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College Football's Top 50 Must-See Games of 2017

Alabama will be a part of the biggest matchups of both the opening and final weeks of the regular season

The college football season began last weekend with a nice appetizer of five games that featured at least one FBS team. This week, the season begins in earnest with a full slate of games, headlined by four matchups on our list of the top 50 games of the 2017 season — Florida State-Alabama in Atlanta, Michigan-Florida in Arlington, Texas, Virginia Tech-West Virginia in Landover, Md., and Tennessee-Georgia Tech in Atlanta.

 

These, however, are just four of the great games that you need to put on your calendar for the upcoming season. It was a difficult task, but we managed to trim our list to 50. Here it is.

 

1. Alabama at Auburn (Nov. 25)

The Iron Bowl rivals Ohio State vs. Michigan as the top rivalry in college football (maybe all sports), and the stakes could be enormous when Alabama and Auburn meet at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Thanksgiving weekend. A trip to the SEC Championship Game — and a subsequent CFB Playoff invite — could be on the line.

Fun fact: Auburn has scored one touchdown (total) in its last two games against Alabama.   

 

2. Florida State at Clemson (Nov. 11)

This Atlantic Division showdown has passed Alabama-LSU as the most impactful game in college football. Consider the following: This winner has advanced to either the BCS National Championship Game (Florida State in 2013) or the CFB Playoff (Florida State in ’14, Clemson in ’15, ’16) in each of the last four seasons.

Fun fact: Florida State won its first 11 games against Clemson after joining the ACC in 1992 but has since lost eight of the last 14 in the series. 

 

3. Penn State at Ohio State (Oct. 28)

Penn State’s 2016 season took a dramatic turn for the better when the Nittany Lions rallied to beat Ohio State (6-0 at the time) 24-21 in Happy Valley. Now, the two Big Ten East powers meet in Columbus in a game that should have CFB Playoff ramifications. Penn State hosts Michigan the previous week. Ohio State will be coming off a bye. Advantage Buckeyes.

Fun fact: Penn State has not scored more than 24 points against Ohio State since beating the Bucks 29-27 in 2001.

 

4. Ohio State at Michigan (Nov. 25)

This rivalry has been ratcheted up a few notches — if that was possible — in recent years thanks to the arrival of Urban Meyer in Columbus and Jim Harbaugh in Ann Arbor. Harbaugh is 13-4 in the Big Ten in his two seasons at Michigan, but two of those four losses came against Ohio State. He has an approval rating of approximately 99.5 percent among Michigan fans; it won’t be 100 percent until he knocks off Ohio State.

Fun fact: Urban Meyer is 13-2 vs. his school’s biggest rival as a head coach (5-0 vs. Michigan, 5-1 vs. Florida State, 2-0 vs. BYU, 1-1 vs. Toledo).

 

5. Alabama vs. Florida State (Sept. 2 in Atlanta)

Some might argue that this game — featuring the Nos. 1 and 3 teams in several preseason polls — should be No. 1 on this list. Others might argue that the game doesn’t really mean much because the loser will have ample opportunity to play its way back into the Playoff picture.

Fun fact: Alabama has not lost a regular-season game to a non-SEC opponent since 2007. The team that beat the Tide: Florida State.

 

6. Oklahoma at Ohio State (Sept. 9)

Oklahoma will have an opportunity to make a huge statement — for both its own program and the entire Big 12 — on this Week 2 trip to Columbus. The Sooners swung and missed last year, dropping a 45-24 decision at home to Ohio State. Don’t expect things to be different this time around.

Fun fact: New Ohio State offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson was the OC at Oklahoma from 2002-10.

 

7. Auburn at Clemson (Sept. 9)

This is one of several tasty SEC vs. ACC matchups in the first two weeks of the season and the only one that will be played on campus. It will be fun to watch new Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham and the Tigers’ outstanding offensive line battle Clemson’s ferocious defensive front.

Fun fact: Auburn has played only two non-conference road games in the past eight seasons — at Clemson in 2011 (loss) and at Kansas State in 2014 (win).

