1. The Michigan-Notre Dame game is going to be absolutely fascinating theater. The fan base dynamic of these games is the most fun part: two programs with worldwide fan bases, 1,829 combined wins and one (1) national championship apiece in the last four decades. Watching a Michigan-Notre Dame game is like a egg-and-spoon race at a company picnic, where the winning child earns his parents an extra week's salary and everyone else's parents have to work weekends for the next six weeks. The winners are elated and the losers are devastated but, more than that, disappointed.
The actual football figures to be fascinating here, too. On one sideline you've got Clark Lea coordinating the defense for his first time at Notre Dame -- and the first time ever. On the other, you've got Michigan in its first game since undergoing an offensive overhaul, a transfer quarterback (Shea Patterson) making his maize and blue debut, and with three new assistants but no clear leader. Jim Harbaugh describes his coordinator-less offensive staff room as such: "The one voice is all five of the offensive coaches, singing off the same song sheet."
Both teams spent their training camps waging quarterback battles, and both teams return nine starters on defense. The quarterback that avoids the big mistake will win the game.
2. That said, Auburn-Washington is the biggest game of the weekend and it isn't close. It's the AP's No. 6 and No. 9 teams, playing for the first time ever. Oh, and one of them will face a furious climb to reach their dreams by dinnertime on Sept. 1. Here's what I wrote earlier this month:
Since the Pac-12 split into two divisions and added a championship game in 2011, not one team has run though its regular season with a 9-0 record. In fact, since the Pac-12 moved to a 9-game schedule in 2006 — a span of 12 total seasons, or 134 separate, individual campaigns — only one team has run through its conference schedule with a perfect record: Chip Kelly’s 2010 Oregon squad that reached the BCS National Championship, and those Ducks didn’t have to turn around and play a conference title game.
So it’s safe to say Washington is going to lose at least once after Week 1.
It’s equally safe to assume that Auburn is going to drop a game after Week 1 as well. Even if we assume the Tigers traipse through a string of games against LSU, Arkansas, Mississippi State (on the road), Tennessee, Ole Miss (on the road) and Texas A&M unscathed, their finishing kick is laughably cruel: a trip to Georgia on Nov. 10, a visit to Alabama on Nov. 24 and then, if the Tigers are fortunate enough to win both games, a likely rematch with Georgia in Atlanta on Dec. 1.
3. This could be a big weekend for the ACC. ABC's Saturday Night Football game features No. 1 Alabama taking on Louisville. The Cardinals are 25-point underdogs, so anything within three touchdowns will be a moral victory. Louisville catches Alabama at the right time -- if there is such a thing -- as Nick Saban executes a near total change over on his staff. Six of his ten assistants are new to the staff and all but one, offensive line coach Brent Key, is new to his role. Tua Tagovailoa (likely) will make his first start at quarterback. The defensive backfield replaces all five starters, and Louisville believes it can throw on the Tide.
But either way, Louisville (and the ACC) are playing with house money on Saturday night.
On Sunday night, No. 8 Miami meets No. 25 LSU in a showcase game at AT&T Stadium in Dallas. The Hurricanes return 14 starters against an LSU team breaking in a new offensive coordinator (who is also LSU's old offensive coordinator, Steve Ensminger) and a graduate transfer quarterback (Joe Burrow) making his first career start after joining the team in May.
The weekend closes on Monday night with an ACC-on-ACC game as No. 19 Florida State hosts No. 20 Virginia Tech. Virginia Tech has had a tumultuous offseason (by Virginia Tech standards), and it's Willie Taggart's debut as the Seminoles' head coach.
And on top of that, ESPN is rolling out the red carpet for FSU-VT, as the Worldwide Leader is dusting off its MegaCast gimmick for a rare regular season appearance. Ryan McGee and Marty Smith will call the entire game from the Goodyear Blimp (yes, this is happening), and Mack Brown, Gene Chizik, Hugh Freeze, Todd Graham, and Jim Mora will huddle up in the Coaches' Film Room on ESPNews.
If this game goes the way it should -- the 'Noles are 7.5-point favorites -- Doak Campbell should be a massive party to close the season's opening weekend.
4. The Maryland game is an absolute must-win for Texas. I know, I know. College football team needs to win game, and water is wet. More at 11.
But as Texas enters Year 9 of its lost decade, the Longhorns' lot in life has been most evident not against Oklahoma -- when the sight of crimson across the line of scrimmage inspires the 'Horns to play up to their nominal talent level -- but in September, and specifically against middleweight Power 5 programs.
Look at how Texas has fared in non-conference play against Power 5 competition over the past five seasons:
at BYU -- Loss, 40-21
vs. Ole Miss -- Loss, 44-23
vs. BYU -- Loss, 41-7
vs. UCLA (at AT&T Stadium) -- Loss, 20-17
at Notre Dame -- Loss, 38-3
vs. California -- Loss, 45-44
vs. Notre Dame -- Win, 50-47 (2 OT)
at California -- Loss, 50-43
vs. Maryland -- Loss, 51-41
at USC -- Loss, 27-24 (2 OT)
You're looking at a 1-9 record where Texas is a net minus-130 on the scoreboard, allowed 38 points or more eight times, got blown out five times and watched four seasons end before they began -- and the fifth was just an artificial extension of life, since Texas beat a Notre Dame team that eventually became the poster child for preseason hype gone wrong.
Texas pays its return visit to Maryland -- at FedEx Field in Landover, not College Park -- to play a program with explosive potential but who saw its training camp erupt into national headlines. Simply put, there's no excuse for Texas to lose this game.
5. I'm not saying, I'm just saying. In 2004, Oklahoma reached the BCS title game and lost to USC. The Sooners, ranked No. 7 to open the 2005 season, replaced Heisman finalist quarterback Jason White and a pair of All-Americans up front, and proceeded to lose their opener to an upstart mid-major, falling 17-10 to TCU in Norman.
