College Football's Top 50 Must-See Games of 2018

Six of Michigan's games make the list, including the annual showdown with Ohio State

The college football season began last weekend with a nice appetizer of four games that featured at least one FBS team. This week, the season begins in earnest with a full slate of games, headlined by three matchups on our list of the top 50 games of the 2018 season — Washington-Auburn in Atlanta, LSU-Miami (Fla.) in Arlington, Texas, as well as Michigan at Notre Dame.

 

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. (And yes, it is kind of heavy with Big Ten games, but that’s what happens when one division has four teams ranked in the top 12). Here it is.

 

Must-See Games of 2018: ACC I Big 12 I Big Ten I Pac-12 I SEC

 

1. Michigan at Ohio State (Nov. 24)

Whether “The Spot” was good or not in 2016, Jim Harbaugh hopes to avoid becoming the first Michigan coach to begin his tenure 0–4 vs. Ohio State.

Fun fact: Ohio State has scored at least 30 points in each of the last five meetings in the series. It’s the first time either team has accomplished the feat in the rivalry.

 

2. Auburn at Alabama (Nov. 24)

The defending national champions visit the defending SEC West champs in the latest installment of the top rivalry in college football. Once again, a trip to the SEC Championship Game could be on the line.

Fun fact: Auburn’s 26–14 victory over Alabama last season was its most decisive over the Tide since a 49–26 win in 1969. Amazingly, each of the Tigers’ previous 20 wins in the series came by 10 points or fewer.

 

3. Auburn at Georgia (Nov. 10)

Auburn captured the SEC West title last season on the strength of impressive wins over Alabama and Georgia — at home. Now the Tigers hit the road for the two most difficult games on the 2018 slate.

Fun fact: Georgia’s rushing attack improved by 517 percent from its regular-season loss against Auburn (46 yards) to the SEC Championship Game win over the Tigers (238).

 

4. Auburn vs. Washington (Sept. 1 in Atlanta)

You can make a strong case that this is the most impactful non-conference game of the season. It means more to Washington — which likely would need to run the table in the Pac-12 to make the CFB Playoff if it lost this game — but Auburn would love to start its 2018 campaign with a big win over a top-10 opponent. 

Fun fact: This is the first meeting between the two schools. Auburn last played a Pac-12 school in the 2013 season opener — a 31–24 win over Washington State at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

 

5. Clemson at Florida State (Oct. 27)

It’s the ACC’s most anticipated game of the regular season for a reason: The teams have combined to win the last nine Atlantic Division titles. And one of the two teams has played in every College Football Playoff (Florida State in 2014, Clemson in 2015, ’16, ’17).

Fun fact: Clemson has won three straight in the series. It’s the Tigers’ second three-game winning streak vs. FSU (2005-07 was the other). They have never won four straight.

 

6. Ohio State at Penn State (Sept. 29)

Played earlier than usual, this game has decided the East Division — and, ultimately, the Big Ten champion — in each of the past two seasons. 

Fun fact: Penn State’s 38 points last season were the most that Ohio State has given up in a win since a 42–41 victory over Michigan in 2013. 

 

7. Oklahoma vs. Texas (Oct. 6 in Dallas)

The Red River Shootout hasn’t commanded the nation’s attention lately, due to the Longhorns’ struggles. Tom Herman hopes to change that... soon.

Fun fact: The last four games in the series have been decided by an average of 5.5 points. The largest margin of victory during this stretch: Texas’ 24–17 win in 2015.

 

8. Michigan State at Penn State (Oct. 13)

Penn State gets a week off between its home showdowns with Ohio State and Michigan State. The Spartans have won four of the last five meetings in the series.

Fun fact: Penn State threw for 401 yards in last season’s 27–24 loss at Michigan State. It was the first time the Nittany Lions had topped the 400-yard passing mark in a league game since throwing for 419 in a 49–18 win over MSU in 2008.

 

9. Wisconsin at Iowa (Sept. 22)

If revenge doesn’t motivate the Hawkeyes, who produced 66 total yards in last year’s 38–14 loss in Madison, the chance to gain a leg up in the Big Ten West race surely will.

Fun fact: In a scheduling quirk, five of the last seven games in this series — including this year’s matchup — have been played in Iowa City. Wisconsin has won the previous four at Kinnick Stadium. 

