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Over a career in college football, Kurt Dargis has never seen anything like this season’s opening weekend.

“This is my 15th season working on college football, and it’s by far the deepest and most robust lineup we’ve had,” Dargis, ESPN’s director of college football programming and acquisition, told Awful Announcing. “And not just we but the entire sport, including games on other networks.”

Any way you look at it, college football’s Week One schedule is stacked. The entire Top 25 is playing. Twenty of those 25 teams are facing FBS opponents. Thirteen of them are facing schools from one of the five major conferences. And eight of them are facing other ranked teams.

And while there are good games across the television dial (UCLA-Texas A&M on CBS, for example), ESPN/ABC has the majority of the action, thanks to a concerted attempt to stack Week One as heavily as possible.

Forty-four FBS games will air or stream on ESPN networks (including online on Watch ESPN), spread out across five days. The festivities begin Thursday night with South Carolina-Vanderbilt on ESPN and extend through Monday night, when No. 11 Ole Miss takes on No. 4 Florida State. All four match-ups between ranked teams — Oklahoma-Houston, Georgia-North Carolina, USC-Alabama and Ole Miss-Florida State — are neutral site games organized by ESPN.

When games aren’t on, ESPN networks will air studio shows, game replays, college-football-related documentaries and other gridiron content as part of what the network is advertising as 100 consecutive hours of college football coverage.

“We looked at it as a way to further the celebration of Kickoff Weekend by feeding the fans’ frenzy out there and making sure that anytime anybody wants to be watching some sort of college football programming they have an opportunity,” said Nick Dawson, vice president of programming and acquisitions.

The upcoming weekend has been a long time in the making: ESPN plans the neutral-site games three or four years before they’re on the schedule, meaning this year’s match-ups were finalized when most of the current players were in high school. Building a perfect schedule, therefore, requires both negotiating skill — talking USC and Alabama into a game at Cowboy Stadium was a coup — and luck — ESPN had no way to know Houston would be ranked in the preseason Top 25 for the first time in 25 years.

Of course, stacking Week One can come at the expense of future weeks, and this year ESPN has no games between ranked teams slated for Week Two. But the all-in attitude toward the start of the season makes sense on a number of levels. For one thing, Labor Day weekend grants many fans have extra time to lounge around and watch football around-the-clock. More importantly, the first weekend is the only time all fall college football doesn’t have to compete with the NFL, allowing ESPN to schedule games for Sunday afternoon and Monday night without worrying about professional contests stealing viewers.

Plus, Opening Weekend represents an opportunity to set the stage for the season and establish ESPN as a college-football hub from the first kickoff.

“If we’re going to suffer anywhere, if suffer is the right word, I’d rather come out of the gates Week One with something like we have this year and have a little bit of a dip Week Two than open with a whimper,” Dawson said.

Football-filled Saturdays in the fall aren’t new for ESPN, nor are Monday night games on Labor Day, but the network is experimenting with a new time-slot this year. Texas and Notre Dame will play Sunday night on ABC, in the first Sunday-night college football game on the network in recent memory.

Dawson said ESPN looked at their lineup, realized they had more games than they could fit into their usual schedule, considered the void left by an NFL-free Week One and decided to place the matchup on Sunday. Both teams signed off, and a packed weekend got even busier.

In case you’re need some help maximizing your college football consumption over the course of the sport’s opening weekend, here’s a potential roadmap:

Thursday, September 1

7:00 pm ET – Charlotte at No. 19 Louisville on ESPN3

Get the weekend started as early as possible with the first match-up featuring a ranked team.

9:00 pm ET – Oregon State at Minnesota on BTN

After you catch the end of Appalachian State at No. 9 Tennessee (7:30 on SEC Network) and South Carolina at Vanderbilt (8:00), flip on over to BTN for a Pac-12-Big Ten battle.

Friday, September 2

7:00 pm ET – Furman at No. 12 Michigan State on BTN

Michigan State is one of the few ranked teams to take on an FCS foe Week One, but it’s worth checking out the Spartans anyway.

9:00 pm ET – Kansas State at No. 8 Stanford on FS1

Stop by FS1 for a power-conference matchup featuring one of the country’s best teams.

Saturday, September 3

7:30 a.m. ET – Georgia Tech vs. Boston College in Dublin on ESPN2

You’ll have to wake up early to catch this ACC contest an ocean away.

12:00 p.m. ET – No. 3 Oklahoma vs. No. 15 Houston at NRG Stadium in Houston on ESPN

The first of the ESPN-created neutral-site games is one of the best of the weekend, a battle of top-15 teams at the home of the Texans.

3:30 p.m. ET – No. 5 LSU at Wisconsin at Lambeau Field on ABC

Oklahoma and Houston should wrap up just in time to flip to this heavyweight matchup at a historic venue. During commercials, check out Josh Rosen and UCLA taking on Texas A&M on CBS.

5:30 p.m. ET – No. 18 Georgia vs. No. 22 North Carolina at the Georgia Dome on ESPN

You might have to leave the previous game a bit early to catch this big-time battle at a decidedly pro-Bulldog neutral site.

8:00 p.m. ET – No. 20 USC vs. No. 1 Alabama at AT&T Stadium in Arlington on ABC

The best team in the nation facing an equally storied foe at a decadent stadium whose crowd should be divided between the two teams? Yes, please.

10:30 p.m. ET – BYU at Arizona on FS1

By the time USC and ‘Bama are done you’ll have pretty much missed Clemson and Auburn, but you can still catch the end of this one.

Sunday, September 4

7:30 p.m. ET – No. 10 Notre Dame at Texas on ABC

After a good night’s sleep and relaxing Sunday, you’ll be ready for this fun matchup. According to ESPN PR, this is the first time in recent memory that ABC has college football on a Sunday night.

Monday, September 5

8:00 p.m. ET – No. 11 Ole Miss vs. No. 4 Florida State at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando

The weekend closes with arguably the best game on the schedule. Two playoff-contending teams square off in Orlando. Welcome to college football season.

About Alex Putterman

Alex is a writer and editor for The Comeback and Awful Announcing. He has written for The Atlantic, VICE Sports,, and more. He is a proud alum of Northwestern University and The Daily Northwestern. You can find him on Twitter @AlexPutterman.

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