Every Top 25 College Football Team's Toughest Game in 2014

Brian Pedersen@realBJPFeatured ColumnistAugust 18, 2014

Every Top 25 College Football Team's Toughest Game in 2014

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    Even the most diehard college football can't deny that their team's schedule has at least one land mine.

    No matter how good a team is, each year there's always that one game that causes a skip to the heartbeat, for sweat to form on the brow.

    It's not necessarily going to result in defeat—often it's not the perceived "best" team on the schedule—but that game is the one that a team's fans should be most worried about. Maybe it's against a heated rival, where records get thrown out the door. Or it could be the timing of the contest, where it's being played or that it's on a weeknight or has a late (or early) kickoff.

    Whatever the case, there's something about the game that just screams danger.

    Using the Associated Press preseason Top 25 poll as a list, we've gone through the 2014 schedules of FBS' best teams and picked out the one game on each of their schedules that will be the most stringent challenge.

25. Washington Huskies

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    Game: Oct. 18 at Oregon

    If Washington is going to make a smooth transition from Steve Sarkisian to Chris Petersen, it will likely do so with the help of home cooking thanks to most of its toughest opponents heading to Seattle. Picking off some of those teams at home can help offset what, on paper and based on recorded history, looks like an automatic loss for the Huskies.

    Washington hasn't beat Oregon since 2003, and during the Ducks' 10-game win streak in the series they've won by an average of 26 points. Last year's game in Seattle was among the closest during that stretch, and Washington lost 45-24 in a game that drew ESPN's College GameDay to campus.

    Petersen is well aware of how big the annual game against the Ducks is to Washington fans, and how painful each loss has been to the fanbase. During his introductory press conference last December, "Are you going to beat Oregon?" was one of the first questions posed by reporters.

    Washington is going to be inexperienced on offense, which doesn't bode well when going up against Oregon's veteran defenders.

24. Missouri Tigers

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    Game: Sept. 27 at South Carolina

    There's not one road game on Missouri's schedule that can be considered a safe bet for a victory, but there is one that the smart money would be on marking it down as a loss. That would be the trip from Columbia to ... Columbia for the clash with South Carolina.

    The host Gamecocks bring an 18-game home win streak into 2014, which when this game comes around will probably be at 21 games. Missouri will have already played on the road once, but facing the Mid-American's Toledo in the Glass Bowl isn't comparable to a perennial SEC power on its home turf.

    This game will also be the biggest test so far for quarterback Maty Mauk, who struggled mightily in the loss to South Carolina a year ago. The Gamecocks' defense will have a lot of new starters, but returners like defensive back Brison Williams will still pose a problem for Mauk.

No. 23 North Carolina Tar Heels

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    Game: Sept. 27 at Clemson

    North Carolina's schedule in the early season resembles a stepladder when it comes to the quality of its opponents. After an opener against a good FCS team, the Tar Heels host a solid San Diego State squad and then travel to dangerous East Carolina.

    Then the ACC schedule starts, and it does so with a whopper, a trip to Death Valley and Clemson.

    Making matters worse, this game comes up for Clemson right after it likely will have lost at Florida State, and combined with an opener at Georgia could mean the Tigers would be 1-2 and off to their worst start in a decade. The prospect of losing a third game before September would be a huge motivator for them, and North Carolina would be facing a hungry, desperate opponent in a must-win situation.

    And we haven't even talked about Vic Beasley, Clemson's senior defensive end who has a penchant for sacking quarterbacks and tackling rushers behind the line. Marquise Williams, T.J. Logan and the rest of the backfield will need to keep their eyes peeled or Beasley will dominate.

No. 22 Nebraska Cornhuskers

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    Game: Oct. 4 at Michigan State

    With the nation's top returning rusher in senior Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska will likely turn to the run game quite frequently in 2014. This will give its passing game a chance to slowly develop, while also taking pressure off a defense that will be without three key contributors for the year because of injury or suspension.

    But when the Cornhuskers visit Michigan State, they're apt to find out just how hard it is to win without a balanced attack.

