Now that the latest bit of Johnny Football drama has been settled, the college football season can start with five days of games to satisfy fans who have been craving competition since Nick Saban was raising a crystal football in south Florida and trying to look as if he was having a good time.
The season starts, as always, with more mismatches than marquee games, but that’s OK. The important thing is there will be college football and plenty of it, starting Thursday night with North Carolina at No. 6 South Carolina and ending Labor Day night with No. 11 Florida State at Pittsburgh.
Five things to know about the opening weekend as you prepare to overdose on college football:
1) NO. 1 SHOULD BE SAFE: The last time the preseason No. 1 team in the country lost its opening game was 1990, when the defending champion Miami Hurricanes were upset by BYU in Provo, Utah. The game launched Ty Detmer’s Heisman Tophy-winning season. No. 1 Alabama is the two-time defending champion and a 19 1/2-point favorite to beat Virginia Tech at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta on Saturday. If the Hokies can pull the upset, quarterback Logan Thomas will have to put on a Detmer-esque performance.
2) SLUMP-BUSTER. Southern Mississippi was the lone winless team in major college football in 2012, a remarkable collapse for a program that hadn’t had a losing season since 1993. The Golden Eagles of Conference USA enter 2013 with a new coach, former Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Todd Monken, and the longest losing streak in the nation. Southern Miss opens at home Saturday against Texas State, a Sun Belt team that went 4-8 last season, its first against a full slate of FBS opponents. If the Golden Eagles don’t snap that streak this week, it could be a while. Their next three opponents: No. 18 Nebraska, Arkansas and No. 19 Boise State, all on the road. Two teams have 11-game losing streaks: Kansas, which is off this week before opening with South Dakota on Sept. 7; and New Mexico State, which opens at Texas.
3) STREAKING. Ohio State was the only undefeated team in the country last season and the second-ranked Buckeyes enter the season with a nation-best 12-game winning streak. Thirteen in a row seems like a safe bet with Urban Meyer’s team opening against Buffalo at the Horseshoe on Saturday. The Bulls have one of the best linebackers in the country in Khalil Mack _ but not much else that will help them match up against the Buckeyes, who are favored by five touchdowns. Stanford (off until Sept. 7 against San Jose State) and Arkansas State, which opens against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, have the next-best winning streaks at eight games.
4) IS HE OR IS HE NOT PLAYING? No. 12 LSU and No. 20 TCU meet in Arlington, Texas, in an SEC-Big 12 tussle that has been spiced up a bit by who is and is not playing. The Horned Frogs announced in May that star defensive end Devonte Fields would not play the first two games of the season because of an unspecified violation of “university and team policy.” But TCU coach Gary Patterson said this week that Fields will be in uniform, and when asked if the sophomore would play, the coach replied, “find out at game time.” Patterson then strongly suggested Fields would be out. Earlier in the month, Patterson made some seemingly critical comments about LSU coach Les Miles’ decision to let his players decide whether Tigers running back Jeremy Hill, who pleaded guilty in July to misdemeanor battery, would be allowed to remain on the team. Hill got to stay on the team, but Miles will not say whether he will play Saturday night.
5) WELCOME TO THE NEIGHBORHOOD: Pittsburgh will play its first game as a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference, and it’ll be quite a welcome to the league. Defending ACC champion Florida State visits Pitt, which was 6-7 in its first season under coach Paul Chryst and last as a member of the Big East.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP