12 college football games to get way too excited about way too soon
Welcome to the third installment of "(insert amount) college football games to get way too excited about way too soon," which, as my four loyal readers might have notcied, is still a working title. Though the headline might be on its third version, the mission of the article remains the same: to get you pumped up for another glorious college football season at least a full month before it starts. No, we don't mean to rush summer, we're just bored of baseball.
What you'll find below is the 12 games I am most looking forward to the upcoming season, and a potentially smart but more than likely dumb explanation for each. Some will be left out, some might seem like they don't belong, some I know I'm going to bet the over on and some you might actually agree with. However you feel about my selections, we can all agree that nothing gets the blood flowing like looking at Saturday schedules for November in July, am I right? So let's get it on.
Miami vs. Florida, Aug. 24 (7 p.m., ESPN)
Folks, this one is merely a month away (deep breaths). It's one of two games kicking off the season a full week before the rest of the country gets started, and the schedule-makers couldn't have picked a better matchup. Amazingly, it's the first time the two teams will play each other since 2013 (!), renewing one of college football's great in-state rivalries. The last time they met, some of your favorite fantasy football duds were balling out, Duke Johnson and Allen Hurns for Miami and Matt Jones and Trey Burton for Florida. This year, Tate Martell, who transferred from Ohio State, will be leading the way for the U, and he brings the type of swagger the Canes have been missing at the position for quite some time. But Florida, ranked eighth in some preseason polls, will be the favorite with redshirt junior quarterback Feleipe Franks leading the way under second-year head coach Dan Mullen. Both teams will be full of so much promise (is the U back??), each with big aspirations for the 2019-'20 season. And though each squad is more likely to finish 9-3 than 11-1, for one Saturday they'll be the center of the college football universe.
Texas A&M at Clemson, Sept. 7 (3:30 p.m., ABC)
People forget that the Aggies had the eventual national champs on the ROPES in week two last season:
Once again, Clemson and A&M will meet in week two, though this time in Death Valley, where it will be an enormous task for A&M to even play the game close. Clemson will only be stronger, as Trevor Lawrence has almost a full-year of experience and is already being dubbed the consensus No. 1 draft pick in 2021. But if the Aggies want any shot at being in the playoff conversation, this is a must win. They've got trips to Georgia and LSU on the schedule later in the year, plus an annual date with Alabama, a team the Aggies haven't beaten since Johnny Manziel happened. A&M will be better this year, head coach Jimbo Fisher's second at the school, but with that schedule, it's hard to imagine them being a playoff threat. That said, this is still a must-watch early-season game.
LSU at Texas, September 7 (7:30 p.m., ABC)
Just as you're coming off the A&M-Clemson high, WHAM, ABC rolls right into this doozy. We'll know if "Texas is back" earlier than usual this season, as the Longhorns welcome the Tigers for another "whoever wins this gets to claim their team's conference is bigger, stronger and faster" primetime matchup. Texas had its fun at the expense of Georgia after the Sugar Bowl, but, to be fair, there will be much more on the line in this one. As long as both teams win their openers (lol, they will) this will be a top 10 vs. top 10 game after which the winner will be thrust into the College Football Playoff conversation. September non-conference matchups don't get much better than this.
Notre Dame at Georgia, Sept. 21 (8 p.m., CBS)
Memba this game-of-the-year candidate from 2017? Oh, I memba. This home-and-home was scheduled years ago, with a one-year break before Notre Dame made the trip to Athens. The Irish picked a bad year to do so, as the preseason No. 4-ranked Bulldogs are poised for another title-game run after another choke to Alabama last year, this time in the SEC Championship game. One of the reasons the Dawgs made it to the CFP in 2017 was because of their road victory in South Bend, a night in which Notre Dame Stadium went completely red. No matter how many N.D. fans make the trip to Sanford Stadium, there will be no takeover, and it'll be rocking "Between the Hedges" for what will surely be a 3-0 Georgia team looking for a statement victory before SEC play begins. Right now, you need half a G just to get in the stadium. That price might actually skyrocket after this news:
Should be a LOUD night for the Fighting Irish.
Ohio State at Nebraska, Sept. 28 (time TBD)
Never mind that Nebraska has gone 8-16 over the past two seasons. This is a team ready to make a big jump in head coach Scott Frost's second year (big year for second year HCs). This will be the biggest game in Lincoln since Oregon came to town in 2016, and there is a chance the Cornhuskers could be 4-0, though they'd need to win at Colorado in week two for that to happen. If Nebraska is undefeated, this has "College Gameday" game written all over it. It's been too long since Corso has donned the corn husk.
Florida State at Clemson, Florida at LSU, Alabama at Texas A&M, Oklahoma vs. Texas, Oct. 12 (All times TBD)
Choosing four games goes against the spirit of the whole list, but asking me to pick one game from week 7 is like asking a mother who her favorite child is. Sure, she might have one (Oklahoma vs. Texas), but she's not going to actually say that out loud.
Michigan at Penn State, Oct. 19 (time TBD)
Don't worry Big 10 fans, I didn't forget about you (I also already gave you Nebraska-Ohio State, so pipe down). I'll admit, this is always a fun one, especially with the potential of a whiteout at Penn State, which is basically a guarantee for this one. At worst, Penn State will be 5-1 coming into this game, and if they can creep past Iowa on the road the week before, they'll be 6-0. Michigan will be in an almost identical boat, either 5-1 with a road loss to Wisconsin or 6-0 with a massive road win over Wisconsin (they play Sept. 21). That makes this game a monumental one in October, with the loser's playoff hopes almost certainly being squashed and the winner's hopes and dreams getting bigger and bigger. Sign me up for sad Penn State fans faces and James Franklin freaking out on a student again.
Notre Dame at Michigan, Oct. 26 (time TBD)
Complain about back-to-back Michigan games on the list all you want. I don't care. It's Notre Dame and Michigan. I don't need to sell it.
Georgia vs. Florida, Nov. 2 (3:30 p.m., CBS)
Another one that needs no selling. The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. One of the great SEC Saturdays of the season. Hit the damn music:
Purdue at Northwestern, Nov. 9 (time TBD, even though we all know this is going to be the noon kick on ESPN2)
OK, hear me out. This is going to be that first real November fall Saturday. The one where it's a perfect 44 degrees, not too cold but certainly not warm. The sky is completely and depressingly gray. There are a billion leaves on the ground, and for some reason they're all soaking wet even though it didn't rain the night before. There's a peewee football game in town that started at 9 a.m. because kids can get up early on Saturday morning and somehow have their bodies ready to play tackle football before breakfast. After you've had your morning coffee and the day has begun, this is the first game on TV. ESPN2 cameras pan over a half-empty Ryan Field as they attempt to sell you a matchup between a pair of Big 10 teams struggling for bowl eligibility. It's the type of college football game that is beautiful on the inside but absolutely horrid-looking on the outside, and I wouldn't miss it for the world. Bet the under, sip on some gross pumpkin-spice beer and enjoy.
UCLA at USC, Nov. 23 (time TBD)
I feel bad I don't have a Pac-12 game, or even a Pac-12 team on the list. That's how much the conference stinks. Maybe Chip Kelly and UCLA will surprise some people and make this great rivalry interesting for once.
Ohio State at Michigan, Nov. 30 (12 p.m., FOX)
Thanksgiving weekend is another one of those "don't ask me who my favorite kid is" weekends for college football. Your remote skills will be tested, but at noon on Saturday there is really only one game worth your full attention: "The Game" between the Buckeyes and the Wolverines. This could be the year Harbaugh finally gets it done (ha, kidding).