 

8. LSU at Alabama (Nov. 4)

For a stretch in the late 2000s and early 2010s, this was without a doubt the biggest regular-season game in college football. Not anymore. LSU has not won more than five SEC games in a season since 2012 and hasn’t defeated Alabama since the infamous 9-6 game in 2011. Last year, LSU limited Alabama to season lows in points (10) and yards (323) but had season lows in both categories as well (0 points, 125 yards) in a 10-0 loss in Baton Rouge.

Fun fact: Ed Oregon went 0-3 against Alabama has the head coach at Ole Miss (2005-07), but those three losses came by a combined nine points.

 

9. Oklahoma vs. Texas (Oct. 14 in Dallas)

It’s hard to overstate the importance of this year’s OU-Texas game. We have a pair of first-year coaches — Lincoln Riley at Oklahoma and Tom Herman at Texas — who would love nothing more than to post a win over their respective school’s biggest rival in Year 1. You can make a strong case it means more for Riley, a first-time head coach who really doesn’t need his fans questioning his ability to run the program.

Fun fact: Herman, who beat Oklahoma last season while at Houston, is the first coach hired by Texas who had previously recorded a win over Oklahoma while at another school since Dana X. Bible was hired in 1937. Bible went 6-1-1 vs. the Sooners as the head coach at Nebraska from 1929-36.

 

10. Michigan at Penn State (Oct. 21)

Few could have predicted after Penn State’s 49-10 loss at Michigan last September that the Nittany Lions would win their next nine games and capture the school’s first Big Ten title since 2008. This fall, the two teams will meet at Beaver Stadium, where Penn State has won three of the last four in the series. This begins a pivotal three-game stretch for the Lions, who visit Ohio State and Michigan State in the ensuing weeks.

Fun fact: Penn State has averaged 36.0 points in its seven all-time wins against Michigan but only 12.8 points in its 13 losses. The series dates back to 1993.

 

11. Oklahoma at Oklahoma State (Nov. 4)

Texas might have something to say about it, but the Big 12 regular-season title could be decided when Bedlam ensues in Stillwater. This game features two of the elite quarterbacks in the country in Baker Mayfield of Oklahoma and Mason Rudolph of Oklahoma State. Defensive stops will be at a premium.

Fun fact: This is the earliest date for Bedlam since 2004, when the two teams met in Stillwater on Oct. 30. Every meeting since has been on Nov. 24 or later.

 

12. Washington at Stanford (Nov. 10)

Washington stamped itself as a legitimate player on the national scene with a dominating 44-6 win over Stanford in Seattle last September. The Huskies outgained the Cardinal 424-to-213 en route to the biggest win — at that point — in the Chris Petersen era. These two teams, at least on paper, appear to be the class of the Pac-12 North in 2017.

Fun fact: In only one of the past nine seasons has Stanford’s leading passer been a California native (Josh Nunes in 2012). Washington’s top passer has been a California native five times in the past six seasons.

 

13. Virginia Tech at Miami (Nov. 4)

This is the type of game Miami simply needs to win if it hopes to once again become relevant on the national scene. Not only have the Hurricanes failed to play in the ACC Championship Game since joining the league in 2004, they’ve lost fewer than three conference games only once during that span (6-2 in 2005).

Fun fact: Only one of the last eight games in this series has been decided by fewer than 10 points (Virginia Tech beat Miami 38-35 in 2011).

 

14. Georgia vs. Florida (Oct. 28 in Jacksonville, Fla.)

This game hasn’t meant too much on the national scene in recent years, but it’s still a great rivalry game that plays a big role in determining the SEC East champion. Both teams should be strong on defense. Both teams have questions on offense.

Fun fact: Florida has completed a total of 26 passes during its recent three-game winning streak over Georgia.

 

15. LSU at Florida (Oct. 7)

LSU and Florida have played each other in 66 of the last 69 seasons, yet this is rarely mentioned on any list of the great rivalries in the SEC. The series has taken on added importance in the past two decades because it’s the first time both teams have been nationally relevant at the same time. This year’s matchup will be one of the most anticipated in years, due to the controversy that led to last year’s game eventually being shifted from Baton Rouge to Gainesville.

Fun fact: Florida quarterback Malik Zaire, a transfer from Notre Dame, threw for 96 yards and rushed for 96 yards against LSU in the 2014 Music City Bowl.

