Let’s just take a moment and give a hand to the schedule-makers in college football. A new era begins this season. Whether you like the consolidation of power within the sport, there’s no denying that changes in recent years have created a juicier schedule. And newly-configured leagues will waste no time putting sensational matchups on TV once the season begins.

These are the 12 games I can’t wait to see in the first month of the season.

Miami at Florida — Saturday, Aug. 31

If ever there was a way to kick off the new season, this is it. Neither one of these fanbases wants to see a 0-1 start, and the loser of this game is going to find themselves in a bit of a toxic environment right from the jump. Miami is getting a ton of offseason love — “Miami is back!” is the obvious heir apparent to “Texas is back!” — and a loss to a perceived weak Florida team would put Mario Cristobal under the microscope in an important year. With Florida’s schedule, every non-SEC game is crucial for Billy Napier’s future. Add in the setting and the rivalry element of the game and you have the makings for a hot, sticky, backyard brawl. I think Miami could feasibly win this game by double-digits.

Line: Miami -3 (Caesars)

Georgia vs. Clemson (in Atlanta) — Saturday, Aug. 31

We don’t need to see Georgia beating Clemson to affirm Kirby Smart’s group is capable of making a Playoff run. We know that going into the year. Clemson on the other hand… All eyes should be on the Tigers in this game. It’s Year 2 for the Garrett Riley-Cade Klubnik partnership and improvement is a must. The defense was good last year and I don’t expect that to change because the core tenets haven’t changed. Clemson hasn’t been relevant in the Playoff picture since Trevor Lawrence left and this game — win or lose — will tell us whether that has changed.

Line: Georgia -13 (ESPN Bet)

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LSU vs. USC (in Las Vegas) — Sunday, Sept. 1

Both programs are replacing Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks and key coordinators. For LSU, Jayden Daniels has been the magnetic force around which everything has operated in the offense for 2 years. With Mike Denbrock leaving to take the OC job at Notre Dame, things are going to look significantly different when LSU has the football. Contrast that with USC, which seemed to answer its quarterback question in the bowl game but now must answer some pretty serious defensive questions. Is the unit tougher? Is it cleaner? Does it have a firmer grasp of what new defensive coordinator D’Anton Lynn wants? When it employed Alex Grinch, USC wasted 2 incredible seasons from the eventual No. 1 NFL Draft pick with soft, broken, and sometimes illogical defense. A Holiday Bowl win quieted the barrage of criticism levied against Lincoln Riley for the closing stretch of the regular season, but all that will kick right back up if USC puts the wrong foot forward in Sin City to open the season.

Line: LSU -6 (DraftKings)

Colorado at Nebraska — Saturday, Sept. 7

Maybe this is just because of the fact I was raised in the hatred of this game, but I’m fascinated by this matchup. Colorado comes to Memorial Stadium having won each of the 3 games since the series resumed in 2018 — the first time since the 1950s that Colorado has won 3 straight games over Nebraska. CU won a late thriller in Lincoln in 2018, then came back to beat the Huskers in overtime at home in 2019. In 2023, Nebraska turned it over 4 times in a 36-14 loss — the largest defeat in the series since the infamous 2001 game. Colorado should not be good in 2024. Nebraska should be better. This could be a national coming-out party for freshman quarterback Dylan Raiola. If Nebraska has actually turned a page, this should be a celebratory day for the home side. But recent Husker history has taught us it’s the hope that kills you and you can’t actually believe until you see it.

Line: Nebraska -6.5 (DraftKings)

Texas at Michigan — Saturday, Sept. 7

This game will be a first in the era of the College Football Playoff. When the Longhorns and Wolverines get together, it’ll mark the first time 2 teams that competed in the previous season’s CFP will meet for a September game in the ensuing season. Programs with title aspirations don’t schedule these kinds of games often, and when Texas joined the SEC and the Big Ten reconfigured, there was even more of a reason for either school to get cold feet. But they didn’t. We get a clash between Steve Sarkisian’s offense and the Michigan defense in The Big House. That particular battle will be worth the price of admission — Texas’s pass game against Will Johnson and Mason Graham. Even with all Michigan has to replace, this could be a down-to-the-wire affair. And it’s probably the game on the early calendar I’m most excited about.

Line: Texas -4 (Caesars)

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Tulane at Oklahoma — Saturday, Sept. 14

This has sneaky potential. Tulane came to Norman a few years ago and outscored OU 21-3 in the second half to make a 40-35 Sooners victory as uncomfortable as possible. The Green Wave went 11-3 last season, though they lost a ton, including quarterback Michael Pratt and head coach Willie Fritz. Jon Sumrall is in town, and he added a few intriguing talents from the transfer portal. Former blue-chipper Ty Thompson transferred in after backing up Bo Nix for 2 seasons at Oregon. Former blue-chipper Mario Williams transferred in after being under-utilized by Lincoln Riley at USC for 2 seasons. I like both. Plus, OU welcomes Tennessee to town for its SEC opener 7 days after Tulane and might be looking ahead. Naturally, OU could overwhelm Tulane with its talent and win something like a 45-21 game. But this could be unexpectedly close.

