College Football's Top 50 Must-See Games of 2016

Alabama and LSU's Nov. 5 matchup in Death Valley is among the top games on tap this season

The offseason is over and after several long and excruciating months, college football is back in our lives. Normally any kind of football in late August and early September should be celebrated but 2016 might just feature the most impressive opening weekend ever. Added to a schedule packed with great games from now until December and there should be no shortage of fun on the gridiron this year.


2016’s Must-See Games by Power Five Conference: ACC I Big 12 I Big Ten I Pac-12 I SEC


While you really can’t go wrong when you flip on the TV or head out to the stadium on a day filled with college football, here are the 50 games you should make sure to put on your calendar and watch.


1. Ohio State at Oklahoma (Sept. 17)

Two of the best programs of all-time clash for a game that will have serious College Football Playoff implications. Quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and J.T. Barrett can also make a big-time statement in the Heisman Trophy race as well.


2. Alabama at LSU (Nov. 5)

This SEC West matchup has been labeled the “Game of the Century” a few times in recent memory and it’s possible this is a No. 1 vs. No. 2 contest once again when early November rolls around. Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide currently enjoy a five-game winning streak in this rivalry, something the Tigers will no doubt be looking to change.


3. Michigan at Ohio State (Nov. 26)

Jim Harbaugh vs. Urban Meyer will always be worth tuning in for but the fact that both teams could be in the top five with the division title on the line makes this a potential classic.


4. Clemson at Florida State (Oct. 29)

Once again this will be the ACC game of the year and there will be even more expectations for this one with a pair of preseason top-five teams hooking up. NFL scouts will likely be drooling over the NFL talent between the lines, including Heisman Trophy front-runner Deshaun Watson.


5. Oklahoma vs. Houston (Sept. 3 – Houston)

Both the Sooners and the Cougars enter 2016 with high expectations and designs on making the College Football Playoff. If Houston ends up knocking off Oklahoma, expect talk of a Group of Five crashing the final four to really heat up.


6. Florida State vs. Ole Miss (Sept. 5 – Orlando, Fla.)

This year’s Labor Day matchup is one of the best on that holiday in recent memory. Ole Miss is replacing a lot of key players from last year’s squad and will run into a talented FSU team with designs on another national title.


7. USC vs. Alabama (Sept. 3 – Arlington, Texas)

These two college football blue bloods claim 27 national titles between them and will be looking to add to that number in 2016. New quarterbacks for both teams and a ton of potential first-round NFL Draft picks make this an intriguing opener for both the defending champions and the Trojans.


8. Oklahoma at TCU (Oct. 1)

This is set up to be the Big 12 game of the year between the league’s two favorites and there might be significant Playoff implications at stake for both teams. Gary Patterson vs. Bob Stoops is always a fun coaching subplot too.


9. Alabama at Ole Miss (Sept. 17)

Beating Nick Saban twice in a row is one of Hugh Freeze’s most impressive accomplishments since arriving in Oxford. Can he make it three in a row? Alabama players will look to stop this pesky streak in a game with serious SEC West title ramifications.


10. Ohio State at Michigan State (Nov. 19)

This contest decided the Big Ten East title and ultimately led to a College Football Playoff berth last season for Mark Dantonio’s Spartans. Revenge will no doubt be on the minds of the Buckeyes as a result.


11. UCLA at Texas A&M (Sept. 3)

SEC/Pac-12 non-conference games are good for everybody and this one features a pair of dark-horse CFP contenders together for a big-time opener. Seeing Bruins QB Josh Rosen face DE Myles Garrett and a speedy SEC defense is reason enough to tune in.


12. Alabama at Tennessee (Oct. 15)

The Third Saturday in October has special meaning for both teams and the Volunteers will enter this year’s edition with their best team in years and looking to end a decade-long streak by the Crimson Tide. This also could double as an SEC Championship Game preview.


13. Michigan at Michigan State (Oct. 29)

Last year’s ending to this rivalry game was one of the most improbable finishes in college football history. Michigan is no doubt hoping that things don’t come down to the final snap in this one, which should have plenty of impact on the Big Ten race.


14. Stanford at Washington (Sept. 30)

No team has received more preseason hype than the Huskies and we’ll know quickly if that preseason love is for real as they face the Cardinal in a game that could send the winner to the Pac-12 Championship Game.


