The first week of the college football season is finally here. There will be real, live games on Thursday night.
Personally? I would walk over hot coals to watch the 2008 Auburn-Mississippi State game live right about now, but for our more discerning viewers, let's get a handle on which games will probably give you the best return for your valuable time.
This season, we'll be grouping games together by time slot -- Lunch, Afternoon, Evening, and Night -- and ranking those games in tiers by anticipated relative viewing quality: Best option, Plan B, Keep it in mind, and Break in case of emergency. Personal fandom obviously can make a difference, but this is trying to be as objective as possible.
Note: All times shown are Eastern.
[Note: We've taken out the games that have already happened. We still love them.]
|12 p.m. ET||Buffalo||at||2 Ohio State||ESPN 2|
|12 p.m. ET||Massachusetts||at||23 Wisconsin||Big Ten Network|
|12 p.m. ET||Villanova||at||Boston College||ESPN News|
|12 p.m. ET||Purdue||at||Cincinnati||ESPNU|
|12 p.m. ET||Elon||at||Georgia Tech||ESPN3.com|
|12 p.m. ET||SIU||at||Illinois||Big Ten Network|
|12 p.m. ET||William & Mary||at||West Virginia||FOX Sports 1|
|12:21 p.m. ET||Toledo||at||10 Florida||SEC Network, ESPN3.com|
|12:30 p.m. ET||FIU||at||Maryland||RSN, ESPN3.com|
|12:30 p.m. ET||Louisiana Tech||at||NC State||ACC Network, ESPN3.com|
|1 p.m. ET||Rice||at||7 Texas A&M||ESPN|
|3 p.m. ET||Colgate||at||Air Force||ROOT Sports|
|3:30 p.m. ET||Miss State||Houston||13 Oklahoma State||ABC/ESPN 2|
|3:30 p.m. ET||Temple||at||14 Notre Dame||NBC|
|3:30 p.m. ET||Central Mich||at||17 Michigan||Big Ten Network|
|3:30 p.m. ET||NIU||at||Iowa||Big Ten Network|
|3:30 p.m. ET||Penn State||East Rutherford||Syracuse||ABC/ESPN 2|
|3:30 p.m. ET||BYU||at||Virginia||ESPNU|
|4 p.m. ET||Nicholls State||at||3 Oregon||FOX Sports 1|
|4 p.m. ET||Louisiana||at||Arkansas||FSN, ESPN3.com|
|4 p.m. ET||NC Central||at||Duke||ESPN3.com|
|5:30 p.m. ET||1 Alabama||Atlanta||Virginia Tech||ESPN|
|6 p.m. ET||EWU||at||25 Oregon State||Pac-12 Network|
|6 p.m. ET||Howard||at||EMU||ESPN3.com|
|6 p.m. ET||Austin Peay||at||Tennessee||PPV, ESPN3.com|
|7 p.m. ET||ULM||at||16 Oklahoma||FSN (PPV)|
|7 p.m. ET||APBU||at||Arkansas State||ESPN3.com|
|7 p.m. ET||Washington State||at||Auburn||ESPNU|
|7 p.m. ET||Old Dominion||at||East Carolina||FOX College Sports|
|7 p.m. ET||Miami-Ohio||at||Marshall||CBSSN|
|7 p.m. ET||Murray State||at||Missouri||PPV|
|7 p.m. ET||Idaho||at||North Texas|
|7 p.m. ET||McNeese State||at||USF||ESPN3.com|
|7 p.m. ET||Texas State||at||Southern Miss|
|7 p.m. ET||UAB||at||Troy||ESPN3.com|
|7 p.m. ET||Kentucky||Nashville||WKU||ESPN News|
|7:30 p.m. ET||Wofford||at||Baylor||FSN|
|8 p.m. ET||New Mexico State||at||15 Texas||Longhorn Network|
|8 p.m. ET||Wyoming||at||18 Nebraska||Big Ten Network|
|8 p.m. ET||5 Georgia||at||8 Clemson||ABC|
|8 p.m. ET||Northern Iowa||at||Iowa State||Cyclones.tv|
|8 p.m. ET||UTSA||at||New Mexico||KKOB|
|8 p.m. ET||EIU||at||San Diego State||Mountain West Network|
|8 p.m. ET||Jackson State||at||Tulane||WMTI|
|9 p.m. ET||12 LSU||Arlington||20 TCU||ESPN|
|9 p.m. ET||Appalachian State||at||Montana||ESPN3.com|
|10 p.m. ET||Nevada||at||21 UCLA||Pac-12 Network|
|10 p.m. ET||19 Boise State||at||Washington||FOX Sports 1|
|10:30 p.m. ET||22 Northwestern||at||California||ESPN 2|
Best option: Rice at Texas A&M
Announcers: Dave Pasch, Brian Griese, and Tom Luginbill
Odds: Texas A&M -26.5
Weather: Partly cloudy with a high in the upper-90s.
The Aggies are going to crush Rice, but tune in to see if Johnny Manziel's SELFISHNESS has made him complacent and hurt his game. (Pssst ... I bet it didn't.)
Plan B: Purdue at Cincinnati
The Bearcats figure to be one of the better teams in the AAC this year, and the Boilermakers are marking their first game of the Darrell Hazzell era. It may sound weird to say about a Purdue-Cincinnati game, but this is probably going to be kind of fun.
Keep it in mind: Louisiana Tech at N.C. State, Buffalo at Ohio State, Toledo at Florida
Florida and Ohio State shouldn't have much trouble dispatching Toledo and Buffalo, respectively. Louisiana Tech lost a TON from last year's team that led the nation in scoring, but they should give a good test to the Wolfpack in their first game of the Dave Doeren era. And hey, maybe something goes sideways and we have an upset on our hands.
