Preseason practices have begun across the country, and the calendar has flipped to August. After a seemingly endless offseason, real college football games will finally be played this month, beginning with a five-game opening Saturday on Aug. 26.
To prepare for the 2017 season, let’s run through the entire schedule, week by week, and break down the most important games to watch to get a sense of how this fall will unfold.
All games and dates refer to Saturdays unless otherwise noted. “Upset alerts” are not necessarily upset picks; they’re possible upset traps to watch.
Week 1: Sept. 2
Main event: Alabama vs. Florida State (at Atlanta)
It’s almost impossible to ask for a bigger opening game. The Crimson Tide, the presumed preseason No. 1 team in the polls, will take on the Seminoles, a team likely to be ranked in the top four, in an opener at the site of the national championship game — the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
Undercard: Ohio State at Indiana (Thursday); Colorado State at Colorado (Friday); Michigan vs. Florida (at Arlington, Texas); N.C. State vs. South Carolina (at Charlotte, N.C.); BYU vs. LSU (at Houston); Maryland at Texas; Texas A&M at UCLA (Sunday); West Virginia vs. Virginia Tech (Sunday at Landover, Md.); Tennessee at Georgia Tech (Monday)
The depth of the opening week can’t match last year’s Best Opening Weekend Ever hype, but as usual, there are intriguing neutral site games. The Labor Day game between the Vols and Yellow Jackets is “neutral,” being played at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, too. Keep an eye on the Texas A&M-UCLA hot seat showdown in Pasadena on Sunday.
Upset alert: Appalachian State at Georgia
The Mountaineers are 21-5 the past two seasons and took Tennessee to overtime last year. They boast an experienced roster that makes them the Sun Belt favorites, and they won’t be a pushover for the Bulldogs, who have high expectations and a Week 2 trip to Notre Dame.
Sleeper: Troy at Boise State and Houston at UTSA
There aren’t a ton of great nonconference matchups between Group of Five teams, but these qualify as intriguing. Both Troy and Boise State won 10 games last year, while new Houston coach Major Applewhite has a tricky test at UTSA, a sleeper Conference USA contender.
Week 2: Sept. 9
Main event: Oklahoma at Ohio State
Week 2 is so strong that it’s hard to pick a headliner. This is one of four high-profile games that will be happening in roughly the same time slot. While last year’s game was disappointing — Ohio State won 45-24 in Norman — it’s a great intersectional matchup that’s a home-and-home, instead of being played on a neutral field, and it matches teams that are preseason favorites to win their conferences.
Undercard: Louisville at North Carolina; Pittsburgh at Penn State; TCU at Arkansas; Nebraska at Oregon; Auburn at Clemson; Georgia at Notre Dame; Stanford at USC; Utah at BYU
It’s a spectacular day of football, with rivalries like Pitt-Penn State and Utah-BYU and a prime-time slate that includes Auburn-Clemson at 7 p.m. ET, Georgia-Notre Dame and Oklahoma-Ohio State at 7:30 and Stanford-USC at 8:30. In fact, there may be no more loaded time slot all season then what we’ll be faced with on Saturday night, Sept. 9.
Upset alert: Iowa at Iowa State
It’s hard to ever call the result of this rivalry an upset, but the Hawkeyes demolished the Cyclones 42-3 last year. Iowa State got better over the course of Matt Campbell’s first season, though, and is likely to be a tougher out.
Sleeper: Boise State at Washington State
It’s going to get lost amid all the high-profile games, particularly at night, but stay tuned after all the big games for this 10:30 p.m. ET kickoff featuring QBs Brett Rypien and Luke Falk. The Broncos beat the Cougars 31-28 last year, and it’s an important game for their New Year’s Six bowl hopes.
Week 3: Sept. 16
Main event: Miami at Florida State and Clemson at Louisville
Take your pick between two massive ACC showdowns. The Hurricanes and Seminoles are the two division favorites, although Miami has yet to actually win the ACC Coastal. Last year’s FSU win was decided by a blocked PAT. Meanwhile, Lamar Jackson faces another tough matchup from Clemson’s defensive front.
Undercard: Texas at USC; Wisconsin at BYU; Tennessee at Florida; LSU at Mississippi State; Stanford at San Diego State; Ole Miss at California; Oklahoma State at Pittsburgh; Oregon at Wyoming
Texas-USC could turn into the highlight of the weekend, depending on how quickly Tom Herman turns around the Longhorns. It’s their first meeting since Texas won the 2005 national title at the Rose Bowl in the best game ever played. Tennessee finally ended an 11-game rivalry losing streak to Florida last year, but the Gators won the SEC East anyway.