Line: N/A

Related reading: Using Pythagorean Expectation to find breakthrough teams in 2024

Alabama at Wisconsin — Saturday, Sept. 14

In Kalen DeBoer’s first season at Washington, the Huskies opened 4-0 — all at home — before losing consecutive road games. UW was still figuring things out under the new coaching staff and sorting through depth issues. Alabama’s first road game under DeBoer comes in Madison, Wisconsin, where the Badgers own a .711 winning percentage since 2018. The flipside, of course, is that Wisconsin is 5-14 against ranked opponents during that same time frame and Alabama is much more talented than Washington was when DeBoer took over. Still, this will be his first true test after the Crimson Tide open with Western Kentucky and South Florida at home. Alabama is a better team and should win. But DeBoer’s first Washington team also lost to a dysfunctional Arizona State team on the road, so… Just something to keep in mind.

Line: Alabama -8 (DraftKings)

Oregon at Oregon State — Saturday, Sept. 14

Last season, the Beavers enjoyed their best start to a season through 10 games (8-2) in a decade. They broke into the AP Top 10 and were very much in the Pac-12 title race, with consecutive games against Washington and Oregon to close the regular season. The team lost a 2-point thriller to the Huskies and then got blown out by the Ducks as rumors swirled that Jonathan Smith was leaving to take the Michigan State job. Smith shrugged off rumors, but he was gone within 24 hours of the game ending. Had the Pac-12 not collapsed, the alum who once called Oregon State his dream job would still be in Corvallis. What could have been Oregon State’s best season in program history was ruined by forces outside the program’s control. That’s not to say Oregon is directly at fault for the Beavers’ current predicament — left without a chair after conference realignment — but the fans inside Reser Stadium have every reason to create a venomous environment when the Ducks visit. Oregon has title aspirations. A loss to Oregon State before the season even has a chance to get going would be damaging. This will be an emotional game.

Line: Oregon -20.5 (DraftKings)

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Tennessee at Oklahoma — Saturday, Sept. 21

These schools have only met 4 times previously in their history. The first 2 meetings were in the Orange Bowl in 1939 and 1968. The most recent 2 came in a home-and-home in 2014 and 2015. That 2015 meeting — a 31-24 double-overtime victory for OU at Neyland Stadium — was an absolute banger. Anything similar would be one of the best games of the season. And OU will be wanting to come out hot, eager to prove its worth in its new home. Beyond all the storylines, we’ll have 2 first-year starters at quarterback so the potential for fireworks is pretty high.

Line: Oklahoma -4 (DraftKings)

Utah at Oklahoma State — Saturday, Sept. 21

The Utes and Cowboys are my favorites to win the Big 12. And this has the makings of an old-school, smashmouth contest. Oklahoma State is led by a Heisman candidate at running back (Ollie Gordon II) and boasts what should be a wonderful offensive line. Both sides have a seventh-year senior at quarterback, though OSU’s Alan Bowman did throw 14 interceptions last year. Utah’s identity as a program is built around brute force at the line of scrimmage. Plus, Boone Pickens Stadium is a frustratingly difficult place to play for programs not named Oklahoma, Central Michigan, or South Alabama. Consider this game a potential Big 12 title preview

Line: Utah -1.5 (DraftKings)

Georgia at Alabama — Saturday, Sept. 28

These 2 programs have met in either the SEC Championship Game or the College Football Playoff 6 times since 2010. They have played only 2 regular-season games against each other during the same time frame. Under the old conference configuration, Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide and Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs didn’t clash unless trophies were on the line. In the new-look SEC, not only do we get a Bama-Georgia clash in Year 1, but we get it within the first month of the season. DeBoer should have his principles in place by this point; Alabama should be able to operate how the new coach wants. Georgia has 1 win against Alabama in its last 9 meetings and trust Smart will be looking to establish a new order now that Saban has exited the fold.

Line: Georgia -3.5 (FanDuel)

Florida State at SMU — Saturday, Sept. 28

SMU has a sneaky-good quarterback in Preston Stone and a legitimately great defense led by professional quarterback harasser Elijah Roberts. The Ponies went 11-3 last year and Rhett Lashlee has them positioned for immediate success in the ACC. There’s a very real chance SMU is 4-0 when it welcomes the reigning ACC champs to Gerald J. Ford Stadium. Mike Norvell used the transfer portal wonderfully to keep the CFP window wide open for the Seminoles, bolstering the defense and adding DJ Uiagalelei to replace Jordan Travis. Roberts versus Uiagalelei will be important here. Uiagalelei has always been shaky under pressure, and that continued last year in the Pac-12, when he posted a 53.3 passing grade when pressured (per PFF), completing just 41.5% of his passes with 5 picks.

Line: N/A