College football roundtable: Toughest Week 1 challenge – ESPN (blog)

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We continue our national roundtable series with a look ahead to Week 1, because this year’s slate of high-profile, season-opening clashes between powerhouses is looking absolutely loaded. Today, we’re trying to answer this question: Which team faces the toughest Week 1 challenge?

ACC: Florida State vs. Ole Miss

Truthfully, this is toss-up between Clemson-Auburn and Florida State-Ole Miss. Clemson opens on the road at a difficult place to play at night, facing much higher expectations than Auburn. Though Clemson is the better team, this could be a tricky game. But ultimately, Florida State faces the bigger challenge against Ole Miss in what should be a much more evenly matched game. Both teams are in the way-too-early preseason top 15, and both have significant contributors to replace. Though Florida State does return more starters, including running back Dalvin Cook, the big question is what happens at quarterback? Coach Jimbo Fisher has given no hints about whether he will turn to veteran Sean Maguire or redshirt freshman Deondre Francois, saying only that he will pick the player that gives his team the best chance to win. That decision will go a long way toward determining how this matchup plays out. — Andrea Adelson

Big 12: Oklahoma vs. Houston

Back in September 2014, Oklahoma announced it had agreed to open the 2016 season at Houston’s NRG Stadium against the hometown Coogs. This matchup looked like a big win-win for the Sooners: play in a city filled with Oklahoma alumni, fans and recruits, and take home a fat neutral-site game check. Here’s what it looks like now: Oklahoma must face the nation’s best Group of 5 team on the road. Tom Herman’s confident Houston squad defeated super-talented Florida State in their last game, so they will know they can do it again. Oklahoma must find a way to survive this game before facing Ohio State in Week 3 and TCU in Week 4. Baker Mayfield, Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon will have to lead the way and start off hot while a defense that lost a lot of leadership catches up. Winning this Texas Kickoff game would mean so much to Houston — on so many levels — so the Sooners better be ready for a brawl. — Max Olson

Big Ten: Wisconsin vs. LSU

Wisconsin’s conference schedule is absolutely brutal, and its 2016 opens at an even higher degree of difficulty thanks to a season opener against LSU at Lambeau Field in Green Bay. Adding to the intrigue, LSU coach Les Miles plucked defensive coordinator Dave Aranda from Wisconsin this offseason, and now Aranda will face his old team in the first game. Aranda’s magic in three seasons with the Badgers won’t be soon forgotten in Madison, particularly last season’s bunch, which led the country in scoring defense. Aranda already has begun implementing his patented 3-4 scheme at LSU. And with those athletes, moving the ball could prove to be a scary proposition for Wisconsin, which blew a 10-point halftime lead and lost to LSU 28-24 two years ago in the season opener. — Jesse Temple

Pac-12: USC vs. Alabama

I get the feeling the much-anticipated showdown between USC and Alabama in Arlington, Texas, is going to be more of a challenge for the Trojans than it is for the Tide. As one Pac-12 head coach recently told me, USC is getting Alabama at the worst possible time. Forget the fact that Alabama is coming off of a national championship season. USC has to break in a new quarterback (most likely Max Browne, but don’t sleep on Sam Darnold). And the Trojans have to rebuild their defensive line after it was hit by graduation and injury this spring. If there’s one position group you don’t want to be deficient against Alabama, it’s the defensive line. “Roll Tide” is a thing for a reason. Unless USC’s youthful and inexperienced defensive front can figure out a way to hold its own at the point of attack, roll is exactly what Alabama is going to do. — Kevin Gemmell

SEC: Ole Miss vs. Florida State

The obvious choice might be the Alabama vs. USC matchup deep in the heart of Texas because of the mammoth names in that one, but I’m going with Ole Miss’ trip to Disney to take on Florida State. The Seminoles should be a major player in his year’s College Football Playoff, especially with superstar running back Dalvin Cook returning and a defense that supposedly will be as nasty as ever. The Rebels are no slouches. Record-setting quarterback Chad Kelly is the best the SEC has to offer at the position, Ole Miss has plenty of athleticism at receiver, and the defense should be stacked — especially the defensive line. The offensive line has experience, but has to face a bullish FSU line in Orlando. This game might have “neutral site” slapped on it, but this will feel very much like an FSU home game. — Edward Aschoff

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