 

16. Oregon at Washington (Nov. 4)

There is a ton of hatred on both sides in this rivalry, but it’s never received much attention nationally because both programs have never been really good at the same time. That could be changing. Washington is obviously in great shape under Chris Petersen, and Oregon appears to be on the way back to prominence with Willie Taggart now in charge.

Fun fact: Chris Petersen has a 5-4 record as a part of the Oregon-Washington rivalry — 4-2 while at Oregon as the wide receivers coach (1995-2000) and 1-2 as the head coach at Washington (2014-16).

 

17. Florida State at Florida (Nov. 25)

Florida State’s regular-season scheduled is bookended by games away from home against SEC schools — Alabama in Atlanta on Sept. 2 and this trip to Gainesville. The Seminoles have won four straight and six of the last seven in this once-great rivalry.

Fun fact: Florida has scored a total of 16 points in its last three home games against Florida State. The two quarterbacks who threw TD passes for the Gators in those games: Jacoby Brissett and Skyler Mornhinweg.

 

18. Michigan at Wisconsin (Nov. 18)

Could Wisconsin make a run to the College Football Playoff? It’s not likely, but the Badgers have the schedule to play their way into the discussion. They don’t play either Ohio State or Penn State and get Michigan — the other member of the Big Ten East’s Big 3 — at home in Madison.

Fun fact: Wisconsin did not score a point against Michigan from 1977-80, losing the four games by a combined 176-0.

 

19. USC at Notre Dame (Oct. 21)

There is always some intrigue when these two storied programs get together. There will a ton of eyeballs on this year’s edition if USC is living up to expectations — the Trojans could be 7-0 — and if quarterback Sam Darnold is living up to the hype.

Fun fact: USC’s 11-game losing streak against Notre Dame (1983-93) spanned two entire coaching regimes — Ted Tollner (0-4, 1983-86) and Larry Smith (0-6, 1987-92) — plus the first season of John Robinson’s second tour with the school.

 

20. Stanford at USC (Sept. 9)

Since Washington and USC — Athlon Sports’ picks to win the Pac-12 North and South, respectively — do not play in the regular season, this might end up being the most impactful game in the league. The Cardinal rushed for 302 yards in last year’s 27-10 win over USC.

Fun fact: Stanford has won three straight (all by at least 10 points) and seven of the last nine in the series.

 

21. Oklahoma State at Texas (Oct. 21)

This trip to Austin begins a crucial three-game stretch for the Cowboys, who travel to West Virginia and then host Oklahoma in the ensuing weeks. Texas, on the other hand, will be wrapping up its most challenging stretch after playing Kansas State and Oklahoma the previous two weeks.

Fun fact: Over the last five seasons, Texas’ two worst defensive games (on a yards-per-play basis) have come against Oklahoma State. The Pokes averaged 7.8 per play in last year’s 49-31 win and 8.6 in a 41-36 loss in 2012.

 

22. Oregon at Stanford (Oct. 14)

Oregon is poised for a bounce-back season after plummeting to an unthinkable 2-7 in the Pac-12 in 2016. Stanford figures to be Washington’s biggest challenger in the North Division race. This is a pivotal midseason game for both teams.

Fun fact: Stanford has rushed for a combined 484 yards in the last two years against Oregon.

 

23. Georgia at Auburn (Nov. 11)

The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry has been surprisingly one sided in recent years. Dating back to (and including) 2006, Auburn is 2-0 vs. Georgia in years in which it plays for the national championship and 0-9 when it doesn’t.

Fun fact: Over the last three seasons, Auburn has averaged 243.7 yards per game against Georgia (all losses) and 449.7 yards in its other 21 SEC games.

 

24. Tennessee at Florida (Sept. 16)

Tennessee-Florida was arguably the biggest rivalry in college football from the mid-90s to the early 2000s. It’s dropped several notches down the food chain in the past decade — due largely to Tennessee’s struggles — but it’s still must-see TV for those in SEC country.

Fun fact: From 1998 through 2006, six of the nine games in the series were decided by four points or fewer.    

 

25. Miami at Florida State (Sept. 16)

It’s a stretch to say that Miami can’t be nationally relevant until it beats Florida State, but it sure would expedite the process. The Hurricanes have played well of late in this game — losing by a combined 10 points in the last three years — but have not defeated the Seminoles since 2009.

