NCF Nation: 2008 games to watch
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Of course, you plan to watch every game. But if you had to pick 10, might we suggest...
1. Ohio State at USC, Sept. 13: It's the game of the year, period. The winner is an immediate national title contender and the loser won't be eliminated. No game this season will even approach the defensive talent on the field. Mistakes will be critical in what figures to be a defensive struggle, so whichever QB handles the pressure better figures to be the deciding factor.
2. Oregon at USC, Oct. 4: Can the Ducks win two in a row vs. the Trojans and jump to the top of the Pac-10? It won't be easy on the road. But Oregon figures to offer USC a legitimate challenge. And, as we've mentioned before, it's sort of fun how Pete Carroll and Mike Bellotti appear to have a prickly relationship.
3. Oregon at Arizona State, Oct. 25: This one could be for the Holiday Bowl berth. Or perhaps, if USC plays for the national title, a Rose Bowl. Basically, the Ducks visit to Tempe likely decides who plays second fiddle to USC. The Sun Devils will be looking for revenge after last year's 12-point loss in Eugene, their first defeat in 2007 after an 8-0 start.
4. Georgia at Arizona State, Sept. 20: This is more a test for Georgia, which is the preseason No. 1 in both polls. The Bulldogs haven't traveled outside the Southeast in decades for a non-conference game, but it's worth noting they have been an outstanding road team in the SEC under coach Mark Richt. If the Sun Devils win, it would be a landmark victory announcing the program as a team headed for the elite.
5. Oregon at California, Nov. 1: These two played one of the best games of the 2007 season, and it again figures to have significant conference implications. When Cal won 31-24 at Oregon a year ago -- having already overwhelmed Tennessee -- the Bears looked like national title contenders. Then they lost six of their next seven. This time, the game is much later in the season.
6. UCLA at Washington, Nov. 15: It's unlikely this game will have any relevance in terms of who wins the Pac-10, but when Rick Neuheisel makes his first trip to Washington as UCLA's coach, it will be national news. Neuheisel was fired at Washington before the 2003 season and later settled for a $4.5 million payout from a lawsuit he filed against the school and NCAA. Many Huskies fans still blame Neuheisel for the tailspin the program has been in ever since.
7. Arizona State at California, Oct. 4: Arizona State's biggest win of 2007 in terms of perception was over California, and that shows the lack of big wins among the Sun Devils 10 victories because the Bears were at the time riding a two-game losing streak (it turned out the biggest win was a stunning comeback victory over Oregon State in the Pac-10 opener, but that's not the point here). It's possible that the loser here will fall out of the race for second place.
8. Notre Dame at Washington, Oct. 25: This game will register more away from the West Coast and with national Notre Dame fans. Still, the symbolism is clear. Willingham was controversially fired at Notre Dame. His replacement, Charlie Weis, was hailed early as a genius, given a huge contract and then led the Fighting Irish into their worst season in ages. Both coaches are on the hot seat, and Willingham probably needs to win this game in order to return in 2009 just because it's one of the weakest team the Huskies face.
9. USC at UCLA, Dec. 6: The first meeting between new UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel and the man he wants to challenge for LA supremacy, Pete Carroll. It looks like a mismatch on paper, but then again it also did in 2006 when the Bruins knocked the Trojans out of the national title hunt with a shocking 13-9 win.
10. Oregon State at Penn State, Sept. 6: The Beavers, who've won the third most games among Pac-10 teams over the past six years, don't think they get enough respect. Penn State and their fans probably aren't going to give them much, either. But if the Beavers go into Happy Valley and win, well, it will be hard not to immediately register them as a Pac-10 contender.
Here are my 10 must-see games in the Big East this year:
1. South Florida at West Virginia, Dec. 6: The Big East scheduled this game on the final weekend for a reason. Many see it as the de facto league championship game. The Bulls will leave sunny Tampa for some possibly frigid weather in Morgantown, but that didn't bother them two years ago when they beat West Virginia, 24-19, in USF's season finale.
