Sept. 5: Auburn vs. Louisville in Atlanta (3:30 p.m., CBS) — It’s SEC vs. ACC in one of those first-week-neutral-site-kickoff games at the Georgia Dome. Auburn is close enough to Atlanta to turn the neutral site into a home game. And the SEC took a beating in head-to-heads with the ACC last season. Georgia lost to Georgia Tech. South Carolina lost to Clemson. Kentucky lost to Louisville. With national title hopes, Auburn will want to start the season on the right foot.
Sept. 7: Ohio State at Virginia Tech (8 p.m., ESPN) — Remember a year ago when the Hokies invaded Columbus and upset the Buckeyes? Seems like a mirage now. Ohio State responded with 13 straight victories, including three straight post-season wins to take the national title. The return matchup is in Blacksburg and it is doubtful Frank Beamer can pull the upset two years in a row. But it’ll be interesting to watch him try.
Sept. 12: Oregon at Michigan State (Noon, ABC) — The two teams played last year in Eugene, where Michigan State led 24-18 at the half only to hit a second-half wall. After an MSU field goal extended the lead to 27-18 in the third quarter, Oregon scored 28 unanswered points to win 46-27. This year, the game is in East Lansing and Michigan State looks to be the better, more experienced team behind quarterback Connor Cook. Or is Oregon’s speed just too much for every Big Ten team but Ohio State?
Sept. 19: Georgia Tech at Notre Dame (3:30 p.m., NBC) — Georgia Tech continues to be one of the nation’s more underrated teams. The Yellowjackets have been to two of the last three ACC title games. Paul Johnson knows how to coach. Tech’s option offense requires extra preparation and the team from Atlanta will be jacked up to play in South Bend. Meanwhile, if Notre Dame has College Football Playoff aspirations, the Irish must win this game.
Sept. 26: UCLA at Arizona (TBA) — Rich Rodriguez has revitalized the Arizona program. Jim Mora Jr. has revitalized the UCLA program. With Oregon losing quarterback Marcus Mariota, the door may be open to a different Pac-12 champion. If so, this game in Tucson could go a long way toward identifying the new team to beat.
Oct. 3: Alabama at Georgia (TBA) — Alabama doesn’t come to Athens all that often, but, as usual, both programs have both conference and national title aspirations. Georgia’s Nick Chubb may be the best running back in the country but Alabama’s Derrick Henry isn’t bad either. And by this time, surely, Alabama’s Nick Saban and Georgia’s Mark Richt will have decided on a quarterback. Surely.
Oct. 10: Georgia at Tennessee (TBA) — Yes, we’re going with back-to-back Georgia games because Georgia has back-to-back big games. Tennessee believes it is back, baby, and this game could prove it. Butch Jones’ club got to seven wins last season and is aiming higher in 2015. A win over the Bulldogs might even put the Vols’ in the SEC East driver’s seat.
Oct. 17: USC at Notre Dame (7:30 p.m., NBC) — The luster might be returning to this age-old rivalry. USC has what Notre Dame hopes to develop — a top-shelf quarterback. Cody Kessler set a USC record by completing 69.7 percent of his passes last year. Notre Dame’s defense will present a challenge. It usually does.
Oct. 24: Auburn at Arkansas (TBA) — Third-year coach Bret Bielema has given Arkansas football back its edge, this time in the form of a power running game. The Razorbacks lost running back Jonathan Williams to a foot injury, but fellow thousand-yard rusher Alex Collins should be a handful for Auburn’s new defensive coordinator, Will Muschamp. To win the SEC West, Auburn needs to win this one.
Oct. 29: Oregon at Arizona State (10:30 p.m., ESPN) — Todd Grantham took some heat when he exited Pittsburgh after just one year to take residence in Tempe. Grantham can coach, however. The Sun Devils are coming off back-to-back 10-win seasons and a win over Oregon in year three of the Grantham era would send a national signal.
Nov. 7: Florida State at Clemson (TBA) — Quarterback Jameis Winston is gone. Running back Dalvin Cook is in limbo because of off-the-field trouble. Seminoles’ head coach Jimbo Fisher still has plenty of NFL-ready talent but the visitors will have their hands full trying to contain Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson. This game could determine which team is in the ACC title game.
Nov. 14: Oklahoma at Baylor (TBA) — Bob Stoops is in need of a bounce-back year after the Sooners’ 2014 slide to 8-5. One way to get the train back on the track is to beat Baylor in Waco. That won’t be easy. Art Briles’ offensive juggernaut survived the loss of Heisman quarterback Robert Griffin III, so there’s no reason to think the Bears won’t survive the loss of Griffin’s stellar successor, Bryce Petty.
Nov. 21: Michigan State at Ohio State (TBA) — Never mind the Big Ten Championship Game, this is the one that will decide the conference champion. Michigan State won the league in 2013. Ohio State won it last year. The Buckeyes will have the home-field advantage, but don’t count out the Spartans.
Nov. 27: Baylor at TCU (7:30 p.m., ESPN) — This will be a real day-after-Thanksgiving treat in Waco. Baylor officials insist it was a fluke that players wearing the numbers 61 and 58 were side-by-side in the Bears’ 2015 team picture. That just happened to be the final score of Baylor’s win over TCU last year. It was the only loss of the year for the Horned Frogs. Do you think TCU has forgotten?
Nov. 28: Ohio State at Michigan (TBA) — True, UCLA at USC and Alabama at Auburn are on the same day, but you never get a second chance to make a first impression and this will be the first time a Jim Harbaughcoached Michigan team will go up against an Urban Meyer-coached Ohio State team. The home field is probably Michigan’s one and only advantage. Still, it will be fun to watch.