- Mark Schlabach, ESPN Senior Writer
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The road to the Jan. 7 Discover BCS National Championship Game in Miami begins Thursday night and covers 14 grueling, treacherous weeks.
Which games will decide the participants?
Here are 10 games that might go a long way toward determining which teams will play for college football's national championship:
Saturday, Sept. 1
Alabama vs. Michigan (Arlington, Texas)
The Crimson Tide, the defending BCS national champions, might face a big test in Saturday's opener against the Wolverines, the defending Sugar Bowl champions. Alabama's rebuilt defense will have to slow down Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, who can really hurt opponents with his legs. The Wolverines will have to block Bama's ferocious defensive front.
Saturday, Sept. 15
Alabama at Arkansas
The Razorbacks believe they're ready to challenge Alabama and LSU in the rugged SEC West. Here's a chance to prove it under interim coach John L. Smith, who replaced fired former coach Bobby Petrino. The Hogs will have to do a better job of protecting quarterback Tyler Wilson.
USC at Stanford
The rebuilding Cardinal figure to be a major test for the Trojans, who have dropped three games in a row to Stanford. Last season, the Cardinal won 56-48 in three overtimes after USC running back Curtis McNeal fumbled into the end zone. Of course, Stanford will have to defeat the Trojans without quarterback Andrew Luck this time.
Saturday, Oct. 6
Georgia at South Carolina
The game, which has been pushed back a few weeks on the schedule, might decide which team wins the SEC East. The Gamecocks have won two games in a row over the Bulldogs, including a wild 45-42 shootout last season. Georgia's defense will try to slow down tailback Marcus Lattimore, who has run for 358 yards with three touchdowns in the previous two meetings.
Saturday, Oct. 13
Oklahoma vs. Texas (Dallas)
The Longhorns are probably still stinging from last season's ugly 55-17 loss to the Sooners, who scored on two fumble returns and an interception return at the Cotton Bowl. Oklahoma has won the past two games in the Red River Rivalry; it will be the third of three straight games for the Longhorns against foes ranked in the preseason Top 25.
Saturday, Oct. 27
Michigan State at Wisconsin
The teams combined to produce two of last season's most thrilling games. The Spartans won 37-31 on quarterback Kirk Cousins' 44-yard touchdown pass to Keith Nichol on the last play of their Oct. 22 regular-season meeting. The Badgers won 42-39 in the inaugural Big Ten championship game after tailback Montee Ball scored with 3:45 to go.
Saturday, Nov. 3
Alabama at LSU
The SEC West rivals met twice last season, with the Tigers winning 9-6 in overtime during the regular season and the Crimson Tide winning 21-0 in the Allstate BCS National Championship Game. Alabama coach Nick Saban is 1-1 in games played at Tiger Stadium, winning 27-21 in overtime in his return to LSU in 2008 and losing 24-21 in 2010.
Oregon at USC
The Pac-12 powers might meet twice this season, first at the Coliseum and later in the Pac-12 championship game. Last season, the Trojans knocked the Ducks out of the BCS title race with a 38-35 victory, which ended Oregon's 21-game winning streak at Autzen Stadium, the longest home streak in the country. It was also the Ducks' first loss in 20 Pac-12 contests.
Thursday, Nov. 8
Florida State at Virginia Tech
If Florida State is going to emerge as a BCS national championship contender this season, it will have to survive a Thursday night contest at Lane Stadium, which is never easy. The teams haven't played since the Hokies' 44-33 victory in the 2010 ACC championship game.
Saturday, Nov. 17
Oklahoma at West Virginia
Both teams might still be in the BCS championship hunt when the Sooners make their first trip to Morgantown. OU's revamped defense will have to slow down quarterback Geno Smith and coach Dana Holgorsen's high-powered attack. The teams haven't played since West Virginia upset the No. 3 Sooners 48-28 in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl.