Each week, The Game Haus will preview every college football game featuring teams in The Associated Press Top 25. We’ll also give an expanded look at three Top 25 matchups especially worth watching.
Here we go with those Top 25 games for Week 1 (all times Eastern):
Northwestern at No. 25 Stanford, 4 p.m., Saturday
Scouting the Wildcats: With 36 wins over the past four seasons and returning talent on each side of the ball – running back Isaiah Bowser (866 rushing yards in 2018) and linebacker Paddy Fisher (116 tackles) – Northwestern could have found a place in the preseason Top 25. Quarterback and Clemson transfer Hunter Johnson is someone to watch.
Scouting the Cardinal: It seemed like a second straight nine-win season in 2018 was a bit of a disappointment considering expectations were higher. Quarterback K.J. Costello (5,113 career passing yards, 43 touchdown passes) could be the second-best passer in the Pac-12. Stanford lost at Northwestern in 2015.
No. 11 Oregon vs. No. 16 Auburn (at Arlington, Texas), 7:30 p.m., Saturday
Scouting the Ducks: Justin Herbert (7,070 career passing yards, 63 career TD passes) might be the first quarterback taken in the 2020 NFL Draft. At the moment, however, his focus is on guiding Oregon past a solid Auburn defense and then a potential Pac-12 championship.
Scouting the Tigers: The Bo Nix Era at Auburn is slated to begin Saturday against the Ducks. Is the high-profiled Tigers legacy and true freshman quarterback the guy capable of saving Gus Malzahn’s job? He’ll face a tall order right off the bat against an active Oregon defense.
Houston at No. 4 Oklahoma, 7:30 p.m., Sunday
Scouting the Cougars: Dana Holgorsen is now in charge at Houston, and he has a good one in quarterback D’Eriq King (50 total touchdowns in 2018). Though the Cougars face a major challenge in their opener, they did beat Oklahoma back in 2016.
Scouting the Sooners: All the talk surrounding the Sooners has been geared toward Alabama transfer and new quarterback Jalen Hurts. But, if Oklahoma is serious about winning a national title, a defense that allowed at least 40 points six times in 2018 must improve.
Florida A&M at No. 17 UCF, 7:30 p.m., Thursday
The Skinny: Ex-Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush is starting for Central Florida, at least this week. We don’t think the Knights are in danger of ending their 24-game regular-season winning streak with this one.
Georgia Tech at No. 1 Clemson, 8 p.m., Thursday
The Skinny: The reigning national champion Tigers are back, and might be even better than they were last season. At least on offense, led by Heisman Trophy contender Trevor Lawrence. This is not exactly an easy introduction to Georgia Tech football for new coach Geoff Collins.
Texas State at No. 12 Texas A&M, 8:30 p.m., Thursday
The Skinny: Expectations are high at Texas A&M after Jimbo Fisher guided the program to nine wins in 2018. However, the Aggies must be focused on this task and not looking ahead to Clemson next week.
Winner: Texas A&M
No. 14 Utah at BYU, 10:15 p.m., Thursday
The Skinny: The “Holy War” has been all about the Utes, who will try for a ninth consecutive victory in the series. Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley and running back Zack Moss are healthy and poised to lead the program to big things in 2019.
Tulsa at No. 18 Michigan State, 7 p.m., Friday
The Skinny: The key to the Spartans success this season likely falls on the shoulders of quarterback Brian Lewerke, who has thrown 30 touchdowns and 19 interceptions the past three seasons and will be tasked with improving an inconsistent offense. Here’s a chance for a good start.
Winner: Michigan State
No. 19 Wisconsin at South Florida, 7 p.m., Friday
The Skinny: Even with running back Jonathan Taylor (4,171 yards over the past two years) in the fold, the Badgers might be in for a tough opener. Quarterback Jack Coen is getting his shot against a South Florida squad that will be hungry after losing its final six games of 2018.