Upset alert: UCLA at Memphis
A dangerous trip for the Bruins before visiting Stanford the next week. UCLA barely escaped Memphis, 42-35, at home back in 2014, and the Tigers are a top contender in the AAC.
Sleeper: Arizona State at Texas Tech
Will the result matter much, beyond hot seat talk? Probably not. But last year’s game featured 123 points and 1,264 total yards, with Arizona State RB Kalen Ballage scoring eight touchdowns on 15 touches.
Week 4: Sept. 23
Main event: N.C. State at Florida State
The fantastic start to the season finally hits a bump, but then again, college football’s always good for at least one week per year that looks forgettable on paper, only to become chaotic. N.C. State’s defensive line could give the Seminoles fits, and the Wolfpack came close to upsetting both FSU and Clemson last year.
Undercard: Penn State at Iowa; UCLA at Stanford; Washington at Colorado; Arkansas vs. Texas A&M (at Arlington, Texas); Mississippi State at Georgia; Oklahoma at Baylor; TCU at Oklahoma State; Notre Dame at Michigan State; Toledo at Miami
Again, there’s upset potential here, with potentially tricky road trips for top-10 Penn State and Washington teams and some key Big 12 matchups, but this doesn’t look like a particularly strong slate of games.
Upset alert: Florida at Kentucky
Kentucky has one win over Florida since 1979, and that was in 1986. The Wildcats are on a 30-game losing streak to the Gators, but it’s probably going to end at some point.
Sleeper: Temple at South Florida
The Owls won the AAC East with a win over the Bulls last year. USF is the clear favorite in the division this year, but Temple still stands in the way as one of the biggest hurdles.
Week 5: Sept. 30
Main event: Georgia at Tennessee
Unfortunately, living up to last year’s thriller — two TD passes of over 40 yards in the final 10 seconds — is impossible. Still, it’s a pivotal game in the SEC East race, with the winner having the best chance to dethrone Florida in the SEC East.
Undercard: Texas at Iowa State (Thursday); Ole Miss at Alabama; Mississippi State at Auburn; Clemson at Virginia Tech; Colorado at UCLA; Oklahoma State at Texas Tech
There’s not much here beyond an ACC title game rematch and Ole Miss’ first post-Hugh Freeze game against Alabama, which could get ugly.
Upset alert: USC at Washington State (Friday)
USC goes back on the road on a short week — after visiting Cal the previous Saturday — to face a dangerous, experienced Cougars team in Pullman.
Sleeper: Northwestern at Wisconsin
Wisconsin is the obvious favorite in the Big Ten West. Could Northwestern end up being its biggest challenger? The Wildcats won their last visit to Madison in 2015.
Week 6: Oct. 7
Main event: LSU at Florida
They’re “rivals” only because they are permanent cross-division opponents, but suddenly the series has been taken to a new level after last year’s hurricane-forced scheduling controversy. The move of the game to LSU last November means that this game, originally scheduled for Baton Rouge, will now be played in the Swamp, giving LSU only three SEC home games. Florida announced that LSU will be its homecoming game, too.
Undercard: Louisville at N.C. State (Thursday); Boise State at BYU (Friday); Alabama at Texas A&M; Kansas State at Texas; Notre Dame at North Carolina; Stanford at Utah; Michigan State at Michigan; Wisconsin at Nebraska
The pre-Saturday games in particular have some intrigue. The last time Lamar Jackson faced talented defensive linemen on a Thursday, it went quite poorly. Meanwhile, Boise State beat BYU 28-27 last year in a game most remembered for a bizarre fake punt.
Upset alert: Penn State at Northwestern
It’s already scheduled for an 11 a.m. CT kickoff, which is always a potential trap that invites a sluggish start. Northwestern will try to disrupt Penn State’s plans of being undefeated going into the Michigan and Ohio State games after a bye.
Sleeper: Washington State at Oregon
Washington State has back-to-back wins over Oregon after an eight-game losing streak in the series. It’ll be an important measuring stick for the Ducks at the start of a tough stretch featuring at Stanford, at UCLA, Utah and at Washington.
Week 7: Oct. 14
Main event: Oklahoma vs. Texas (at Dallas)
For the first time since 1997, neither Bob Stoops nor Mack Brown will be involved in the Red River Showdown. It’s become a battle between Lincoln Riley and Tom Herman, two of the biggest rising stars of the past few years, who have earned two of the most coveted jobs in college football. Charlie Strong went 1-2 against Oklahoma with all three games decided by a touchdown or less.
