The first week of the 2021 college football season is officially underway, and while games were played in Week 0 and on Wednesday, the first showdown involving a top 25 program takes place Thursday. No. 4 Ohio State travels to face Minnesota in the second Big Ten conference game of the season as the Buckeyes eye a return to the College Football Playoff and chance at a national championship.
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With Justin Fields no longer under center, Ohio State will be relying on its bevy of talented pass catchers to supplement first-year starter C.J. Stroud. Minnesota is looking to find its footing after a disappointing 2020 campaign that saw the team play just seven games, finishing 3-4 without a win over an upper echelon opponent.
Also Thursday, UCF and Boise State will square off in one of the top Group of Five games this season. Not only do both programs hope to kick off the season with a big-time win, they will also be angling to show off their credentials as the Big 12 will undoubtedly be evaluating both teams as potential additions to the league after the departures of Texas and Oklahoma to the SEC. Thursday also marks the debuts new coaches as UCF's Gus Malzahn replaces Josh Heupel and Boise State's Andy Avalos steps in for Bryan Harsin after the latter coaches left for Tennessee and Auburn, respectively.
While winning is all that matters for the standings, we care about whether these teams will cover their spreads. Be sure to stick with CBS Sports throughout the day for college football coverage from the opening kickoff on Thursday to the final whistle. Let's take a look at our expert picks for the first big game day of the season.
Less than a month before College Football Playoff executives gather to consider next steps in the evolution of the current four-team field, approval of a proposed 12-team expansion has never been more in doubt, multiple sources tell CBS Sports.
Prominent individuals within integral CFP committees have concerns about the process as well as whether the proposed structure is the right move for their conferences and teams.
What appeared to be a simple approval process just months ago is now an effort muddled in jealousy and doubt that lacks mutual trust between key parties.
Uncertainty was ratcheted up in late July when news broke prematurely that Texas and Oklahoma were talking about leaving the Big 12 for the SEC. The sudden migration of those two powerhouses has cast playoff expansion in a different light.
Eight days after Texas-Oklahoma news broke, Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff told CBS Sports that expansion would have to be "readdressed."
One Power Five source suggested the process to "rush out" playoff expansion news earlier this year was intentional to get in front of the Texas and Oklahoma move becoming public.
The consternation has risen to the point that two high-profile sources involved in the process tell CBS Sports they support expansion at a number smaller than the proposed 12 teams, perhaps as few as eight.
Likely to further slow the expansion process, according to one of those sources, are "alternative proposals" that are expected to come forward. Those proposals will surely feature different concepts for structure and access in light of the SEC's growth.
"I think we go back to square zero and start over," said one source intimately involved in the expansion process. "I don't see 12 there."
Beyond number of teams and access, sources tell CBS Sports there are also concerns about the potential of teams playing as many as 17 games as well as the perception of the SEC dominating a 12-team format.
As proposed, the expanded playoff would include the top six ranked conference champions followed by six at-large teams determined by CFP Rankings. The four highest-ranked conference champions would receive first-round byes.
It was thought that the 12-team proposal leveled the playing field. The Pac-12 would have increased access. In most years, it would almost certainly have its champion ranked in the top six. Notre Dame would have its best access ever, only needing to finish in or around the top 12 to get a bid. The top-ranked Group of Five champion would basically be guaranteed a spot with the potential for other Group of Five teams to get into the field as well.
Any change to the playoff field requires a unanimous vote from the CFP Board of Managers (11 FBS presidents/chancellors). That group is scheduled to meet with the CFP Management Committee (FBS athletic directors) to review a feasibility study of the 12-team field in late September.
It was once assumed that meeting would result in a rubber-stamp approval of an expanded 12-team playoff field. Now, such action appears extremely unlikely.
"The board will meet on the 28th," CFP executive director Bill Hancock told CBS Sports. "It will be up to them to decide what action to take, if any."
Eyebrows were raised Tuesday when Iowa athletic director Gary Barta said it was his "understanding" the 12-team proposal would be voted on in September.
"That proposal hasn't been voted on yet," Barta said while speaking with reporters. "My understanding is that will happen in September. That's number one, just a quick update."
Responding to Barta's comments, a source modeling the expansion process tells CBS Sports a vote is "highly unlikely." Said another: "Don't believe that's accurate."
"Whether they vote or approve anything is certainly [to be determined]," CFP spokesman Brett Daniels told CBS Sports in an email.