2. Auburn at West Virginia, Oct. 23: It's a rare chance for a Big East power to knock off an SEC top dog at its own place. The Thursday night atmosphere should make this game a can't-miss proposition.
3. West Virginia at Pittsburgh, Nov. 28: Not only could this game have a major impact on the league title race, it will be the Mountaineers' chance for payback from last year's BCS title game-spoiling upset. Even if there were nothing on the line, the Backyard Brawl is the conference's oldest and nastiest rivalry.
4. Pittsburgh at South Florida, Oct. 2: Another Thursday nighter, this one should tell us which of these teams is a legitimate Big East contender.
5. South Florida at Cincinnati, Oct. 30: Yet another Thursday night contest, this one could feature the Bulls putting an 8-0 record on the line. If these two teams can match last year's wild, 38-33 thriller (won by the Bearcats), it will be worth tuning in.
6. Kansas at South Florida, Sept. 12: Last year's Orange Bowl winners return to Florida for an interesting Big 12-Big East clash on a Friday night.
7. Cincinnati at Oklahoma, Sept. 6: Don't know if the Bearcats can hang with the Sooners, but it will sure be interesting to watch them try.
8. West Virginia at Louisville, Nov. 22: The Cardinals might be down, but these two have staged terrifically watchable games the past three years.
9. West Virginia at Connecticut, Nov. 1: For UConn to prove it has arrived, it must compete with the Mountaineers, who have beaten the Huskies by an average of 34.3 points the past three seasons.
10. Fresno State at Rutgers, Sept. 1: A Monday night spotlight will give us an early idea of whether the Scarlet Knights are ready to contend for the conference crown.
Posted by ESPN.com's Graham Watson
With 54 teams in the fold, there are a tons of choices for top games in the non-BCS and independents. I will break those down week-to-week, but the following is a list of the games I think are must-see regardless of your conference affiliation (in order of date):
Utah at Michigan, Aug. 30: No one knows what to expect from either of these teams, but both have a lot riding on this game. If Utah wins, it will send shockwaves through the BCS and make Utah a major player in the race for both the Mountain West title and a potential BCS bowl.
Florida Atlantic at Texas, Aug. 30: Florida Atlantic has never beaten a Big 12 team (0-5), but this matchup is intriguing because of all the off-field yammering that has been going on by Florida Atlantic coach Howard Schnellenberger. Whether he said anything or not, the bad blood has started.
East Carolina at West Virginia, Sept. 6: The Pirates have a ton of tough non-conference games this season, but West Virginia is the best team on the slate. If ECU beats the Mountaineers, the nation will sit up and take notice. It's not a make or break for the season, but important for the mentality of this team.
Central Michigan at Georgia, Sept. 6: With as much press as Central Michigan quarterback Dan LeFevour has been getting over the last month, this will be his first test of the season on the national stage. LeFevour's never beaten a BCS opponent, but winning at Georgia would solidify him as one of the nation's best quarterbacks.
Notre Dame vs. Michigan, Sept. 13: Forget San Diego State. This will be the first test to see if Notre Dame is a better team than it was a year ago. Michigan might be subpar, but it will be a much better gauge than the Aztecs will provide.
Tulsa at Arkansas, Nov. 1: This is Gus Mazahn's return to his home state and he's bringing with him the offense that Arkansas wasn't interested in using a couple years ago. If Tulsa enters this game undefeated, it will prove its BCS merit in Fayetteville.
East Carolina at Central Florida, Nov. 2: These two teams should be duking it out for first in the Conference USA East Division late in the season. Even though the Pirates won last year's game by 14 points, Central Florida went on to win the conference championship.
BYU at Utah, Nov. 22: Regardless of whether there's a conference championship or a BCS bowl berth on the line, this game is always entertaining, BYU has won the last two games, but 10 of the last 11 meetings have been decided by a touchdown or less.
Fresno State at Boise State, Nov. 28: If both of these teams have the seasons that many expect, this game will determine the WAC champion. Boise State was in this same position last year and failed, and I think it will be a similar situation as Fresno State earns its first modern WAC championship.
