Will Ohio State-Michigan top the list?
We enjoyed a nice appetizer last weekend with two games on the Week 0 slate, but the college football season begins in earnest this weekend with games on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. There are three games from Week 1 on this list — Oregon vs. Auburn in Arlington, Texas; Boise State vs. Florida State in Jacksonville; and Houston at Oklahoma — and a bunch to follow in Week 2.
Here are the top 50 must-see games on the 2019 college football schedule:
1. Ohio State at Michigan, Nov. 30
It will be a tough blow to the Jim Harbaugh defenders (and we at Athlon Sports are included on that list) if the Wolverines drop an eighth-straight game to hated Ohio State.
Fun fact: The Ohio State game represented only 11.1 percent of Michigan’s Big Ten schedule last season, but the Wolverines allowed 37.8 percent of their points and 24.4 percent of their yards (in league games) in the loss to the Buckeyes.
2. LSU at Alabama, Nov. 9
It’s still must-see TV, but LSU needs to break through against the Crimson Tide at some point. The Tigers have scored a total of 10 points in the last three meetings.
Fun fact: Both teams have been ranked in the AP top 25 at the time of the game in each of the past 13 meetings (including the 2011 BCS title game). In six of those games, both teams were ranked in the top 10.
3. Oklahoma vs. Texas, Oct. 12 (Dallas)
Like last season, this likely will be the first of two matchups between these bitter rivals. This one is big, but the rematch in December — assuming it happens — will be for a championship.
Fun fact: Each of the last five regular-season meetings has been decided by seven points or fewer.
4. Georgia vs. Florida, Nov. 2 (Jacksonville)
This could emerge as the game of the year in the SEC over the next decade. These two programs are poised to dominate the East Division.
Fun fact: Florida has not topped 200 yards passing against Georgia in any of the past seven games. The Gators have thrown for fewer than 100 yards twice in that span.
5. LSU at Texas, Sept. 7
This might be the most important non-conference game on the 2019 college football schedule. The winner will be included — at least temporarily — in the discussion for a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Fun fact: It’s the first regular-season matchup between these two storied programs since 1954. They last played in the Cotton Bowl, on Jan. 1, 2003.
6. Alabama at Auburn, Nov. 30
This will always be one of the biggest games on the college football schedule, and its magnitude increases when both teams are in the national title hunt. We are confident Alabama will do its part. The ball is in your court, Gus.
Fun fact: Alabama has been ranked first or second nationally in 10 of the last 11 meetings in the series. In 2010, Alabama was ranked ninth and dropped a 28–27 decision to second-ranked Auburn — the eventual national champs.
7. Utah at Washington, Nov. 2
Let’s hope the rematch of the 2018 Pac-12 Championship Game — won by Washington 10–3 — is a bit more entertaining. The Pac-12 hopes both teams enter this game without a loss.
Fun fact: Washington has won six of the seven meetings between the two schools since Utah joined the Pac-12 in 2011. Utah won 34–23 in 2015 in Seattle.
8. Florida at LSU, Oct. 12
The intensity in this annual East vs. West clash has been ratcheted up since the two schools quarreled about relocating the 2016 game due to Hurricane Matthew.
Fun fact: Dan Mullen has now won two straight games against LSU for the first time in his career. Mullen’s 2017’s Mississippi State team pounded LSU 37–7 in Starkville, and his first Florida team beat the Tigers 27–19 in Gainesville last fall.
9. Notre Dame at Georgia, Sept. 21
It’s the return game from Georgia’s 2017 trip to Notre Dame, a 20–19 Bulldog win that served as the unofficial arrival of Kirby Smart’s program as a legitimate national power.
Fun fact: Georgia will be the sixth SEC venue Notre Dame has visited, joining Alabama, LSU, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Tennessee.
10. Notre Dame at Michigan, Oct. 26
Notre Dame is off the week prior to this short trip to Ann Arbor. Michigan plays at Penn State the week before. Advantage Notre Dame.
Fun fact: The last time both teams were ranked in the top 10 at the time of the game: 1994, when No. 6 Michigan beat No. 3 Notre Dame 26–24.
11. Oregon vs. Auburn, Aug. 31 (Arlington, Texas)
Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert can make a statement on a national stage against an elite Auburn defense.
Fun fact: Oregon is 4–5 all-time against SEC teams, with two wins apiece over Mississippi State and Tennessee and losses to Auburn (in the 2010 national title game), Georgia and LSU (three times).
