NCF Nation: biggest-games-110830

Biggest Pac-12 games of 2011

August, 30, 2011
Every game is a "Super Bowl," Oregon coach Chip Kelly tells us. In part, he's right. Beating ranked foes only means so much if you fall to other teams you should beat.

But some games, to use Kelly's term, feel a bit more Super Bowl-y than others. Here are our picks for the biggest Pac-12 games of 2011 -- obviously, from a preseason perspective.

Oregon versus LSU, Sept. 3: File this one under "Duh." Winner could rise to No. 1. Oregon could win one for not only the Pac-12 but also the rest of a college football nation that has grown weary of SEC dominance and the subsequent crowing about that by SEC fans. The Ducks and Kelly also could get rid of the belief that good teams with extra preparation time can stop their high-tempo, spread-option attack.

Missouri at Arizona State, Sept. 9: The Sun Devils enter the season with high expectations, and beating a nationally-ranked foe at home could launch a special season. A victory would energize the fan base and give the ASU confidence. Of course, the Sun Devils visit Illinois the following weekend, so they will need to avoid the letdown there.

Utah at USC, Sept. 10: Welcome to the Pac-12 Utah. This is the Coliseum, where some of the best teams in the history of college football have played. Show us what you got! If the Utes win, they immediately announce that they belong. And if USC loses, fans might start grumbling about coach Lane Kiffin, fair or not.

Arizona State at Utah, Oct. 8: At this point, this looks like the South Division game of the season, particularly because Utah doesn't play Stanford or Oregon and, by the way, Arizona State doesn't play Stanford.

Oregon at Washington, Nov. 5: Oregon has lately dominated what is perhaps the bitterest rivalry in the Pac-12 -- winning seven in a row, each by at least 20 points. At some point, the Huskies will beat the Ducks again. Might it be a season when the Ducks come to Husky Stadium and could be looking forward to the game we describe below?

Oregon at Stanford, Nov. 12: This looks like the Pac-12 game of the season and one of a handful of games that, from a preseason perspective, appear to have national title implications. Last season, the Ducks handed the Cardinal its only defeat in Eugene and that win propelled them to the national title game. Might Andrew Luck and Stanford return the favor on the Farm in 2011? Also, considering Luck's fellow Heisman Trophy finalist LaMichael James will be leading Oregon, this game could have a big say in who wins college football's top individual award.

Stanford at Notre Dame, Nov. 26: The last regular-season game of Luck's career. The Fighting Irish are supposed to be greatly improved -- see a No. 16 preseason ranking. Hard to believe this game won't have significant meaning for both teams, such as a BCS bowl invitation of one sort or the other.

Big East: Five big games

August, 30, 2011
There are plenty of important games in the Big East this season. But what are the five biggest? Let us take a look:

USF at Notre Dame, Sept. 3. An upset of the No. 16 ranked Irish in Week 1 would certainly send a message that the Big East came to play this season. Especially if it comes at the hands of Skip Holtz, whose father, Lou, won the last national championship for Notre Dame in 1988.

Syracuse at USC, Sept. 17. The Big East only has three games against ranked nonconference teams this season, so they all are big when you are looking for some national respect. USC is No. 25 in the AP poll, and though the Trojans are suffering through NCAA imposed sanctions, they have some major talent, including quarterback Matt Barkley. A win here would get plenty more love for the job Doug Marrone has done in rebuilding the Orange program.

LSU at West Virginia, Sept. 24. This one looks big today, with West Virginia getting a huge chance to beat an SEC team at home. The Mountaineers need the Tigers to be undefeated in order for this game to take on even bigger national importance. The bottom line is the Big East needs to win as many impact national games as possible, and this is the biggest on the nonconference schedule.

Pitt at West Virginia, Nov. 25. This one should have a huge impact on the conference title race. West Virginia was picked to finish first in the Big East preseason media poll; Pitt was picked to finish second. Both are going to be running hurry-up spread style offenses. Key point to remember -- there have been upsets in six of the last nine meetings between the two rivals.

West Virginia at USF, Dec. 1. If West Virginia and USF are as good as people believe they will be, this could be a defacto league championship game. West Virginia has only won in Tampa one time, when the teams met for the first time in 2005. USF pulled upsets in 2006, 2007 and 2009. Remember, the Mountaineers will be going into this game on six days rest rather than a full week after playing their emotional rivalry game with Pitt.

Games of the year in the SEC

August, 30, 2011
Some games jump out at you before the season ever begins. Others sort of evolve into epic showdowns as the season plays out.

