The college football season is a long way off, but it’s never too early to start looking at the best games of the upcoming season. We can’t predict which four teams will still be standing in the end, but the following ten games will surely impact what happens in December. Only a few short months until football returns!
10. LSU vs. Miami, September 2nd
LSU has a tough schedule this year, and it’s underway right off the bat in AT&T Stadium on the first weekend. It remains to be seen if the popular question of whether Miami’s return to the top is true, but what Mark Richt did in his first year as head coach was very impressive as he lead the Hurricanes to the Orange Bowl. Each team is out to prove once again that they’re a national powerhouse.
9. Clemson vs. Florida State, October 27th
We’re going to assume that new head coach Willie Taggert will get the Seminoles back on track with Deondre Francois back at quarterback, otherwise this game doesn’t pop off the screen given Florida State’s horrible venture last season. Clemson will be absolutely loaded on defense and put out one of the best defensive lines at the college level in Christian Wilkins, Austin Bryant, Clelin Ferrell, and Dexter Lawrence—four projected first-round picks next season. Luckily for the Seminoles, this game will be played in the confines of Tallahassee, the main reason I believe this game will be close.
8. Auburn vs. Washington, September 1st
Auburn makes several appearances on our list here, and it’s warranted—they’ll be a top-ten team to start the year and they have three top-ten matchups on the docket this season. Their first test comes against a Washington team hungry to get back to the College Football Playoff, but will need better play from Jake Browning, who saw a significant drop in production last season. Two years ago, he threw for 43 touchdowns and led the Huskies to the CFP. Last year? 18 touchdowns and a Fiesta Bowl loss to Penn State. He’ll need a big game to take down a tough Auburn defense.
7. USC vs. Stanford, September 8th
Last year’s PAC-12 Championship was an instant classic, and there’s no reason to believe that these two teams can’t meet again in the big game this season. The biggest name in Sam Darnold is gone to the NFL, but Clay Helton has plenty of options at quarterback, including the front-runner Matt Fink, a redshirt-sophomore and dual-threat quarterback. As usual, USC reloads on defense with the fourth-ranked recruiting class. For Stanford, they keep their most important player and Heisman frontrunner Bryce Love. K.J. Costello also continues to develop under David Shaw’s offense.
6. West Virginia vs. Oklahoma, November 23rd
We just missed an epic Will Grier-Baker Mayfield quarterback showdown, but we’ll gladly settle for Kyler Murray at the helm in Oklahoma. I had the privilege of watching Murray in high school, and what he did against top-notch Texas talent was nothing short of spectacular. In the span of three years, he threw for 117 touchdowns, rushed for 69 touchdowns, won three straight state championships, and never lost a game. On the other side, Will Grier is a Heisman favorite this season in West Virginia’s high-powered offense. Can they get enough from a defense that allowed 445 yards per game last year?
5. Notre Dame vs. Michigan, September 1st
A battle of the coaches that need this game the most—Jim Harbaugh has not lived up to the hype in his first few seasons at Michigan and Brian Kelly once again blew an opportunity to reach the college football playoff after laying an egg against Miami. The Wolverines will have transfer quarterback Shea Patterson at the helm this season as he is arguably the best quarterback Michigan has seen in the Harbaugh era. That, along with another stout defense, should put Michigan near the top once again. The winner of this game will have a top-15 win on their resume early in the season, and from what we’ve seen from the committee, that is huge come December.
4. Wisconsin vs. Penn State, November 10th
Wisconsin was on the backburner of the College Football Playoff for most of last season because of their incredibly weak schedule, especially after a loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship. A boost in strength of schedule this year should have the Badgers squarely in the conversation and, if they want to reach their first playoff, this is a must-win game. This will be the most balanced team Wisconsin has had in years with the emergence of a legitimate offense. If Wisconsin can go into Happy Valley and take down Heisman candidate Trace McSorley, it will be the signature win they need to prove to the committee that they belong.
3. Auburn vs. Georgia, November 10th
A rematch of the SEC Championship absolutely deserves to make the list, no matter how underwhelming the game last year was. Each team lost key pieces to the draft, including Kerryon Johnson, Carlton Davis, and Braden Smith for Auburn and Roquan Smith, Sony Michel, Isaiah Wynn, and Nick Chubb for Georgia. The Tigers have a tall task ahead of them this season playing Georgia and Alabama on the road, but wins against either team can vault them into the playoff conversation as we saw last year when Auburn reached number two on the committee’s ranking.
For the Bulldogs, it comes down to the play of Jake Fromm. The freshman led Georgia to the National Championship last season and this game will go a long way in determining whether or not he can top last year’s performance.
2. Ohio State vs. Penn State, September 29th
Save the College Football Playoff classics in the Rose Bowl and National Championship, this was the best game of the season last year. The Nittany Lions jumped out to a 21-3 lead in the first half, but the Buckeyes slowly chipped away and outscored Penn State 19-3 in the fourth quarter, including a game-winning touchdown pass from J.T. Barrett with less than two minutes to go.
This year has the potential to be even better. McSorley is expected to be the best quarterback in the Big Ten and contend for a Heisman, and Ohio State once again rebuilds on defense. This game will once again decide the Big Ten’s East representative in the Big Ten Championship game.
1. Auburn vs. Alabama, November 24th
Since the “Kick Six” game in 2013, no Iron Bowl has been decided by less than double digits. The Tide should enter this game undefeated, and the Tigers could have a single loss to the Georgia Bulldogs two weeks prior. As far as matchups go, look for a quarterback battle—not exactly something you hear often in an SEC showdown. Jarrett Stidham could be a Heisman contender for Auburn this season and Tua Tagovailoa is ready to prove that his performance in the title game was no fluke. Alabama has the advantage with the contest in Tuscaloosa, but this will be the best game of the college football season.