15. Notre Dame at Texas (Sept. 4)

This was already a big-name matchup given the historical powers involved, but some recent suspensions by Notre Dame and a new-look offense for Texas make this one even more intriguing as a Sunday night affair.


16. Florida at Florida State (Nov. 26)

It seems like we’re back to having national title implications for this late-season in-state rivalry game.


17. Stanford at Notre Dame (Oct. 15)

This game has been a classic that has come down to the final play several times the past five years and it would surprise nobody if these two evenly matched squads do the same again in 2016.


18. Texas vs. Oklahoma (Oct. 8 – Dallas)

The Red River Showdown (or Rivalry if you prefer) has one of the best atmospheres in all of college football and a game between the lines that matches.


19. Stanford at Oregon (Nov. 12)

This contest has decided the Pac-12 North the last several times the Ducks and the Cardinal have hooked up and the contrast in styles between the two teams is worth watching alone.


20. Oklahoma State at Oklahoma (Dec. 3)

The annual Bedlam game served as a de facto Big 12 championship game in 2015 and it could be much of the same again in 2016.


21. Texas A&M at Alabama (Oct. 22)

The ghost of Johnny Manziel may be gone from this series but there’s still been plenty of entertainment on the field and no reason to think this one won’t have serious SEC West title implications.


22. BYU at Utah (Sept. 10)

The Holy War might be the nastiest college football rivalry nobody outside of Utah understands. New Cougars head coach Kalani Sitake will be looking to get a ‘W’ over his some of his old coaching buddies and end a five-game BYU losing streak.


23. Florida at Tennessee (Sept. 24)

Is this the year Tennessee finally ends the streak and beats Florida? It might be the Volunteers’ best chance in a long time.


24. Washington at Oregon (Oct. 8)

Oregon has absolutely owned this Pacific Northwest rivalry game lately, winning 16 of the past 20 and 12 in a row. Washington is getting all the hype for 2016 however and is looking to start its own streak under Chris Petersen.


25. Florida State at Louisville (Sept. 17)

Louisville is the consensus third-best team in the ACC and will have a chance to prove it’s on that level early on as the Cardinals host FSU in a major game between top-20 teams.


26. Wisconsin vs. LSU (Sept. 3 – Green Bay, Wis.)

Playing college football at Lambeau Field is just downright cool and the added storyline of new LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda facing off against his former team only adds to the drama of this fascinating non-conference matchup.


27. Notre Dame at USC (Nov. 26)

The greatest intersectional rivalry game in the country is always a must-see game and this year’s edition will be no exception given the loads of talent on both sides.


28. Virginia Tech vs. Tennessee (Sept. 10 – Bristol, Tenn.)

The novelty of playing at a NASCAR track is very cool and the record-setting crowd on hand will only add to what should be an interesting game between two teams with very different expectations this season.


29. Auburn at Alabama (Nov. 26)

There are few rivalry games quite like the Iron Bowl and this year’s edition figures to be filled with plenty of drama in what could be a make or break game for Gus Malzahn.


30. Stanford at UCLA (Sept. 24)

Josh Rosen vs. Christian McCaffrey is enough star power to tune in for this potential Pac-12 title game preview.


31. Michigan State at Notre Dame (Sept. 17)

Almost always a tough, hard-fought game from both sides, this will be quite revealing as to whether either the Spartans or the Fighting Irish are truly top-10 teams or if they’re having to replace just a bit too much from last year’s talented squads.


32. Oklahoma at Texas Tech (Oct. 22)

Baker Mayfield’s return to Lubbock will surely be worth watching for whatever kind of reception he receives but it may be more intriguing to see what uber-talented QB Patrick Mahomes can do against the Sooners’ defense.


33. Louisville at Clemson (Oct. 1)

Bobby Petrino’s offense can give anybody fits and the chess match he’ll have with Clemson’s Dabo Swinney and Brent Venables should be as fun as watching two terrific dual-threat quarterbacks like Deshuan Watson and Lamar Jackson.


34. Florida State at Miami (Oct. 8)

Mark Richt is in charge at his alma mater and faces the rival school where he made his name as a coach for the first time.


35. Kansas State at Stanford (Sept. 2)

Christian McCaffrey is one of the most exciting players in college football and he’ll have the wizard, Bill Snyder, trying to slow him down for a big non-conference game on the Farm.


