Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - There may be no phrase on Earth more horribly overused than "It's that time of year again!"
Try perusing the Internet and finding a column or story written about an annual event that doesn't contain that sentence as its lede.
So in an effort to avoid the statement, let's go with something simple; something that encapsulates exactly what this weekend represents in the sporting world.
It's officially college football season, folks.
The season kicked off on Saturday with an FCS matchup featuring No. 1-ranked Eastern Washington and No. 17 Sam Houston State, while the FBS slate gets underway with an FCS-FBS matchup Wednesday with Abilene Christian taking on Georgia State. Then it's full-throttle into the season with adorning games Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday (and even one Monday night matchup).
Since teams are rearing and ready to go for this weekend, here's a look at some things to expect in Week 1, and some general predictions for the season.
1.Let's start with the defending national champs - the Florida State Seminoles - who play the Big 12's Oklahoma State Cowboys at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on Saturday. Florida State returns a healthy number of playmakers to the roster, including Heisman Trophy winner and perpetual mischief-maker Jameis Winston. The 'Noles are absolutely worthy of being ranked the No. 1 team in the country, despite losing big-name players like Kelvin Benjamin, Devonta Freeman, Telvin Smith and Timmy Jernigan.
Florida State finished with a perfect 14-0 record in 2013, which is certainly not easy to do. Looking at the 2014 schedule, it's hard to believe Florida State will repeat that feat with teams like Clemson, Notre Dame, Louisville, Miami and Florida on the slate. But it's not out of the question.
In the first-ever season that will culminate with four teams in a playoff to determine the national champion, the Seminoles should be a favorite to earn one of those spots (possibly the No.1-seed) and to repeat as national title winners. It'll be a long, tough road. But the talent is there.
2.There are three matchups in Week 1 that feature two Top-25 programs meeting head-to-head. They include: (21) Texas A&M at (9) South Carolina, (16) Clemson at (12) Georgia, and (14) Wisconsin vs. (13) LSU at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas.
Life without Johnny Manziel will be an interesting test for Kevin Sumlin and the Aggies. This will be Sumlin's third year as the head coach at A&M, which means it's his first without Manziel under center. Sophomore Kenny Hill was named the starter at quarterback for opening day, with talented freshman Kyle Allen waiting in the wings. It won't be an enjoyable first experience for Hill as the new starter having to take on a ferocious Gamecocks defense.
Clemson and Georgia met up in Week 1 last season in South Carolina, and it was about as thrilling an opening-week contest as any fan could ask for. The Tigers won, 38-35, but the tables turn a bit for this season with the game being played in Athens. Lots of turnover has occurred for both sides, with both quarterbacks Aaron Murray and Tajh Boyd moving up to the NFL. Still, expect more fireworks.
Finally, Wisconsin and LSU will meet up at neutral-site NRG Stadium in Houston. The Badgers feature one of the nation's best running backs in Melvin Gordon. But returning only three defensive starters could hamper Wisconsin against Terrence McGee and LSU.
3. There are 46 FCS-FBS matchups in Week 1 this weekend. Last year, FCS teams won a record number of games against FBS competition (16) over the course of the season. Most of the competition will overwhelm FCS opponents (for example: No. 3 Oregon takes on South Dakota, which finished 4-8 in 2013), but there's always the threat of an upset. Some FBS teams that could take a tumble in Week 1 against a sub-division opponent include:
Central Michigan vs. Chattanooga - The Chippewas are a much improved team with plenty of returning starters, but do they have what it takes to come out in the first week and prove that? Chattanooga returns loads of talent with key defensive pieces that could impede CMU's progress.
Wyoming vs. Montana - New Cowboys coach Craig Bohl is fresh off his third straight FCS championship victory with North Dakota State, but has he had sufficient time to acclimate to the FBS world? Montana's offense is powerful and relentless, filled with veterans.
FIU vs. Bethune-Cookman - The Panthers were dismal last season, and lose one of their quarterbacks on an offense that lacked any real production in 2013. Ten starters return offensively, but does that really matter? B-CU won this matchup between the sides a year ago.
4. Ohio State retains the No. 5 ranking in the nation following Braxton Miller's season-ending injury. There may be no player in the country more important to a team and (potentially) its success than Miller to Ohio State. The Buckeyes travel to face Navy in the first week, which should still be an Ohio State victory. Let's see how things play out this season.
5. The top four teams in the nation are: (1) Florida State, (2) Alabama, (3) Oregon and (4) Oklahoma. Those teams will be the favorites to earn bids to the college football playoff at the end of the season. But keep an eye out for a few other programs to state their cases, including:
Auburn - The defending national runner-up isn't about to let last season's loss get to them, especially with Nick Marshall still under center.
UCLA - Don't count out Brett Hundley and the Bruins, who have a tough schedule but return a healthy number of starters and offensive weapons to keep pace with Stanford, USC and Oregon.
Baylor - Bryce Petty and Shock Linwood can be a monster tandem in the Bears' backfield. Having a top quarterback is always a good start, right?
Michigan State - The Spartans have an excellent offensive core, and will get help on defense from top players Shilique Calhoun on the defensive line, and defensive backs Kurtis Drummond and Trae Waynes, who are leftover members of the "No Fly Zone."