Most major college football programs pad their early season schedules, allowing them to ramp up to conference play in late September.
Though these non-league games aren’t always easy, they don’t carry the meaning of a conference game and usually involve a string of opponents from lower-tier conferences.
The following 10 programs break the status quo this season by opening up against a full-fledged conference opponent. None will have the benefit of a quasi-preseason game, instead needing to be ready for the brunt of equal competition from day one.
Other than the blockbuster non-conference contests and kickoff classics, these will be the games to watch out for in Week 1.
When: Monday, Sept. 1, 8:00pm ET, ESPN
Where: Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, Louisville, KY
The official kick-off of ACC play, Louisville and Miami will clash in a Week 1, Monday night classic. The Cardinals and Hurricanes have met 12 times before, the most recent coming in last season’s Russell Athletic Bowl, a game Louisville won 36-9. Miami holds an all-time series advantage of 9-2-1.
The last time Miami started the season with a league game was in 2012 when it opened up with a win at Boston College. For Louisville, it was in 1963 when it kicked off its season with a loss to fellow Missouri Valley member North Texas.
South Carolina—Texas A&M
When: Thursday, Aug. 28, 6:00pm ET, SEC Network
Where: Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia, SC
The SEC gets things going early with a blockbuster, first-ever game between Texas A&M and South Carolina. The two teams have never met in football, but the matchup has been declared a cross-division rivalry by the SEC, meaning it’s the first of many games.
The last time South Carolina began the season in conference play was in 2012 when it nipped Vanderbilt on the road in Week 1. For the Aggies it was also 2012, but that was the year they were supposed to open up at Louisiana Tech, a game that was postponed until October. Instead, Texas A&M waited to get going until Week 2 when Florida rolled into town for both the first game of the year and the first-ever SEC matchup for the Aggies.
When: Saturday, Aug. 30, 4:00pm ET, SEC Network
Where: Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn, AL
The second of two Week 1, SEC conference games, Arkansas and Auburn will square off for an early lead in another brutal West division race. The Tigers lead the all-time series 12-10-1 but haven’t beaten the Razorbacks at home in Auburn since a 65-43 barn-burner in 2010.
The last time Arkansas opened up the season with a league game was in 1980 when—still members of the Southwest conference—it traveled to Texas to play the No. 10 ranked Longhorns. The Razorbacks—led by Lou Holtz—were ranked No. 6 coming into the game but lost 23-17. For Auburn it was 1995, when it walloped Ole Miss 46-13 at home in Week 1.
When: Thursday, Aug. 28, Time TBA
Where: H.A. Chapman Stadium, Tulsa, OK
The American Athletic will kick off league play early with a game between Tulsa and Tulane, both which move into the conference this season from C-USA. The two programs have met 10 times in history with nine of the meetings coming since 2005. Tulsa holds an 8-2 all-time advantage, but Tulane scored it’s second-ever win—and first since 1968—last season with a 14-7 victory in New Orleans.
The last time Tulsa kicked off the year with a league game was in 2010 when it traveled to East Carolina and lost 51-49. For Tulane it was in 2009, when it hosted Tulsa, a game the Green Wave dropped 37-13.
When: Saturday, Aug. 30, 6:00pm ET, ESPN3
Where: Dix Stadium, Kent, OH
Joining the ACC, the SEC and the American, the MAC is the fourth conference to start league play in Week 1 this season. The festivities begin with a showdown between Kent State and Ohio, teams which have met 66 times since first clashing in 1936. The Bobcats hold the all-time advantage 39-25-2, but the Golden Flashes have won four of the last five.
Kent State last opened up with a MAC game in 2003 when it traveled to Akron for a Thursday night, 41-38 Week 1 win over the Zips. For Ohio it was 2001, when the Bobcats also made the trek to Akron for a Thursday night opener, instead losing 31-29.