The best games to watch over college football's opening weekend

Don't you dare flip that channel

College football players.
(Image credit: AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)

Spoiler alert: The world is terrible.

College football's opening weekend, however, is not. I like it so much that instead of taking in fragments of as many important matchups as possible, I prefer to watch complete games. Many of the best programs in the country — Ohio State, Clemson, Wisconsin — are playing pushover teams anyway. So why not catch a game in every time time slot from Thursday until Monday night, regardless of how the teams are ranked in the now meaningless preseason AP poll?

Here are nine games you should watch over the extended Labor Day weekend.

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Northwestern at Purdue, 8 p.m. EST

SEC fanboys need to get real: LSU is an aesthetic, not a football team; Alabama and Georgia are the only real games in town. It has been clear for a while that the Big 10 is the most stacked of the Power Five conferences in terms of player talent and coaching ability. I do not expect any Big 10 team to go undefeated in conference play this year or any time in the foreseeable future. Until last year, however, the conference's strength has mostly been concentrated in the eastern division, with Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State, and Michigan, and Wisconsin the sole powerhouse in the West. But the western division is rising. Look for a fun matchup in West Lafayette, with Northwestern coming off an amazing 10-3 breakout season and Purdue under a new head coach and fresh from a bowl victory. Who wins out? My heart says Purdue, but Coach Pat Fitzgerald's squad, looking ahead to tough games against Wisconsin, Notre Dame, and Michigan will try to ensure that his team does not drop too far below last season's record.


Syracuse at Western Michigan, 6 p.m. EST

Western Michigan should never have let P.J. Fleck go. The current head coach of the Minnesota Gophers is doomed to mediocrity in the Big 10. He could have ruled the MAC for life with flexible second-chance recruiting. Even though I would like to be biased in favor of one of the two Division 1-A football programs within driving distance of my home in flyover country, I think Syracuse takes this one on the strength of their defense.

San Diego State at Stanford, 9 p.m. EST

Maybe you won't see the beginning if you watch the Orange down to the last play — why are these telecasts so needlessly long? — but you'll want to be there for every minute you can catch of what I expect to be a close game and even possibly an upset against No. 12 Stanford. The Aztecs were undefeated against Pac 12 teams last year. They have a very solid line and a talented senior quarterback in Christian Chapman. A born romantic, that's me.


Texas at Maryland, 12 p.m. EST

Even with Maryland's head coach D.J. Durkin on administrative leave under a cloud of suspicion, it's hard not to be excited about the possibility of a repeat of one of the best upsets of last season, when the Terps triumphed 51-41 against the-then No. 23-ranked Longhorns. Maybe it's because I have always hated the Big 12, but I think Maryland is going to play just as strongly against a Texas ranked, once again, at No. 23.

Washington at Auburn, 3:30 p.m. EST

I can't wait for the Pac 12 to make a comeback after their truly painful bowl season. Boasting what is almost certainly the best secondary in the country, the Huskies are going to beat a team that is in the top 10 mostly because it is the arch-rival of the team that is perennially ranked number one — but not by too much. I expect a long, brutal, low-scoring classic.

Michigan at Notre Dame, 7:30 p.m. EST

My wife says that Advent starts early in our house, just after New Year's Day, when, after a break of a few days, I start talking to her at odd hours about obscure high-school offensive tackles who might have a bright future in Ann Arbor. After embarrassing myself in a manner befitting a typical representative of the most insufferable fan base in the country apart from Alabama's, I won't say much more than that I expect our defense to take advantage of the Irish's inconsistency, especially in the passing game.

Navy at Hawaii, 11 p.m. EST

The University of Hawaii Rainbow Warriors are probably my third favorite team. When our eldest child was born in 2015, she was a relentless non-sleeper, which meant that the first few months of her life were spent in her father's arms watching a stream of whatever football was on in the middle of the night. For obvious geographical reasons this almost always meant Hawaii. Last year I decided to keep up with them. Sure, they went 3-9, but there were no real shutouts at home. If you ever want to chat about the fortunes of Nick Rolovich's squad, I'll be on Twitter at 2 a.m. ready for your thoughts.


Miami vs. LSU (at Arlington), 7:30 p.m. EST

Do I actually care that much about this matchup between a perennially overrated outfit — haters would call them the Michigan of the SEC — and my fourth favorite college football team based in the Sunshine State? No. But it's the only Sunday game. LSU's offense is a riddle wrapped in a mystery, inside whatever other noun Churchill employed in that famous quotation. Miami's got this.


Virginia Tech at Florida State, 8 p.m. EST

This is going to be a high-scoring nightmare for those of us who value a good defense above all else. I fully expect the combined points total to be in the three-figure range. As with its predecessor on this list, it is the only college football option on its respective evening, so you might as well enjoy a narrow Hokies victory over the Seminoles.

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Matthew Walther

Matthew Walther is a national correspondent at The Week. His work has also appeared in First Things, The Spectator of London, The Catholic Herald, National Review, and other publications. He is currently writing a biography of the Rev. Montague Summers. He is also a Robert Novak Journalism Fellow.