In just eight short weeks, we'll be getting ready for the first full Saturday of the 2017 college football season on Sept. 2. With the season nearing, let's dive into the schedule to pick out some of the most intriguing and most important matchups to get excited for in the fall.
Best nonconference neutral site game: Alabama vs. Florida State (at Atlanta), Sept. 2. The likely preseason No. 1, Alabama, meets a team that could be the preseason No. 2 (and will at least be in the top five), Florida State. And it's at the site of the national championship game, the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. With Derwin James returning from a season-ending injury, Florida State's defense will be much-improved, providing a stiff test for the development of Alabama QB Jalen Hurts under new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. The Crimson Tide lose a lot on defense, and yet the biggest question is a familiar one for teams facing Bama: Can the Seminoles block the Tide? The loser won't be knocked out of the playoff race, but a 0-1 hole puts a lot of pressure on whichever side comes up short in the centerpiece game of the opening weekend.
Honorable mention: LSU vs. BYU (at Houston), Sept. 2; Florida vs. Michigan (at Arlington, Texas), Sept. 2; N.C. State vs. South Carolina (at Charlotte), Sept. 2; West Virginia vs. Virginia Tech (at Landover, Md.), Sept. 3; Tennessee at Georgia Tech (at the Falcons' stadium), Sept. 4
Best nonconference non-rivalry road trip: Oklahoma at Ohio State, Sept. 9. Neutral site games are great because they lead to more fun nonconference matchups being scheduled, but it nevertheless feels a lot better when home-and-home series like this are scheduled, on campus in front of home crowds rather than NFL stadiums. Of course, scheduling games like this is a risk for all involved: Last year, Oklahoma was smoked by Ohio State at home, knocking it out of the playoff race after a similarly risky nonconference game vs. Houston. Ohio State, meanwhile, got a convincing, resume-boosting win that allowed it to earn the No. 3 seed despite not winning the Big Ten. Whatever the result, historic powers like the Sooners and Buckeyes scheduling a home-and-home is a victory. It's also just about the toughest nonconference test possible for new Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley in his second game after opening with UTEP at home.
Honorable mention: Auburn at Clemson, Sept. 9; Boise State at Washington State, Sept. 9; Georgia at Notre Dame, Sept. 9; TCU at Arkansas, Sept. 9; Nebraska at Oregon, Sept. 9; Texas at USC, Sept. 16
Biggest nonconference rivalry game: Florida State at Florida, Nov. 25. Will the Gators offense actually have a pulse this year? They've scored a total of 15 points the past two years against the Seminoles and have lost six of seven in the series. If the Gators do improve offensively -- with the help of Notre Dame transfer QB Malik Zaire and an improving supporting cast -- there's a chance they'll be a significant obstacle to the playoff hopes of Florida State in the last week of the regular season.
Honorable mention: Pittsburgh at Penn State, Sept. 9; Notre Dame at Michigan State, Sept. 23; USC at Notre Dame, Oct. 21; Georgia at Georgia Tech, Nov. 25; Clemson at South Carolina, Nov. 25; Louisville at Kentucky, Nov. 25; Notre Dame at Stanford, Nov. 25
Biggest hot seat showdown: Texas A&M at UCLA, Sept. 3. UCLA's Jim Mora is coming off a 4-8 season in which the offense fell apart and QB Josh Rosen injured his shoulder in October. Texas A&M continues to collapse late in the season. Last year, both teams ended up disappointed by the end of the season, but their Week 1 showdown in College Station was fantastic, as Texas A&M pulled off a 31-24 OT win over UCLA erased a 15-point deficit in the final five minutes. UCLA has to especially be careful in nonconference play with a tricky road trip to Memphis in Week 3. You will hear Chip Kelly's name mentioned a lot before and after this one.
Honorable mention: Arizona State at Texas Tech, Sept. 16; Notre Dame at Boston College, Sept. 16; N.C. State at Notre Dame, Oct. 28; Arizona State at UCLA, Nov. 11; Texas A&M at Ole Miss, Nov. 18; Arizona at Arizona State, Nov. 25;
Strangest nonconference road trap: Oregon at Wyoming, Sept. 16. The week after hosting Nebraska in a more high-profile nonconference game, the Ducks hit the road to Laramie to face prized NFL prospect quarterback Josh Allen. Oregon's offense is loaded and should have little trouble moving the ball on the Cowboys, but Allen will provide a measuring stick for the growth of what was a hapless Ducks defense last year as new coordinator Jim Leavitt tries to engineer a turnaround. This game was originally announced back in 2007, and Oregon never could have imagined it would be facing the possible No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft.
