2016 Opener Has Tons of Potential

ATHENS - Just about the time we'll all be sick of Jeb and Hillary something interesting could come around.

The opening weekend of 2016 is shaping up to be one of the most colossal in college football history. 

Never before have so many high-profile teams decided to play on the same weekend. I say that in the same breath of understanding that never before has TV paid so much money to have marquee teams play one another, but that’s beside the point here.   

On Monday night, Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity spoke to a radio audience and said that playing a neutral site game in Atlanta was very possible.   

“I think that is something that will be in our future,” McGarity said. “I’m not sure how quickly. Maybe sooner than later. Those are all things that I think are good for our program to be in Atlanta. I think there’s definitely a good chance that’s going to happen sooner than later.”  

Logic dictates that McGarity means to say the Bulldogs would likely play the 2016 season opener in Atlanta. But McGarity could be in 2018 or beyond. Georgia is already scheduled to play Notre Dame in 2017 and 2019, so a game in Atlanta seems unlikely in those seasons.   

Georgia only has agreed to three non-conference games for the 2016 season thus far, and none of them (Georgia Tech, Lafayette and Nicholls State) are scheduled for the opening weekend.   

According to the Athens Banner-Herald, the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game has not announced a pairing for the 2016 game yet. So with all of that in mind, which team(s) are available for the Bulldogs to play in 2016 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in Atlanta if it were to happen?  

According to many published reports, West Virginia, Clemson, USC, Wisconsin, UCLA, Texas, Arizona, BYU, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Rutgers and Washington already have what would be considered major season openers scheduled for that weekend.   

In addition, the bulk of high-level or even mid- to high-level programs are booked up that weekend with non-compelling games:  

Louisville (vs. Charlotte), Virginia Tech (vs. Liberty), Baylor (vs. Northwestern State), TCU (vs. South Dakota State), Arizona State (vs. Northern Arizona), Colorado (vs. Colorado State), Stanford (vs. Rice), Pitt (vs. Villanova), Virginia (vs. Richmond), Oklahoma State (vs. Southeastern Louisiana), Illinois (vs. Murray State), Iowa (vs. Miami (OH)), Michigan (vs. Hawaii), Ohio State (vs. Bowling Green) and Penn State (vs. Kent State).  

Several ACC schools are available to play Georgia in the Dome in 2016 —Boston College, Duke, NC State, Syracuse and Wake Forest — but none would really provide the top-25 caliber matchup seen in previous seasons. The Pac 12’s Cal appears available to play. But that’s a long way to travel to start the season, so that seems a little unlikely.  

Four schools, two of them from the ACC, and all with major name brands, do not appear to have games scheduled the first week of the 2016 season.   

North Carolina, perhaps the least name brand in football terms, has played in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Kickoff Game at the Dome before. That night in 2010, No. 18 North Carolina lost to No. 21 LSU on ABC.  

Carolina has had a rough go of things on the gridiron since. The Heels went 8-5 that season, 7-6 in 2011, 8-4 in 2012, 7-6 last year and had a losing 6-7 record in 2014. Carolina opens up in Charlotte, North Carolina against South Carolina to start the 2015 season.   

Carolina has already announced one 2016 game - at Illinois in the second game of the season. So the Tar Heels may have a spot open in their schedule, but it might not be practical for them to play Georgia in Atlanta to start the season and travel to the middle of the country the next week.   

Miami, on the other hand, has a home game the second game of the 2016 season. So that means the Hurricanes could start the season in Atlanta and return home the next week to play Florida A&M.   

Miami is scheduled to play at Notre Dame the weekend of Halloween, but the Canes only have three non-conference games so far in 2016 - meaning they need to add one more non-conference game. Miami’s other non-conference game that year, Florida Atlantic, doesn’t have an announced date yet.   

Kansas State playing in Atlanta would be a rare thing. The Wildcats typically don’t play outside of the heartland, but playing a spotlight game in Atlanta might be too much to pass up. Still, Kansas State, which plays in the Big 12, has to play nine conference games a year.   

The Wildcats are scheduled to play five conference road games in 2016. They already have six home games scheduled, but it remains unclear when K-State would play those home (or away) games at this time. So Kansas State’s opening date may or may not be taken yet — but it likely will not be a Big 12 game, possibly giving the Wildcats flexibility to play in Atlanta at the start of the season.   

Maybe the most likely (and certainly the most appetizing at this time) matchup in 2016 would be Georgia vs. Michigan State at the Georgia Dome. The Spartans have surged nationally as of late. Thanks to Alabama backing out of a home-and-home matchup with the Spartans, Michigan State is missing an opening game in 2016. 

Georgia and Michigan State have played twice since the 2008 season - splitting two Florida bowl games. Both teams finished ranked in the top 10 in 2014. In addition, Michigan State already has eight home games scheduled for 2016, but that's without a season opener scheduled yet.

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