The 2011 SEC season begins on Thursday night with Kentucky and Mississippi State each playing a pair of nonconference games.

Here are what we see as being the five biggest games in the SEC this season:

South Carolina at Georgia, Sept. 10: The loser of this game has never played in the SEC championship game. So if history holds true, it's an elimination game in the Eastern Division race. It's also one of those "games that count" that Georgia coach Mark Richt really needs to win.

LSU at Mississippi State, Sept. 15: Scott Field has transformed into one of the SEC's best atmospheres under Dan Mullen, and the place will really be rocking on Thursday night when the Tigers come to town. If the Bulldogs are going to take that next step in the SEC, this is the kind of game at home they need to win.

Arkansas at Alabama, Sept. 24: Consider this Round 2. These two teams played a classic game in Fayetteville last season with Alabama rallying in the second half to win. The scene shifts to Tuscaloosa this September, and the winner will take the early lead in the SEC's race to make it six BCS national championships in a row.

Florida vs. Georgia, Oct. 29: It's always been one of college football's most festive rivalries with the catchy nickname and all, but this season's game will tell you a lot about the direction of these two programs. Will Muschamp is in his first season at Florida, and Mark Richt is trying to make sure this isn't his last season at Georgia.

LSU at Alabama, Nov. 5: These two teams have combined to win two of the last four BCS national championships. Only once has the loser of this game gone on to play in the SEC championship game, and that was Alabama in 1993. Each of the last four games in the series have gone down to the final few possessions. Why should this one be any different?

Top 5 games of 2011

August, 30, 2011
If you listen to the coaches, every game is a big game, but the truth is, some are bigger than others. Some can make or break a season, define a conference race, or make a statement on a national level. Sometimes, one game can do all three. Here’s a look at the five biggest games in the ACC for 2011:

1. Oklahoma at Florida State, Sept. 17: There are a lot of big nonconference games in the ACC this fall, but this one tops them all because Florida State is the league's best chance at a national title contender. This game will determine if the Seminoles are national title material, or if their best hope this fall is an ACC title. Florida State was beaten in every facet of the game the last time these two teams met, but expectations are much higher now that the defense knows what to expect from coordinator Mark Stoops, and the bulk of last year’s Atlantic Division title team returns. How big of a leap, though, will FSU make from Year 1 to Year 2 under Jimbo Fisher? This game will determine that.

2. Miami at Maryland, Sept. 5: This game went from B movie to blockbuster overnight. A matchup between two first-year head coaches is one thing, but now there is added drama with Miami’s ongoing NCAA investigation. Who will play and who won’t is as much of a question as who wins. It’s the first conference game of the season, and while the teams are in opposing divisions, it WILL have an effect on the final standings. Equally if not more important, though, is how Miami responds to the off-field allegations. We’ll know quickly which direction the Canes are headed, and how Al Golden gets his team to respond to adversity.

3. Florida State at Clemson, Sept. 24: The Seminoles haven’t won in Death Valley since 2001. If they’re going to win the ACC title, odds are that streak is going to have to end this year. Both teams will be coming off highly anticipated national games, and both have lured in some of the top recruits in the country in the most recent recruiting classes. Both programs have two of the better defenses in the ACC, and both are introducing first-year starting quarterbacks. This will be one of the first games that determines the pecking order in the ACC’s Atlantic Division.

4. NC State at Florida State, Oct. 29: This is a game that will go a long way in determining the Atlantic Division winner. It had a major impact on the conference race a year ago, and has the ingredients for another fourth-quarter finish. FSU is favored to win the ACC this year, but NC State won nine games last season and is looking to finish what it started last year. The Wolfpack has a favorable schedule conducive to an impressive start that could build some heavy momentum heading into Tallahassee. It will take more than momentum, though, to beat the Noles on the road.

5. North Carolina at Virginia Tech, Thurs., Nov. 17: Historically, the Virginia Tech-Georgia Tech game has determined the winner of the Coastal Division, but this offseason, the Tar Heels have looked stronger than the Jackets. Besides, the Hokies have been thrown off track by UNC before. In 2009, Virginia Tech lost at home to UNC on a Thursday night. This year, it will be a great matchup up front, as both programs are strong on the offensive and defensive lines. It will also be an intriguing game between two rookie quarterbacks.
The season kicks off with a nice appetizer in Week 1, but these are the main courses that will decide how 2011 is shaped in the Big 12.

