On paper, No. 1 Alabama at Texas will be one of the biggest games of the season. Fox picked this one in the offseason to kick off its Big Noon Saturday schedule, and three networks will hold live, on-site pre-game shows (ESPN, Fox, Longhorn Network).
And, on paper, it makes sense. It's two of the six winningest programs in college football history, playing for the 10th time ever, and the first time on campus in a full century. Add in the personal histories between the two programs -- between Nick Saban and Texas, between Saban and Steve Sarkisian and staff -- and you've got plenty of material to fill a 3-hour pre-game show.
But, on the field, it's the No. 1 team in the country taking on an unranked opponent coming off a 5-7 season. How many games with 3-touchdown spreads has GameDay ever visited? How about GameDay and Big Noon Kickoff?
Obviously, the relevant history goes back to their last meeting. Texas sought its second national championship in five seasons, but Alabama knocked Colt McCoy on the game's eighth play, and neither program has been the same since. Alabama would've eventually become Alabama win or lose that night in Pasadena ("It wouldn't have been close," Mack Brown said afterward), but Texas has been knocked off orbit and has yet to return.
Perhaps a win on Saturday puts UT back on course. Slaying the Crimson Giant is the type of cosmic event required to end curses, similar to when the Boston Red Sox rallied from 3-0 in the 2004 ALCS to end the New York Yankees' hypnosis over that franchise. The Red Sox entered the bottom of the ninth of a potentially-decisive Game 4 trailing 4-3. They rallied to win that game, and seven games later they were World Series champions for the first time since 1918.
Maybe Texas, with its freshman quarterback, its freshman left tackle and its defense that ranked 102nd last season, can stare down Bryce Young, Will Anderson and company. At kickoff, their odds seem about the same as the Red Sox did back in October 2004.
Before we move on, a few notes:
-- The last time Alabama lost to an unranked non-conference opponent: Nov. 17, 2007. ULM 21, Alabama 14. They've won 45 games since. UT's last opponent: ULM. Coincidence????? Yes.
-- Nick Saban's armor of invincibility against his former assistants finally cracked last season. After winning his first 23, he lost to Jimbo Fisher and Kirby Smart in 2021. A loss to Sarkisian puts him at 1-3 in his last four.
-- Saturday marks the third time the AP No. 1 team visited Austin. No. 1 Ohio State defeated No. 2 Texas in 2006, and No. 7 Texas upset No. 1 SMU in 1950.
-- Louisville at UCF (7:30 p.m. ET Friday, ESPN2): We don't usually do betting stats here, but this isn't a good omen for Louisville. Teams that lose as a road favorite on opening weekend then go on the road again the following week are 1-12-1 against the spread. UCF is a 6.5-point favorite here.
-- South Carolina at No. 16 Arkansas (noon ET, ESPN): South Carolina brought Spencer Rattler in to be a difference-maker. Here's Rattler's opportunity to go make a difference and play like a first-round pick.
-- Missouri at Kansas State (noon ET, ESPN2): The Tigers and Wildcats meet for the first time since Mizzou left the Big 12 in 2011. Mizzou leads the series 60-32-5, but K-State won the last one and 14 of the last 19.
-- North Carolina at Georgia State (noon ET, ESPNU): Who built UNC's schedule? The Tar Heels go on the road to a Sun Belt venue for the second straight week. Here's hoping they hold the Panthers under 60.
-- No. 23 Wake Forest at Vanderbilt (noon ET, SEC Network): Vanderbilt scored 105 points in its first two games; the 'Dores scored 106 through eight games last season. If Vandy can go score-for-score with a Wake offense that gets Sam Hartman (3,924 yards last season), we'll know this offense is not smoke and mirrors.
-- UTSA at Army (noon ET, CBS Sports Network): Two teams coming off hard-fought losses in their openers now have to get off the mat for a tough Week 2 opponent. Keep this in your clicker rotation.
-- Marshall at Notre Dame (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC): There should be plenty of green in Notre Dame Stadium as Marshall, which began football in 1895, makes its first trip to South Bend.
