College football’s 2021 season officially kicks off on Saturday, Aug. 28 with a handful of matchups in Week 0. The schedule for that opening weekend could be tweaked, but Hawaii at UCLA and Nebraska at Illinois are the early highlights from the Week 0 games in 2021. The first full weekend of games for next season doesn’t lack for interesting matchups. Ohio State at Minnesota, Penn State at Wisconsin, West Virginia at Maryland, and LSU at UCLA are traditional on-campus battles, while neutral-site contests between Georgia and Clemson and Miami and Alabama highlight the Saturday action for Week 1. The first full week of action also includes Notre Dame at Florida State on Sunday and Louisville vs. Ole Miss in Atlanta on Monday night.
The CFB Playoff takes place on Dec. 31 for 2021, as the Orange Bowl and Cotton Bowl will host the semifinal matchups. The season is slated to end on Jan. 10 in Indianapolis, Ind. at Lucas Oil Stadium for the national championship.
It’s never too early to think about the first week of the 2021 season. Here are the matchups on tap in Week 0, five games to watch for Week 1, along with a quick look at the projected top 10 teams for next season:
Week 0 College Football Matchups in 2021
Week 0 – Saturday, Aug. 28
Hawaii at UCLA
Chip Kelly’s Bruins seem to be on the right track entering 2021. The Rainbow Warriors should be a factor for the Mountain West’s West Division next year.
Nebraska at Illinois
Bret Bielema makes his return to the Big Ten by leading Illinois against Nebraska. This game was scheduled to be played in Ireland but will take place in Illinois due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Southern Utah at San Jose State
The Spartans were a surprise champion of the Mountain West in 2020 and should be near the top of the conference again in ’21.
UConn at Fresno State
The Huskies did not play in 2020 due to COVID-19. Fresno State heads into the ’21 season on the right track under second-year coach Kalen DeBoer.
UTEP at New Mexico State
The Aggies have claimed three in a row in the Battle of I-10 rivalry.
College Football’s Six Must-See Games for Week 1 in 2021
Miami vs. Alabama (Atlanta)
The Crimson Tide begin their title defense with a matchup against a Miami team that showed improvement in coach Manny Diaz’s second year. However, quarterback D’Eriq King is recovering from a torn ACL suffered in the Cheez-It Bowl.
Clemson vs. Georgia (Charlotte, N.C.)
A massive showdown between two top-five teams (and national title contenders) is on tap when the Tigers and Bulldogs meet in Charlotte.
Penn State at Wisconsin
Can the Nittany Lions get back on track after a disappointing 2020 season? Behind quarterback Graham Mertz and a standout defense, Wisconsin is the early favorite to win the Big Ten West Division.
Indiana at Iowa
Indiana should be a preseason top-25 team for the first time since 1969. The Hoosiers return one of the Big Ten’s top defenses, but quarterback Michael Penix Jr. needs to stay healthy after suffering a torn ACL in 2020. Iowa returns a solid core for ’21, including quarterback Spencer Petras, running back Tyler Goodson and defensive back Matt Hankins.
LSU at UCLA
How much improvement will the Tigers show after a disappointing 5-5 mark in 2020? UCLA is trending in the right direction under coach Chip Kelly, and quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson is one of the Pac-12’s top returning signal-callers.
Notre Dame at Florida State (Sun., Sept. 5)
Coach Brian Kelly takes his revamped Fighting Irish team on the road in Week 1. Florida State is in rebuild mode under second-year coach Mike Norvell, but this team should be better in 2021.
Other Key Week 1 Games
Ohio State at Minnesota (Thursday, Sept. 2)
San Jose State at USC
Stanford vs. Kansas State (Houston)
West Virginia at Maryland
Boise State at UCF
Nevada at California
Louisiana at Texas
Arizona vs. BYU (Las Vegas)
Louisville vs. Ole Miss (Tuesday, Sept. 6 in Atlanta)
College Football’s Very Early Top 10 Teams for 2021
Replacing Mac Jones, Najee Harris and DeVonta Smith is a lot, but Nick Saban will reload and have this team in the mix to win it all once again.
New quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei is the next superstar under center for coach Dabo Swinney.
The Sooners are always dynamic on offense with Lincoln Riley at the controls. However, the 2021 defense should be the best of Riley’s tenure in Norman.
The Bulldogs had a different offense with quarterback JT Daniels at the controls in 2020, and the USC transfer is set for a full year as the starter in ’21. The opener against Clemson and a potential showdown versus Alabama in the SEC Championship loom large for coach Kirby Smart’s hopes of getting Georgia back to the CFB Playoff.
5. Ohio State
Replacing quarterback Justin Fields and fixing a defense that took a step back in 2020 will be the top priorities in spring practice for coach Ryan Day.
6. Iowa State
Coach Matt Campbell returns the bulk of the roster – including quarterback Brock Purdy and running back Breece Hall – from a team that won nine games and finished second in the Big 12 in 2020.
Luke Fickell has guided Cincinnati to a 31-6 mark over the last three years. The Bearcats are primed to be the top Group of 5 team once again, especially with quarterback Desmond Ridder returning in 2021.
8. Texas A&M
The Aggies are trending up under coach Jimbo Fisher. The defense will be stout, but a new quarterback and rebuilt offensive line are key questions to address this spring.
9. Notre Dame
Coach Brian Kelly has to find a quarterback to replace Ian Book and rebuild the offensive line.
10. North Carolina
With quarterback Sam Howell back at the controls, the Tar Heels are the biggest threat to Clemson in the ACC.