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Back by popular demand (or a lack of alternative content), we have the college football Most Intriguing Lists of 2015. That's not necessarily the best, not necessarily the most popular – it's the most intriguing. First week: Most Intriguing Coaches. Second week: Most Intriguing Quarterbacks. Third week: Most Intriguing Non-Quarterbacks. Wrapping up the series this week: Most Intriguing Games.
1. Baylor at TCU, Nov. 27. This time, the winner WILL make the College Football Playoff. Even though both were snubbed last year, the game was madly memorable: the Bears won a 61-58 shootout by scoring the final 24 points in the last 11 minutes. Then they may (or may not) have rubbed a little subliminal salt in the wound in this year’s team picture. In it, senior Jarell Broxton (No. 61) is right next to senior Spencer Drango (No. 58) on the front row. It was a “weird coincidence,” according to a Baylor spokesman. Probably didn’t seem coincidental to the Horned Frogs.
2. Ohio State at Michigan, Nov. 28. Is one of the game’s great rivalries back, with the arrival/return of Jim Harbaugh to Ann Arbor? Eventually Harbaugh vs. Urban Meyer could be the 21st century version of Bo vs. Woody – but how soon? The Buckeyes should be undefeated and the Wolverines defeated multiple times by the time they meet, but that may not matter. Even bust Brady Hoke managed to get his team to play over its head against Ohio State the last couple of years, so expect more of that with Harbaugh in charge and the game in the Big House.
3. Alabama at Auburn, Nov. 28. Seems like sacrilege to put the Iron Bowl way down at third on this list, especially after the last two wild ones. This time, the nation’s fiercest rivalry returns to the scene of the most amazing play in its history: the 109-yard return of a missed Alabama field goal with no time left that catapulted Auburn to the 2013 SEC West title, ultimately to the SEC title and into the final BCS championship game. That ending will never be topped, but the stakes could again be sky-high.
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4. Oregon at Michigan State, Sept. 12. Sexy intersectional matchup played a key role in the 2014 season: the Ducks won in Eugene, launching Marcus Mariota’s Heisman Trophy bid and helping Oregon to a place in the College Football Playoff. The loss put the Spartans behind the Playoff 8-ball, and they stayed there after losing in November to Ohio State. Both teams are ranked in the USA Today top six heading into this season, so the matchup again carries a heavy payload. First huge test for Oregon transfer QB Vernon Adams.
5. Michigan State at Ohio State, Nov. 21. The two programs have alternated delivering haymakers to each other since Meyer came to Columbus in 2012. The Buckeyes won the first meeting 17-16. The Spartans won the next one, a shocking upset in the Big Ten title game that kept Ohio State out of the BCS championship game. And last year the Buckeyes went into Spartan Stadium as a four-point underdog and won, one of the biggest steps in a national championship season. If the 'dog is going to win for the fifth straight year in this series, Mark Dantonio will be a happy man.
6. Alabama at Georgia, Oct. 3. Could be a preview of the SEC championship game, and it starts a rigorous six-game stretch for the Crimson Tide. This also is the first meeting between the two in Athens since Nick Saban’s original Alabama power move – the Tide went between the hedges on an amped September Saturday night in 2008 and destroyed the Bulldogs, marking ‘Bama’s return to heavyweight status. It has maintained that status ever since, while Georgia has continued the elusive search for consistent excellence.
7. Florida State at Clemson, Nov. 7. The Atlantic Coast Conference divisional and overall titles figure to be on the line again in Death Valley when these two meet. The Tigers have lost just seven games the past three seasons, but three of them are to the Seminoles – who, not coincidentally, won the ACC each of those three years. Clemson let Jameis-less Florida State off the hook last year with some short-yardage coaching blunders; can Dabo Swinney & Co. get it right this time?
8. USC at Oregon, Nov. 21. Another game that in theory could be a conference championship preview. Trojans pack a lot of hype into this season, but not since the Pete Carroll days have they gotten into November as a factor in the national title race. Second-year USC coach Steve Sarkisian certainly has something to prove: He’s 0-5 against the Ducks, with every loss by at least three touchdowns.
9. LSU at Alabama, Nov. 7. Annual manly man showdown has a chance to usurp the Iron Bowl and return to Game of the Year status in the SEC. If the Tigers handle Mississippi State (road) and Auburn (home) in weeks two and three, they could be 8-0 going to Tuscaloosa. The idea of seeing Derrick Henry and Leonard Fournette bring 470 pounds of running back awesomeness into the same stadium is quite appealing.
10. Oklahoma’s Baylor-TCU two-step, Nov. 14 and 21. If anyone other than the Bears and Horned Frogs is going to win the Big 12, it’s probably the Sooners. And if they’re going to regain primacy with Bob Stoops’ rejiggered staff, they’ll have to do it on successive Saturdays late in the season. Oklahoma goes to Waco on Nov. 14 to face a Baylor program that has pounded it two years in a row, then hosts TCU on Nov. 21 in a rematch of a game that stamped the Frogs as serious contenders last year. Is Oklahoma back, or still trending toward obsolescence?
11. USC at Notre Dame, Oct. 17. Fighting Irish getting a lot of preseason love, but the front-loaded schedule reaches a climax with this annual rivalry game. If Notre Dame has gotten through Texas, Georgia Tech and Clemson with one or fewer losses, this could be huge. Irish were an injury-riddled mess last season in Los Angeles, losing 49-14. Can they make up five touchdowns on the Trojans in a year?
