The first ranking from the College Football Playoff selection committee isn't until Nov. 3, but the 13 people tasked with choosing the top four teams will begin their evaluations with the opening kickoff. Some games, of course, will have greater playoff implications than others. Based on what we know now, here's a look at 10 games that will matter to the committee and why:
Auburn vs. Louisville (Sept. 5): With the exception of this game, Auburn's nonconference schedule is atrocious. Matchups against Jacksonville State, San Jose State and Idaho will do nothing for the Tigers' playoff résumé, which is why a win over a respectable ACC team could help separate Auburn down the stretch in what will be a very tight SEC West race. The head-to-head against Alabama will be the deciding factor, but each program has one marquee nonconference game on its schedule.
Oregon at Michigan State (Sept. 12): This one could come back to haunt either team if it doesn't go on to win its respective conference championship game. The Spartans' loss to Oregon last season deflated their playoff hopes early but didn't eliminate them entirely. The loser of this game likely would have to win its league championship to overcome this loss. Michigan State learned last season it can't afford to lose to Oregon and Ohio State.
Notre Dame at Clemson (Oct. 3): Clemson has three games that will decide its place in the playoff, and this is one of them, along with facing Florida State and South Carolina. The Tigers probably can't afford to go 1-2 against those teams and finish in the top four -- even if they win the ACC title. What if Notre Dame and Clemson both finish with one loss, but Clemson is ACC champ? Head-to-head should be the tiebreaker.
Alabama at Georgia (Oct. 3): Alabama and Auburn are both on Georgia's schedule, so the Bulldogs can't afford to go 0-for-2 against the best of the West and expect a spot in the top four. Georgia could lose this game and still win the East, but it would still severely diminish its margin for error considering the Bulldogs have a road trip to a much-improved Tennessee team the following week.
USC at Notre Dame (Oct. 17): USC has a schedule tailor-made to impress the selection committee, and if Notre Dame goes undefeated, it should be in. It's not a conference game for the Trojans, so there's some margin for error here if they can still get into the Pac-12 title game, but the Irish could have fewer opportunities against ranked opponents to make an impression. USC could be the best team Notre Dame faces all season.
Florida State at Clemson (Nov. 7): Since 2009, the winner of this game has won the Atlantic Division, and this year should continue that trend. Clemson will need to be the ACC champ if it trips up against South Carolina and/or Notre Dame. Don't forget about 2013, when the Tigers were also favored to win the ACC and had FSU at home. The Noles came to Death Valley and began their national title campaign. They can do it again.
Michigan State at Ohio State (Nov. 21): The Big Ten's heavyweights will take center stage in a game that should determine the East Division champ and, in turn, its best hope at a playoff representative. This is the most meaningful game on the Buckeyes' schedule -- yes, even bigger than The Game -- and that's because a win over nationally ranked Sparty is worth more to the selection committee than a win over a mediocre Michigan team, no matter who the coach is.
Baylor at TCU (Nov. 27): Head-to-head matters. We learned that last year, albeit a few weeks late. It will now determine "one true champion" in the Big 12, and no game means more to the league's place in the playoff. Because of its soft nonconference schedule, Baylor has little if any margin for error, but TCU learned it can't lose this game and get into the top four. A one-loss Big 12 team wasn't good enough for the playoff last year.
Alabama at Auburn (Nov. 28): When doesn't this game mean something? Unless LSU has something to say about it, this game could determine the winner of the West, putting one of these teams in the driver's seat toward the playoff. It's quite possible one or both of them have two losses at this point. Odds are the SEC champ will have a blemish or two.
UCLA at USC (Nov. 28): This regular-season finale could determine the Pac-12 South winner, which should have an edge in the eyes of the selection committee because of how deep and difficult the division is. There are high expectations for the crosstown rivals, and this game could eliminate one of them from the playoff race.