SPEAK TO ME, WARRIORS! Now that college football is upon us, how should you prepare? Should you jump off the tallest building in the world? Should you lay on the lawn and let them run over you with lawnmowers? Should you go to Africa and be trampled with raging elephants?
If that seems excessive, can I interest you in the Week 0 edition of The Open Man Saturday Six-Pack?
For the uninitiated, Saturday Six-Pack spotlights six of the best and/or most intriguing games each college football weekend. The gridiron gods have been especially good to us in 2017, giving us a full slate of games one weekend earlier than usual. An 11:30 a.m. Pacific kickoff leads us into almost 12 straight hours of glory.
Run, don’t walk, to your favorite viewing location.
While you’re there, consider the Saturday Six-Pack for Week 0:
Sierra Nevada Nooner Pilsner
Week 0 functions as the truly summer weekend of the college football season, which begets a truly summer beer. Yes, I understand it’s not officially autumn until late September, but let’s be realistic: Labor Day weekend and the full start of the football season is the unofficial start to the fall season by American standards.
Week 0 provides a bridge between summer and fall, allowing us to dip our feet into the football waters before taking the plunge.
Sierra Nevada’s one of my personal favorite brewers, and it has a winner in this light, delicious pilsner.
OREGON STATE at COLORADO STATE
Saturday, Aug. 26, 2:30 p.m. ET/11:30 a.m. PT
TV: CBS Sports Network
Line: Colorado State -3; O/U 59
Colorado State moved this one up to Week 0 in order to christen its new stadium via the first kickoff of the 2017 season. With the opening of this new venue come some rather significant expectations for Mike Bobo’s Rams.
Such experts as Phil Steele project the Rams will contend for their first conference championship since the great Sonny Lubick claimed the last of his six crowns in 2002. And indeed, there’s reason for the optimism: The quarterback guru Bobo is working with Nick Stevens, a promising passer in the vein of recent CSU breakout star Garrett Grayson.
Stevens is also passing to one of the premier receivers in college football, Michael Gallup. That potent one-two punch should conjure up memories of the breakout 2014 season, when CSU ascended into the Top 25 and contended for the MWC title.
The Rams are favored in Week 0, which would make an Oregon State in the inaugural game at the new stadium all the more disappointing. Don’t anticipate it being the only time the Beavers spoil a team’s plans this season, either.
With Ryan Nall returning in the backfield, an impressive linebacker corps powering the defense, and the promise of stability at quarterback with Jake Luton — something Oregon State’s lacked through Gary Andersen’s first two seasons at the helm — this is a team I’m very high on.
Oregon State was competitive against quality opponents in a handful of losses, and seemingly figured things out with two, double-digit-point wins by season’s end. I expect Oregon State to come out strong early and build a quick lead, capitalizing on Colorado State’s emotions, then holding off the Rams for a win.
Prediction: Oregon State 31, Colorado State 27
HAWAII at UMASS
Saturday, Aug. 26, 6 p.m. ET/3 p.m. PT
Line: Pick ‘Em; O/U 64
Once a Championship Subdivision powerhouse, UMass decided to chase the opportunities that come with FBS membership. The program’s an interesting case study into the challenges of pursuing FBS glory. Playing home games in Foxboro, nearly 70 miles from its Amherst campus, left UMass in front of virtually nonexistent audiences.
The Minutemen have moved all home games back on campus, but are seeking their first breakthrough season since moving up in 2012. They’re 10-49 in that time with no finish better than 3-9, and they’re chasing their first bowl game now as an independent.
MAC membership didn’t work out, leaving UMass in a precarious place. Week 0 opponent Hawaii can relate. Rumors of Hawaii dropping its football program entirely circulated just three years ago.
The budgetary challenges coincided with some bad football. After an outstanding 2010 season, the Rainbow Warriors hit on some hard times. The hire of Nick Rolovich as head coach prior to last season injected some desperately needed life into the program, and produced results immediately. Hawaii’s run to the Hawaii Bowl came as one of the 2016 season’s bigger shocks, and the Rainbow Warriors’ rout of MTSU provided some positive momentum into the offseason.
Building on that momentum against a very beatable in Week 0 is a must, but not necessarily as easy as the Rainbow Warriors exercising their talent advantage. The trek to Amherst is the longest in program history — and given every trip is a long one when you’re flying out of the Island, that’s saying something.
UMass has some pieces on offense, including one of the nation’s best pass-catching tight ends, Adam Breneman (2016 team highs in yards with 808 and touchdowns with 8). The Minutemen will be able to score some points, but perhaps not enough to keep pace with the Rainbow Warriors.
Running back Diocemy Saint Juste and quarterback are two unheralded gems in the Mountain West Dru Brown. Both should garner some more buzz as the season progresses, starting here against a defense that gave up 35.5 points per game in 2016.
Prediction: Hawaii 42, UMass 35
CHATTANOOGA at JACKSONVILLE STATE
Saturday, Aug. 26, 6:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. PT
John Grass took over as Jacksonville State head coach in 2014, and through three seasons with the Gamecocks, has won at least 10 games every time out. That’s the kind of immediate success first-year Chattanooga head coach Tom Arth seeks, making the jump to Division I after a tremendous tenure with D-III John Carroll.
Arth inherits a Chattanooga program that has factored into the Southern Conference race recently, but is tabbed to finish just fourth this season. The Mocs have a prime opportunity to disprove the naysayers, drawing a Week 0 date against one of the most consistent FCS programs of recent years.
