What are the 25 non-Saturday games of the 2013 college football regular season most worth watching?
Before getting into the list, I’ll break down my ranking logic.
First, I only included games between FBS programs.
Second, I used Athlon Sports’ preseason rankings and B/R’s Randy Chambers’ “Predicting the 2013 Associated Press Preseason Top 25 College Football Poll” to rank each program. Using these rankings, I added up the combined ranking of the game. For example, if the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country were to play each other, I would’ve rated their game a 3. I considered this rating system more heavily than anything else, but I didn’t simply put the 25 games with the lowest rankings on the list.
Third, I used Athlon Sports’ preseason conference power rankings and projected order of finish for each conference. I used these predictions to determine what would be the most important conference games, especially for non-BCS conferences. Big non-AQ conference games replaced games between mediocre BCS teams in some cases.
While scouring over the 2013 FBS schedule, I was delighted to find many non-Saturday games that should have big impacts on conference and national standings.
Feel free to debate the rankings in the comments section below.
With that, let’s start the list.
Western Kenctucky head coach Bobby Petrino
De facto Sun Belt championship game?
Athlon Sports ranks the Sun Belt as FBS’ weakest conference, but the projected Nos. 1 and 3 teams in the Sun Belt are in this game. Also, Bobby Petrino’s arrival to Western Kentucky adds lots of intrigue.
Due to off-the-field troubles, Petrino went from coaching Arkansas into a national championship contender to trying to advance the progress Willie Taggart made for the Hilltoppers. I’m interested to see how one of the game’s best offensive coaches in Petrino fares against what could be the Sun Belt’s top team in 2013.
This game could decide the Sun Belt championship, which is plenty reason to watch, even if Petrino’s actions turned you off.
Conference USA Championship Game preview?
Athlon Sports thinks this will be a Conference USA Championship Game preview.
Defending conference champion Tulsa hosts Marshall, a team Athlon Sports sees as one of FBS’ 10 most improved from 2012 to 2013.
Though the Golden Hurricane appear to be the favorites, the Thundering Herd have an offense capable of leading an upset. Quarterback Rakeem Cato could be Conference USA’s best, and wide receivers Devon Smith and Shawney Kersey come over from Penn State.
Much like the Louisiana-Lafayette at Western Kentucky game, this one could feature a lot of scoring.
Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch
De facto MAC West championship game?
Athlon Sports’ projected top two teams in the MAC West division, Northern Illinois and Ball State, square off in DeKalb.
The Huskies have won the last two MAC championships, and they went to the 2013 Orange Bowl. Jordan Lynch, who finished seventh in the 2012 Heisman voting, returns at quarterback. Even though Dave Doeren left to coach NC State, the college football world will keep an eye on this team all season.
Ball State should be the underdogs here, but quarterback Keith Wenning is on the 2013 Maxwell Award Watch List along with Lynch. Wenning will try to prevent Northern Illinois from winning its third straight MAC title.
If you like strong quarterback play, then look no further than this matchup for two of the more underrated ones in college football.
Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr
De facto Mountain West West championship game?
This Black Friday contest has Athlon Sports’ top two teams in the Mountain West’s West division, Fresno State and San Jose State.
The Bulldogs and the Spartans both have 2013 Heisman contenders at quarterback in Derek Carr and David Fales, respectively.
Fresno State will get some preseason Top 25 votes, but nobody expects San Jose State to repeat its historic 2012 season. Coach Mike McIntyre left for Colorado, and the Spartans will see better competition in the Mountain West having come from the WAC.
Boise State is still the class of the conference, but the winner here could meet the Broncos in the MWC Championship Game.
If you haven’t found a good enough excuse to avoid Black Friday shopping, watching this game should suffice.
2013 Egg Bowl
I bet a lot of Thanksgiving dinner conversations in Mississippi will revolve around this game.
Even though neither team is expected to compete for the SEC West title, any rivalry game in the nation’s best conference is worth watching.
