Feel the hunger and anticipation for the kickoff of the college football season in less than two (2) weeks? I'm getting the sweats already! Opening weekend alone features four (4) titanic tussles between two (2) ranked opponents (#3 Oklahoma vs. #12 Houston, #20 North Carolina vs. #33 Georgia, #2 Alabama vs. #19 USC, & #4 Florida State vs. #14 Ole Miss), not to mention perhaps the strongest overall crop of intersectional soirees we've seen right out of the shoot in recent memory - and possibly ever. But as we play it all out through the Fall to ultimately find the four (4) participants in the 3rd annual College Football Playoff, four (4) games across the schedule stand out as having the best storylines. Further cementing just how good we have it in early September, two (2) of the four (4) occur in Week-1. Both of these take place in the Lone Star State.
At noon on Saturday, September 3rd, 3rd-ranked Oklahoma pulls the Sooner Schooner into Houston to play the 12th-ranked Cougars. OU is stacked with talent and is one of a handful of trendy picks for the National Title. A loss to a non Power-5 conference opponent would look bad. Houston, meanwhile, with a win over a Big-12 team, would see its clout skyrocket... and it might even get the Cougs an invite into the Conference! There's more to like about Tom Herman's hot, hungry Houston team than just catchy alliteration. Remember, they smoked FSU by two (2) touchdowns in the Peach Bowl.
Later on the 3rd, we fast forward to primetime for the first meeting in three (3) decades of the Crimson Tide and the Trojans. The Cowboys Classic in Dallas may feature the most insane talent on one (1) field you'll see all year. Whether or not Southern Cal can stay with Alabama in the physicality category remains to be seen. But the real matchup happens on the sidelines. You have a guy in USC's Clay Helton who's 0-2 all-time as a Head Coach against... Nick Saban. If that wasn't all, Bama Offensive Coordinator Lane Kiffin sees his former school for the first time since Pat Haden fired him on the tarmac at LAX in 2011. Alabama and Southern California haven't squared off in the regular season since splitting a home and home in 1977 and 1978 (the two shared the national crown in the latter year despite USC winning by 10 in Birmingham).
Things can and often do change a lot as we go... But as it stands now in August, the other two (2) games will be immensely influential on who makes the CFP and who falls by the waste side. September 17th gives us the best of all non-conference matchups as Oklahoma hosts 5th-ranked Ohio State. This game features the ultimate in one-on-one showdowns, with Heisman Trophy contending quarterbacks Baker Mayfield (OU) staring down Buckeye J.T. Barrett. On the headsets, it's the first meeting between Bob Stoops and Urban Meyer since Urb's Gators topped the Sooners for the 2009 National Tebow Title. Assuming Oklahoma survives Houston in Week-1, I don't think a loss for either team here is a season killer, but it would force the loser to win out for a bid to the final four (4).
Finally, the conference clash with the biggest playoff implications is most likely the Halloween weekend hullabaloo at Doak Campbell Stadium when #4 Florida State hosts #2 Clemson in the Battle of the "Bos" (Jimbo vs. Dabo). Both will likely be unbeaten coming in with the winner clearly becoming the ACC's best team. Because it's a league tilt, if you don't reach the ACC title game, you'll miss the College Football Playoff. Lastly, this rivalry has supplanted LSU-Alabama as the country's best annual conference clash.
The unpredictability of college football may well lay waste to this list. If it does, I'll dutifully crumple up this column. Because isn't that what we love most about Saturdays in the Fall?