-- Appalachian State at No. 6 Texas A&M (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2): App State scored 40 in the fourth quarter against North Carolina. A&M allowed Sam Houston zero over the course of a weather-interrupted game. This should be a good measuring stick game for the two units.
-- No. 24 Tennessee at No. 17 Pittsburgh (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC): The Johnny Majors Classic is one of three ranked v. ranked matchups of the weekend. Pitt won in Knoxville last year, 41-34, en route to an ACC title, while Tennessee looked dominant against Ball State.
-- Washington State at No. 19 Wisconsin (3:30 p.m. ET, Fox): The last Pac-12 team to visit Camp Randall was Oregon State on Sept. 10, 2011. Meanwhile, it's Washington State's first trip to a Big Ten stadium since going to... Camp Randall on Sept. 1, 2007.
-- Colorado at Air Force (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS): Colorado and Colorado State play all the time, Air Force and Colorado State play every year, but this is just the second CU-AFA game since 1974. The Buffs and Falcons played every year from 1958 to '74 but just once since, a 30-23 Air Force win in Boulder in 2019. CU leads the series, 12-5.
-- Iowa State at Iowa (4 p.m. ET, BTN): Iowa is looking for its first offensive touchdown since the 10:54 mark of the fourth quarter of the Capital One Bowl, while Iowa State seeks the CyHawk trophy for the first time since 2014. Either way, a long, painful drought will end by nightfall in Iowa City -- unless Iowa pulls off another 7-3 win.
-- Samford at No. 2 Georgia (4 p.m. ET, SEC Network): In 2000, current Samford head coach Chris Hatcher took the Valdosta State job. The 27-year-old first-time head coach hired a 25-year-old, new to coaching but well known to the locals, to manage his defensive backs. His name was Kirby Smart. It was a good hire.
-- No. 25 Houston at Texas Tech (4 p.m. ET, FS1): It's the true opening of the Joey McGuire Era at Tech, against former Tech wide receivers/quarterbacks coach Dana Holgorsen. Holgo is 5-3 personally against Tech, but the Red Raiders have taken four straight in this occasional series of former Southwest Conference bunk mates.
-- No. 20 Kentucky at No. 12 Florida (7 p.m. ET, ESPN): Can Billy Napier keep the good vibes rolling? The Utah win so raised the bar that a loss to a top-20 team would feel like a disappointment. Is that fair for a coach in his second game? No. Is it reality in the SEC? Absolutely. Florida will rocket from out of the AP Top 25 to the Top 10 with a win here, and expectations for the following 10 teams will increase accordingly. Meanwhile, Kentucky seeks its first back-to-back wins over UF since 1976-77. Anthony Richardson had a star-making performance before a national audience last Saturday night. Can Will Levis do the same?
-- No. 10 USC at Stanford (7:30 p.m. ET, ABC): How much can a program change in a year's time? On Sept. 11, 2021, No. 14 USC lost to an unranked Stanford, 42-28; Clay Helton was fired two days later. Lincoln Riley now makes his debut 365 days later.
-- Hawaii at No. 4 Michigan (8 p.m. ET, BTN): JJ McCarthy gets his on-the-job tryout, and the feeling here is Michigan coaches want this to be the first of 11 straight starts for him.
-- New Mexico State at UTEP (9 p.m. ET, ESPN+): The Battle of I-10! These schools aren't particularly close to any other FBS schools, but they're just an hour's drive from one another.
-- No. 9 Baylor at No. 21 BYU (10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN): The #Pac12AfterDark window turns into #FutureBig12AfterDark in this dandy of a nightcap. Baylor beat No. 19 BYU, 38-24, in Waco last season; the Bears jumped from unranked to No. 16 in the AP poll on the strength of this win and haven't left since. BYU is 6-1 since that game and 22-4 since 2020, and are 4-1 in their last five home games against ranked teams.
-- Mississippi State at Arizona (11 p.m. ET, FS1): Should Arizona win this game, Jedd Fisch's team should absolutely be in the AP Top 25, for there's no way 25 teams will have enjoyed a better start than a dominant win at perennial Mountain West contender San Diego State and then a (potential) win over an SEC team. First, though, Arizona must slow down Mississippi State's passing attack; Will Rogers's 450 yards were the second-most in FBS last week.