Hired to restore the tarnished image at Notre Dame, Willingham begins that quest Saturday night when the Fighting Irish play 20th-ranked Maryland in the final Kickoff Classic at Giants Stadium in New Jersey.
Willingham decided to leave Stanford and take over Notre Dame, a storied program that has not won a national championship since 1988. He was hired following an embarrassing sequence of events in which George O'Leary was forced to step down over discrepancies on his resume. That came after Bob Davie was fired following a 5-6 season.
Despite all the troubles, it was the tradition that helped bring him to South Bend.
"History and tradition, you embrace it, enjoy it, because there are very few places that can match it, so that's something that you put in your pocket and you call on it when you need it," Willingham said.
Carr, coach of 10th-ranked Michigan, will call upon his Wolverines to seek redemption when they face No. 9 Washington in Saturday's lone college football matchup between top 10 teams.
Michigan controlled the tempo against the Huskies for three quarters last year in Seattle. But Washington's Omare Lowe blocked a field goal attempt that was returned 77 yards for a touchdown and took back an interception 27 yards for a score 51 seconds later to lift the Huskies to a 23-18 win.
Carr watched plenty of film of last season's game, but still plans to look ahead.
"The thing about a season opener is the unknown," Carr said. "There are probably a lot of guys that will that will show up on the field on both sides that will surprise people."
John Navarre threw two interceptions in last year's game, including the one returned for a score by the now-departed Lowe, but will be back behind center this week for the Wolverines.
The Labor Day weekend will be a busy one in college football, with No. 11 Ohio State the only ranked team not in action.
Top-ranked Miami opens defense of its national title when it hosts Division I-AA Florida A&M on Saturday night. The Hurricanes own the nation's longest winning streak at 22 games and should use the contest as tuneup for a Sept. 7 date at No. 7 Florida.
The Gators will play their first game under coach Ron Zook on Saturday when they host Alabama-Birmingham. Zook replaces Steve Spurrier, who left to become coach of the NFL's Washington Redskins.
Second-ranked Texas, with Chris Simms at quarterback, opens its season at North Texas. No. 4 Tennessee, minus injured receiver Kelley Washington, opens its season when it plays Wyoming in Nashville. Washington is sidelined with a knee sprain.
No. 5 Florida State (1-0) struggled to a 38-31 win over Iowa State last week and will play its homer opener Saturday against Virginia (0-1). The Cavaliers played the first game of the season on Aug. 22, losing to Colorado State, 35-29.
Colorado State (1-0) seeks its second win in as many weeks when it plays Colorado in Denver. The Buffaloes must find a way to contain Cecil Sapp, who exploded for 178 rushing yards in the win over Virginia.
No. 8 Nebraska (1-0), which routed Arizona State, 48-10, last week, plays Troy State.
One of the more entertaining games on Saturday should be No. 12 Georgia opposing Clemson. Georgia coach Mark Richt was a long-time assistant under Bobby Bowden at Florida State. Clemson is coached by Bowden's son, Tommy.
"I always dreaded that game against Clemson," said Richt, who enters his second year at Georgia. "You knew that if you didn't beat his son, it wouldn't be good. I guess I will have that pit in my stomach. It's like going against a relative."
In other games Saturday, No. 13 Washington State plays Nevada in Seattle, No. 15 Oregon hosts Mississippi State, No. 17 Michigan State welcomes Eastern Michigan, No. 21 South Carolina hosts New Mexico State, No. 22 Marshall entertains Appalachian State, No. 23 Penn State hosts Central Florida, No. 24 North Carolina State (1-0) plays East Tennessee State and No. 25 Wisconsin (1-0) is at Nevada-Las Vegas.
With the start of the NFL season a week away, two games are scheduled for Sunday. No. 16 Virginia Tech (1-0) hosts defending Southeastern Conference champion and 14th-ranked Louisiana State. Virginia Tech routed Arkansas State, 63-7 last week and features running back Lee Suggs, who is back after missing almost all of last season with a knee injury.
No. 18 Louisville entertains Kentucky on Sunday night.
Auburn plays in the state of California for the first time in 66 years when it faces No. 19 Southern California on Monday night.