Labor Day weekend is the only one of the football season when the colleges play and the NFL does not — and the young players take full advantage of the exposure. With five consecutive days of college football games, beginning Thursday night, it’s kind of like bowl season.
The hubbub about mismatches is real as power-conference schools look to work out opening-game kinks against lesser opponents, but there are plenty of intriguing storylines to kick off the season.
Here are five.
1. The starting quarterback will be …
Everett Golson at Florida State, Greyson Lambert at Georgia, Jesse Ertz at Kansas State and several others were announced this week.
But mysteries continue at a few schools. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said he has informed competitors Jake Rudock and Shane Morris about who will start Thursday’s game at Utah (7:30 p.m. on Fox Sports 1), but there was a none-of-your business pronouncement to reporters. “I want them both to prepare like they’re going to be a starter,” Harbaugh said.
Ohio State will use Cardale Jones, who led the Buckeyes on the postseason run to last year’s national championship, and J.T. Barrett, the leader through most of the regular season. Braxton Miller has already moved to wide receiver as Ohio State visits Virginia Tech on Monday (7 p.m. on ESPN).
At Louisville, it’s not either-or. It’s either-or-or-or among Reggie Bonnafon, Kyle Bolin, Will Gardner and Lamar Jackson. All are listed as co-starters for Saturday’s game at Auburn (2:30 p.m. on CBS).
Alabama? Three have taken reps with the first team, and all have earned praise from Nick Saban. When Wisconsin sees who steps under center on Saturday (7 p.m. on ABC) in Arlington, Texas, you’ll know the starter.
2. Most-watched coaching debuts
Look no further than the Big Ten. Harbaugh’s hire was the most-discussed of the offseason, but Nebraska’s Mike Riley, Wisconsin’s Paul Chryst and most recently Illinois’ Bill Cubit bring plenty of new ideas to the conference. The other major hire happened at Florida, where Jim McElwain takes over a program that hasn’t challenged for the SEC East in three years.
3. Upset alert
Could TCU’s national championship hopes get dashed on the first night? Few teams outside the Big 12 know Horned Frogs coach Gary Patterson better than his old friend Jerry Kill of Minnesota. TCU hammered the Gophers last season in Fort Worth, Texas, and the Frogs will have to be sharp in Minneapolis (8 p.m. Thursday on ESPN).
Texas A&M is picked low in the SEC West, and Arizona State looks like a strong contender in the Pac-12 South. But their game Saturday (6 p.m. on ESPN) is in Houston, close to the Aggies’ home, and A&M’s offense should be able to keep pace with the Sun Devils’.
By ranking, Washington over No. 23 Boise State (9:15 p.m. Friday on ESPN) would be an upset. If any visitor knows the Boise blue turf, it is Huskies coach Chris Petersen, who was the Broncos’ coach for eight seasons.
4. Not on upset alert
Oregon. In another year, Eastern Washington, ranked sixth in the Football Championship Subdivision poll, might be able to pull off a sneak attack (7 p.m. Saturday on Pac-12 Network). But consider this bizarre circumstance. The Eagles’ starting quarterback last season, Vernon Adams, transferred to Oregon and was chosen as the Ducks’ starter earlier this week. He succeeds Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota. Adams is probably more familiar with the team he’s facing than his own.
5. Most interesting game
Texas at Notre Dame (6:30 p.m. Saturday on NBC). The opposing quarterbacks look to make immediate impressions. The Irish are pinning hopes on Malik Zaire, who started Notre Dame’s bowl victory over LSU last season. Zaire, a terrific runner, will be asked to pass more this season.
Texas’ Tyrone Swoopes is coming off an inconsistent 2014 season but should be much more comfortable in coach Charlie Strong’s second season. Redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard will also get snaps, but Texas would like nothing better than to have Swoopes take command of the team.