Play ball!

1. The college football season isn’t dipping its toes in the water to check the temperature. I can’t recall a better opening weekend of matchups than this smorgasbord: Oklahoma vs. Houston; UCLA at Texas A&M; LSU vs. Wisconsin at Lambeau Field; Georgia vs. North Carolina at Atlanta; USC vs. Alabama at Arlington, Texas; Clemson at Auburn; Notre Dame at Texas; Ole Miss at Florida State. That should get fans in the holiday spirit.

S-E-C!

2. My annual rankings of Power Five conferences by strength: SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12, Big 12, ACC.

Reason to party

3. Thankfully, College Football Playoff executives came to their senses and announced that semifinals won’t be played on New Year’s Eve starting in 2018. The semifinals this season will remain on Dec. 31, which is a Saturday. The original plan of prime-time New Year’s Eve games seemed tone-deaf and dumb, and TV ratings and public backlash proved as much. Not everyone plans their lives around college football. That’s only for a few of us who have no social life and weren’t invited to parties. [Hand raised.]

Hitting reset

4. The fall from grace of Baylor coach Art Briles and other school officials serves as a cautionary tale for a win-at-all-cost mentality. It will be interesting to see how long it takes Baylor to recover and how the school’s view of football changes in the wake of its sexual assault scandal.

Former powers to watch

5. Teams poised to make a big jump: Tennessee, Washington, UCLA, Nebraska.

Badger goes south

6. LSU coach Les Miles made a smart move in hiring defensive coordinator Dave Aranda away from Wisconsin. The Badgers led the nation in scoring defense last season under Aranda, who is widely respected for his creative scheme and the way he uses his personnel. LSU could be in national title discussion.

Can DW pull a VY?

7. I covered the Rose Bowl in 2006 when Vince Young put the Texas Longhorns on his back and carried them to the national championship over powerhouse USC in one of the greatest individual performances in college football history. I had flashbacks watching Clemson’s Deshaun Watson carve up Alabama’s ferocious defense in last season’s championship game. Like Young, he put on a one-man show, except in a loss. An encore of that matchup — Watson vs. Bama — would be a fine punctuation mark on another season.

The ‘other’ top coaches

8. Nick Saban remains king of college football, but two coaches who have done masterful jobs at sustaining top-level programs are Stanford’s David Shaw and Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio. They consistently produce double-digit win totals despite changes in personnel.

Powers with new coaches

9. Marquee programs with new coaches: USC, Georgia, Miami (Fla.), South Carolina, Virginia Tech.

Best games

10. The inside track to Tampa will be earned most notably on these five days:

 

Sept. 17: Ohio State at Oklahoma

Critical early test for Buckeyes after suffering major personnel losses to NFL. Sooners can prove they’re legitimate contenders.

 

Oct. 15: Stanford at Notre Dame

Stanford essentially eliminated the Fighting Irish from playoff picture last season with a last-second field goal for a 38-36 victory.

 

Oct. 29: Clemson at Florida State

 Winner of potential top-five matchup will strengthen playoff résumé, but some believe the ACC still could put both teams in the four-team field.

 

Nov. 5: Alabama at LSU

Defending champ Bama returns to familiar spot as preseason favorite. LSU is loaded too. Atmosphere will be bonkers, even more so if it’s a night game.

 

Nov. 26: Michigan at Ohio State

This rivalry could have playoff implications annually now that Jim Harbaugh is in Ann Arbor. Buckeyes play at Michigan State week prior.

Putting the ‘D’ in Ducks

11. Oregon is switching from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 under new defensive coordinator Brady Hoke, the former Michigan coach. The Ducks finished 116th out of 128 teams nationally in points allowed last season and blew a 31-0 halftime lead to TCU in a triple-overtime loss in the Alamo Bowl.

Putting the ‘A’ in Vols

12. Dual threat: Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs, an All-SEC candidate, is majoring in aerospace engineering and has interned at Pratt & Whitney.

Hook him?

13. It’s still almost unfathomable how far the Texas program has fallen. Charlie Strong owns an 11-14 record in two seasons, though he somehow managed to upset Oklahoma last season. Hard to imagine Strong making it to Year 4 without a significant leap this season.

Roll ... ing over O-linemen

14. Here is Alabama’s national ranking in scoring defense since 2009: second, third, first, first, fourth, sixth, second. The Tide has won four national titles in that span. Coincidence? I think not.

Barrett is back

15. Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett should feel more comfortable now that the quarterback job is his and his alone. No more looking over his shoulder. The Buckeyes suffered heavy personnel losses on offense, but Barrett should thrive in Urban Meyer’s system.

Road trip(s)!

16. My college football bucket list: Army-Navy; LSU’s Tiger Stadium at night; Clemson running down the hill at Death Valley; Tailgate at The Grove at Ole Miss; 12th man at Texas A&M’s Kyle Field; Iron Bowl; Red River Showdown.