The 110th Egg Bowl will be the first for Ole Miss’ Robert Nkemdiche, the top overall player in the ESPNU Class of 2013. Nkemdiche leads the fifth overall Class of 2013, according to ESPNU, and it’s one reason why the Rebels are a program on the rise in college football.
I could analyze the stats for this game, but rivalry games like this bring out the best in both teams, and all those numbers mean nothing.
When you’re done with turkey, how about some eggs?
ACC Coastal programs returning to postseason eligibility
Miami and North Carolina finished 2012 as the top two teams in the ACC Coastal division, but they were ineligible for postseason play. This year, their seasons count, so expect some motivated football in this one.
The Hurricanes, who are seeking their first bowl win since 2004, should get some Top 25 votes. All-purpose back Duke Johnson, a 2013 Heisman contender, is one of the most dynamic players in college football.
The Tar Heels return 2013 Maxwell Award Watch List member Bryn Renner at quarterback. Renner is the most efficient quarterback in school history. North Carolina hopes to finish in the Top 25 of the AP Final Poll for the first time since 1997.
Like I said, these squads are very motivated to put their recent pasts behind them.
Best RB versus Best WR?
Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey. USC wide receiver Marqise Lee. Are they the best at their respective positions in college football?
Carey and Lee meet in Los Angeles this season, and everyone should watch them.
Last season, Carey led FBS in rushing yards and Lee led FBS in receptions. In 2013, expect an increased workload from both, who have new quarterbacks giving them the ball.
If all goes according to plan, the juniors will meet again in New York at the 2013 Heisman ceremony and possibly in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft.
Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston
Seminoles welcome Panthers to ACC
ACC play begins right away in 2013, as Florida State welcomes Pittsburgh to the conference.
The first game for a team entering a new conference, especially a BCS conference, brings lots of excitement to the program. With a strong showing in this game, the Panthers can show the ACC they belong.
This is the first college game for Jameis Winston, the Florida State quarterback whom ESPNU ranked the top prospect at the position in the Class of 2012. Winston will face Tom Savage, who last played in 2010 with Rutgers. Both players will be excited to play in a live football game for the first time in a while.
The Seminoles should be favored here, but this is the first time they’ve opened the season in-conference since 2009. No filling up on cupcakes before the meat of the season this year. With a new quarterback, and a redshirt freshman to boot, the defending ACC champions could struggle in this game.
Tune in to see if Pittsburgh grabs the upset victory in its first ACC game.
2013 Rick Neuheisel Bowl
Since Rick Neuheisel left Washington in 2002 and UCLA in 2011, the programs have gone in opposite directions.
Washington hasn’t finished a season ranked in the Top 25 of the Final AP poll since 2001, Neuheisel’s penultimate season at the helm. Steve Sarkisian has led the Huskies to three straight 7-6 seasons, but he’s on the hot seat for not bringing the program to the next level.
UCLA, meanwhile, earned its first ranking in the AP poll in any week since 2008, Neuheisel’s first year in charge. Jim Mora couldn’t bring a 10-win season or a bowl victory in his first season with the Bruins, but the program looks to be in better hands with him.
Both Washington and UCLA have good quarterbacks in Keith Price and Brett Hundley, respectively. Expect Price and Hundley to be the key players for their teams in this game.
Though not a marquee contest in the Pac-12, what I’ve deemed the Neuheisel Bowl should be one of the better non-Saturday games of the 2013 season.
2013 Battle of the Techs
Unlike the Rick Neuheisel Bowl, a name I devised, the Battle of the Techs is the actual name for this ACC Coastal division rivalry.
Since Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech started playing each other in the ACC Coastal division (2005), until 2011 the winner of this game went on to win the division. In 2012, the Yellow Jackets represented the Coastal in the ACC Championship Game, because Miami and North Carolina were ineligible. So, history tells us the winner of the 2013 edition should do the same.
