September seems pretty far away, but it’s never too early to take a peek at the 2016 college football season. Especially when you take a gander at an opening weekend schedule that boasts perhaps some of the most enticing matchups fans have seen in years.
A slate of contests that more closely resemble postseason bowl games will ensure that there will be no margin for error for teams as they begin their quest to earn a spot in the third edition of the College Football Playoff and a chance to play for the national championship.
Here are the top 10 games during the opening weekend of the upcoming college football season:
1. Ole Miss vs. Florida State
Sept. 5 (Orlando, FL)
Both of these schools ended their 2015 seasons on opposite ends of the spectrum. Ole Miss dominated Oklahoma State in winning the AllState Sugar Bowl 48-20, while Florida State fell 38-24 in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl to a red-hot Houston Cougars team.
2. Oklahoma vs. Houston
Sept. 3 (Houston, TX)
After going 13-1, including a win over Florida State in the Chick-fil-A Bowl Peach Bowl in head coach Tom Herman’s first season, Houston draws a formidable opponent in reigning Big 12 champion and College Football Playoff participant Oklahoma. Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield will kick off his 2016 Heisman campaign in front of a national audience against what will likely be a highly ranked Cougars team.
3. Alabama vs. USC
Sept. 3 (Arlington, TX)
Defending national champion Alabama sets its sights on another repeat and national championship No. 17 against a USC team that will start year one of the Clay Helton era. The Trojans boast a talent-laden roster, as do the Crimson Tide. Alabama rode its 2015 season-opening win against Wisconsin – also coincidentally played in Arlington, Texas – to the College Football Playoff.
4. LSU vs. Wisconsin
Sept. 3 (Green Bay, WI)
Les Miles was granted a reprieve by LSU athletic director Joe Alleva to close out 2015. His road to redemption must go through Lambeau Field where his Tigers will face a gritty Wisconsin team that won 10 games last season and defeated USC 23-21 in the Holiday Bowl. Luckily for LSU, this game will be played in September and not December, so the Tigers won’t have to worry about any frozen tundra.
5. North Carolina vs. Georgia
Sept. 3 (Atlanta)
Defending ACC Coastal Division champion North Carolina travels to Atlanta to face first-year head coach Kirby Smart’s Georgia Bulldogs. Smart’s season opener will test his mettle as Larry Fedora’s Tar Heels return plenty of talented pieces from last season’s 11-3 team. Plenty of Bulldog fans are sure to be in attendance in the Georgia Dome to observe their new-look team.
6. Clemson at Auburn
Sept. 3 (Auburn, AL)
Clemson and 2016 Heisman Trophy front-runner Deshaun Watson’s path to a return trip to the College Football Playoff begins at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The Tigers return a number of starters from last year’s 14-win team, but also must replace several key players. Auburn was one of college football’s biggest disappointments last season and head coach Gus Malzahn desperately needs this win to silence his detractors. This game will set the tone for Auburn’s 2016 campaign.
7. UCLA at Texas A&M
Sept. 3 (College Station,TX)
UCLA freshman phenom quarterback Josh Rosen threw for 3,670 yards and 23 touchdown last season. Texas A&M landed former Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight after Kyler Murray and Kyle Allen defected from College Station. Aggies’ head coach Kevin Sumlin survived a tumultuous end of the year but managed to preserve his job. The eyes of Texas will be upon him when his team welcomes the Bruins to Kyle Field.
8. Notre Dame at Texas
Sept. 3 (Austin, TX)
The Fighting Irish cruised to a 38-3 victory over the Longhorns in South Bend last year. Texas will look to repay the favor. Notre Dame withstood a number of injuries last season to go 10-3 and play in the Fiesta Bowl. After a sluggish start in 2015, Texas used the momentum it gained from its victory over Oklahoma to go 3-3 in its last six games. The Longhorns defeated Baylor 23-17 to close out the season and give head coach Charlie Strong some breathing room.
9. Kansas State at Stanford
Sept. 2 (Palo Alto, CA)
Stanford hosts Kansas State in the first-ever meeting between the two schools. Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder and the Wildcats’ defense will have to contend with Stanford All-American running back Christian McCaffrey, a 2015 Heisman Trophy finalist, in what could be Snyder’s final year before retirement.
10. BYU vs. Arizona
Sept. 3 (Glendale, AZ)
BYU and Arizona get together in University of Phoenix Stadium for the first of a three-game series. Arizona leads the series 12-9-1 and defeated BYU 31-21 in the 2008 Las Vegas Bowl, their most recent meeting. Arizona turned in a disappointing 2015 season where it went 7-6, just one year removed from playing in the Fiesta Bowl. BYU’s Kalani Sitake first game as a head coach should be a good one.
Missouri at West Virginia (Sept. 3, Morgantown, WV)
Louisiana Tech at Arkansas (Sept. 3, Fayetteville, AR)
Fresno State at Nebraska (Sept. 3, Lincoln, NE)
Rutgers at Washington (Sept. 3, Seattle)
South Carolina at Vanderbilt (Sept. 1, Nashville, TN)
— Written by Elton Hayes, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. A Washington, D.C.-based sports writer, Hayes is a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and he also has been an invited guest on “The Paul Finebaum Show.” Follow him on Twitter @EHDC12.
(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)