 

10. Penn State at Michigan (Nov. 3)

This is the last game a brutal three-game stretch for Michigan, which hosts Wisconsin and travels to Michigan State before this home date with the Nittany Lions.

Fun fact: Six of the past eight games in the series have been decided by 10 point or more, including four by 25 points or more.

 

11. Wisconsin at Penn State (Nov. 10)

This is the fourth of five difficult road games in league play for the Badgers. It’s the final true test for Penn State, which closes with Rutgers on the road and at home vs. Maryland. 

Fun fact: The last three games in the series (each won by Penn State) have been decided by a total of 21 points. The previous three games (2–1 Penn State advantage) were decided by a total of 110 points.

 

12. Stanford at Washington (Nov. 3)

Two years ago, Washington announced its return to national relevance with a surprisingly dominant 44–6 win over Stanford in Seattle. Last season, the Cardinal returned the favor with a 30–22 win in Palo Alto. The winner of this early-November clash likely will win the North Division title.

Fun fact: Washington has scored more than 28 points only once in the last 14 meetings with Stanford.

 

13. Florida vs. Georgia (Oct. 27)

Most media outlets are picking South Carolina to finish second in the SEC East, but we have tabbed Florida for the No. 2 spot. That’s only one reason why this game is so high on the list. Another? It’s the first Florida-Georgia game for first-year Gator coach Dan Mullen, and it’s always nice to beat a rival in Year 1.

Fun fact: Florida has completed a total of 36 passes in its last four games against Georgia — and the Gators are 3–1 in that stretch.

 

14. Miami at Virginia Tech (Nov. 17)

This game could decide the Coastal Division title. The teams have split their past 10 meetings and the past two division titles. The Hokies will be hoping for a cold mid-November day — or, even better, night — at Lane Stadium.

Fun fact: Virginia Tech averaged 3.99 yards per play in last year’s 28–10 loss at Miami. It was the only time last season and just the second time in Justin Fuente’s two seasons that Tech averaged fewer than 4.0 yards per play in a game.

 

15. Michigan at Michigan State (Oct. 20)

Jim Harbaugh is 1–5 against Michigan’s primary league rivals, but the lone triumph came in East Lansing two years ago. 

Fun fact: Michigan has scored more than 23 points just once in the last 10 meetings in the series. Prior to this recent stretch, the Wolverines scored 23-plus points 13 times in 14 games against the Spartans.

 

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

The Spartans have lost their last six home games against Ohio State, but they’ll be motivated after being whipped 48–3 last year in Columbus. 

Fun fact: Michigan State was held to 2.79 yards per play in last season’s loss to Ohio State. It’s the lowest single-game average of the Mark Dantonio era.

 

17. Georgia at LSU (Oct. 13)

It’s difficult to find too many landmines on Georgia’s 2018 schedule, and while this is far from a vintage LSU team, no trip to Tiger Stadium is easy.

Fun fact: Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno were the starters at quarterback and running back, respectively, the last time Georgia made the trip to Baton Rouge — in October 2008.

 

18. Alabama at LSU (Nov. 3)

Not long ago, this was the premier game on the entire college football schedule. Now, it doesn’t even crack the top five in the SEC. LSU is talented enough, especially on defense, to make Alabama sweat, but the Tigers have not defeated the Crimson Tide since the 2011 regular season.

Fun fact: LSU has not scored more than two touchdowns in any game against Alabama since a 24–21 win over the Tide in November 2010.

 

19. Oklahoma at West Virginia (Nov. 24)

The Mountaineers face Texas, TCU and Oklahoma State the three previous weeks. If they’re still standing, this could be for a spot in the Big 12 Championship Game.

Fun fact: Oklahoma is 6–0 vs. West Virginia since the Mountaineers joined the Big 12, and the Sooners have scored at least 44 points in five of the six games.

 

20. Mississippi State at Alabama (Nov. 10)

First-year coach Joe Moorhead takes the Bulldogs into Tuscaloosa for what he hopes will be an important game in the SEC West race. Mississippi State is obviously not as talented as Alabama but is very good at two important positions — quarterback and defensive line.

Fun fact: Mississippi State was one of only three teams that held a lead in the fourth quarter against Alabama last season, joining Auburn (which beat the Tide) and Georgia.

