed dozens of times and will continue to be rehashed between now and Saturday. However, if there's a team that can match what Alabama has in the trenches, it's the Seminoles.
Florida State wins if: Somehow, someway, Florida State can protect quarterback Deondre Francois. The redshirt sophomore has already shown he's a fearless passer. He's the type of player who, despite any inexperience around him, will make his team better because of the confidence he shows in them. But he can't keep ending up on his back. Alabama is not the team Florida State wants to let in the backfield.
Alabama wins if: It puts Florida State in long-yardage situations. That means stopping the run, which the defense is equipped to do, and bringing down Francois. The Seminoles were awful in third-down conversions last season -- about 28 percent conversion -- in their three losses and that's a tough hill to climb in general.
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