Howdy, y’all! It’s been too long.
My name’s Connor, and you may know me as the guy who writes the Solid Slate, a weekly column published right here during the fall that lets you know when and where you can find the best games every Saturday.
But while I can’t wait to get back to that, we’ve got some housekeeping to do first. In the next few sweltering summer weeks, I’ll preview the very best and brightest games of the coming college football season. Think of it as a taster before your main course, giving you a high-level view of what to expect.
We’ll start off this week with an absolute ton of non-conference games before exploring the Power 5 conferences. I’ve got seven games you absolutely have to see, and a bunch of “honorable mentions” because hoo boy, do some teams have hard out-of-conference schedules. Ready? Let’s go!
Oregon vs. Georgia
Replacing Miami-bound Mario Cristobal, Ducks head coach Dan Lanning hopes to start his tenure off on the right foot. And he may have a chance! Oregon’s bringing back 14 starters and a formidable offensive attack anchored by new transfer quarterback Bo Nix. What’s that? They’re playing a Georgia team with Stetson Bennett returning and quite possibly the nation’s best offensive line and defensive unit? And the game’s in Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta? Well, no victory’s impossible in Week 1.
Cincinnati at Arkansas
Sam Pittman’s been an absolute wunderkind for the Hogs. Last year, he combined a defense that excelled at clutch prevention of third-down conversions with a semi-acceptable offense helmed by returning QB K.J. Jefferson, cobbling together a more-than-respectable 9-4 record. His team begins this year hosting another rising power, the Big 12-bound Bearcats, coming off last year’s Playoff berth. But Cincy’s vulnerable. They lost much of their star talent on both sides of the ball. It remains to be seen whether new gunslinger Evan Prater or Ben Bryant can lead Cincinnati to a banner season.
Notre Dame at Ohio State
Brian Kelly’s gone south to the Louisiana swamps, and heir apparent Marcus Freeman takes the reins in South Bend. The Irish boast solid lines and an excellent front 7. The questions all lie at the skills positions – the receiving corps (or lack thereof) and an injury-riddled backfield. The Buckeyes can certainly take advantage of these vulnerabilities, boasting an excellent aerial assault launched by C.J. Stroud, but their defensive line needs to demonstrate they can hold their own in the trenches.
Alabama at Texas
Here’s two teams that would like to wash the taste of last season out of their mouths. Alabama made the Playoff, but that’s every other year for them. Bryce Young won the Heisman! Whoop-di-doo. The Tide are undoubtably FURIOUS that they lost to Georgia in the National Championship, and their first big opponent is Texas. Are the Horns back? Who cares. Quinn Ewers will likely be under center, and as usual, Texas will have Big 12 title aspirations after a disappointing first year for Sark. The Horns boast plenty of question marks on the offensive and defensive lines, which doesn’t bode terribly well, but at least Ewers has a host of talent to distribute the ball to.
Baylor at BYU
Yes, this is a selfish pick, as I’m a diehard Baylor fan. But the Bears won the Big 12 and dominated their bowl game last year. Dave Aranda has them in good shape, despite a host of lost offensive talent. Blake Shapen takes over at QB, and should be well protected enough to throw to… whoever’s out wide. They’re journeying to take on the BYU Cougars, who have plenty of experience to bolster Jaren Hall as he commands the offense but need to replace the wrecking ball at RB that was Tyler Allgeier. Last year’s BYU defense struggled due to injury, but it’s formidable. I think this one should be fun for any fan.
Michigan State at Washington
Sparty was a huge surprise last year, mostly due to Kenneth Walker III’s sudden rise. Yet they had issues defending the pass, and those haven’t exactly vanished this year. Payton Thorne returns to command an offense that still relies on the run. That could be a problem against the Huskies, who still boast a stout defense and a new coach in Kalen DeBoer dedicated to improving the offense, bolstered by Indiana transfer Michael Penix Jr. Two intriguing high-level teams, and I have no idea who wins. Sign me up!
Miami at Texas A&M
The Canes have a new head coach, and a returning signal-caller in Tyler Van Dyke who was on a hot streak at the end of last year. He ought to only improve under the watchful eye of new coordinator Josh Gattis. Their issues lie on defense, especially at linebacker. They may give up big plays, which the Aggies will likely spotlight as a vulnerability. It remains to be seen whether Jimbo Fisher will opt for Haynes King, transfer Max Johnson or a newcomer like Connor Weigman at QB. Either way, the Aggies are loaded with talent up and down the roster. How quickly can A&M organize its new pieces?
BYU at Oregon
Out of the frying pan and into the fire go the Cougs, facing the hungry Ducks. We’ve addressed both of these teams above so let’s talk matchups. Oregon and BYU both have highly experienced, offense forward teams. This really depends on whether Bo Nix or Jaren Hall have better command over their squads after two weeks, and which defense does better.
Arkansas at BYU
Hi, Cougs! Fancy seeing you again. We’ve also previewed the Hogs above, so what happens when they clash several weeks deep into the season? I have absolutely no idea. Too many variables, but both of these teams have talent galore on both sides of the ball. I just know it will be fun. BYU will want to prove they can hang with the Power 5’s best before joining them next year, and Arkansas will likely be on track for a bowl berth. Expect a clash filled with emotion and grit.
Clemson at Notre Dame
No, I don’t know what happened to Clemson last year. The Tigers have a host of question marks heading into the season. A new defensive coordinator. A new offensive coordinator. A quarterback who struggled all last year. But their running corps, led by Will Shipley, and an elite defense will serve as solid anchors. And I’ve already talked about the Irish. Given their makeup, this one will likely be won in the trenches, unless DJ U can find a solution through the air.
Notre Dame at USC
Again, hello, you lovable gold-helmed scamps. This time during Rivalry Week. Honestly, I don’t know exactly how Lincoln Riley’s first season at USC will go. Caleb Williams has arrived from Oklahoma, so I don’t have questions at QB. But the offense is essentially a collection of transfers. How’s the defense? Not great, Bob! A new coordinator won’t fix all its issues. Yet this should be an interesting clash between two motivated teams nevertheless.
That’s all! Feel free to follow me at my new Twitter handle, @SolidSlateCFB, and I’ll see you all next week when I preview the Power 5!