Northern Iowa at No. 21 Iowa State, Noon, Saturday
The Skinny: Sophomore quarterback Brock Purdy (2,558 passing/rushing yards in 2018) and defensive end JaQuan Bailey (18 1/2 career sacks) lead a group that could be the best of coach Matt Campbell’s tenure. UNI, however, has won two of the last meetings in Ames.
Winner: Iowa State
South Alabama at No. 24 Nebraska, Noon, Saturday
The Skinny: Once again, the Cornhuskers are brimming with excitement after a strong finish to an underachieving first season under coach Scott Frost. There is more collective comfort in Lincoln, which, at the very least, will mean a victory in the opener.
Florida Atlantic at No. 5 Ohio State, Noon, Saturday
The Skinny: It’s coach Ryan Day’s team and new quarterback Justin Fields’ show. Many believe the Buckeyes are worthy of a spot in the College Football Playoff. Maybe. What we do know is that they should beat Lane Kiffin’s Owls to start.
Winner: Ohio State
Eastern Washington at No. 13 Washington, 3 p.m., Saturday
The Skinny: Ex-Georgia quarterback Jacob Eason gets his shot with the Huskies, and the defense should still be stingy. Don’t sleep on EWU, which was runner-up in the FCS last season and has played Washington tough in the past.
Duke at No. 2 Alabama (at Atlanta, Geo.), 3:30 p.m., Saturday
The Skinny: This is a nice opening test of the Crimson Tide. They should win, but it won’t be a cake-walk. This is not the ideal matchup the Blue Devils would like to see to begin life after quarterback Daniel Jones.
Idaho at No. 15 Penn State, 3:30 p.m., Saturday
The Skinny: It’s hard to figure out what to make of the Nittany Lions entering the season, and already there are some off-field issues creeping into the program. What we do know is that new quarterback Sean Clifford and Co. should be OK this weekend.
Winner: Penn State
No. 22 Syracuse at Liberty, 6 p.m., Saturday
The Skinny: This is somewhat of an intriguing matchup with the Orange and new starting quarterback Tommy DeVito opening on the road. Also, will Hugh Freeze be able to make his Liberty coaching debut in person?
Miami (OH) at No. 20 Iowa, 7:30 p.m., Saturday
The Skinny: The Hawkeyes could be a darkhorse contender in the Big Ten West Division and have a rightful place in the Top 25. However, they’ve struggled in recent years with teams from the Mid-American Conference, so this might not be an easy win.
Georgia Southern at No. 6 LSU, 7:30 p.m., Saturday
The Skinny: LSU is poised for another strong defensive season. However, if quarterback Joe Burrow (3,293 passing/rushing yards) can better the surprise effort he put forth in 2018, then the Tigers could be in for something special.
Middle Tennessee at No. 7 Michigan, 7:30 p.m., Saturday
The Skinny: This must be a make-or-break season for Jim Harbaugh in Ann Arbor. While the team is again filled with high expectations, another strong start is imperative after ending the 2018 season with ugly losses to Ohio State and Florida.
No. 3 Georgia at Vanderbilt, 7:30 p.m., Saturday
The Skinny: Starting the season off with an SEC road game presents somewhat of a hurdle for the Bulldogs. The health of star running back D’Andre Swift (1,049 yards, 10 TDs in 2018) is also an early concern. Still, Georgia is too deep and talented to lose this game.
Louisiana Tech at No. 10 Texas, 8 p.m., Saturday
The Skinny: There’s a lot of promise at Texas, and the Longhorns believe they can take the next step and win the Big 12. With San Ehlinger at the helm, Texas should begin that quest on a positive note.
New Mexico State at No. 23 Washington State, 10 p.m., Saturday
The Skinny: Quarterback Anthony Gordon has paid his dues as a backup for the Cougars, but now it’s his time. He could be in for a big night against a New Mexico State that lost some of its better players from a defense that allowed more than 41 points per game in 2018.
Winner: Washington State
No. 9 Notre Dame at Louisville, 8 p.m., Monday
The Skinny: Are the Irish capable of making another run to the College Football Playoff? That might be a tall order, but we’re quite certain Ian Book and Co. will have an easy time taking down the rebuilding Cardinals.
Winner: Notre Dame