Honorable mention: Oklahoma State at South Alabama, Sept. 9; Miami at Arkansas State, Sept. 9; Mississippi State at Louisiana Tech, Sept. 9; UCLA at Memphis, Sept. 16; Stanford at San Diego State, Sept. 16
Best MACtion: Toledo at Ohio, Nov. 8. The MAC's probable best game is Western Michigan at Toledo, the top two teams in the West, on Nov. 24. But a Black Friday game doesn't count as the midweek MACtion we all know and love, the Tuesday and Wednesday games that ensure there is football on TV every day in November. In fact, the MAC plays zero regular-season games on Saturdays after Halloween. The biggest game in that span is the Rockets at the Bobcats on a Wednesday in a possible preview of the MAC championship game. Ohio, which won the East, edged Toledo 31-26 last season.
Honorable mention: Central Michigan at Western Michigan, Nov. 1; Miami of Ohio at Ohio, Oct. 31
Best Thursday night game: Louisville at N.C. State, Oct. 5. Louisville's last Thursday night game was a disaster: a 36-10 loss at Houston that knocked the Cardinals out of the playoff race, as Lamar Jackson was sacked 11 times. The Thursday game in Raleigh will be a stiff test, too: The Wolfpack have one of the nation's top defensive lines, led by Bradley Chubb. Don't expect a repeat of last year's 54-13 Louisville win at home against N.C. State. Everyone's excited for the games between Louisville, Florida State and Clemson in the Atlantic, but N.C. State won't be an easy out and could upset one of them.
Honorable mention: Ohio State at Indiana, Aug. 31; Temple at South Florida, Sept. 21; Georgia Tech at Miami, Oct. 12; Memphis at Houston, Oct. 19; Navy at Temple, Nov. 2; Ole Miss at Mississippi State, Nov. 23
Most ill-advised nonconference scheduling: Syracuse at LSU, Sept. 23. Two years ago, Syracuse welcomed LSU to the Carrier Dome and actually put up a fight, losing by only 10 despite giving up 244 rushing yards to Leonard Fournette. Now, in coach Dino Babers' second season, the Orange have to go to Death Valley, one of the toughest road environments in college football, in a season in which they also have road trips to N.C. State, Miami, Florida State and Louisville. This won't help the goal of getting back to a bowl game.
Honorable mention: Maryland at Texas, Sept. 2; Washington at Rutgers, Sept. 1; Virginia at Boise State, Sept. 22
Biggest possible conference title game preview: Oklahoma at Oklahoma State, Nov. 4. The Sooners beat Oklahoma State by double digits with the conference title on the line each of the past two seasons. Now, with the Big 12 reinstating a conference championship game, Bedlam has been moved up to early November to avoid a possible rematch a week after the first meeting. The title game is guaranteed to be a rematch because of the Big 12's round-robin schedule, and this year both the Sooners (Baker Mayfield) and Cowboys (Mason Rudolph) have great quarterbacks and playoff aspirations, setting the stage for one of the biggest Bedlam games ever.
Honorable mention: Stanford at USC, Sept. 9; Miami at Florida State, Sept. 16; Clemson at Virginia Tech, Sept. 30; Oklahoma vs. Texas (at Dallas), Oct. 14; Michigan at Wisconsin, Nov. 18
Biggest intradivision game: Penn State at Ohio State, Oct. 28. Ohio State-Michigan is always the biggest game on the Buckeyes' schedule, and it's certainly possible that their meeting will decide the Big Ten East title. But the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes ended up atop the division standings last year, and they're both likely preseason top-seven teams with a ton of talent returning, while Michigan has a lot of reshuffling to do. Last year, Penn State launched a run to the Rose Bowl with a shocking win over then-No. 2 Ohio State thanks to a blocked field goal return for a touchdown. Now, the Nittany Lions make the trip back to Columbus, where they last won in 2011, and a playoff spot could be decided.
