Wake Me Up When September Begins

Derek Worley
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Summer has come and passed, and college football is here at last. I don’t know if the heightened anticipation is due to the blunder and inconsistencies known as 2020, or if this September slate is really that stacked. Upon further review, September is stacked like an all you can eat pile of pancakes!

Grab your fork and let’s dig in to a half dozen of my favorite contests in the opening month of college football:



6. #23 Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns @ #21 Texas Longhorns
When: Saturday, September 4th
Time: 4:30 PM ET
Network: FOX

Outside of this being a top 25 matchup, what makes this game so special? The average college football fan would likely say nothing, but to me this has all the storylines. Let’s start with Louisiana first.

This is a team only a year removed from rolling into Ames week one and handing Iowa State one of their only two losses on the season. Quarterback Levi Lewis opted in to another year and will have the Ragin’ Cajuns looking to dominate in the run-pass-option (RPO) game. Running back Chris Smith will try to show the Longhorns how good he really is. Their defense isn’t a unit to be taken lightly either, led by playmakers like Eric Garror.

For Texas, this is more than just an opening game. With the recent news of them heading to the SEC, they almost have to win this game. The money that Texas pulls in for their football program is astronomically higher than Louisiana, and dropping this game would be understandable, but an embarrassment to the Longhorn faithful.

Looking back at how lightly the Longhorns took Maryland not once but twice, it could be an nightmarish start for new head coach Steve Sarkisian. I don’t necessary know if the Ragin’ Cajuns, or anyone to be honest, can slow down Bijan Robinson, so Texas has to lean on him. If they can control the line of scrimmage then they should be able to escape.



5. SMU Mustangs @ TCU Horned Frogs
When: Saturday, September 25th
Time: TBD
Network: TBD

Staying in Texas, and there’s no better way to carry on the food talk than to bring up the SMU and TCU rivalry. These two cross-town DFW foes actually play for The Iron Skillet. The matchup in this year’s edition will be sure to turn up the heat.

Both squads are going to be a problem to slow down on offense, but in different ways. In the backfield, I’d have to lean heavily towards the Horned Frogs with quarterback Max Duggan, and a host of underclassmen running backs like Zach Evans. SMU has the air superiority with targets like Reggie Roberson Jr. and Grant Calcaterra.

This game has potential to be one of the highest scoring contests of the regular season. I feel as if the winner is genuinely on track to become a nationally feared football team. September 25th can’t come soon enough.



4. #1 Alabama Crimson Tide vs #14 Miami Hurricanes (Neutral Game in Atlanta)
When: Saturday, September 4th
Time: 3:30 PM ET
Network: ABC

Is this the year Miami quarterback D’Eriq King finally puts it all together? Ever since his solid 2018 season with the Houston Cougars, all I’ve heard about was how King was going to win the Heisman. Well, a forgettable 2019 where we saw him redshirt, followed by a less than advertised performance in 2020, the hype train has been derailed.

This matchup against the #1 team in the country could begin the hype train restoration process. King can give any team issues with his running ability, but when his throwing is on point, he’s hard to stop. The Canes have speed for days on both sides of the football to keep up with Alabama, but if they don’t match their effort and physicality, it could get ugly.

Miami safety Bubba Bolden always brings the intensity, and if he can get the rest of the defense to buy in, I think they can get some stops. Remember, almost all the pieces that made the Crimson Tide go on offense last season are gone. Mac Jones, Najee Harris, DeVonta Smith and even the offensive coordinator, the aforementioned Sarkisian, have departed Tuscaloosa.

Alabama has yet to drop an opening game under Nick Saban but Miami could certainly give them fits, especially with breaking in an entirely new offense. Bryce Young is no slouch though and was a highly touted prospect out of Mater Dei for a reason. He has weapons all around him that are looking to make a splash as well.

The defense is where they will be able to put this game away. No defense since Saban took over has made teams beat themselves more with mistake filled football than Alabama. Returning nine starters is a luxury, and the linebacker room may be the best in the country. They’ll be flying off the edge all night, trying to force King’s hand to create some turnovers.



3. #11 Oregon Ducks @ #4 Ohio State Buckeyes
When: Saturday, September 11th
Time: 12:00 PM ET
Network: FOX

Ohio State was able to get the Clemson curse off their backs last season by beating them for the first time in program history. The question here is will Oregon be able to return the favor to the Buckeyes? The Ducks are 0-9 against the Bucks all time, having recent losses in the 2010 Rose Bowl and the 2015 College Football Playoff (CFP) Final.

Both teams will be breaking in new starters at quarterback as Oregon has gone with Boston College transfer Anthony Brown, and Ohio State with redshirt freshman C.J. Stroud. The quarterbacks may get the attention going into the matchup but where the cameras really need to be pointed is towards the trenches.

