Grab yourself a cold drink, get in on some tailgating, or park yourself on the couch with some Visine eye drops, because college football is back with five days worth of surprisingly fantastic week one match-ups. Happy football everyone.
Thursday, September 1
South Carolina Gamecocks at Vanderbilt Commodores – 7 p.m. (CT) on ESPN
The SEC scheduling habits are peculiar to say the least. Here we have a league game to kick things off, and come November every SEC school will host some directional, NAIA level charter school upon which to run it up while the rest of the schools across the nation will be deep in their conference seasons. After 11 years in Columbia, the Old Ball Coach, Steve Spurrier, decided a better use of his time would be spent playing golf at Augusta instead of standing on the sidelines as Gamecock coach. The winner of this game can revel in the sure to be short lived stop atop the SEC standings at 1-0.
Friday, September 2
Colorado Buffaloes vs Colorado State Rams – 7 p.m. (CT) in Denver on ESPN
This game should be of particular interest for fans of Big 12 schools given that it involves both past and potential future members. During Big 12 media days last month, K-State head coach Bill Snyder hinted that he'd heard rumors of two former Big 12 schools wanting back in. With little to no other details offered up, speculation swirled, but the most consistent theories focused on Colorado. The Buffaloes were fading from relevance in their last days in the Big 12, but they have become an absolute dumpster fire since moving to the Pac-12. Meanwhile, up in Fort Collins, Colorado, the school the Buffaloes have always treated like a distant cousin has stabilized under successive coaches of Jim McElwain and Mike Bobo. The thought of the Big 12 now extending a possible invite to the Rams has got to drive Colorado insane. If Colorado State rolls into Denver and beats the Buffaloes on national television, CSU can further establish themselves as THE football school of Colorado and polish up their resume for consideration in Big 12 expansion.
Kansas State Wildcats at #8 Stanford Cardinal – 8 p.m. (CT) on Fox Sports 1
This 2016 season marks Bill Snyder's 25th as Wildcat coach. Barry Switzer once referred to Snyder as college football's coach of the 20th Century. Given how absolutely atrocious K-State was before his arrival in Manhattan and the heights to which Snyder ultimately took KSU in a power conference, and not, say, the WAC, Switzer's statement is at least arguable. Back when Snyder was building his program, both he and K-State were given endless amounts of grief for setting up absolute cream puff non-con schedules. Well, that is far from the case in 2016. The Wildcats begin the season with the near impossible task of trying to contain Stanford's Christian McCaffrey (NCAA record 3,864 All Purpose yards in 2015). Good luck. Last year there was a lot of buzz around Manhattan about the potential of Wildcat sophomore quarterback, Jesse Ertz. Then Ertz tore his ACL on the first play of the game against KSU's tune-up whipping boy opponent, South Dakota. If Ertz ever felt like living up to the Collin Klein comparisons, busting out against the Cardinal would be the time.
Saturday, September 3
#3 Oklahoma Sooners vs #15 Houston Cougars – 11 a.m. (CT) at NRG Stadium in Houston on ABC
2015 marked a return to national prominence of the Oklahoma football Sooners after their oh so very long one year absence. Led by the potent, one-two offensive punch of quarterback Baker Mayfield (3,700 yds & 36 TDs) and running back Samaje Perine (1349 yds & 16 TDs), the Sooners made it all the way to the College Football Playoff. If the Sooners have eyes on another title run, they face a brutal road right out of the gates. Oklahoma will face #15 Houston, #6 Ohio State, and #13 TCU all within their first four games of the season.
First up is another Big 12 invite hopeful, the Houston Cougars. And these Cougars aren’t some pretending mid-major darling either. Tom Herman's Cougars were three points away from finishing 14-0. Their sterling 13-1 record came via an American Conference title and statement victory over then #9 Florida State Seminoles in a Peach Bowl game that wasn't even as close as the final 38-24 score would indicate. The Cougars are led by one of the most under the radar dual threat quarterbacks currently in the college game. As a junior last season, Cougar quarterback Greg Ward Jr. piled up the stats (2,827 yds passing & 17 Tds, 1,114 yds rushing & 21 Tds). If the Cougars pull the upset in what amounts to essentially a home game for them, Houston will most likely vault into the Top 10. Once there, if Ward Jr. can stay healthy, the Cougars could be set up for a party crashing appearance in the College Football Playoff. After Oklahoma, the Cougars' schedule becomes softer than a roll of Charmin. The Big 12 will be watching.
Missouri Tigers at West Virginia Mountaineers – 11 a.m. (CT) on Fox Sports 1
And so begins the post-Pinkel era of Mizzou football on the heels of one of the most emotionally difficult seasons in the program's history. It comes on the road against an opponent who essentially replaced the Tigers' presence in the Big 12, West Virginia. As we saw in Bill Snyder's three year absence from K-State, when a coach who built a solid program out of a non-traditional football power leaves, the program doesn't take long to snap back. Where does Mizzou go from here? This game isn't on this list simply to present an opportunity for Jayhawk fans to revel in potential Tiger failure. It is one of the more evenly matched games of the first Saturday.