    MSU allowed only 86.6 rushing yards per game and 2.85 yards per carry in 2013. The Spartans graduated half of that dominant defense, but the replacements are looking strong and coordinator Pat Narduzzi is considered among the best in the nation. They'll have a game plan to shut down Abdullah and Nebraska's other ball-carriers, testing the effectiveness of a suspect passing game unlike anyone else this fall.

No. 21 Texas A&M Aggies

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    Game: Oct. 18 at Alabama

    Half of Texas A&M's games are against preseason Top 25 teams, making the post-Johnny Manziel era one that won't involve much easing into. The Aggies open on the road against South Carolina and also visit Alabama and Auburn, a lineup that makes it seem like someone with the football program ticked off the SEC schedule-makers.

    A&M is still establishing itself in the conference, despite two solid years since coming over from the Big 12. One team it hasn't had trouble developing a rivalry with, though, has been Alabama, as the teams have produced two of the best games of the past two seasons.

    Crimson Tide fans still flinch when bringing up A&M's last visit to Tuscaloosa, an upset of the top-ranked defending champions in 2012. This time around, though, there won't be Manziel running all over the field, while Alabama should be as good (if not better) than when these teams previously met.

    To expect Kenny Hill to match Manziel's effort is unfair, so A&M must get a major effort from its defense. That's easier said than done, but by this point in the season young prospects like Myles Garrett should be able to contribute positively.

No. 20 Kansas State Wildcats

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    Game: Oct. 18 at Oklahoma

    With three Top 10 teams on the schedule, you can basically throw a dart at Kansas State's 2014 slate and whatever you hit can be worthy of the "toughest game" label.

    Facing Oklahoma, in Norman, stands out above all others because it comes after the Wildcats will have spent basically a month camped out at home and could be surging in the polls if they manage to knock off Auburn in September.

    Despite winning 29 games over the last three seasons, K-State has had a tendency to trip up in high-profile Big 12 road contests. This won't be the only challenge away from Manhattan, but it will be the toughest test, one where quarterback Jake Waters will need to play his best football. And the matchup between K-State wide receiver Tyler Lockett and the Oklahoma secondary (whom he torched for 278 yards and three TDs last year) will be a key to the Wildcats' chances for a victory.

No. 19 Arizona State Sun Devils

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    Game: Oct. 4 at USC

    Arizona State hit the lottery when it came to its 2014 schedule, getting three of its biggest opponents to come to the desert, where it can use the heat advantage as well as the Green Bay Packers thrive on the freezing cold. Notre Dame, Stanford and UCLA all visit Sun Devil Stadium, where ASU is routinely a tough out.

    ASU isn't nearly as successful on the road, especially in the state of California, where over the past decade it's lost more than won. The defeats are most prevalent at the L.A. Coliseum, where it hasn't beat USC since the mid-1990s.

    If the Sun Devils want to repeat as Pac-12 South champions they can't afford to lose more than once in league play because of the presence of USC and UCLA in their division. Add in the timing of this game—right after hosting UCLA and right before Stanford comes in—and all the makings of a letdown are there.

    ASU will need quarterback Taylor Kelly's senior leadership to come out, and not have him disappear like he did during the team's losses last season. He'll look to wide receiver Jaelen Strong early and often, but USC might be doubling him with cornerback Josh Shaw and safety Su'a Cravens, so another option may need to step up.

No. 18 Ole Miss Rebels

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    Game: Oct. 4 vs. Alabama

    With a senior quarterback, a veteran secondary and exciting young talent all over the lineup, Ole Miss is in position for one of its best seasons in recent memory. But the SEC West is so tough that the Rebels could play really well and end up in fourth or five place in their own division.

    The key to overcoming those odds is to steal a game somewhere, by knocking off one of the many teams that sit above Ole Miss in the divisional hierarchy. Doing that on the road is next to impossible in the SEC, so it's fortuitous that the Rebels' biggest Achilles' heel (Alabama) comes to Oxford for the conference home opener.

    Ole Miss hasn't beat the Crimson Tide since 2003, and in the previous five meetings hardly sniffed a chance at pulling off a win. Last year's 25-0 loss in Tuscaloosa wasn't as close as the score would indicate, and sapped all the momentum it had from a 3-0 start that included wins at Vanderbilt and Texas. 