Defense should be the story here. While the Hokies always have a stout unit led by coordinator Bud Foster, the Yellow Jackets have two players on the 2013 Bednarik Award Watch List in Jeremiah Attaochu and Jemea Thomas. Georgia Tech also brought in Ted Roof as defensive coordinator. Roof, a Yellow Jacket himself, returns to the same post he held from 1999 to 2001.
Unlike in the first game on this list with a nickname, the Egg Bowl, the combatants in the 2013 Battle of the Techs should compete for a division title. That should motivate you to check in on this one.
2013 Saddle Trophy game
TCU and Texas Tech play for the Saddle Trophy in a rivalry game that dates back to 1926.
Once the Horned Frogs joined the Red Raiders in the Big 12 last season, the rivalry intensified. In 2012, the first chapter of the rivalry since 2006, Texas Tech won 56-53 in three overtimes. Though the drama of 2012 might not repeat itself in 2013, these two programs should provide us with another exciting matchup.
Kliff Kingsbury returns to the Red Raiders in 2013, this time as the head coach. The former record-setting quarterback served as Kevin Sumlin’s offensive coordinator since 2010 (at both Houston and Texas A&M), and he was brought to Houston by Dana Holgorsen. Add in having played for Mike Leach, and Kingsbury has shown he knows how to put up numbers on offense. The Horned Frogs will present Kingsbury with his first conference test as head coach.
TCU is known for its defense. Head coach Gary Patterson should have another great one this year, led by 2013 Bednarik Award Watch List members Devonte Fields and Jason Verrett. In 2012, their first season in the Big 12, the Horned Frogs finished second in the conference in scoring defense.
Offensively, TCU has a quarterback controversy. Casey Pachall returns from suspension, and Trevone Boykin returns as a redshirt sophomore. Expect both to play significant time in 2013, as Patterson hasn’t named a starter through July 17.
Pachall still needs permission to leave Tarrant County, Texas, according to J.D. Moore of tcu360.com. If the court denies Pachall permission, he cannot play in any Horned Frogs games outside the county. Lubbock, the location of this game, isn’t in Tarrant County.
Pachall makes the Horned Frogs a better team, but Boykin can hold his own.
Either way, a rivalry game in the 10-team Big 12 can make a difference in the conference standings come bowl season.
2013 Textile Bowl
The Textile Bowl rivalry between Clemson and NC State goes back to 1899. The 82nd edition will be played in 2013.
Clemson has a good chance to win the ACC this season, thanks to 2013 Maxwell Award Watch List members Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins. Boyd and Watkins form one of the best pass-catch combos in the country.
NC State has a new head coach in Dave Doeren. Doeren comes from Northern Illinois, and he brought the Huskies to the 2013 Orange Bowl out of the MAC. The Wolfpack also have a new quarterback, but Doeren hasn’t announced the starter as of July 17.
In addition to the rivalry between these two programs, this game is one to watch, because NC State could upset Clemson. The Wolfpack beat Florida State in 2012, which derailed the Seminoles’ track to the BCS National Championship Game. Doeren showed in 2012 he can lead an underdog team to unexpected heights, and now he has a BCS roster. This is good news for NC State.
Don’t be surprised if this one ends up like the game between Florida State and NC State in 2012. Expectations for Clemson are higher than ever, so the Wolfpack could cause the Tigers to crack under pressure. They did it to the Seminoles last year…
SEC programs on the rise
Ole Miss and Vanderbilt have a rivalry that started in 1894. The 87th edition will be played in 2013.
Both the Rebels and the Commodores are programs on the rise in the SEC.
Hugh Freeze turned Ole Miss from a two-win team in 2011 to a bowl winner in 2012. Now in his second season as head coach, Freeze has the program seeking higher goals.