West Virginia has no business being in the Big 12. The conference knows it. The Mountaineers know it. It's a coupling that doesn't make any sense either regionally or in the interest of rivalries for either party. It was the move of a desperate conference and a desperate school who ran to each other like a couple of hapless co-dependents. The Big 12 wanted a big football name, which West Virginia had been, but under Dana Holgorsen – an overrated offensive "genius" - the Mountaineers have gone from a decade of averaging 10 wins a season (2002 to 2011) to a mediocre also-ran who even lost to the Charlie Weis led Kansas Jayhawks. Gross. It's very telling that Holgorsen's best season (10 wins & Orange Bowl win) came in his first season with a team predominantly full of Rich Rodriguez and Bill Stewart players. Both teams, both coaches, need a win in this game. For Mizzou, beating WVU on the road would start the Barry Odom era of Tiger football off on the right foot. For Holgorsen and his Mountaineers, they have a chance to take out an SEC opponent in a season that may determine Holgorsen's future at the school.
#16 UCLA Bruins at Texas A&M Aggies – 2:30 p.m. (CT) on CBS
In 2015, the Bruins and Aggies were seemingly mirror images. Both started the year ranked in the mid-teens. Both made a brief appearance in the Top 10 before stumbling down the stretch and losing their bowl games by a touchdown en route to finishing with 8-5 records. After Bruins' quarterback Josh Rosen's impressive freshman debut last year, UCLA has their hopes set on making a run for the Pac-12 South Division Title, and possibly more. For Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin, he needs a strong season to quell the grumbling down in southeast Texas. Kyle Field in College Station, Texas is a tough place to start a season for the Bruins. Ignore the number to the left of UCLA. This may be one of the most competitive games of the opening weekend.
#5 LSU Tigers vs Wisconsin Badgers – 2:30 p.m. (CT) at Lambeau Field in Green Bay on ABC
Last season the Badgers opened up against an SEC opponent on a neutral field. It didn't work out so well as Alabama pounded them 35-17. After that game though, Paul Chryst's Wisconsin squad rebounded to finish a solid 10-2 to close out the season with a bowl win. This year, in an essential home game, Wisconsin gets a shot at LSU and the second coming of Bo Jackson in Tigers running back, Leonard Fournette. That's not hyperbole either. Anyone old enough to have seen Bo play and know him to be more than a dual sport legend and unstoppable Tecmo Bowl force can attest that football has not seen a runner with the combination of size (Fournette is a clone like 6'1" 230, same as Bo), strength, moves and speed that Fournette showcased last season in racking up 1,953 yards at 6.5 yards a click and piling up 22 TDs.
Fournette once again will look to carry Les Miles' perpetually quarterback-inept LSU Tigers. What's the over/under on how many times Wisconsin stacks the box with nine defenders in this game? Dear God, please safeguard Leonard's knees this season so that we may get the chance to see him run through the increasingly piss-poor tackling of modern day NFL defenses. Amen.
#18 Georgia vs #22 North Carolina – 4:30 p.m. (CT) at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta on ESPN
After losing to what would prove to be a bad South Carolina squad in the first game of last season, the Tar Heels then closed out their 2015 season with 11 straight wins, earning their way into the Top 10 and damn near ruining Clemson's dream season in an ACC Championship. Meanwhile, it's hard to figure out what Bulldog fans expect their program to be, exactly. They never completely warmed up to former head coach Mark Richt despite Richt becoming the second winningest coach in the school's history. No, he wasn't Vince Dooley, but in their delusions of grandeur Georgia believes it should be on Alabama's level.
As soon as Al Golden was canned at Richt's alma mater of Miami, everyone knew Richt couldn't get the hell out of Athens fast enough to head down to Coral Gables. So Georgia pulled the chump move of "You can't quit, you're fired" after the Bulldogs' final game of the 2015 regular season. Careful what you wish for when you grow tired of a winning coach. Just ask Texas fans...
Rhode Island Rams at Kansas Jayhawks – 6 p.m. (CT) on ESPN 3
What can be considered a success for Jayhawk football in 2016? After the worst season in the program's history (0-12), you could simply say one win would do. So the Rams represent a supposed gimme. Last season's gimme, South Dakota State, Jackrabbit punched the 'Hawks on opening day to set the tone for just how bad things were about to get on the corner of Mississippi and Fambrough in Lawrence, Kansas. The 'Hawks come in as 29 points favorites, and potentially unsettled quarterback position - Cozart-v-Willis. You should never consider the first game of any season a must win, but for the Jayhawks, their crippled program, their players and their fans, this one pretty much is.
