Jim Harbaugh's Michigan Wolverines will open their season on the road against rival Notre Dame
It’s always such a bittersweet moment when we crown a new national champion in college football. Alabama has just brushed the confetti off its shoulders and carried the title trophy to its awaiting bus. Fans of the two teams left the Mercedes-Benz Stadium and took to drinking in the pubs. And equipment managers had started throwing uniforms into the industrial-sized washers. Yet, there are those of us out here who are already thinking about what 2018 would bring. Yes, we’re jonesing for our next weekend college pigskin already.
With that in mind, here is a look forward to the next round of first class college football games we will see on our TVs over Labor Day weekend... which can’t get here soon enough, of course.
10. San Diego State at Stanford
Sat., Sept. 1 (Stanford, Calif.)
It’s a revenge game for the Cardinal, who dropped a 20-17 decision on Montezuma Mesa this past September thanks to a last-minute touchdown from SDSU. Stanford managed just 10 first downs and suffered three turnovers. The Aztecs will miss the 2,248 yards that Rashaad Penny ran for this season but have plenty of returnees from a 10-win team. Meanwhile, Stanford will be a senior-dominated team and could be in line for a Pac-12 crown.
9. Maryland vs. Texas
Sat., Sept. 1 (Landover, Md.)
This also is a revenge game and will be played at FedEx Field, where the Redskins make their home. And boy howdy, would the Longhorns like to make amends for that implosion in their home opener vs. the Terrapins in head Tom Herman’s debut this past season? Maryland stunned the Horns 51-41 behind the wizardry of QB Tyrrell Pigrome, who was injured in the game and missed the remainder of the season. He’s one of four Maryland QBs who will return in 2018. But Texas has much more to prove and much more pressure. Be that good or bad.
8. Ole Miss vs. Texas Tech
Saturday, Sept. 1 (Houston)
Another great Power 5 matchup at a neutral site, these two will meet at NRG Stadium, where the Houston Texans make their home on Sundays. Both programs finished the regular season with rather tepid 6-6 marks. Tech lost its bowl game to finish 6-7 and the Rebels were on probation so they couldn’t go bowling. Both of these teams need good jump-starts due to their rigorous conference games ahead.
7. FAU at Oklahoma
Sat., Sept. 1 (Norman, Okla.)
Oh man, can you imagine the tweets that Lane Kiffin will put out before and after this one? He might even tweet about it during the game as well. The Owls take their newfound confidence into Norman and hope to cast a pall over what will probably be the beginning of the Kyler Murray era for the new Sooner quarterback. Though there will be some re-working on both lines, FAU will be facing a still heavily-stocked corral of talent from the Sooners’ skill positions. But look for Owl running back Devin Singletary to get his yards against that slightly-maligned OU defense. This could be a shootout.
6. Tennessee vs. West Virginia
Sat., Sept. 1 (Charlotte, N.C.)
With QB Will Grier and WR David Sills both deciding to turn down the play-for-pay boys and return to Morgantown, the Mountaineers could be primed for a run at the top 10 next season. But Tennessee will look to get the Jeremy Pruitt era off to a good start, though they’ll have to do so without DT Kahlil McKenzie and RB John Kelly, who both declared for the NFL draft. This game will be played in Charlotte’s Bank Of America Stadium and the Mountaineers might have too much offensive might.
5. Alabama vs. Louisville
Sat., Sept. 1 (Orlando, Fla.)
This could’ve been more of a marquee matchup had Lamar Jackson not declared for the draft and instead returned for his senior year. Instead, this one drops down a couple of rungs and the only big intrigue will be to see the circus that the Alabama quarterbacking situation will deliver. Does Nick Saban go back to Jalen Hurts? Or does the phenom that is Tua Tagovailoa (above, right) develop into their better two-way threat? This is going to get very interesting.
4. Virginia Tech at Florida State
Mon., Sept. 3 (Tallahassee, Fla.)
Ah, the best conference game of the entire opening weekend happens right here in the ACC. It also has the intrigue of being the debut for the much-traveled Willie Taggart, who takes over the coaching reigns of the program after Jimbo Fisher moved on to Texas A&M. The Noles also come in off of a very unspectacular 7-6 season, which came close to being their first losing season in 40 years. Keep in mind the Seminoles started 2017 ranked at No. 3 before the nosedive. They’ll look for instant redemption here.
3. LSU vs. Miami
Sun., Sept. 2 (Arlington, Texas)
Looks like the JerryWorld Stadium (aka AT&T Stadium) will host another blue-ribbon game for opening weekend. The Hurricanes started the 2017 season 10-0 and in line for the College Football Playoff before they ran into Pitt, Clemson and Wisconsin, losing those games by a combined score of 96-41. They should be motivated since most people thought they were pretenders to the crown at best, though they are ranked No. 5 in Athlon’s own Way-Too-Early Top 25 for 2018. What better way to make a statement than by beating the big bully Bengal Tigers of the SEC? QB Malik Rosier will get a huge test from what will be one of the better defenses they’ll face all year.
2. Auburn vs. Washington
Sat., Sept. 1 (Atlanta)
It’s been a bit rare to see a SEC vs. Pac-12 matchup early in the season, but last year’s Texas A&M-UCLA game may have been the most famous/infamous matchup between the two major conferences. Considering the defenses involved here, this Tigers-Huskies showdown in Mercedes-Benz Stadium probably won’t match those fireworks, but it should be a good knock-down, drag-out between the Nos. 12 and 9 teams in our own Way-Too-Early Top 25. Then again, QBs Jake Browning and Jarrett Stidham will put plenty of pressure on these defenses as well. This one should be entertaining.
1. Michigan at Notre Dame
Sat., Sept. 1 (Notre Dame, Ind.)
These two should have really good squads in 2018 and will find out immediately if they are for real or not. The Wolverines will have one of the best defensive units in the FBS and could also get Ole Miss transfer QB Shea Patterson, depending on his eligibility issues. The Irish come off a 10-win season and have both Brandon Wimbush and Citrus Bowl hero Ian Book to make for great quarterback competition. There is certainly a little concern for each head coach’s hot seat. Brian Kelly’s squad orchestrated a rebound campaign in 2017 but don’t want to revert to their 2016 struggling ways. Jim Harbaugh has yet to deliver on the promise his hire represented, though this coming season could be “the one” in Ann Arbor.
— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.