Ask college football coaches what their favorite things to say about this time of the year are and you’re liable to hear that teams to remember win big games in November. While it rolls off the tongue, it’s also true — it’s time to get serious about college football and ramp up the pressure as title chases across the country really hit the home stretch.
As we move on from October and into the final month of the regular season, everything from the playoff pursuit to the Heisman Trophy to the difference from a good year to a bad one are about to be crystallized by who wins and who loses over the next four weekends.
What games are absolutely worth marking the calendar for this month though? Here are 20 of the best college football games during the month of November and why you should tune in:
1. Alabama at Auburn (Nov. 25)
There are rivalry games, and there’s the Iron Bowl. As we’ve come to expect year after year, this edition should once again prove to have huge national title and SEC West implications as both sides could be still in the running for both. The real reason to tune in though just might be to watch the defenses do their thing, as both the Tigers and Crimson Tide sport some of the stingiest units in the game.
2. Oklahoma at Oklahoma State (Nov. 4)
It’s not quite the undefeated Bedlam between top-five teams some expected at the beginning of the year but it is nevertheless the most important Big 12 game of the year as the conference race could result in the winner going to the title game and the loser sitting at home in early December. Either way, these are two of the best offenses in the country so it will be worth watching to see the aerial back and forth between Baker Mayfield (above, right) and Mason Rudolph alone.
3. Georgia at Auburn (Nov. 11)
The biggest obstacle for the Bulldogs to go undefeated until the SEC title game probably lies here, as they take a trip to Auburn for the latest edition of the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry. This always seems like it is a closely contested battle between rivals and that should play out once again as the defenses on either side will cause NFL scouts to flock to the Plains. Don’t discount the big-play potential for either offense though as both teams have a backfield that will make you pay for missed assignments and broken tackles.
4. Clemson at NC State (Nov. 4)
Who will win the ACC Atlantic? As some predicted at the beginning of the year, we’ll find out who can book a trip to Charlotte in this matchup between two terrific defenses and a pair of offenses that have home-run hitters all over the place. Keep a particular eye in the trenches, as this is going to be a meeting between two of the best defensive lines in the country and feature several first-rounders up front.
5. TCU at Oklahoma (Nov. 11)
It’s tough to beat the Sooners and even tougher to play them in Norman. Gary Patterson knows this but has been the best of just about everybody in playing Oklahoma close or beating the Sooners ever since his team joined the Big 12. This year’s edition should be a close one again and will have the distinction of being what amounts to a potential play-in game for the conference championship game as well.
6. Notre Dame at Miami (Nov. 11)
Wake up the echoes, because this rivalry game once again has national title implications on both sides. The Irish and Hurricanes should both be in the top 10 for this game and have no more than one loss on the year when they meet in South Florida. The highlights from their meetings back in the 1980s will be great to watch during breaks in play but don’t be shocked if there’s a new memory added to the ledger after this year’s edition.
7. Virginia Tech at Miami (Nov. 4)
Can the Hurricanes get over the hump and finally win a division title in the ACC? That should be determined when the Hokies roll into town for a top-15 showdown that will almost assuredly decide who wins the Coastal. Virginia Tech rolled over Miami in Blacksburg last season but The U has lost just once since then and will be hoping to keep the nation’s longest winning streak going at home.
8. Ohio State at Michigan (Nov. 25)
It says plenty about the historical importance of this rivalry that the annual meeting between Buckeyes and Wolverines is known simply as “The Game.” Ohio State has won five in a row but all everybody will be talking about coming in is that thrilling overtime victory last season in the Horseshoe. Urban Meyer’s squad should once again be in the College Football Playoff hunt when it’s time to kick off and there’s nothing Jim Harbaugh and company would love to do more than end that dream in the Big House.
9. Notre Dame at Stanford (Nov. 25)
The Irish’s annual trip out to California has always been a huge game and this year’s edition could match two rivals with a spot in the College Football Playoff on the line. Even if one of the two suffers a loss or two before this one, watching running backs Bryce Love and Josh Adams try to out-do the other will be reason enough to tune in.
10. LSU at Alabama (Nov. 4)
In terms of NFL talent, there may not be a bigger matchup in the conference until December than this annual SEC West showdown between Nick Saban’s current team and his former one. While this year’s edition doesn’t quite have the stakes of recent meetings, it could be the biggest test for Alabama until the Iron Bowl rolls around.