The Ducks’ Kayvon Thibodeaux will try to cause issues off the edge against one of the best offensive lines in the country. On the other side, Buckeye defensive line coach Larry Johnson will unleash his “rushmen” package to create chaos on passing downs.

Obviously there’s always a chance but I just don’t see the Ducks slowing down Ryan Day’s offense. Oregon’s shift to a 3-4 defense will make it harder to slow down the rushing attack because they won’t be as strong up front. Also, Oregon lost all but one starter in the secondary, which will make it difficult to match up with arguably the best wideout duo in the country, Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave.

Five out of the last six times that Ohio State played Wisconsin, a similar style of aggressive 3-4 defense, they’ve scored 30+ points. This is against Jim Leonhard’s defense which is always near the top in the FBS. Oh, and let’s not forget that they are built specifically with strength and speed to stop the Buckeyes, and haven’t. That alone makes me unsure of Oregon’s chances on defense, even if they do boast many conference and even National preseason All-Americans.

With the recent influx of analysts picking the Ducks to pull off the upset here, I would ask them to proceed with caution. The last time I saw so many picks against the Buckeyes in their home stadium, they beat down Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan Wolverines by a score of 62-39. Bottom line, this should be a great game to watch just for the atmosphere alone as the Buckeye faithful will be packing “the Shoe” with 100,000 fans for the first time since 2019.



2. Auburn Tigers @ #19 Penn State Nittany Lions
When: Saturday, September 18th
Time: 7:30 PM ET
Network: ABC

Usually the yearly clash between the SEC and Big Ten takes place in the bowl games, but Christmas came early as we get a showdown in week three. Granted, this is a test of conference depth as Auburn comes in as the 7th best projected SEC squad, and Penn State as the 5th best in the Big Ten. If we’re being realistic with this matchup, even though it will be a “White Out” atmosphere in Happy Valley, Auburn holds all the cards.

The Tigers will be tested more than anyone in the first two weeks, with games against Akron and the FCS squad Alabama State. They don’t have to release anything from their playbook and should build a ton of confidence for the new coaching staff. Also, they are physically better and can rely on talent alone with a vanilla scheme to ease past these two opponents, saving the full playbook for the week three contest.

Penn State on the other hand, has to really go all out. Their week one consists of a trip to Madison to take on the #12 Wisconsin Badgers. They then follow up with a well-rounded, defending MAC champion, Ball State. They are sneaky good with playmakers on offense and a talented linebacker room. Penn State will have their hands full in the first two games before welcoming in Auburn.

If Penn State can get to 2-0 then they’ll likely be looming just outside, if not inside the top 10. Auburn is likely to be ranked somewhere inside the top 25 at that point as well due to some head to heads that will clear some space in front of them. Regardless of rankings, these two squads should put on a show under the lights.


1. #5 Georgia Bulldogs vs #3 Clemson Tigers (Neutral Game in Charlotte)
When: Saturday, September 4th
Time: 7:30 PM ET
Network: ABC

Was there ever any doubt about which game was the top choice here? A showdown of two legitimate superpowers, right at the get go. These are the matchups that weigh heavily on a resume, and will be at the forefront of the CFP Committee’s evaluation processes.

For the Dawgs, they have to overcome the injury bug they’ve had in practice. Most injuries have occurred to skill position players, which doesn’t hurt their intention to dominate in the trenches. If the line can get a push, then running backs Kendall Milton, Zamir White and even James Cook will give the Tigers fits.

If JT Daniels can play effective football and extend the drives then I’d give Georgia the advantage. Staying a step ahead of Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables has never been easy. It won’t be any easier this season as he returns every starter from a year ago. That unit has a ton of veteran leadership and talented underclassmen, and are tabbed as one of my favorite defenses in the country.

The offense has to match the physicality of Kirby Smart’s Georgia defense, which I don’t see happening. They will blitz hard off the edge and up the A gap, trying to make D.J. Uiagalelei uncomfortable. Replacing Travis Etienne will be the hardest obstacle for the Tigers as he always seemed to be the bailout formula when times got difficult. If Dabo Swinney hasn’t found himself a new Etienne, I don’t see Clemson getting past the Dawgs.



Honorable Mentions

#8 Cincinnati Bearcats @ #17 Indiana Hoosiers
When: Saturday, September 18th
Time: 12:00 PM ET
Network: ESPN or ABC


#18 Iowa Hawkeyes @ #7 Iowa State Cyclones
When: Saturday, September 11th
Time: 4:30 PM ET
Network: ABC

#9 Notre Dame Fighting Irish @ #12 Wisconsin Badgers
When: Saturday, September 25th
Time: 12:00 PM ET
Network: FOX

Derek Worley

Sports Analyst

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