Move over NFL Preseason. Meaningful football is back and it returns sooner than you think.
With almost 90 games next weekend, it’s easy to think that Labor Day Weekend would be the start of the college football season. Fortunately for fans everywhere, the season starts a little earlier, as there are four games scheduled for this Saturday.
Today, I’ll take a look at these four games, with a preview for each of the schools. As some of these early season games tend to involve schools from both the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) and the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), I’ll write about each type of school differently.
Since I’ll be writing about FBS schools for the rest of the season, I’ll give those schools a more in-depth preview, while FCS schools will simply get a key player or two to watch.
UMass vs Duquesne (2:30 PM PT)
The first game of the 2018 NCAA football season will take place in Massachusetts, as the Minutemen host the FCS Dukes.
UMass comes off a disappointing 4–8 season, but returns the core of an offense that ranked 35th in the country in yards per game last season, as quarterback Andrew Ford, running back Marquis Young, and their leading receiver from last year, Andy Isabella, all return. On the defensive side, UMass also returns their leading tackler from last season, Bryton Barr.
The Minutemen look to improve on their 2–4 record in one possession games. This includes a four point loss to Tennessee and a loss to Mississippi State after they were leading at halftime.
Duquesne (FCS) players to watch: Receiver Nehari Crawford and running back A.J. Hines, who were both named as STATS FCS preseason All-Americans.
Prediction: UMass. The Minutemen start off the season with a win in a game that shouldn’t be close.
Rice vs Prairie View (4:00 PM PT)
There’s nowhere to go but up for the Owls after an abysmal 2017, in which Rice went 1–11, with their only win coming against a team that would go winless.
Coach Mike Bloomgren has a tough task ahead of him for his first ever head coaching job, but he does have a few bright spots on the roster. The top two leaders in all purpose yards for Rice last year, running backs Austin Walter and Nahshon Ellerbe, return to lead the backfield, as well as their leading receiver in 2017, Aaron Cephus. Defensive tackle Roe Wilkins, who was second on the team in sacks last season with six and a half, returns to anchor the defensive line.
With a young team that consists of mainly underclassmen, the Owls will undoubtedly experience some major growing pains this year.
Prairie View (FCS) player to watch: Defensive back Ju’Anthony Parker, a first team preseason All-SWAC member.
Prediction: Rice. The Owls match their win total from last season after a much closer than expected victory against their FCS opponent.
Colorado State vs Hawai’i (4:30 PM PT)
The first game involving two FBS schools is also the first conference game, as these two Mountain West Conference teams face off in a rematch from last season, in which Colorado State won by thirty points in Honolulu.
The quarterback situation for both teams is a tale of two transfers. Incoming transfer K.J. Carta-Samuels takes the reins for the Rams, while Hawai’i looks to replace their starting quarterback from last year, who transferred out.
Last year, Colorado State and Hawai’i were ranked 96th and 98th respectively country-wide in passing defenses. Both teams should expect to see the ball in the air a lot on Saturday so don’t be surprised if this becomes a shootout!
With their quarterback situations and their pass defenses being so similar, look for this game to be decided by the ground game. Colorado State returns their second leading rusher from last season, running back Izzy Matthews, while Hawai’i looks to replace 75% of their rushing offense from last year.
Prediction: Colorado State. A big game from Matthews leads the Rams past the Rainbow Warriors.
New Mexico State vs Wyoming (7:00 PM PT)
After New Mexico State earned their first bowl bid in 57 years last season, will they make it to a second straight bowl game?
It will be interesting to see who becomes an offensive weapon for the Aggies, as they have to replace their leading rusher, receiver, and their quarterback from last season. Right now, their best offensive option is giving running back Jason Huntley as many touches as possible.
Huntley and the Aggies will face a stiff challenge against the Cowboys defense, who ranked 23rd in the country last season. They will return three All-Mountain West players in strong safety Andrew Wingard, defensive end Carl Granderson, and defensive tackle Youhanna Ghaifan.
For Wyoming, most of their concern lies in the quarterback position, as there will be a new face under center. Coach Craig Bohl announced that redshirt freshman Tyler Vander Waal will start on Saturday, replacing Josh Allen, who was drafted seventh overall this year. Against a defense that ranked 79th in the country in passing yards allowed in 2017, Vander Waal will likely get a lot of opportunities in his first game.
Prediction: New Mexico State. A raucous Saturday night crowd at Aggie Memorial Stadium pushes the home team past the visiting Cowboys in a nail-biter.