Thursday spotlight: Texas A&M at South Carolina
The 2014 FBS college football season kicked off Wednesday night in Atlanta, as Sun Belt member Georgia State won its first game as an FBS member, beating Abilene Christian 38-37. The Panthers snapped a 16-game losing streak, as JUCO transfer Nick Arbuckle led a 72-yard drive in the final 2:45 (which included two fourth-down conversions) to set up a game-winng field goal. Arbuckle, who was a nice snag by Georgia State in the recruiting process, passed for 413 yards and four touchdowns. Virginia Tech and UNLV were two schools that also recruited him.
But the real show begins Thursday night, as Texas A&M battles South Carolina, which will be the first meeting between the programs. The night's other big game is Boise State against Ole Miss in Atlanta.
Here is a quick primer on Thursday night's best contests:
ICONSteve Spurrier and the Gamecocks will try to extend their FBS-best 18-game home winning streak.
Texas A&M at South Carolina: The Gamecocks have one of the best offensive lines in the SEC, and the Aggies' defense last year allowed 1,285 rushing yards after contact, which ranked 118th in the FBS, according to ESPN Stats & Info. The depth across A&M's defensive front remains a concern after the program lost end Gavin Stansbury, tackle Isaiah Golden and linebacker Darian Claiborne. True freshman Myles Garrett should make an immediate impact, and the talent level is rising on that side of the ball. But Gamecocks tailback Mike Davis should have plenty of running room against what should be another porous defense. Meanwhile, Kenny Hill starts at quarterback for the Aggies as they officially begin the post-Johnny Manziel era. Can he exploit true freshmen Wesley Green, Chris Lammons and Al Harris Jr. in the Gamecocks' secondary?
Boise State vs. Ole Miss (in Atlanta): The Broncos and the Rebels meet for the first time ever, and Boise looks to improve on its 6-2 mark versus ranked opponents since 2009. However, Chris Petersen is now at Washington, so Bryan Harsin will look to continue the Boise magic against an Ole Miss squad that has never played at the Georgia Dome. Broncos quarterback Grant Hedrick has nice weapons around him in tailback Jay Ajayi, who rushed for 1,425 yards and 18 touchdowns last year, and receivers Matt Miller (88 catches for 1,140 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2013) and Shane Williams-Rhodes (77 receptions for 702 yards and six scores). But this Rebels defense has a ton of talent, including safety Cody Prewitt, cornerback Tony Conner, lineman Robert Nkemdiche and linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche. Can Bo Wallace pass Eli Manning for some of his Rebel career passing records with a strong season?
Other games to monitor
Wake Forest at Louisiana-Monroe: The Warhawks beat the Demon Deacons 21-19 last year in Winston-Salem, so new Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson will have his team prepared for a tough opening road test. John Wolford takes over at quarterback for four-year starter Tanner Price, and Wolford's high school coach told me a few weeks ago that his former signal-caller is ready for the big stage. Meanwhile, North Carolina State transfer Pete Thomas is taking over for Kolton Browning at quarterback for Louisiana-Monroe.
Rutgers at Washington State: Before Kyle Flood's Scarlet Knights begin their debut season in the Big Ten, they have to travel to Seattle for a nonconference matchup with the Cougars. Mike Leach's offense could cause problems for a Scarlet Knights defense that struggled in 2013. Expect Wazzu signal-caller Connor Halliday to throw the ball early and often and try to expose a Scarlet Knights secondary that could have trouble all year. Meanwhile, can Rutgers signal-caller Gary Nova bring consistency under center for new offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen?
Also of note
Tulane at Tulsa: The Green Wave kick off their 2014 season against fellow American Athletic Conference newcomer Tulsa after both were members of Conference USA dating back to 1995. Tulane is coming off a 7-6 campaign and a berth in the New Orleans Bowl, and the team returns 15 starters. Meanwhile, the Golden Hurricane went 3-9 last year and return nine defensive starters. Can Tulsa bounce back from such a down year?
Temple at Vanderbilt: The Derek Mason era begins in Nashville, as the former Stanford defensive coordinator will look to keep the Commodores on the right path in a tough SEC. Meanwhile, Matt Rhule begins his second season at Temple and is taking the Owls in the right direction.
Dave Miller, the college football editor for the National Football Post, is on Twitter @Miller_Dave.