The beginning of the college football season is always a cause for celebration. Football is America's favorite game, and we can't help but to be giddy when we turn on our televisions and see the sports being played live — especially after a seven-month layoff.
As excited as we are, the reality of that first weekend soon sets in. Sure, we have a few high-profile games here and there — often given special names along the lines of "Kickoff Classic." But for the most part, college football's opening weekend is filled with early-season non-conference games pitting strong teams against weak ones or opponents from the next division down. Basically, good games with serious national implications are few and far between.
That's not the case in 2016.
The upcoming season starts off with what should be a weekend to remember. The stars and scheduling gods have come together to coordinate 10 matchups between teams that figure to compete for both conference championships as well as one of the four College Football Playoff berths. Let's take a look.
Saturday, Sept. 3
Oklahoma vs. Houston (NRG Stadium, Houston)
The Sooners are a heavy favorite nationally to win the Big 12 and punch a ticket to the College Football Playoff for a second consecutive season. The Houston Cougars are widely considered to be the Group of Five team with the best chance of crashing the Playoff party. The loser of this game will be all but eliminated from national title contention.
Western Michigan at Northwestern
Don't overlook this game. This might be the toughest contest on Western Michigan's schedule. If the Broncos can pull off the upset, they have a shot at finishing as the top Group of Five team in the country. P.J. Fleck is a hot coach that people are going to be paying attention to, and his team has a dark horse Heisman candidate playing wide reciever. Northwestern is looking to improve on its 10-win season in 2015 on the shoulders of an elite running back and linebacker. They have the talent to win the Big Ten West and more, but they need to avoid a crushing loss to a sneaky-good MAC team.
UCLA at Texas A&M
The Bruins figure to be in contention for the Pac-12 crown, largely due to having the most NFL-ready passer in college football (Josh Rosen) under center. Texas A&M is looking for a bounce-back season and a chance to make some noise on the national stage. The winner of this game gets a quality win on their resume and huge bump in the early-season polls.
LSU vs. Wisconsin (Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wis.)
LSU will be looking to make a statement in a rare appearance of a southern team above the Mason-Dixon line. Wisconsin figure to be in the hunt for a Big Ten West crown, but this will be the first test on its brutal schedule. We'll know a lot about both programs by the time the clock runs out.
Georgia vs. North Carolina (Georgia Dome, Atlanta)
The Tar Heels are looking to play spoiler in what everyone is chalking up to being a two-team race in the ACC. They have the talent to run the table, but it all starts against an equally talented Georgia team going through a coaching transition. Both teams need a win to keep themselves in the title conversation.
Clemson at Auburn
The battle of the Tigers features a team coming off a national title game appearance and another looking to rebound after a disappointing 2015. A big win by Clemson woud be a statement to the country. A win by Auburn would put the SEC West on notice.
Arizona vs. BYU (University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.)
The Pac-12 could be a wide-open race with the Wildcats in the mix. A victory here would demonstrate their preparedness for that season-long battle. BYU has a strong enough schedule to crash the Playoff by winning out, but the Cougars will need to win a tricky opener first.
USC vs. Alabama (AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas)
The Trojans are loaded and experienced on both sides of the ball and could be a sleeper team to keep an eye on. They'll meet a young Alabama team with high expectations early in the season at a neutral site. We could look back at this game at the one the set the tone for the season.
Sunday, Sept. 4
Notre Dame at Texas
The Figthing Irish are loaded up and ready for a title run. They'll start that quest on the road in Austin against a team that is looking to climb back to the top of the college football mountain. An upset win over a highly-touted Notre Dame squad would be a great place for Charlie Strong and his embattled Longhorns to start.
Monday, Sept. 5
Ole Miss vs. Florida State (Florida Citrus Bowl, Orlando)
The Seminoles are a sexy pick to win the whole thing in 2016. First, they'll need to get past an Ole Miss team that has recruited as well as any in the country over the last couple of years. Chad Kelly, the SEC's best quarterback, should challenge a young Florida State defense for four quarters on Labor Day night.
— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.