James Franklin turned Vanderbilt from a two-win team in 2010 to a bowl game participant in 2011. Last season, the Commodores earned their first ranking in the AP Final Poll since 1948. Now in his third season as head coach, Franklin could’ve done enough to get Vanderbilt into the preseason AP Top 25 for the first time ever.
On the first day of the 2013 season, these teams meet on ESPN to show the college football world just how much they’ve improved. Expect an even game here; the average margin of victory over the first 86 meetings was Ole Miss 19, Vanderbilt 17.
2013 Chancellor’s Spurs game
Texas Tech and Texas play for the Chancellor's Spurs in a rivalry that dates back to 1928. The 63rd edition of the rivalry will be played in 2013.
The Longhorns have dominated this series, but the most recent Red Raiders win was arguably the best game of the rivalry.
In 2008, the fifth-ranked Red Raiders defeated the top-ranked Longhorns. Texas finished the season with only that loss, but it missed out on the BCS National Championship Game.
This season, Texas has 19 starters returning from a 2012 team that earned the program’s first ranking in the AP Final Poll since 2009. It’s a big deal for Texas, because the Longhorns are expected to compete for national championships every season.
Kliff Kingsbury is the new head coach for Texas Tech. As a quarterback, Kingsbury led the Red Raiders to a win over the Longhorns in 2002. This Thanksgiving, Kingsbury will try to beat Texas again.
Like the Egg Bowl will provide Mississippians with plenty of Turkey Day talk, the Chancellor’s Spurs game will do the same in Texas.
2013 Battle for the Golden Boot
Arkansas and LSU will play the 59th edition of The Battle for the Golden Boot in 2013. This year’s Black Friday tradition should again be a big game in the SEC West.
The Razorbacks bring in Bret Bielema as head coach. Bielema comes over from Wisconsin, which is coming off three straight Rose Bowl appearances. Can Bielema have similar success in arguably the toughest division in college football? By the time LSU shows up on the calendar, we’ll have a better idea.
LSU comes into 2013 with a new-look defense. Including Tyrann Mathieu, who missed the 2012 season, the Tigers had eight defensive players taken in the 2013 NFL draft. Luckily, defensive coordinator John Chavis reloads rather than rebuilds, but a unit losing so much still brings some concerns at any program.
Thanks to Alabama and Texas A&M in the SEC West, LSU enters 2013 with less hype than usual. At the end of the day, Les Miles will have his team fighting for a BCS bowl bid, but the Tigers seem under the radar a little.
Arkansas’ hiring of Bielema should bring some stability to a position that Bobby Petrino’s off-field issues made a liability. Also, the defense should improve under Bielema and the coordinator he brought from Wisconsin, Chris Ash.
I like Arkansas’ chances in this game more because it’s at the end of the season. The Razorbacks will have played in Bielema’s system 11 times to this point. Also, rivalry games bring out the best in teams.
This could be the SEC’s best game not played on a Saturday.
Rutgers and Louisville have been connected quite strongly over the past few months.
First, Rutgers and Louisville will leave the American Athletic Conference after just one season. The Scarlet Knights go to the Big Ten, and the Cardinals go to the ACC, in 2014.
Second, Louisville ended Rutgers’ dreams of reaching a BCS bowl in its final game of 2012. Perhaps that was payback for the Scarlet Knights ending the Cardinals’ dreams of reaching the 2007 BCS National Championship Game.
Third, Rutgers took the right-hand woman of Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich and made her, Julie Hermann, its new AD. Hermann replaced Tim Pernetti after he resigned following the Mike Rice scandal. Upon her arrival in Piscataway, news surfaced that Hermann didn’t treat her players in the most professional manner, either, when she was the coach of Tennessee’s women’s volleyball team.
Fourth, after Rutgers won its season series against Louisville in baseball, the Scarlet Knights upset the conference’s top-seeded Cardinals in the Big East tournament.
Like I said, these schools have a lot of combined history recently. It only adds to the importance of this football game.
