College football is back in a big way this week, after the traditional week 0 curtain raisers. There are plenty of great games on the schedule this week and a number of them are making it on to UK television screens.
Because of the amount of games on TV this week, we are splitting this week’s UK TV Preview into two parts, today we give you everything on your telebox up until the weekend and the on Friday morning, we’ll give you part two which will contain the weekend’s action.
Here we go…
UAB vs. Jacksonville State – Crampton Bowl, Montgomery, Alabama
Thursday 2nd Sept – 12.30am (UK)
UAB 14.5 point favourites at the time of writing
The University of Alabama, Birmingham Blazers will be kicking off this week’s college football by facing off against the Jacksonville State Gamecocks. It’ll be a late/early one on a weekday so it’ll be strictly for college football fanatics, or people on working night shifts.
The Blazers are the reigning Conference-USA champions and they do kick off this one as heavy favourites over FCS opponents but don’t write off Jacksonville State immediately – The Gamecocks had themselves a nice season too. They won the Ohio Valley Conference, ranked #8 at the FCS level and made it to the FCS Playoff Quarterfinals (The FCS playoffs are a 16 team bracket, rather than the 4 team tournament in the FBS) before losing to Delaware.
Jacksonville State has scheduled a tough opening to the season with UAB followed by a road game against Florida State, so they will want to put on a show and hang-tough with superior opponents.
UAB are also in a position where they’ll want to get a nice performance in before playing a much superior opponent in their second game as they face off against Georgia, in Athens on September 11th. With this in mind, both teams will be keen to put it all on the line in week 1.
Eastern Carolina vs. Appalachian State – Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC
Friday 3rd Sept – 12.30am (UK)
Appalachian State 10.5 point favourites at time of writing
The Pirates and Mountaineers face off at the home of the Carolina Panthers in the early hours of Friday morning here in the UK, and whilst this matchup might not initially set the pulses racing, I feel like this is a sneaky good game between two teams who always seem to have players who scouts are looking at as solid day three picks in the NFL Draft. Both of these teams had players drafted this past Spring. Despite this being a game between two lesser programmes, that could be the same again in next year’s draft too as there are certainly a handful of draftable guys who will be taking the field here.
App State probably holds the upper hand in this regard and are rightly strong favourites, running back Camerun Peoples had 317 yards and 5 touchdowns in the Myrtle Beach Bowl against North Texas at the end last season. He’s a marked man and is on the Maxwell Award watch list (nations top running back). People’s isn’t a receiving threat, having accumulated just 15 receiving yards over his whole college career, but he will be looking to put together another 1,000+ yard season again and power App State to another successful season.
Watch out for Shaun Jolly in the defensive backfield for App State too – The Redshirt Senior is only 5”9’ but he has a knack for getting his hands on the football. He will project inside at the next level due to his size but, like Peoples, with another strong season he’ll be drafted. Finally for the Mountaineers, another Senior who will be looking to make some noise this season to impress NFL scouts will be Edge Demetrius Taylor – Another undersized player who stuffs the run really nicely. Taylor affects the game in a lot of ways, whether that be collapsing the pocket and getting a tackle for loss, forcing a fumble or batting passes at the line of scrimmage – Keep your eyes on #9 off the edge.
The star of the show for East Carolina is lefty-QB Holton Ahlers. Alhers was a three-star dual threat prospect coming out of high school, and whilst he isn’t a huge rushing threat from anywhere on the field, in short yardage situations and in the red zone, he allows ECU to open things up and he can also escape the pocket and take throws on the move. Ahlers can also throw deep and with touch too, although his problem is that he lacks ball velocity and is prone to a turnover. Check out his 2019 highlights below.
Boise State @ UCF – Bounce House, Orlando, FL
Friday 3rd Sept – 12 Midnight (UK)
UCF 4.5 point favourites at the of writing
For a game where two Group of Five teams face off, this is a really cool matchup between two of the better programmes amongst the G5. UCF and Boise State are both moving into the 2021 season with new head coaches, coming off Bowl appearances. There are also a couple of offseason connections between coaches on both programmes which add to the storyline/
The game also gives us a match up of two nice QBs for this level too, with Hank Bachmeier and Dillon Gabriel squaring off. Bachmeier started his career with promise but has certainly faded in people’s minds and hearts a little bit, but I believe he’s still plenty talented enough and if he has a bounceback season this year, he’ll be catching the eyes of scouts again. Boise has brought in Andy Avalos from Oregon to be their HC, another former Boise player replacing the outgoing Bryan Harsin, who replaced Gus Malzahn at Auburn, who also played for the Broncos back in his playing days. Malzahn has replaced Josh Heupel in Orlando, since the latter left for Tennessee.