12. Texas A&M at Clemson, Sept. 7
SEC fans might never shut up if the Aggies can find a way to knock off Trevor Lawrence and the defending national champs in Death Valley.
Fun fact: The three SEC teams that Clemson played last season combined to average 7.0 yards per play; the Tigers’ other 15 opponents averaged 3.4 yards per play.
13. Michigan at Penn State, Oct. 19
This will be the most difficult road game for the Wolverines, who are the pick by Athlon Sports and the Big Ten media to win the East Division title.
Fun fact: The home team has won three straight in the series — by scores of 49–10 (Michigan in 2016), 42–13 (Penn State in 2017) and 42–17 (Michigan in 2018).
14. Penn State at Ohio State, Nov. 23
Ohio State closes the regular season with a two-game stretch — Penn State at home and a trip to Michigan — that should have a huge impact on the College Football Playoff race.
Fun fact: Ohio State has rallied from double-digit deficits in the fourth quarter to beat Penn State in each of the last two years.
15. Clemson at Syracuse, Sept. 14
No ACC team has played Clemson tougher than Dino Babers’ Orange the last two seasons — with a win in Syracuse two years ago and a 27–23 loss at Clemson last fall. This is far from a sure thing for the Tigers.
Fun fact: Syracuse ran only 67 plays from scrimmage in last year’s defeat at Clemson, its fewest of the 2018 season.
16. Iowa at Nebraska, Nov. 29
These two programs have each made one appearance in the Big Ten Championship Game. The winner of this clash could be headed to Indy.
Fun fact: Iowa has scored 31 points or more in five of the last six games against Nebraska after hitting that mark only one time in the first 33 games in the series.
17. Georgia at Auburn, Nov. 16
This figures to be the toughest road trip for Georgia, which plays only three true road games in SEC play (Vanderbilt and Tennessee are the others) and also visits Georgia Tech.
Fun fact: Georgia has dominated this series since the mid-2000s — 11 wins in the last 14 games — but is only 2–3 in its last five trips to Auburn.
18. Texas A&M at Georgia, Nov. 23
The Aggies’ brutal 2019 schedule features four games against teams ranked in the top 10 in the Athlon Sports preseason rankings. A&M closes with road games at Georgia and LSU.
Fun fact: Texas A&M joined the SEC in 2012, yet this will be the first time the Aggies and Bulldogs have played while in the same league.
19. Ohio State at Nebraska, Sept. 28
Lincoln will be jumping if the Cornhuskers are 5–0 (as expected) when mighty Ohio State comes calling in late September.
Fun fact: Ohio State has averaged 54.3 points in its last four games against Nebraska.
20. Alabama at Texas A&M, Oct. 12
Alabama handled Texas A&M with relative ease in Jimbo Fisher’s first season with the Aggies. This year’s game should be more competitive.
Fun fact: Texas A&M has been ranked higher than Alabama in only two of 11 games in the all-time series: In January 1942, 18th-ranked Alabama upset second-ranked Texas A&M 29–21 in the Cotton Bowl; and in 2015, the 10th-ranked Tide beat the ninth-ranked Aggies 41–23 in College Station.
21. Oregon at Washington, Oct. 19
It’s more fun when this rivalry means something — and if both teams live up to expectations, this game could decide the Pac-12 North title.
Fun fact: Washington did not score a point against Oregon from 1928 through 1933, a span of six games.
22. Texas A&M at LSU, Nov. 30
This game should have significant ramifications in the SEC West race — or at least the battle for second place behind Alabama. A win by A&M would indicate that Jimbo Fisher’s program is ahead of schedule.
Fun fact: LSU had only 90 offensive plays in last year’s 74–72 seven-overtime loss at Texas A&M. Wake Forest (for a random example) had 90-plus snaps in four separate games in regulation last season.
23. Virginia Tech at Virginia, Nov. 29
The stakes could be high when these two rivals get together in Charlottesville in late November. Virginia is hoping to become the seventh different team to win the ACC Coastal in the last seven seasons.
Fun fact: Virginia Tech has won 15 straight in the series, with four of the last seven coming by four points or fewer.
24. Iowa State at Oklahoma, Nov. 9
The Cyclones shocked the college football world on their last trip to Norman. OU returned the favor last year in Ames.
Fun fact: Iowa State scored a total of 32 points in a six-game stretch against Oklahoma from 2002 through 2011. The Cyclones scored 38 in their win at OU two years ago.
25. Texas at Iowa State, Nov. 16
This trip to Ames figures to be Texas’ most difficult road game on the 2019 slate. The Horns are 6–1 all-time at Jack Trice Stadium.