Regardless of result, one school will get revenge on the other, for some of the reasons I’ve stated.
Louisville and 2013 Heisman contender Teddy Bridgewater have visions of playing for the BCS national championship, but a loss to Rutgers would all but crush those hopes.
Non-BCS powers collide
Boise State and BYU are two of the best programs to never have played in BCS conferences. In 2013, they play each other. Discussions about the histories of both will be at the forefront of this contest.
The Broncos’ national dominance has come within the last decade. The Cougars’ best years came in the 1980s and early 1990s, but they’re still relevant. BYU was the old Boise State, or is Boise State the new BYU?
Both have won four straight bowls, and this game should greatly determine which postseason game each program will play in 2013. A Boise State victory will make the road to the BCS much easier. A BYU win will eliminate the Broncos from BCS contention, and it could put the Cougars in the Top 25.
Chris Petersen’s offense meets Bronco Mendenhall’s defense here. Mendenhall has 2013 Bednarik Award Watch List member Kyle Van Noy leading the unit, as well as Cody Hoffman at wide receiver, but Petersen does more with less than any coach in college football.
The Broncos should be the favorites, but winning won’t be easy.
New quarterbacks that’ll help determine the Big 12 race
Oklahoma and Baylor will bring in first-year starting quarterbacks in 2013.
Blake Bell replaces Landry Jones for the Sooners. Bell has terrorized defenses for the past two seasons as a scrambler, but this year, he won’t be a secret weapon.
Bryce Petty replaces Nick Florence for the Bears. Petty has played sparingly over the last two seasons, but now he’s the main attraction.
Luckily, both signal-callers have a big weapon in the running and passing games to help ease them into their starting roles. For Oklahoma, it’s Damien Williams and Jalen Saunders. For Baylor, it’s Lache Seastrunk and Tevin Reese.
Athlon Sports likes both teams to finish in the Top 40, whereas Oklahoma should get enough votes to be in the Top 20 of the preseason polls. Big 12 teams beat up on each other, though, and the conference never seems to have a runaway favorite. Baylor should keep Oklahoma in the game.
Perhaps the Bears will do to the Sooners what Kansas State did in 2012.
Reser Stadium, the home of Oregon State football, and the site of this game.
Two of the 25 best teams in the country?
USC and Oregon State will receive plenty of votes in preseason Top 25 polls, but will they get enough to begin the season with a number?
The Trojans were hoping for a national championship in 2012, but they limped to a 7-6 record, placing Lane Kiffin on the hot seat. The Beavers finished 20th in the AP Final Poll, effectively ending Mike Riley’s time on the hot seat. In a “who’s hot, who’s not” of college football, the former’s not, while the latter’s hot.
Both teams come into 2013 with uncertainty at quarterback. Neither program has a clear one, but at least Oregon State’s duo of Cody Vaz and Sean Mannion are experienced.
Each team does have an elite wide receiver, though. Marqise Lee of USC and Brandin Cooks of Oregon State could be the Pac-12 first-teamers at the position come December.
If both teams are ranked heading into this game, then they’d be off to a better-than-expected start.
2013 Keg of Nails game
Athlon Sports’ top two teams in the AAC, Louisville and Cincinnati, meet in the Keg of Nails rivalry. If all goes according to plan, the game will decide the inaugural AAC championship.
Like I mentioned before, Louisville needs to win every game on its schedule to reach the BCS National Championship. Cincinnati will do everything in its power to stop the talk of the Cardinals and then everyone else in the AAC.
The Bearcats have a new coach in Tommy Tuberville. Not to worry, because Cincy’s last three head men (Mark Dantonio, Brian Kelly, Butch Jones) turned their success there into roles at more prestigious schools (Michigan State, Notre Dame, Tennessee). Tuberville is over the hill of his coaching career, but recent history bodes well for him anyway.
