Football preview: Auburn takes on No. 11 Oregon while Alabama meets Duke, UAB welcomes in-state opponent Alabama State

Football preview: Auburn takes on No. 11 Oregon while Alabama meets Duke, UAB welcomes in-state opponent Alabama State
A sticker on an Auburn helmet honors Rod Bramblett, the Auburn radio announcer who was killed in an automobile accident this year. The Tigers face the No. 11 Oregon Ducks in their season opener Saturday night. (Todd Van Emst/AU Athletics)

Week 1 of the college football season kicks off tonight – including a meeting of in-state foes – but the marquee event comes Saturday night in a meeting of Top 20 teams.

No. 16 Auburn meets No. 11 Oregon on ABC at 6:30 p.m. Saturday in the AdvoCare Classic at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Five-star Bo Nix will be the first true freshman to start at quarterback for Auburn since 1946.

“We need to be really good around him,” said coach Gus Malzahn, who cautioned that playing a true freshman doesn’t mean his offensive play calls will be conservative.

“That’s not the best word to use,” he said. “We’re playing one of the top teams in the country, probably one of the most experienced teams … if not the most experienced team in the country.”

Malzahn said sophomore JaTarvious “Boobee” Whitlow will be the first running back to see action. “But we could possibly play them all,” he said. “We’re impressed with all of them.”

Alabama running back Jerome Ford (27) runs the ball. The Tide faces the Duke Blue Devils in Saturday’s season opener in Atlanta. (Kent Gidley/University of Alabama Athletics)

ABC will have the eyes of many in the state as Alabama takes on Duke at 2:30 Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta in the Chik-fil-A Kickoff Classic. Coach Nick Saban isn’t looking beyond the Blue Devils, but he does recognize the long-term benefit that comes from playing them in an opener.

“We’re going to play an SEC game on the road early in the season,” he said.  “At least for a lot of young players, this is an opportunity, even though it isn’t necessarily a road game. It prepares them to be able to play on the road. Because you’re going to travel, you’ve got to focus.”

No. 2 Alabama got a jolt this week when it lost Dylan Moses, the captain of the defense and the leading returning tackler, to a torn ACL. He is the latest loss from the Tide linebacker corps. True freshmen Christian Harris and Shane Lee are now in starting roles.

“It’s a character check for everyone on our team,” Saban said.

Tonight, UAB kicks off the third season of its return to the gridiron just after 7 p.m. against Alabama State. Half an hour earlier, Blazer fans at Legion Field can watch the unfurling of the Conference USA championship banner to commemorate their historic 2018 season.

Thirty-five seniors are gone from last season, but coach Bill Clark isn’t taking a reversal of fortune for granted.

“In January, we started a mindset of ‘We want to keep this thing going,’” he said. “From January forward, the work ethic from this group has been tremendous.”

Across the field, Alabama State looks to rebound from a late 2018 season slide that saw the Hornets fall to fourth place in the Southwestern Athletic Conference’s East Division.

“Last year, we were young at a lot of different positions,” said Donald Hill-Eley, who is beginning his second full season as the head coach at ASU. “We’re expecting this year to be one of our pluses with that experience that should carry over to the season.”

The last time UAB and Alabama State met to open the season came in 1995, when the Hornets claimed a 13-3 victory. The Hornets have a 2-1 lead on the Blazers in this series.

In other college action:

Western Illinois at North Alabama:  The Lions begin their first season as a Big South Conference member with one of the toughest schedules in school history. They open against the Fighting Leathernecks, a perennial Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) power with 11 all-time playoff appearances, the most recent in 2017. Kickoff is at 7 tonight at Braly Stadium in Florence.

 

Ismail Saleem runs the ball for Alabama State, which opens its 2019 season tonight at UAB. (Alabama State Athletics)

Samford at Tennessee Tech: The Bulldogs (0-1) are coming off a 45-22 loss to Youngstown State in the Guardian Credit Union FCS Kickoff that was nationally televised on ESPN. Samford committed four costly turnovers (one fumble and three interceptions) with Youngstown State picking up 14 points off those miscues. “It was a combination of things,” coach Chris Hatcher said. “We made some mistakes early that put us in a hole. The turnovers devastated us, and then we had a hard time getting off the field defensively.” This week, Samford will take on one of its former Ohio Valley Conference rivals. The Bulldogs and Golden Eagles will face off at 6 p.m. Saturday in Cookeville, Tenn.

South Alabama at Nebraska: The Jaguars kick off their 2019 season at 11 a.m. Saturday on ESPN. And they’ll begin it against the No. 24 team in the country. USA was 3-9 in 2018.

Jacksonville State at Southeastern Louisiana: Gamecocks coach John Grass said JSU has a problem when it comes to its pass receivers: There is only one ball on the field at a time. “It is an advantage to have so many guys and I think if they stay healthy, I think they can be as good as we have had with a receiving corps,” he said. “If we can take care of the football and make plays down the field, we will be able to spread the field and throw the football around. I think our offensive line is getting better every day because it goes back to being able to get protection. You also have to be able to run the ball because that helps in the passing game.” Kickoff is at 7 p.m. tonight in Hammond, Louisiana.

Alabama A&M vs. Morehouse: The Bulldogs and the Maroon Tigers square off Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Central in the Black College Football Hall of Fame Classic at Tom Benson NFL Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio. A&M looks to continue the momentum of notching its first winning season (6-5) in six years.

Off this weekend: Huntingdon, Miles, Tuskegee, Birmingham-Southern and West Alabama.

HIGH SCHOOLS

Class 7A: Prattville is just outside the top 10 in the current Alabama Sports Writers Association ranking of high school teams, the first 7A squad on the list of those also receiving votes. The Lions host 6A Stanhope Elmore in a renewal of an Interstate 65 rivalry. The schools have played 39 times with Prattville leading 27-11-1.

Class 6A: Decatur hosts No. 10 Austin in the 57th meeting between these two Decatur high schools. The Red Raiders hold a 36-20 edge.

Class 5A: Boaz welcomes Guntersville. This is the 78th time these Marshall County teams have met. Guntersville leads the series with a record of 51-24-2.

Class 4A: Alexandria, which received votes in the Class 5A rankings, travels to 4A No. 5 Jacksonville (1-0).

Class 3A: No. 2 Piedmont is at home to Class 2A No. 3 Addison.

Class 2A: Class 3A No. 8 Midfield travels across town to face Tarrant.

Class 1A: No. 5 Lanett entertains LaFayette, which garnered votes in the Class 2A poll.

AISA: No. 8 Morgan Academy heads to No. 9 Edgewood Academy.

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