Now the college football starts for real.

Well, not that it didn’t start for real for the teams that played Week 0 games. Those results very much count. Sorry, Nebraska.Congratulations, Vanderbilt!

If you’re a fan who decided not to fully activate in-season mode last Saturday, it’s fine. Warming up is important and what lies ahead is going to take all your energy.

The annual Labor Day weekend college football marathon stretches from Thursday night to Monday night and features a top-five matchup, a top-15 matchup and a sneaky good game between two teams toward the back of the AP Top 25.

For the weekly AP Top 25 picks, let’s start with the five most intriguing games. The lines are from FanDuel Sportsbook:

1) No. 7 Utah at Florida, Saturday.

Expectations are sky high for the Utes, coming off their first Pac-12 title. The Gators are rebuilding under new coach Billy Napier, but have a potential star in QB Anthony Richardson. Fair or not, this game has potential to set the narrative for the Pac-12′s season.

Line: Utah by 2 1/2. Pick: Utah 28-21.

2) Florida State vs. LSU at New Orleans, Sunday.

The Brian Kelly era begins at LSU with plenty of questions about what to expect from a talented team in the midst of massive transition. We’ll get an idea of where the Seminoles’ rebuild stands early in coach Mike Norvell’s third season.


Line: LSU by 3 1/2. Pick: Florida State 27-24.

3) No. 3 Georgia vs. No. 11 Oregon at Atlanta, Saturday.

Ducks coach Dan Lanning’s first game with Oregon is against the team he helped win a national championship with last season as defensive coordinator. Georgia sent a battalion of players from last year’s team to the NFL but is still loaded. How the Ducks hold up could set the tone for their season.

Line: Georgia by 17 1/2. Pick: Georgia 31-17.

4) No. 23 Cincinnati at No. 19 Arkansas, Saturday.

After their historic run to the playoff, the Bearcats’ next challenge is to maintain those lofty standards. A trip into the SEC West should provide a massive challenge.

Line: Arkansas by 6 1/2. Pick: Arkansas 23-17.

5) No. 5 Notre Dame at No. 2 Ohio State, Saturday.

Marcus Freeman’s first regular-season game as coach of the Fighting Irish comes against his alma mater. The potent Buckeyes’ offense is daunting, but how their revamped defense looks against Notre Dame’s new starting quarterback, Tyler Buchner, is worth watching.

Line: Ohio State by 17 1/2. Pick: Ohio State 42-17.

Other games involving ranked teams.


West Virginia (plus 7 1/2) at No. 17 Pittsburgh

The Backyard Brawl returns with two USC transfers playing QB … PITT 24-20.

Central Michigan (plus 20 1/2) at No. 12 Oklahoma State

Cowboys coach Mike Gundy goes for career victory No. 150 … OKLAHOMA STATE 35-17.


Western Michigan (plus 21 1/2) at No. 15 Michigan State

Spartans are 11-0 all-time against the Broncos … MICHIGAN STATE 35-16.


Utah State (plus 41 1/2) at No. 1 Alabama

How’s this for a jump up in competition: Aggies go from playing UConn to ‘Bama … ALABAMA 48-14.


Colorado State at No. 8 Michigan (minus 31 1/2)

All eyes on Michigan’s peculiar QB competition … MICHIGAN 45-10.

UTEP at No. 9 Oklahoma (minus 31 1/2)

Game 1 of the Brent Venables era in Norman … OKLAHOMA 52-13.

No. 13 North Carolina State (minus 11 1/2) at East Carolina

Season of high expectations for the Wolfpack starts with potentially tricky road trip … N.C. STATE 31-17.

Rice at No. 14 Southern California (minus 33 1/2)

Coach Lincoln Riley unveils his transfer-heavy Trojans … USC 49-10.

Miami at No. 20 Kentucky (minus 15 1/2)

Star RB Chris Rodriguez is one of several Wildcats suspended for the opener … KENTUCKY 30-10.

Troy (plus 22 1/2) at No. 21 Mississippi

Jaxson Dart or Luke Altmyer at QB for the Rebels? Or both? … OLE MISS 45-20.

UTSA at No. 24 Houston (minus 4 1/2)

Tasty Group of Five matchup between schools switching conferences in 2023 … HOUSTON 27-21.

No 25 BYU at South Florida (plus 12 1/2)

Can the Cougars stand the heat? … BYU 28-14.


No. 4 Clemson (minus 21 1/2) vs. Georgia Tech at Atlanta

Tigers have won seven straight meetings, their longest streak in an 85-game rivalry … CLEMSON 31-7.


Penn State (minus 3 1/2) at Purdue, Thursday — @OneDishwasher

Nittany Lions open Big Ten play on road for seventh straight season … PENN STATE 27-20.


Army (plus 2 1/2) at Coastal Carolina, Saturday — @Rlblack1Rob

Army’s old-school option vs. Coastal’s mash-up version … ARMY 28-26.

Boise State (plus 2 1/2) at Oregon State, Saturday — @AshleyWCtrack22

Broncos have won the last three regular-season meetings against the Beavers … BOISE STATE 31-28.

North Carolina (plus 1/2) at Appalachian State, Saturday — @Tarheelyoda1

Tar Heels lost the only meeting in 2019 … NORTH CAROLINA 28-23.


Follow Ralph D. Russo at and listen at


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