Notre Dame at USC, Nov. 29: Because this game is at the end of the season, there's no telling what to expect. It's probably a fair assumption that USC will be near the top of the national rankings, but Notre Dame could be anywhere and this game could be like sending a lamb to a lion.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Picking 10 games to watch in the SEC is like picking the 10 best Italian restaurants in New York City. When isn't there a bitter rivalry, marquee matchup or compelling storyline? It happens every week in the SEC. The games are listed in order of the dates they're played:
Alabama vs. Clemson, Aug. 30: Everybody's been wondering how good these Alabama freshmen are and how many of them are going to play. We get to find out right out of the gate against the No. 9-ranked Tigers in the Georgia Dome.
Auburn at Mississippi State, Sept. 13: If Mississippi State takes care of business in its first two games against Louisiana Tech and Southeastern Louisiana, get ready for the most anticipated home game in Starkville since Sylvester Croom arrived.
LSU at Auburn, Sept. 20: The West won't necessarily be won on this day, but the loser will be on the outside looking in. And if you love high-voltage defense played at warp speed, then Jordan-Hare Stadium will be the place to be on the third Saturday in September.
Florida at Tennessee, Sept. 20: It's doubtful that Phillip Fulmer has endured a more humiliating loss than the 39-point drubbing Florida pinned on Tennessee last season. The Gators rubbed the Vols' noses in it. Fulmer and Co. get a chance to return the favor.
Georgia at Arizona State, Sept. 20: The third of three huge games on this day involving SEC teams and one of the best intersectional matchups of the year. Georgia travels out west to play only a week after taking on South Carolina in Columbia. We find out early what the Bulldogs are made of.
LSU at Florida, Oct. 11: Just the mere thought of LSU's defensive front seven versus Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin and Chris Rainey gets the adrenalin flowing. Last season's game was one of the hardest hitting affairs this conference has seen in a long time.
Florida vs. Georgia, Nov. 1: What doesn't this one have? Heisman Trophy hopefuls. Two of the best quarterbacks in the country. A rivalry that only grew more intense last season after Georgia's celebration dance in the end zone. Many thanks to Mark Richt for spicing up the game that used to be known for its catchy name.
Alabama at LSU, Nov. 8: For a guy that won one national championship at LSU and recruited many of the players that helped the Tigers win a second one last season, Nick Saban isn't going to win many popularity contests in Louisiana. He returns to LSU for the first time this season as Alabama's head coach. Think Tiger Stadium will be rocking?
Georgia at Auburn, Nov. 15: More than any other game that's played every year in the SEC, this one has come through time and time again in terms of producing memorable moments and classic endings. And this season, Georgia's offense versus Auburn's defense should be about as good as it gets.
Auburn at Alabama, Nov. 29: Few rivalries around the country come close to matching the Iron Bowl. And with Auburn riding a six-game winning streak in this series, the last thing Nick Saban needs is to lose a second straight and see the Tigers' streak go to seven in a row.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
As I've stated before, the first month of the season provides the Big Ten several prime opportunities to change its national image, but the league schedule also shouldn't be overlooked. Here are 10 games, mostly conference contests, which you don't want to miss this fall.
1. Ohio State at USC, Sept. 13 -- It's the nation's premier game of the preseason and quite possibly the regular season as well. From loads of All-Americans and future first-round draft picks to two high-profile coaches to a series history that includes two Rose Bowl meetings, the game has everything a fan could want. Ohio State can hush the haters with a win, while USC can reconfirm its place as the nation's most dominant program.
2. Ohio State at Wisconsin, Oct. 4 -- The Buckeyes haven't visited Madison since 2003, a virtual eternity that only adds flavor to a game that could decide the Big Ten. Wisconsin hasn't lost at Camp Randall Stadium under coach Bret Bielema and will test a star-studded Buckeyes defense with arguably the Big Ten's top rushing attack. Ohio State counters with Beanie Wells, setting up a showdown that goes back to the Big Ten's roots of running football and strong line play.
