The college football schedule offers a weekly selection of marquee games between top teams, and some will hit the ground running quickly this year.
The two Sept. 3 showdowns could quickly reshuffle the preseason AP Top 25 as No. 5 Notre Dame, with new coach Marcus Freeman, visits No. 2 Ohio State, and No. 3 Georgia — the defending national champion — plays No. 11 Oregon. Atlanta.
Crossing Power Five lines for these matchups seems to have increased in recent years, but then the long-standing bitter rivalries begin to battle teams for championships and bowl positioning at the end of the season. Here are just six of the tantalizing games on tap this season:
NO 5 NOTRE DAME AT NO. 2 Ohio State, Sept. 3
Freeman’s debut against his alma mater will set the tone for both teams, of course, and it will see Heisman Trophy candidate C.J. Stroud under center for the Buckeyes. There will be nine preseason AP All-Americans on the field between the two teams. A little added intrigue: High school star rusher Keon Kiley may be among the 103,000 or so fans in attendance. Keeley first committed to the Irish, then de-committed after a coaching change. The Buckeyes and No. 1 Alabama are among the teams trying to land him in their five-star ranks.
NO 11 OREGON VS. NO 3 Georgia (Atlanta), Sept. 3
The Bulldogs lost five first-round NFL draft picks from last year’s team on defense, but they get back QB Stesson Bennett, potentially adding to his remarkable story as a former walk-on who became MVP in a national championship game victory. The Bulldogs’ instincts, though, are well known to former defensive coordinator Dan Lanning, who will make his debut as the Ducks’ coach after Mario Cristobal left to take the job in Miami.
NO 13 NORTH CAROLINA STATE NO. 4 Clemson, Oct. 1
Last year, the Wolfpack ended an eight-game slide against the Tigers with a 27-21 victory in double overtime. NC State held Clemson to just 214 yards, its lowest total of the season, and the loss finally helped Wake Forest end the Tigers’ six-year push for the ACC’s Atlantic Division title. The Wolfpack have 10 defensive starters back, so Clemson has its work cut out for it. The programs are picked to finish 1-2 in the division, with Clemson first.
NO 6 TEXAS A&M AT NO. 1 Alabama, Oct. 8
This SEC West showdown has also been dubbed the “Beef Bowl” after spicy offseason comments on recruiting between Aggies coach Jimbo Fisher and Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban. More importantly, this could be the deciding game in the division race. The coaches say they’ve buried the hatchet, but the winner could give it a twist. Texas A&M last won a national championship in 1939; Saban alone has six on the Crimson Tide.
NO 14 USC AT NO. 7 UTAH, OCT. 15
The Trojans’ ranking is another cap tip for new coach Lincoln Riley after finishing 4-8 last season. Riley used the transfer portal in hopes of quickly rebuilding the program by bringing in 24 new players. Utes want to see QB Cam Rising continue his ascent after his first Pac-12 title and Rose Bowl appearance. How quickly Riley’s new system catches on will be huge for USC.
NO 12 Oklahoma State NO. Oklahoma, November 9. 19
The Cowboys return 10 offensive starters, including QB Spencer Sanders, to a team that came within a blink of the playoffs last season. The defense has always looked strong and should stay that way with Derek Mason taking over as coordinator for Jim Knowles, who took the same position at Ohio State. The Sooners’ six-year streak of the Big 12 title ended last season with a loss to the Cowboys. They hope former Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables can lead them back to the top behind QB Dylan Gabriel, who passed for 8,000 yards and 70 touchdowns at Central Florida.