College football is back. This is it. And it starts with an epic, unprecedented Kickoff Week inspired in part by the College Football Playoff's emphasis on strength of schedule. There are four games featuring two ranked teams, and while it's far too early to draw any conclusions about what the November picture will look like, these games will continue to resonate with the selection committee all season.
Every. Week. Matters.
So let's kick it off with the Week 1 games that will have the biggest impact on the selection committee:
1. No. 15 Houston vs. No. 3 Oklahoma, NRG Stadium (noon ET, ABC/ESPN3)
What it means for the winner: The Cougars would gain instant credibility as a playoff contender with a win, starting the season exactly where they left off -- with a marquee win over a Power 5 heavyweight. It's only the first step, though, in what needs to be an undefeated season. An Oklahoma win would separate the Sooners as long as Houston has success in the American Athletic Conference.
The road back for the loser: A Houston loss would end the Cougars' playoff hopes. Coach Tom Herman knows, though, the American champ has a great chance to end the season as the highest-ranked Group of 5 team, which means a spot in a New Year's Six bowl. If OU loses, don't count it out (remember that loss to Texas last year?) -- especially if it's a close game and Houston wins the American.
Under pressure: The entire Group of 5. Houston is the best hope to represent the Group of 5 in the top four, but if the Cougars lose, so do the five FBS leagues with it.
2. No. 4 Florida State vs. No. 11 Ole Miss, Camping World Stadium (8 p.m. ET on Monday/ESPN)
What it means for the winner: An Ole Miss win would stamp the Rebels as a legitimate playoff contender and set up a monster Week 3 showdown against Alabama. FSU would pad its resume with a win over a ranked SEC West team as it looks toward a showdown with Clemson.
The road back for the loser: In addition to Clemson, FSU faces Miami, UNC, Louisville and Florida, and Ole Miss will see Alabama just two weeks later. Neither team wants to start in a hole considering what lies ahead.
Under pressure: FSU QB Deondre Francois. The redshirt freshman will take his first collegiate snap because senior Sean Maguire injured his foot early in summer camp.
3. No. 5 LSU vs. Wisconsin, Lambeau Field (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN3)
What it means for the winner: An LSU win would impress the committee through November and give the Tigers some breathing room for conference play. A Wisconsin win would catapult the Badgers into the national spotlight and likely the first AP top 25 of the regular season.
The road back for the loser: LSU would be in a tight squeeze, considering it still has the entire SEC West to get through. And good luck to Wisconsin, which plays Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa consecutively.
Under pressure: QB Brandon Harris. LSU is talented enough to finish in the top four this season -- if it gets adequate play from Harris, and this will be his first chance to prove he's capable of leading the Tigers to the top of the SEC West.
4. No. 20 USC vs. No. 1 Alabama, AT&T Stadium (8 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN3)
What it means for the winner: USC could have the best nonconference win of the season on its resume, and shake up the entire playoff picture. An Alabama win would show that the defending national champs are ready to do it again.
The road back for the loser: It's not like Alabama hasn't lost before, as the Tide have overcome losses to Ole Miss in each of the past two seasons and still made the playoff. It hasn't had to play from behind, though, before league play even begins. USC wouldn't be penalized for losing to the No. 1 team in the country, but with a nine-game league schedule looming, it's an uphill recovery.
Under pressure: New QBs. Both Alabama and USC will have new starting quarterbacks; the Tide's Cooper Bateman and Blake Barnett were listed as co-starters on the latest depth chart, and Max Browne was named the starter for USC.
5. No. 10 Notre Dame at Texas (7:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, ABC/ESPN3)
What it means for the winner: An Irish road win would show they can overcome the off-field headlines and contend for the playoff with two quarterbacks, DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire. A Texas win would prove this year is different, as the Longhorns could be 2-0 (UTEP in Week 2) heading into the Cal game.
The road back for the loser: Notre Dame would likely have to run the table -- a slate that includes Stanford and USC -- because it doesn't have a conference championship game. Texas could rebound but would still have much to prove in the Big 12 hierarchy.
Under pressure: Texas coach Charlie Strong. After starting last year with a 38-3 loss to Notre Dame, Texas came unraveled and was 1-4 heading into the Oklahoma game. The Longhorns need a better showing this time.
