Kyler Murray and Oklahoma have two of their toughest tests of the season this month
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. Georgia at LSU (Oct. 13)
These two schools actually haven’t met since 2013 and they’ll rectify that in what should be a top-five battle in Death Valley. This one features plenty of that trademark SEC speed on both sides of the ball and perhaps two of the best defenses in the country in terms of overall talent. Moving the ball will come at a premium when these two rivals meet in a game that has huge playoff implications down the road.
2. Texas vs. Oklahoma (Oct. 6 in Dallas)
If you’ve never been to the Red River Rivalry, put it on your bucket list because it’s one of the best atmospheres in the entire sport. While the Cotton Bowl being split right down the middle is cool, so too is the brewing 10-year war between two of the best offensive minds in the region in Lincoln Riley and Tom Herman. This year the stakes remain extremely high with the Sooners in the College Football Playoff hunt and the Longhorns no doubt hoping to dash that dream and make life miserable for Kyler Murray.
3. Washington at Oregon (Oct. 13)
Those outside the Pacific Northwest might not quite grasp the hatred these two have for each but trust us, it’s real and it’s venomous. The Huskies have won two in a row by a combined score of 108-24 the past two years, ending 12 years of dominance by the Ducks. The atmosphere at Autzen will be electric and it goes without saying that this outcome could determine the Pac-12 North Division title as well.
4. Wisconsin at Michigan (Oct. 13)
A huge test for both sides as Big Ten play really gets turned up a few notches, this one will pit two of the league’s best defenses against each other. Every single inch on the ground will be earned the hard way so the focus will be on the two quarterbacks trying to do their best to make plays. The Badgers have won three of the last four but it was the Wolverines who scored one of Jim Harbaugh’s best wins the last time they met at the Big House two years ago.
5. Oklahoma at TCU (Oct. 20)
Outside of Red River, this might be the Sooners’ biggest road obstacle in Big 12 play. These two met twice last year in two big OU wins, including the conference title game. Gary Patterson always has something saved up in this matchup however, with one-score games being pretty much the norm between nearby rivals since the Horned Frogs joined the league. Between Shawn Robinson and Kyler Murray, this also pits two of the best dual-threat QBs in the country who can beat you through the air or on the ground.
6. NC State at Clemson (Oct. 20)
The Textile Bowl — yes, that’s what this series is actually called — has been very one-sided in favor of the Tigers but the Wolfpack have certainly had their opportunities to knock off a top-five team the past two years. Clemson needed a late interception to secure a win in 2017 and the duo staged a thriller in overtime after a missed field goal the last time these two squared off in Death Valley. Can Ryan Finley finally get over the hump and finish Clemson off? We’ll find out in what likely will be Dabo Swinney’s stiffest ACC challenge left this season.
7. Michigan at Michigan State (Oct. 20)
The battle over the Paul Bunyan Trophy means a little bit more to one side than the other but you’ll nevertheless get regaled with tales of big and little brother, the most incredible ending to a game in ages and a bitter rivalry that sweeps up the entire state. Jim Harbaugh is often criticized over his record against the Wolverine’s biggest rivals but this trip to East Lansing will represent a big opportunity to add one in the win column. For the Spartans, nothing is sweeter than knocking off Big Blue and they’ll have a chance to get right back on the national radar by doing so this year.
8. Iowa at Penn State (Oct. 27)
These two staged a classic last season that came down to the very final play as the Nittany Lions escaped Kinnick with a close win. The Hawkeyes will no doubt be looking to finish the job off on the road this time around and will lean on one of the best defenses in the country in order to come out with a win. Penn State QB Trace McSorley has been nails, especially in Happy Valley, and will have another big chance to keep his Heisman hopes going with a big game in this one.
9. San Diego State at Boise State (Oct. 6)
This is a huge Mountain West showdown and the winner will have the inside track on a berth in the league title game (or even hosting it). Even more enticing is the fact that this one pits Rocky Long’s famous 3-3-5 defense against one of the best offenses in the country led by senior QB Brett Rypien. Even better for those in the Eastern Time Zone: this one will kick off closer to lunch time as opposed to late at night.
10. Michigan State at Penn State (Oct. 13)
The Nittany Lions had only two losses to avenge from last season and one of them came at during a rain-soaked, often delayed game in East Lansing that all but cost them a shot at the playoff and, of course, the division title. While revenge will be on Penn State’s minds, the task at hand remains keeping pace in the Big Ten East and knocking off another ranked opponent. NFL scouts will love the way both Trace McSorley and Brian Lewerke will try to attack these defenses and you can bet this one will come down to who can break off the big play in the second half.