Fun fact: Miami has rushed for fewer than 90 yards in four of its last five games against Florida State.

 

26. Michigan vs. Florida (Sept. 2 in Arlington, Texas)

Florida’s suspect offense — which will be without star wideout Antonio Callaway — will take on a rebuilt Michigan defense that has serious star power up front. Jim Harbaugh would like nothing more than for his team to open the season with a win over a big-name team from the SEC.

Fun fact: This will be the first meeting of these two schools that is not taking place on Jan. 1. Michigan is 3-0 in the series, with wins in the Citrus Bowl in 2016 (’15 season), Capital One Bowl in 2008 and Outback Bowl in 2003.

 

27. Louisville at Florida State (Oct. 21)

Lamar Jackson’s Heisman candidacy began in earnest last September when he threw for 216 yards, rushed for 146 and accounted for five touchdowns in Louisville’s stunning 63-20 win over Florida State. You can bet the Noles will have a better plan for Jackson this time around.

Fun fact: Louisville averaged 8.0 yards per play in that win over Florida State, yet that was not the Seminoles’ worst defensive effort (on a per-play basis) of the season. The following week, in a 55-35 win over USF, they allowed 8.2 yards per play to Quenton Flowers & Co. Prior to last season, the last time FSU allowed more than 8.0 yards per play in game? November 2009, when Florida averaged 8.8 in a 37-10 win in Gainesville.

 

28. Auburn at LSU (Oct. 14)

The two teams with the best chance of unseating Alabama from its perch atop the SEC West meet in Baton Rouge in mid-October. This begins a critical stretch for Auburn, which visits Arkansas and Texas A&M and then hosts Georgia over the next four weeks.

Fun fact: Auburn beat LSU in both 2004 and 2006 despite scoring a combined 17 points in those two games. The Tigers (from Auburn) won 7-3 in ’04 and 10-9 in ’06.

 

29. UCLA at USC (Nov. 18)

This arguably will be the most anticipated quarterback battle of the season, as Josh Rosen and the Bruins make the trip to the L.A. Coliseum to face Sam Darnold and USC. Darnold, at this point, is considered to be the better prospect, but Rosen will have ample opportunity to state his case this fall.

Fun fact: USC and UCLA have not combined for fewer than six conference losses in any season since the Pac-12 expanded and split into divisions in 2011.

 

30. Clemson at Louisville (Sept. 16)

If there’s a good time to play Clemson, this is it: one week after what figures to be a difficult game with Auburn and still early enough in the season that the Tigers might be unsettled at quarterback. This will be Louisville’s home opener after beginning the season with Purdue in Indianapolis and North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

Fun fact: Only eight times last year did a team rush for and throw for at least 270 yards in a single game and lose. Louisville did it twice, at Clemson and at home to Kentucky.

 

31. Texas at USC (Sept. 16)

Tom Herman takes his Longhorns out West for an intriguing Week 3 showdown. The pressure will be on USC, which has its sights set on a spot in the College Football Playoff.

Fun fact: Texas is 1-4 all-time against USC, but the one win was big — 41-38 in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 4, 2006 to win the BCS National Championship.

 

32. Georgia at Notre Dame (Sept. 9)

The pressure will be on Kirby Smart to get off to a good start this fall after struggling through an 8-5 debut season. The Bulldogs open with a dangerous game against Appalachian State — the Mountaineers took Tennessee to overtime in Week 1 last season — before making their first-ever trip to South Bend.

Fun fact: In the only previous meeting between these two teams, Georgia beat the Irish 17-10 on Jan. 1, 1981 in the Sugar Bowl to secure the national championship. Bulldog quarterback Buck Belue completed 1-of-12 passes for 7 yards. Herschel Walker rushed for 150 yards on 36 carries.

 

33. Georgia at Tennessee (Sept. 30)

This sounds like a big-time game. It feels like a big-time game. But the reality is that these teams have combined for only two SEC Championship Game appearances over the last nine seasons (both by Georgia) and have a combined four SEC titles (two each) since the league expanded in 1992.

Fun fact: The losing team has averaged 33.8 points in the last five games in this series.

