Season's biggest risk-reward games

Updated: July 22, 2011, 11:38 AM ET
By Ryan McGee

Welcome back to Three Downs and Punt, where we're in the full swing of Media Days, and the ever-increasing number of team media guides piling up on the kitchen table is already making my wife mad.

Inside each of those books is, of course, each team's schedule. And inside those schedules are some games that have me excited and shaking my head all at once.

What am I talking about? To the plays!

First Down: Beware the cost of guts

When the BCS was formed in 1998, part of the promised trickle-down effect of the convoluted computer system was that fans would see more top-shelf interconference matchups. Why? Because, in theory, teams would be forced to schedule tougher nonconference games to earn more points and move up the digital ladder.

It hasn't exactly panned out the way it was promised, in no small part because strength of schedule was dropped as one of the BCS formula's four pillars after 2003. But who a team plays does still matter, albeit not as directly, thanks to the continued inclusion of the computer rankings, most of which take strength of schedule into account.

"Your conference schedule can't be all you rest your laurels on, no matter how strong your conference is," says Florida State Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher. "The perfect scenario is to have a good, tough nonconference opponent early on to grab people's attention before conference play gets going. Take care of business in that game and it's hard for people to make an argument against you."

But what if you don't take care of business? For example, lose to Oklahoma 42-17 in Week 2 and then spend the remainder of the year having to claw your way back into the top 20? That's what happened to the Noles a year ago.

"Then you get up, dust yourself off and get back to work," Fisher replies. "Listen, I would rather take my swings on the big stage against the Oklahomas and Floridas of the world and run that risk than play nobody and have to defend that instead."

Fair enough. So what cross-conference matchups will provide the biggest risk or reward this year? Here are 10 to chew on: