2019 Week 0 Matchups
Last year had a rather bland group of games to kick off the year, but 2019 looks like it's going to kick off strongly. Despite only having two games compared to 2018's four, the fate of college football hangs heavily on the opening frame.
Okay, that may be a bit of hyperbole, but we start off strong with a game between two upper echelon teams in the Florida Gators versus the Miami Hurricanes. The Gators figure to be a preseason top 10 team, while the Hurricanes are likely just outside of the top 25 in polls. A strong showing by either of these teams could catapult them into the national discussion prior to the week one slate of contests.
Florida vs. Miami
7:00 PM EST, ESPN
Camping World Stadium, Orlando, FL
Young Gun in the Spotlight
The much publicized quarterback controversy in Miami took a wild turn when redshirt freshman Jarren Williams beat out incumbent N'Kosi Perry and highly touted transfer Tate Martell for the starting job. There isn't much information available on Williams, who only threw 3 passes in his redshirt year. The former top 100 recruit has been receiving nothing but praise from local media, but his play will need to speak for itself come the 24th. Perry figures to be the backup, and his live arm could get him reps during the Florida game if Williams can't handle the situation. Martell doesn't figure to be much of a danger to his job (he's been talked about as a possible receiver). This will be the big ticket story of the night either way.
A Trio of Linebackers
Shaq Quarterman, Michael Pinckney, and Zach McCloud. These are three names that you're going to hear a lot of when the Hurricanes are on the defensive side of the ball. Quarterman is the best pro prospect (3rd Round Summer Grade), but Pinckney and McCloud are both talented senior linebackers. Quarterman's twitch and ability to adjust his path make him jump out even on the broadcast, and it should be no different for the start of 2019. If he can improve his play diagnosis it would be unsurprising for a late round one buzz to begin in Orlando.
Pinckney has a lot more to prove in matching up against SEC talent, as his play strength and athleticism were both worth questioning on his 2018 tape. He has reportedly bulked up to 230 pounds (220 pounds last year), but it might not be enough to do the job in run defense situations. He and McCloud have to state their case for being a bigger part of a somewhat average linebacker class.
Who Gets Henderson?
Third year cornerback CJ Henderson is largely viewed as one of the best corners in this upcoming draft class, and he'll have a fun task matching up with either of the top two Miami wideouts. The more likely opponent is junior Jeff Thomas, who has a terrifying combination of athleticism and ball skills. Thomas is a test for any corner at the college level, including a top talent like Henderson. From a physical standpoint the only player likely to give Henderson such a challenge in the regular season is South Carolina's Bryan Edwards.
The other top option that Henderson figures to line up across from is former Buffalo receiver K.J. Osborn. A graduate transfer, Osborn was honored as a second team all-MAC player thanks to a quality year catching passes from Tyree Jackson (now of the Buffalo Bills). Osborn doesn't have the physical upside of Thomas and projects to be a late round or UDFA option. His toughness and hands should pose a threat either way though.
Does Franks Emerge?
The 6'6", 230 pound Feleipe Franks has a cannon arm but generally keeps the football out of dangerous spots. His toughness, strength, and throwing velocity already have him on the league's radar. He's far from a media darling at the moment, but he has steadily been trending upwards as the signal caller for the Gators though. The question is whether or not he can maintain the upward momentum and transform into a day two pick. I'd bet on a strong season debut and a lot of buzz for the big guy.
The Breakout Star
Surprise surprise, the breakout star of this game is the Florida front four. Senior defensive end Jabari Zuniga figures to be a mid-round pick if he puts together a good season, but there is a fair amount of talent around him on the defensive line. Senior defensive tackle Adam Shuler is on the thin side, but he should be a factor as a pass rusher. Edge rusher Jonathan Greenard is a graduate transfer from Louisville that figures to make a big impact as well. The former Cardinals team captain did not play much in 2018 due to a broken wrist, but put up a 15.5 tackle-for-loss year in his 2017 campaign. He could be the key replacement for Jachai Polite.
Florida 27 - Miami 17
Arizona vs. Hawaii
10:30 PM EST, CBSSN
Aloha Stadium, Honolulu, HI
Cole McDonald vs. Chevan Cordeiro
This is one that a lot of draftniks won't want to talk about. McDonald's first season as the starter for Hawaii had some high highs and some low lows, but he didn't win the job until late into camp last year. A dramatic drop-off in his performances (likely due to injury) almost saw him get benched late in the year as well. Cordeiro, who redshirted last year, will need for McDonald to implode against the Wildcats if he wants to see snaps. It's not out of the question that the Rainbow Warriors take a look at him if Arizona begins to take a commanding lead because of McDonald's errors.
Khalil Tate's Legs
1207 rushing yards. That's the total number of rushing yards Tate pulled together over a six game stretch in 2017. By comparison he only posted 224 rushing yards over the entirety of his junior season. To say he had a historic decline would be an understatement. We've seen what he can do when healthy and on his game though. While his tape does suggest those 2017 stats to be a bit of anomaly, he is no doubt one of the better dual threat quarterbacks in the nation. Right now he's on the outside looking in as a 2020 draft prospect, although there is plenty of time to change that narrative.
480 Pounds of Man Colliding
It's not every day that you get to watch a 250 pound running back, but Hawaii's Dayton Furuta is just that. Furuta drew the eyes of media members in last year's week zero game against Colorado State, but the competition figures to be fiercer this season for the senior. He'll be running straight at 2018 first team all-PAC 12 linebacker Colin Schooler. Schooler only checks in at 230 pounds, but he should have no problem meeting Furuta in the hole. This game is going to be the key test in determining whether Furuta will be a fun story or a legitimate prospect down the road.
Tarik Cohen Reincarnated?
This isn't a comparison that is used lightly. That said, J.J. Taylor has certainly earned it with his play. A fourth year junior who is a possible early declaration, Taylor brings some serious jitter with his running approach. He won't be breaking tackles or running in between the tackles. That said, he's a pain to deal with in the open field. The 5'6", 184 pounder shouldn't have a difficult time running around on a rather weak Hawaii defense. He'll need to separate himself from the rest of this loaded running back class if he wants to make a case for a mid-round selection. With this game being one of only two shows in town it shouldn't be too difficult to stand out.
Arizona 38 - Hawaii 24
Although this doesn't figure to be a season-defining duo of games, it's a nice soft entry into the reborn world of college football. Best case scenario we see some quality quarterback play and a few defensive guys leap off the screen. Worst case scenario we see the collapse of draft stock for all three eligible quarterbacks, the runners all look awful, and the defenses play the shoddiest football we've seen in a while.
Welcome back, college football.