Never Too Early

A way-too-early look at the 11 best college football games of 2018

June 26, 2018
Rose Bowl - Oklahoma v Georgia
Matthew Stockman

I hate to be the guy that rushes summer, especially as the weather is finally turning in our favor, but we're less than two months away from college football. And let’s be honest, isn’t college football all that really matters in life?

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Alright, so that may be overstating it, but I know I’m not the only one getting excited. Even with my Yankees dominating the sport of baseball and the World Cup injecting some life into a normally dead sports period of the year, I can’t help but take a peek at the college football schedule on a weekly basis. Yes, I realize I’m a loser.

Why not channel that loser-ness into content, I asked my editor, to which he said “yes, go for it loser!” (he didn’t say this). That’s why it’s time to reprise my way-too-early look at the top college football games for 2018, despite my shitty predictions from a year ago (the WVU-TCU over didn’t come close to hitting, by the way). So let’s get PUMPED for the fight songs, for the rivalries, for Jim Harbaugh inevitably being on the hot seat after week 1, for Nick Saban winning a 100th National title, and for what could be the final year of Lee Corso on College Gameday, because he’s 82, can barely form full sentences anymore, and is one slip-up from ESPN “mutually parting ways” with him, which may cause me to cry real tears, something I only do for "Brian’s Song", "Marley and Me", Tom Rinaldi features, and for when my own dog dies in the future. Anyway… to the list!

Week 1

Florida Atlantic vs. Oklahoma - September 1 (12 p.m., FOX)

Hear me out on this one. I realize week 1 is absolutely loaded with games (we say this every year), but the festivities get started well before primetime with a noon kick at Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla. Two words: Lane Kiffin.

After an 11-3, Conference USA-winning campaign in his first season at FAU, Kiffin is feeling frisky, as is often the case with Kiffin. Will they beat Oklahoma? No. Are they better than Alabama? God no. Am I taking FAU +21 here? You bet your ass I am. And you should too. This one is going to be entertaining as hell no matter what happens, and we didn’t even mention Sooners QB Kyler Murray, who transferred from Texas A+M in 2015 and has patiently waited his turn behind Baker Mayfield. Here’s what Murray did on the first play of his first start last year during Mayfield’s two-play suspension against West Virginia:

Yeah, definitely going to tune into this one.

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Washington vs. Auburn at Mercedes-Benz Stadium - September 1 (3:30 p.m., ABC)

Once you’ve lost your first bet of the season after Oklahoma smashes FAU 45-10, do what every other gambling idiot does … double down! A good place to start is with the Washington/Auburn over, because this game “should” be a shootout between two high-powered offenses inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Both teams have returning starters at QB, sophomore Jarrett Stidham for Auburn and senior Jake Browning for Washington, and both are sneaky College Football Playoff contenders (throw a futures bet on them too!). This one has low-key game-of-the-year potential. You heard it here first, unless the game sucks, then I take it back.

Michigan vs. Notre Dame - September 1 (7:30 p.m., NBC)

Matthew Holst

(When she pours you a glass of whole milk and let's you watch more film^^^)

Sadly, we’re going to have to omit a few other must-see matchups from week 1, but I don’t think I have to sell you on this one, which is by far the juiciest. After going on an unfortunate four-year break, the classic rivalry between Michigan and ND returns this year as well as 2019 in Ann Arbor, where the teams last met in 2014, ND winning 31-0. It’ll be Jim Harbaugh’s first taste of ND as the Wolverines head coach, and he needs this one badly. But so does Brian Kelly, who has gone 14-11 in his past two seasons in South Bend. In other words, winning >> losing. This is analysis you simply cannot get anywhere else.

That what makes this one the ultimate “overreaction from the losing team’s fanbase” game of the year. Can you say … HOT SEAT!? Get those hashtags ready. #FIREKELLY #FIREHARBAUGH.

Week 2

Clemson vs. Texas A+M - September 8 (7 p.m., ESPN)

After a mediocre 7-6 season, Texas A+M fired head coach Kevin Sumlin and went and scooped up Jimbo Fisher, who left arguably a better job at Florida State, where he went 83-23 and won a National Title. Why? Because it's the SEC, and it just means more (TRIGGERED).

Before he even dips his toes into his conference schedule though, he gets Clemson, the team with the second-best odds to win the CFP, in week 2. Fun!

