One Make-or-Break Game for the Top 10 BCS Championship Contenders

Jeff BellCorrespondent ISeptember 26, 2013

One Make-or-Break Game for the Top 10 BCS Championship Contenders

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    Alabama's Christion Jones
    Alabama's Christion JonesKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    The list of teams with a realistic shot at the BCS championship game has been narrowed down, and it's time to take a look at what remains on their respective schedules.

    Coaches will tell you that every game is equally important, but there's a reason we're more excited for certain games. It's those games that can make or break a season.

    The most subjective part of the list is coming up with the Top 10 contenders for the national championship, and several factors were considered.

    The most important one, however, is what kind of road does a team have to get to the title? A team like Texas A&M might be one of the 10 best, but they'll have to hope Bama loses twice (or to beat LSU and hope the Tigers win out), which gives them significantly less hope than say, Oklahoma State, which still controls its own destiny.

    Of course, Northwestern also controls its own destiny, and while the program may have its best team in years, it isn't likely to seriously contend for the title. Thus, the strength of a team also plays a factor here.

    Take a look at the one make-or-break game for each of the Top 10 BCS championship contenders.

     

    All stats and schedule information via ESPN

10) Louisville

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    Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

    Friday, Oct. 18th vs. Central Florida

    On a schedule full of nobodies and teams that Louisville will beat by 30+, it's difficult to come up with just one game that can make or break the Cardinals season. In reality, any loss would pretty much end any hopes of a BCS championship appearance.

    But games against Cincinnati and Central Florida will be chances to make a statement, and the latter will give Charlie Strong's team its best shot to prove its worth to the nation.

    First, the game is on a Friday, meaning it won't be surrounded by a full slate of football. The eyes of the nation will be focused solely on Teddy Bridgewater and company, and a big win on a day other than Saturday is going to mean a lot.

    Second, Central Florida is a pretty decent team this year, and probably the best opponent left on the schedule. The Knights are 3-0 with a victory at Penn State, and they'll play at South Carolina on Saturday.

    While George O'Leary's team may not win that one, fans will at least be able to compare scores after they've played Louisville as well.

    Any loss at all is going to break the Cardinals, but a big win over Central Florida has a chance to make their season.

9) Georgia

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    UGA QB Aaron Murray
    UGA QB Aaron MurrayDale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

    Saturday, Sept. 28th vs. LSU

    Buckle up, Bulldog fans because Georgia's make-or-break game is almost here.

    The matchup with LSU on Saturday is the most important game left on the schedule because it is the best remaining chance for the Bulldogs to make a statement.

    The Tigers have appeared on so many under-the-radar lists throughout the week that everyone is starting to realize how good Les Miles' team really is. After this one, a neutral-site game against Florida and a visit to Georgia Tech look like the only potential stumbling blocks.

    With a loss already in the books, Georgia will be in must-win mode when the Tigers come to town. And while losing to Clemson in the opening game certainly set Mark Richt's team back, it wasn't the nail in the coffin.

    The Bulldogs still control their own destiny in the SEC East, and if they can win out and post a victory in the SEC championship game, they'll certainly have their hat in the ring for a spot in Pasadena.

8) Oklahoma State

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    Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy
    Oklahoma State head coach Mike GundyRichard Rowe-USA TODAY Sports

    Saturday, Nov. 23rd vs. Baylor

    Oklahoma State and Baylor are interchangeable when it comes to who has the best shot of winning the Big 12, but without a single win against anybody decent, the Bears were dropped in favor of the Cowboys.

    But it's the game against Art Briles' team in late November that will make or break the season for Oklahoma State.

    To address the obvious: why not Oklahoma?

    First, Baylor looks like the stronger team thus far, and the offense is on another planet. We'll find out a lot more about the Sooners this Saturday when they take on Notre Dame. Second, both games are home contests for Mike Gundy's team, and with all things being equal, the Bears look like the tougher out.

    The Cowboys are also flying under the radar in 2013, but a 21-3 victory over Mississippi State to open the season was very impressive. If quarterback J.W. Walsh and his team can make it through the next seven games unscathed, it will set up a major showdown with Baylor, and the Big 12 title could be on the line.

7) Florida State

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    FSU QB Jameis Winston
    FSU QB Jameis WinstonMelina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

    Saturday, Oct. 19th @ Clemson

    Florida State is 3-0 with wins over Pittsburgh, Nevada and Bethune-Cookman. The combined margin of victory in those contests is 157-26, and redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston has eight touchdown passes and just one interception.

    The offense is playing great, the defense is looking fierce and the path to the BCS national championship will run right through Clemson on October 19th.

    Games against Miami and Florida will be challenging, but the Tigers have already knocked off Georgia and are the clear-cut favorites to win the ACC. A win over them would give the Seminoles a seemingly insurmountable lead in the conference, and it would significantly increase the chance at an undefeated run.

    Whether Jimbo Fisher's team will pull it off is another matter entirely. Clemson has one of the best home environments in the country and quarterback Tajh Boyd is playing as well as anyone.

    But if Florida State can get by Boston College and Maryland, it will set up a make-or-break game against the Tigers.

