By conference, the Big Ten leads the way with eight members opening with a Power 5 opponent, the ACC follows with six, the Pac-12 and SEC tie with three representatives apiece and the Big 12 comes in last with two. Notre Dame is the only independent on the list.
Three of the 12 matchups are Big Ten conference games and two are between ACC members. That leaves a mere seven contests featuring Power programs from different leagues.
Though the degree of challenge varies across the handful of big-time opening matchups, all represent a substantially greater test than the Group of 5 and FCS opponents the rest of the field will face. These select teams will need to be playing their A-game early to avoid a 0-1 start.
The only Week Zero Power 5 vs. Power 5 matchup, the Cornhuskers and Wildcats have met consecutively since 2011 as members of the Big Ten’s western contingency. Nebraska kicked off its last two seasons vs. a conference foe, losing at Illinois last year and falling at (5) Ohio State in 2020. It hasn’t opened with a win over a Power opponent since 2003 when, as a member of the Big 12, it iced (24) Oklahoma State in Lincoln. This is Northwestern’s fifth-straight opener vs. a Power 5 foe, wins came at Purdue and vs. Maryland (in 2018 and 2020) while losses were at Stanford and vs. Michigan State (in 2019 and 2021). The Huskers lead the all-time series 9-6 but the two have split the last four games, the home team winning on each occasion.
The return of the Backyard Brawl, this is West Virginia and Pitt’s first meeting since the Mountaineers fled the Big East for the Big 12 after the 2011 season. WVU opened the season with a P5 opponent as recently as 2021, falling 30-24 at Maryland. Its last such win came in 2018 when it kicked off with a 40-14 beatdown of Tennessee in Charlotte. Pitt last started the season with a Power foe in 2019, falling to Virginia at home. It hasn’t opened with a win over a P5 program since 2006, a 38-13 home triumph over the Cavaliers. The Panthers lead the all-time series 61-40-3 and have won three-straight.
The second of the three Big Ten matchups, this is Penn State’s third-straight season to open vs. a conference foe, losing at Indiana in 2020 and winning at (12) Wisconsin last year. Purdue opened 2019 with a loss at Nevada but has since righted the ship with kickoff wins at home over Iowa in 2020 and Oregon State last season. The Nittany Lions hold a commanding 15-3-1 lead in the all-time series and have won nine-straight.
While this is indeed the season opener for the Hoosiers, for the Illini – which hosts Wyoming in Week Zero – it’s game number two. This is Indiana’s third-straight opener vs. a Big Ten opponent, edging then (8) Penn State 36-35 in 2020 and falling 34-6 at (18) Iowa last year. Illinois and Indiana haven’t clashed since 2017, the Illini lead the all-time series 45-24-2 but the Hoosiers have won three-straight.
TCU has opened vs. an FCS opponent every season since 2016 with only one exception – in 2020 when it, due to the pandemic, was forced to start late with a league game resulting in a loss to Iowa State. It last beat a P5 member in a season opener in 2015, a 23-17 decision at Minnesota. Other than 2020 (when it opened with a win over UCLA in November), Colorado hasn’t kicked off vs. a Power foe since 1996 when it, in its first year as a member of the new Big 12, began with a victory over Washington State. The Buffs’ long drought is due to its practice of scheduling instate rival Colorado State in the opener, which it’s done 19 times since 1997. This is TCU and Colorado’s first-ever meeting on the gridiron.
Rutgers has only played a Power opponent to start the season once since 2017, in 2020 when it, due to the pandemic, didn’t play a non-conference schedule and opened instead in late October at Michigan State (a 38-27 win). Boston College kicked off with a Power foe as recently as 2020, winning 26-6 at Duke. The Eagles lead the all-time series 20-6-1 and have won 11 straight.
This is Georgia’s fourth-straight opener vs. a Power 5 foe (wins over Clemson, Arkansas, and Vandy) while for Oregon it’s the first since 2020 when it kicked off its pandemic-abbreviated campaign in November with a win over Stanford. The Bulldogs and Ducks have only met once previously – 45-years ago in the 1977 season opener in Athens, a 27-16 win for UGA.
Though Utah opened the shortened 2020 season with a loss vs. (20) USC and then won at BYU to kick off 2019, it hasn’t scheduled a true Power 5 member in its opener since 2015, a 24-17 win vs. Michigan. Florida opened with a big win at Ole Miss to start the pandemic-compromised 2020 season and scored a 24-20 opening win in Orlando over Miami Fla. the year before, in 2019. The Utes and Gators have only met once previously, like Georgia and Oregon – the other SEC vs. Pac-12 matchup on the docket – 45 years ago, in 1977 – a 38-29 win for Florida in Gainesville.
The last time Notre Dame failed to open a season vs. a P5 member was in 2017, when it destroyed Temple 49-16 in South Bend. It hasn’t fallen in a season opener since the year before that, in 2016, a 50-47 decision at Texas. Ohio State kicked off vs. a non-Power club as recently as 2019, manhandling FAU 45-21 in Columbus. It hasn’t lost a season opener since 1999, a 23-12 defeat to then (12) Miami Fla. in East Rutherford, N.J. The Irish and Buckeyes last met in the 2015-16 Fiesta Bowl, OSU leads the series 4-2 and has won four-straight. Notre Dame’s only wins came in a home-and-home series in 1935/36.
Co-members of the ACC-Atlantic, Louisville and Syracuse have only missed playing one another on one occasion since 2005. The Orange have only kicked off vs. a Power 5 opponent once since 2014, suffering a defeat at (18) North Carolina in 2020, the year of the re-schedule. It hasn’t scored a win over a P5 club in an opener since 2011 vs. Wake Forest. The Cardinals have opened vs. a P5 foe every season since 2017 with only one exception, a 35-21 win over Western Kentucky in 2020. Losses were to Alabama, Notre Dame, and Ole Miss (2018, 2019, and 2021) and the sole P5 win came over Purdue (2017). Louisville leads the all-time series 13-7 and has won three-straight.
Like Illinois, Florida State’s season opens a week early with a Week Zero home game vs. FCS Duquesne. LSU has kicked off its last two campaigns with a P5 opponent, falling to Mississippi State at home in 2020 and losing at UCLA last season. It’s last opening win over a Power foe came in 2018 when it upset then (8) Miami Fla. 33-17 in Arlington, Texas. The Tigers and ‘Noles haven’t clashed since 1991, FSU leads the all-time series 7-2 and has won the last four.
The Tigers and Yellow Jackets are permanent (at least for now) cross-division rivals. This is the fourth consecutive season that Clemson has kicked off vs. a Power 5 opponent, most recently falling 10-3 to (5) Georgia last year. Its last such win came the year before when it began with a 37-13 victory at Wake Forest. Georgia Tech last opened against a P5 in 2020, a 16-13 win at Florida State. The Yellow Jackets lead the all-time series 50-34-2 but Clemson has won seven-straight.
Historical data courtesy of Sports Reference/College Football.