The start of the 2012 season is just three weeks away – 11 games involving FBS teams will be televised Aug. 30 – and it can't get here fast enough after a tumultuous offseason.
Here's a look at the best game each weekend this fall.
The game: Alabama vs. Michigan in Arlington, Texas The reason: This is the best nonconference game of the season. Two of the most storied programs in history meet for just the fourth time; the three previous contests were in bowls, with the most recent coming in the Orange Bowl following the 1999 season. 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 – and for Wolverines coach Brady Hoke. Also of note: Boise State at Michigan State on Aug. 31; Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech on Sept. 3.
The game: Florida at Texas A&M and Georgia at Missouri The reason: This is the opening weekend of the NFL, so maybe that's why the college schedule is so weak. It's the most uninspiring week of the entire season. We're going with a SEC doubleheader of sorts, with Mizzou and A&M being welcomed into the league with visits from two of the league's better programs.
The game: Alabama at Arkansas The reason: This is the SEC opener for both. This also will be the first true test for the Hogs without Bobby Petrino calling plays. An Arkansas win means the Hogs would become SEC West title contenders – which means they also would become national title contenders. This is the second big game in September for the Tide, which opens with Michigan. Wins over the Wolverines and Hogs almost certainly would mean Alabama would be 8-0 when it travels to play LSU on Nov. 3 (more on that in a minute). Alabama has won five in a row over the Hogs. Also of note: USC at Stanford
The game: Clemson at Florida State The reason: These could be the two best teams in the ACC; at the least, they are two of the top three teams in the league. They also happen to be in the same division, so this could determine who wins the league's Atlantic Division championship. Clemson should have the best offense in the league; FSU will have the best defense. Clemson has won four of the past six and six of the past nine in the series.
The game: Texas at Oklahoma State The reason: The Big 12 opener for both, and it will be tough (impossible?) for the loser to win the league title. Texas leads the series 22-4, but Oklahoma State has won the past two. A Texas win means the Longhorns will have to be taken seriously as a league contender. A Texas loss will start the teeth-gnashing from the segment of Longhorns fans who wonder if Mack Brown needs to go. An Oklahoma State win means the Cowboys will have to be taken seriously as a league contender. An Oklahoma State loss will lead many to believe the Cowboys are headed for a middle-of-the pack finish in the conference race. This starts a tough three-game stretch for Texas, which plays West Virginia and Oklahoma after it meets the Cowboys. Also of note: Wisconsin at Nebraska
The game: Georgia at South Carolina The reason: Steve Spurrier's presence in Columbia has turned this into a rivalry. There's no one Spurrier likes beating more than the Bulldogs, and the Gamecocks have done it two seasons in a row. This is the most important SEC East game of the season; it's basically a must-win for the Gamecocks because their league schedule is much tougher than Georgia's. Georgia can lose and still have a shot at the division title; that is not the case for the Gamecocks. Also of note: West Virginia at Texas
The game: Oklahoma vs. Texas in Dallas The reason: The "Red River Shootout" is just one of three annual neutral-site games now (Florida-Georgia and Army-Navy are the others), and it will be the most important this season. The possibility exists that both will be unbeaten at game time (though that possibility is stronger for OU than for the Longhorns). In that scenario, the winner takes a huge step toward winning the Big 12 title. And if one is unbeaten but not the other, the potential of spoiling the unbeaten rival's season makes for fun times.
The game: Michigan State at Michigan The reason: Michigan State fans always will have a soft spot in their hearts for former Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez; he was the losing coach in this rivalry in all three of his seasons in Ann Arbor, and the Spartans also won last season, giving them four consecutive victories over the hated Wolverines. That ties the Spartans' longest winning streak in the series. Last season's victory also helped Michigan State win the Big Ten Legends Division title, and the winner of this one likely takes the division this season.
The game: Michigan State at Wisconsin The reason: It's the second of three huge games for the Spartans, who play Michigan the week before and Nebraska the week after. These teams met twice last season, with the Spartans winning in the regular season and the Badgers returning the favor in the Big Ten championship game; that snapped the Spartans' three-game winning streak in the series. This is the toughest game of the season for Wisconsin – and it also happens to be the Badgers' homecoming.
The game: Alabama at LSU The reason: This is a monster weekend, as a case can be made that the nation's four best teams will be playing each other. Alabama-LSU gets the nod over Oregon-USC because barring lightning striking again in the same place, the Tide and Tigers won't play again; the Ducks and Trojans could (should, actually) meet in the Pac-12 title game. The SEC West title should be on the line when Alabama invades Tiger Stadium for a night game, which means the Tigers' fans will be (extremely) well-oiled and in full throat. Also of note: Oregon at USC
The game: Florida State at Virginia Tech The reason: This has the potential to be the first of two meetings this season for these teams, as each is favored in its ACC division. This should be a low-scoring, grind-it-out affair; both defenses should be among the 10 best in the nation, and both offenses … well, they won't be among the 10 best in the nation. These teams have met just twice in the regular season as ACC opponents, though they have met two other times in the league championship game.
The game: Stanford at Oregon The reason: On paper, at least, these teams appear to be miles ahead of any other teams in the Pac-12 North, so the division title should be on the line (and both already will have played prohibitive South Division favorite USC). And if recent history is a guide, expect a ton of points. The winning team has scored at least 50 points in each of the past three meetings, and the point totals in those matchups have been 93 in 2009 and 83 in '10 and '11.
The game: LSU at Arkansas The reason: LSU has lost in its past two trips to Fayetteville. The Tigers won by 24 last season in Baton Rouge, but the combined margin of victory in the previous three matchups between these teams was just 12 points. Of course, all four of those games came with Bobby Petrino coaching the Hogs.
The game: SEC championship game in Atlanta The reason: Come on – it's a safe bet that the winner will advance to the national championship game. After all (everyone together now), the SEC has won the past six national titles.
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