In case seven months without football impaired your memory, there are, at any given moment, other teams besides Notre Dame and Notre Dame’s Current Opponent. Are they as important? No. Nonetheless, our Saturdays are about to be occupied with wall to wall football, so might as well plan accordingly.
We’ve taken the liberty of compiling a master game list of sorts, noting up to 15 or so weekly matchups of teams that could make some significant noise this season. It’s mostly Power 5 schools, is completely arbitrary, and comes with a necessary disclaimer that ALL COLLEGE FOOTBALL IS ESSENTIAL and insane and fucked up, and that sometimes watching a game between two no-names who won’t ever sniff the top 25 can be a beautiful viewing experience. There’s gonna be a lot of atrocious football you should also watch. For this post, though, we gotta draw the line somewhere. Let’s run through each week of the upcoming season, from worst to first.
We kick off the FBS season with Miami/Florida at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, which actually rules. Their current trajectories are, uh, divergent — Florida is fresh off a 10-win season that included a Peach Bowl spanking of Michigan, while Miami’s sole ranked win was over #24 Pitt. They also lost by 32 in the Pinstripe Bowl to Wisconsin, yikes. But they’re both projected to be top 20 teams, so this is about as cool of an opener as you can get. Arizona/Hawai’i is less exciting, but getting to watch Khalil Tate in Honolulu isn’t something to complain about.
Our first weekday slate of the year is reasonably watchable, featuring Georgia Tech/Clemson and UCLA/Cincinnati on Thursday, plus Utah/BYU and Wisconsin/USF on Friday (that’s five top 50 teams before Saturday!). Potential highlights include Boise State/Florida State (the ‘Noles have to be better this year, right?) in a sorta-but-not-really neutral matchup in Jacksonville, along with Georgia traveling to take on a half-decent Vanderbilt team. Duke and Alabama play in Atlanta, which is weird, but the crown jewel of this week is Oregon/Auburn at Jerryworld. And of course, the Irish round out the week on Labor Day against Louisville.
The obvious one here is LSU/Alabama, relegated to a DAY GAME like a couple of COMMONERS by ND/Georgia. Lol. Fat chance LSU scores more than a field goal anyway. Georgia gets to entertain a tricky Missouri team, while the rust belt plays host to Iowa/Wisconsin and Penn State/Minnesota. Iowa State travels to Oklahoma — last time the Cyclones were in Norman, they beat the Sooners in a shocker. The rest of the slate is fine.
Plenty of football of a respectable, if unspectacular, quality to go around this week. Mississippi State/Auburn is the standout on paper, but ND/Virginia has a chance to be one of the better encounters if the Hoos are as solid as advertised. If USC hasn’t collapsed by this point in the season, their visit to Washington should be a good one, while Washington State/Utah is another clash between two of the Pac 12’s best teams. Can Scott Frost whip Nebraska into shape and challenge Ohio State? The odds aren’t great. Can Texas Tech go score for score with Jalen Hurts and Oklahoma? Well, they last beat the Sooners in 2011, so.
Georgia and Florida meet in Jacksonville for the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, because yeah, why wouldn’t that event be held in Jacksonville. On the other side of the country, Utah/Washington and Oregon/USC are a couple good battles for Pac 12 supremacy (again, dependent on USC not being its recent self). Miami and Florida State also renew their rivalry, luster TBD. ND hosts Virginia Tech after a second half dispatching last year in Blacksburg.
This week is good because the Irish get to eat cheeseburgers and watch Texas A&M/Clemson in Death Valley — a huge, huge rematch after the Aggies came within a couple points of upsetting arguably the best college football team of all time last week two. LSU/Texas will be equally as hyped with both teams fresh off New Year’s 6 bowl wins. Stanford/USC should be a really good early look at a couple ND opponents, while Michigan has to deal with a potentially pesky Army squad (same could be said about Ohio State and Cincinnati). If you like points, check out West Virginia/Missouri.
Quality SEC action kicks in early with Alabama/South Carolina and Florida/Kentucky. Meanwhile, Clemson goes on the road to face Syracuse, which is as close to an ACC nemesis as it has right now. ‘Cuse does lose QB Eric Dungey, so they figure to be a bit less threatening this time around. On the weird out of conference side, Oklahoma goes west to UCLA, Arizona State visits Michigan State, and our good pal Brandon Wimbush’s UCF faces its biggest test hosting Stanford. If you like slogs, Pitt/Penn State and Ohio State/Indiana (always a weirdly close one, at least for a bit) are also available. Iowa/Iowa State, better known as ¡El Assico!, is always wacky, and probably a better choice.