12. Ohio State at Virginia Tech, Sept. 7. The Buckeyes’ one revenge game of 2015 was shaping up as a beatdown, but then star Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa and a couple of key receivers were suspended. This still should be an OSU victory, but the task has gotten tougher. On the road, Labor Day night – Ohio State has to show up ready.
13. Oregon at Stanford, Nov. 14. These two have split the last six Pac-12 championships – four for the Ducks, two for the Cardinal. In the last five years, the winner of this game has won the league. So, yeah, it’s a big one.
14. Washington at Boise State, Sept. 4. Chris Petersen revisits the program he helped build into an unlikely power. The folks in Boise are quite bullish on this year’s Broncos, who have experience everywhere but quarterback (kind of an important element). If they can beat their old coach week one and win at BYU week two, they could run the table.
15. Michigan at Utah, Sept. 3. The sport lucked into the perfect season lid-lifter. The Most Intriguing Coach in the country makes his Michigan coaching debut on Thursday night, on the road, against a quality opponent. And that quality opponent could reveal a stealth Heisman Trophy candidate in running back Devontae Booker.
16. UCLA at USC, Nov. 28. How do you set yourself up to coach in one place as long as you want? Beat your arch-rival. Jim Mora is 3-0 against the Trojans as the coach of the Bruins – winning the first two as an underdog and easily covering the spread in all three. If Mora can get to 4-0 in this rivalry, it could derail a USC Pac-12 South title bid – and may elevate his own team’s title bid.
17. Louisville vs. Auburn in Atlanta, Sept. 5. On paper it’s a legitimate but manageable opening opponent for the Tigers. Then you factor in Bobby Petrino’s record in season openers – a perfect 10-0. And then you wonder where things stand with problem-child Auburn receiver D’haquille Williams – one of just four returning offensive starters for Gus Malzahn. This could be tougher than it looks for the Tigers.
18. Texas at Notre Dame, Sept. 5. Longhorns’ first true road season opener since 1995 illustrates how college football has finally come around to embracing the first weekend as a showcase opportunity for the sport. With no NFL crowding the calendar, the college programs get to strut their stuff. And there aren’t many with more historic stuff to trot than these two. Expectations are high for great improvement over last year for both teams – which one gets off to the better start?
19. Arkansas at Tennessee, Oct. 3. After both taking strides last year and returning a lot of starters, one of these two will be the breakthrough team in the SEC. Stands to reason it will be the winner of this game. This is the first time Tennessee will play an SEC opponent the week after facing Florida since 2008. Arkansas is coming off a date in JerryWorld against Texas A&M.
20. Michigan State at Michigan, Oct. 17. The Ohio State series hasn’t been as vexing for Wolverines fans in recent years as this one. The Spartans have owned Big Brother, winning six of the last seven, with the last four victories all by a minimum of two touchdowns. Half a season before Harbaugh can get to Meyer, he has to deal with the very difficult Mark Dantonio.
21. Florida State at Georgia Tech, Oct. 24. Coming off what should be competitive games against Miami on Oct. 10 and Louisville on Oct. 17, the Seminoles could step into a trap in Atlanta. Tech creased Florida State for 445 yards and 35 points in the ACC championship game last year, and option wizard Justin Thomas is back to present a perplexing challenge to the FSU defense.
22. Penn State at Ohio State, Oct. 17. Between the opener at Virginia Tech and the closing tandem of Michigan State and Michigan, there isn’t much stress for the defending national champions. Except maybe this game. The Nittany Lions pushed the Buckeyes into double overtime last year, and James Franklin’s second team should be improved. Worth keeping an eye on.
23. Missouri at Georgia, Oct. 17. If Mizzou is going to confound predictions and win the SEC East for the third straight season, it may have to win this game between the hedges. Last time here, the Tigers did just that in 2013. After opening with four home games and trips to Arkansas State and Kentucky, Missouri could be 6-0 heading to Athens.
24. Marshall at Western Kentucky, Nov. 27. The score last year: 67-66. The winner: WKU, which went for two and for the win, and in the process handed the Thundering Herd its only defeat in 14 games. The Hilltoppers return 49-touchdown quarterback Brandon Doughty and a lot of other key players, but Marshall may still be the team to beat in Conference USA.
25. Arizona State vs. Texas A&M in Houston, Sept. 5. If this season becomes a battle between the Pac-12 and SEC for best conference in the country, the first volleys will be fired here. Sun Devils have averaged 37 points per game or better in three seasons under Todd Graham, and the Aggies have averaged 35 or better in three seasons under Kevin Sumlin. Winner may be the team that gets a couple stops.
Just missed the list: Auburn at LSU, Sept. 19; Notre Dame at Clemson, Oct. 3; Mississippi at Mississippi State, Nov. 28; Oklahoma vs. Texas in Dallas, Oct. 10; BYU at Nebraska, Sept. 5; Wisconsin vs. Alabama in Arlington, Sept. 5; Oklahoma at Tennessee, Sept. 12; TCU at Minnesota, Sept. 3; Arizona at Arizona State, Nov. 21; Florida State at Florida, Nov. 28; Clemson at Louisville, Sept. 17; North Carolina vs. South Carolina in Charlotte, Sept. 3; Cincinnati at Houston, Nov. 7; Western Michigan at Northern Illinois, Nov. 18; San Diego State at Penn State, Sept. 26.
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