11. Appalachian State at Arkansas State (Oct. 9)
Tuesday Night Football gets underway in a big way the second week of the month as a pair of the Sun Belt’s best teams square off under the lights. Remember, this is the first year where there’s a conference title game in the league and both the Red Wolves and Mountaineers are looking for every win they can get in order to play in December. If Appalachian State can get a win here, don’t rule out a top 25 ranking when the dust gets settled.
12. Florida vs. Georgia (Oct. 27 in Jacksonville, Fla.)
Dan Mullen is no stranger to the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party but the 96th edition will be the first where he’s the head coach of the Gators. While this might not have the SEC East implications that it usually does, there’s been some wild swings and crazy plays on both sides down in Jacksonville and UF will certainly be looking to put up more of a fight than they did a year ago.
13. Kentucky at Texas A&M (Oct. 6)
Didn’t expect to see the Wildcats on this list? Well, that kind of thinking is out the door because UK is 5-0 to start the season and aiming even higher than their best season since the days of Bear Bryant. While these Wildcats secured a win at the Swamp and knocked off two other SEC foes at home, going into College Station is a bit of a different beast — especially given how the Aggies’ only blemishes on the year have come to top-five teams. Jimbo Fisher was paid the big bucks to knock off ranked teams and he’ll have an opportunity in this one.
14. Texas at Oklahoma State (Oct. 27)
While offense has led the way in the Big 12 over the years, these two conference rivals staged a low-scoring 13-10 game in overtime down in Austin a year ago that was decided with an interception in the end zone. This marks the start of a huge late-season stretch for the Cowboys and it goes without saying that each of these two will need to gut out a victory if they want to keep hopes alive of making it to a conference title game.
15. Missouri at Alabama (Oct. 13)
The Crimson Tide don’t face many tough matchups in the month of October but their fresh-faced secondary could be tested in this one by Drew Lock, a potential first-round pick that some are touting as the first quarterback off the board in next spring’s NFL draft. While they can put up points in a hurry, the Tigers also sport a stout front that can make you pay if you’re not careful and they already played Georgia pretty tough aside from a few turnovers. Interesting games against the Alabama juggernaut are few and far between but this just might be one of them.
16. Notre Dame at Virginia Tech (Oct. 6)
The Irish make their first-ever trip to Blacksburg and it should be an absolutely bonkers atmosphere at Lane Stadium under the lights in primetime considering the playoff implications at stake for Notre Dame. The Hokies suffered their first loss of the season in the upset of the year against ODU but they’ve regrouped since then and will have designs on shocking the world themselves against Ian Book and company.
17. LSU at Florida (Oct. 6)
This game returns to Gainesville for the second year in a row after some prior hijinks between the two schools during a hurricane forced a rescheduling. The Gators made a goal-line stand to preserve a win in 2016 while the Tigers returned the favor by gutting out a victory last season. Neither side of this permanent cross-division rivalry has been known for a high-octane offense the past few years so be prepared to watch a number of future first-round NFL draft picks on both defenses make plays in the Swamp.
18. Auburn at Mississippi State (Oct. 6)
The SEC West meat-grinder continues as the Tigers hit the road to face a sliding Bulldogs squad. Both programs have had their issues on the offensive end in terms of consistency so it will be fascinating to see how each play-calling head coach adjusts to facing off against a pair of defenses that make you earn every yard. Hopefully there’s no repeat of the infamous 3-2 game that took place between these two a decade ago considering how huge this one is in the conference race this season.
19. USC at Utah (Oct. 20)
Somebody has to win the Pac-12 South this season and two of the preseason favorites to make it to Santa Clara out of the division meet at Rice-Eccles for a game that will no doubt play a huge role in whoever wants to be the champion. Big plays will be at a premium for both sides given the offensive struggles at times for both the Trojans and Utes as they square off again in what has been a relatively close series.
20. West Virginia at Iowa State (Oct. 13)
The Mountaineers' schedule really picks up in November but their biggest obstacle to going 7-0 to start the season is going to be this tricky trip to Ames. The Cyclones are no stranger to knocking off highly ranked opponents when they least expect it and this year’s squad has plenty of guys you have to account for like stud tailback David Montgomery. West Virginia scored a big victory in Morgantown last year that helped trip up ISU in the Big 12 standings and you can bet Matt Campbell will think turnabout is fair play.
Best of the rest:
Utah at Stanford (Oct. 6)
Florida State at Miami (Oct. 6)
Utah State at BYU (Oct. 6)
Texas Tech at TCU (Oct. 11)
Arizona at Utah (Oct. 12)
Texas A&M at South Carolina (Oct. 13)
Stanford at Arizona State (Oct. 18)
Mississippi State at LSU (Oct. 20)
Clemson at Florida State (Oct. 27)
USF at Houston (Oct. 27)
Arizona State at USC (Oct. 27)
Notre Dame vs. Navy (Oct. 27 in San Diego)
Texas A&M at Mississippi State (Oct. 27)
— 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.