The countdown is almost over, college football is back again for another season. Unlike previous season's, the 2016 opening weekend of the season is shaping up to be the most anticipated and ambitious in the history of NCAA Division I football. With a plethora of Associated Press Top 25 match-ups across the board and many other high profile games being played, September 3rd cannot get here soon enough for college football fans around the country. The marquee games are all a part of the Dick's Sporting Goods Kickoff Week that is bringing ever more attention to the college football world. From the number one ranked and defending National Champions Alabama to what many consider to be the closest game of them all, #14 ranked Ole Miss and #4 ranked Florida State, the opening weekend kicks off what should be the most awaited season of college football yet. The College Football Playoff, which through its committee ranks its own Top 25 teams in the nation; the top four teams are then "slated" to play in the playoff at season's end to determine the national champion. The first rankings will be released November 1st, with five other subsequent rankings following, culminating in the December 4th ranking and selection show. With the inception of the playoff two years ago, it has forced schools across the country to schedule tough out-of-conference games in hopes of a win that will impress the 12 member committee. Let's take a look at what I'll deem the "best-of-the-best" games you cannot miss.
Defending champions Alabama, the Associated Press' #1 ranked team in the country make their third appearance to AT&T Stadium to take on the #20 ranked University of Southern California Trojans. The Crimson Tide are 2-0 kicking off their season at the House that Jerry Jones Built, with previous victories against Michigan and Wisconsin. The Trojans are coming off a troubled season in which former head coach Steve Sarkisian was dismissed after improper behavior, Clay Helton took over midseason for the third time in his career and is now the full-time head coach. While officially out of the NCAA sanctions that were put on them due to recruiting infractions, USC is still trying to return to their heyday of the early/mid 2000's when they were a consistent national title contender. They'll do it with wide receiver sensation JuJu Smith-Schuster who has explosive speed and route-running ability, do it all player cornerback Adoree' Jackson. Jackson's main position is at cornerback but do not be surprised to see him line up at wide receiver, running back and most especially as a kick/punt returner. His speed and athleticism make him a threat to any opposing defenses he will face. Lining up against the Trojans is today's modern dynasty, the Crimson Tide of Alabama. Head Coach Nick Saban is looking to win his unprecedented fifth national championship with the school. While he may have lost a handful of talented players to the NFL draft like linebacker Reggie Ragland, running back and Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry, the Crimson Tide still return a roster that will make any coach across the country envious. Returning stars include wide receiver Calvin Ridley who filled in nicely for departed star Amari Cooper by catching 89 passes for 1045 yards and 7 touchdowns. Leading the defensive is senior linebacker Reuben Foster who racked up 73 tackles last season, proving he his a capable defender against both the run and the pass. His counterpart on the defensive line senior Jonathan Allen, who had 12 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss last season, will once again be a nightmare for opposing offensive lines and backfields. Kickoff is set for 8 pm on ABC and my prediction is a 35-21 victory for the Crimson Tide.
Next we move on to what could be an "invitation" game for future membership in the BIG 12 Conference, as American Athletic Conference member #18 ranked Houston Cougars take on #5 ranked Oklahoma Sooners. It is no secret that the board of directors who run the BIG 12 are coveting the Cougars after their surprising 13-1 record which included a stunning beatdown of Florida State in last years Peach Bowl. It is surprising that Houston, which is not in a Power 5 conference (BIG Ten, Pac 12, ACC, SEC & BIG 12) was able to dominate a team from a Power 5 conference in a high profile bowl game. It is a high stakes game as a win would push Houston into the conversation of legitimate playoff contenders, and hopefully a new home in the BIG 12 Conference. Head Coach Tom Herman has Houston ramped up for yet another run with the return of dynamic quarterback Greg Ward Jr, who tore apart defenses through the air and on the ground. An underrated defense led by Steven Taylor who had 10 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss last season comes back to show that losses to graduation will have no effect on them this year. Oklahoma returns a Heisman favorite in quarterback Baker Mayfield, who threw for 3,700 yards and 36 touchdowns. Mayfield is a game breaking presence for the Sooners who gives Head Coach Bob Stoops another chance to run the table at a national championship, after last season's brutal loss to Clemson in the playoff. Lining up with Mayfield is do-it-all running back Samaje Perine, who rushed for 1,349 yards and 16 touchdowns. Perine is a threat on the outside and has the strength and build to run it between the tackles. He is a guy who can handle 20+ carries a game with his 5-10 234 pound build. Kickoff is early, noon ET on ABC; with this game being my upset special, Houston prevailing 38-35 over the Sooners.