36. Tennessee at Texas A&M (Oct. 8)

Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett and the Volunteers’ Derek Barnett could both wind up in the running to be the No. 1 overall pick in next year’s NFL Draft. This is a big early test for both teams and a game that could shake up the SEC.


37. Washington State at Boise State (Sept. 10)

If you love offense, this Pacific Northwest contest should feature plenty of it. Mike Leach’s Air Raid will do damage through the air while Brett Rypien and Jeremy McNichols will power the Broncos in a more balanced attack.


38. USC at UCLA (Nov. 19)

The two most talented teams in the Pac-12 South may be battling for the division title as the Bruins and Trojans look to own bragging rights in the city of Los Angeles.


39. Louisville at Houston (Nov. 17)

If Houston can get past Oklahoma in the opener, this one might have College Football Playoff implications. Either way, Greg Ward Jr. against fellow quarterback Lamar Jackson is worth the price of admission.


40. LSU at Texas A&M (Nov. 24)

Grab a second helping of Thanksgiving dinner and sit down for Leonard Fournette and the Tigers taking a trip to College Station for a big SEC West showdown.


41. TCU at Baylor (Nov. 5)

This has been one of the more cantankerous rivalries in the Big 12 the past few seasons and there’s nothing to suggest these two will get along until after the game is over.


42. Florida vs. Georgia (Oct. 29 – Jacksonville, Fla.)

Kirby Smart will get to experience his first World’s Largest Cocktail Party as the head coach of the Bulldogs and this one should once again play a huge factor in the race for the SEC East title.


43. Miami at Notre Dame (Oct. 29)

This isn’t exactly the days of Catholics vs. Convicts from yesteryear but there will be plenty of entertainment when these two programs get together in South Bend.


44. North Carolina vs. Georgia (Sept. 3 – Atlanta)

The Kirby Smart era begins down the road in Atlanta for what should be an interesting kickoff game for both teams with several question marks and high expectations.


45. Ohio State at Penn State (Oct. 22)

James Franklin is still looking for a signature victory to hang his hat on in Happy Valley and this trip by the very talented Buckeyes into the heart of a white-out in the stands presents a big opportunity for the Nittany Lions to get one.


46. Clemson at Auburn (Sept. 3)

It’s Tigers vs. Tigers to open the season as we get our first look at Deshaun Watson and company. It will be more interesting to see what a re-tooled Auburn looks like on both sides of the ball however.


47. Tennessee at Georgia (Oct. 1)

The SEC East may very well be decided by the middle of October with Tennessee’s big division game against Georgia coming right after facing Florida.


48. Nebraska at Ohio State (Nov. 5)

It’s kind of amazing this will be only the fifth meeting between the Cornhuskers and Buckeyes but this late-season contest could be a preview of the Big Ten title game a month later.


49. North Carolina at Florida State (Oct. 1)

This is one of those sneaky-good games in early October that has ACC title game implications for both teams and should feature plenty of big-time plays. FSU’s Derwin James trying to contain UNC’s Ryan Switzer needs an isolation camera.


50. Navy vs. Army (Dec. 10)

The final regular season game of the year is always worth tuning in because of the pageantry of this amazing rivalry and what it means for the players who will go on to much bigger things than the NFL.


Best of the rest (non-conference edition): Appalachian State at Tennessee (Sept. 1), Missouri at West Virginia (Sept. 3), Penn State at Pitt (Sept. 10), Arkansas at TCU (Sept. 10), Arkansas State at Auburn (Sept. 10), Texas Tech at Arizona State (Sept. 10), Oregon at Nebraska (Sept. 17), Navy at Air Force (Oct. 1), BYU at Michigan State (Oct. 8), BYU at Cincinnati (Nov. 5)


Best of the rest (conference game edition): Houston at Cincinnati (Sept. 15), USC at Stanford (Sept. 17), LSU at Florida (Oct. 8), Tulsa at Houston (Oct. 15), Texas Tech at TCU (Oct. 29), Oregon at USC (Nov. 5), Michigan at Iowa (Nov. 12), Baylor at Oklahoma (Nov. 12), Michigan State at Penn State (Nov. 26), Mississippi State at Ole Miss (Nov. 26)


— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.


(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)

More Stories: