College football returns in all its glory

By Nathan Ham - [email protected]

(File photo) Nathan Ham

WEST JEFFERSON-Christmas comes early for me every year, usually about the first weekend in September, and it doesn’t stop giving until the early days of January.

College football is upon us, my friends.

September through November, every Saturday is full of games to attend, watch on TV or for the fans on the go, find a way to enjoy a game on your seven-inch smartphone screen. Sprinkle in a few weekday games, a Thursday night showdown every week, and you’re looking at a life fit for a king.

You want more? Don’t forget, we’ve all got the college football playoffs, the national championship game and 39 other bowl games named after everything ranging from potatoes to mortgage companies to everyone’s favorite plant, the cactus, to look forward to.

I haven’t even touched on the Football Championship Subdivision games, NCAA Division II or Division III games that bring people to fill the stands in every small school across every state in the country.

But it’s just September, the first week of the season. Let’s all take it slow and enjoy how fantastic the next few weeks of our lives will be.

This week, the schedule may not be full of huge top 25 matchups, but there are still several intriguing games on the schedule and even some conference matchups in the very first week.

1. Can the Mountaineers shock Tennessee? We all know App State can pull off upsets. They’ve done it before, but can they do it in Knoxville against the ninth-ranked Volunteers? The App State running game has to be clicking on all cylinders and the defense has got to slow down Jalen Hurd and Josh Dobbs. The two teams square off on Thursday night.

2. The ACC Atlantic is Clemson’s to lose. If you read the season previews for ACC teams, and know who Clemson has at quarterback (Deshaun Watson), you might as well hand Clemson the ACC Championship trophy. Barring injuries and some serious in-game miscues, Clemson should be a lock to win the Atlantic Division. Florida State could have a say in things, but with tough road games at #19 Louisville, at Miami and at N.C. State where the Seminoles have a tendency to slip up, it will be tough to make it through all three of those games without a loss. Not to mention having to face Clemson and #22 UNC at home.

3. ACC Coastal Division, on the other hand, is wide open. Who Clemson may face in the ACC Championship game is a whole other story. UNC is considered the favorite, but with Mark Richt taking over at Miami, the always-dangerous option attack at Georgia Tech and the new up-tempo spread attack at Virginia Tech, the Tarheels will have their hands full. UNC’s schedule is pretty favorable not having to face Clemson or Louisville in conference play and getting both Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech at home. However, the two road trips to Florida State and Miami will be tough ones.

4. Speaking of UNC, how do they handle the Georgia Bulldogs? One of the more intriguing games on the schedule this Saturday is a pair of top 25 teams squaring off in the Georgia Dome. #22 UNC takes on #18 Georgia at 5:30 p.m. The Bulldogs have a new coach and arguably the best player in the game with running back Nick Chubb being cleared to play. UNC has a new quarterback, but returns leading rusher Elijah Hood and do-it-all wideout Ryan Switzer. My prediction: Georgia wins this one, 34-27

5. Will it be the Men of Troy or Roll Tide Roll on Saturday night? #20 USC and #1 Alabama meet up on Saturday night in Dallas in the House that Jerry Built, officially known as AT&T Stadium. There will be a lot of NFL talent on that field, including a matchup we all want to see: USC wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster vs. Alabama cornerback Marlon Humphrey. Both could easily be top 10 picks in the 2017 NFL Draft and both are ranked as the best at their respective positions, according to CBS Sports.

6. So who are some national championship favorites this year? You have to start with the defending champions, Alabama, and the team they faced in the title game, Clemson. Both bring back a lot of talent and both are well-coached teams. #3 Oklahoma could be in the mix again but they get a stiff test right out of the gate with a game against #15 Houston at noon. #4 Florida State and #5 LSU all have the talent to win it all.

7. Championship sleepers. Looking outside the top five, there are several teams to take a look at that could contend for the playoffs. As much as I hate to play the homer card here, I would love nothing more than to see #7 Michigan return to the glory years. I’ve been a Michigan fan all my life and now that Jim Harbaugh has returned home to save the day, life is good for the Maize and Blue. On the flip side, as much as I despise the Ohio State Buckeyes, they are more than qualified as a candidate for the playoffs and a potential title winner. Look out for #8 Stanford and #11 Ole Miss to potentially sneak into the playoffs as well, however both teams have a tough schedule.

8. The ultimate sleeper team. Okay, all the teams I have mentioned have been ranked in the top 11. However, every now and then there is a team that comes out of nowhere to either make the title game (Auburn in 2013 had zero votes in any preseason poll, coming off of a 3-9 season in 2012) or even win the title game (Cam Newton says hello, Auburn was ranked #22 to start the 2010 season). My ultimate sleeper team this season: Texas Tech. That’s right, the Red Raiders. The schedule is less difficult than it could be with Oklahoma, Baylor, Texas and West Virginia all having to come to Lubbock. The key road games for Texas Tech will be a non-conference matchup at Arizona State (Sept. 10), a road trip to TCU (Oct. 29) and a road trip to Oklahoma State on Nov. 12. Otherwise the schedule includes Stephen F. Austin, Louisiana Tech, Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State.

9. Okay, so who wins it all? My pick right now, before a week of football has even been played, is going to be LSU. I think Leonard Fournette has a chance at one of the best seasons we’ve ever seen from a running back and the “Mad Hatter” Les Miles gets the best of the SEC and the rest of the country.

10. Last but not least, the Heisman Trophy winner is: Leonard Fournette. I believe he’ll stay healthy and put up huge numbers against every team he faces. Fournette edges out Deshaun Watson, Florida State RB Dalvin Cook, Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey and Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett.

Nathan Ham can be reached at 336-489-3062.

(File photo) Nathan Ham photo) Nathan Ham

By Nathan Ham

[email protected]

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