What a month it’s been to start the college football season as we saw upsets galore, some incredible plays and a number of surprises that just keep us coming back for more. The calendar has turned a page however and that means conference title races are in full swing, a bunch of bowl game spots are still up in the air and the national championship field is starting to narrow with each passing week.
Oh, and then there’s that lovely bit of cool air that sweeps through the country and makes every Saturday in the fall such a delight.
What games are absolutely worth marking the calendar for though? Here are 20 of the best college football games during the month of October and why you should tune in:
1. Penn State at Ohio State (Oct. 28)
This game could be the de facto Big Ten title game with a berth in the College Football Playoff at stake. The Nittany Lions handed the Buckeyes their lone regular season loss in wild fashion last season and now have to head to Columbus to face a monster of a revenge game with everything on the line. Don’t discount how important this one could be for Saquon Barkley’s Heisman campaign either.
2. Michigan at Penn State (Oct. 21)
The week prior to the game above, Penn State will have their hands full with a revenge game of their own for their lone regular season loss from last year. That contest in many ways set the team off toward the Big Ten title and very well could do so again. Don Brown’s feisty defense trying to contain Saquon Barkley and quarterback Trace McSorley should be worth the price of admission alone for figures to be a raucous atmosphere in Happy Valley.
3. Oklahoma vs. Texas (Oct. 14 — Dallas)
Throw out the records for this one as there is just nothing like the smell of fried food, Big Tex waving hello and the even 50/50 split between burnt orange and crimson at the Cotton Bowl. This year’s Red River Showdown has a different feel to it as it’s the first between new Longhorns head coach Tom Herman and new Sooners coach Lincoln Riley, who may be about to begin a new decades-long battle in Big D. The teams have traded wins the past five years in some wild ones and that should be the case once again.
4. USC at Notre Dame (Oct. 21)
The greatest intersectional rivalry in the country has produced some of the most indelible moments in college football history. Adding to the intrigue for this year’s edition could be the fact that both teams may enter with just a loss a piece and holding out hope of making it to a New Year’s Six bowl or beyond. This has been a back-and-forth series the past few years and the Irish are hoping the recent trends in South Bend continue in prime time against their SoCal rivals.
5. Louisville at Wake Forest (Oct. 28)
Wait, what is Wake Forest doing in the top five? Well, that’s because of a little thing called WakeyLeaks when a Demon Deacons radio analyst leaked game plans to the Cardinals and set off one of the biggest scandals of the season. Now comes the game following the brouhaha, which is interesting enough given how improved Wake is this season and the fact that the Deacons contained Lamar Jackson pretty well last season before things got out of hand late.
6. Georgia vs. Florida (Oct. 28 — Jacksonville. Fla.)
The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party looks like it will once again determine the SEC East title and depending on how well the Gators finish up before they head to Jacksonville, this one very well could have some College Football Playoff implications too. As fun (and strange) as things have been in the past, this one could prove tricky for both coaching staffs with a pair of young quarterbacks and a host of talented defenders taking the field at the same time.
7. Miami at Florida State (Oct. 7)
This is always one of the best rivalry games of the season and this year’s edition has more intrigue surrounding it in perhaps a decade. The Seminoles are a bit beat up at the moment but still have plenty of talent across the board and won’t take things lightly with this game taking place in Tallahassee either. Still, this is the best chance Miami has had coming into the game of pulling out a victory since FSU started its current seven-game winning streak.
8. Utah at USC (Oct. 14)
Who will win the Pac-12 South? This game very much could be the deciding factor in a series that has been fierce and competitive at every turn. Sam Darnold made his first start against the Utes last year and suffered only one of his two career losses so you know he’ll be itching for a little payback while also hoping to get the Trojans back on track. As much as people will tune in for offense though, this is also two of the better run-stopping defenses in the Pac-12 squaring off too.
9. Louisville at NC State (Oct. 5)
This is a nice Thursday night surprise after a rather lackluster slate of mid-week games so far this season. A lot of the focus will be on the Wolfpack’s talented defensive line trying to contain Heisman winner Lamar Jackson but don’t discount the flip side of the equation and the Cardinals’ defense trying to limit the vastly underrated combo of Jaylen Samuels and Ryan Finley for NC State’s offense either.
10. Louisville at Florida State (Oct. 21)
Remember last season’s 63-20 final score that played a huge role in getting Lamar Jackson the Heisman? Florida State definitely remembers that humbling humiliation as their season started to falter quite a bit despite being ranked No. 2 in the country at the time. Payback is always a factor for college football programs and the Noles will have their chance to extract revenge at home for what should be a terrific meeting of Jackson and All-American safety Derwin James.
11. Oklahoma at Kansas State (Oct. 21)
Everybody is focused on the Sooners’ meeting with rival Oklahoma State for Bedlam but don’t sleep on this tricky trip to the Little Apple as playing a pivotal role in the team winning or losing the Big 12. While in the past there was always plenty of talk about Bob Stoops returning to town to take on his mentor Bill Snyder, things have changed in Norman and new head coach Lincoln Riley will be hoping to avoid getting schooled by the Wizard himself in a big-time battle of conference contenders.