In 2008, Oklahoma reached the BCS title game and lost to Florida. The Sooners, ranked No. 3 to open 2009, returned their Heisman-winning quarterback in Sam Bradford, but lost a pair of All-Americans up front... and then watched Bradford suffer an injury in the opener. OU lost its opener to another upstart mid-major, falling 14-13 to BYU in the first game ever played at AT&T Stadium.
On Saturday, Oklahoma, coming off a CFP semifinal loss to Georgia and ranked No. 7 by the AP, will play its first game without Heisman-winning quarterback Baker Mayfield, and its first game without All-American left tackle Orlando Brown, All-American pass rusher Obo Okoronkwo and All-American tight end Mark Andrews.
Their opponent on Saturday: another upstart mid-major. Florida Atlantic rolls into Norman as the owner of the nation's second-longest winning streak, ripping off 10 consecutive wins -- by an average of 25 points a game. FAU replaces offensive coordinator Kendal Briles, quarterback Jason Driskel and three offensive line starters, but this year's bunch retained Lane Kiffin, running back Devin Singletary and 10 defensive starters.
Again, I'm not saying, I'm just saying.
Of course, the best upset insurance Lincoln Riley could ever ask for are all these whispers about how Florida Atlantic is a sneaky-but-not-now-all-that-sneaky-because-too-many-people-like-me-are-talking-about-it Week 1 upset pick.
6. The Super 16. The Nuggets is honored to once again return as a voter in this year's FWAA-NFF Super 16 poll. Here is my preseason ballot. Let's fight about it. (On second thought, let's not. It's preseason.)
5. Ohio State
8. Michigan State
14. Penn State
15. Mississippi State
16. Boise State
7. Odds and Ends
a. The big game of Thursday night is Northwestern at Purdue. No offense to Northwestern at Purdue, but the big game of Thursday night is.... Northwestern at Purdue. The big Friday night game is Western Kentucky at Wisconsin. Again, no offense to WKU or Wisconsin, but, well, you know. If I'm running the kickoff game in Charlotte, Houston or some other city looking to join the party, I'm claiming Opening Thursday or Opening Friday as my night.
b. Speaking of kickoff games, allow me to bang the drum that all neutral site games should have both teams wear their home jerseys whenever possible. Ole Miss has already announced they'll wear white against Texas Tech in Houston and LSU always wears white, so Dallas seems out. Auburn's blue is too close to Washington's purple, so Atlanta's out. Same for Orlando, where Alabama's crimson is close to the black and red that Louisville wears. So our hopes lie with Charlotte, where Tennessee can easily wear orange while West Virginia wears blue.
c. No. 2 Clemson (vs. Furman), No. 3 Georgia (vs. Austin Peay) and Texas A&M (vs. Northwestern State) won't play close games, but the quarterback situations will be monitoring all the way around. A&M's derby between sophomores Nick Starkel and Kellen Mond has gone down to the wire, while Clemson and Georgia both have sparkling true freshmen (Trevor Lawrence at Clemson, Justin Fields at Georgia) that are too good to keep cooped up for too long.
d. Speaking of true freshmen, Nebraska (Adrian Martinez), USC (J.T. Daniels), Rutgers (Artur Sitkowski) and Minnesota (Zack Annexstad) will start true freshmen under center. Annexstad is a walk-on. The last true freshman walk-on to start Game 1 went on to win the Heisman and be the No. 1 pick in the draft, so no pressure, Zack.
e. One off-the-radar Group of 5-over-Power 5 possibility to keep your eye on: Cincinnati over UCLA at the Rose Bowl.
f. This time last year, Houston and Rice were on the run from Hurricane Harvey, all while Rice was returning from its Week 0 opener against Stanford in Australia. This time around, the Coogs and Owls will peacefully play the 42nd edition of the Bayou Bucket at Rice Stadium.
g. Speaking of Rice, Mike Bloomgren earned his first win as a head coach with a 31-28 come-from-behind triumph over Prairie View A&M on Saturday. Get out your telescope so you can see the winning kick.
h. North Texas has beaten SMU five times in 37 tries, but the Mean Green are 4.5-favorites in Denton.
i. Saturday will be a surreal scene at the Horseshoe, where both coaches make their head coaching debuts -- Jonathan Smith for Oregon State and Ryan Day for Ohio State, with Greg Schiano and Kevin Wilson serving as Day's assistants, Mike Riley consulting for Oregon State, and Urban Meyer watching from home. The Buckeyes are 38-point favorites.
j. Another Group of 5-over-Power 5 upset possibility to keep your eye on: Wyoming over Washington State in Laramie.
k. An FCS-over-FBS upset possibility to keep your eye on: North Carolina A&T over East Carolina. North Carolina A&T is the No. 14 team in the initial FCS poll and knocked off FCS No. 6 Jacksonville State in Week 0.
l. A third Group of 5-over-Power 5 upset possibility to keep in the back of your mind: Middle Tennessee over Vanderbilt in Nashville.
m. Navy is accustomed to traveling across the nation, but this is something else. The Midshipmen will fly 4,853 miles to Hawaii, play the fighting Nick Roloviches on Saturday, fly 4,853 miles home and host Memphis next Saturday.
n. No. 21 UCF takes its national-best 13-game winning streak on the road to visit Connecticut to kick off the weekend on Thursday (7 p.m. ET, ESPNU), which means one thing, the Civil ConFLiCT series is back, baby!
8. And, finally.... This begins my 12th consecutive season working in college football in some form or fashion. I'm incredibly lucky to do what I do, and I'm forever grateful for your readership. Let's do this thing.