At least Fisher gets them at home, where the Aggies have one of the best home-field advantages in the sport. It’s no doubt going to be a transition year for TAMU, but the 12th at Kyle Field should provide enough of a test for the Tigers and junior QB Kelly Bryant, who couldn’t even beat Syracuse on the road last year. If they drop this one, there will be an immediate QB controversy at Clemson, as the No. 1 overall recruit Trevor Lawrence is waiting in the wings behind Bryant.

Week 3

Ohio State vs. TCU at AT&T Stadium - September 15 (8 p.m., ABC)

Icon Sportswire

Like week 1, week 3 has some gems on the slate, but the one to watch is the non-conference matchup between Ohio State and TCU, two teams that have met just six times in history, the last coming in 1973. While it’d be way more fun to see the Buckeyes have to travel to Fort Worth, JerryWorld is the next best thing. This will be the first major test for Dwayne Haskins, Ohio State’s redshirt sophomore QB who showed some promise in relief for J.T. Barrett last season. TCU will almost certainly be taking a step back with the loss of QB Kenny Hill, but you have to think head coach Gary Patterson and his defense can keep the Horned Frogs in the game until Urban Meyer runs up the score like the coward savage he is.

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Week 4

Florida vs. Tennessee - September 22 (Time/Network TBD)

I know what you’re thinking.. How does a game between two teams that combined to go 8-15 in 2017 make this list? Well it just so happens these two trash can excuses for football teams produced this a year ago:

(A+ call from Brad Nessler, who usually puts me to sleep)

The year before that, this game was one of the best of the season, as the Volunteers snapped an 11-year drought against the Gators by overcoming a 21-3 halftime deficit to win 38-28 at home. The point is, it really doesn’t matter how good either team is, this game is always L-I-T-Lit, especially at Neyland Stadium. Hopefully, it will be the first of many matchups between new Florida head coach Dan Mullen and new Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt, who could each be entering this game with 3-0 records, making it way more important than it will be in the long run considering both teams would be lucky to finish the year with 7 or more wins.

Week 7

Georgia vs. LSU - October 13 (Time/Network TBD)

While weeks 5 and 6 each their own have marquee games, the next monumental one comes in week 7, when Georgia, a team that has no reason to not be 6-0 and ranked in the top 3 prior to this game, rolls into Death Valley to play LSU. A crushing National Championship defeat should only make the Dawgs hungrier, but this game could be a huge obstacle in their way if they hope to return to the Playoff. As long as LSU gets off to a decent start, it should be in primetime, and a night game at LSU is a nightmare scenario for Georgia, especially since they’re letting the band play “Neck” again. NSFW:

Week 10

Stanford vs. Washington - November 3 (Time/Network TBD)

The return of Stanford running back and Heisman favorite Bryce Love has made this the biggest game on the PAC-12 schedule, as the winner of this will likely find themselves in the conference championship later in the year. After losing three straight from 2013 to 2015, the Huskies obliterated the Cardinals 44-6 at home in September of 2016, eventually rolling all the way to the CFB Playoff and hanging with Alabama. Last year Stanford got revenge, beating Washington 30-22 and ending their slim hopes at returning to the playoff. If the Huskies can get past Auburn in their opener, they may be 9-0 as they welcome Stanford into Seattle with their season on the line once again.

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Week 11

Fresno State vs. Boise State - November 9 (10:15 p.m., ESPN2)

Icon Sportswire

Oh, you thought this was a Power-5-conference-biased list? Think again! I did start it with freaking FAU after all …

I don’t have much on this game other than the fact that it’ll be a brisk, Friday night game on the blue turf in Boise and the place will be rocking as Boise State appears to be the Mountain West favorite once again. If they can avoid any upsets, and maybe upset Oklahoma State in September, this will likely be the biggest game of the season for both teams. Last season, they played twice, once in the regular season and once in the MWC Championship game, and they split, with Boise winning the big one. No conference does revenge games quite like the MWC as no one has ever said.

Week 12

Western Michigan vs. Ball State - November 13 (6 p.m., ESPN2)

Tuesday night MACtion. Need I say more?

Week 15

Army vs. Navy at Lincoln Financial Field - December 8 (3 p.m., CBS)

The game that deserves a spot on this list until the end of time. After a streak of 14 straight wins for Navy, Army has gotten the last two, both classics decided by less than five points. Even with Navy’s dominance, six of the last seven have been decided by seven or less. I expect a similar result this year, although it may be impossible to top the 2017 snow bowl installment of the Army-Navy game, which was the most football game to ever be footballed. FOOTBALL… CAN’T WAIT.

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