After the appetizer of Wednesday's Georgia State-Abilene Christian game, Thursday night is college football's true 2014 opening night, with 14 games all readily available for viewing nationally. Long, long gone are the days of one nationally televised game per week. On the first Thursday alone we get nine nationally televised games plus five more available to stream through ESPN3 online.
Finally, after an impossibly long offseason, college football is here, with a long opening weekend that will last through Baylor-SMU and Utah State-Tennessee on Sunday to Miami-Louisville on Monday. We'll have a full guide to Week 1 posted on Friday, but for now here's everything you need to know about opening night, ranking all 14 games from best to worst.
1. Texas A&M at South Carolina, 6 p.m., SEC Network. With Johnny Manziel gone, a questionable Texas A&M defense still in place and plenty of veterans back for South Carolina at home, the double-digit point spread (10 1/2 ) in favor of the Gamecocks seems to make sense. Some might argue it should be higher. But don't be surprised if the Aggies put up a fight. Assuming South Carolina running back Mike Davis is healthy after dealing with a rib injury, this will certainly be a tough test for a Texas A&M defense with something to prove -- not only is Davis both powerful and explosive, but the Gamecocks have a talented offensive line and promising receivers too. But it's also a test for South Carolina's rebuilt defensive line against the Texas A&M front, which will try to pave the way for Manziel's replacement, sophomore Kenny Hill. It's a tough spot for the Aggies in the opener in a hostile environment against an experienced team, but they could be better than many people expect with a promising blend of talented athletes surrounding Hill and a great coaching staff. Expect a close one, with the Gamecocks prevailing at home.
Pick: South Carolina 28, Texas A&M 24
2. Boise State vs. Ole Miss (at Atlanta), 8 p.m., ESPN. It's hard to call a Week 1 nonconference opener a must-win, but it feels that way for Ole Miss. The Rebels have high hopes and a No. 18 preseason ranking, with several talented young players trying to emerge. With Boise State experiencing turnover on both lines, it's a golden opportunity for Ole Miss to assert itself on the first night of the season against a decent opponent that, despite losing coach Chris Petersen, should be one of the better Group of Five teams behind running back Jay Ajayi. If Ole Miss is to live up to expectations, and maybe even exceed them as a sleeper SEC West contender, then this is the sort of game it should control. Keep an eye on the Rebels' trio of standout sophomores: left tacke Laremy Tunsil, reciever Laquon Treadwell and defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche.
Pick: Ole Miss 34, Boise State 20
3. Rutgers at Washington State, 10 p.m., FS1. Rutgers' debut as a Big Ten team features it flying more than 2,500 miles across Big Ten country to the Pacific Northwest, where it will meet the Cougars in Seattle at CenturyLink Field. With a sluggish end to the 2013 season, struggles on the recruiting trail and low expectations entering the fall, Rutgers coach Kyle Flood is feeling the heat, while his counterpart, Mike Leach, is coming off Washington State's first bowl season since 2003. The Cougars still have a long way to go, of course, but this is a tough opening matchup for a Rutgers pass defense that was among the nation's worst last season. Then again, Washington State's wasn't much better, so maybe the Scarlet Knights can put together a decent debut for new offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen.
Pick: Washington State 41, Rutgers 31
4. Temple at Vanderbilt, 9:15 p.m., SEC Network. New Vandy coach Derek Mason has a tough task ahead of him in replacing James Franklin, and he opens with a very winnable game, though one that isn't necessarily a gimme. While the Owls finished 2-10 in their first season under Matt Rhule with some bad losses, five of their losses -- including to UCF and Rutgers -- came by seven points or less. This season could be a struggle for the Commodores with much of their defense gone, along with offensive standout Jordan Matthews, but they're still the better team here as Patton Robinette gets a chance to assert himself atop the quarterback depth chart.
Pick: Vanderbilt 27, Temple 19
5. Wake Forest at Louisiana-Monroe, 7 p.m., ESPNU. This isn't the type of matchup new Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson should want as an opener: After moving on from the MAC to the ACC, he inherits a massive rebuilding project with a Demon Deacons team that has to go on the road to a Sun Belt stadium, where it's a slight underdog. Wake Forest loses nearly all its best players from a 4-8 team, one that lost to the Warhawks 21-19 at home last season. Louisiana-Monroe returns much of its defense, and on offense we'll see the debut of Pete Thomas, who is on his third team after starting games at both Colorado State and N.C. State.