6) LSU

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    LSU head coach Les Miles
    LSU head coach Les MilesCrystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Spor

    Saturday, Nov. 9th @ Alabama

    Let's see, we could have gone with LSU's game at Georgia on Saturday, or maybe the trip to Ole Miss in October. A visit from Florida will also be difficult, as will a date with Texas A&M.

    But ultimately, the showdown with Alabama in Tuscaloosa on Nov. 9th will make or break the Tigers' season.

    The Crimson Tide are in the SEC West along with Les Miles' team, which gives this one added importance. But the biggest factor in selecting this particular matchup is that Alabama is the best team in the country.

    Nick Saban's team has won back-to-back national championships and may not be tested until LSU comes calling. Even if the Tigers were to drop a game between now and then, a win over the Tide would show everybody that Zach Mettenberger and his guys are one of the best football teams in the country.

    Despite the numerous tough games remaining on LSU's schedule, a trip to Alabama stands out as the toughest of them all.

5) Stanford

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    Stanford QB Kevin Hogan
    Stanford QB Kevin HoganBob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

    Thursday, Nov 7th vs. Oregon

    Last season, Stanford traveled north to take on a Top 5 Oregon team that had hopes of making it to the national championship.

    The Cardinal won 17-14 and the rematch has been circled on everyone's calendar ever since.

    David Shaw's team is of the throwback variety, as they'll line up with seven or eight offensive linemen and punch you in the mouth. Quarterback Kevin Hogan has an improved arm this season and can escape pressure with his legs.

    But the defense is the real headliner, and it might be the best unit in the country from the front line to the secondary.

    The Cardinal and the Ducks are the clear-cut top two teams in the Pac-12, and there's little doubt that this Thursday night showdown will make or break Stanford's season.

4) Ohio State

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    Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer
    Ohio State head coach Urban MeyerJamie Sabau/Getty Images

    Saturday, Sept. 28th vs. Wisconsin

    In most years, Ohio State's make-or-break game would clearly be the Big Game against Michigan. And who knows, that may still be the case in 2013.

    But given the Wolverines recent struggles against Akron and UConn, the Wisconsin Badgers appear to be the best team left on the schedule.

    Gary Anderson's club may have a controversial loss on its record, but it has one of the nation's top running tandems in Melvin Gordon and James White. More importantly, it is improving every week.

    On Saturday, they'll take their show into Columbus in an attempt to wreck the Buckeyes' season.

    A road trip to Northwestern will also be tricky, but Ohio State is relatively untested and it could be rusty after the walkthrough against Florida A&M last week.

    If the Buckeyes come out and dominate from start to finish, no one will question their place in the rankings. The rest of the schedule is manageable. Saturday's game with Wisconsin is going to make or break the season for Ohio State.

3) Clemson

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    Clemson QB Tajh Boyd
    Clemson QB Tajh BoydStreeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Saturday, Oct. 19th vs. Florida State

    This one comes down to a simple question of who's better: Florida State or South Carolina?

    The season may be too young to give a definitive answer, but based solely on the way each team has played thus far, we're inclined to go with the Seminoles.

    Of course, the great equalizer is that Clemson travels to South Carolina and gets Florida State at home, but Jimbo Fisher's team still seems like the tougher of the two opponents.

    Consider, too, that the winner will have a major leg up in the Atlantic Division of the ACC, and neither team will be in the national championship without having first won the conference.

    All eyes have been on this one for quite some time, and it is the one game that will either make or break Clemson's season in 2013.

2) Oregon

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    WR Josh Huff
    WR Josh HuffJonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

    Thursday, Nov. 7th @ Stanford

    Despite difficult games against Washington and UCLA, a trip to Palo Alto to take on Stanford is the one game that will either make or break the Ducks this season.

    There are several reasons why this is the case, but chief among them is the fact that Stanford is the best team left on the schedule. But one of the storylines that hasn't been discussed yet is that this is a revenge game, too.

    Stanford ruined Oregon's shot at a national title last season. Think Mark Helfrich's team remembers that one?

    Finally, the winner will likely be the team that represents the Pac-12 North in the conference championship game. Last year, Stanford lost to Washington in conference but because it had won at Autzen Stadium, it got to play in the Pac-12 title game and ultimately, the Rose Bowl.

    When Oregon travels to Stanford in early November, the whole country will be watching.

1) Alabama

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    Alabama QB AJ McCarron
    Alabama QB AJ McCarronKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Saturday, Nov. 9th vs. LSU

    The best team in the country has the most obvious make-or-break game of them all. LSU is the only team in the Top 20 remaining on Alabama's schedule, which makes it a must-win for Nick Saban's team.

    In college football, almost every game is a must-win for teams hoping to compete for a national championship. But if Alabama doesn't get by LSU, it most certainly will not make a third-straight appearance in the title game.

    And why should it? That would mean the only quality wins on the schedule were Texas A&M and Ole Miss. SEC or not, that wouldn't stack up against the other top competition around the country.

    But the Tide are No. 1 for a reason. If they want to stay that way and earn the chance to play for another crystal ball, they'll have to beat LSU in November.