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10 College Football Teams That Face a Make-or-Break September

Dabo Swinney

Dabo Swinney

The 2017 college football season is here, or for some teams actually started this past Saturday. But whether you were already “all in” for Week 0 or are more jacked up about the first full slate of games, it doesn’t change the fact that every team is hoping to get off to a good start.

NCAAF Rankings: FSU QB

But that may be easier said than done for a few teams based on their opening month schedules. September is widely known for games that feature a Power 5 team playing a Group of 5 team or when FBS teams host FCS programs. However, not every team’s schedule is created equal, whether it’s in their non-conference matchups or how their conference slate is laid out.

Here are 10 teams that need to be play their best right out of the gate. How successfully these teams navigate their September slate could determine the overall direction of their respective seasons.

1. Florida State

vs. Alabama (Atlanta), ULM, Miami, NC State, at Wake Forest

Not only does Florida State open against Alabama, the preseason No. 1 and a popular pick to win another national title, but the Seminoles also have three ACC games in September. The home opener against ULM and a road game at Wake Forest to close the month out shouldn’t be too challenging, but don’t underestimate having to face Miami and NC State in back-to-back weeks, especially considering that’s two of the top 10 defensive lines in the nation (according to Athlon’s unit rankings) going up against FSU’s suspect offensive line. If the Noles are a legitimate threat to win the ACC and/or be a part of the College Football Playoff field this season it shouldn’t take very long to find out.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: FSU

2. Mississippi State

Charleston Southern, at Louisiana Tech, LSU, at Georgia, at Auburn

Charleston Southern was a FCS playoff participant last season and is ranked 16th in Athlon’s preseason poll. Mississippi State also has to face Conference USA favorite Louisiana Tech on the road. And then there’s the SEC trifecta of LSU, Georgia and Auburn, with just one of those coming at home. So three road games and a home date with LSU in the first month? There will be no easing into the season for Dan Mullen’s Bulldogs. They better be ready or could be staring at a 1-4 start.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Mississippi State

3. Clemson

Kent State, Auburn, at Louisville, Boston College, at Virginia Tech

Clemson should have it fairly easy in the opener against Kent State, but then Auburn comes calling in Week 2. Last year’s meeting on The Plains was a close game, and this time Auburn appears to have the distinct advantage at quarterback (and maybe offense in general). After that it’s a trip to Louisville to face the reigning Heisman Trophy winner. Playing Boston College at home should offer a little breather, although Clemson’s offensive line must account for the Eagles’ Harold Landry, but facing Virginia Tech in Blacksburg is never an easy task. If the Tigers’ remade offense takes too long to gel, the defending champions could be eliminated from the College Football Playoff conversation before the first month of the season is over.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Clemson

4. UCLA

Texas A&M, Hawaii, at Memphis, at Stanford, Colorado

Texas A&M pays a visit to Los Angeles as the encore to last season’s overtime affair in College Station. Hawaii is already 1-0 and appears to be a team on the rise in head coach Nick Rolovich’s second season. The Bruins also can’t afford to take Memphis lightly, as the Tigers’ offense could be as dangerous as some of those UCLA will face in the Pac-12. And speaking of the conference, the Bruins open their slate at The Farm and then by hosting the defending South Division champions. UCLA is coming off of a 4-8 season and head coach Jim Mora could use a quick start to tamp down speculation about his job security.

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Unfortunately it looks like someone forgot to tell the schedule makers this.

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5. Vanderbilt

at Middle Tennessee, Alabama A&M, Kansas State, Alabama, at Florida

With the exception of the home opener against FCS member Alabama A&M, Vanderbilt will have its work cut out for it in September. Middle Tennessee would like nothing more than to beat its Power 5 big brother, especially at home, while Kansas State’s run-oriented offense will present a tough task for the Commodores’ rebuilt front seven. After that Alabama makes a visit to Nashville and then Vanderbilt travels to The Swamp to face the two-time defending SEC East champions. A 3-2 (or even 2-3) start for the Commodores would be quite the statement for head coach Derek Mason coming off of last season’s bowl appearance.

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6. Pittsburgh

Youngstown State, at Penn State, Oklahoma State, at Georgia Tech, Rice

Youngstown State may be an FCS program, but the Penguins are led by former Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini and played for a national title last season. Penn State has been waiting for its rematch with Pitt since last year and the Nittany Lions get the Panthers at home. After that Oklahoma State’s high-powered offense comes to Heinz Field whereas Pitt is breaking in a new quarterback and a rebuilt defense will be without top safety Jordan Whitehead. Then it’s a trip to Atlanta to face another potent offense – Georgia Tech’s option-oriented attack. The Panthers will be quite happy by the time Rice comes to the Steel City to finish out an otherwise rugged month.

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7. Tennessee

vs. Georgia Tech (Atlanta), Indiana State, at Florida, UMass, Georgia

Tennessee’s opener against Georgia Tech was the type of matchup (one of the nation’s top rushing attacks vs. defense that struggled to stop the run and has to replace a bunch of starters) that didn’t appear promising, at least on paper. But the Volunteers may have caught an early break with the dismissal of running back Dedrick Mills, the Yellow Jackets’ leading rusher. However, that won’t matter when Tennessee tries to make it two wins in a row against rival Florida by beating the Gators in Gainesville with a home date against SEC East favorite Georgia looming the end of the month. Vols head coach Butch Jones certainly can’t afford to slip up against Indiana State or UMass; but the season, not to mention his job status, could depend on how the team fares in their three other September games.

Tennessee Football Schedule

8. Stanford

at USC, at San Diego State, UCLA, Arizona State

Stanford had an easy time dispatching of Rice in its opener, thumping the Owls 62-7 Saturday in Sydney, Australia. But things will get considerably tougher for the Cardinal, starting with their showdown against USC in Los Angeles. San Diego State is the Mountain West’s two-time defending champion and has been waiting for an opportunity to take down a ranked Power 5 team, and this one comes at home. UCLA and Arizona State must travel to Palo Alto, but both are Pac-12 foes with offenses that could pose problems for the home team, especially depending on what happens in Stanford’s first two contests.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Stanford

9. BYU

vs. LSU (Houston), Utah, Wisconsin, at Utah State

As an FBS Independent, BYU has flexibility when it comes to scheduling, but it also means the Cougars typically have one of the most unique, and equally challenging, slates in the nation. BYU has already one game under its belt, but a 20-6 home win over FCS member Portland State doesn’t compare to facing LSU, Utah and Wisconsin in consecutive weeks. Getting the Tigers on a neutral field and the latter two in Provo, Utah, followed by an extra week before travelling to Logan to play Utah State may help, but it doesn’t do a lot to lessen the Cougars’ degree of difficulty.

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10. East Carolina

James Madison, at West Virginia, Virginia Tech, South Florida, Temple

It’s bad enough that East Carolina isn’t even favored in its home opener against defending FCS champion James Madison. But when you add a trip to Morgantown to play West Virginia, along with visits from Virginia Tech and South Florida to the mix that equals a rough opening month for a team that lost nine of its last 10 games in 2016. Even Temple, who the Pirates finish their September slate with, appears to be in better shape despite a new coaching staff taking over a team that returns just eight starters.

College Football Rankings: East Carolina