 

34. Tennessee at Alabama (Oct. 21)

This seems like a sure-death experience for Butch Jones and the Vols, but we can’t forget that two years ago, in its last trip to Tuscaloosa, Tennessee had the lead with under three minutes to play before Jake Coker guided the Crimson Tide on an eight-play, 71-yard drive to win the game.

Fun fact: Tennessee has not scored more than 20 points in any of its last 13 games vs. Alabama.

 

35. Wisconsin at Nebraska (Oct. 7)

This is a huge game for third-year Nebraska coach Mike Riley. After opening league play with Rutgers and Illinois, the Cornhuskers should be 2-0 in the Big Ten when Wisconsin comes calling. A win over the Badgers, the overwhelming favorite to win the Big Ten West, would do wonders for Riley’s approval rating.

Fun fact: Wisconsin rushed for 539 yards in its 70-31 win over Nebraska in the 2012 Big Ten Championship Game. That was more than both Tulane and Washington State rushed for during the entire 2012 season.

 

36. West Virginia vs. Virginia Tech (Sept. 3 in Landover, Md.)

Will Grier will make his West Virginia debut against a rock-solid Virginia Tech defense that features arguably the top back seven in the ACC. The Hokies, meanwhile have turned to redshirt freshman Josh Jackson to take over for Jerod Evans at quarterback.

Fun fact:  West Virginia running back Justin Crawford made a brief appearance in Season 1 of the Neflix show “Last Chance U.” Crawford was a running back for Northwest Mississippi Community College, which played East Mississippi Community College — the school featured on the show — during the 2015 season. Crawford rushed for 115 yards in the game.

 

37. NC State at Florida State (Sept. 23)

This might seem to be a lofty ranking for a game that features a top-five team hosting an unranked team, but NC State has the pieces in place to be a legitimate factor in the ACC Atlantic Division. Last year, the Wolfpack outgained FSU 469-to-393 and led by 10 points in the third quarter before falling 24-20 in Raleigh.

Fun fact: NC State has eight wins over Florida State since the Noles joined the ACC in 1992, tied with Clemson for the most by any team in the league.

 

38. Pittsburgh at Penn State (Sept. 9)

James Franklin’s approval rating took a huge hit after the Nittany Lions dropped a 42-39 decision to Pittsburgh last season in the schools’ first meeting since 2000. The Nittany Lions rebounded and went 10-2 the rest of the way — and Franklin is as popular as ever (and pretty wealthy after singing a new deal a few weeks ago). Pittsburgh will never be the top dog in the state, but two straight wins over Penn State would sure be a nice boost for Pat Narduzzi’s program.

Fun fact: Only three times last season did a Big Ten team score 39 points in a game and lose — Michigan State (to Northwestern) and Penn State twice, to Pittsburgh and USC.

 

39. Notre Dame at Miami (Nov. 11)

This rivalry no longer has the same national appeal as the Catholics vs. Convicts days of the late 1980s, but it’s still a fun game between two programs with a ton of tradition. This visit from Notre Dame comes in a closing stretch that features five of the final seven games at home for the Hurricanes.

Fun fact: Dating back to 1973, 15 of the last 20 games in the series have been decided by 16 points or more.

 

40. Penn State at Northwestern (Oct. 7)

Northwestern’s relatively soft league schedule is one reason the Wildcats should be considered a threat to win the Big Ten West title. Pat Fitzgerald’s team will face only two teams in Athlon Sports’ preseason top 25 — Wisconsin (on the road on Sept. 30) and this visit from Penn State the following week.

Fun fact: James Franklin is 0-3 vs. Northwestern in his career — 0-1 at Vanderbilt and 0-2 at Penn State.

 

41. USC at Washington State (Sept. 29)

The Cougars, who don’t leave the state of Washington until Week 6, could be 4-0 when USC comes calling in late September. If that is in fact the case (and that would assume wins over Boise State and Oregon State), this would clearly be the biggest game of the Mike Leach era.

Fun fact: USC has averaged 54.3 in its last three games in Pullman — all wins (by an average of 43.3 points).