Honorable mention: Clemson at Louisville, Sept. 16; Louisville at Florida State, Oct. 21; Florida vs. Georgia (at Jacksonville), Oct. 28; LSU at Alabama, Nov. 4; Washington at Stanford, Nov. 10; Florida State at Clemson, Nov. 11; Ohio State at Michigan, Nov. 25; Alabama at Auburn, Nov. 25
Best all-Group of Five nonconference game: Army vs. Navy (at Philadelphia), Dec. 9. At long last, Army ended a 14-game losing streak in the famed rivalry last December. After its best season in 20 years, Army returns 16 starters and has hopes of beating Navy in consecutive years for the first time since a five-game streak from 1992-96 and going to back-to-back bowls for the first time since 1984-85.
Honorable mention: Troy at Boise State, Sept. 2; Houston at UTSA, Sept. 2; Tulsa at Toledo, Sept. 16; Boise State at BYU, Oct. 6
Best Group of Five conference game: Houston at South Florida, Nov. 4. By no means is Houston a lock to win the AAC West; last year's team was likely better than this one and ended up third in the division standings. Plus, Tom Herman is gone. But the Cougars have a roster loaded with talent, by AAC standards, led by DT Ed Oliver, and they are the top team on the schedule of explosive South Florida, which is coming off an 11-2 season and may be the favorite for the Group of Five's New Year's Six spot. This is a possible preview of the AAC title game, although Memphis, Navy and Tulsa will have a say in the West race.
Honorable mention: Louisiana Tech at Western Kentucky, Sept. 16; Boise State at San Diego State, Oct. 14; Memphis at Houston, Oct. 19; Wyoming at Boise State, Oct. 21; Boise State at Colorado State, Nov. 11; Middle Tennessee at Western Kentucky, Nov. 17; Western Michigan at Toledo, Nov. 24; South Florida at UCF, Nov. 24; Troy at Arkansas State, Dec. 2
Best quarterback matchup: USC at UCLA, Nov. 18. Josh Rosen's season-ending shoulder injury prevented a Rosen-Sam Darnold showdown in 2016. UCLA was a mess by that point, and the Trojans cruised to a 36-14 win. This year, the hope is that Rosen is healthy and gets help from his offensive line, his running game and new offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch. Rosen and Darnold are both top NFL prospects, and while UCLA is coming off a dreadful season, it's possible this game will play a huge role in the Pac-12 South race. Jets and 49ers fans will surely be tuning in.
Honorable mention: Oklahoma (Baker Mayfield) at Ohio State (J.T. Barrett), Sept. 9; Louisville (Lamar Jackson) at Florida State (Deondre Francois), Oct. 21; Wyoming (Josh Allen) at Boise State (Brett Rypien), Oct. 21; Penn State (Trace McSorley) at Ohio State (J.T. Barrett), Oct. 28; UCLA (Josh Rosen) at Washington (Jake Browning), Oct. 28; Oklahoma (Baker Mayfield) at Oklahoma State (Mason Rudolph), Nov. 4; Middle Tennessee (Brent Stockstill) at Western Kentucky (Mike White), Nov. 17; Washington State (Luke Falk) at Washington (Jake Browning), Nov. 25
Game most likely to feature over 100 total points: Arizona State at Texas Tech, Sept. 16. Arizona State's offense actually struggled much of last season, but that didn't stop the Sun Devils from racking up 68 points against Texas Tech. They also gave up 55 points. Kalen Ballage finished with eight total TDs against the hapless Red Raiders defense. These defenses ranked 123rd and 128th in points allowed last year, and while at least one of them will probably be better, there's a high probability of a ton of points being scored again.
Honorable mention: New Mexico at Tulsa, Sept. 23; Oklahoma State at Texas Tech, Sept. 30; Washington State at Oregon, Oct. 7; Texas Tech at Oklahoma, Oct. 28; Middle Tennessee at Western Kentucky, Nov. 17
Game most likely to feature zero touchdowns: Wake Forest at Boston College, Sept. 9. Two years ago, this ACC Atlantic series delivered an immortal 3-0 game for the ages. Last year's 17-14 Boston College win was a shootout in comparison.
Honorable mention: Connecticut at Virginia, Sept. 16; LSU at Alabama, Nov. 4; Iowa at Wisconsin, Nov. 11; Connecticut at Boston College, Nov. 18