Dillon Gabriel will be hoping that Malzahn can take his game to the next level after he joined the Knights from Auburn after being fired. Malzahn will also want to repair his reputation by guiding UCF back to the top of the American. This could be a really potent partnership and could lead to big things for both men.
If Gabriel can improve his accuracy and connect the dots at a slightly higher rate he could be a QB that rockets up draft boards. One thing I love about Gabriel is that he takes great care of the football and in a time where defense is all about creating turnovers, the Knights’ QB doesn’t give them what they want.
Elsewhere on these squads, look out for another guy who has swapped Eugene, Oregon for Boise, Idaho, running back Cyrus Habibi-Likio. Habibi-Likio had always been a bit-part player in a rotation for the Ducks but in Boise, especially given his familiarity with the new Head Coach, could see an increased role. For UCF, another transfer with links to the new HC will be looking to make a splash after dropping down a tier, edge defender Markeviest “Big Kat” Bryant.
The Big Kat was always known more for his moniker than his sack totals when in Auburn, but the long and lean edge rusher will want to make a splash in his Redshirt Senior season before hopefully making a leap to the NFL. Bryant needs to work on a number of areas of his game, most notably his power and pass rush arsenal, and with that, I have him pegged as a day 3 selection, however if he puts up numbers in Florida, that arrow could be pointing upwards come January.
UNC @ Virginia Tech – Lane Stadium, Blacksburg, Virginia
Friday 3rd Sept – 11pm (UK)
UNC 5.5 point favourites at the time of writing.
The ACC’s only conference matchup this weekend is set to be a barnstormer, with both rosters full of high quality talent that we could be watching on Sundays in years to come.
For those of you who have never watched a Virginia Tech game, it’s well worth tuning in before the start time to watch the team’s lively entrance to Metallica’s ‘Enter Sandman’. With people back in the stands, the 65,000 strong crowd will be rocking as the Hokies’ players tap the Hokey Stone and burst onto the field at Lane Stadium.
Once the game gets underway, Justin Fuentes’ men will be confident they can overcome the bookies’ odds and get off to a winning start to their season. In the pandemic-riddled 2020 season the Hokies went 5-6, putting impressive beatings on NC State, Boston College and Virginia but coming unstuck against some of the better teams in the ACC.
On offense, the Hokies have a couple of big time playmakers in Tight End, James Mitchell, and Wide Receiver, Tre Turner. They’ll be fed the ball by former Oregon transfer Braxton Burmeister who started four games for VT in 2020, finishing with a 3-1 record. As well as looking out for his connection with Mitchell and Turner, it’s also worth keeping an eye on Burmeister when he takes off on a designed run, with reports suggesting that he clocked the fastest speed on the team in pre-season workouts.
The defense is headlined by Linebacker turned Defensive End, Amare Barno, with many draft experts tipping him as an early day two prospect already. He’ll be looking to get to the QB early and often as he seeks to become the first Virginia Tech player to reach 10 or more sacks since 2005.
But it’s the visitors that will be the main draw for the neutral. The North Carolina Tar Heels are being tipped for big things in 2021, following on from a 2020 in which they sent a ridiculous amount of talent to the NFL.
Veteran Quarterback, Sam Howell, is the headline act, only this season he won’t have a vastly experienced supporting cast around him. Look for Josh Down (slot), Ty Chandler (RB) and Beau Corrales (WR) to eat up the yardage of their departed teammates.
On defense, Tomon Fox (LB), Raymond Vohasek (DT) and Trey Morrison (S) will provide veteran leadership. However, it is former five-star recruit Tony Grimes (CB), who will be the most exciting watch. 247 has him listed as a future first round pick, and there’s no doubt that the matchup between Grimes and Turner will be one of the most exciting of the game.
There’s probably no better time for Virginia Tech to get the win against UNC. Last season a back and forth game saw UNC run out 56-45 winners, but with the Tar Heels starting a lot of younger guys on offense they may take a few games to really get going. It would however take a fool to overlook the impact Howell has on this team, and for that reason alone, a narrow UNC victory is the most likely outcome.
By Andy Moore & Lee Wakefield
Follow Andy on Twitter – @ajmoore21
Follow Lee on Twitter – @Wakefield90