Let’s just get this out of the way up front: this is the dumbest thing you’ll read all season. Predicting upsets weeks or months in advance – especially in a sport where there is such a wild level of week-to-week fluctuation as college football – is stupid on more levels than you can count.
I’m an idiot for writing this, and no offense, but the fact that you clicked on that ridiculous headline (and are still reading this) doesn’t speak all that highly of you, either.
But there are still another 48 hours or so until the season kicks off and this will kill about 10 minutes of that, so let’s dive right in!
September 2: Eastern Washington at Texas Tech
Eastern has a couple recent FBS scalps hanging on the wall next to their bright red field, having knocked off Washington State in 2016 and Oregon State in 2013. Those games weren’t flukes, either; the Eagles made it to the FCS semifinals both of those years. The big question is how they’ll look this fall after their head coach Beau Baldwin left to take the offensive coordinator job at Cal. Meanwhile, Texas Tech figures to yet again be just explosive enough on offense and just implosive enough on defense to put up another season of totally incoherent results.
September 2: James Madison at East Carolina
Much like the previous game, this one features an FCS powerhouse against a disaster-prone FBS school. ECU was a complete tire fire on defense in 2016, and now has to open the season against the defending FCS champions. There is no official point spread listed for this game, but S&P+ has ECU projected as 7.8 points better than JMU, and with a 67% chance to win.
September 23: #16 Florida at Kentucky
The Gators are currently riding a 30-game (yes, THIRTY) win streak in this series. This is the year it ends. Florida plays Tennessee the week before they travel to Lexington, so they will either be coming off a huge win or a crushing loss. Kentucky has come close to ending the streak twice in the last three years, falling 14-9 in 2015 and 36-30 in triple-overtime in 2014, and while the Cats return the bulk of its starters, Florida is replacing more than half of its defense. This game comes early enough in the season that that could be the difference.
September 29: #4 USC at Washington State
The Trojans have two high-profile home games in mid-September against Stanford and Texas and then hit the road for Berkeley on the 23rd. Then they have to fly home, have a quick turnaround and fly back up to Pullman for a Friday night game against Wazzu. A 10:30pm Eastern kickoff in the Palouse is already a recipe for weirdness, and the short week and back-to-back road trips only complicate things. Much like Texas Tech, Washington State will score enough to beat someone they shouldn’t this season. Last year they lost to Eastern Washington and Boise State and then firebombed Stanford in Palo Alto, 42-16.
October 5: #17 Louisville at NC State
This is a Thursday night road game, which always seems a little dicey. The real reason this is on here is that NC State might have one of the most dominant defensive lines in the nation this fall. Last year, Lamar Jackson looked close to invincible until he ran into Ed Oliver and the Houston defense. This year don’t be surprised if it’s the Wolfpack that makes him run for his life.
October 21: #8 Oklahoma at #19 K-State
In a year when it feels like some really crazy stuff is going to happen in the Big 12, this one jumps off the page. It’s the week after the Red River Shootout, so Oklahoma will either be flying high or coming off a crushing upset loss. Then they have to go to Manhattan to face K-State and their clock-grinding, soul-sucking form of offense. Will Lincoln Riley be able to get his team up for a second straight test?
October 28: #23 Texas at Baylor
This is the end of a brutal October for the Longhorns, who open the month with a home date against Kansas State, the neutral-site showdown with Oklahoma and then a visit from Oklahoma State before hitting the road for Waco. In his two seasons as a head coach, Tom Herman has shown a propensity for winning the big games and then dumping a really stupid one later in the season, especially after his quarterback gets banged around a little. This year, it’s either going to be this one at Baylor or the following week at TCU.
November 11: #11 Oklahoma State at Iowa State
“I have a funny feeling Iowa State is going to be pretty decent this season,” is generally something you say if you have little or no sense for how college football works, but I have a funny feeling Iowa State is going to be pretty decent this season. Matt Campbell enters his second year with a program that has shown some promise. ISU started 2016 totally noncompetitive, losing to Northern Iowa and getting destroyed by Iowa on the way to a 1-8 start. They finished 2-1, including a 66-10 win over Texas Tech. The Cyclones’ 2017 recruiting class ranked 7th in the Big 12, which doesn’t sound impressive until you find out that’s higher than they had ever finished in the league, going back to the start of the 247 database in 2002. This year, they catch Oklahoma State at home in the week after their Bedlam showdown with Oklahoma and a week before their home date with Kansas State, so it’s a prime let-down spot.
November 18: Navy at Notre Dame
Notre Dame, which went 4-8 last year, heads into this fall with a lot of uncertainty. Another bad year could mean the end of the purple-faced menace Brian Kelly, and the second half of the schedule sets up brutally. The Irish should be 4-2 at the absolute worst heading into their off-week in mid-October, but then they finish with USC, NC State, Wake Forest, a trip to Miami, Navy and close with a trip to Stanford. Navy won this game last season and catches the Irish between two high-profile road trips, at a time when it’s possible that the program could be in a tailspin.
November 25: Minnesota at #10 Wisconsin
The Badgers will be coming off a big home matchup with Michigan, and potentially looking ahead to the Big Ten Championship showdown with Ohio State or Penn State. P.J. Fleck figures to have a long first season in Minneapolis, but may have the Gophers finally starting to click by the end of the year. If so, they could take advantage of a beat-up and potentially unfocused Badger team.