By Ryan Mayer
It’s that time of the year once again. School bells ring across the country as the sun begins to set on summer and fall quickly approaches. With it, comes the start of a new college football season and this year, the opening weekend of games is one of the best in recent memory. There are multiple Top 25 matchups coming at various fun “neutral” site locations.
The best part?
The games are spread out enough that you won’t have to find too many creative ways to watch multiple games at once (unless you’re a nut like me and you want to).
Let’s dive right in, starting with a Thursday night SEC showdown that features the first game for a new coach.
Thursday 8 p.m. ET (ESPN) – South Carolina @ Vanderbilt
Okay, so this isn’t the sexiest matchup. However, it is the best of the offerings on Thursday night and it does feature the debut of Will Muschamp in his second head coaching gig. The Gamecocks are in serious rebuild mode and the most intriguing question they have to answer is who will play QB as Muschamp hasn’t named a starter yet. Vandy is coming off a 4-8 season, but there’s an experienced group of starters back and the Commodores should be better this season. This game can at least whet your appetite in preparation for the rest of the weekend.
Friday 9 p.m. ET (FS1) – Kansas State @ #8 Stanford
Bill Snyder’s group lost a significant number of players from last year’s team, yet he always seems to get the most out of his talent. On the other side, fans get their first look this year at Cardinal uber-weapon Christian McCaffrey, who is a Heisman candidate. The Cardinal will be breaking in a new starting QB, so expect to see plenty of McCaffrey featured in this and every game this season.
Saturday 12 p.m. ET (ABC) – #3 Oklahoma vs. #15 Houston (NRG Stadium)
This is when the real fun starts. It’s being billed as a “neutral” site game, but the teams are playing at NRG Stadium in Houston, just seven or so miles from the Cougars’ campus. This game may have the best story lines of the weekend as many (including myself) consider Houston a playoff dark horse, while the Sooners are expected to grab one of those four slots. Add to that the fact that Houston is trying to make a case for inclusion into the Big 12 and you’ve got the recipe for a fun, likely high-scoring game to kick off the Saturday slate.
Saturday 3:30 p.m. ET (ABC/CBS) – #5 LSU vs. Wisconsin (Lambeau Field)/#16 UCLA @ Texas A&M
Here’s where having multiple screens first becomes a necessity. At Lambeau, you’ve got an LSU team that is expected to challenge for the SEC title taking on a Wisconsin team that essentially has home-field advantage. Meanwhile, the Bruins and their wunderkind QB Josh Rosen head to College Station where Kevin Sumlin’s seat gets warmer by the day.
Saturday 5:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) – #18 Georgia @ #22 UNC
As those two mid-afternoon games wind down, make sure to keep this as a switch station. The Bulldogs begin the Kirby Smart era possibly with a freshman QB in Jacob Eason, who was one of the top recruits in the country last year. Larry Fedora’s crew will have a new QB following Marquise Williams’ departure, but their main attraction is running back Elijah Hood, who’s coming off a nearly 1,500-yard season last year and will get plenty more looks this year. Both teams are hoping to win their division in their respective conferences and getting the season started with a W would be helpful to their confidence.
Saturday 8 p.m. ET (ABC) – #20 USC vs. #1 Alabama (Arlington, TX)
Two monolithic programs squaring off in a massive monument to the sport. The defending national champions open their title defense tour with a Trojans group that has a ton of athletes but are limited in depth. The Tide’s quarterback situation is still unsettled, but that didn’t affect them much last year. The Trojans have their third coach in the last four years as Clay Helton takes over looking to finally provide some stability.
Saturday 9 p.m. ET (ESPN) – #2 Clemson @ Auburn
The first look at the Tigers and top QB prospect DeShaun Watson comes against an Auburn team that fell far short of their preseason hype last year. Gus Malzahn has gone just 8-5 and 7-6 since taking the team to a 12-2 record and BCS Championship game appearance in his first season. He has a big task to try and pull off the upset against the offensive juggernaut that is Dabo Swinney’s group.
Sunday 7:30 p.m. ET (ABC) – #10 Notre Dame @ Texas
The Irish were just a couple of plays away from being in the playoff last year and despite some departures and recent suspensions, they look to have the firepower to make another run at it. Charlie Strong on the other hand has Longhorns boosters restless following 6-7 and 5-7 years. He has a true freshman QB at the helm this year in Shane Buechele and you get the feeling that if he can’t turn in a 8-9 win season, then his job is in trouble.
Monday 8 p.m. ET (ESPN) – #11 Ole Miss @ #4 Florida State
The Rebels have the best quarterback in the SEC in Chad Kelly. The Seminoles have one of the top running backs in the country in Dalvin Cook. Both teams have a bunch of talent back on offense and run similarly high-tempo systems. Expect a shootout to close out the first weekend with a bang.
Ryan Mayer is an Associate Producer for CBS Local Sports. Ryan lives in NY but comes from Philly and life as a Philly sports fan has made him cynical. Anywhere sports are being discussed, that’s where you’ll find him.