Undercard: Utah at USC; Oregon at Stanford; Arkansas at Alabama; Texas A&M at Florida; Auburn at LSU; Ohio State at Nebraska; Boise State at San Diego State
A solid week of conference games. Auburn and LSU battle to be the best challenger to Alabama in the SEC West, Oregon tries to close the newfound gap with Stanford and Boise State and San Diego State meet in a possible Mountain West title game preview.
Upset alert: Michigan at Indiana
While Penn State has a bye, Michigan has to go to Indiana a week before its trip to Happy Valley. The Hoosiers gave the Wolverines a scare for a while in a 20-10 loss last year and may have their best defense in years.
Sleeper: BYU at Mississippi State
BYU won an overtime game against the Bulldogs in Provo last year, and it makes the return trip to Starkville to face a dangerous MSU offense with Nick Fitzgerald at quarterback.
Week 8: Oct. 21
Main event: Louisville at Florida State
Lamar Jackson took a commanding lead in the Heisman race last September when he led the Cardinals to a 63-20 win over the Seminoles. He’ll meet what should be a significantly improved Florida State defense in Tallahassee in a game with ACC title and possibly playoff implications.
Undercard: Michigan at Penn State; Tennessee at Alabama; Oklahoma State at Texas; Oregon at UCLA; USC at Notre Dame; Memphis at Houston (Thursday); Auburn at Arkansas; LSU at Ole Miss
Like Florida State against Louisville, Penn State is trying to avenge a humiliating defeat against Michigan. Rivalries like Tennessee-Alabama and USC-Notre Dame never feel unimportant.
Upset alert: Oklahoma at Kansas State
It’s possible it wouldn’t even be viewed as a significant upset, if Kansas State lives up to its sleeper potential. Oklahoma’s last trip to Manhattan was a 55-0 win in 2015, but this will be a dangerous Wildcats team that has a chance to sneak into the Big 12 title race.
Sleeper: Wyoming at Boise State
Brett Rypien has been voted first-team All-Mountain West QB each of his first two years at Boise State, while Wyoming’s Josh Allen is getting first-round NFL Draft hype.
Week 9: Oct. 28
Main event: Penn State at Ohio State
With Fox getting the rights to this game and the World Series at night, it won’t be in prime time — which is unusual for this series — but it will surely have a big-game feel as the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes enter the season as the Big Ten favorites following last year’s surprise Penn State win.
Undercard: UCLA at Washington; Georgia vs. Florida (at Jacksonville); N.C. State at Notre Dame; Texas at Baylor; Texas Tech at Oklahoma
After last year’s defensive monstrosity, Texas Tech-Oklahoma is worth keeping an eye on. Josh Rosen and Jake Browning will meet for the first time, and Georgia-Florida could decide the SEC East.
Upset alert: Oklahoma State at West Virginia
Morgantown road trips are never easy, and the Cowboys have to make the trek the week between visiting Texas and hosting Oklahoma in the Bedlam rivalry. If Oklahoma State lives up to high expectations, this game screams trap, especially if a young West Virginia defense improves by late October.
Sleeper: Arkansas at Ole Miss
The series has given us a seven-overtime game, 2015’s bizarre fourth-down conversion in OT that cost Ole Miss the SEC West and last year’s 34-30 game that the Razorbacks won with 2:20 left. The game may not matter, but the series is frequently entertaining.
Week 10: Nov. 4
Main event: LSU at Alabama
Alabama has won six in a row in the series, and yet it still feels like as big of an event as any every year. It’s at the start of the final month of the regular season. It’s typically played in prime time. It’s two of the best recruiting teams in the country. It’s a tense rivalry filled with NFL talent.
Undercard: Oregon at Washington; Stanford at Washington State; Ohio State at Iowa; Northwestern at Nebraska; Virginia Tech at Miami; Auburn at Texas A&M; Oklahoma at Oklahoma State; South Carolina at Georgia
Bedlam could easily be the headliner here, and it’s possible that it will be replayed in the Big 12 title game. The Pac-12 North also has a pair of big games, and Ohio State faces a road trip to Iowa, which upset Michigan at Kinnick Stadium last November.
Upset alert: Clemson at N.C. State
It would have happened last year had N.C. State made a 33-yard field goal at the end of regulation. Deshaun Watson is gone and the game is in Raleigh, giving the Wolfpack an opportunity for a much-needed high-profile win.
Sleeper: Houston at South Florida
It’s potentially the AAC game of the year and a preview of the conference title game. USF faces a weak schedule, and the Cougars are the Bulls’ toughest opponent.
Week 11: Nov. 11
Main event: Florida State at Clemson
It has developed into a great intradivision rivalry in the ACC Atlantic. The winner of this game has won the ACC six years in a row, and last year’s game was the best yet in this recent run, a 37-34 Tigers win in Tallahassee.