Break in case of emergency: Villanova at Boston College
I wouldn't, personally.
Best options: Mississippi State at Oklahoma State, Alabama vs. Virginia Tech
Here we go.
Mississippi State vs. Oklahoma State
Announcers: Bob Wischusen, Rod Gilmore, and Quint Kessenich
Odds: Oklahoma State -12.5
Weather: Mostly sunny with a high in the mid-90s.
Alabama vs. Virginia Tech
Announcers: Sean McDonough, Chris Spielman, and Shannon Spake
Odds: Alabama -20
Weather: It's generally pretty nice inside domes.
The Bulldogs and Cowboys will get together in Houston, and Oklahoma State can inject themselves much more centrally into the national conversation with a convincing win over an SEC squad. On the other sideline, a win over a big name Big 12 team would go a long way for Dan Mullen, who some think has hit his ceiling in Starkville. There is a lot at stake here, and that's just lovely to see on the first Saturday of the season.
The other headliner here features Alabama, of course. The Tide are significant favorites over Virginia Tech in the Georgia Dome, and it's tough to go against them here. Frank Beamer has proven himself to be an excellent coach, and Virginia Tech is a great program, but they just don't have the horses to run with Alabama for 60 minutes. I'm not sure anyone does.
Plan B: Penn State vs. Syracuse, Temple at Notre Dame
Two old Northeast rivals renew acquaintances at MetLife Stadium, and both Penn State and Syracuse are going through some changes. The Nittany Lions have a new quarterback and razor thin depth, but the Orange are starting a new quarterback of their own, as well as breaking in a new head coach. There could be some early hiccups, but this could be a good one.
Temple may be out of their depth against Notre Dame. But since it's Notre Dame, it's on TV and a lot of people are going to watch. Despite the bad taste in everyone's mouth from the BCS title game, the Fighting Irish are still a good team, and well worth some of your time as an impartial viewer.
Keep it in mind: BYU at Virginia, Central Michigan at Michigan, Louisiana-Lafayette at Arkansas
BYU heads east to play Virginia, and a couple of bigger teams in Michigan and Arkansas play what should be overmatched opposition. Try to remember the channel numbers because hey, something weird could happen.
Break in case of emergency: Northern Illinois at Iowa
Keep your remote handy, you may want to switch over in the 4th quarter to see if the plucky Hawkeyes can upset the big bad Huskies.
Best option: Georgia at Clemson, LSU vs. TCU
Georgia at Clemson
Announcers: Brent Musberger, Kirk Herbstreit, and Heather Cox
Odds: Clemson +1.5
Weather: Scattered thunderstorms with a high in the mid-80s.
LSU vs. TCU
Announcers: Brad Nessler, Todd Blackledge, and Holly Rowe
Odds: LSU -4.5
Weather: In a dome, so again, pretty nice.
It doesn't get much better than a pair of marquee non-conference matchups on Saturday night. Both of these games will affect the national championship picture, especially if Clemson and/or TCU lose. Georgia and/or LSU can probably overcome a loss and still make the BCS title game if things break the right way, but it's tough to see a one-loss Big 12 or ACC team making it to the title game. High stakes!
Plan B: Washington State at Auburn
Things didn't exactly go well for Mike Leach in his first year at Washington State, and he's got a challenging trip to Auburn to open his second year at the helm. The Tigers were pretty rough last year too, but hopes are high for a fast turnaround with Gus Malzahn in charge.
Keep it in mind: Wyoming at Nebraska
Bo Pelini might get really mad again!
Break in case of emergency: New Mexico State at Texas
Not sure how many of you have Longhorn Network, so this may not even apply.
Best option: Boise State at Washington
Announcers: Gus Johnson, Charles Davis, and Kristina Pink
Odds: Washington -3.5
Weather: Sunny with a high in the mid-70s.
Boise State opens its season with yet another matchup against a major conference foe, this time at Washington. The Huskies aren't at full strength, but could be trouble if Boise isn't prepared. Unfortunately for them, the Broncos are usually pretty dang prepared for season-openers.
Plan B: Northwestern at Cal
Northwestern is going to be really fun this year. Sonny Dykes is installing the BEAR RAID in Berkeley. It usually takes a little time for offenses like that to get in sync, but there is a strong possibility of points here.
Keep it in mind: Nevada at UCLA
This could actually be really fun. The Bruins won the Pac-12 South last year, but they could be in for some regression in 2013. Nevada and that offense could be a handful.
|11:45 a.m. ET||MVSU||Orlando||Florida A&M||ESPN|
|3:30 p.m. ET||Ohio||at||9 Louisville||ESPN|
|6 p.m. ET||Colorado||Denver||Colorado State||CBSSN|
|8 p.m. ET||Bethune-Cookman||at||Tennessee State||ESPN3.com|
Best option: Ohio at Louisville
Announcers: Joe Tessitore, Matt Millen, and Maria Taylor
Odds: Louisville -20.5
Weather: Isolated thunderstorms with a high around 90.
The Cardinals might have the best shot in the country at going undefeated, but opening the season against Ohio is no gimme. Why not tune in and see what Teddy Bridgewater has in store for us?
Plan B: The other games
Like you have anything else to watch?
Your only option: Florida State at Pitt
Announcers: Rece Davis, Jesse Palmer, David Pollock, and Samantha Ponder
Odds: Pitt +10.5
Weather: Scattered thunderstorms, high in the upper 70s.
Welcome to the ACC, Pitt. The Panthers' first game in their new conference is against last year's champs and a strong pick to repeat. At least Pitt has this game at home, although the Panthers are not exactly renowned for their ferocious home field advantage.