    The Rebels are one of the most veteran teams in the country, according to Phil Steele's experience chart, and seniors like defensive back Cody Prewitt and quarterback Bo Wallace will be their best hope for an upset. Prewitt will have to try to shut down Alabama wideout Amari Cooper, while Wallace must avoid letting the Tide's linebackers or safety Landon Collins from mucking up his passing lanes.

17. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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    Game: Oct. 18 at Florida State

    Even a casual college football fan can identify the toughest game on Notre Dame's stacked 2014 schedule. Just look for the "No. 1" in front of an opponent.

    The Fighting Irish are traditionally the predators, but when they go to Tallahassee to play defending national champion Florida State they'll be the prey. The Seminoles very likely will be undefeated and riding a 20-game win streak at kickoff, and with an expected overflow of media on hand this game will take on a national championship atmosphere.

    Ever since this game was announced more than a year ago, as part of the Irish's loose scheduling agreement with the ACC, it's been considered a big one. Notre Dame will face plenty of quality opponents this fall, but none will be as tough as the Seminoles.

    No other opponent will have a quarterback as good as FSU's Jameis Winston, either. He made a habit of carving up defenses good and bad in 2013, and we expect more of the same this year. Notre Dame's front seven will be the youngest it's been under Brian Kelly, and will be given a trial by fire by Winston and his weapons.

No. 16 Clemson Tigers

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    Game: Sept. 20 at Florida State

    Clemson may have reached its second BCS bowl game in three years last season, winning one of the big bowls for the first time ever, but 2013 still had a feeling of missed opportunities to it. The home loss to Florida State was particularly troubling, because before that the Tigers looked like world-beaters.

    In 2014 the FSU game is again a huge one, but its placement on the schedule as the ACC opener and only the third game of the season makes it by far the toughest test for whether this rebuilt Clemson team can reach the levels of past teams.

    Despite losing all of the major contributors to its potent offense, AP voters still are confident that Clemson will put together another solid year. But with so many tough games right out of the gate—three of the Tigers' four ranked opponents are in the first four games—there's the risk that rough outings could hamper development of this young and inexperienced team.

    FSU's defense will be tougher than anything else the Tigers' skill players will have faced to this point, and if freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson gets thrown into the mix he'll have a laundry list of Seminoles players to worry about. Even if it's senior Cole Stoudt the whole time, FSU veterans like defensive end Mario Edwards and linebacker Terrance Smith will be chomping at the bit.

No. 15 USC Trojans

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    Game: Nov. 22 at UCLA

    USC always has two really big games on its schedule thanks to the annual crosstown rivalry with UCLA and the longstanding series with Notre Dame. The UCLA clash hasn't always been considered a tough one, particularly during a 13-year stretch when the Trojans won 12 times.

    Those days are over, though, now that UCLA has been resurrected under coach Jim Mora and turned Los Angeles into a legitimate two-team college football power town.

    Having both of these schools among the nation's elite is great for the college game, both locally and on a national scale, writes the Los Angeles Times' Chris Dufresne: "UCLA and USC, like pro wrestlers at the old Olympic Auditorium, are circling each other again. The prospect of a legitimate cage-match revival feels real."

    The Trojans had no answer for UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley, who ran for a pair of touchdowns and was untouched by the defense. Hundley will be the focal point again this time around, so defensive lineman Leonard Williams and USC's secondary will need to keep him in check.

No. 14 Wisconsin Badgers

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    Game: Nov. 22 at Iowa

    Iowa and Wisconsin first played 120 years ago, but only since 2004 did this longstanding series get in on the trophy craze that rivalry games all seem to involve. Wisconsin has been in possession of the Heartland Trophy since 2010, but in order to hold onto it the Badgers will have to win in Iowa City for the third straight matchup.

    And for the first time, that game has the chance to have the added incentive of being a de facto division title game now that the Badgers and Hawkeyes are both in the Big Ten's West Division.

    Wisconsin beat Iowa on the road 28-9 last year, part of a six-game win streak that had it vying for a BCS at-large berth since an earlier loss at Ohio State had all but knocked the Badgers out of the conference title race. Despite losing the war, Iowa won the battle in terms of limiting Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon to his worst game of the season with 62 yards on 17 carries.