6. No. 2 Clemson at Auburn (9 p.m. ET, ESPN)
What it means for the winner: Clemson would reaffirm its position as a CFP front-runner, but an Auburn win would throw the playoff picture out of focus. Auburn would likely sneak into the AP top 25 and Clemson would drop out of the top four, but Auburn would have to sustain that success to be taken seriously as a CFP contender.
The road back for the loser: Clemson would likely have to win out because Auburn is its toughest nonconference opponent, and Louisville and FSU are the only ranked ACC opponents. Auburn could be 1-4 before October, as the Tigers also have to play Texas A&M and LSU this month.
Under pressure: Auburn coach Gus Malzahn. Considering last year's 2-6 record in league play, Malzahn needs improvement fast. The first five games are at home, and that home crowd could be his biggest opponent come October.
7. No. 16 UCLA at Texas A&M (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)
What it means for the winner: A UCLA win would also be a win for the entire Pac-12, and would give the Bruins a marquee nonconference victory to impress the committee. An A&M win? Been there, seen that -- for the past two years. The key is parlaying it into more.
The road back for the loser: A road loss to an SEC West team can be overcome, but the problem for UCLA is the grueling nine-game league schedule that follows. The Aggies need this nonconference win because beating up on Prairie View A&M, New Mexico State and UTSA won't light up their resume -- especially if they lose more than one league game.
Under pressure: A&M coach Kevin Sumlin. He hasn't finished above .500 in the SEC since his first year in College Station, but there have also been off-field issues. He needs a signature win.
8. No. 18 Georgia vs. No. 22 North Carolina, Georgia Dome (5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
What it means for the winner: For Georgia, the coach Kirby Smart era would get off to a great start and the Dawgs would rise a few pegs in the AP poll. UNC would get a much-needed quality nonconference win that would help offset the two FCS opponents on the schedule.
The road back for the loser: Georgia could rebound the following week against Nicholls State, and any team with a shot to win the SEC has a chance at the playoff. Three of the Bulldogs' first four league games are on the road, though, including at Ole Miss. If UNC doesn't win this one, it's likely out of the CFP conversation because of its weak remaining nonconference schedule.
Under pressure: UNC's playoff resume. This is the second season UNC has scheduled two FCS teams, and the Tar Heels have failed to beat a big-time ranked opponent in each of those years.
Kickoff Week superlatives
GameDay Kickoff's selection committee of one hands out some awards going into Kickoff Week.
Player in the spotlight: UCLA QB Josh Rosen
He stirred things up this week when he downplayed the intimidating atmosphere at Kyle Field, saying, "after about 50,000 people, it all sounds the same." The 12th Man -- and stud pass-rusher Myles Garrett -- will do its best to convince him otherwise, but the talented sophomore has the game to silence the Aggies.
Matchup to watch: LSU RB Leonard Fournette vs. Wisconsin front seven
The Heisman hopeful was in a walking boot earlier this month after an ankle injury, and now he will face a veteran Wisconsin defense that finished No. 4 in the country in rushing defense and second in total defense last year.
Can't-miss tailgate: LSU vs. Wisconsin at Lambeau Field
LSU fans are coming to the football shrine in droves, and there should be no shortage of jambalaya, gumbo and brats. Nearby local businesses have reportedly sold out all of their parking spots.
Most intriguing mascot battle: Horned Frogs vs. Jackrabbits
TCU shouldn't have much of a problem with South Dakota State, but can the frog even catch the rabbit?
Welcome back: Pitt RB James Conner
Conner is cancer-free and won't have any limitations against Villanova. He scored 26 touchdowns in 2014, went through six months of cancer treatment, and his oncologist and nurses will be in the stands to keep cheering him on.
Upset watch: Notre Dame
Texas was embarrassed by last year's 38-3 loss in South Bend, and Charlie Strong is a winning quarterback away from turning things around. The Irish return just eight starters and can't seem to escape off-field distractions.
Under-the-radar game: Bowling Green at Ohio State
With only six returning starters, this is the first chance to see the rebuilt Buckeyes. While there shouldn't be an upset, Bowling Green is a respectable program coming off a 10-3 season and three straight MAC East Division titles.
Forgotten storyline: Alabama OC Lane Kiffin game-planning against his former team, USC
The Kiffin-USC reunion has been overshadowed by the fact that these two tradition-rich programs haven't played each other since 1978.
Obligatory Jim Harbaugh prediction
After beating Hawaii, Harbaugh lines up a 2017 satellite camp in Honolulu before the Rainbow Warriors even reach the plane.