It’s impossible to predict exactly how important games will be from week to week over the course of the season. We don’t know which teams will be in contention for a championship bid, or which upstarts will have a chance to topple conference leaders in front of a home crowd.
Still, as the clock ticks away and real football approaches, it’s fun to speculate about the schedule, starting with Week 1. Here’s an early analysis of the must-watch games and deserving undercards for each week, as well as a palate cleanser or four to wake up the taste buds.
Main Event: Georgia at Clemson. The rightful destination of College GameDay in Week 1, Clemson and Georgia are both coming off very similar seasons in which they achieved a lot, but just missed having truly special years. Now, two teams ranked in the preseason top 10 square off on college football’s first Saturday. Giddy up.
Undercard: LSU vs. TCU (in Dallas). Defense should be on full display when LSU takes on TCU at Cowboys Stadium, and although the fuss over Gary Patterson’s comments has quieted a bit, plenty remains at stake. TCU will try to assert itself as a BCS contender, while LSU will look to overcome the loss of a bunch of veterans and find a way to stay among the national elite.
Amuse-bouche: Alabama vs. Virginia Tech (in Atlanta), Boise State at Washington, Mississippi State vs. Oklahoma State (in Houston), NIU at Iowa, Louisiana-Monroe at Oklahoma, Ohio at Louisville
Main Event: Florida at Miami. Al Golden has the pieces in place for The U to make a run at the ACC Coastal division, and the ‘Canes will get to show just how much they’ve improved in a second week showdown with the Gators. Will Muschamp’s team simply hopes to enter the game healthy; it suffered so many injuries on the offensive line this spring that it turned its annual Orange & Blue Debut into a regular practice.
Undercard: Notre Dame at Michigan. Notre Dame used plenty of luck during its undefeated regular season in 2012, and with quarterback Everett Golson suspended for the year, the Fighting Irish hope Murphy’s Law won't go into effect this fall. Michigan has a lot of young talent on both sides of the ball. The question is: Can the Wolverines put together enough consistency to compete for a Big Ten title?
Amuse-bouche: South Carolina at Georgia, West Virginia at Oklahoma, Oregon at Virginia, USF at Michigan State, Southern Miss at Nebraska
*Note: This is a good week. Drink plenty of coffee and energy drinks and whatever those B12 powder things are.
Main Event: Alabama at Texas A&M. I know you were expecting Boston College at USC here, but it was edged out just a tad. Apologies to those disappointed by the omission.
Undercard: Tennessee at Oregon. A battle of two first-year head coaches, each trying to live up to expectations and make the most of their respective situations. Mark Helfrich is both blessed and cursed; he has an ultra-skilled roster and equally lofty expectations. Butch Jones is just trying to figure out what he has.
Amuse-bouche: Vanderbilt at South Carolina, Air Force at Boise State, UCLA at Nebraska, Wisconsin at Arizona State, Ohio State at Cal
Main Event: Michigan State at Notre Dame. This is always a fun game in which things happen that probably shouldn’t. Michigan State will certainly miss departed running back Le’Veon Bell, but Sparty’s defense could have more than enough talent to compensate.
Undercard: Louisiana-Monroe at Baylor. The gods demand a sacrifice of points. Heed their call.
Amuse-bouche: Kansas State at Texas, Tennessee at Florida, West Virginia at Maryland, Toledo at Central Michigan, Auburn at LSU, Utah at BYU, Arizona State at Stanford
Main Event: Wisconsin at Ohio State. In a game that might be closer than everyone thinks, according to the AP’s Ralph D. Russo, this should be one of Ohio State’s rare tests on its extremely favorable 2013 schedule. Let’s see what new Badgers coach Gary Andersen can do.
Undercard: LSU at Georgia. SEC bias, I guess.
Amuse-bouche: Oklahoma at Notre Dame, USC at Arizona State, Virginia Tech at Georgia Tech, Texas A&M at Arkansas, Wake Forest at Clemson, Ole Miss at Alabama
Main Event: TCU at Oklahoma. If TCU weathers its early schedule, it has a chance to surprise in the Big 12 this year. But the litmus test for any Big 12 upstart is Oklahoma, and with Bob Stoops retooling his offense, the Sooners head into the season as a big question mark.
Undercard: UCLA at Utah. This may not look like a great game on paper, but it has the potential to be a really fun one. It’s also the Thursday night game, with Utah fans involved, which target="_blank">history shows is usually worth our time.
Amuse-bouche: West Virginia at Baylor, Ohio State at Northwestern, Kansas State at Oklahoma State
Main Event: South Carolina at Arkansas. Yes, I would watch Steve Spurrier compete against Bret Bielema in just about anything. Why do you ask?
Undercard (Tie): Rutgers at Louisville and Oklahoma vs. Texas (in Dallas). Writers and analysts like to talk about how easy Louisville’s schedule is, and how Louisville could make a push for the national title, and how Louisville is doing everything right, and how Teddy Bridgewater is the anti-Johnny Manziel. So because college football is completely insane, Louisville will probably lose to Rutgers in Week 7. Meanwhile, as far as the Red River Rivalry is concerned, it’s a must-watch until one team inevitably starts crushing the other one. Then check back to see what kind of ridiculous food the broadcast team is eating in the booth.
Amuse-bouche: Florida at LSU, Arizona at USC, Pittsburgh at Virginia Tech, Oregon at Washington, Baylor at Kansas State, Indiana at Michigan State, Northwestern at Wisconsin, Michigan at Penn State
*Note: This could shape up to be the best week of conference games. It could also shape up to be the week the Top 25 goes completely haywire.
