Nick Saban and Alabama have several tough SEC matchups to navigate in October
The calendar is set to turn to the page to October and as sure as the leaves turning, the pumpkin-spiced lattes going on sale and the conference races in college football are heating up.
As much as the fantastic non-conference slate brought us in the month of September however, the potential for some epic clashes await in the coming weeks as national title contenders start to fall and potential surprises jump onto the board.
So clear out your schedule, stock up on supplies, say goodbye to your loved ones and get ready for one wild ride in college football over the coming weeks. Here are the best college football games in the month of October and why you should watch.
1. Louisville at Clemson (Oct. 1)
Two top-five teams at one of college football’s best venues involving a pair of Heisman Trophy favorites? Sign us up for the atmosphere and a great battle of wits between coaching staffs.
2. Clemson at Florida State (Oct. 29)
This was billed as one of the games of the season and was supposed to be a play-in game for the College Football Playoff. It still could be that depending on how the Tigers and Seminoles look the next few weeks but bottom line is there may not be a game this year with more NFL talent on the field than this one.
3. Wisconsin at Michigan (Oct. 1)
The Badgers have been one of the biggest surprises so far in 2016 and they’ll have a chance to show they’re for real against a Michigan team with designs on winning a Big Ten title. If you’re interesting in stingy defenses and pro-style offensive attacks, this one is for you.
4. Alabama at Tennessee (Oct. 15)
Everybody circled this game in the preseason as a potential SEC Championship Game preview and that’s increasingly what it looks like. This could be the biggest ‘Third Saturday in October’ since 1993 if both are undefeated.
5. Texas A&M at Alabama (Oct. 22)
Will the SEC West be won this game? It certainly could as Trevor Knight (who beat Alabama the last time he faced them) and a potent Aggies offense heads to Tuscaloosa to face one of the best defenses in the country. Don’t overlook how fun Myles Garrett against that Tide offensive line matchup will be either.
6. Michigan at Michigan State (Oct. 29)
The Spartans have won seven of the last eight and always seem to find a way to win games like this when they enter as what will likely be significant underdogs. Still, Michigan knows it has to close the deal after last season’s miraculous ending.
7. Tennessee at Texas A&M (Oct. 8)
Both teams should be undefeated and in the top 10 heading into this game in College Station and it will likely represent the biggest test yet for each squad in terms of talent level. It’s worth tuning in to see two of the best defensive ends in the country in Myles Garrett and Derek Barnett at the very least.
8. Oklahoma at TCU (Oct. 1)
The Big 12 has not had a great month of September but a conference title will be on the line when these two preseason favorites meet in Fort Worth. Baker Mayfield and Kenny Hill are two of the top passers in the country and they’ll be tested by two defenses that are talented and love to throw out wrinkles in their schemes.
9. Alabama at Arkansas (Oct. 8)
The Crimson Tide have won eight straight against the Razorbacks but the games have been close the past two seasons. The run game is essential to each offense but both Alabama and Arkansas have been spreading the ball out more and more so this isn’t just a “three yards and a cloud of dust” matchup.
10. Ohio State at Wisconsin (Oct. 15)
The Buckeyes will have played just one ranked team and one road game in the first six weeks of the season but that changes when they travel to Wisconsin for a night game at Camp Randall. The Badgers will surely be pumped up but they’ll need their stingy defense to step up in order to stop J.T. Barrett and the Big Ten favorites.
11. Baylor at Texas (Oct. 29)
Ever since the scandal at Baylor broke out, these two schools just up the road from each other have had a contemptuous relationship. Texas took in several former Baylor recruits over the summer and also took the Bears’ offense when the Longhorns brought in Sterlin Gilbert as the new coordinator. There should be plenty of points and plenty of bad blood when these two Big 12 rivals meet late in the month.
12. Florida State at Miami (Oct. 8)
Mark Richt faces off against the school where he made his name as a coach many moons ago for the first time in his new gig at his alma mater. This is always a testy rivalry game considering it pits so many in-state players against others they knew from high school but expect things to be even more interesting on the field considering both should be in the top 25 for this one.
