9 Teams that Face a Make-or-Break September

These teams could see their seasons sink or swim in the first four weeks of the season

November can often be the month most fans remember. The rivalry games and a season’s worth of momentum all create heightened drama in the final full month of the season.

 

Yet in the shortest season in sports, every month and every week counts.

 

Many seasons can be determined in September. This is the time for non-conference statement games. This is the time when hot seat coaches can see their jobs saved or doomed.

 

A handful of teams face key tests in the first month of the season, but few teams will be as consistently challenged as the nine teams on this list whose seasons could be won or lost in September.

 

Auburn

Sept. 3 Clemson

Sept. 10 Arkansas State

Sept. 17 Texas A&M

Sept. 24 LSU

The good news: Auburn has four home games to start the season. The bad news: This could be a nightmare for coach Gus Malzahn and not just because he starts the season with national runner-up Clemson. Arkansas State, Malzahn’s former employer, is coming off an 8–0 Sun Belt season. It’s not unheard of for Auburn to struggle against these kinds of teams. With Texas A&M and LSU coming to town, a 1-3 start isn’t out of the question. Then again, neither is 3–1.

 

Oklahoma

Sept. 3 Houston (NRG Stadium)

Sept. 10 ULM

Sept. 17 Ohio State

OU’s first three games are most notable for the matchups. The Sooners did not face the primary quarterbacks for TCU, Baylor or Oklahoma State on the way to the Playoff last season. They’ll open 2016 by facing two of the best dual-threat QBs in the country in Houston’s Greg Ward Jr. and Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett. Oklahoma’s rebuilt defense will be tested before Big 12 play begins.

 

Ole Miss

Sept. 5: Florida State (Orlando)

Sept. 10 Wofford

Sept. 17 Alabama

Sept. 24 Georgia

With a rematch against Memphis on Oct. 1 in Oxford, this schedule means Ole Miss won’t play a true road game until Oct. 15 at Arkansas. Normally, that would count for fortunate scheduling. Not here. After a tumultuous offseason, Ole Miss will face Athlon’s top two teams (No. 2 Florida State and No. 1 Alabama) in the first three weeks of the season. Throw in SEC East contender Georgia on Sept. 24, and Ole Miss will know where it stands on the national stage before the calendar turns.

 

Penn State

Sept. 3 Kent State

Sept. 10 at Pittsburgh

Sept. 17 Temple

Sept. 24 at Michigan

Penn State should beat Kent State and will be an underdog against Michigan. It’s those two intrastate games in the middle that could determine what kind of season James Franklin will be facing. Penn State and Pitt will revive their series for the first time since 2000 just as the two schools more or less seem to be on even footing. And Penn State must show progress against Temple, a team that beat the Nittany Lions for the first time since 1941 last season.

 

Pittsburgh

Sept. 3 Villanova

Sept. 10 Penn State

Sept. 17 at Oklahoma State

Sept. 24 at North Carolina

Pittsburgh is a sleeper team in the ACC Coastal, and the Panthers will have their work cut out for them in the first month of the season. The road trip to North Carolina will be a good barometer for Pitt’s ACC options, but this non-conference schedule is challenging. Pitt visits big 12 contender Oklahoma State and faces an in-state FCS power entering the final season for its legendary coach (Villanova’s Andy Talley). The Panthers also draw Conference USA contender Marshall on Oct. 1.

 

Stanford

Sept. 2 Kansas State

Sept. 17 USC

Sept. 24 at UCLA

Sept. 30 at Washington

Stanford’s entire schedule is a monster, as the Cardinal won’t face a non-bowl team from 2015 until Oct. 22 against Colorado. A case could be made that Stanford’s 16-6 loss at Northwestern to open 2015 kept the Cardinal out of the College Football Playoff. Stanford will try to avoid a similar misstep at home against Kansas State. Stanford faces the top two teams in the Pac-12 South and one of its toughest foes in the North to start its Pac-12 schedule.

 

Texas A&M

Sept. 3 UCLA

Sept. 10 Prairie View A&M

Sept. 17 at Auburn

Sept. 24 Arkansas (Arlington)

Kevin Sumlin enters 2016 under pressure to put the pieces together. He has an elite defense, and now the offense needs to catch up under quarterback Trevor Knight and coordinator Noel Mazzone. There will be plenty of opportunities to show progress in the early going. UCLA could be a statement game. And matchups against Auburn and Arkansas away from College Station are the games A&M needs to win to be an SEC West contender.

 

USC

Sept. 3 Alabama (Arlington)

Sept. 10 Utah State

Sept. 17 at Stanford

Sept. 23 at Utah

A handful teams play three tough games in September, but no team will play three physical teams like USC does with Alabama, Stanford and Utah in the first month of the season. Utah State — a team that has made five consecutive bowl games — is the easiest matchup here. That’s saying something.

 

UCLA

Sept. 3 at Texas A&M

Sept. 10 UNLV

Sept. 17 at BYU

Sept. 24 Stanford

Road trips to Texas A&M and BYU won’t impact UCLA’s hopes of winning the Pac-12, but they could determine whether or not UCLA is a national player. UCLA has lost eight in a row to Stanford, and six of those matchups haven’t been close.

 

BYU

Sept. 3 Arizona (Glendale, Ariz.)

Sept. 10 at Utah

Sept. 17 UCLA

Sept. 24 West Virginia (Landover, Md.)

Sept. 30 Toledo

BYU is ranked 46th in Athlon’s preseason ranking, but if there were a way for independent BYU to reach the College Football Playoff, it would have to be against a schedule like this. A Friday game against Toledo means BYU will play five games in the first 27 days of the season. On a per-team basis, BYU’s October schedule is arguably tougher — at Michigan State, Mississippi State, at Boise State.

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