The college football offseason is long and arduous, but its end is almost in sight. We’re going to take a look at five games you have to look forward to for every weekend of the season. (This is also a handy guide to decide how to RSVP for any autumn weddings.)
All times are Eastern and all games are played on Saturday unless otherwise noted.
These games take place the weekend of November 22.
Previously: Week One (August 30) ~ Week Two (September 6) ~ Week Three (September 13) ~ Week Four (September 20) ~ Week Five (September 27) ~ Week Six (October 4) ~ Week Seven (October 11) ~ Week Eight (October 18) ~ Week Nine (October 25) ~ Week Ten (November 1) ~ Week Eleven (November 8) ~ Week Twelve (November 15)
(If you have to take a weekend off this season, this is probably the Saturday. With so many rivalries in Week Fourteen, there are a lot of FBS vs. FCS games and as you’re about to see, the pickings were a little slim when putting this together.)
USC at UCLA (TBD)
The battle for Los Angeles could have considerable stakes this year in addition to the usual cross-town bragging rights and recruiting cache, including potential berths in the PAC-12 title game and/or inaugural playoffs. Both of these schools are loaded with top talent, and UCLA has handled the Trojans the last two years after getting rocked 50-0 in 2011, the game that served as the final nail in Rick Neuheisel’s coffin. With a new coach and incredible talent at the top of the depth chart, the Trojans have managed to get pegged as both a sleeper and a favorite in 2014, with dark horse Heisman contenders at quarterback (Cody Kessler), tailback (Javorius “Buck” Allen) and receiver (Nelson Agholor). The Bruins are anything but a sleeper, with Brett Hundley back at quarterback and the combination of Myles Jack and Eric Kendricks patrolling at linebacker. The PAC-12 schedule offers no mercy, but this could be a late November battle of top-five teams.
Wisconsin at Iowa (TBD)
A little less flashy than the Trojans and Bruins, this Midwest border war could easily decide the fate of the Big Ten’s West division. Wisconsin took out the Hawkeyes 28-9 in Iowa City last year but Iowa appears to be bringing back a more balanced squad. (The Hawkeyes host in consecutive years due to the Big Ten blowing up the schedule to incorporate Rutgers and Maryland. ) It seems odd to even suggest this, but you could see a mild shootout breakout here as both teams return their starting backfields and a majority of offensive linemen against defenses with fresh front sevens. (It was a 31-30 Wisconsin win in 2010, so it’s not that far out of a suggestion.) The Badgers will need to find some new targets for either returning quarterback Joel Stave or potential usurper Tanner McEvoy (a transfer who played safety last year), as they lose every receiver of note including All-Big Ten contributor Jared Abbrederis .
North Carolina at Duke (7:30 p.m., Thursday)
Last year’s edition of the battle for the Victory Bell came down to a late kick and a late pick, as Duke went ahead 27-25 on a 27-yard field goal with 2:22 left before picking off Marquise Williams at the Blue Devil 29-yard line to seal the game. That victory gave Duke ten wins, a spot in the ACC title game and consecutive wins over the Tar Heels, the final accomplishment last achieved in 1988 and ‘89. The Blue Devils should be in position to defend their division crown in a packed Coastal Division, returning their leading passer, receiver and rusher in addition to nearly all of their defensive standouts. North Carolina has to replace standout tight end Eric Ebron and lynchpin safety Tre Boston, but they have a dynamic quarterback in Marquise Williams (who apparently has the endorsement of Peyton Manning) and the heart of their front seven returning. This game might have enough hype to make folks on Tobacco Road forget about Jahlil Okafor and Justin Jackson for a night.
Northern Illinois at Ohio (8:00 p.m., Tuesday)
Bowling Green at Toledo (8:00 p.m., Wednesday)
Weeknight MACtion! With some considerable stakes! All of these teams save for Toledo have played in the MAC title game over the last three years, with the Rockets’ path perennially blocked by a gentleman named Jordan Lynch (Toledo was 18-6 over those three seasons, but couldn’t beat the Huskies). These are both cross-divisional games, meaning they’ll serve as potential previews for the title game and a chance for the nation to get comfortable with guys like Bowling Green quarterback Matt Johnson and the linebacking duo of Junior Sylvestre and Chase Murdock from Toledo, who combined for 227 tackles in 2013.
Other games to consider:
Louisville at Notre Dame (3:30 p.m.)
South Bend is going to get covered in red as these two square off for the first time on the football field. (They’re very familiar on the basketball court.) A chance to see some really strong running back duos, as the Cardinals roll in with Dominique Brown and former Auburn star Michael Dyer while the Irish counter with sophomores Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston.
Oregon State at Washington (TBD)
The Huskies overwhelmed the Beavers on the road last year, picking off Sean Mannion three times and establishing a 48-0 fourth quarter lead before cruising to a 69-27 final. Presumptive 2014 Washington quarterback Cyler Miles started in place of an injured Keith Price so he’ll be comfortable against Mike Riley’s defense, but he’ll be going in without the services of graduated tailback Bishop Sankey, who rolled up 179 yards and three scores on the day.
Oklahoma State at Baylor (TBD)
At this point at least some of the youth in Mike Gundy’s depth chart should have some seasoned Big 12 vets, which will come in handy as they travel to play a Baylor team they knocked from the ranks of the unbeaten last year. Also an opportunity to check out Baylor’s new stadium, which looks really nice.
Minnesota at Nebraska (TBD)
This could potentially be a bigger game than Wisconsin/Iowa depending on how the early season schedule shakes out. The Golden Gophers had their way with the Huskers last year in Minneapolis, rushing for 271 yards in a 34-23 win, their first in the series since 1960.
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