1. Dec. 3, Oklahoma at Oklahoma State: This one takes precedence only because it's the finale. Oklahoma may be in the national title hunt. Oklahoma State might be, too. Texas A&M may be waiting and watching, hoping one of these teams can knock off the other and influence their conference title hopes. Either way, plenty of eyes will be on the Dec. 3 conference finale, moved to championship weekend in lieu of a Big 12 Championship game.

2. Sept. 24, Oklahoma State at Texas A&M: Call this one a Big 12 semifinal. Loser will fight an uphill battle to a Big 12 title or a BCS bowl. Winner emerges as the lead contender to knock off reigning champ Oklahoma. There should be plenty of offense to go around, and if all goes as planned, this could be a premiere matchup of top 10 or even top 5 teams. "College GameDay" in College Station, anyone?

3. Oct. 8, Oklahoma vs. Texas in Dallas: The Big 12's premier rivalry takes a backseat here, but the atmosphere at the Cotton Bowl and State Fair of Texas should be as lively as ever. Texas wants to prove it can get back to the top? Beating Oklahoma is the quickest way to do it. And a rivalry game on a neutral site is as easy a setting as any other to have a march to the national title derailed.

4. Nov. 5, Texas A&M at Oklahoma: Count me among the folks that don't see the Aggies winning this one, or even coming within single digits, but that's only because of Oklahoma's history at Owen Field when their 36-game winning streak has looked like it was in jeopardy. The Aggies knocked off Oklahoma by two touchdowns in College Station next year. Revenge? Or sweet vindication once again on the way to a conference title before leaving for the SEC for the Aggies?

5. Nov. 24, Texas at Texas A&M: This one would have been last on the list, or perhaps not even on it, if all was well in the offices of Big 12 administrators. But alas, that's not the case. This may end up being the last chapter in one of the league's great rivalries, with the Aggies looking like they're headed to the SEC and Texas looking like it's not too concerned about keeping the series alive. Either way, this thing is ending in an S-E-C chant from somebody. Texas should expect extra special treatment from the fans in attendance. Nobody gave the Horns a chance in last season's farewell game against Nebraska in Lincoln. How will the Longhorns look three months from now?

6. Sept. 24, Missouri at Oklahoma: Those poor Tigers. Scheduling has them taking a Big 12 backseat to the biggest game of Week 4, but the Tigers could make a huge statement with a win in Norman. Does anyone see it happening? Very few outside Columbia do, which could make it even more shocking if it does. Linebacker Travis Lewis may still be sidelined, which would help Missouri's case. A win makes the Tigers immediate Big 12 title contenders and perhaps more.

The Big Ten's biggest games in 2011

August, 30, 2011
We're just two days away from the start of the college football season. For the Big Ten, most of the Week 1 games are little more than warm-up acts. The competition level will quickly rise. Here's a look at the seven biggest games of the season involving the league (Big Ten title game not included) in chronological order:

Alabama at Penn State, Sept. 10: The only nonconference game to make this list. Because it's the SEC, because it's a national power (the Crimson Tide are ranked No. 2 in the preseason polls) and because this game is on Big Ten turf, the outcome of this one will go a long way toward determining the public perception of the league's strength this season.

Nebraska at Wisconsin, Oct. 1: The Cornhuskers' first-ever Big Ten game might also serve as a preview of the conference title game. Nebraska and Wisconsin are the preseason favorites to win their respective division crowns. This game could set the tone for the entire league season.

Ohio State at Nebraska, Oct. 8: New Big Ten power, meet the old conference boss. This will be the Huskers' first Big Ten home game, and the Buckeyes will have all their suspended players back just in time for the trip to Lincoln.

Wisconsin at Michigan State, Oct. 22: The Badgers' lone loss in 2010 came in East Lansing. Most of the Spartans' difficult games are on the road this season, so they will need to protect home turf to have any chance at competing for the Legends Division title.

Wisconsin at Ohio State, Oct. 29: Wisconsin took it to the Buckeyes from the opening kickoff last year while knocking off the then-No. 1 team in the country. Here is Ohio State's chance for revenge in a key Leaders Division showdown.

Iowa at Nebraska, Nov. 25: The first "Heroes Game" should kick off a strong new rivalry in the Big Ten. It could also have major implications in the Legends Division outcome.

Ohio State at Michigan, Nov. 26: No list of the Big Ten's biggest games would be complete without The Game, regardless of how good the participants are that particular year. Plus, who isn't looking forward to seeing how Brady Hoke backs up his big talk in his first shot at the Buckeyes?