Fun fact: This game has featured two ranked teams twice in the 16 all-time matchups: last year (No. 13 Texas beat No. 18 Iowa State 24–10) and in 2002 (No. 7 Texas beat No. 17 Iowa State 21–10).
26. Iowa at Michigan, Oct. 5
If Iowa wins the Big Ten West, the Hawkeyes will have to get it done on the road. They play at Michigan, Wisconsin, Northwestern and Nebraska.
Fun fact: Iowa has won five of the last six against Michigan — by far its best stretch in the series — but only one of those five wins was in Ann Arbor.
27. Wisconsin at Nebraska, Nov. 16
These two programs feel like they are going in opposite directions. Wisconsin can prove its doubters wrong with a win in Lincoln.
Fun fact: Wisconsin’s 70–31 win over Nebraska in the 2012 Big Ten title game (remember Legends and Leaders?) was the first of six straight wins for the Badgers in the series.
28. Boise State vs. Florida State, Aug. 31 (Jacksonville)
The Broncos open with a Power 5 opponent for the first time since 2015, when they knocked off Washington 16–13 in Boise. It’s the first-ever matchup between the two schools.
Fun fact: Florida State is unranked in the AP preseason poll for the first time since 2008 and only the second time since 1982.
29. Utah at USC, Sept. 20
The Utes head to USC for their Pac-12 opener. It’s a stretch to call this a must-win, but beating the Trojans on the road sure would be a nice start.
Fun fact: The home team has won all but one of the eight meetings in this series since Utah joined the Pac-12. The one exception: 2012, won by USC in Salt Lake City.
30. Michigan State at Michigan, Nov. 16
Momentum is swinging back to Michigan in this in-state battle, but the Spartans have won four of the last five at Michigan Stadium.
Fun fact: This is the latest this game as been played since 1928, when Michigan topped Michigan State 3–0 on Nov. 17 in Ann Arbor.
31. Iowa at Iowa State, Sept. 14
Matt Campbell has raised the national profile of Iowa State football — but has yet to beat Iowa. The Cyclones have lost four straight and five of six to Iowa.
Fun fact: Iowa State has never been ranked at the time of the game in the history of this series which includes 63 games and began in 1899. The Cyclones are ranked in both the AP and Coaches poll to start the season.
32. Oklahoma at Oklahoma State, Nov. 30
Bedlam has lived up to its name of late: The losing team has scored at least 47 points in each of the last two games.
Fun fact: Mike Gundy has taken Oklahoma State to new heights but hasn’t been able to solve Oklahoma too often; he’s 2–12 against the Sooners and 70–36 against the rest of the Big 12.
33. Florida State at Clemson, Oct. 12
This was once the Game of the Year in the ACC. This fall, it will be just another game on a crowded college football Saturday — unless the Seminoles show significant improvement in Year 2 under Willie Taggart.
Fun fact: Clemson is the first ACC team to record four straight wins over Florida State.
34. Tennessee at Florida, Sept. 21
Jeremy Pruitt needs to show progress in Year 2 in Knoxville. A win at Florida in Week 4 would be a sign things are headed in the right direction.
Fun fact: Both teams were ranked at the time of this game every season from 1990 through 2007. That has been the case only four times since, in 2007, 2012, 2016 and 2107 — and only once in those four games were both teams ranked in the top 20 (’16).
35. Washington at Stanford, Oct. 5
The Huskies hit the Farm one week after hosting USC. We will know after this two-week stretch if UW is a legitimate CFB Playoff contender.
Fun fact: Stanford has won nine of the last 14 games in the series after previously losing 20 of 22 from 1977 through 2003.
36. Penn State at Michigan State, Oct. 26
Both of these teams plan on contending in the Big Ten East — but that will be very difficult for the team that loses this game.
Fun fact: Penn State has lost two straight to the Spartans despite being ranked No. 7 in 2017 and No. 8 in 2018 at the time of the games.
37. Michigan at Wisconsin, Sept. 21
Jim Harbaugh could use a fast start to the Big Ten season. It won’t be easy: The Wolverines have lost four straight in Madison.
Fun fact: Wisconsin scored seven points or fewer in 18 of the first 22 games in the series, stretching from 1892 through 1950.
38. Florida at Missouri, Nov. 16
This could be a bigger-than-expected game in the SEC title chase, especially if Georgia stubs its toe along the way.
Fun fact: Missouri is 4–3 against Florida since joining the SEC and has won the last two in the series by a combined score of 83–33.
