Welcome to Season 4 of the Sports on Earth College Football Pick 'Em, where we provide a comprehensive guide to all the games you need to pay attention to in a college football weekend.
Thursday night's 19 games provided a nice appetizer, and now we move into the main course, with an extended weekend taking us from Washington-Boise State and Baylor-SMU (without suspended star end Shawn Oakman) on Friday through showdowns like Alabama-Wisconsin and Arizona State-Texas A&M before moving on to the Labor Day battle between Ohio State and Virginia Tech on Monday. Here are all the matchups you need to know about on Saturday and beyond.
All times are Eastern, and within each time slot games are previewed in order of importance and watchability.
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Saturday Early Afternoon
No. 21 Stanford at Northwestern
If there's ever an early Saturday afternoon in which you can go do something outside without guilt or worry that you're missing something big, this is it. There are 12 games that kick off before 3 p.m. ET. Ten of them involve an FCS team. So, Stanford visiting Evanston is your clear early headliner. There is some intrigue, too: Northwestern is breaking in redshirt freshman quarterback Clayton Thorson, who, as a four-star recruit, is one of the best recruits in the history of the program. Getting thrown into the fire against Stanford's defense is not exactly the most favorable way to start, but at least the Cardinal defense is rebuilding this season, with just four starters back. This is also an opportunity for an improved Stanford offense to show itself again after finishing strong down the stretch thanks to the emergence of versatile running back Christian McCaffrey -- son of NFL receiver Ed. If Stanford truly has aspirations of returning back to the top of the Pac-12, then this is the type of game it should control, road game or not.
Pick: Stanford 27, Northwestern 17
Louisiana-Monroe at No. 9 Georgia
Noon, SEC Network
Yes, this is your second-best option at noon on Saturday. The Warhawks have taken a step back from that time in 2012 when they beat Arkansas and lost close games to Auburn and Baylor early in the season. They went 4-8 last year, and while defensive tackle Gerrand Johnson is a force, he's going to need some help slowing down the Bulldogs running attack. This should be an easy break-in game for new Georgia offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and unexpected starting quarterback Greyson Lambert, a graduate transfer from Virginia. Manufacture some easy throws for Lambert, hand the ball off to Heisman candidate Nick Chubb and let the offensive line and pass rush do the rest.
Pick: Georgia 44, UL Monroe 16
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Saturday Late Afternoon
Louisville vs. No. 6 Auburn (at Atlanta)
3:30 p.m., CBS
For a team that is coming off an 8-5 season, Auburn is going to have to live up to preseason the hype in a hurry. With quarterback Jeremy Johnson expected to have a breakout season and maybe even become a Heisman Trophy candidate, his first test comes in the Georgia Dome against a havoc-inducing Louisville defensive front. The Cardinals have questions on defense -- their rebuilt secondary hinges on transfers -- but their front should be excellent, led by Sheldon Rankins, Keith Kelsey, James Burgess and former TCU Big 12 defensive player of the year Devonte Fields.
The other matchups are full of mysteries. New Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp is expected to instantly turn the Tigers defense around, and it's not like the unit lacks talent. Bobby Petrino is one of the finest offensive coaches in the country, but the Louisville offensive line was a mess last year, DeVante Parker is gone and the quarterback situation remains unsettled, with four candidates still listed on the depth chart. These are two teams that could get a lot better by the end of the season, but there is no easing into the season for either. Not only do they have to play each other in Week 1, but Auburn gets LSU and Mississippi State by the end of September and Louisville has Clemson in two weeks. One of these teams could end up very unhappy by the end of the month. Louisville's defense should make this a back-and-forth game, but Muschamp's defense seems to have a bit more going for it right now than Petrino's offense, giving Auburn the edge.
Pick: Auburn 31, Louisville 24
Virginia at No. 13 UCLA
3:30 p.m., Fox
This may be the most fascinating quarterback debut of the weekend. It is very, very difficult for a true freshman quarterback to lead a playoff-caliber team, but UCLA's Josh Rosen seems to stand as good of a chance as anyone. He flourished at the prep level, enrolled early to participate in spring practice and won the job over Jerry Neuheisel in camp. He has one of the nation's most experienced lines in front of him, a go-to receiver in Jordan Payton and the Pac-12's leading rusher in Paul Perkins. He also has good support from the defense, led by Myles Jack. Everything is in place for Rosen to have an uncommonly good freshman season, and if that happens, UCLA is a playoff contender and better than last season, despite losing Brett Hundley.
