Back by semi-popular demand (my editor and a guy down the street said they liked it), we have the second annual Most Intriguing series previewing the 2013 college football season. This week: the 25 most intriguing games:
1. Alabama at Texas A&M, Sept. 14. Johnny Football vs. Nicky Hardware, the matchup fans have been talking about since five minutes after last season ended. Two-time defending champs against defending Heisman Trophy winner, who pretty much won the award last year in a shocking upset in Tuscaloosa. This time around, both could be ranked in the top five. Of course, we all know Nick Saban isn’t big on the concept of revenge games … Hahaha.
2. Oregon at Stanford, Nov. 7. The past two years, the visitor has inflicted the lone loss of the season on the home team. The Ducks were on track to play for the national title last year until being upset by the Cardinal, and in 2011 Oregon ruined Andrew Luck’s dream of a perfect senior season. This year, the two Pac-12 heavies hook up on a Thursday in what could be the biggest weeknight game in recent college football history.
3. LSU at Alabama, Nov. 9. This rivalry has been the most important, most talent-laden and most intense in the nation the last two years. In fact, it can be argued that the Tigers are responsible for both of the Crimson Tide’s last two defeats – in 2011 in the regular season and last year, when an emotionally flat and physically bruised 'Bama team was stunned the following week by Texas A&M.
4. Georgia at Clemson, Aug. 31. When quarterbacks Aaron Murray and Tajh Boyd both came back for their senior years, this became a marquee season opener between neighbors with national title aspirations. The Tigers took a big step forward in respectability by beating LSU in the Chik-Fil-A Bowl last year, and a second straight win over an SEC power would be huge. For the Bulldogs, this begins an incredible opening month of the season, with South Carolina and LSU both to come in September.
[Related: What to expect from SEC football]
5. Ohio State at Michigan, Nov. 30. “Ohio” vs. “That School Up North” is a reinvigorated rivalry with Brady Hoke and Urban Meyer in charge. This year the Buckeyes have the schedule to again go undefeated – but no postseason ban to limit the stakes. The final regular-season roadblock to that would be in the Big House against the hated Wolverines. There isn’t much better in college football than an Ohio State-Michigan game with national title implications.
6. UCLA at USC, Nov. 30. The Bruins shook up Los Angeles by pounding the Trojans last year for their first win in the series since 2006, and just their second since 1999. This time around, Lane Kiffin could be fighting for his job – no matter what Pat Haden said in July – or both teams could be battling for the Pac-12 South title. On either end of that spectrum, the implications will be significant.
7. Florida State at Florida, Nov. 30. In a '90s flashback, both teams were ranked in the AP Top Ten last year. And when the seven-point underdog Gators scored a big win in Tallahassee, the rivalry regained some of the old juice. The Seminoles could possibly be playing in their 36th consecutive game as a favorite (according to Phil Steele’s yearbook) when this game kicks off. One or both teams could have national aspirations on the line.
8. Texas vs. Oklahoma in Dallas, Oct. 12. Among the many frustrations of the previous three seasons for Longhorns fans is the return to Sooner Punching Bag status. Texas has lost three straight to Oklahoma, the last two utter blowouts – a trend Mack Brown needs to reverse. Kansas State and Oklahoma State have been the Big 12 power teams the past two years, but this game is still the centerpiece of the league schedule.
9. Notre Dame at Michigan, Sept. 7. The first time the Fighting Irish visited Ann Arbor for a football game was 1898. This may be the last time – at least it’s the last one scheduled between the two traditional powers. The last four meetings between the two have been wild and unpredictable, all decided by seven points or less. No reason not to expect more of the same this time around.
10. South Carolina at Georgia, Sept. 7. Is Aaron “Ain’t Skeered” Murray really afraid of Jadeveon “He Scurred” Clowney? We’ll find out between the hedges in an early game that should heavily influence the outcome of the SEC East.
11. Ohio State at Northwestern, Oct. 5. This may be the Trap Game of the Year in college football. The Buckeyes go to Evanston a week after playing Wisconsin in what has become an annual donnybrook. The Wildcats come in off an open date, and previous games against Maine and Western Michigan. And Northwestern is good, with a ton of returning talent from a 10-win team.
12. LSU at Georgia, Sept. 28. The Tigers’ first true road game of the season is also the Bulldogs’ last gauntlet game of the first month, coming after showdowns with Clemson and South Carolina. But Georgia does have something of a two-week bye before this one, with an open date Sept. 14 and North Texas on Sept. 21. LSU makes this road trip a week after hosting Auburn, and it is week five in a nine-week run of games without a bye to start the season.
13. Florida State at Clemson, Oct. 19. This is as good as it gets in the pigskin-challenged ACC. Figures to be a knockout game in the Atlantic Division and perhaps the national championship race. The Seminoles haven’t won in Death Valley since 2001, but that streak can no longer be blamed on Daddy Bowden letting Tommy Boy win. Dabo Swinney took down Jimbo Fisher in 2011.
