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. This week is “Rest up for your rivalries week,” so a lot of teams (Hello Florida, Florida State, Clemson, South Carolina and Alabama) are taking it easy with cupcake opponents.
These games are played the weekend of November 23.
Texas A&M at LSU (TBD) – Kevin Sumlin’s team dropped two SEC games last year: the opener to Florida and a mid-October 24-19 home loss to the Bayou Bengals. The Aggies led 12-0 before the LSU defense started to go to work, forcing five turnovers and not allowing Manziel to throw or run for a single touchdown. On the plus side for A&M, a lot of really talented players from last season’s LSU defense are now in the NFL. On the minus side, instead of the friendly confines of Kyle Field, they have to travel to Death Valley, their first trip to Baton Rouge since 1994. If the Aggie season is going as predicted - they could easily be 9-1 or 10-0 at this point - the atmosphere is going to be amazing.
Oregon at Arizona (TBD) – A trip to Autzen was Rich Rodriguez’s first Pac-12 game last year, and while the Wildcats came in 3-0 and feeling pretty good they were quickly brought down to earth, getting waylaid 49-to-zip. Will the Arizona defense that returns all of its starters be able to improve on last year’s effort, or will they simply be more experienced at watching De’Anthony Thomas run past them? And after shockingly getting shut out, will Year Two of the Rodriguez spread offense in Tucson prove more effective against the Ducks this time around?
Baylor at Oklahoma State (TBD) – I wonder if Art Briles is happy with how the Big 12 schedule ended up breaking for the Bears. On one hand, it would take a couple big upsets for Baylor to go into November worse than 6-1. On the other, their closing stretch is absolutely brutal, as they face Oklahoma, Texas Tech (in Arlington), travel to Oklahoma State and TCU before closing with Texas at home. New quarterback Bryce Petty (there are other options, but every Baylor preview I read has him as the starter) will presumably be comfortable at the controls, but this trip to Stillwater comes in the middle of an incredibly rough stretch. Last year, Baylor won this matchu up 41-34, ending a six-game Cowboys win streak.
Arizona State at UCLA (TBD) – If you are under the impression that there is no true favorite in the Pac-12 South and that it is instead a likely round robin of death between USC, these two teams and possibly Arizona, then this is a huge game. Last year’s edition was 45-43 classic, with the Sun Devils taking a one-point lead with 1:33 remaining only to watch Brett Hundley set up a game-winning field goal that was went through as time expired. If this game is half as fun as that one – which featured a whopping 50 combined second-half points – we’re in for a treat.
Vanderbilt at Tennessee (TBD) – Derek Dooley was fired as head coach on Rocky Top for a number of reasons, but it certainly didn’t help last year was only the second time in three decades that the Commodores have knocked off the Volunteers. What made it worse is that it wasn’t particularly close in the second half, as a 13-10 halftime lead for Tennessee turned into a 41-18 loss. New coach Butch Jones has fans and recruits fired up on speeches and sales pitches, but a victory over their surging instate rival would be tangible evidence that things are getting back to normal in Knoxville.
Other games considered:
Washington at Oregon State (TBD) – Two teams that should just be very solid in 2013 but have a minimal chance of competing for a league title unless something unexpected happens to both Oregon and Stanford.
BYU at Notre Dame (TBD) – Last year’s 14-10 Irish win was less “football game” and more “bored child smashing rocks together while he’s ‘helping’ his parents landscape.” Two of the finest defenses in the land last year square off again, and barring a drastic burst by either offense, points will be hard to come by.
Boise State at San Diego State (10:30 p.m., CBS Sports) – We’re going to need to come up with a Twitter hashtag for these late-night Mountain West games. You might laugh at them now, but they’re going to be quality teams with a late enough start time you can try to recoup your gambling losses from earlier in the day.
Northern Illinois at Toledo (8:00 p.m., ESPN2, Wednesday) – Primetime Jordan Lynch #MACtion! The Rockets are at home and return a bunch of nice pieces on offense, so they should make a capable foil for the Huskies quarterback.
Indiana at Ohio State (TBD) – Last year Indiana only lost this game 52-49. Yes, that was at home and this is on the road, and yes, Ohio State is probably going to be a lot better, but I just feel like this should be noted.
Related coverage on Yahoo! Sports:
• Urban Meyer denies turning in Florida for recruiting violation
• Digger Phelps' bladder cancer is in remission
• Kevin Sumlin up for the challenge of coping with Texas A&M's success