Rejoice, college football fans, we’ve made it! After a long, seemingly never-ending off-season, college football has arrived! Last weekend we got ourselves a barnburner in Central Arkansas-Austin Peay, on Thursday we got two more games, and now, it’s Labor Day weekend, the official start date of college football.
Now admittedly, this isn’t the traditional Labor Day weekend that we’re so used to, especially when it comes to college football. Normally Labor Day weekend is a five-day display of college football excess, starting Thursday evening and running straight through Monday night, with just about every marquee team playing along the way.
That won’t happen this year, and instead of five straight days featuring the best teams in college football, this year we instead get seven total games, mostly featuring teams you’ve never heard of or know nothing about.
Thankfully, that’s why I’m here. And in a world where you might have a tough time getting excited for the games on the calendar, I’ll do all the heavy lifting for you.
That’s right: Need one (or two, or three) reasons to get excited for every college football game this weekend? Here goes:
Eastern Kentucky at Marshall: Saturday, 1:00 p.m. ET, ESPN
Let’s start with the obvious. In a world where there are few certainties in life, one is this: This game will mark the only time in our lives Eastern Kentucky will ever be featured in a mid-day, Saturday kickoff on ESPN during college football season. Literally, the world could be taken over by Martians and every other college football game could be canceled, and I’m pretty sure ESPN would still put cornhole on instead of an Eastern Kentucky game. So soak this one up, Colonels fans. It should be a fun one.
Beyond that is also the reviving of a once-entertaining FCS rivalry, and one which is actually one of the oldest rivalries period in college football. Did you know, the first matchup between these two teams took place all the way back in 1926? Just for some context, that is the same year that USC and Notre Dame played for the first time on the football field as well. So yeah, pretty cool. Feel free to drop that fun fact at all of your socially distanced cocktail parties this weekend.
Finally, Eastern Kentucky has a star kick return man named Quentin Pringle. And in these uncertain times, can’t we all get behind a dude whose name is “Quentin Pringle?”
Middle Tennessee State at Army: Saturday, 1:30 ET, CBS Sports Network
First off, you should watch this game as an homage to the folks at Army, who spent the last six weeks working harder than anyone in the country to put together a schedule for their team this fall. Remember, Army is an independent, and when the rest of college football went to conference only games (or canceled outright) no school had its schedule ravaged quite like the Black Knights did. Incredibly, nine of Army’s 12 scheduled games were canceled. And somehow in the last six weeks, they managed to put together an almost completely new 12-game schedule, starting with this one.
One, that is incredible. Two, I hope their athletic department has a good friends and family cell phone plan. And three, it also raises the most interesting question of all: Isn’t this proof that we probably no longer need to schedule out of conference football games 20 years in advance? Like, as excited as I am about Oklahoma-Alabama in 2033 (a game that has actually been scheduled) can’t we just stick to scheduling games two, three or four years out? Or at the very least in the same decade the game will be played?
As for the game itself, well, if you like old-school, smash-mouth football and like lots of points, this one is for you. Army ranked seventh nationally in rushing offense last year, while Middle Tennessee ranked 101st nationally in run defense. Which as you can probably guess, isn’t good.
Point being, Army might not attempt a pass all game. And this one could be over in an hour, if the Black Knights just march up and down the field and let the clock keep moving.
SMU at Texas State: Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Remember a minute ago how I just said “if you like old-school, smash mouth football this is probably the game for you?” Yeah, well SMU and Texas State is the exact opposite. SMU had the No. 7 scoring offense in college football last year, thanks to the country’s 13th ranked passing attack. Texas State meanwhile, gave up nearly 32 points per game last year, as the nation’s 107th ranked defense (although, their pass defense was surprisingly good).
Point being, I expect the Mustangs to score early and often, and then a lot more after that.
Also, if you’re a betting man or woman, it’s worth noting that SMU actually had the best record against the spread of any team in college football last year, going 10-3 against the number.
Just mentioning it.
You know, if you’re into that kind of thing.
Houston Baptist at North Texas: Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN3
This is another one where defense will likely be optional, and points will be scored in bunches. And it’s a credit to North Texas, which was neither good nor particularly bad last year (finishing 4-8 overall) but might have gone done as the most watchable team in college football a season ago.
Why is that? Well, how about this crazy stat: The Mean Green played 12 games a season ago, and in eight of them, the winning team scored at least 39 points. In seven, the winning team scored at least 40 points. And three times, a team scored at least 30 points… and still lost. As the old saying goes, if you’re not going to be good, at least try to be entertaining. And the Mean Green were certainly that last year.
Plus, how can you not root for a team named the Mean Green?
Arkansas State at Memphis: Saturday, 8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN
Of everyone playing this weekend, Memphis is probably the best actual football team. Remember, this is a squad which won 12 games last year and appeared in the Cotton Bowl against Penn State. Admittedly, they lost their coach Mike Norvell, who left for Florida State this off-season. But they will still be a damn good football team.
And if that does nothing for you, this is another one where there should be offensive fireworks early and often. The Tigers averaged over 40 points per game last year, and even if they take a slight step back without Norvell in charge, will remain one of the most explosive offenses in the country. Furthermore, they’re going up against an Arkansas State team that allowed an average of nearly 35 points per game a season ago. Therefore, if you need any indication of how wild this one could get, just know this: The over/under point total for this game opened at 69 points… and is already been bet up to 74.5 points.
So yeah, go ahead and plan your bathroom breaks accordingly. Miss one play and there’s a good chance you’ll miss a touchdown score.
Stephen F. Austin at UTEP: Saturday, 9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3
I’ll be honest: I spent a solid half hour doing research into this game, and had trouble finding a single reason to tune in.
Put simply, it is a matchup of a bad FCS team (Stephen F. Austin) against arguably the worst team in FBS football (UTEP). Incredibly, the Miners are just 2-22 in the last two seasons and riding an 11-game losing streak entering this game. Last year their sole win was against an FCS school and they went 0-11 against FCS competition, losing those games by an average of nearly three touchdowns per game.
So, with all that said, the best reason I can come up with to watch this game is this: If you’re a UTEP fan you should tune in because it’s probably the best chance you’ll get all year to see your team get a victory. And if you’re not a UTEP fan you should tune in because it’s probably your best chance to see an FCS team upset an FBS team all year.
Unrelated: I would love to know how many people outside of El Paso will be streaming this game on ESPN3. You think it will hit double-digits at any point in the night?
BYU at Navy: Monday, 8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN
Watch because it’s the best game of the weekend, and because honestly, it’s a really fun, stylistic matchup.
We know that no one runs the triple option better than the Midshipmen, and they’re coming off a season where they ran it just about better than anyone in recent college football memory. Navy went 11-2 a season ago and led the nation in rushing yards. Incredibly, their 360 yards a game on the ground was over 60 yards a game better than the next closest team in college football, Air Force. And on Monday night the Midshipmen will be going up against BYU, a big, physical defense that seems plenty equipped to slow them down.
So that’s one reason to watch, but really the reason to watch is even simpler: It’s Labor Day and it’s college football, and it’s a tradition as good as any in sports.
This might not be the big game we expect on Labor Day night, but it is college football.
And there’s plenty of reason to be thankful that the sport is officially back.