In one of the most marvelous opening weekends of college football play, there are a slew of monster match-ups that promise to have plenty to say about major bowl berths, top ten rankings and those four precious spots that will be unveiled in December. The losers of these premier games still have all their goals in sight, but no margin for error. For the winners, ramp those expectations up even higher. There isn’t that great team heading into the season, and this could be the year that several two-loss teams are hashing it out for that fourth playoff spot.
In this era of college football, especially considering how brutally tough the Southeastern Conference has been, for the Crimson Tide to have won four of seven national titles is mind-boggling. The defense should be outstanding, and the Tide welcomes in another top notch recruiting class.
The Tigers won their first 14, and then fell in a thriller to the Tide a year ago. That tells you how tough it is these days, win 14 straight, and you are second place. Deshaun Watson may be the most decorated player in school history and Dabo Swinney has done an outstanding job recruiting.
The Fightin’ Tigers have had a tremendous run in the 21st century, but since that rematch loss to Bama for the 2011 national title, they have been second best in the division. LSU is extremely talented again. Can they beat Bama? If not, can they keep their fire and stay in the playoff mix?
The no conference schedule features Houston and Ohio State. If the Sooners could run through at 11-1 or 12-0, they would be a virtual playoff lock. Bob Stoops wants his defense to get its teeth back.
5. FLORIDA STATE
It might not quite be the run Florida State had from 1987-2000, but since 2012, the Seminoles have been right at the top and should be there once again. The Clemson game will just be enormous.
Jim Harbaugh’s instant turnaround in Ann Arbor has been very impressive, though not that surprising. He and Urban Meyer could have a Bo-Woody like rivalry the next few years.
7. OHIO STATE
Since arriving in Columbus (after berating a reporter and saying it was insulting to think of him ever putting on any colors other than Florida’s blue and orange), Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes record is 50-4. They play Oklahoma early and Michigan the last weekend of the year. And Sparty of course.
Tom Herman is the hottest name in coaching, and a bidding war figures to be in place the first time Texas and Texas A&M lose. The schedule is set up for Houston, if it can repeat its great year of 2015, to make a playoff push.
All the pieces are in place for this to be the Volunteers year for a return to Atlanta. It’s been since 2007. Can they get over the Florida and/or Alabama hump? There are standouts at every level on offense and defense.
Josh Rosen has the Bruins dreaming of the Rose Bowl. The sophomore quarterback will be an early Heisman favorite. The PAC-12 South is loaded, and the Bruins have a more favorable schedule than old rival USC.
11. NOTRE DAME
Brian Kelly has done the best job in South Bend since the height of Lou Holtz’s glory days. And you know with the Irish’s national cache, if there is any doubt and they are in the mix for a major bowl or playoff berth, the scales tip in their favor.
After last season, the Cardinals rallied to win eight of their next 10. They are right there with Clemson and Florida State fighting for an ACC Championship Game berth. Bobby Petrino, with all his faults, is a really good coach.
13. MICHIGAN STATE
Speaking of really good coaches, Mark Dantonio is at the top of the list. He has done incredible stuff at Michigan State — including handing Urban Meyer two of his four Ohio State losses. That East side of the Big Ten is loaded with elite coaches at the top.
Chris Peterson should finally have the Huskies, who sunk to unforeseen depths, back atop the PAC-12. Book Washington as a legitimate contender in the North. The Huskies have to find a way to overcome Oregon. The time is now.
15. NORTH CAROLINA
How good will the defense be? The offense could be even better with Mitch Trubisky behind center. He and tailback Elijah Hood are an elite one-two punch. If the Heels beat Georgia, a special season could be in order.
Nobody ever saw TCU being this good consistently. But Gary Patterson has been a top 10 coach of the 2000’s. They have been to major bowls, and got back in a major conference. There is a lot to replace, but the Horned Frogs seem a good bet most seasons.
The Cardinal play tough and physical football and it gives them a unique identity against most of their PAC-12 competition. Stanford has been able to keep rolling after the loss of several big names, including Jim Harbaugh and Andrew Luck. Christian McCaffrey is an all-timer, but there is a lot of lost talent to replace.
18. TEXAS A&M
It has been a saga in College Station the last few years. At least they know Trevor Knight will be the quarterback. The defense should be much better with Myles Garrett back as one of the nation’s best.
19. KANSAS STATE
Bill Snyder has had a tremendous career at K-State, in both stints. The Wildcats open at Stanford, and could set the tone for an out-standing year. The Big XII is up for grabs, and Kansas State in right in the mix.
20. OLE MISS
The Rebels won the Sugar Bowl last season and had three first round draft choices. The NCAA is sniffing around, but that taste of success has the Ole Miss faithful hungry. The September schedule is brutal, beginning with the Labor Day night opener in Orlando with Florida State.
21. SOUTHERN CAL
What a schedule for the Trojans, as they play nine PAC-12 games, and tangle with Alabama and Notre Dame non-conference. Their foes from the PAC-12 North are Washington, Oregon and Stanford. Clay Helton, for the second time, is the fourth USC head coach five times going back to 2013. Amazing.
Kirby Smart has the Bulldogs electrified for greatness soon. But there are a lot of question marks, especially on offense and place kicker, and the schedule is challenging out of the gate. Expect Georgia to be very good in November.
23. BOISE STATE
One of the great “mid major” programs of all time, the Broncos are a constant threat to have a big season and land in a big bowl. The same goes here in 2016.
24. WEST VIRGINIA
Dana Holgersen, like most coaches, has had his share of ups and downs at the Mountaineer helm. This is a big season for WVU, and they have as good a shot as anyone to challenge Oklahoma for the top spot. The Mountaineers open with Missouri in Morgantown.
Mark Richt takes over at his alma mater and inherits some pretty good talent. Miami is on the correct side of the ACC, away from Clemson, Florida State and Louisville. The Canes biggest roadblock in the race to Charlotte is likely North Carolina. But the division is balanced with plenty of dangerous opponents.