There's a lot to whet your appetite as the new college football season is just around the corner. I'll be looking at coaching changes and the highly touted quarterback class as part of my follow up to the off-season headlines. However, there are some brilliant contests between established powerhouses and emerging teams in college football, which deserve their own place in the spotlight. Appreciating there are some mouthwatering matches across the college football landscape, these are my ones to watch...
Texas vs. Alabama (September 10th)
A must-see for me as this is one of two games I'll be watching in the flesh this season. Regardless, this is a must-see game and I would be glued to this on TV too. Texas have made big statements in the last year with the hire of former Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, and the capture of two talented quarterbacks, Quinn Ewers, who returns home after a spell at Ohio State, and the 2023 No.1 high school recruit, Arch Manning.
Despite the noise, Texas underwhelmed last season. Alabama, the preseason No.1 and perennially in the conversation for the national championship, will provide an exacting examination of Sarkisian's developing Texas program in front of their 100,000 crowd in Austin.
Texas A&M vs. Miami (September 17th)
I can't wait to see the "12th Man" in action as 102,000 fans pack into Kyle Field for a balmy evening September kick-off. This is the second game on our upcoming Texas trip, and hence another must-see for me. This will be a fascinating game between a Texas A&M team looking to contend this season and a Miami team undergoing a rebirth with a new, but familiar face at head coach.
Mario Cristobal leads the new-look Miami Hurricanes this season, having been at the helm in Oregon for the last three years. Cristobal won two national titles as an offensive tackle in Miami and will be hoping to return his team to the glory years of the early Nineties.
Jimbo Fisher will want his Texas A&M side to put down an early marker at home in a tough non-conference game as they prepare for tough SEC battles ahead.
Georgia vs. Oregon (September 3rd)
The Chick-Fil-A Kickoff game, also known as "The Dan Lanning Bowl" will be one of the most intriguing games of Week 1. Oregon's new head coach, Lanning, takes on his former Georgia team for whom he was a superb defensive coordinator in a showpiece game at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta,
Lanning has to figure out a way to score points against the defense he helped build. Oregon has a big offensive line and new quarterback in Auburn transfer Bo Nix. Georgia coach Kirby Smart will be mindful that Oregon handed No.3 Ohio State a loss early last season. Lanning will be pumped up to put down one over on his old team as Ducks head coach.
Arkansas vs. Cincinnati (September 3rd)
Another intriguing clash and the first meeting between these two emerging teams. Cincinnati's fairytale season saw them become the first Group of Five team to reach the College Football Playoff under coach Luke Fickell, finally succumbing to Alabama in the Cotton Bowl.
Arkansas also had their best season in years under coach Sam Pittman, winning nine games and approach this season with confidence. The talented KJ Jefferson returns at quarterback and what he describes as the Razorbacks' "blue collar mentality" will see them look to upset a few contenders in the SEC this season. This season opener in Fayetteville offers an early glimpse of each team's development after promising seasons last year.
Utah vs. USC (October 15th)
Can new-look USC upset Pac-12 conference champions Utah? Favourable early games against Rice, Stanford and Fresno State mean Southern California could arrive at this key conference matchup unbeaten. There is no denying the talent at new coach Lincoln Riley's disposal. Biletnikoff winner Jordan Addison joins Oklahoma transfer Mario Williams in the Trojans' receiving room. They'll be catching passes from quarterback Caleb Williams, who unseated Spencer Rattler in Norman and looks like a potential Heisman contender.
Utah destroyed Oregon twice last season and ran Ohio State close in the Rose Bowl. With a promising returning quarterback in Cameron Rising and Tavion Thomas in the backfield, who ran for 21 touchdowns last season, Utah will expect to retain their title. That means they will need to put upstart USC in its place in mid-October.
Alabama vs. Texas A&M (October 16th)
The Nick Saban-Jimbo Fisher off-season spat has heightened the anticipation of this SEC West showdown. Texas A&M won a 41-38 thriller in College Station last season, ending 'Bama's unbeaten record and announcing themselves as a future contender for the College Football Playoff. They then recruited the No.1 class for 2023, relegating the Crimson Tide to No.2. Asked about the row between his coach and Fisher, Alabama linebacker Will Anderson stated menacingly: "When we play Texas A&M everything will be addressed then."
Ohio State vs. Michigan (November 26th)
Simply known as "The Game", Ohio State-Michigan is one of college football's biggest rivalries and must be on the bucket list of most college football fans. I know it's on mine. The Buckeyes host Michigan in Columbus and will be seeking revenge for last season's 42-27 loss to the Wolverines. Michigan ended a ten-year losing streak against Ohio State and wrestled the Big 10 conference title away from the Buckeyes.
Ryan Day will want to regain bragging rights in the "Shoe", one of college football's most iconic stadiums. This late November contest will likely determine the winner of the Big 10 and potentially a College Playoff Place for the winner.
There will be lots of games I've missed here. The Red River Rivalry between Texas and Oklahoma will be one to watch this year, as Brent Venables takes the helm as Sooners' head coach. Notre Dame take on Ohio State on September 3rd as Marcus Freeman's Fighting Irish face an early test against one of the preseason favourites, Notre Dame vs Clemson on October 5th will offer another examination of both teams' credentials, having been national contenders in 2020, slipping last year.