Chattanooga will need to surprise the potent Gamecock offense with stout defense — and the Mocs have the personnel to do it, returning defensive end Isaiah Mack (7.5 sacks, 14 tackles for loss) and linebacker Dale Warren (19 tackles for loss, six sacks) from a side that allowed fewer than 20 points per game a season ago.
Jacksonville State will counter with one of the best offensive lines in FCS and a multifaceted running game, powered by Auburn transfer Roc Thomas. And as far as getting defensive, the Gamecocks have the personnel to counter Chattanooga’s talent. In fact, Jacksonville State makes up half of the entire Preseason First Team of the Ohio Valley All-Conference.
Linebacker Sirean Neal and defensive end Darius Jackson power this unit, which allowed just over 18 points per game in 2016. Combined with the running game, the Gamecocks have the ability to suffocate an opponent — and should do so in Week 0.
Prediction: Jacksonville State 31, Chattanooga 14
COLGATE at CAL POLY
Saturday, Aug. 26, 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT
Quite an intriguing matchup here, as the second-most prolific rushing offense in FCS a season ago, Cal Poly (343.5 yards per game) squares off with the stingiest rushing defense college football had to offer (69.4 yards allowed per game).
This clash of conflicting strengths could quietly emerge as the best matchup of Week 0.
The star player on each opposing side of the ball returns, with Cal Poly welcoming back All-American fullback Joe Protheroen (1,334 yards, 13 touchdowns) and Colgate retaining All-American defensive end Pat Afriyie (21 tackles for loss, 10 sacks).
Colgate enjoyed a surprise, breakout 2015 season, winning the Patriot League championship and advancing to the quarterfinals of the FCS Playoffs after an upset of James Madison. The Raiders’ regression to third in the League a season ago tempers expectations ahead of the 2017 campaign — Patriot League media tabs them third once again — but the defense should be good enough to keep Colgate competitive against seemingly superior competition.
Cal Poly’s one such candidate for an upset. The Mustangs rode their option offense to a spot in the 2016 Playoffs, but lost a shocker in the opening round to San Diego, marking the first time a Pioneer Football League program advanced in the tournament.
Big Sky Conference media tabbed the Mustangs to finish fourth in 2017, which would put Cal Poly right around the cutoff line for an at-large Playoff invitation. While it’s only Week 0, a win or loss here could well decide Poly’s postseason fate once November arrives; don’t expect that to be lost on the homestanding Mustangs.
Prediction: Cal Poly 24, Colgate 14
STANFORD vs. RICE (in Sydney, Australia)
Saturday, Aug. 26, 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT
Line: Stanford -31; O/U 54
The first Saturday of the 2017 college football season concludes on Sunday — at least, it will be Sunday in Sydney when Stanford and Rice kick off.
For the second consecutive year, Australia plays host to a Week 0 contest. Cal bested Hawaii in last season’s contest Down Under, while the Golden Bears’ Bay Area rivals look to make it 2-0 for the Pac-12 in Australia.
Strange things can happen a world away, and certainly nothing would be stranger than Rice shocking Stanford. Unfortunately for the Owls, I foresee things going about as well for them in Australia as they did for Annabelle Dixon.
A date with USC looms just two weeks in Stanford’s future, so expect David Shaw to play his first string as little as possible. That means dominating Rice from the outset, building a big, first-quarter lead, then coasting with reverses.
For those of you on the East Coast, you should be able to get to bed before it’s Sunday stateside.
Prediction: Stanford 42, Rice 14
RICHMOND at SAM HOUSTON STATE
Sunday, Aug. 27, 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT
The recent Week 0 tradition began exclusively as a showcase for the FCS. I personally believe that should still be the case, but I digress. Were the Week 0 slate left in its original form this year, the marquee matchup would be this one. I have to give ESPN credit for placing it on Sunday where it has the spotlight, and won’t run opposite the Mayweather-McGregor circus.
Sam Houston State and Richmond is a fitting matchup to showcase FCS to the nation.
Both teams have the makings of national championship contenders in 2017. Sam Houston State looked poised to finally make that breakthrough last year after a handful of runner-up finishes in recent years, ascended to No. 1 at one point in the season.
Eventual national champion James Madison squashed those aspirations in a brutal beat-down, 65-7, one week before snapping North Dakota State’s stranglehold on the FCS title. Surely that awful showing in the quarterfinal against a Colonial Athletic Association opponent has to have lingered for head coach K.C. Keeler, himself a longtime veteran of the CAA at Delaware.
The Bearkats get an opportunity to redeem themselves against another quality opponent out of the CAA in Richmond. The Spiders won the 2008 FCS championship, and have remained in the picture despite various coaching changes over the past eight years. The cycle starts again for the Spiders, with Russ Huesman taking over after a successful stint at Chattanooga.
Huesman take over a UR that, like Sam Houston State, suffered a lopsided last in last year’s quarterfinal. The Spiders flamed out against Eastern Washington with quarterback Kyle Lauletta sidelined by injury.
He returns to captain the offense, while defensive end Brandon Waller anchors a Spider defense that ranked No. 23 in points allowed last season. Waller and his teammates will have their hands full against reigning Walter Payton Award winner Jeremiah Briscoe and the Sam Houston State offense.
Briscoe passed for a staggering 57 touchdowns to pace the nation’s leading scoring offense (49.5 points per game).
This one should be a ton of fun. For the FCS novice, make time to check out the Sunday night showcase.
Prediction: Sam Houston State 49, Richmond 41