13. Texas vs. Oklahoma (Oct. 8, Dallas)
The atmosphere for this one at the Texas State Fair in Dallas is always off the charts and that’s before you even enter the gates to the Cotton Bowl. The two teams have traded close victories in recent years and this is huge for both head coaches who are already feeling the heat from their fan bases.
14. Washington at Oregon (Oct. 8)
Is this the year? That’s what Huskies fans are asking themselves as they have what is likely their best chance in a dozen years to capture a win in a series dominated by Oregon since 2004. This game also has some serious Pac-12 North implications as well.
15. Nebraska at Wisconsin (Oct. 29)
Given the way things have gone so far in 2016, this is shaping up to be the pivotal game in the race to win the Big Ten West.
16. Oklahoma at Texas Tech (Oct. 22)
Just dub this the Baker Mayfield game as the Oklahoma quarterback returns to Lubbock for the first time to face his former team. While the crowd reaction will be fun to track, be prepared for him and Patrick Mahomes to put on an aerial show given the amount of offensive fireworks each team has.
17. Ohio State at Penn State (Oct. 22)
The last time these two hooked up in State College, the Nittany Lions nearly spoiled the Buckeyes’ national title run. This is a hard-fought rivalry and the 2016 edition should feature plenty of big plays on offense and a fun battle in the trenches.
18. Navy at Air Force (Oct. 1)
Do you love America? Do you love the triple option? If you answered yes to either question (and you should have) then this game is for you. It’s a pivotal and often deciding game for the Commander in Chief’s Trophy too.
19. UCLA at Arizona State (Oct. 8)
Through the first month of the season, these teams have looked like two of the top teams in the Pac-12 South. Both the offenses can put up points in the hurry but it’s been the defenses that have helped contribute to a surprising pair of records.
20. Ole Miss at Arkansas (Oct. 15)
The last time these two hooked up, things came down to a wild 4th-and-25 lateral and a two-point conversion in overtime. Similar fireworks could be in store given the amount of talent on both sides.
21. Miami at Notre Dame (Oct. 29)
This is the first time the two have met up in South Bend since the Irish ended the then-No. 2-ranked Hurricanes’ bid for a national title back in 1990. You’re bound to see a few ‘Catholics vs. Convicts’ t-shirts around and some fond memories from both sides of the good ol’ days but there’s a lot of young talent involved in this one and two excellent quarterbacks in particular.
22. Wisconsin at Iowa (Oct. 22)
This was circled early in the year as the potential deciding game in the Big Ten West and still could be the case in late October. With two excellent defenses, this one is going to come down to who can establish any sort of consistency on offense or can get a big special teams play.
23. Stanford at Notre Dame (Oct. 15)
These two historical rivals have gone back and forth the past few years with national title implications on the line and delivered some absolute classics. That might not be the case this year but it will be fun to see if the Fighting Irish can hold on at home like they have the past two times the game has been in South Bend.
24. Virginia Tech at North Carolina (Oct. 8)
Justin Fuente is starting to get the Hokies humming on offense and the team’s defense hasn’t skipped a beat with Bud Foster still in charge. This is their biggest test in the ACC however and could be for the division title against the high-flying offense of the Tar Heels.
25. Mississippi State at BYU (Oct. 14)
In terms of fish out of water, Mississippi State and its fans traveling to Provo, Utah, to take on BYU is up there. At the same time, both teams desperately need to win this one for perception’s sake and bring some bruising, but fast, defenses combined with offenses that may not be pretty but get things done.
Best of the rest:
Utah State at Boise State (Oct. 1)
Tulsa at Houston (Oct. 15)
Tennessee at Georgia (Oct. 1)
Utah at UCLA (Oct. 22)
Kansas State at Oklahoma (Oct. 15)
LSU at Florida (Oct. 8)
Texas at Oklahoma State (Oct. 1)
Florida vs. Georgia (Oct. 29, Jacksonville, Fla.)
Memphis at Ole Miss (Oct. 1)
Arizona State at USC (Oct. 1)
— 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)