All times Eastern. Times and TV are TBD unless noted.
Week 1 (Sept. 1-5)
Southern Cal vs. Alabama, Sept. 3, 8 p.m. (ABC): These two storied powers haven’t met since the 1985 Aloha Bowl and haven’t met in the regular season since 1978. Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will game-plan against the program he coached for two-plus years, and five assistants remain on the Trojans’ staff from that rocky tenure. But the Tide’s defense should be the focal point: Pro Football Focus has graded six Alabama defensive players as among the top 64 players in the nation.
Ole Miss vs. Florida State, Sept. 5, 8 p.m. (ESPN): The Rebels held Alabama Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry and LSU standout Leonard Fournette to below their season yards-per-carry rushing averages last season. They’ll need to do the same against the Seminoles’ Dalvin Cook, who averaged 7.4 yards per carry in 2015.
Week 2 (Sept. 9-10)
Virginia Tech vs. Tennessee, Sept. 10, 8 p.m. (ABC): They’re expecting 150,000 fans at Bristol Motor Speedway, which would shatter the NCAA attendance record. Bristol is located almost exactly halfway between the two schools, so it should be a fun, large crowd. The ninth-ranked Volunteers are a preseason top 10 team for the first time since 2005. The Hokies have a coach not named Frank Beamer — in this case Justin Fuente — for the first time since 1986.
Week 3 (Sept. 15-17)
Michigan State at Notre Dame, Sept. 17, 7:30 p.m. (NBC): Playing after a two-year hiatus in the 77-game series, the Fighting Irish have won four of five against the Spartans.
Ohio State at Oklahoma, Sept. 17, 7:30 p.m. (Fox): The Buckeyes and Sooners have met exactly twice, splitting their meetings in 1977 and 1983. Ohio State returns just six starters, the fewest among all 128 FBS teams, so this game probably will be the signifier as to whether Urban Meyer is reloading or rebuilding (if you can call a job that’ll likely take just one year “rebuilding”).
Week 4 (Sept. 22-24)
Stanford at UCLA, Sept. 24: The Cardinal have won their last eight meetings against the Bruins, whose eight wins last season should be seen as an accomplishment considering all their injuries on defense. Most of those players are now back, plus sophomore hot-tub enthusiast Josh Rosen at quarterback.
Week 5 (Sept. 29-Oct. 1)
Stanford at Washington, Sept. 30, 9 p.m. (ESPN): The No. 14 Huskies haven’t been ranked this high in the preseason since 2002, and this Friday night tilt likely will be the most anticipated college game in Seattle in quite some time. Sophomore quarterback Jake Browning, who led the Huskies to seven wins in starting 12 last season, and his similarly young teammates all are a year older.
Oklahoma at TCU, Oct. 1: By the time the Alamo Bowl rolled around last season, the Horned Frogs had 29 freshmen and sophomores on the depth chart because of injuries. They still finished 11-2, capping things off with a 31-point second-half comeback to beat Oregon in their bowl game.
Week 6 (Oct. 5-8)
Texas vs. Oklahoma, Oct. 8, time TBD (Fox Sports 1): The Longhorns’ 24-17 win over the playoff-bound Sooners last season was the highlight of Charlie Strong’s so-far shaky tenure in Austin. Strong brought in Sterlin Gilbert from Tulsa to set up a new spread offense. Will it work, or is it a desperation move to save Strong’s job?
Week 7 (Oct. 12-15)
Alabama at Tennessee, Oct. 15: The Vols haven’t won the Third Saturday in October matchup with the Crimson Tide since 2006. Tennessee led three strong-ish teams — Oklahoma, Florida and Arkansas — by double digits last season and also led Alabama by one on the fourth quarter. It lost all four games.
Stanford at Notre Dame, Oct. 15, 7:30 p.m. (NBC): Brian Kelly did one of his best coaching jobs last season, leading the Fighting Irish to 10 wins and the Fiesta Bowl despite a rash of early injuries. He’ll have more to work with in 2016.
Week 8 (Oct. 20-22)
Ole Miss at LSU, Oct. 22: Les Miles saved his job — barely — last season even though he’s never won less than eight games in a season. The SEC, man. It’ll be interesting to see what new defensive coordinator Dave Aranda — who did more with less at Wisconsin — can do with the talent goldmine that is the LSU defense.
Week 9 (Oct. 27-29)
Clemson at Florida State, Oct. 29: The Tigers won’t seem to be tested too greatly in the seven games that precede this one, as they’re somehow even more loaded than they were last year. Apart from injuries to the team’s stockpile of playmakers on offense, only a heralded but somewhat young defense could be their downfall.
Week 10 (Nov. 1-5)
Alabama at LSU, Nov. 5: The Tigers were 7-0 and entering last year’s game with the Crimson Tide. They lost that one and the two that followed to suddenly put Miles’s job in jeopardy. The Hat is back, thankfully, but beating Alabama for the first time since 2011 will go a long way toward making sure he stays back for the foreseeable future.
Week 11 (Nov. 8-12)
Michigan at Iowa, Nov. 12, 8 p.m. (ABC/ESPN/ESPN2): The Wolverines exceeded everyone’s expectations in Jim Harbaugh’s first season as coach, and now they’ll look to build upon that after a recruiting bump and a defensive coordinator switch (DJ Durkin, now Maryland‘s head coach, was replaced by Don Brown, one of the more respected defensive minds in the game). The Hawkeyes surged to the Big Ten title game and Rose Bowl after a bunch of years in the middling Kirk Ferentz wilderness, but the last two times they finished with 10-plus wins they had three less the next season.
Week 12 (Nov. 15-19)
Louisville at Houston, Nov. 17, 8 p.m. (ESPN): This year’s Random Late-Season Nonconference Thursday Night game. The Cardinals get Florida State and Clemson out of the way over their first five games of the season and could be gaining steam by this point. Tom Herman went 13-1 in his first year as Houston’s coach last season, with the lone loss coming when their quarterback was hurt.
Week 13 (Nov. 22-26)
Notre Dame at Southern Cal, Nov. 26: If the Trojans can make it though a schedule that features Alabama, Stanford, Oregon, Washington and UCLA ahead of this matchup, first-year Coach Clay Helton should get a statue. The Fighting Irish also get a meeting with Stanford but their path to a possible playoff berth is much more friendly, thanks to the ACC dregs on the schedule.
Michigan at Ohio State, Nov. 26: Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines came crashing back to earth last season after a 42-13 home loss to the Buckeyes showed them just how large of a gap exists between the two programs. Michigan seems likely to close that gap this season because of Ohio State’s personnel losses, but is it enough to beat the Buckeyes for just the second time in their last 13 matchups?