What to Watch: The 2016 season starts with a strong slate

In an offseason wracked with scandal, it’s good to get back to football.

The college football season officially started last weekend in Australia, but the rest of the country catches up this week in what is being billed as one of the best college football opening slates ever assembled.

We could probably debate that for hours, but what is clear is there are several games involving ranked teams with early College Football Playoff implications. As strange as it sounds, some teams could find themselves eliminated from the CFP after the first weekend while others could gain a key win that becomes a bargaining chip if there’s a loss down the road.

In any case, being back to football is really all that matters. So here’s what to watch as we open the 2016 season:

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Ole Miss QB Chad Kelly (Getty Images)
Ole Miss QB Chad Kelly. (Getty Images)

Game of the week:
No. 11 Ole Miss at No. 4 Florida State, Mon., 8 p.m. ET

If you’re looking for a premier game this weekend, this would be it. Both of these teams have the potential to win their respective conferences and make a run for the College Football Playoff. However, for Florida State, this game might mean a bit more since its schedule is not as tough as Ole Miss’ moving forward.

This game will feature the SEC’s best quarterback in Chad Kelly and one of the nation’s best running backs in FSU’s Dalvin Cook. Both players could be in Heisman contention at year’s end. The game also will feature the debut of redshirt freshman quarterback Deondre Francois, who will be the second redshirt freshman in the past four years to start at that position for the ‘Noles. The other? Heisman winner Jameis Winston. Winston also made his debut during the Labor Day weekend and immediately earned Heisman hype. Francois’ debut will be a little tougher against an Ole Miss defense that has been known for its tenacity during coach Hugh Freeze’s tenure.

A loss in this game wouldn’t eliminate either of these teams from CFP contention, but a win would catapult them to the forefront of the conversation.

Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) looks to pass during the first half of the Orange Bowl NCAA college football semifinal playoff game against Clemson, Thursday, Dec. 31, 2015, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Joe Skipper)
Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield. (AP Photo/Joe Skipper)

Game to watch:
No. 3 Oklahoma at No. 15 Houston, Sat., noon ET

Houston made a national name for itself last year after going 13-1 under first-year coach Tom Herman. But can the Cougars continue their success with the spotlight squarely on them? Many pundits have the Cougars vying for a spot in the College Football Playoff, but to get there they’ll need to win this game and prove they’re for real.

Oklahoma faces a similar challenge. Last year’s 37-17 loss to Clemson in the CFP semifinals left the Sooners wondering what might have been. However, with several of their key players returning, including quarterback Baker Mayfield, the Sooners are a favorite for a repeat trip to the playoff.

It’s seems improbable, but this game could be a playoff elimination game for both teams.

Alabama mascot Big Al waves an Alabama flag following a 45-10 win over Tennessee in an NCAA college football game in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
Alabama mascot Big Al waves an Alabama flag following a 45-10 win over Tennessee in an NCAA college football game in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

Also check out …
No. 20 USC vs. No. 1 Alabama (in Arlington, Texas), Sat., 8 p.m. ET

Junior Max Browne will get a rough introduction to being a starting quarterback when he faces an Alabama team that boasted the nation’s top defense a year ago and consistently fields defenses that attack quarterbacks. Browne, who beat out Sam Darnold for the job, came to USC with a lot of fanfare, but has thrown just 12 passes as a backup in his career.

Similarly, Alabama is still wrestling with its quarterback situation, which is down to Cooper Bateman and Blake Barnett. The Crimson Tide seem to have this problem every year and every year it works itself out. They don’t need a star at that position since the star of the team is the defense, but they do need someone who can manage the offense and not turn the ball over.

This game could be close early as both offenses get their legs, but as we’ve seen many times in the past, Alabama’s defense should start tightening the screws in the second half.

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HOUSTON, TX - DECEMBER 29: Leonard Fournette #7 of the LSU Tigers runs for a 43-yard touchdown during the second half of their game against the Texas Tech Red Raiders during the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl at NRG Stadium on December 29, 2015 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
LSU RB Leonard Fournette. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

Channel surf through …

No. 16 UCLA at Texas A&M, Sat., 3:30 p.m. ET — There’s quite a bit of pressure on A&M coach Kevin Sumlin to have a successful season and a win against UCLA would provide a lot of early goodwill. He’ll be relying on transfer QB Trevor Knight to provide the steady quarterback play the Aggies were missing a year ago.

No. 5 LSU vs Wisconsin (at Lambeau Field), Sat., 3:30 p.m. ET — While a lot of people will tune in to see star LSU running back Leonard Fournette, the far more interesting matchup is LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda against his former team.

No. 18 Georgia vs. No. 22 North Carolina (at Georgia Dome), Sat., 5:30 p.m. ET — This game will test a North Carolina run defense that was the strength of the team early and its failure late last year. Georgia RB Nick Chubb is back after suffering a season-ending injury last year and that will be a true test of what this defense has learned in the offseason.

No. 10 Notre Dame at Texas, Sun, 7:30 p.m. ET — This game could feature four quarterbacks as both programs have yet to decide on a starter. DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire will split reps for the Irish and Tyrone Swoopes and Shane Buechele will play for the Longhorns. This is a make-or-break year for Texas coach Charlie Strong, so a win against Notre Dame would be a big coup.

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Graham Watson is the editor of Dr. Saturday on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email her at dr.saturday@ymail.com or follow her on Twitter!