#20 USC Trojans vs #1 Alabama Crimson Tide – 7 p.m. (CT) in Arlington, Texas on ABC
Defending National Champion Alabama enters the 2016 season atop the polls. Should they win the Title this season, it would be the Tide's fourth of this decade and their fifth in the last eight years. That is absolutely unreal. Love 'em, hate 'em, just don't disrespect what Nick Saban and this program has done. They are in the discussion as one of the greatest dynasties in the history of the game.
In taking on USC, this will mark the fifth straight season the Tide will face a solid opponent from a power five conference in week one. This one has got to take on an extra special meaning for Tide offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin who was shown the door as Trojans coach midway through the 2013 season despite weathering the program through its lost scholarships and probation period. Trojans head coach, Clay Helton, twice filled in as interim coach after Kiffin in 2013 and then after Steve Sarkisian went all Frank Gallagher in 2015 before Lynn Swann and the USC Athletic Department finally said, "Screw it. Let the man try it for real." Question. Does Helton get to serve as his own interim if the Trojans AD decides to fire HIM in the middle of the season, too?
#2 Clemson Tigers at Auburn Tigers – 8 p.m. (CT) on ESPN
The nation's most dynamic quarterback, Deshaun Watson (4,109 yds passing, 1,105 yds rushing, 47 total TDs in 2015 and nearly 450 yards of total offense in the National Title game), returns for a junior season with last year's National Runner-Up Clemson Tigers. Watson racked up all those stats despite losing his most dynamic receiving weapon, Mike Williams, to a broken neck in the Tigers first game of the season last year after Williams caught a TD pass before being tackled into the goal post in the back of the endzone. Williams has made a full recovery from that freak accident and is ready to snag Watson's darts up and down the field. But the Tigers season doesn't begin at home against some cupcake. Guz Malzahn's Auburn Tigers have a lot to prove in front of a Tigers crowd after a lackluster 2015.
Arizona Wildcats vs BYU Cougars – 9:30 p.m. (CT) in Glendale, Arizona on Fox Sports 1
This is an under the radar gem of a first Saturday night capper. BYU bid farewell to the second winningest coach in Cougar history when Bronco Mendenhall left Provo for the head coaching gig at Virginia. New Cougar coach, Kalani Sitake, inherets Mendenhall's brewing quarterback controversy. The Mormons’ Tim Tebow, Taysom Hill, was an absolute beast of a gaudy stat machine in 2013, but in the two years since he's proven to be a very un-Tebow like Mr. Glass. He's been granted a fifth year due to those injuries, but in his absence Tanner Mangum came in as a freshman and had a solid debut including an insane last second victory on the road against Nebraska when Hill was lost for the season.
Meanwhile, down in Tucson, once disgraced Michigan coach, Rich Rodriguez, has put Arizona football back on the map. Last year he became the first coach in Wildcat history to take the program to four straight bowl games. He comes into this match-up with a star quarterback in junior Anu Solomon who appears poised for a breakout year.
Sunday, September 4
#10 Notre Dame Fightin' Irish at Texas Longhorns – 6:30 p.m. (CT) on ABC
Sunday's lone contest has all the big name appeal... if we were talking about a 1970s era Cotton Bowl. This is the second half of a home and home series for these two schools. Last year the Irish ran up and down the field on the Longhorns in a 38-3 no contest. The Longhorns will have the comfort of being in Austin this year, but are still not anywhere near the level of the Irish. Remember when Charlie Strong was brought in as Mack Brown's replacement in 2014 and he threw shade at his predecessor by saying that Texas would "never" have a five loss season again? Well, so far that hasn't been a lie. Strong has actually posted seven losses in each of his first two seasons at Texas.
Monday, September 5
#11 Ole Miss Rebels vs #4 Florida State Seminoles – 7 p.m. (CT) in Orlando, Florida on ESPN
This Labor Day finale is a doozy. In 2015, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze led the Rebels to their first 10 win season since 2003. Freeze and his Rebels seem to be the only team who can take down Saban and his Crimson Tide. The Rebels have beaten Bama the last two seasons, including a thumping in Tuscaloosa last year which was nowhere close to what the final score of that game would indicate. The Rebels have an absolute stud at quarterback in Clemson transfer Chad Kelly who threw for 4,042 yards & 31 TDs while rushing for 509 yards & 10 Tds in his debut season for the Rebels. Kelly piled up 375 yards of total offense and 4 TDs in a Sugar Bowl victory over Oklahoma State.
Ole Miss has its sights set on a special season, but they face a ridiculous start to the year in facing #4 Florida State, #1 Alabama, and #18 Georgia in three of their first four games. Florida State is loaded up for another run at the College Football Playoff themselves, but the ‘Noles will be running out a star freshman quarterback with the name of a James Bond villain, Deondre Francois, for this game.