 

21. Wisconsin at Michigan (Oct. 13)

Wisconsin was one of only two teams to score more than 20 points against the Michigan defense during the 2017 regular season. The Badgers rolled up 24 in a 14-point win over UM in mid-November.

Fun fact: Wisconsin won two of the first three games in the series (both in the 1800s) and has won seven of the last 16 games played between the two schools. Between those two stretches, the Badgers were 6–40–1 against Michigan.   

 

22. Florida State at Miami (Oct. 6)

The bitter in-state rivals still have not met in the ACC Championship Game, but Miami is “back” after snapping a seven-game losing streak in the series last year and winning the Coastal for the first time.

Fun Fact: Miami is 1–6 at home against Florida State since joining the ACC. The lone win came in 2004, the Canes’ first season in the league.

 

23. Clemson at Texas A&M (Sept. 8)

It’s another round of Jimbo Fisher vs. Dabo Swinney, but this time Fisher is the boss at Texas A&M after making the move from Florida State. The Aggies might not be the best team Clemson plays in 2018, but Kyle Field will no doubt be the most difficult environment the Tigers will deal with.

Fun fact: Swinney has played at least two games against SEC teams in each of his nine full seasons at Clemson and has a 12–9 record against the league.

 

24. Michigan at Notre Dame (Sept. 1)

Michigan’s new-look offense — which should have Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson running the show — makes its 2018 debut against a Notre Dame defense that will be under the direction of first-time defensive coordinator Clark Lea.

Fun fact: Michigan has not scored a touchdown in its last eight quarters at Notre Dame Stadium. The Wolverines’ last TD in South Bend? Denard Robinson’s 2-yard run with 0:27 remaining that gave Michigan the lead for good in a 28–24 win in 2010. 

 

25. Washington at Oregon (Oct. 13)

There aren’t too many potential losses on the Washington schedule. This trip to Eugene, however, could be trouble. The Ducks are eager to re-emerge as a Pac-12 power, and a win over the preseason league favorite would be a huge boost for first-year coach Mario Cristobal.

Fun fact: In 1973, Oregon blanked Washington 58–0 in Eugene. The following season, Washington shut out the Ducks 66–0 in Seattle. That seems strange.

 

26. USC at Utah (Oct. 20)

It’s safe to say that we will know a lot about Utah’s chances of winning its first-ever Pac-12 South title after this key game with USC. The Utes open league play with Washington at home, Washington State and Stanford on the road and then Arizona and USC at home. Good luck!

Fun fact: Utah is 2–5 vs. USC since joining the Pac-12 but has won two straight over the Trojans in Salt Lake City.

 

27. TCU at Texas (Sept. 22)

Nothing is more rewarding for TCU fans than beating Texas — and the Horned Frogs have won four straight in the series. This one will be pivotal for a pair of teams who hope to play in the league title game.

Fun Fact: Texas has scored a total of 33 points in its four-game losing streak against TCU. The average score in the streak is 38–8.

 

28. Wisconsin at Northwestern (Oct. 27)

This is another tricky road trip for the Badgers, but Paul Chryst will have his team ready for this game that is sandwiched between home dates against Illinois and Rutgers.

Fun fact: Wisconsin’s last seven wins in the series have come by an average margin of 22.7 points per game. Northwestern’s last seven wins have come by an average of 4.7 points.

 

29. Ohio State vs. TCU (Sept. 15 in Arlington)

A win by the Frogs would be a huge boost to the Big 12 — and would vault Gary Patterson’s club into the Playoff discussion.

Fun fact: These two schools have not met since 1973. The Buckeyes hold a 4–1-1 advantage in the series and have outscored TCU by a combined score of 148–42 in the six games.

 

30. Iowa State at Iowa (Sept. 8)

This home game with the rival Cyclones is the highlight of Iowa’s challenging non-conference slate that also includes visits from Northern Illinois and Northern Iowa.

Fun fact: Iowa beat Iowa State 44–41 in overtime last season. The 41 points were the most Iowa has allowed in a win since beating Minnesota 49–42 in the 1994 season finale.

 

31. Georgia at South Carolina (Sept. 8)

South Carolina has a great opportunity to create chaos in the SEC East when Georgia comes to down in Week 2.

Fun fact: South Carolina coach Will Muschamp, a Georgia grad, is 1–5 vs. the Bulldogs in his six years as a head coach (1–3 at Florida, 0–2 at South Carolina.)

