The Xs and Os of 2016's six biggest opening-weekend college football games by Ian Boyd

Photo: USA Today

It's been a long time since college football's had an opening weekend quite this loaded.

Each of the games listed here puts at least one Playoff contender up against a tough opponent, and this doesn't even include out-of-conference games like Arizona-BYU, Clemson-Auburn, Kansas State-Stanford, Missouri-West Virginia and Notre Dame-Texas.

There are so many big games, you're gonna want to find a way to record a few. But to help out a little bit, here are guides on what to watch in each.

No. 15 Houston vs. No. 3 Oklahoma in Houston
Sept. 3, noon ET, ABC

From five reasons this game will rule:

Last year, TCU and Clemson laid out the road map for working against Mayfield.

The key to containing a scrambling QB is to keep him contained within the pocket while dropping defenders who can focus on getting depth and filling passing windows. At (maybe) 6'1, Mayfield struggles to see from the pocket, and if his escape routes are covered and the passing lanes occupied, it becomes difficult for him to make something happen:

Houston QB Greg Ward Jr.'s legs are more dangerous for the occasional scrambling or for the QB run game.

No. 5 LSU vs. Wisconsin in Green Bay, WI
Sept. 3, 3:30 ET, ABC

One coach changing sides made this whole thing even more dangerous for the Badgers:

The Tigers have a few aces up their sleeves, such as the Dave Aranda blitz package. The players in Aranda's backfield are going to make life very difficult for QBs looking for easy yardage.

In the 3-3-5 sub-package, Aranda is using second-team All-SEC cornerback Tre'Davious White as the nickel while rising sophomore Arden Key, a 6'6, 240-pound freak athlete who says he wants 20 sacks this year, will be the boundary outside linebacker. With those two, senior Kendell Beckwith at middle linebacker, and safety Jamal Adams roving around, Aranda can dial up endless ways to bring four pass-rushers from base, four-deep coverages.

They'll normally bring Key (W in the diagram below) off the edge, but there's no telling when he might drop back and stick his long arms into a passing window.

On this blitz, LSU rolls the safeties ($ and F) to the wide side of the field to allow that cornerback (C) and White (N) to sit on the short routes, potentially setting two traps for the QB. The first is if he fails to realize White can jump the stick route by the tight end (H). The second is if he does see that and tries to work back to Ogunbowale (R) without realizing Key is dropping into that passing window.

No. 16 UCLA at Texas A&M
Sept. 3, 3:30 ET, CBS

A look into Week 1's most interesting star QB battle:

Here's the kind of opportunity that was available for opponents that ran inside against A&M in 2015 (even for backs who weren't as good as Leonard Fournette):

As a linebacker, you can't ask for a better opportunity than to be unblocked and in position to light up the running back in the hole. However, freshman Richard Moore was late to the party and stacked behind his DE in the C gap before realizing what was up. He was run over by the more powerful Fournette.

The Bruins won't be that effective running between the tackles, and A&M won't be that bad again at stopping it. But some UCLA success on the ground sure make it easier for Josh Rosen to get after those green cornerbacks without worrying about the safeties or nickel.

There's not much even veteran corners can do to stop throws like that unless they have help.

No. 18 Georgia vs. No. 22 North Carolina in Atlanta
Sept. 3, 5:30 ET, ESPN

Nick Chubb vs. UNC's defense doesn't look like a fair fight, so a lot falls on the Heels new QB:

In Gene Chizik's first year in Chapel Hill, there were a ton of mistakes. Beyond the Baylor game, which was one long nightmare, there were plenty of errors to go around.

For instance, during this blitz against Miami, someone (perhaps one of the DEs) muffed an assignment and allowed a simple checkdown toss to go for 30 yards on a third-and-10:

In 2016, the Tar Heels return their entire defensive line and secondary, which will undoubtedly help. But they'll also have to break in new starters at the second level with two top linebackers and their top nickel corner moving on.

Those new pieces will immediately bear the responsibility of eliminating creases against Nick Chubb, one of the country's great backs. New Georgia offensive coordinator Jim Chaney will aim to make that job as confusing as possible.

No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 20 USC in Arlington, TX
Sept. 3, 8 ET, ABC

What the Trojans have to do in order to hang with Bama:

With a star-studded cast of coverage specialists like Adoree' Jackson and Iman Marshall, USC coordinator Clancy Pendergast will try and outnumber the Tide at the point of attack by dropping a safety or nickel toward the line of scrimmage or playing base 5-2 defense whenever possible, like this:

If USC can play Alabama with eight-man fronts from a 5-2 base while leaning on corners and safeties to hold up in man coverage, it could rob prospective Tide QB Cooper Bateman of the easy, quick throws he excels at making.

If Bateman can't punish the Trojans down the field, it could lead to some interesting decisions for the normally conservative Nick Saban.

No. 4 Florida State vs. No. 11 Ole Miss in Orlando
Sept. 5, 8 ET, ESPN

What if stopping Dalvin Cook (which is hard enough) isn't enough for the Rebels?

There are strategies for handling Cook, though they may need updating if Deondre Francois winds up anything like Jimbo Fisher's last big-time redshirt freshman QB, Jameis Winston.

Last year, Cook's two worst games came against Boston College and Houston, when FSU's OL was banged up. He rushed 33 times for 87 yards in those games, an average of 2.6 per run.

The Eagles and Cougars bottled up Cook by aggressively tending the edges and forcing the Noles to do their damage between the tackles. That's what Ole Miss needs to do.

Cook is a nifty runner between the tackles, but he does his best work winning the edge. The FSU line often isn't great at driving sturdy fronts off the ball. That's how an offensive line opens creases, and it's not the Noles' strength.

Take this example against Florida State's I-formation, in which the Cougars load up both edges and dare FSU to do its damage with straight-ahead running:

Boston College followed a similar plan, with all of its blitzes and defenses designed to send numbers aggressively to the edge so that Cook would have nowhere to run but the middle of the field, where Ole Miss will be a bit bigger up front.