Undercard: Washington at Stanford (Friday); Michigan State at Ohio State; Georgia at Auburn; Alabama at Mississippi State; TCU at Oklahoma; Notre Dame at Miami; Iowa at Wisconsin; Florida at South Carolina; USC at Colorado; Virginia Tech at Georgia Tech
Washington launched itself to the playoff beginning with a Friday night humiliation of Stanford at home last year. This year’s showdown at Stanford has a good chance to decide the Pac-12 North. Georgia-Auburn and Wisconsin-Iowa stand out as key conference games. Notre Dame and Miami will meet in Miami for the first time since 1989.
Upset alert: Kansas at Texas
Hey, it happened last year.
Sleeper: Toledo at Ohio (Wednesday)
A key cross-division MACtion showdown between teams with high hopes of getting to the conference title game.
Week 12: Nov. 18
Main event: UCLA at USC
This projection is counting on UCLA becoming reasonably competitive again to set up a big matchup between the Bruins’ Josh Rosen and the Trojans’ Sam Darnold, two touted NFL quarterback prospects. Ideally, it’ll have Pac-12 South title implications, too, but the Rosen-Darnold showdown will be a must-watch.
Undercard: Nebraska at Penn State; LSU at Tennessee; Kansas State at Oklahoma State; California at Stanford; Michigan at Wisconsin; Navy at Notre Dame; Texas at West Virginia
Alabama plays Mercer, Florida plays UAB and Auburn plays Louisiana-Monroe, but at least LSU’s visit to Tennessee provides some SEC intrigue. Wisconsin’s game against Michigan is its only one against the Big Ten East heavyweights.
Upset alert: Utah at Washington
Washington faces a backloaded schedule. After a bye, it gets UCLA and Oregon at home before visiting Stanford, then returns home for this potentially troublesome game against Utah before the Apple Cup.
Sleeper: Middle Tennessee at Western Kentucky (Friday)
Two of their past three meetings have been high-scoring nail-biters, including a 44-43 WKU win in double OT last year. Both have prolific QBs — MTSU’s Brent Stockstill, WKU’s Mike White — and this might decide the C-USA East Division.
Week 13: Nov. 25
Main event: Alabama at Auburn and Ohio State at Michigan
We can’t pick one over the other. It’s Rivalry Week, and the schedule is packed with intrigue. There’s a decent chance that at least one will decide a division title, and both could have playoff implications. All four teams are likely to be in the preseason top 15.
Undercard: Miami at Pittsburgh (Friday); Virginia Tech at Virginia (Friday); Baylor at TCU (Friday); Iowa at Nebraska (Friday); Oregon State at Oregon; Washington State at Washington; West Virginia at Oklahoma; Notre Dame at Stanford; Florida State at Florida; Georgia at Georgia Tech; Louisville at Kentucky; Texas A&M at LSU; Clemson at South Carolina; Vanderbilt at Tennessee
There’s never a bad last week of November in college football, with rivalry bragging rights, division titles, playoff spots and the Heisman race all on the line over multiple days.
Upset alert: Wisconsin at Minnesota
The Badgers have dominated the rivalry, winning 13 straight. P.J. Fleck hopes to start a new era by disrupting Wisconsin’s Big Ten title hopes.
Sleeper: Ole Miss at Mississippi State (Thursday)
Will it matter in the SEC race? No. It will nevertheless be compelling theater, back on Thanksgiving with the rivalry drama as high as ever amid the Ole Miss NCAA scandal.
Week 14: Dec. 2
Main events: Big Ten championship game; SEC championship game, Pac-12 championship game (Friday), ACC championship game; Big 12 championship game
Let’s just hope for a few quality games. Only two of the past 19 SEC title games have been decided by single digits, and the SEC East hasn’t won since 2008. The Big 12 is holding its first conference title game since 2010.
Undercard: AAC championship game; Conference USA championship game, Mountain West championship game; MAC championship game
The Group of Five’s New Year’s Six bowl bid will be on the line, with the highest-ranked champion from these conferences, plus the Sun Belt, earning a major bowl bid.
Sleeper: Troy at Arkansas State
The Sun Belt is the only conference not holding a championship game this year, although that will change in 2018. Unfortunately, Appalachian State plays neither Troy nor Arkansas State, but these are the next-best contenders.
Week 15: Dec. 9
Main event: Army vs. Navy
Army snapped Navy’s run of 14 straight wins in the rivalry in Baltimore last year. The game returns to Philadelphia with Army hoping to go back-to-back for the first time since 1992-96.
Undercard: Heisman Trophy presentation
Don’t worry, bowl season is right around the corner.