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 October 5th.
Ohio State at Northwestern (8 p.m.) – This will be the biggest game played in Evanston since...well, it's been a while. It’s homecoming, the Wildcats will probably be 4-0, they’re coming off a bye week and they’ll be hosting – barring a major upset – an undefeated and top-five Ohio State team. Both teams have experience returning at the skill positions, but the trenches will be key: the Buckeyes have to overhaul their entire defensive line (although they’ll be doing so with top talent) while the Wildcats replace three starters on their offensive line. The Big Ten schedule is favorable to Pat Fitzgerald’s team this season, as they also get division foes Michigan and Michigan State at home.
West Virginia at Baylor (TBD) – If you combine to score 133 points, we will pay attention to your match up the following season. Sadly, West Virginia may be bringing a knife to a gunfight, as it has to replace Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Steadman Bailey against a Baylor team that has kept reloading under Art Briles. Junior Bryce Petty will likely be called upon to fill the shoes of Robert Griffin III and Nick Florence at quarterback, although he’s more of a traditional pocket passer than we’re used to in the Briles system. Oh, and making matters tougher for the visitors? The Bears defense was respectable toward the end of last season, especially considering the power of the offense. Unless West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen can find replacements on offense (Florida State transfer Clint Trickett may help at quarterback, and getting talented Houston transfer Charles Sims in the backfield isn’t going to hurt) and/or find a way to clean up the woeful defense, this could get ugly.
Washington at Stanford (TBD) – The Cardinal were the No. 8 team in the country last year when they fell to the Huskies in an ugly, 17-13 Thursday night upset. That was one of only two losses for David Shaw’s team in 2012 – the other coming on the road at Notre Dame in overtime – and I would wager his elite defense will be looking to get some vengeance. Washington’s defense is improving - 37th in the country last year after being 103rd in 2011 – but will need to hold up against a Stanford offensive line littered with All-Pac-12-level veterans and blue-chip recruits like Andrus Peat and Josh Garnett.
Penn State at Indiana (TBD) – Oh, you’re damn right we’re going to spend a little bit of time talking about a Nittany Lions/Hoosiers game. Bill O’Brien did a masterful job last year, guiding Penn State to an 8-4 record after the fallout from the Sandusky scandal ravaged the program. He even managed to secure five-star quarterback (and potential starter this season) Christian Hackenberg out of Virginia. Kevin Wilson only accrued 4 wins last year at Indiana, but they had some close losses (4 by a total of 8 points) and return 19 starters to what could be the first Indiana team to go bowling since 2007. If they want to reach the postseason, this is one of the swing games they’ll have to try and steal. This game will feature two of the better returning receivers in the conference, as Allen Robinson (Penn State) and Cody Latimer (Indiana) square off. Also notable that the last Penn State at Indiana game was played in the Redskins’ home stadium because college athletics are never, ever about money.
Arizona State vs. Notre Dame at Cowboys Stadium (7:30 p.m., NBC) – Both of these teams have tough Septembers (the Sun Devils play Wisconsin, USC and Stanford, Notre Dame takes on Michigan, Michigan State and Oklahoma), and there’s no rest for them here at Jerry’s World. Some bad blood exists between the schools after Notre Dame tried to get out of next year’s game in Tempe to better accommodate their new ACC obligations, but after some negotiating, that will go on as planned. I imagine Sun Devil AD Steve Patterson and his Irish counterpart Jack Swarbrick will not be exchanging extended pleasantries. Fun fact: This is the third time Brian Kelly has faced Todd Graham while coaching at Notre Dame, with Graham coaching a different team each time (Tulsa in 2010, Pitt in 2011, Arizona State this year).
Other games considered:
LSU at Mississippi State (TBD) - A big, big home game for Dan Mullen's Bulldogs, who are looking to break through with a win against an SEC West contender after getting destroyed in those games last year, including a 37-17 loss to Les Miles' Tigers.
Texas at Iowa State (7:30 p.m., ESPN, Thursday) - Primetime in Ames. Texas' 2013 schedule has a lot of tricky road games on it, and this is certainly one of them. The Horns have taken care of business against Iowa State in recent years, but this one might not be easy.
North Carolina at Virginia Tech (TBD) – After being ineligible for postseason play last year despite an 8-4 record, Larry Fedora’s Tar Heels will attempt to make a run at the Coastal Division crown and slot in the ACC Championship game. That road goes through Frank Beamer, Blacksburg and “Enter Sandman.”
Clemson at Syracuse (TBD) – Syracuse’s ACC opener and one semifinal in the battle of the orangest teams in college sports. (Bowling Green and Illinois would hypothetically square off on the other side of the bracket.)
TCU at Oklahoma (TBD) - In a wide-open Big 12 race, the Horned Frogs could find themselves as league champs in their second year in the conference. A good way to make your case it to knock off Bob Stoops' perennial contender on the road.
This post was updated to reflect Texas' victory over Iowa State in 2011.