The 2016 college football season just wrapped up and the offseason madness is fully underway. But it's never too early to look ahead to what next season might have in store.
The 2017 college football schedule has a number of exciting matchups that has fans already counting down the days 'til kickoff (about 250 or so).
Here are the 11 most important games on next year's college football calendar.
(Editor’s note: Not all conference schedules have been officially released yet. This article is subject to change.
Michigan vs. Florida, September 2nd (AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX)
It will be interesting to see how a young Michigan team handles one of the best defenses it will see all season — especially in the season opener — after losing three of four to close 2016.
As for the Gators, how fresh are Florida’s memories of playing – and getting crushed – by Michigan in the Citrus Bowl two years ago?
Oklahoma at Oklahoma State, November 4th
The Big 12 title has come down to Bedlam the last two seasons. The stakes won’t be quite as high this season (the Big 12 will have a title game to decide its champion), this could end up being the most important game on the conference schedule.
It's the league’s two most talented teams in a heated rivalry that could decide at least one spot in the first Big 12 title game in nine years. This one will be monstrous.
Getty ImagesBrett Deering
Texas A&M at UCLA, September 2nd
When these two teams met at Kyle Field last September, it felt like a make-or-break game that both programs and their respective coaches absolutely needed to win. And with their next matchup at the Rose Bowl next September, the situation should be eerily similar.
If anything, the stakes might be higher in 2017. Kevin Sumlin entered 2016 on the hot seat, only to coach himself off it, and end 2016 on an even hotter seat after the Aggies lost five of their final seven games. Things aren’t much better in Westwood for Jim Mora, who saw Josh Rosen go down with injury, then saw his program crumble without him and finish 4-8.
The losing coach of this game will find himself on the top of hot seat rankings by the start of Week 2 next year.
Getty ImagesJoe Robbins
Georgia at Notre Dame, September 9th
This is a monumental game for both teams -- for entirely different reasons.
For Georgia, many believe that the Bulldogs have the talent to be a true playoff contender in 2017. But after an 8-5 season – which included losses to Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech – many wonder if they’ll actually get there with Kirby Smart as their head coach. Things aren’t much better for Notre Dame and Brian Kelly, who seem destined for a messy break-up after 2016's 4-8 disaster.
Can you imagine how ugly it could get if Notre Dame loses this game, at home? It will only be slightly better in Athens if Smart and Georgia fall here.
Penn State at Ohio State, October 28th
It isn’t a stretch to say that Ohio State-Penn State turned out to be the single most meaningful game of the 2016 season. The Nittany Lions' win shook up the Big Ten apple cart and led to a chaotic final six weeks of the season.
And it’s not a stretch to say that this game will have similar meaning in 2017. With Michigan expected to take a step back (at least personnel-wise) it means that OSU and PSU will be the two premiere programs in the conference, and that this game could once again decide the division and conference titles. It could also decide a playoff berth once again.
Auburn at Clemson, September 9th
Clemson will enter the 2017 season as the defending national champions, and with all due respect to Kent State (Clemson’s opening week opponent) this will be the first big game of the Post-Deshaun Watson Era in Death Valley.
Much of the focus will be on Clemson’s new quarterback, but don’t sleep on Auburn’s. It will almost certainly be Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham. And if he can channel what he did in his brief time in Waco – 12 touchdowns, 1,265 yards in just three starts – it could be enough to make Auburn a real player in the SEC West.
At the very least, let’s all hope that this game is half as entertaining as the game these two played in 2016. Clemson had to bat down a hail mary on the final play in the first victory of what became a national championship season.
Oklahoma at Ohio State, September 9th
The matchup between these powerhouses in Norman last September set the tone of the entire season for two teams – and their conferences. A victory by Ohio State was truly the difference in them making the playoff over Penn State, while the loss on Oklahoma’s end cost them a realistic shot at the final four, even after winning every game in Big 12 play.
That’s what makes next year’s matchup equally as fascinating. Both teams will be major playoff contenders, and a win here will put them at the forefront of the playoff conversation. A loss could cost them a realistic shot at the playoff before the season even truly begins.
Getty ImagesGetty Images
Alabama at Auburn, November 25th
Yes, Alabama lost the national championship game to Clemson. But here’s the scary thing: With key personnel losses across the SEC (especially at schools like Texas A&M, LSU and Tennessee) there’s no real reason to think that the Crimson Tide won’t once again run through this conference in 2017.
The one exception could be against their biggest rivals. As mentioned above, Stidham could be the best quarterback in the SEC, and as we saw Monday night, even the great Crimson Tide can be beaten if the opponent’s quarterback play is good enough. Plus, this game is at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
It isn’t likely that Alabama will lose in SEC play. But if it happens, this feels like the game.
Florida State at Clemson, TBA
The ACC hasn’t officially released its schedule but since these two play in the same division we know they will meet up. And when they do meet, history tells us it will be huge.
The winner of this game has gone on to win the Coastal division the last eight seasons, and has gone on to win the ACC the last four. The last three winners of this contest went on to clinch an eventual playoff berth and two of the last four years it has produced the sport’s national champion.
So yeah, this game will be monstrous. Regardless of when it is played.
Texas at USC, September 16th
This will be the first matchup between these two storied college football powers since the infamous 2006 title game. And while the stakes won’t be quite as high – and Vince Young and Matt Leinart certainly aren’t walking through that door – this game will have juicier storylines than any game in college football in 2017.
It will be the first big game of the Tom Herman era, and the first chance for Herman to prove that he is “the guy” to get the Longhorns back to the top of college football.
On the other side, you have a team that believes that they are back at the top of the ranks in USC. Were the Trojans’ nine straight wins to close 2016 proof that they are back as a true college football super-power? Or was it simply a one-time hot-streak?
We’ll begin to get all of those answers in Week 3 next season.
Alabama vs. Florida State, September 2nd (Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta)
As things stand now i the second week of January, the Crimson Tide and Seminoles are currently the two favorites in Vegas to win the 2018 national championship. By the time this game kicks off, it could be No. 1 vs. No. 2 to open this season.
This could be the biggest game of the 2017 season and at the very least, a helluva way to kick-off the year.