This last game is a rarity for ABC and the college football world, a Sunday primetime matchup between the #10 ranked Notre Dame Fightin' Irish and the Texas Longhorns. This is a rematch between last years game played in South Bend, Indiana in which the Irish won handily 38-3. Texas Head Coach Charlie Strong is treading water right now as his first two seasons in Austin have been anything up to the standards of Longhorns fans. Last year's squad did show glimpses of what could be as they pulled off upsets over Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry and the season ending showdown against the Baylor Bears, both teams were ranked while Texas came into both games unranked. Strong returns a bevy of talent and was buoyed by an athletic recruiting class. Leading the way for the Longhorns this season is linebacker Malik Jefferson, a 6-3 238 pound stud who made 61 tackles as a freshman last year will be utilized throughout the whole defense. Running back D'Onta Foreman is a bruising 6-0 240 runner who flashed glimpses of his potential last season with 100+ yard games against Oklahoma and TCU. The Longhorns may be young but Charlie Strong is bringing top flight recruits to the program that has not been scene since the days when Mack Brown took the team to the 2005 National Championship. On the flip side Notre Dame Head Coach Brian Kelly and his Fightin' Irish are coming off a 10-3 season despite injuries to multiple key players on offense and defense. Kelly has slowly been building the Irish back into a consistent top flight program that it once was under Lou Holtz, and wins against other blue blood programs like Texas are the reason why. While the team lost key players like wide receiver Will Fuller, offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley, linebacker Jaylon Smith and defensive lineman Sheldon Day (among others, the Irish had seven players drafted this past spring) the Irish are still loaded with talent across the board. The quarterback situation is precarious yet a welcomed one to have; as both Malik Zaire and Deshone Kizer are beyond capable in leading the offense. Zaire was the started in last season's opener against Texas, throwing for over 300 yards and 3 touchdowns. Yet he suffered an ankle injury in Week 2 against Virginia that cost him the rest of the season. All Kizer did was come in and win the game against Virginia and lead the Irish all the way to an appearance in the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State. The running backs will be lead by another player who lost his season last year in stalwart Tarean Folston, and rising sophomore Josh Adams who ran for a Notre Dame freshman record 838 yards. The biggest strength to this Irish team is it's offensive and defensive lines. Led by guard Quenton Nelson and tackle Mike mcGlinchey, the offensive line boasts an average height/weight ration of 6-5 315 pounds. On the defensive end, nose tackle Jarron Jones and defensive end Issac Rochell lead an aggressive unit under defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder. The game can be seen on Sunday September 4th, 7:30 PM on ABC. Despite last years blowout, I predict this to be a tight game due to the maturation of young and talented Texas players combined with a raucous home crowd. Yet the Irish will pull out a close one 28-21.
There you have it, three of the best games to sit back and open up your 2016 college football season to. For a full list of games, I recommend going online to www.espn.go.com to get a complete list of the match-ups. The opening weekend of 2016 should be one for the ages as teams all around the country jockey for one of the four final playoff spots and the chance to capture the National Championship. These three games only highlight an epic slate featuring blue blood programs and teams on the rise. So bust out the team jerseys, find your favorite seat in the house and enjoy 12 hours of non-stop gridiron football!