    The Hawkeyes were aided by some rowdy fans near Wisconsin's bench, according to Gordon, who told Scott Dochterman of The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette, "I can't say on camera what they said." Gordon and his teammates should expect even more of that this time, along with plenty of run-ins with Iowa defensive tackle Carl Davis.

No. 13 LSU Tigers

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    Game: Oct. 4 at Auburn

    As the only team to beat Auburn in the regular season last year, LSU's game film from that victory was likely a hot rental by teams trying to figure out how to stop Auburn as the season went along. The convincing win came early in 2013, before anyone knew what Auburn was capable of, but still goes down as LSU's most impressive performance of the season.

    For the Tigers to duplicate that, though, it will need to do so on the road. The visit to Auburn is by far the toughest of LSU's four road trips, and with it coming immediately after a monthlong home stand it has the chance to be a major wake-up call after several weeks of home cooking and likely lopsided wins.

    Auburn didn't get everyone's best shot last year, which won't be the same in 2014. Because of that, the approach LSU takes for this game will need to be more intense than normal because Auburn will be far more battle-tested by this point. That means having a better game plan through the air for Nick Marshall, who had arguably his worst game against LSU last season.

    The Tigers' secondary will be a strength in 2014, and this will be its toughest test so far.

No. 12 Georgia Bulldogs

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    Game: Sept. 13 at South Carolina

    Georgia has a lot of chances to avenge losses from 2013, but it will be the rematch against the best team the Bulldogs beat last year that will provide the biggest challenge.

    If it can open with a win over Clemson, the Bulldogs will already be ahead of last season's pace. Beating South Carolina a year ago at home helped erase the bad taste of already being 0-1, while this fall the matchup has the chance to give Georgia a huge early-season momentum boost with a 2-0 start against a pair of ranked opponents.

    The game will also serve as an early barometer for SEC East play, but this time it's in Columbia, where the Gamecocks haven't lost in nearly three years. CBS Sports identified early the importance of this game, announcing back in May that it would broadcast the game long before most other SEC matchups were given kickoffs or TV coverage.

    Georgia's defense, an Achilles' heel last season, will have its hands full trying to slow down South Carolina's Mike Davis. He ran for 149 yards and a touchdown in the 2013 matchup and he will give a good idea of how improved the Bulldogs are in stopping opponents.

No. 11 Stanford Cardinal

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    Game: Nov. 1 at Oregon

    Stanford's 2014 schedule is so loaded with pitfalls—it never goes more than two games without facing a ranked opponent, and that happens just once—that to pick one game that's tougher than all the others isn't easy. The determining factor, though, is the history between the Cardinal and Pac-12 North Division rival Oregon.

    These teams have represented their division ever since the conference expanded to 12 teams in 2011, and before that they were routinely in the hunt for the overall league title. Every conference championship game has been won by the Ducks or Cardinal, each time getting there thanks to a victory over the other.

    Though both teams have more traditional, geographically based rivals they identify with, the burgeoning conflict between Oregon and Stanford has raised this series to true rivalry status. Having the game likely determining the North Division's champ just adds to the intensity.

    Stanford caught a break last season when Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota was limited by a knee injury, which took away his running ability and made him one-dimensional. That won't be the case this time around, and with the Cardinal's front seven younger and less experienced than in the past there's a potential for disaster if Mariota goes off.

No. 10 Baylor Bears

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    Game: Nov. 8 at Oklahoma

    As one of the last unbeaten teams in the country last season, Baylor had a November game against Oklahoma State, hoping to pull out a rare victory in the Sooner State. It didn't happen, as the Bears were crushed 49-17 to extend their drought in Stillwater to 74 years.

    Amazingly, that's not Baylor's longest winless streak at a locale in Oklahoma. That would be the one against the Sooners in Norman, where Baylor hasn't won since...ever. Starting with a 17-6 loss there back in 1901 and then becoming more regular since joining the Big 12 in the mid-1990s, the Bears are winless on the road against the Sooners.