Pick: Louisiana-Monroe 24, Wake Forest 23
6. Tulane at Tulsa, 8 p.m., CBS Sports Network.
Realignment reminder: This is the first American Athletic Conference matchup of the 2014 season. Both Tulsa and Tulane make the move from Conference USA, where Tulsa plummeted from 11-3 to 3-9 last season and Tulane went bowling for the first time since 2002. Neither is expected to do much damage in the tougher American, with Tulsa likely improving and Tulane regressing. Last year, Tulane beat Tulsa 14-7, and we could see another relatively low-scoring game with key offensive players gone from both teams.
Pick: Tulsa 23, Tulane 16
7. Eastern Illinois at Minnesota, 7 p.m., BTN. Eastern Illinois led the FCS in total offense and scoring last season, but it must replace two important pieces: head coach Dino Babers, who took the Bowling Green job, and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, drafted by the Patriots. Despite the losses, the Panthers are still ranked 11th in the preseason FCS poll, although winning on the road against a solid Golden Gophers team is probably too much to ask. Minnesota QB Mitch Leidner and RB David Cobb should have a big night on the ground for Minnesota.
Pick: Minnesota 40, Eastern Illinois 21
8. Weber State at Arizona State, 10:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network. A rebuilding Arizona State defense will get a nice warmup against a Weber State team that finished 2-10 at the FCS level last season. The Wildcats played two FBS opponents, losing 70-7 to Utah and 70-6 to Utah State, meaning Sun Devils standouts Taylor Kelly, D.J. Foster and Jaelen Strong will put on a show for a half, then sit and watch their backups do the same.
Pick: Arizona State 63, Weber State 3
9. Idaho State at Utah, 7:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network. The Utes have defeated two FCS foes by a combined score of 111-7 over the last two seasons, and Idaho State went 3-9 at the FCS level last season. Here, Utah QB Travis Wilson returns to the lineup after being cleared from a preexisting condition diagnosed after a concussion last season.
Pick: Utah 60, Idaho State 7
10. Chattanooga at Central Michigan, 7 p.m., ESPN3. Chattanooga opens the season ranked 16th in the preseason FCS top 25 and returns Southern Conference player of the year Jacob Huesman, a dual-threat QB who ran for 894 yards last season. Chattanooga should provide a decent challenge to the Chippewas, who went 6-6 last season and return their entire offense, including star receiver Titus Davis (61 catches for 1,109 yards).
Pick: Central Michigan 38, Chattanooga 27
11. Presbyterian at Northern Illinois, 7 p.m., ESPN3. The post-Jordan Lynch era begins at Northern Illinois with uncertainty at quarterback between junior Matt McIntosh and sophomores Drew Hare and Anthony Maddie. They do get 1,000-yard RB Cameron Stingily back, as well the top six receivers. Presbyterian, who went 3-8 last year, shouldn't put up much of a fight -- and this is only the Blue Hose's first of three games against FBS opponents, with N.C. State and Ole Miss scheduled for later in the year.
Pick: Northern Illinois 49, Presbyterian 13
12. Howard at Akron, 7 p.m., ESPN3. Akron has high hopes in Terry Bowden's third season. After three straight 1-11 seasons, the Zips improved to 5-7 last year, and now they'll take aim at their second bowl bid ever. They return all their skill players, as well as many key pieces from one of the MAC's best defenses. They'll get off to a solid start before a tough stretch that includes Penn State, Marshall and Pittsburgh.
Pick: Akron 42, Howard 10
13. North Dakota at San Jose State, 10 p.m., ESPN3. North Dakota isn't nearly as powerful as neighboring North Dakota State, meaning San Jose State shouldn't have much of a problem winning a warmup against an FCS team as it tries to replace prolific QB David Fales with senior Blake Jurich.
Pick: San Jose State 34, North Dakota 14
14. Cal Poly at New Mexico State, 8 p.m., ESPN3. After a year stuck as an independent after the demise of WAC football, New Mexico State is safely in the Sun Belt, where it will try to avoid finishing in the basement. The Aggies haven't gone to a bowl game since 1960, and they went 2-10 under first-year coach Doug Martin. That record might not get a whole lot better, but this is one they'll win against a middle-of-the-road FCS team.
Pick: New Mexico State 31, Cal Poly 21