The 2015 FBS schedule became officially official on Monday, and this Thursday marks exactly 26 weeks until the season begins. With that in mind, it’s time to look (far, far) ahead and apprise you of the top 10 games of opening weekend.
1. Arizona State vs. Texas A&M (Reliant Stadium, Houston): As far as programs that have zero previous meetings go, there’s plenty of familiarity here. Arizona State offered Kevin Sumlin its head job before the then-Houston coach chose Texas A&M. The coach Arizona State did hire, Todd Graham, is a former Texas high school coach that would love to score a victory over a major program from its home state. The Aggies have turned Scottsdale into a key recruiting territory, snagging starting quarterback Kyle Allen and five-star wide receiver Christian Kirk. For a pair of teams among the horde looking to make the jump from good to great, a victory over the other would be a nice launching pad.
2. Alabama vs. Wisconsin (AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas): Alabama owns the opening weekend kickoff game like no other program in college football. The Tide are 5-0 in Atlanta and Dallas since 2008, beating Clemson, Virginia Tech (twice), Michigan and West Virginia by an average of 19 points. Wisconsin has its own history in kickoff games, turning a 24-7 statement into a 28-24 stunner against LSU in Houston to open last season. With Melvin Gordon gone and a new coaching staff in at Wisconsin, the Tide should be heavy favorites here.
3. Washington at Boise State: Chris Petersen was 3-0 at home against Pac-12 opponents as Boise State’s head coach. Now he brings one to the blue turf. “It’s always hard when you’re playing your friends,” Petersen said last week. “We’ve done that over the years where you play some guys you’re very close to, and then certainly some of those kids we recruited over there. You don’t like to do that. But then when the game happens, the game happens.”
4. Louisville vs. Auburn (Georgia Dome, Atlanta): While we’re on the subject of awkward reunions, anyone up for Bobby Petrino and meeting up with Auburn in the Georgia Dome? With new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp and the talented Jeremy Johnson under center, Auburn has been bestowed as the people’s SEC favorite.
5. Michigan at Utah: Let’s see. Utah made changes at both coordinator spots, looking to build on last season’s 9-4 finish and keep pace with the perpetually brutal Pac-12 South. Michigan will debut a new starting quarterback. The Wolverines will look for their first road win over a Power Five program since 2010 and snap a two-game losing streak to Utah. Oh, and it’s Jim Harbaugh’s first game as Michigan’s head coach. Can’t decide which is the most intriguing story line.
6. Texas at Notre Dame: The Irish are expected to compete for a New Year’s Day bowl, the Longhorns are still a major work in progress. But any time the second and third-winningest programs in college football meet – for just the third time since 1978 – it’s appointment viewing.
7. Ohio State at Virginia Tech: Ohio State opens its season with a shot at avenging its only loss of the 2014 season in a prime-time, exclusive Labor Day broadcast. Over/under number of Buckeyes throwing a touchdown pass is set at 2.5.
8. South Carolina vs. North Carolina (Bank of America, Charlotte): South Carolina’s disappointing season began with a stink bomb of a 52-28 opening night loss to Texas A&M, the Gamecocks’ only kickoff Thursday loss since the tradition began a decade ago. For its part, North Carolina was equally disappointing in 2014, turning a preseason top 25 ranking into a 6-7 finish. Each team made changes at the defensive coordinator spot (UNC hired Gene Chizik; South Carolina brought in Jon Hoke), which means each head coach will hold his breath that his unit can hold the other guy under 30.
9. Eastern Washington at Oregon: Wrapping up our theme of awkward reunions, how about former Eastern Washington quarterback possibly starting his first game as Oregon’s new quarterback against Eastern Washington. At least the two sides parted ways on good terms.
10. Youngstown State at Pittsburgh: Two programs debuting new head coaches – one coaches his first game as a head man, the other brings in a 67-27 career record at a Power Five program. Make sure you watch this game with your Twitter feed open.
Also receiving votes: BYU at Nebraska, SMU at Baylor, Michigan State at Western Michigan, Stanford at Northwestern, TCU at Minnesota,