No, the opening weekend of college football doesn’t have the normal buzz. But if you look hard enough (or are desperate enough), there are plenty of interesting players, wrinkles and stories to a weekend headlined by … BYU at Navy?
Three reasons to care about Central Arkansas at Alabama-Birmingham
1. It’s the first game featuring a Division I-A opponent this season.
Considering the way the sport was teetering three weeks ago (when the Big Ten and Pac-12 bailed), this kickoff is worth celebrating and savoring.
2. The Blazers also will be in the state’s first game of the fall — at Miami next Thursday.
UAB has played in back-to-back Conference USA title games, and the Hurricanes have lost two in a row to C-USA teams. This is a chance to get an early scouting report on a potentially tricky matchup to start Manny Diaz’s second season.
3. Jordan Smith is a name you should know and might recognize.
Smith was one of nine Gators involved in the credit card fraud scandal in 2017. He left Florida, had a brief stop at Butler (Kan.) Community College and enters the game as one of his conference’s top edge rushers for UAB.
Local of the week
Southern Miss offensive lineman Bryce Foxworth (Boca Ciega High)
The 6-foot-3, 307-pound senior is expected to make his 14th career start Thursday night when his Conference USA-contending Golden Eagles open against South Alabama. Look for him to try to pave the way for what should be the program’s best rushing attack in several years.
Five other story lines to watch
1. How does Memphis fare without Mike Norvell?
Norvell led the Tigers to their best season (12 wins and a trip to the Cotton Bowl) before leaving to take over Florida State. First-year coach Ryan Silverfield inherited a talented roster that took a recent hit when electric running back Kenneth Gainwell opted out. Arkansas State in primetime Saturday will be our first glimpse of whether Silverfield’s Tigers look ready to defend their AAC title.
2. Can SMU build on its 10-win season?
The Mustangs are coming off their first season with double-digit victories since their 1980s glory days. Quarterback Shane Buechele returns, but his offensive coordinator (Rhett Lashlee) will now be calling the plays at Miami. Instead, he’ll be led by former Appalachian State assistant Garrett Riley — the younger brother of Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley. Expect them to explode on lowly Texas State.
3. Which service academy starts off the best?
Even if the rest of the season falls apart, Army and Navy will find a way to play in December. This weekend is the first taste of both teams. Army will try to rebound after a disappointing 5-8 season against Middle Tennessee State on Saturday, while Navy gets BYU on Monday night.
4. What’s next at quarterback for North Texas?
Mason Fine earned a trip to the East-West Shrine Game at Tropicana Field by throwing for 12,505 career yards — most ever for the Mean Green and the 28th best mark in I-A history. North Texas hasn’t announced his successor; redshirt sophomores Austin Aune and Jason Bean were listed as co-starters against Houston Baptist.
5. What’s this week’s coronavirus-related weirdness?
Although the absences were never fully explained, Austin Peay was without its top three long snappers in last week’s opener against Central Arkansas. The No. 4 option sailed one snap and grounded another, contributing to a 24-17 loss. If the long snappers were out because of a positive test or quarantine, it’s a sign of things to come. We’ll see whether outbreaks decimate any position group this weekend and what that means for the on-field product and final score.
Watch college football
Central Arkansas at UAB, 8 (ESPN3)
South Alabama at Southern Miss, 9 (CBSSN)
Eastern Kentucky at Marshall, 1 (ESPN)
Middle Tennessee a Army, 1:30 (CBSSN)
SMU at Texas State, 4:30 (ESPN)
Houston Baptist at North Texas, 7:30 (ESPN3)
Arkansas State at Memphis, 8 (ESPN)
Stephen F. Austin at UTEP, 9 (ESPN3)