Lamest time window: Anything until prime time. Although this slate is better than nothing, it’s still devoid of big matchups.
Noon: Take your pick between likely blowouts involving ranked teams: No. 25 Pitt vs. Syracuse, No. 19 Louisiana Lafayette against Georgia State and No. 13 Cincinnati opening against Austin Peay.
2:30: USF upset Notre Dame in its last trip to South Bend (2011). Can the Bulls knock off the No. 7 Irish this time?
3:30: No. 14 UCF’s opener at Georgia Tech is the obvious choice, but No. 23 Appalachian State could be in for a tight one at Marshall.
7:30: No. 17 Miami at No. 18 Louisville is the clear best game of the day.
Locals of the week
USF cornerbacks KJ Sails (East Bay High) and Mike Hampton (Hillsborough High)
Notre Dame’s passing attack was serviceable but not great last week against Duke. If the Bulls are going to hang with the Irish, a secondary led by Sails and Hampton will have to shut down Ian Book’s receivers and let the rest of the defense focus on stopping Notre Dame’s run game.
George O’Leary Bowl
Georgia Tech will honor former coach George O’Leary on Saturday for his recent selection to the Yellow Jackets' athletic hall of fame. It’s a fitting date; O’Leary coached Georgia Tech for seven years and UCF for 12 more. His presence will also be felt on the field. Second-year Georgia Tech coach Geoff Collins spent two seasons under O’Leary in Orlando and Yellow Jackets run game coordinator Brent Key was expected to replace O’Leary at UCF.
The Miami-Louisville showdown could come down to explosive plays. Four of the Cardinals' five touchdowns in last week’s win over Western Kentucky covered at least 14 yards. The Hurricanes' five rushes of at least 20 yards last week trail only Army, USF and North Texas. That means both defenses will have to handle their assignments well to prevent breakaway scores by Miami running back Cam’Ron Harris and Louisville receivers Tutu Atwell and Braden Smith.
Stat of the week
From ESPN’s Chris Fallica: Since 2005, Miami is 3-23 against ranked teams on the road or at neutral sites. The three wins: beating West Virginia in the 2016 Russell Athletic Bowl, a down-to-the-wire triumph at Florida State in 2009 and the eight-lateral kickoff return at Duke in 2015.
Eye on the NFL draft
Scouts should use a lackluster slate to check out some of the early-round prospects for Miami. Temple transfer Quincy Roche’s 27 sacks are the most among active players, and tight end Brevin Jordan caught his seventh career touchdown pass last week. Defensive end Jaelan Phillips — the former top recruit in the country at UCLA — is an intriguing talent, too, after a productive Miami premiere against Alabama Birmingham.
We’ll always have Pittsburgh
The pandemic wiped out historic series like Florida-Florida State and Notre Dame-Navy but spared … Pitt-Syracuse? The two teams have met every year since 1955, first as independents, then as Big East competitors and now as ACC rivals. The Panthers have won 15 of the last 18 and are well-rounded enough to rout the Orange.
Tweet of the week
From Army athletic director Mike Buddie: “Undefeated, COVID negative college football team from NY looking for like minded, disciplined team for a date next Saturday... must also be COVID negative! Twitter, do your thing!”
Fun Belt fame
The Sun Belt Conference has grown beyond its quirky, weeknight “Fun Belt” reputation. That was obvious when three teams (Louisiana Lafayette, Arkansas State and Coastal Carolina) all knocked off Big 12 teams last week.
The No. 19 Ragin' Cajuns deserved to be ranked for the first time in 1,109 polls, and they should roll over Georgia State. They might not even be the best team in their league. Keep an eye on No. 23 Appalachian State, which could earn a decent win over Marshall. Either team looks worthy of consideration for the Group of Five’s spot in a New Year’s Six bowl.
2 debuts to watch
Jeff Hafley: The former Bucs assistant under Greg Schiano only has one year of experience as a coordinator (last year at Ohio State). His Boston College team starts with a winnable game at Duke.
Oklahoma State: The No. 11 Cowboys had a turbulent offseason after longtime coach Mike Gundy upset some of players for wearing a One America News Network T-shirt. The drama earned him a $1 million pay cut and irked star running back Chuba Hubbard. We’ll see whether any of that tension affected the locker room when Oklahoma State opens against Tulsa.
Returning from outbreaks
This week will provide our first look at how teams return from pandemic-related postponements. Tulsa pushed its game back a week to Saturday, and Skip Holtz’s Louisiana Tech team premieres at Southern Miss after positive tests wiped out the Bulldogs' opener. Both could give us some insight into how a team’s depth and execution work after outbreaks — something that will, unfortunately, help shape the season.
Reminder: the pandemic is still here
One of the day’s most intriguing games was going to be Baylor-Houston. It was scheduled a week ago as both teams needed a new opponent (with Memphis unable to play against Houston and Louisiana Tech bailing on the Bears' opener). Less than 24 hours before kickoff, Baylor-Houston was scrapped because the Bears couldn’t meet the Big 12′s thresholds.
By the numbers
7 Games called off this weekend because of outbreaks (Florida Atlantic-Georgia Southern, Baylor-Houston, Houston-Memphis, Virginia-Virginia Tech, Charlotte-North Carolina, BYU-Army and Central Arkansas-Arkansas State)
$110,000 2019 salary for then-Southern Miss assistant Scotty Walden, who debuts as interim coach debut against Louisiana Tech
$144,231 Jimbo Fisher’s average weekly pay at Texas A&M
11-28 USF’s all-time record against ranked teams. The Bulls' last win: vs. No. 22 Navy in 2016
23 Completions last week by Georgia Tech’s Jeff Sims, most by any Yellow Jackets quarterback since 2005
3 Career games with at least three passing touchdowns by Louisville’s Micale Cunningham. All happened in his past five games