Spring practice has ended everywhere (UCLA's spring game, the last one, was Saturday), which now means nuclear winter is here for college football fans: No football until camps open in early August.
To try to ease the pain, we've put together a list of the 10 best games in September (albeit one is in August). And there definitely are some good ones. The problem, of course, is that the first one is 117 days away.
Yikes. That means a long wait.
10. Georgia at Missouri, Sept. 8: Mizzou's first-ever SEC game comes against East Division favorite Georgia; remember that despite geographical logic, Missouri has been placed in the SEC East. Be prepared to spend the summer reading about whether the Tigers (as well as fellow Big 12 expatriate Texas A&M) will be able to handle the week-to-week toughness that will be on hand in the SEC. An intriguing offseason storyline will be whether Missouri QB James Franklin is able to rehab his injured shoulder in time to be ready for this one.
9. Boise State at Michigan State, Aug. 31 (8 p.m./ESPN): This will be Boise State's second game against a Big Ten foe. The first came in 1997, when the Broncos fell at Wisconsin in their second season of Division I-A football (now called FBS); it was just the second game of Houston Nutt's only season at Boise. This looks to be a rebuilding season for Boise, which returns just six fulltime starters including only one on defense. Michigan State has eight starters back on what should be one of the best defenses in the nation; the Spartans' offense has some questions, though.
8. LSU at Auburn, Sept. 22: This will be LSU's SEC opener; Auburn plays Mississippi State on Sept. 8 in its league opener. Three of LSU's first four league games come on the road (Florida and Texas A&M are the others, with a visit from South Carolina also looming in the first half of the conference schedule), and this also will be its first road game of the season. LSU has won four of the past five in the series; Auburn's lone win came in 2010, when it won the national title. LSU heads into the season in every top five poll, but numerous questions remain for Auburn, which has new coordinators on both sides of the ball.
7. Ohio State at Michigan State, Sept. 29: This will be the first Big Ten game for new Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer, and it comes against what should be one of the league's best teams. This also will be the first road game of the season for Ohio State, which plays just four times away from home this season. The Buckeyes managed just 178 total yards in losing to Michigan State last season. Both teams look stout on defense, and in Es William Gholston (Michigan State) and John Simon (Ohio State), two potential All-Americans will be on view. But both offenses have issues, especially the Buckeyes'.
6. Clemson at Florida State, Sept. 22: These two should be the ACC's highest-ranked teams in the preseason polls, and this contest will go a long way toward deciding who wins the league's Atlantic Division championship. Clemson has won four of the past six and six of the past nine in the series. But FSU has won three of the past four vs. Clemson in Tallahassee. FSU looks as if it will have the (far better) defense; Clemson should have the more explosive offense.
5. Alabama vs. Michigan in Arlington, Texas, Sept. 1: This is the best non-conference game of the season. Two of the most storied programs in history get together for just the fourth time; the three previous meetings were in bowls, with the most recent coming in the Orange Bowl following the 1999 season. Alabama is a lock to open the season in the top 10, and the Wolverines should be in there, too. This will be the third time in five years that Alabama has opened the season in a neutral-site game; the other two were in Atlanta. A Michigan win would be a huge boost for the national perception of the Big Ten.
4. Wisconsin at Nebraska, Sept. 29: The Badgers manhandled the Huskers last season, winning 48-17. Can Nebraska get some payback? This is the conference opener for both – and also Nebraska's homecoming. Despite some big personnel losses, Wisconsin looks to be the best team in the Big Ten's Leaders Division; meanwhile Nebraska looks to be behind Michigan and Michigan State in the Legends Division pecking order. A Huskers win could shake things up – and also show the Legends is far better than the Leaders this season.
3. USC at Stanford, Sept.15: This is the Pac-12 opener for both. USC is going to head into the season in the top three thanks to the return of QB Matt Barkley, the preseason Heisman frontrunner. This will be the Cardinal's first true test of the season without QB Andrew Luck. A lot of folks assume Stanford is going to slide back to the middle of the Pac-12 without Luck. This is a chance for the Cardinal to prove otherwise.
2. Texas at Oklahoma State, Sept. 29: The Big 12 opener is a doozy for both teams, with each wanting to prove it is a legit league-title contender. Texas leads the series 22-4, but Oklahoma State has won the past two after losing 12 in a row – and both the wins came in Austin. Texas has underachieved the past two years, and this will be the first true test for the Longhorns this season. This starts a murderous three-game stretch for Texas, which plays West Virginia and Oklahoma after it meets the Cowboys. Oklahoma State lost the prolific pass-catch combo of Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon. Chances are coach Mike Gundy and his staff still will put a prolific offense on the field, but that Cowboys defense needs a ton of improvement.
1. Alabama at Arkansas, Sept. 15: This is the SEC opener for both, and also the first opponent of the season with a pulse for the Hogs. It was setting up as an intriguing Bobby Petrino-Nick Saban matchup until Petrino was fired last month. Petrino's play-calling ability gave Arkansas' offense a certain swagger; will it have the swagger without Petrino? An Arkansas win stamps the Hogs as a legit national title contender. A loss? Third place in the SEC West beckons. Alabama has won five in a row over Arkansas and hammered the Hogs last season in Tuscaloosa.
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