The first step? Playing better than last year against Virginia. The Cavaliers boast a solid defense, and in Charlottesville a year ago the Bruins needed three second-quarter defensive touchdowns to win 28-20. Now, in the friendly confines of the Rose Bowl, Rosen takes over for Hundley surrounded by an experienced roster that went 10-3 in 2014 despite some close calls. Week 1 offers no chances for definitive statements about the season, but Rosen's debut will nevertheless provide us with our first glimpse of UCLA's future.
Pick: UCLA 34, Virginia 13
BYU at Nebraska
3:30 p.m., ABC
This should be a fun matchup, with star BYU quarterback Taysom Hill returning from a season-ending injury and Mike Riley making his coaching debut in Lincoln. We are still, however, trying to figure who will actually be playing in this game. The Huskers have five Week 1 suspensions. The Cougars' Week 1 suspensions are still to be announced, with punishment stemming from the Miami Beach Bowl brawl with Memphis (six Tigers have been suspended). Hill's return creates high hopes for BYU, who welcomes him back with one of the most brutal September schedules in the country: at Nebraska, Boise State, at UCLA, at Michigan. This is a tough, tough road, opening with a game in which it's hard to know what to expect from the Cornhuskers. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong is adapting to a new offense without injured receiver De'Mornay Pierson-El, and while the Huskers have a fantastic duo of defensive tackles in Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine, their questions at linebacker are a red flag when trying to defend the powerful and fast Hill as a runner. Still, it's hard not to give the edge to the Cornhuskers at home in Lincoln in a down-to-the-wire game.
Pick: Nebraska 34, BYU 30
Bowling Green at No. 25 Tennessee
4 p.m., SEC Network
Hype around the Volunteers has steadily risen under Butch Jones, with the emergence of a quarterback, Joshua Dobbs, and a bowl blowout of Iowa spurring them to high expectations as SEC East title contenders. The hype should be justified. Jones has recruited well, and this team is much deeper and more experienced than it has been in recent years, with rising stars like Dobbs, running back Jalen Hurd and defensive end Derek Barnett leading the Vols back to respectability. Next week comes the big test, when Oklahoma visits Neyland Stadium. For now, the Vols have to focus on taking care of business against MAC East champion Bowling Green, who has a potent offense under second-year coach Dino Babers, with star quarterback Matt Johnson returning after missing nearly all of last season because of an injury. The Falcons present a test and a suitable warm-up for Oklahoma, but not enough to go into Knoxville and pull off an upset against a team on the rise.
Pick: Tennessee 41, Bowling Green 21
Penn State at Temple
3:30 p.m., ESPN
Penn State's schedule leaves a lot to be desired this season. The Nittany Lions open the season at Temple, then play five home games in a row against Buffalo, Rutgers, San Diego State, Army and Indiana, meaning they don't leave Pennsylvania until the Oct. 17 road trip to Ohio State. But Saturday does pose an interesting challenge, especially for a Penn State offense and quarterback in Christian Hackenberg that have so much to prove in 2015. Scholarship restrictions, youth, a coaching change and a lack of bodies on the offensive line created a mess for the Penn State offense throughout last season. Everything should be better this year, but it remains to bee seen how improved the line will be and if Hackenberg will rebound to meet enormous expectations. Temple poses a challenge because it returns 10 starters to a defense that allowed just 17.5 points per game. Penn State did, however, beat the Owls 30-13 last year, and the Owls are likely to be missing injured top pass rusher Praise Martin-Oguike.
Pick: Penn State 27, Temple 13
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No. 20 Wisconsin vs. No. 3 Alabama (at Arlington, Texas)
8 p.m., ABC
Offensive line play is never a problem for Wisconsin. Even through the coaching turnover of recent years, it has been a constant, one of the most reliably good things in college sports. Even in hiring Paul Chryst -- former Wisconsin quarterback and offensive coordinator who built a powerful run game at Pitt -- the Badgers now face their biggest offensive line questions in a while. It is reasonable to believe that the issues will eventually be resolved, but it is not necessarily reasonable to believe that they will be resolved on Saturday. That's because three new starters will have to meet Alabama, which boasts the deepest, most talented defensive front in the nation, led by linemen Jarran Reed, A'Shawn Robinson and Jonathan Allen.
The Badgers run game is in good hands with Corey Clement replacing Melvin Gordon (Clement averaged 6.5 yards per carry as Gordon's backup), but the struggles in the passing game won't help the offensive line as it attempts to open holes for Clement against Alabama's physical defense. That's not to say Wisconsin has no hope. We still have no idea who Alabama will start at quarterback, and the Crimson Tide have only three returning starters on offense. They will inevitably reload with relative ease, but so much uncertainty isn't ideal in an opener against Wisconsin, who has a stellar defense and was able to retain acclaimed coordinator Dave Aranda despite the coaching change. But ... this is still Alabama. Wisconsin can be rather one-dimensional on offense, and Alabama has exactly the type of defense that can take advantage.
