By Brett Dolan

College’s football first weekend kicks off Saturday with no shortage of local gridiron action. In fact, five games will take place in Houston, highlighted by the AdvoCare Texas Kickoff with Texas A&M and Arizona State at NRG at 6 p.m. The game will be broadcast on Sports Radio 610.

That game will mark the first ever meeting between the Aggies and Sun Devils and is part of four attractive opening weekend, neutral site games, that serve to push the college game front and center stage, one week before the NFL opens.

Arizona State is ranked 15th in the pre-season AP poll. Kevin Sumlin’s Ags would be 27th in the voting. The Aggies have gone 9-4 and 8-5 since their 11 win season in 2012. Quarterback Kyle Allen returns as the starter but defense will be the focus with new Defensive Coordinator John Chavis jumping from LSU to College Station. A&M allowed more than 450 yards per game last season, a number that will have to be lowered to see the win total increase. The Sun Devils will provide a stiff opening week test after back-to-back ten win seasons.

The first of the five local games features Rice hosting Wagner in a 2:30 p.m. kick at Rice Stadium. The Owls started last year 0-3 but finished with an 8-5 mark and over the last two years have gone 18-9. The 18 wins are the most ever in school history over a two-year span and they also rank as the second most wins by any FBS program in Texas since 2013. Only Baylor (22-4) has performed better. The Owls will be in Waco later in the month to play the Bears on September 26th, but will warm up with the FCS Wagner Seahawks out of the Northeast Conference.

Rice has the benefit of a returning quarterback in Driphus Jackson, who last year became one of three Owls QB’s to ever account for more than 3,000 yards of total offense in a season.

“It all starts with our fifth year quarterback and a second year starter,” said Rice coach David Bailiff. “He is the most incredible leader we’ve had.”

The Owls also have eight returning starters on defense despite losing two players early, including defensive lineman Christian Covington to the Houston Texans.

In a scheduling oddity, the Owls will also leave the state of Texas for just one game all season, an October 10th date at Florida Atlantic.

The Tom Herman era begins at the University of Houston when the Cougars host Tennessee Tech at 7 p.m. at TDECU Stadium. The Cougars lost their season and stadium opener last year to UTSA 27-7 and in some senses never recovered, despite a bowl victory and an eight win campaign.Tony Levine was fired before the bowl game and Herman was hired from Ohio State.

When Herman was last coaching a game, it was as the Offensive Coordinator in the national championship contest. The Buckeyes defeated Oregon 42-20 with their third string quarterback.

A few hours later Herman was on the job at the UH and hasn’t slowed down much since. Herman hasn’t downplayed the importance of strong fan turnout.

“It better be (good) or it will be a lot of hard work down the drain,” he admitted Thursday. “We’ve addressed our two biggest constituents, which is our student body and the citizens of the great city of Houston. We have made it very well known what our expectations are, that our guys have worked way too hard to trot out there for the first game of the year to a half empty stadium. I am very confident people will turn out to see us play.”

The new head Cougar has been coy about his starting quarterback, but his offense returns the Thunder and Lightning running back combo of Kenneth Farrow and Ryan Jackson.

The Golden Eagles are coached by Watson Brown, whose brother Mack led Texas to a national championship in 2005.

One of the bigger, if not more boisterous crowds Saturday will be at BBVA Compass Stadium for the annual Labor Day Classic between Texas Southern and rival Prairie View A&M. The game will kick at 8 p.m. TSU started last season 5-1 before dropping their final five games of the year, some in heart breaking fashion. But head coach Darrell Asberry seems to have the Tigers headed in the right direction. The bands at the Classic won’t be the only spirited competition. The Panthers finished last year at 5-5, but have a new coach in 2016. Willie Simmons comes to PV from Alcorn State.

HBU will begin its third season of college football, hosting Bethany College at Husky Stadium at 7 p.m. The Huskies completed their first “official” season in 2014, finishing 2-9, despite playing a half schedule in 2013. Saturday’s game will be the first of seven home games in 2015, giving HBU a chance to show great improvement in the tough Southland Conference.



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