For all the clamor about ND’s schedule and opponent byes this year, it’s quite nice that Michigan has to play at Penn State while the Irish rest in preparation for a trip to Ann Arbor the next week. LSU/Mississippi State and Florida/South Carolina, oh my god why are all the biggest games always SEC, are certainly worth keeping an eye on. Oregon/Washington is a good one that approximately a hundred people will watch. West Virginia/Oklahoma will feature as many combined points. Ohio State has to play at Northwestern on Friday night, which is truly delightful. Ryan Field is going to be…uh…a stadium with some people in it!
The Pac features a couple classic rivalries in California/Stanford aka The Big Game (name important events much?) and UCLA busing through traffic to USC. Let’s not forget that the Trojans lost to a Bruins team that finished with two other wins last year. Good shit. Penn State/Ohio State is up there in terms of B1G games that are easy on the eyes, or at least not actively harmful. Texas A&M/Georgia and TCU/Oklahoma round out the slate nicely.
I know that the Saturday plan is “incessantly pace around the house and stress drink and mutter nonsense until 8 p.m. PST,” but until then, we can watch USC struggle with a good Utah team on Friday night. The SEC will beat itself up a bit with Tennessee/Florida, Auburn/Texas A&M, South Carolina/Missouri, and Kentucky/Mississippi State, further validating everyone’s belief that it’s the toughest conference by far and/or totally overrated by the national media. Michigan/Wisconsin should be a top 10-ish matchup, but the loser has scored single digit points in each of the last three series games. Big 10 football what it do baybeeee. Oklahoma State/Texas and Michigan State/Northwestern are also some pretty bread and butter in-conference duels, although the former should be much more compelling.
SEC stuff again. Georgia/Auburn, Alabama/Mississippi State, Florida/Missouri, you get the picture. Michigan State is in the Big House again, giving us an excuse to link to the best clip in sports history; just take some time with that and come back when you’re ready. Stanford will attempt to take down Washington State for the first time since 2015, which is genuinely strange even considering how solid Wazzu has been recently.
Three quarters of the way through the season and it’s finally the B1G’s week to shine! I’m obviously already sweating just thinking about ND/Michigan. Wisconsin/Ohio State and Penn State/Michigan State help put the spotlight squarely on the few states that will determine who’s running the country come 2021. Auburn/LSU and Mississippi State/Texas A&M are your obligatory marquee SEC games, and Washington State/Oregon is a nice nightcap for the west coast.
Quality games abound! The SEC offers up Auburn/Florida and Georgia/Tennessee. The B1G provides Michigan State/Ohio State and Iowa/Michigan. The Pac 12’s best is Washington/Stanford, and the Big 12’s is Texas/West Virginia, sure to get feisty due to the CFB offseason’s dumbest controversy (horns down!). Virginia Tech/Miami showcases two ACC programs who probably should be a bit better than they currently are, but could each pop this year. Notre Dame righteously feasts on Brian VanGorder.
Writing this is doing wonders for me in terms of getting in midseason “I’m so sick of the SEC” form. We get it, all the math loves your conference. Florida/LSU, Alabama/Texas A&M, and South Carolina/Georgia is admittedly a pretty massive slate, not to mention Mississippi State/Tennessee. Oklahoma/Texas goes down for what could be the third installment of four in a two year span, while ND hosts USC, who will try to beat the Irish for the first time since 2016, bless their hearts. Michigan State/Wisconsin will prove who can get *four* yards and a cloud of dust more consistently than the other. And Virginia/Miami and Florida State/Clemson are a couple of the more intriguing ACC games all year.
Rivalry week is almost certainly the best football weekend on an annual basis, long may it reign. Alabama/Auburn in the Iron Bowl. This is totally the year Michigan kicks Ohio State’s football. South Carolina is talented enough to put up a fight at home against Clemson. Texas A&M and LSU will go at it. Florida State/Florida, Oklahoma/Oklahoma State, Washington State/Washington, USF/UCF, Virginia Tech/Virginia, Ole Miss/Mississippi State…I could go on. Just a buncha states fighting themselves. And, of course, Notre Dame travels to its modern day house of horrors in Palo Alto to try and take down Stanford for the second year in a row. Pretty good.