12. Stanford at Utah (Oct. 7)
Bryce Love is the nation’s leading rusher by a good margin and tearing up opposing defenses left and right for chunks of yards at a time. As a result he’s injected life into a Cardinal team that still has designs on winning the Pac-12 North and are hoping a trip to Salt Lake City can help provide a big boost to those aspirations. They better be careful however because Kyle Whittingham always has one of the best defenses in the league and will be looking to showcase a new offense against that hard-nosed Cardinal defense.
13. Georgia Tech at Miami (Oct. 14)
Who will win the always topsy-turvy ACC Coastal this year? As much as Virginia Tech will be around to have a say in how things go, this game is not getting enough attention for being the key to going to Charlotte for either side. Miami’s young defense was able to shut down the option a year ago but will have its hands full because Paul Johnson’s group looks a sharp as ever and will definitely be looking to grab that inside track to the conference title game with a victory here.
14. Boise State at San Diego State (Oct. 14)
The Broncos getting destroyed by Virginia took a lot of the luster out of this one but this is still shaping up to be potentially the Mountain West game of the year and play a key role in determining who takes home the conference title. The Aztecs have been one team that has gone toe-to-toe with Boise State the past few years and been pretty successful when it comes to the final scoreboard too. Just as important nationally, this is likely the stiffest test that San Diego State faces in its pursuit of a Group of 5 bid so the implications will reverberate far beyond SDCCU Stadium (formerly Qualcomm Stadium) when this one goes final.
15. West Virginia at TCU (Oct. 7)
You know a game is big when ESPN’s GameDay rolls into Fort Worth and takes center stage for a full Saturday in October. These two programs have played some absolute wild ones since the Horned Frogs joined the Big 12 and things could get mighty fun this time around too given the matchup issues the Mountaineers’ Air Raid offense poses. Each side is coming off a bye and will be well rested for a game that could play a big role in helping determine which teams make the conference title game.
16. UCF at Navy (Oct. 21)
Could this be an early AAC title game preview? It’s definitely looking that way given how the league’s two divisions have started out 2017 so far but just as big could be the winner taking a slim lead in the Group of 5 bid for a spot in the New Year’s Six Bowl game. Given some of the coaching rumors out there, something says Nebraska fans might push this one up a little higher on their list with Scott Frost and Ken Niumatalolo roaming the sidelines.
17. TCU at Kansas State (Oct. 14)
Gary Patterson is the second-longest tenured head coach in all of FBS and known for teams that always play sting defense and are filled with plenty of speedy offensive playmakers that went overlooked on the recruiting trail. Bill Snyder has spent 26 seasons with the Wildcats and is known for teams that play tough defense and a unique offense that loves to get the ball into the hands of speedy playmakers that went overlooked on the recruiting trail. Both coaches have evolved schematically over the years but each has a top-notch team at their disposal for one of the most overlooked Big 12 games of the year in terms of its importance.
18. UCLA at Washington (Oct. 28)
The Huskies suffered their lone Pac-12 loss last year to a Los Angeles team coming to Seattle and you can bet that the team will be looking to make sure that is not the case again this season. The best part of this one is the fun quarterback matchup between potential first-rounder Josh Rosen and his counterpart in purple that is one of the best signal-callers on the West Coast nobody seems to talk about.
19. Michigan State at Michigan (Oct. 7)
The last time the Spartans went to the Big House, they pulled off one of the most improbable wins in the history of college football. After all, the Wolverines simply needed to get off a punt and they would be able to claim a fantastic win over their in-state rivals. But that’s not how things worked out, as the punt snap was fumbled and Michigan State wound up taking it back for a touchdown — and a win — that would eventually propel them to the College Football Playoff. Now it’s Jim Harbaugh’s side hoping to kick off a run to the final four with a victory over their brothers up the road — and a little revenge for two years ago in the process.
20. Georgia Tech at Clemson (Oct. 28)
Clemson looks unbeatable at the moment and seems destined to make it back to the national championship game. The Tigers would be wise to keep an eye out for this visit from the Yellow Jackets though as Paul Johnson loves saving his best for an upset of a highly ranked team and using that option offense to give everybody in the ACC trouble. There are not a ton of intriguing games for Clemson this month but this matchup is firmly a very interesting one for the No. 2 team in the country.
Best of the rest:
Wisconsin at Nebraska (Oct. 7)
Kansas State at Texas (Oct. 7)
Oklahoma State at West Virginia (Oct. 28)
Minnesota at Purdue (Oct. 7)
Oklahoma State at Texas (Oct. 21)
Alabama at Texas A&M (Oct. 7)
LSU at Florida (Oct. 7)
Texas Tech at Oklahoma (Oct. 28)
Arkansas at Alabama (Oct. 14)
Auburn at LSU (Oct. 14)
Georgia at Vanderbilt (Oct. 7)
Texas A&M at Florida (Oct. 14)
Air Force at Navy (Oct. 7)
Oregon at Stanford (Oct. 14)
Tennessee at Alabama (Oct. 21)
Wake Forest at Clemson (Oct. 7)
Houston at South Florida (Oct. 28)
SMU at Houston (Oct. 7)
Purdue at Wisconsin (Oct. 14)
NC State at Notre Dame (Oct. 28)
Ohio State at Nebraska (Oct. 14)
— 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.