Let the hype begin. Alabama and Florida State figure to be atop most preseason college football rankings for 2017, and luckily for us, they will get to settle that distinction on the field during the sport’s opening weekend. Not a bad opening for brand-new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, huh?
The Crimson Tide and the Seminoles may be the headliners for Week 1, but there are plenty of other enticing matchups that will keep us all looking ahead to seven-plus months from now, when the new college football season commences.
Really, Really, Ridiculously Early 2017 Top 25
Here are the top 10 games of the 2017 opening weekend.
1. Alabama vs. Florida State
Sept. 2 (Atlanta)
Nick Saban squares off against his most successful protege in Jimbo Fisher, who has adapted “The Process” and ushered the Seminoles to a 59-9 record, one national title and one College Football Playoff appearance over the past five years. You can argue that we haven’t had an opening weekend game with such heavy national title implications since LSU beat Oregon in 2011. Oh, and here’s a little nugget that will surely get thrown around come game week: Fisher is 9-1 against the SEC during his time at FSU.
2. Florida vs. Michigan
Sept. 2 (Arlington, Texas)
Which third-year head coach gets his team off to a quicker start? Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines got the best of Jim McElwain and the Gators in the 2016 Citrus Bowl, and expectations should again be high for both clubs. There have been discussions about moving this game to the next day, a Sunday, according to ESPN.com’s Adam Rittenberg.
3. Tulsa at Oklahoma State
Sept. 2 (Stillwater, Okla.)
Mike Gundy is a man, and he will have turned 50 by the time the Cowboys kick off their 2017 campaign. Whether he can still bask in the glow of the milestone birthday will be contingent upon how his defense slows down the Golden Hurricane, who could enter Philip Montgomery’s third season as American Athletic Conference (AAC) favorites after a 10-3 campaign that saw them set all sorts of offensive records.
4. BYU vs. LSU
Sept. 2 (Houston)
It is officially the Ed Orgeron Era in Baton Rouge, and the new full-time Tigers coach will get a stiff test in his 2017 debut against the Cougars, who are coming off a nine-win season in Kalani Sitake’s first year in Provo.
5. Navy at Florida Atlantic
Sept. 2 (Boca Raton, Fla.)
Lane Kiffin’s first game as a head coach in nearly four years would have been a must-see event regardless of the opponent. But when you throw in one of the most efficient machines in all of college football in the Midshipmen’s triple-option attack? Yeah, this one could be quite exciting. (And if you’re still sleeping on Navy football, well, we have no idea what’s left to tell you. Your loss.)
6. Temple at Notre Dame
Sept. 2 (South Bend, Ind.)
The Owls are coming off back-to-back 10-win seasons, a run that Notre Dame itself has not accomplished since 1991-93. Matt Rhule’s first game as a head coach came in South Bend, in 2013, and new head coach Geoff Collins will have big shoes to fill in his opening act against a 2017 Irish squad that will likely make or break Brian Kelly’s future with the program after a 4-8 ’16 campaign.
7. Texas A&M at UCLA
Sept. 2 (Pasadena, Calif.)
Speaking of make or break, both Kevin Sumlin and Jim Mora will have plenty of eyes on them throughout 2017, after more disappointment in ‘16. The Aggies got the best of the Bruins in OT last year but are on the road this time. Plus, it’s been awhile since we’ve seen UCLA QB Josh Rosen, who missed the final six games of 2016.
8. Louisville vs. Purdue
Sept. 2 (Indianapolis)
What will Heisman winner Lamar Jackson do for an encore? Well, for the sake of the Cardinals, hopefully he’ll snap a three-game losing streak — much of which can be blamed on a leaky offensive line. But this also is a big game for the Boilermakers, who made an impressive hire in Jeff Brohm, who went 15-1 in Conference USA the past two years and who used to be the QB for — wait for it — Louisville.
9. Ohio State at Indiana
Aug. 31 (Bloomington, Ind.)
There has to be at least one Thursday night game here, right? And considering that Kevin Wilson, who resigned as Indiana’s head coach in December, is now the Buckeyes’ offensive coordinator; this one suddenly has some extra juice to it, especially after OSU was shut out to close the 2016 season.
10. Western Michigan at USC
Sept. 2 (Los Angeles)
We don’t know who will be coaching the Broncos just yet, but the mystery is the fun part, at least for now. P.J. Fleck had WMU recruiting light-years ahead of the rest of the MAC, so there is talent there. And USC figures to be a preseason national title contender... again. We’ll see if the Trojans actually live up to the hype here, although we can at least attest to Sam Darnold’s magic after a dazzling redshirt freshman campaign.
Virginia Tech vs. West Virginia (Sept. 2, Landover, Md.)
Georgia Tech vs. Tennessee (Sept. 4, Atlanta)
Appalachian State at Georgia (Sept. 2, Athens, Ga.)
Miami (Ohio) at Marshall (Sept. 2, Huntington, W. Va.)
NC State vs. South Carolina (Sept. 2, Charlotte, N.C.)
— Written by Matt Fortuna, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and spent six seasons covering college football for ESPN.com. Fortuna’s work has been honored by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and U.S. Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) seven times. Follow him on Twitter @Matt_Fortuna and like his Facebook page.