3. Ohio State at Illinois, Nov. 15 -- Ron Zook's recruiting surge has given Illinois the athletes to match up with Ohio State better than any other Big Ten team. A two-win Illini squad put a scare into the Buckeyes in 2006 and then stunned top-ranked Ohio State at The Shoe last fall. This year's meeting in Champaign should add another great chapter to a growing rivalry in the league.
4. Illinois vs. Missouri (at St. Louis), Aug. 30 -- This annual rivalry is quickly becoming a can't-miss date on the college football calendar. Illinois comes off a Rose Bowl appearance after completing the nation's biggest turnaround, and Missouri is thinking national title following a BCS snub. Illini junior quarterback Juice Williams can make an immediate statement that he'll be fine without Rashard Mendenhall, and his Tigers counterpart Chase Daniel will fuel his Heisman hopes with a strong showing.
5. Michigan at Ohio State, Nov. 22 -- A new chapter in the sport's top rivalry begins as Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez makes his debut against the Buckeyes. Michigan's transition year might take something away from the game, but first-year coaches historically fare well in the series, particularly on the Michigan side, and Rodriguez will test the Buckeyes' defense.
6. Michigan State at Michigan, Oct. 25 -- Mark Dantonio's arrival at Michigan State has added spice to a rivalry that will always be more important to the Spartans unless they give Michigan a reason to think otherwise. After six straight losses in the series, Michigan State has a great chance to snap the slide, but Michigan should be on track by this point in the season.
7. Wisconsin at Fresno State, Sept. 13 -- A BCS bowl berth is the next step for the Badgers, who get the benefit of hosting the Big Ten's premier teams (Ohio State, Illinois and Penn State) this fall. But first they'll hit the road and face an experienced Fresno State team that rarely gets BCS teams to come to its backyard. If new quarterback Allan Evridge is the man to help Wisconsin make the jump, he'll need a steady performance here.
8. Ohio State at Michigan State, Oct. 18 -- If the Spartans survive their opener at Cal, they could come in undefeated and set up a matchup that would shape the league title race. The game features the league's two best running backs in Wells and Spartans senior Javon Ringer. If Michigan State's defense forces some early mistakes, this could could come down to the final minutes.
9. Indiana at Purdue, Nov. 22 -- Last year's game featured an unforgettable ending, as Indiana kicked a last-minute field goal to clinch a winning record and fulfill the pledge of late coach Terry Hoeppner to "Play 13." The emotions should just as prevalent this year at Purdue, where Joe Tiller coaches his final home game after transforming the Boilermakers program in the last 11 seasons.
10. Michigan at Penn State, Oct. 18 -- Several Big Ten teams see 2008 as the year to get back at Michigan, and Penn State is certainly one of them. The Lions have dropped nine straight games to the Wolverines, none more heartbreaking than the last-second loss in 2005 at Michigan Stadium. Both teams enter the season with questions at quarterback, but Penn State looks more complete and needs to end the drought with a win at home.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Some are traditional matchups and others are new as the inter-conference schedule switches for every team this season. But all of these games should be intriguing ones that will shape the Big 12's race and its national reputation.
1. Texas vs. Oklahoma at Dallas, Oct. 11 -- This game, as always, will set the tone in the South Division. It will be interesting to see how Will Muschamp's retooled defense will fare against the Big 12's most balanced and explosive offense.
2. Kansas vs. Missouri at Kansas City, Nov. 29 -- While the stakes likely won't be as high as last season, don't be surprised if the North Division's title will be contested. And playing the game at Arrowhead Stadium only gives the Border War even more of a big-game feel.
3. Texas Tech at Oklahoma, Nov. 22 -- The South Division's title could be at stake in this one. And for all of the Red Raiders' preseason notoriety, they still haven't won in Norman since 1996 and will be facing their toughest challenge of the season in this game.
4. Missouri at Texas, Oct. 18 -- Chase Daniel would like nothing better than to beat the team that spurned him for most of his recruiting period. The Tigers will be battling history, considering they haven't won in Austin since 1896 and the Longhorns have won 13 of the last 14 games in the series.