39. Oregon at Stanford, Sept. 21
Washington is the team to beat in the Pac-12 North, but the winner of this game will put itself in position to put some heat on the Huskies.
Fun fact: Stanford rushed for 71 yards in last year’s overtime win over Oregon, the fewest the Cardinal have had in a league win since rushing for 20 in a 20–3 victory at Washington in 2006.
40. Houston at Oklahoma, Aug. 31
The Dana Holgorsen era begins with an intriguing trip to Norman. Prediction: There will be a lot of points scored. Another prediction: OU will win.
Fun fact: The two starting QBs in this game have rushed for 100-plus yards in a game a combined 31 times — 27 by Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts and four by Houston’s D’Eriq King.
41. Virginia at Miami, Oct. 11
Virginia’s emergence as a contender in the ACC has increased the importance of this game. Virginia will have a week off to prepare for the Canes; Miami, on the other hand, hosts Virginia Tech just six days before Virginia comes to town.
Fun fact: Only one time in the 16 meetings between these schools have both teams been ranked; in 2004, 18th-ranked Miami topped 10th-ranked Virginia.
42. UCF at Cincinnati, Oct. 4
This figures to be UCF’s toughest test during conference play — and also it’s a great opportunity for the surging Bearcats to make a statement under third-year coach Luke Fickell.
Fun fact: None of the four games played in this series has been decided by fewer than 21 points. UCF has won the last three, by 25, 28 and 21; Cincinnati won by 45 in 2015.
43. Washington State vs. Houston, Sept. 13 (NRG Stadium)
Houston’s defense will get its second huge test of the season, playing “host” (the game is at the home of the Texans) to Washington State two weeks after a Week 1 trip to Oklahoma.
Fun fact: Houston coach Dana Holgorsen played at Iowa Wesleyan from 1991-92. The Tigers’ offensive coordinator at that time? Current Washington State coach Mike Leach. The two then served on the same staff at Valdosta State from 1993-95, and Holgorsen was an assistant at Texas Tech while Leach was the head coach from 2000-07.
44. Ole Miss at Mississippi State, Nov. 28
It’s not the biggest rivalry in college football, but it might be the most heated. These two teams — and especially the fans — simply do not like each other.
Fun fact: The road team has won four straight in the series.
45. Iowa State at Baylor, Sept. 28
Before Iowa State can start thinking about Oklahoma or Texas — among other teams — the Cyclones must first get past Baylor in this tricky Big 12 opener.
Fun fact: These two teams have split the 16 matchups since the formation of the Big 12 in 1996. Baylor holds a one-game edge in the all-time series thanks to a 35–0 win in Ames in 1988.
46. Virginia Tech at Miami, Oct. 5
The ACC Coastal is wide open, as usual, but it will be a surprise if this game doesn’t have a big impact on the division race.
Fun fact: The two flagship programs in the ACC Coastal Division went a combined 8–8 in league play in 2018. It was only the second time since the two teams joined the league in 2004 that the Canes and Hokies did not record a combined record in ACC games of .500 or better. The other season was 2014; both teams went 3–5.
47. Florida State at Florida, Nov. 30
Willie Taggart’s first season in Tallahassee was capped off by a 41–14 loss at home to Florida. He won’t be the coach for long if that continues.
Fun fact: Both teams were ranked in the top 10 at the time of this game every season from 1990 through 2000. That has happened only once in the last 18 meetings, in 2012.
48. UCLA at USC, Nov. 23
An otherwise lackluster Year 1 for Chip Kelly at UCLA was highlighted by a 34–27 win over USC. The Bruins would love to make it two straight.
Fun fact: UCLA has not been ranked in the top-10 at the time of this game since 1998, when the Bruins, ranked No. 3, beat unranked USC 34–17.
49. Washington State at Washington, Nov. 29
Mike Leach knocked off Washington in his first season at Wazzu but has since lost six straight in the series — and the last few have been costly.
Fun fact: Washington State has scored 17 points or fewer in six straight games against Washington. During that stretch, the Cougars have scored 17 or more in all but five Pac-12 games against teams not named Washington.
50. Army vs. Navy, Dec. 14
The Army-Navy showdown is always going to rank among the best games of any college football season. The stakes might not be as high — on the national landscape — as some other games on this list, but you will be hard-pressed to find a game played with more passion.
Fun fact: Neither team has thrown for 100 yards in any of the last three games in this series. Both teams did it in 2015, when Navy had 113 and Army had 208 in the Midshipmen’s 21–17 victory.