Both Louisville’s Charlie Strong and Tuberville successfully have led SEC defenses, so expect a low-scoring affair here. Louisville put up 33 points in the 2013 Sugar Bowl against Florida, but remember, Strong coached at The Swamp for a combined 15 seasons before taking over the Cardinals.
Louisville projects to be ranked very high heading into this game. For that alone, people will watch. Cincinnati could win, though, and that should get more people to watch.
South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney
Battle of the Carolinas
North Carolina and South Carolina will play in the season’s first night to claim which team is the best with the name “Carolina.” The Battle of the Carolinas isn’t a name for the game; I came up with it.
The Tar Heels’ season will count in 2013, and that should motivate them. They’ll play a likely Top 10 team to start the season, so the motivation should increase even more.
This game will start Jadeveon Clowney’s quest for the 2013 Heisman. The Gamecocks defensive end has a real shot to become the first purely defensive player to win the award.
North Carolina has the first crack at preventing Clowney from winning the Heisman. How will the Tar Heels fare?
Tune in to find out.
One of the ACC's biggest rivalries
The rivalry between Georgia Tech and Clemson began in 1898. The 78th edition of the rivalry will be played in 2013.
Georgia Tech hopes to stop Clemson from reaching the BCS National Championship Game. Paul Johnson’s pesky triple option offense is still around for the Yellow Jackets, and in a rivalry usually played tightly, every little twist and turn matters. The Tigers and Dabo Swinney will counter with 2013 Heisman contender Tajh Boyd and his top target, Sammy Watkins.
Athlon Sports likes Georgia Tech as a Top 35 team in 2013, and that means Clemson shouldn’t overlook one of its fiercest rivals. You shouldn’t overlook this game then, either.
2013 Battle of the Milk Can
Though the milk can made its first appearance in 2005, Boise State and Fresno State have been rivals since 1977. The 16th edition of the rivalry, which will be played in 2013, should feature the top two teams in the Mountain West. In fact, Athlon Sports predicts the Broncos and the Bulldogs will meet twice this season, once here and once in the MWC Championship Game.
The Broncos have won 11 of the last 12 games between the programs. The Bulldogs, as a possible Top 25 team in 2013, should make this one more competitive.
2013 Heisman contender Derek Carr, his top target Davante Adams, and 2013 Bednarik Award Watch List member Derron Smith lead Fresno State against Chris Petersen’s Boise State squad.
The Broncos haven’t lost a conference title since 2007, but the Bulldogs should pose a very real threat to that run.
Rarely do we see Top 25 games played outside BCS conferences, but this could be one.
2013 Civil War
Oregon State and Oregon play for the Platypus Trophy in one of college football’s greatest rivalries. With a name like the Civil War, you know there’s plenty of hate to go around. The 117th edition will be played in 2013.
High expectations for the Beavers make this one of the best non-Saturday games of 2013. Oregon State had its best season since 2008 in 2012, and the program could find itself inside the preseason Top 25.
Oregon, of course, will be in the national championship race all season. The Ducks lost Chip Kelly to the NFL, but new head coach Mark Helfrich is a Kelly understudy. Helfrich knows better not to mess with the system Kelly left behind.
Oregon has orchestrated some blowouts in recent series history, but don’t sleep on Oregon State. Besides, Kelly isn’t in Eugene, and Helfrich isn’t Kelly.
This game should create a lot of disruption in the polls, and any game that does is worth watching.
De facto Pac-12 North championship game?
Forget the Pac-12 North. The game between Oregon and Stanford will have serious national championship implications.
As the only non-Saturday game to feature surefire preseason Top 10 teams, the Ducks and the Cardinals will play the undisputed top game on this list. Heck, this should be one of the top games of the entire 2013 season!
The winner here should reach at least the 2014 Rose Bowl and could reach the 2014 BCS National Championship Game.
Need an excuse to show up groggy to work or school the next day? Here’s the best one you can give this college football season.