It’s been a while since Alabama defeated Clemson in the second annual College Football Playoff, however, not much has changed. Alabama and Clemson, first and second in the AP poll, respectively, are the favorites to end up back in the CFP final, and two-thirds of the Heisman finalists from 2015 return for another shot at college football immortality. While the landscape of college football looks mostly the same, the atmosphere will be electric. Here are the games to keep an eye on in Week 1.
No. 3 Oklahoma at No. 15 Houston, 11 a.m., Saturday on ABC
Oklahoma was a national semifinalist last year and returns its entire backfield. Nobody was hotter at the end of 2015 than Houston. The Cougars dominated Florida State in the Peach Bowl. Both schools have electric, playmaking quarterbacks. Houston’s Greg Ward and Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield will be must-watch television. Whichever quarterback puts up better numbers should be the winning signal caller.
Houston has the advantage of being at home, but I think Mayfield and running backs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon will be too much to handle in this high-scoring game.
Oklahoma 45, Houston 35
No. 18 Georgia at No. 22 North Carolina, 4:30 p.m., Saturday on ESPN
Georgia snatched Kirby Smart from Alabama to become the Bulldogs new head coach during the offseason. Georgia also brings back one of the best running backs in the country in Nick Chubb. North Carolina lost its starting quarterback this past summer but returns almost everyone else on offense. The Georgia defense will be improved under Smart, who is a defensive specialist. North Carolina won’t be able to keep up with Chubb and that defense.
Georgia 35, North Carolina 20
No. 20 Southern California at No. 1 Alabama, Saturday, 7 p.m. on ABC
First off, this game is being played at a neutral site. AT&T Stadium will play host to arguably the most prestigious Week 1 matchup. USC returns every starter on offense, except for quarterback Cody Kessler. Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster is one of the best playmakers in the country, and some have him as a Heisman candidate. Alabama returns half of its starters, but consistently fill in the gaps with No. 1 recruiting classes. The Crimson Tide’s talent is too good to be beaten.
Alabama 31, USC 14
No. 10 Notre Dame at Texas, 6:30 p.m., Sunday on ABC
Notre Dame had hopes of a CFP appearance in 2015 but a loss to Clemson and a heart-breaking loss to Stanford prevented the Fighting Irish from realizing those goals. Texas was a below-.500 team last season, but Charlie Strong’s seat is getting hotter, and a motivated Strong should lead to improvements. Last season these teams faced off and Notre Dame dominated in a 38-3 victory. I expect more of the same this season. It will be closer than last year’s game, but Notre Dame is clearly superior.
Notre Dame 31, Texas 14
No. 11 Ole Miss at No. 4 Florida State, 7 p.m., Monday on ESPN
Ole Miss pulled off one of the biggest upsets last year when it defeated Alabama in Tuscaloosa. The Rebels return their star quarterback Chad Kelly, but had distractions off the field this offseason. Florida State returns its own star in running back Dalvin Cook. FSU’s playoffs hopes were dashed when they lost to Clemson and got upset by Georgia Tech. Florida State returns every starter on offense, while Ole Miss returns only six offensive players. FSU has the crowd behind them, and they are the better team. I think the Seminoles win this game easily.
Florida State 38, Ole Miss 24