 

32. Texas A&M at Alabama (Sept. 22)

Two weeks after hosting Clemson, the Aggies head to Tuscaloosa for Jimbo Fisher’s first SEC game as the boss at Texas A&M. Nick Saban has lost only one SEC home opener (2015 vs. Ole Miss) during his 11 years at Alabama. It’s not likely to happen in 2018.

Fun fact: Texas A&M scored 10 offensive touchdowns in its first two games (one win, one loss) against Alabama after it joined the SEC but has managed only six in the last four games (all losses).

 

33. Army vs. Navy (Dec. 8 in Philadelphia)

This rivalry has always been great. It’s been even better the past few years now that Army has managed to finally break through and beat Navy. (And this is not a pro-Army or anti-Navy take; it’s just better when one team isn’t dominating the series.)

Fun fact: Six of the last seven games in the series have been decided by seven points or fewer. Army has not defeated Navy by more than 10 points since 1987 (17–3 win).

 

34. Washington at Utah (Sept. 15)

You can make a strong case this will be Washington’s toughest Pac-12 game of the season. The Utes are one of the most physical teams in the league and are very difficult to beat at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Fun fact: Washington scored 10 points in the final minute to rally past Utah last season, 33–30 in Seattle. The Huskies tied the game on a Myles Gaskin 2-yard run with 0:58 to play and won it on a Tristan Vizcaino 38-yard field goal at the buzzer.

 

35. USC at Stanford (Sept. 8)

USC doesn’t play Washington — everyone’s pick to the win the league — but does have to play its three toughest Pac-12 games on the road, starting with this trip to the Farm in Week 2.

Fun fact: This will be the sixth matchup between the two programs since the beginning of the 2015 season. Stanford has won two of the three regular-season matchups, and the schools have split the two Pac-12 Championship Games.

 

36. Oklahoma State at Oklahoma (Nov. 10)

Bedlam has always been entertaining. Oklahoma State’s recent rise to prominence has made the game relevant on the national stage.

Fun fact: Oklahoma has rolled up 1,414 total yards in the last two games against Oklahoma State.

 

37. Oklahoma at Iowa State (Sept. 15)

Remember when the Cyclones rolled into Norman and stunned the Sooners last October? This early league opener sets up as a critical showdown for both teams.

Fun fact: These two teams have played 82 times. Iowa State has defeated Oklahoma by more than seven points just once: 13–0 in 1928, the first-ever meeting in the series.

 

38. USC at Texas (Sept. 15)

Texas dropped a heartbreaker in overtime last fall in Southern California. The Longhorns will be eager to return the favor when the Trojans come to town for the first time since 1966.

Fun fact: Texas is 1–5 all-time against USC, but the one win was memorable — the 2005 BCS National Championship Game at the Rose Bowl.

 

39. Florida at Tennessee (Sept. 22)

This is no longer the Game of the Year in the SEC — that’s what happens when one team has won 12 of 13 — but it’s very important in 2018 to a pair of first-year head coaches. Jeremy Pruitt, at Tennessee, can win over a huge portion of the fan base with a win over the Gators. Dan Mullen, at Florida, will make quite a bit of Gator Nation unhappy if he loses to the Vols in Year 1.

Fun fact: Florida went 4–0 against Tennessee, with an average score of 32–13, in Mullen’s four seasons (2005-08) as the Gators offensive coordinator.

 

40. Boise State at Oklahoma State (Sept. 15)

This figures to be the toughest test for a Boise State team that might be good enough to navigate the 2018 regular season without a loss. If the Broncos do run the table, many in the college football community will be calling for this team to earn a spot in the College Football Playoff. 

Fun fact: Boise State has played only one other current Big 12 team on the road — TCU, in 2003, when the Horned Frogs were in Conference USA.

 

41. Florida at Mississippi State (Sept. 29)

On paper, this is an early season game between teams picked, by Athlon Sports, to finish second in the SEC East and third in the SEC West. On the field, it’s an emotional showdown between Dan Mullen’s new team and Dan Mullen’s old team. Davis Wade Stadium will be at a fever pitch.

