The 2019 college football season creeps closer by the day, and on Wednesday one of the hallmarks of the approaching season arrived. ABC has announced the selections and kick times for the first three Saturday Night Football games:
Week 1: Auburn vs. Oregon (at Dallas)
Week 2: LSU at Texas
Week 3: Clemson at Syracuse
Announcements for College GameDay locations will not come until closer to kickoff but all three are now heavy, heavy betting favorites (if there was such a thing) to host college football's preeminent pre-game show.
Auburn-Oregon, a rematch of the 2010 national championship game, was the logical choice for Week 1, especially since Miami vs. Florida in Orlando was moved to a special Week 0 game. Auburn will look to rebound from a disappointing 8-5 campaign, while Oregon will play for itself and the honor of the Pac-12, who needs a blue-and-orange tiger skin on its wall desperately after missing two straight College Football Playoff fields.
I predicted ABC/ESPN would prioritize Texas A&M at Clemson over LSU at Texas but, really, it was a coin-flip decision. Both LSU and Texas are coming off 10-win seasons capped by New Year's Six wins, and both are locks to begin 2019 in the AP top-10. It's the first meeting between college football blue-bloods since the 2004 Cotton Bowl, and the first regular season meeting since Sept. 18, 1954; with the 2020 game in Baton Rouge likely headed to CBS, this was probably ABC/ESPN's only shot to air a rare meeting between Mike the Tiger and Bevo.
And with the ABC/ESPN's ultra-bright spotlight skipping the A&M-Clemson game, Clemson at Syracuse became an obvious choice for the top spot in a weak Week 3 slate. With Florida State, Miami and Virginia Tech either down or rebuilding, Clemson-Syracuse has become the closest thing the ACC has to a marquee rivalry at this point. Dino Babers' team knocked off No. 2 Clemson on a Friday night in 2017, then forced the Tigers to stage a 27-23 comeback in Death Valley East last September en route to a 10-3 season and a No. 15 final ranking, the Orange's best season in 20 years.
Finally, astute observers will note the kickoff time has been moved up half an hour, from 8 p.m. ET to 7:30. An 8 p.m. start time didn't mean an 8 p.m. kick time -- that was just when ABC's broadcast began. Kickoff didn't come until closer to 8:20 p.m. and, in our world of 4-hour college football games, the final horn often didn't sound until midnight or after in the Eastern time zone.
We all love college football here, but cheers to ABC/ESPN for keeping its biggest games on Saturday, not Sunday morning.