Dedicated readers of USA TODAY Sports will know that Florida State and Alabama sit first and second, respectively, in our offseason countdown of the top 25 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
That should give some idea as to the anticipation for the season opener between the Seminoles and Crimson Tide, set for the evening of Sept. 2 at the freshly constructed Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
The loser won’t be eliminated from the College Football Playoff hunt. But the winner will take firm control of the top spot in the Amway Coaches Poll and sit in the driver’s seat for an eventual spot in the four-team field.
It’s not too common for a pair of major title contenders to meet on the season’s opening weekend, even if a recent shift in how teams schedule across the FBS has led to more high-profile pairings in nonconference play.
This week’s top 10 list asks: What have been the biggest openers — in terms of immediate and long-term impact, or simply due to each team holding a high ranking in the preseason polls — of the past 15 years?
1. 2011: No. 4 LSU 40, No. 3 Oregon 27
It’s possible you’ve forgotten just how hyped this matchup was — more than just pitting two top teams, this was billed as a statement game for the Pac-12 against the mighty SEC. This would be the first of several impressive wins LSU would put together in crafting one of the top regular seasons by a team in FBS history.
2. 2007: Appalachian State 34, No. 5 Michigan 32
This upset ended Michigan’s championship hopes, back in the days when one loss spelled doom, and was the impetus for the program-wide shakeup that would occur after the end of the year. Lloyd Carr was gone; Rich Rodriguez was in. That both the Mountaineers and, one week later, Oregon ripped through the Wolverines with a spread style influenced the program’s decision to head in Rodriguez’s direction.
3. 2013: No. 8 Clemson 38, No. 5 Georgia 35
There was a time when you could set your clocks to Clemson’s eventual meltdown, whether within a specific game or over the course of a season. This win helped to shatter that myth. Led by senior quarterback Tajh Boyd, the predecessor to Deshaun Watson, the Tigers beat the No. 5 Bulldogs at home and laid the table for an 11-2 season. The foundation was set for the program’s national championship.
4. 2009: No. 24 Brigham Young 14, No. 3 Oklahoma 13
Losses to Florida State and TCU would steal BYU’s hopes of crashing the Bowl Championship Series, though the Cougars’ final ranking of No. 12 in the coaches poll made 2009 the high-water mark of the Bronco Mendenhall era. The bigger story stemming from this opener was the shoulder injury suffered by reigning Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford, who would play in just one full game the rest of way in the Sooners’ 8-5 finish.
5. 2009: No. 16 Boise State 19, No. 14 Oregon 8
This opener is memorable more for what happened afterward: Oregon running back LeGarrette Blount’s punch to Boise State defensive end Byron Hout’s jaw after the Broncos’ slight upset at home. In the bigger picture, however, the victory set the pace for Boise State’s 14-0 regular season.
6. 2008: Utah 25, Michigan 23
Michigan makes another appearance — and it won’t be the Wolverines’ last. This game wasn’t national news: Utah and Michigan were both unranked, with Rodriguez’s second team licking its wounds after his 3-9 debut. But the Utes escaped by two points and would win another four games by a touchdown or fewer before beating Alabama in the Sugar Bowl to go undefeated.
7. 2012: No. 2 Alabama 41, No. 8 Michigan 14
The Wolverines never had a shot against the defending and future national champions. But Alabama wasn’t the No. 1 team in the preseason coaches poll; that honor went to LSU. This was the first of several wins that would alter that mindset, concluding with the Tide’s destruction of Notre Dame to claim its second title in a row and third in four years.
8. 2016: No. 1 Alabama 52, No. 17 Southern California 6
This game was better in hindsight. While an embarrassing moment at the time for USC, the Trojans would rebound from a 1-3 start to last fall with nine wins in a row, the final coming in the Rose Bowl. Alabama would enter the national title game at 14-0 before suffering its only loss. By December, there was a train of thought that offered up USC — which by that point was playing as well as any team in the country — as the fourth team in the Playoff field.
9. 2010: No. 7 TCU 30, No. 22 Oregon State 21
TCU would never rise above No. 3 in either the coaches poll or the BCS standings. But the Horned Frogs were clearly one of college football’s best teams in 2010, and may have had the defense and quarterback play needed to beat Cam Newton and Auburn for the title, had push come to shove. After beating the Beavers by nine points, TCU wouldn’t have another win decided by fewer than 17 points until Nov. 13.
10. 2002: No. 10 Michigan 31, No. 9 Washington 29
Let’s go way back to 2002. The Huskies would eventually slide out of a national ranking and finish the season a rather pedestrian 7-6. Michigan would lose to Notre Dame, Iowa and Ohio State before beating Florida in the Outback Bowl. So this one didn’t mean a whole lot in the long run. At the time, however, a season-opening matchup of two top 10 teams in nonconference play was major news.