Pick: Alabama 24, Wisconsin 17
No. 15 Arizona State vs. Texas A&M (at Houston)
7 p.m., ESPN
This is one of the most fascinating nonconference matchups of the season. Both the Sun Devils and Aggies dealt with youth last season and are well-positioned to take a step forward, even in the two toughest divisions in football. This might as well be a road game for Arizona State, diving straight into enemy territory in Houston, but the Sun Devils will be well prepared. Head coach Todd Graham and offensive coordinator Mike Norvell have done a terrific job putting this program on solid ground, with a 10-3 record last season despite so much turnover on defense. Now, the Sun Devils return a fast and aggressive team with 16 starters back, and a new quarterback, Mike Bercovici, who threw for 1,445 yards last year as a fill-in and has proven himself to be an effective passer.
Texas A&M boasts similar high expectations. Kevin Sumlin has been a masterful recruiter, with the offense bursting with potential stars, including quarterbacks Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray and receivers Speedy Noil, Christian Kirk and Ricky Seals-Jones. Here's the question, though: Has John Chavis re-made the defense in time to slow down the Sun Devils? Players like Myles Garrett and Armani Watts give Chavis, the former LSU defensive coordinator, building blocks to create a strong unit over time, but this unit is likely to need to some time to gel. This could be a fun, fast-paced shootout, with both teams sleeper conference championship and playoff contenders. Arizona State is better equipped for Week 1 success, even if this is a toss-up game.
Pick: Arizona State 38, Texas A&M 34
Texas at No. 11 Notre Dame
7:30 p.m., NBC
Texas is still attempting to figure out what to do on offense, where it has had an ambiguous play-calling situation, a messy offensive line and instability at quarterback. This is not the start to a season that the Longhorns want. It's not that Notre Dame boasts a lockdown defense. The Fighting Irish fell apart in the second half last season, with thin depth leading to their undoing. Despite the loss of tackle Jarron Jones to an injury, Notre Dame is much sturdier on defense, though, with nearly everyone back, including star linebacker Jaylon Smith and cornerback KeiVarae Russell, who returns from his 2014 suspension. Maybe Texas quarterback Tyrone Swoopes will be sufficiently improved, but South Bend in Week 1 is not exactly the best opportunity for Texas to figure things out. Expect Brian Kelly's offense to have success against a Texas defense that replaces a lot of talent, with Malik Zaire poised for an impressive season surrounded by what is easily the most talent Kelly has had on offense.
Pick: Notre Dame 35, Texas 20
Eastern Washington at No. 7 Oregon
8 p.m., Pac-12 Network
If UCLA's Josh Rosen is the most intriguing quarterback of Week 1, then Vernon Adams is right behind him. Next week, Adams and Oregon will go to Michigan State for one of the biggest games of the year. Saturday, Adams faces an awkward situation. The rare graduate transfer from the FCS to the Pac-12, Adams will begin his one season with the Ducks by … facing the overmatched team he transferred from. Adams was a star for Eastern Washington, an FCS power, torching Washington and Oregon State in his two games against Pac-12 opponents. Now the tables are turned. He has a Pac-12 playoff team supporting cast around him, against an Eastern Washington team that is good enough to hang with the bottom half of the Pac-12 but doesn't really stand a chance against the Ducks in Eugene. Adams won the Oregon starting job after only two weeks in camp, and it makes sense for Oregon to get him a start before next week's trip to East Lansing. Oregon's offensive success will just have to come at the expense of Adams' former teammates.
Pick: Oregon 48, Eastern Washington 17
Georgia Southern at West Virginia
7:30 p.m., Fox Sports Net
This game lost some of its potential excitement when Georgia Southern quarterback Kevin Ellison -- who ran for 1,096 yards last year -- was suspended for two games. With Ellison, there was hope for an upset in Morgantown. Without him, it's a lot less likely. The Eagles have four new starters on their offensive line, and while tailback Matt Breida returns to lead the nation's No. 1 rushing offense, trying to upset West Virginia without Ellison is a dicey proposition. West Virginia has its best defense in years, and it should be able to survive the Eagles' threat behind new quarterback Skyler Howard.
Pick: West Virginia 40, Georgia Southern 21
Akron at No. 19 Oklahoma
7 p.m., Fox Sports Net
It's time to be re-introduced to Baker Mayfield. The new Oklahoma starting quarterback started as a walk-on true freshman for Texas Tech in its opener in 2013, then ended up transferring to Norman and beating out team captain Trevor Knight for the job this year. Mayfield has a lot of experience in Air Raid systems, which means he should be a perfect match for new Sooners offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, who comes to Norman from East Carolina. The Zips boast a solid defense out of the MAC, but Oklahoma should be able to work out whatever issues it might have in its transition before traveling to Tennessee next week.
