The college football season gets going in full force this weekend. Here are five things to watch this weekend:
It’s Georgia’s second season under head coach Kirby Smart and with Jacob Eason starting at quarterback. The development of both in those positions will be key for the Bulldogs’ chances in 2017. That starts with a game Saturday against Appalachian State (6:15 p.m./ESPN).
Georgia finished 8-5 last year in the first season of the Smart-Eason combo. The Bulldogs were picked at SEC Media Days as the favorite to win the SEC East title and face Alabama for the conference championship in Atlanta in December.
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Sure Georgia has a fun trip next week to South Bend, Indiana, to face Notre Dame, but the Bulldogs need to have their focus on Appalachian State before making that trip.
Labor Day fun
Georgia Tech fans will have to wait a couple of more days for the start of their season as the Yellow Jackets kick off 2017 against Tennessee on Monday at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium (8 p.m./ESPN).
The Yellow Jackets will have a new starting quarterback after Justin Thomas wrapped up his stellar career last season, but Paul Johnson’s team has plenty of talent surrounding whoever wins that job (and that hasn’t been announced quite yet).
Even without star running back Dedrick Mills, who was kicked off the team in early August, Georgia Tech could surprise some folks, and that’s including Monday against the SEC’s Volunteers.
The Bears kicked off their fifth season Thursday night with a 48-7 victory over Jacksonville in non-conference play. Mercer is hoping to take the next step this season and compete for a Southern Conference title and a spot in the FCS playoffs.
For the first time in program history, someone other than John Russ started at quarterback Thursday as talented redshirt freshman Kaelan Riley stepped into that starting role and produced five touchdowns. There are a lot of new faces in key spots for the Bears this season, but they have more talent and depth than they have had in their first four seasons.
The Bears carry a five-game home winning streak into their game Sept. 9 against Wofford in their Southern Conference opener.
Georgia Southern struggled to a 5-7 season in head coach Tyson Summers’ first season in Statesboro. But the Eagles have turned back to their past — focusing their offense more on the option — to get things going in their present.
Georgia Southern faces a difficult test to start the season with a trip Saturday to Auburn for the teams’ second-ever meeting (7:30 p.m./SEC Network).
Opening-week’s big, big, big game
There are many other good games to get the season going: Michigan-Florida, Virginia Tech-West Virginia, N.C. State-South Carolina, LSU-BYU, Texas A&M-UCLA, just to mention a few.
But none of those can match Alabama-Florida State on Saturday night at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium (8 p.m., ABC). Both teams are considered national championship contenders, and that’s a heck of a way to kick off the season for the Crimson Tide and Seminoles.
Whichever team wins that one takes a huge first step toward a big-time season. And the loser certainly won’t be knocked out of the mix for a chance to get back in the hunt for the College Football Playoff.