11. Michigan at Wisconsin (Nov. 18)
Can the Badgers run the table? They’re off to a great start but haven’t played anybody who comes even close to being a top-25 team. That changes when the Wolverines roll into Camp Randall for Wisconsin’s stiffest test of the season. Get past them and an undefeated regular season could be in store for Paul Chryst and company.
12. Washington at Stanford (Nov. 10)
The Pac-12 North looks like it will run through the Cardinal once again and the team will have the biggest Friday night game in the Pac-12 this year when Washington comes to Palo Alto looking to make it two in a row after the Huskies embarrassed Stanford up in Seattle last year. Keep in mind UW has one of the best defenses on the West Coast and that claim will be put to the test in many ways as the Huskies gear up to stop Bryce Love.
13. UCLA at USC (Nov. 18)
The Bruins are lackluster again this season but it’s worth catching their annual meeting with their crosstown rival if, for nothing else, it likely is our last glimpse at Josh Rosen facing off against Sam Darnold. The two future first-rounders are the draw for sure, but don’t discount the other skill position players in this one who have speed to burn on both sides.
14. South Florida at UCF (Nov. 24)
The Bulls’ loss to Houston means this won’t be a meeting between undefeated teams on Black Friday but it nevertheless has huge Group of 5 implications for the winner, who should be able to capture the division and the AAC crown when all is said and done. Plus, if anybody in the American is capable of slowing down that fast-paced Knights offense, it’s the Bulls’ stingy defense that has playmakers on all three levels.
15. Michigan State at Ohio State (Nov. 11)
Remember a few years ago when the Buckeyes were rolling toward a title, only to inexplicably lose to the Spartans at home? Chances are high that a few clips of that game will be shown before this one, in what will surely be a motivating factor for Urban Meyer. MSU isn’t anywhere close to as good as it was in 2015 but these Spartans will still present a stiff test for Ohio State.
16. Washington State at Washington (Nov. 25)
The Apple Cup is annually one of the best rivalry games out West and a contest where you can truly throw out the records. This year though, those records figure to be pretty solid and this one could be for the Pac-12 North title and a trip to the Pac-12 Championship Game. If nothing else, the Mike Leach vs. Chris Petersen chess match figures to be loads of fun.
17. Stanford at Washington State (Nov. 4)
Talk about a contrast in styles, the full range of college football offenses are on full display between Stanford’s focus on running the football to the Cougars wide-open Air Raid attack. As much as that side of the ball gets the press though, this one also features two of the Pac-12’s best defenses that love to make life difficult for opposing quarterbacks each and every snap.
18. Boise State at Colorado State (Nov. 11)
We’ll be able to crown a new front-runner in the Mountain West after this one, as the winner between the Broncos and Rams will likely be the Mountain Division champion and have a good shot at securing eight or nine wins prior to the conference title game. Both offenses have some incredible playmakers who are liable to bust the game open but don’t sleep on a pair of solid run defenses making things one-dimensional.
19. Penn State at Michigan State (Nov. 4)
The Nittany Lions still have a shot at winning the Big Ten east and making it to the playoff but they’ll have to remain perfect the rest of the way. Perhaps the biggest obstacle left on the schedule is this trip to East Lansing, as the Spartans’ tough rush defense could go a long ways in bottling up Heisman favorite Saquon Barkley.
20. Florida State at Clemson (Nov. 11)
We know, we know, this has been a disastrous season for the Seminoles at this point but we’ll find out if they have any pride left when they go to Clemson to play spoiler. FSU still has plenty of talent and there’s an outside shot their slim bowl hopes are still alive heading into this one. What had been the ACC game of the year for a long time could still be… but for very different reasons.
Best of the rest:
Ohio State at Iowa (Nov. 4)
Arizona at USC (Nov. 4)
Auburn at Texas A&M (Nov. 4)
Iowa State at West Virginia (Nov. 4)
Texas at TCU (Nov. 4)
Alabama at Mississippi State (Nov. 11)
Iowa at Wisconsin (Nov. 11)
Oklahoma State at Iowa State (Nov. 11)
LSU at Tennessee (Nov. 18)
Navy at Notre Dame (Nov. 18)
Iowa at Nebraska (Nov. 24)
Georgia at Georgia Tech (Nov. 25)
West Virginia at Oklahoma (Nov. 25)
— 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.