Fun fact: Mullen is the ninth coach to go from one SEC school to another from one year to the next, joining Chet Wynne (Auburn to Kentucky, 1933-34), Harry Mehre (Georgia to Ole Miss, 1937-38), Harold “Red” Drew (Ole Miss to Alabama, 1946-47), Doug Dickey (Tennessee to Florida, 1969-70), Bill Curry (Alabama to Kentucky, 1989-90), Gerry DiNardo (Vanderbilt to LSU, 1994-95), Tommy Tuberville (Ole Miss to Auburn, 1998-99) and Houston Nutt (Arkansas to Ole Miss (2007-08)

 

42. Miami vs. LSU (Sept. 2 in Arlington)

Expectations are uncharacteristically low for LSU this season, but the Tigers have an opportunity to make a big statement against Miami (preseason No. 6 in Athlon Sports) in this neutral-site opener in Texas. An LSU win would also be a nice early season feather in the cap for those who love the “SEC, SEC, SEC” chant.

Fun fact: LSU leads the all-time series 9–3 and has held Miami to three points or fewer in six of the 12 meetings.

 

43. Arizona at Utah (Oct. 23)

Arizona could emerge as a surprise contender in the South Division. The Wildcats boast one of the nation’s most exciting players in QB Khalil Tate, and they feature a schedule that does not include the two top teams from the North, Washington and Stanford.

Fun fact: New Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin is 4–1 all-time against Pac-12 schools — 3–0 at Texas A&M and 1–1 at Houston. Four of the five games have come against UCLA.

 

44. Nebraska at Michigan (Sept. 22)

It’s Scott Frost’s first conference game as the head coach at his alma mater. Could the next Frost vs. Jim Harbaugh showdown take place in a future Big Ten Championship Game?

Fun fact: Harbaugh was the starting quarterback for Michigan in the Wolverines’ 27–23 win over Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1, 1986. Harbaugh completed 6-of-15 passes for 63 yards.

 

45. West Virginia at Texas (Nov. 3)

This trip to Austin kicks off a brutal season-ending four-game stretch for the Mountaineers, who also play TCU, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma in the final month of the season.

Fun fact: West Virginia is 6–6 in Big 12 games played in the state of Texas — including a 2–1 mark in Austin — since joining the league in 2012.

 

46. Miami at Georgia Tech (Nov. 10)

This game, one week before Miami’s trip to Virginia Tech, could be trouble. Georgia Tech was better than its 5–6 record last year and came one fourth-down stop away from beating the Canes in Miami last season.

Fun fact: Paul Johnson and Mark Richt will square off for the 11th consecutive season, dating back to Richt’s time as the coach at Georgia.

 

47. Mississippi State at Ole Miss (Nov. 22)

The Egg Bowl is always intriguing. There’s an extra layer this season thanks to the arrival of a new coach in Starkville (Joe Moorhead) who will be leading a team that is eager to exact some revenge for a surprising loss at home last season.

Fun fact: Mississippi State has averaged 478.5 yards in its last four games against Ole Miss but is only 1–3 during that stretch.

 

48. Auburn at Mississippi State (Oct. 6)

Auburn won’t play a true road game until this early October trip to Starkville in a battle of two preseason top-15 teams. This caps a big two-game homestand for Mississippi State, which hosts Dan Mullen and the Florida Gators the previous week.

Fun fact: This season marks the 10-year anniversary of the famed 3–2 game won by Auburn. Mississippi State was held to six first downs and 116 total yards. Auburn managed a respectable 315 yards of offense but was held to a single field goal.

 

49. Alabama at Tennessee (Oct. 20)

Jeremy Pruitt will square off against his alma mater for the first time as a head coach when the mighty Crimson Tide roll into Knoxville. One of Pruitt’s many goals as the boss at UT: Make this rivalry relevant on the national scene once again.

Fun fact: Jeremy Pruitt will be one of four SEC coaches who will face his alma mater in 2018, joining South Carolina’s Will Muschamp (Georgia), Arkansas’ Chad Morris (Texas A&M) and Auburn’s Gus Malzahn (attended Arkansas before transferring to Henderson State).

 

50. Penn State at Pittsburgh (Sept. 8)

Penn State has its sights set on a Big Ten East title but first must deal with in-state rival Pittsburgh in Week 2. We know what happened the last time the Nittany Lions played in Heinz Field.

Fun fact: James Franklin is 6–1 in his career against schools from the ACC, 2–1 at Penn State and 4–0 at Vanderbilt.

 

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