Pick: Oklahoma 42, Akron 10
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Saturday Late Night
Arkansas State at No. 8 USC
11 p.m., Pac-12 Network
Pac-12 After Dark meets Sark After Dark. Our first late-night Saturday Pac-12 action involves Steve Sarkisian's first game since his infamous inebriated speech at USC's kickoff event. The Trojans, of course, enter the 2015 with enormous expectations despite doubts about their coach and one of the nation's most difficult schedules. While USC warms up with two Sun Belt teams, Arkansas State has a pulse as the possible Sun Belt favorite, boasting a prolific offense led by quarterback Fredi Knighten. The Red Wolves shouldn't be much of a problem for USC over the course of a 60-minute game, however. Senior quarterback Cody Kessler carved up inferior defenses last season, and he's equipped with a much-improved offensive line and plenty of talent at receiver. Both Pac-12 After Dark and Sarkisian have had their share of unpredictable moments, but USC should start with a comfortable win over a solid opponent.
Pick: USC 45, Arkansas State 17
Mississippi State at Southern Miss
10 p.m., Fox Sports 1
The Bulldogs return the SEC's best quarterback, Dak Prescott, and yet they do not open the season ranked. It's justifiable: The SEC West is loaded, and the Bulldogs will be thinner than they were last year, especially on the defensive front. But before they host LSU in a huge game in Week 2, they get to visit Hattiesburg to face a reeling Southern Miss program that is still trying to rebound from its dreadful fall from conference champions to 0-12 in 2012. The Eagles are improving under Todd Monken, with an influx of transfers hoping to help, but they've still won just four games in three seasons after winning 12 in 2011. Prescott will get off to a strong start against a defense that gave up 216 rushing yards per game last season.
Pick: Mississippi State 45, Southern Miss 21
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Purdue at Marshall
3 p.m., Fox Sports 1
On the last NFL-free Sunday of 2015, the only football game involves Purdue going on the road and trying not to get embarrassed by a Marshall team that is attempting to replace prolific quarterback Rakeem Cato. The Thundering Herd are favored by a touchdown, with junior Michael Birdsong taking over for Cato in what should still be a potent offense. At the forefront is senior tailback Devon Johnson, a 243-pound former tight end who averaged 8.6 yards per carry last season. Marshall has gone 23-5 over the last two seasons, but it hasn't played a Power Five opponent since losing at Virginia Tech in September 2013. In this case, it's facing a Purdue team that is still one of the worst Power Five programs, even with noticeable progress made under Darrell Hazell last year.
Pick: Marshall 34, Purdue 27
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No. 1 Ohio State at Virginia Tech
8 p.m., ESPN
It turns out that last year's Virginia Tech win over Ohio State didn't matter much, aside from allowing the Hokies to be bowl-eligible. Ohio State still went on to win the national championship, as it got significant improvement from its offensive line and back seven on defense over the course of the season. Virginia Tech struggled on offense, finishing a lackluster 7-6. Now, both have high hopes entering 2015.
The Buckeyes are a near-unanimous choice for No. 1, bringing back an absurd amount of talent, including most of the key players from last year's playoff run. That includes two capable quarterbacks in J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones -- it's unknown who will start, but Barrett is the best bet -- as well as former Big Ten player of the year quarterback Braxton Miller, who will shift to receiver. Miller's move will be a key part of the game. In addition to losing star defensive end Joey Bosa to a one-game suspension, the Buckeyes will be playing without injured receiver Noah Brown and suspended receivers Jalin Marshall, Dontre Wilson and Corey Smith. That's on top of deep threat Devin Smith, who's gone from last year, putting a lot of pressure on Miller to perform in addition to top returning target Michael Thomas.
None of that is ideal against this Virginia Tech team. The Hokies boast one of the nation's top pass rushes and defensive backfields, along with an ace defensive coordinator in Bud Foster. They confused Ohio State last year, and their talent and experience levels are even higher now. They can absolutely frustrate Ohio State, even though the Buckeyes' line and running game are vastly improved from where they were a year ago. But there's a difference between frustrating Ohio State and actually beating the Buckeyes again. Despite the suspensions, Ohio State is still loaded everywhere, and while the Hokies will be better on offense this season, that improvement is unlikely to present itself in Week 1. Virginia Tech may be improved, but Ohio State is also a much different team than the won the Hokies upset in Columbus last September.
Pick: Ohio State 28, Virginia Tech 23