Campus Corner

A binge-watching opening weekend in college football

Southern California coach Clay Helton (left) will face Alabama coach Nick Saban on Saturday.
Southern California coach Clay Helton (left) will face Alabama coach Nick Saban on Saturday. AP

College football has mastered the opening kickoff.

The first weekend presents an abundance of neutral-site marquee matchups — some look like bowl contests — and home-field games starting Thursday and spread across the Labor Day weekend.

The sport takes full advantage of the NFL’s break between the end of preseason on Thursday and the regular-season openers the following week.

The action builds to a blockbuster Saturday, when Oklahoma plays Houston at NRG Field in Houston, Southern California meets Alabama in Arlington, Texas, LSU takes on Wisconsin at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis., and Georgia meets North Carolina in Atlanta.

Sunday’s lone contest — Notre Dame at Texas — intrigues, as does Monday’s Mississippi-Florida State game in Orlando, Fla.

Undercards — Kansas State at Stanford on Friday and Clemson at Auburn, UCLA at Texas A&M and Missouri at West Virginia — would be highlight games most weekends, but not on the opener.

The five-day kickoff extravaganza started to take shape in the early 2000s. College football had opened with neutral-field games with such titles as the Pigskin Classic and Kickoff Classic.

In 2000, Kansas State played Iowa at Arrowhead Stadium in the Eddie Robinson Classic.

At the time, the college football season was 11 games, and “classics” didn’t count against that total. In 2002, the NCAA prohibited the extra game and a 12th game was approved for all teams in 2006.

Neutral-site games have returned over the past few years and the number of good matchups is partly a function of the College Football Playoff, beginning its third year.

The CFP committee has encouraged stronger nonconference schedules and leagues like the Southeastern Conference and Big Ten have mandated that their teams play at least one power-five non-league opponent each year.

Alabama-Southern California is this year’s biggie. The Crimson Tide seeks its 15th straight opening-game victory, and it has played solid programs under coach Nick Saban during that stretch — Wisconsin, West Virginia, Virginia Tech and Michigan since 2012 — and won them all by double digits.

Saban announced earlier this week that his starting quarterback race is down to redshirt junior Cooper Bateman and redshirt freshman Blake Barnett and it could be a game-time decision.

But for quarterback mystery, nothing tops the Irish-Longhorns game.

Nobody outside of the Notre Dame and Texas coaching staffs know who will be on the field for their teams, but at least Irish coach Brian Kelly has been open about his situation, saying veterans DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire will split duties on Sunday.

Texas coach Charlie Strong hasn’t revealed his starter between senior Tyrone Swoopes and freshman Shane Buechele. If it’s Buechele, he’ll become the first true freshman to start at quarterback for the Longhorns since Bobby Layne in 1944.

“Both of those guys are competing,” Strong said. “Our team’s going to know who the quarterback is. The fans, they’ll be fine.”

Georgia opens the Kirby Smart era against the Tar Heels, and the game marks the return of Bulldogs running back Nick Chubb, a junior who rushed for 2,294 yards in 21 games in his first two seasons but missed last year while recovering from a knee injury.

Biggest question of the weekend: Will officials allow the Lambeau Leap at LSU-Wisconsin? Celebrating in the stands brings a penalty in college.

As for big nonconference games the rest of September, there are a few, like Ohio State at Oklahoma in two weeks. But this is the weekend for binge watching.

Blair Kerkhoff: 816-234-4730, @BlairKerkhoff

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