5. Missouri vs. Illinois at St. Louis, Aug. 30 -- Early game will determine how legitimate the Tigers' Bowl Championship Series hopes really are. Both defenses are hoping to play better than in last season's shootout.
6. Texas A&M at Texas, Nov. 27 -- Classic matchup returns to Thanksgiving night for ESPN's cameras. Can Mike Sherman continue Dennis Franchione's recent success against the Longhorns that still couldn't save his job?
7. Nebraska at Oklahoma, Nov. 1 -- The last time the Cornhuskers traveled to Norman, all heck broke loose in a melee after the game. But look for much respect on both sides this time in the first matchup between Bo Pelini and his coaching mentor, Bob Stoops.
8. Texas Tech at Texas A&M, Oct. 18 -- The most underrated bitter rivalry in the nation returns to College Station. Mike Leach has won six of his last seven games against the team whom he mocks for its "pretend soldiers" along the sidelines. But Sherman will have his team ready for this game.
9. Virginia Tech at Nebraska, Sept. 27 -- This could give Pelini his first major national splash as he faces the Hokies in his toughest nonconference matchup. His defense will be tested against Tech, but won't face the passing attacks they'll be seeing on a weekly basis in the Big 12. That might give the Cornhuskers a legitimate chance for an upset.
10. Texas at Colorado, Oct. 4 -- Drama on both sides in this one. It will be Colorado's first game against Texas since their 70-3 blowout loss in the 2005 Big 12 title game that cost Gary Barnett his job. And it will be Texas' first shot at Colorado freshman TB Darrell Scott, who spurned them to play for the Buffaloes.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Based on impact and interest, here are the 10 best games to watch in the league this year:
1. Clemson vs. Alabama, Saturday, August 30, 8 p.m. (ABC): It's not the end of the season if the Tigers get off to a bad start, but it certainly won't help to fumble the first one away in front of a national audience.
2. Miami at Florida, Sept. 6, 8 p.m. (ESPN): This will be quarterback Robert Marve's debut after serving his one-game suspension, and if Hurricanes fans want to know how far the program has to go before entering any conversations about national titles, this would be a good gauge.
3. Wake Forest at Florida State, Sept. 20: FSU playmaker Preston Parker will return from his two-game suspension in time for the Demon Deacons, who will have had a bye week to prepare for this game. FSU will still have players missing for suspensions, but Wake will be on the road for the second time in three games.
4. Clemson at Wake Forest, Oct. 9, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN): This game has upset written all over it. The Demon Deacons have a veteran team with a defense that can score, plus they've got home field advantage. And Jim Grobe, who can X and O with the best of 'em.
5. Maryland at Clemson, Sept. 27: Ralph Friedgen loves playing in Death Valley, and the Terps have a team that could surprise a few people, the Tigers included. The addition of first-year offensive coordinator James Franklin, backup quarterback Josh Portis, and a veteran offensive line make Maryland a dark horse.
6. Florida at Florida State, Nov. 29: The Seminoles should be an entirely different team by this point in the season -- a much better one if they stay healthy. The offensive line will have had ample time to become cohesive.
7. Virginia at Virginia Tech, Nov. 29: The battle for the Commonwealth Cup is more interesting than a drubbing by USC, and this rivalry game gets picked over Florida State/Miami because odds are, the Hokies will be playing for something more than just bragging rights.
8. South Carolina at Clemson, Nov. 29: It's not how you start, it's how you finish, right? Tommy Bowden vs. Steve Spurrier. Only one of them already has an ACC title. This game gets the nod over NC State/South Carolina because it's possible the Tigers will be jockeying for a spot in the BCS standings. Or just bragging rights.
9. Clemson at Florida State, Nov. 8: You can't forget about Bowden Bowl. The 'Noles will have the crowd behind them, and at this point, possibly Christian Ponder leading the way. And, of course, this could be another Tiger trap.
10. North Carolina at Miami, Sept. 27: Can Butch Davis do it again? The Tar Heels beat Miami 33-27 last season, but will have to do it on the road this time if they want to stay in the hunt for the Coastal Division. This is a key game in determining how far both programs have come over the past year.