Main Event: Florida State at Clemson. The winner of this game should go on to win the ACC Atlantic (probably, unless some serious #goacc magic happens). Watch it, and stay for the inevitable explosion on the losing team’s message boards.
Undercard: USC at Notre Dame. I really hope this doesn’t blow up in my face and both teams aren’t hovering around .500 by mid-October. As of August, however, I feel like this is going to be one sloppy, tweet-worthy game.
Amuse-bouche: UCLA at Stanford, NIU at Central Michigan, Washington State at Oregon, Arkansas at Alabama, Southern Miss at East Carolina, Washington at Arizona State, Miami at UNC, Auburn at Texas A&M
Main Event: Penn State at Ohio State. Can Bill O’Brien build off his first-year success at Penn State? This matchup in Columbus should answer that question nicely.
Undercard: Stanford at Oregon State. Two completely contrasting styles from teams working to establish a new Pac-12 hierarchy. Come the end of October, this game could have major BCS and In-N-Out Burger implications.
Amuse-bouche: Tennessee at Alabama, Wake Forest at Miami, Louisville at USF, Nebraska at Minnesota, Vanderbilt at Texas A&M, UCLA at Oregon
Main Event: Georgia vs. Florida. This has the potential to be one of the best games of the season. Or the score could be 13-10 with about 30 minutes of stalled drives.
Undercard: Miami at Florida State. Miami talks a lot of talk, but The U isn’t officially back until the ‘Canes can beat Florida State again (the ‘Noles have won four out of the last five meetings).
Amuse-bouche: Michigan at Michigan State, USC at Oregon State, Auburn at Arkansas, North Carolina at North Carolina State, Oklahoma State at Texas Tech, Northwestern at Nebraska
*Note: A bit of a rivalry week here. Hmm.
Main Event: Oregon at Stanford. Oh, boy.
Undercard (Tie): Oklahoma at Baylor and LSU at Alabama. Baylor hosting Oklahoma is the type of matchup for which Thursday night games were created. It's going to be great, whether both teams are having good years at this point in the season or not. As for LSU against Alabama, well, you know you’re going to be watching LSU against Alabama. You know everyone else is going to be watching LSU against Alabama. And you wouldn’t have it any other way.
Amuse-bouche: Virginia Tech at Miami, Kansas State at Texas Tech, Vanderbilt at Florida, Nebraska at Michigan, Texas at West Virginia, BYU at Wisconsin, Ohio at Buffalo, Southern Miss at Louisiana Tech
Main Event: Florida at South Carolina. We’ll know by Week 12 if Florida can score points. We'll also know if South Carolina lived up to its preseason expectations. And I’m sure another storyline will have emerged that will make this game a must-watch event.
Undercard: Cincinnati at Rutgers. In what could turn out to be a sneaky good game, let’s give the AAC a little love.
Amuse-bouche: Michigan State at Nebraska, Texas Tech vs. Baylor (in Dallas), Oklahoma State at Texas, Buffalo at Toledo, Georgia at Auburn, Stanford at USC, Michigan at Northwestern
Main Event: Texas A&M at LSU. At this point in the season, Johnny Football will have probably hijacked a Royal Caribbean cruise and landed on an island where his only goals are to: A) make a smoke signal and B) have a good time. Eventually his society will have devolved, and the dead parachuter he inevitably discovers will be mistaken for a beast. This is sure to be high drama.
Undercard: Baylor at Oklahoma State. Even if Baylor falls out of the Big 12 title race, it will still feature Lache Seastrunk and will likely be one of the most entertaining teams to watch in college football. Oklahoma State, which also boasts a high-powered offense, should be similarly exciting.
Amuse-bouche: Oklahoma at Kansas State, Michigan State at Northwestern, Oregon at Arizona, Kent State at Ohio, NIU at Toledo, Nebraska at Penn State, Indiana at Ohio State, East Carolina at North Carolina State
Main Event (Tie): Ohio State at Michigan and Florida State at Florida. No matter how you feel about Ohio State and Michigan, and no matter what kind of year either team is having, the matchup between the Buckeyes and Wolverines is a big deal. It’s the closest thing the Midwest has to the World’s Largest Cocktail Party. Florida State and Florida is a pretty darned huge game, too. Watch it. Watch both.
Undercard (Tie): Texas Tech at Texas and Ole Miss at Mississippi State. For all we know, Mack Brown could be on his way to a BCS championship berth to prove all the doubters wrong. More likely, he will not.
Additional Undercard: Ole Miss at Mississippi State. egg bowl Egg Bowl EGG Bowl Egg BOWL EGG BOWL EGGBOWL EGGBAWLLLLLLLLLL #egg
Amuse-bouche: Alabama at Auburn, Virginia Tech at Virginia, Arkansas at LSU, Oregon State at Oregon, Notre Dame at Stanford, Baylor at TCU
*Note: You should pretty much watch football on television all day, unless you are actually attending one of the listed games, and even then you should watch football at a tailgate and later at a bar once you get out of traffic. And so help me, if someone plans a wedding during Week 14 of the college football season ...
Main Event: Louisville at Cincinnati. Did Louisville make it through the regular-season grind? Does Cincinnati have a chance to play spoiler? There’s no way of knowing this information now, but I certainly hope this game has major bowl implications.
Undercard (Tie): Baylor at Texas and Army vs. Navy. The Bears against the Longhorns should be bittersweet, as it will remind us the regular season is basically over. And of course Army-Navy. It's Army-Navy. This is America, after all. Amuse-bouche: Oklahoma at Oklahoma State, really any other football game that is on because we’re about to have a few weeks off.