 

42. Nebraska at Oregon (Sept. 9)

This game might not end up having too much relevance nationally, but it’s an intriguing non-conference matchup between two “name” programs played on a campus site in September. Sign me up. Both teams made high-profile defensive coordinator hires in the offseason — Bob Diaco at Nebraska and Jim Leavitt at Oregon.

Fun fact: Nebraska coach Mike Riley went 4-10 against Oregon during his 14 years (1997-98, 2003-14) as the head coach at Oregon State.

 

43. Tennessee vs. Georgia Tech (Sept. 4 in Atlanta)

Few coaches need to get off to a good start in 2017 more than Butch Jones. And while playing Georgia Tech is never easy, this is a good spot for the Volunteers. It’s advantageous to play an option team in Week 1 (all summer to prepare); Georgia Tech will be breaking in a new quarterback (Matthew Jordan); and Dedrick Mills, the team’s top running back last season, was recently dismissed from the team.

Fun fact: Georgia Tech went 3-0 vs. the SEC East last season, with wins over Vanderbilt (at home), Georgia (on the road) and Kentucky (bowl game).

 

44. Oklahoma State at Pittsburgh (Sept. 16)

Oklahoma State is getting some buzz as a dark horse CFB Playoff candidate —though Athlon Sports has the Pokes picked third in the Big 12. This trip to Pittsburgh will be the third and final non-conference game before O-State dives into Big 12 action with a home date with TCU. Pittsburgh has balanced an unbelievably soft ACC schedule (the Panthers don’t play Florida State, Clemson or Louisville and get NC State at home) with a challenging non-league slate that includes this game and a short trip to Penn State.

Fun fact: These two teams combined for 1,167 yards in last year’s 45-38 Oklahoma State win in Stillwater.

 

45. Boise State at San Diego State (Oct. 14)

The top two teams in the Mountain West Conference meet for the first time since 2014. This game is seemingly more important for Boise State, which faces stiffer competition in the Mountain Division. San Diego State could lose this game and still win the West Division with ease.

Fun fact: Boise State is 20-8 in the Mountain West over the last four seasons but has played in the league title game only one time (in 2014).

 

46. Colorado at UCLA (Sept. 30)

The Pac-12 South figures to be one of the most intriguing divisions in college football. USC is the clear favorite, and the Arizona schools, at least on paper, look like the two worst teams. That leaves Colorado, UCLA and Utah to jockey for position behind the Trojans — and don’t be surprised if all three teams finish 5-4 in the league.

Fun fact: UCLA managed only 210 yards of offense in last year’s 20-10 loss to Colorado, the fewest for the Bruins in a game since they had 163 in a loss to Washington in 2010.

 

47. Army vs. Navy (Dec. 9 in Philadelphia)

The annual Army-Navy showdown is rarely impactful on the national scene, but it’s annually one of the most compelling games of the season. Last year, Army snapped a 14-year losing streak to the Midshipmen with a 21-17 win in Baltimore.

Fun fact: Army has not scored more than three touchdowns in a single game against Navy since 2000.

 

48. Louisiana Tech at Western Kentucky (Sept. 16)

If you like watching teams score points, watch this game. Consider the following: The losing team has averaged 44.7 points in the last three meetings (in the last two years).

Fun fact: Western Kentucky has led the nation in each of the last two seasons in scoring offense in league games — 51.7 points per game in 2016 and 50.0 in '15.

 

49. Ole Miss at Mississippi State (Nov. 23)

The stakes might not always be high in Egg Bowl, but this rivalry takes a backseat to few when it comes to pure hatred. These two fan bases simply do not like each other. And the acrimony could be at an all-time high this season due to the ongoing saga involving Hugh Freeze, an Ole Miss booster and several Mississippi State players.

Fun fact: Only twice in the last 15 seasons has the Egg Bowl been decided by fewer than seven points.

 

50. Washington State at Washington (Nov. 25)

The Apple Cup  is always a good watch. It could be a great watch this year if the Pac-12 North title is on the line. Washington, the defending league champ, figures to do its part. Washington State is picked fourth by most (including Athlon Sports) but is good enough to remain in the hunt thanks to an offense that should be among the best in the nation.

Fun fact: Washington has held Washington State to its regular-season low in points scored (Pac-12 games only) in each of the last three seasons.

Event Date: 
Thursday, August 24, 2017 - 15:36

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