14. Florida at Miami, Sept. 7. One of the hottest dormant rivalries in America comes back to life. The two teams played annually from 1944-87, but have played just five times since – twice in bowl games. The Hurricanes actually lead the series and have won six of the last seven, but Miami is definitely the team with more to prove in this game. This could be a statement game for Al Golden.
15. Oklahoma State at Texas, Nov. 16. The Cowboys are just 4-23 against the Longhorns all-time, but two of those victories have come in the last three years – and both in Austin. If there really is a new sheriff in Big 12 land, Oklahoma State probably needs to win this game to prove it. If Texas really is back as a national power, it probably needs to win this game to reinforce it.
16. Oregon at Washington, Oct. 12. Under Steve Sarkisian, the Huskies have upset five ranked teams in four years – four of them in Seattle. But they’re also stuck on a seven-win plateau for the past three seasons, which is well short of the program’s aspirations. This is a huge opportunity for Washington and Sarkisian – and perhaps the first major test of the year for Oregon and new head coach Mark Helfrich.
17. Western Kentucky vs. Kentucky in Nashville, Aug. 31. No, this game will not have any national implications. But it is the return from exile of new Hilltoppers coach Bobby Petrino. If he can beat what should be a bad Kentucky squad and then take down a shaky Tennessee team the next week – two schools that had no interest in hiring Petrino last offseason – how many athletic directors pondering a coaching change will forget all about that motorcycle wreck in 2012?
18. Texas A&M at Mississippi, Oct. 12. In a scheduling quirk, the Aggies must come to Oxford for the second year in a row – and the trip there last season nearly ended in defeat. Ole Miss led by 10 points with less than half a quarter remaining before A&M rallied to win. This time around it is just the second home game for the rising Rebels, who previously will have played at Vanderbilt, Texas, Alabama and Auburn.
19. Notre Dame at Stanford, Nov. 30. Rematch of a game that helped frame the entire 2012 season. If the Fighting Irish aren’t credited with an epic (and controversial) goal-line stand in the driving rain to win the game, then it might have been the Cardinal playing for the national title instead. There may be major implications again this year when they meet in Palo Alto to end the regular season.
20. Virginia Tech vs. Alabama in Atlanta, Aug. 31. First look at the potential three-peaters, and possibly the last stand of Frank Beamer as a championship-caliber coach. The Hokies don’t have to win, but being competitive might restore some fan faith in the 27-year head coach – especially heading into a very easy ACC schedule (no Florida State, no Clemson). If Tech doesn’t return to double-digit victories after the 7-6 dip last year, expect the drumbeat for change to intensify.
21. Wisconsin at Ohio State, Sept. 28. This has been the marquee Big Ten matchup in recent years. Last four Rose Bowl reps have either been the Badgers (three times) or Buckeyes (once). Wisconsin has won five of the last 12 meetings with Ohio State, and the last two meetings have been thrillers. If new coach Gary Andersen wants to see his popularity skyrocket, upsetting Urban Meyer in Columbus would do the trick.
22. Louisville at Cincinnati, Dec. 5. With a Thursday night stage to themselves, there could be a whole lot on the line: American Athletic Conference title, undefeated season for the Cardinals, Heisman Trophy candidacy for Teddy Bridgewater. Tommy Tuberville can be tough in end-of-season rivalry games. Just ask Alabama.
23. Florida State at Pittsburgh, Sept. 2. The Panthers’ ACC debut is quite the opportunity: at home on Labor Day night against the league kingpin Seminoles. Whether Pittsburgh is good enough to take advantage of the situation is an entirely different question, but the players should benefit from simply having the same head coach two seasons in a row for the first time since 2009-10.
24. Boise State at Fresno State, Sept. 20. Mountain West Game of the Year comes early, on a Friday night in Fresno. The Bulldogs have lost seven straight to the Broncos, most of them blowouts, but this looks like the best Fresno team since Pat Hill had it rolling a decade ago. Boise State has a lot of new starters but most of them are juniors and seniors who have been waiting their turn to step up.
25. Oklahoma at Notre Dame, Oct. 5. Matchup of power programs has been a mystifying mismatch over the years. The Fighting Irish lead the series 9-1, including a manhandling of the Sooners last year in Norman. But Oklahoma has the better of it on the schedule, coming off a bye week that follows three straight home games. Notre Dame plays the Sooners after three straight against the Big Ten – at Michigan, at Purdue and Michigan State – and with no bye.
Just missed the list: Mississippi at Vanderbilt, Aug. 29. Boise State at Washington, Aug. 31. Mississippi State vs. Oklahoma State in Houston, Aug. 31. TCU vs. LSU in Arlington, Texas, Aug. 31. Ohio at Louisville, Sept. 1. UCLA at Nebraska, Sept. 14. Arizona State vs. Notre Dame in Arlington, Texas, Oct. 5. USC at Notre Dame, Oct. 19. Florida vs. Georgia in Jacksonville, Nov. 2. Northern Illinois vs. Toledo, Nov. 20.
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