After a long offseason, college football returns this week. There are always things to watch every week of the season. Here are 5 things to watch in college football week 1.
1. Marcus Freeman’s Debut
One of the more high profile jobs in all of sports opened up in the offseason, so Notre Dame promoted Marcus Freeman from defensive coordinator to head coach. Over the years, the Fighting Irish have been criticized for not winning big games. Freeman lost his first big one in the Fiesta Bowl. It may not be fair to judge him in the season opener, as he hasn’t yet even had a full recruiting class, but it is interesting to see how he does in week 1, as Notre Dame travels to Columbus to take on Ohio State.
Currently, Ohio State is favored by over two touchdowns. Freeman is a former Ohio State player and coach so he has familiarity with the program. What will be hard for Notre Dame to do is to stop Ohio State’s high-powered offense, which stars quarterback C.J. Stroud, running back TreVeyon Henderson and wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba. It is not often that these storied programs match up, so all eyes will be on Freeman’s debut, even if Ohio State is heavily favored.
2. Georgia New Contributors
The reigning National Champions, the Georgia Bulldogs, open up their season against Oregon in Atlanta. Oregon’s new head coach is Dan Lanning, who previously was an assistant at Georgia. While it is a top 25 matchup, Georgia is projected to win by 17 points, as they reload in their recruiting and Lanning still has to build up the Oregon program.
What will be interesting to watch is how the newer players on Georgia step up after several players went pro following the National Championship Game. The Bulldogs are replacing three starting offensive linemen, two running backs and several players on their defense. As mentioned, Georgia recruits well, but it will be interesting to see how they do with larger roles this season.
3. K.J. Jefferson’s Improvement
Arkansas bounced back with a great 2021 season, which saw them finish with a 9-3 record. One of the players catapulting them forward was quarterback K.J. Jefferson, who was able to pass for 2,676 yards and rush for 664 more. Heading into the 2022 season, Jefferson is likely to take another jump forward in terms of his productivity.
The Razorbacks open the season with a tough game against Cincinnati. While the Bearcats did go to the College Football Playoff last season, plenty of their players have either graduated or left for the NFL Draft. The one thing the Bearcats do have is a strong defense that returns a few key contributors including cornerback Arquon Bush, safety Ja’Von HIcks and linebacker Deshawn Pace. In this game, Jefferson can show if he has improved against a solid defense.
4. Utah Going into the Swamp
One of the teams that is getting a lot of love this preseason is Utah. The Utes are coming off a Rose Bowl appearance and many have picked them to win the Pac-12 and even make the College Football Playoff. With quarterback Cam Rising and running back Tavion Thomas returning, the offense is poised for growth this season. Having cornerback Clark Phillips matching up with good receivers helps the entire defense.
The first game of the season will be a big test for this Utah team, as they travel to “the Swamp” to take on Florida. Utah is currently favored by a field goal after Florida has had some down years. Billy Napier is in his first season as the head coach of the Gators and would love to get a statement win, but will need a very raw quarterback in Anthony Richardson to show he is much better than last season to do it. The game should be a close one and if Utah wins, they may be poised for a big season.
5. The Backyard Brawl
With conference realignment, a lot of the great rivalries are not played as often. The Backyard Brawl was played in four of the last five years after four years off. This season Pittsburgh is hosting the game. They have had a lot of turnover with Kenny Pickett now in the NFL and Biletnikoff winner Jordan Addison now at USC. They do have a good defensive line and USC transfer Kedon Slovis at quarterback as they try to defend their ACC title.
West Virginia has Georgia transfer JT Daniels at quarterback, who formerly was the quarterback at USC, much like Slovis. He will be tasked with getting the offense rolling after the Mountaineers haven’t had a season with a winning record since 2018. The Mountaineers had an ok defense last year and will continue to be led by defensive tackle Dante Stills. Pittsburgh is projected to win by a touchdown in this game, but it is a rivalry so anything can happen.
Make sure to check out our college football page for more content like 5 things to watch in college football week 1!