Let the countdown to 2017 opening weekend begin

Anybody ready for some more college football?

After Monday's thriller in the College Football Playoff National Championship presented by AT&T, the 2017 season can't get here soon enough. And although eight months seems like eight years if you're a college football junkie, that opening week next season looks mighty entertaining.

Maybe it doesn't include the sheer volume of headliner games we had to open the 2016 season, but it's close, and there are some really compelling storylines that should make a few seemingly mundane games that much more interesting.

The only bummer about the opening week next season is that more of the marquee games aren't played on campuses as part of home-and-home series. That said, the headliner to start 2017 features what could very well be the first of two showdowns between two powers, with the second coming in the playoff.

Thursday, Aug. 31

Ohio State at Indiana

(in Bloomington, Ind.)

Ohio State was loaded with young talent and probably ahead of schedule this season, so the Buckeyes will be expecting a return trip to the playoff in 2017. They open the season on the road against Indiana, as the Big Ten takes a page out of the SEC's playbook by scheduling a conference game on the opening day of the season. The Hoosiers will be facing their old head coach, Kevin Wilson, who was fired in December amid claims of player mistreatment. Wilson is regarded as one of the top offensive minds in the game, which is why Urban Meyer jumped at the chance to hire him as his offensive coordinator.

Saturday, Sept. 2

Alabama vs. Florida State

(Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in Atlanta)

The Crimson Tide are No. 1 and the Seminoles No. 2 in Mark Schlabach's Way-Too-Early Top 25 for 2017. Imagine if this matchup is just a precursor to a second Alabama-Florida State clash in the College Football Playoff.

Between them, Alabama and FSU have either won the national championship or played in the national championship game in five of the past six years. They're perennially two of the most talented teams in college football, and FSU coach Jimbo Fisher gets another chance to beat up on the SEC. Fisher, who coached under Nick Saban at LSU, is 9-1 against the SEC at Florida State. Just a hunch, but here's betting Fisher's infamous line from 2015, when he said the SEC "didn't invent football," will come up a few times leading up to the game.

Either way, it should be a dandy. Alabama, despite its loss to Clemson in the national championship game, has won 40 of its 44 games over the past three seasons and four of the past eight national championships. The Seminoles won it all in 2013, and when Fisher's name again came up during LSU's head coaching search this season, he told several close to him that these next two teams at Florida State could end up being his most talented.

Texas A&M at UCLA

(in Pasadena, Calif.)

Not all marquee games will be played at a neutral site. Texas A&M travels to face UCLA in the Rose Bowl, a game both head coaches desperately need to win. Jim Mora's seat at UCLA is toasty after a 4-8 record in 2016. The same goes for Kevin Sumlin after the Aggies started 6-0, but lost five of their last seven games. It was the third straight season in which Texas A&M has finished poorly.

Sophomore quarterback Josh Rosen and the Bruins, who will have a new offensive coordinator in Jedd Fisch, will get a second shot at a Texas A&M team that held on to win 31-24 in overtime this season in College Station. With Trevor Knight departing, the Aggies will be breaking in a new starting quarterback on the road. Nick Starkel and Jake Hubenak are the favorites.

Florida vs. Michigan

(Cowboys Classic in Arlington, Texas)

This Cowboys Classic matchup is a rematch of the Citrus Bowl two years ago when the Wolverines routed the Gators 41-7. Here's Florida's chance for a little revenge and a chance to gain some momentum heading into the SEC race as Jim McElwain tries to win his third straight Eastern Division crown.

It's a rare nonconference appearance for Florida outside the state of Florida. In fact, the most recent time the Gators left the state to play a nonconference opponent in a regular-season game was 1991, which was Steve Spurrier's second season. They lost 38-21 at Syracuse.

Michigan, in its third season under Jim Harbaugh, will be looking to rebound from a disappointing finish to the 2016 season when the Wolverines lost three of their last four games. There's a chance this game could move to Sunday, Sept. 3.

Virginia Tech vs. West Virginia

(at FedExField in Landover, Md.)

One of the more underrated rivalries in college football will be renewed at the Washington Redskins' FedEx Field. The Hokies and Mountaineers last played during the 2005 season, so it's nice to see them meeting again. The former Big East rivals are both coming off 10-win seasons, but both will also be starting new quarterbacks in what will likely be a top-25 matchup.

Tulsa at Oklahoma State

(in Stillwater, Okla.)

This is a sneaky good game. Mark Schlabach has the Cowboys at No. 7 in his Way-Too-Early Top 25 for 2017, and Oklahoma State has been one of the more underrated programs in the country under Mike Gundy. Mason Rudolph returns at quarterback for the Cowboys after passing for 4,091 yards, 28 touchdowns and just four interceptions this season. His top receiving target, James Washington, also returns for his senior season.

Tulsa, meanwhile, was tied for sixth nationally in scoring offense (42.5 points per game) and fourth in total offense (527 yards per game) and won 10 games in 2016.


(AdvoCare Texas Kickoff in Houston)

The Ed Orgeron era at LSU begins in earnest, and the Tigers face a tough test right out of the gate. The Cougars won nine games this season in Kalani Sitake's first year as head coach and are always itching for an opportunity to take down Power 5 blue bloods. Leonard Fournette is gone, but Derrius Guice is the next great running back on the Bayou. He rushed for 1,387 yards and 15 touchdowns this season and averaged 7.6 yards per carry.

Navy at Florida Atlantic

(in Boca Raton, Fla.)

The entertainment value goes up exponentially any time Lane Kiffin's involved. It's his debut at FAU, and he goes up against a Navy team that is an absolute beast to prepare for with the Midshipmen's triple-option offense. And if you haven't noticed, Navy has won 45 games over the past five years.

Temple at Notre Dame

(in South Bend, Ind.)

The Owls have a new head coach in former Florida defensive coordinator Geoff Collins and have won 10 games each of the past two seasons. If you're looking for an early upset, this might be your game. Temple won't be intimidated coming into Notre Dame Stadium, and the pressure is squarely on Brian Kelly to have a big season in 2017 or there won't be a 2018 season for him in South Bend.

Monday, Sept. 4

Georgia Tech vs. Tennessee

(Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in Atlanta)

The second part of the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game doesn't have the glitz of Alabama vs. Florida State, but it does feature another ACC vs. SEC matchup. And it's no secret that the ACC got the best of the SEC this season. Paul Johnson and Butch Jones could use big seasons to calm restless fan bases.