25 must-watch college football games for 2016
Those of us trying to figure out how we’re going to pass the next six months until the start of the college football season can take small consolation in knowing the wait will be worth it.
The 2016 season kicks off with one of the most extraordinary weekends in memory with a veritable smorgasbord of blue-chip non-conference matchups on Sept. 3, the most marquee being the showdown at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas featuring reigning national champion Alabama and Southern Cal.
Other can’t-miss non-conference matchups that weekend include North Carolina and Georgia at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, LSU and Wisconsin meeting at Lambeau Field and Clemson visiting Auburn.
As if that weren’t enough, Ole Miss and Florida State will close the weekend on Monday, Sept. 5 when they play a nationally televised game from Orlando.
Those will be among the 25 must-watch college football games of 2016.
Here’s a look at some of the other matchups that will demand your attention.
USC vs. Alabama (at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Tex.): Alabama has won four of the past seven national championships, but it lost a lot of key people from last year’s team, including Heisman Trophy-winning tailback Derrick Henry, All-American linebacker Reggie Ragland and quarterback Jake Coker. A lot of new faces will be making their debut against a talented Trojans team. The game will pit Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin against his former team.
UNC vs. Georgia (at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta): This could very well be the coming-out party for Jacob Eason, Georgia’s prized freshman quarterback and perhaps a telling game about the Bulldogs’ chances to compete for the SEC title. It remains to be seen whether injured Dawgs tailback Nick Chubb has recovered enough from a season-ending knee injury last fall to play. The Tar Heels return the bulk of last year’s team that went 11-3 and reached the Russell Athletic Bowl, but they will have a new quarterback.
LSU vs. Wisconsin (at Lambeau Field in Green Bay): The Tigers welcome back stud tailback Leonard Fournette, so look for him to kick off his Heisman campaign in grand fashion.
Clemson at Auburn: Auburn coach Gus Malzahn won’t have long to wait to see how improved his team is following last year’s disappointing 7-6 season. Somehow slowing down quarterback and Heisman hopeful Deshaun Watson and a prolific Clemson offense will be a tall order.
Ole Miss vs. Florida State (at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando): A lot of new faces will be debuting for the Rebels, but coach Hugh Freeze’s team remains dangerous with quarterback Chad Kelly at the helm. The Seminoles are loaded on both sides of the ball, led by Heisman contender Dalvin Cook.
USC at Stanford: It’s always an entertaining affair when these two Pac-12 heavyweights square off with conference and national playoff implications hanging in the balance.
Alabama at Ole Miss: Can Ole Miss beat ‘Bama three consecutive years? The Crimson Tide would love nothing better than avenge their only loss from a year ago and send the message loud and clear that it is the team to beat in the SEC. Again.
Florida at Tennessee: The SEC East will hang in the balance as the Volunteers try to snap an 11-game losing skid at the hands of the Gators. Florida’s improbable 28-27 come-from-behind win in 2015 set the tone for coach Jim McElwain’s successful first year in Gainesville.
Georgia at Ole Miss: It will mark the first meeting between the Dawgs and the Rebels since 2012. Georgia has won the past 10 matchups and 11 of the previous 13.
Tennessee at Georgia: Always an important SEC East matchup, but the Dawgs will have payback in mind for the Vols, who won last year’s game in Knoxville 38-31 after ending Chubb’s season on Georgia’s first offensive play.
UNC at FSU: The Tar Heels are rising under Larry Fedora, but they’ll have to beat the ‘Noles first in a key ACC cross-over game.
LSU at Florida: These two teams played an entertaining game in Baton Rouge in 2015, but the Tigers and Fournette were too much at the end. The Gators will try to even the score.
Ole Miss at LSU: The Rebels are focused on Alabama, but the Tigers will present a challenge in this pivotal SEC West matchup. They’ve split the past four, with the home team winning each time.
Florida vs. Georgia (at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Fla.): It’s always a party, especially if you’re a Gators fan. The Gator have won 20 of the past 26.
Clemson at Florida State: Supremacy in the ACC’s Atlantic Division will again be at stake. You might be surprised to learn that Clemson has won seven of the past 13.
Michigan at Michigan State: The Wolverines will spend extra time on special teams after last season’s last-second meltdown. Sparty has owned the rivalry lately, winning three straight and seven of the past eight.
Alabama at LSU: This game figures to be loaded with both SEC and national implications. Coach Nick Saban has owned the Tigers as of late, winning the past five. Of course, Saban has owned just about everybody else as of late, too.
Oregon at USC: Pac 12 title implications will likely again abound as the rivals meet.
Baylor at Oklahoma: If you like video game-like offensive numbers, then this is the game for you.
Ohio State at Michigan State: The Spartans shocked the Buckeyes in 2015, so the Buckeyes would love to come into East Lansing and return the favor in a key Big Ten East battle.
USC at UCLA: The results of the annual cross-city rivalry could be felt across the country as two excellent teams meet with conference and national implications.
Auburn at Alabama: The Iron Bowl figures to be another thriller between two teams and fan bases that really, really don’t like one another.
Florida at Florida State: Last year’s game in Gainesville was proof that the Gators still had a ways to go before catching their rivals in Tallahassee.
Michigan at Ohio State: A berth in the Rose Bowl in the College Football Playoff could await the winner. Lately, that’s usually been Ohio State, which has won 11 of the past 12.