    Even without the lack of success at Oklahoma to consider, the matchup isn't a favorable one for Baylor. Oklahoma's defense this season might be the best its had under Mike Stoops, and has the potential to slow down Baylor's offense better than anyone else in the Big 12. And defensive backs like Xavien Howard and Orion Stewart will have their hands full keeping the Sooners' receivers in check if the front seven can't get pressure on quarterback Trevor Knight.

No. 9 South Carolina Gamecocks

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    Game: Oct. 25 at Auburn

    Since the Head Ball Coach came to South Carolina in 2005, he has not only turned the Gamecocks into a national power but transformed Williams-Brice Stadium into one of the hardest places to play.

    Road games? Not so much.

    South Carolina hasn't lost at home since October 2011, a stretch of 18 straight wins. In that same time span, though, it has lost five times in true road games against five different SEC opponents. And none of those had a running game nearly as explosive as Auburn's.

    If this game were played a year earlier, the presence of Jadeveon Clowney and Kelcy Quarles on South Carolina's defensive line would minimize the worry. Instead, the Gamecocks aren't as fast and strong up front, and ball-carriers like running back Cameron Artis-Payne and quarterback Nick Marshall could run rampant.

No. 8 Michigan State Spartans

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    Game: Nov. 29 at Penn State

    Michigan State's toughest game won't be against its best opponent. For the Spartans, it will be more about atmosphere and potential implications that dictate why the regular-season finale at Penn State tops all others on the 2014 schedule.

    MSU has tough ones littered throughout the slate, starting with the Sept. 6 trip to Oregon that will be a huge early-season barometer for playoff rankings. Nebraska, Michigan and Ohio State are also on the docket, but thankfully the Spartans get to host all of those teams and don't have to visit any of their imposing stadiums.

    Regardless of how MSU fares at Oregon, it won't impact the Big Ten race in any way. The Spartans still control their own destiny based on how the league slate pans out, while the late November trip—can we vote now to have it be played at night?—to Happy Valley will ultimately dictate where they go for postseason play.

    James Franklin has big plans for Penn State's offense, and he has a great quarterback in sophomore Christian Hackenberg. MSU has to put pressure on him and force him into bad throws, or he could slice up the Spartans' secondary.

No. 7 UCLA Bruins

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    Game: Oct. 11 vs. Oregon

    UCLA faces one of the toughest three-game stretches to end the season of any major program, ending against ranked teams Washington (on the road) and at home against rival USC and Stanford. But none of those games will be as important to dictating the tone of 2014 than the revenge game against Oregon.

    Last year the Bruins were 5-0 when they embarked on a two-game road trip last year, and came home with two losses. The Stanford loss to start was a rough one, but it was the defeat at Oregon that really stung because UCLA was tied at the half and ended up losing by four touchdowns.

    Brett Hundley could do nothing against the Ducks' defense last year, throwing for just 64 yards. He'll need to do much better this time around, while the Bruins' front seven must find a way to limit the big plays that Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota and running back Thomas Tyner are known for.

No. 6 Auburn Tigers

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    Game: Nov. 29 at Alabama

    Auburn will have no shortage of challenges on the schedule this season, many of them on the road. But an early trip to Kansas State and visits to Ole Miss and Georgia, while all difficult in their own right, pale in comparison to the Iron Bowl venture into Tuscaloosa.

    It only becomes most difficult considering the way last year's game at Auburn ended. The Chris Davis "kick-six" touchdown has already reached fable status in the Alabama-Auburn series, and every Crimson Tide fan found a little extra room in their hearts to hate the Tigers more after that shocking finish.

    The 2013 version has gone down as one of the biggest in the series' illustrious history, but as Kyle Kensing of CFBHuddle.com wrote, this next one could be even bigger.

    "Take the elements that made 2013 significant, add last season's finish and let precipitate for a full year, and the result is undoubtedly the most anticipated Iron Bowl ever," Kensing (also a Bleacher Report lead writer) wrote in May, about midway between last year's game and the 2014 regular-season finale.

    Improvements on defense are necessary for Auburn to return to the national championship game, particularly on the defensive line. The Tigers can't bank on Carl Lawson being back from his knee injury, so look for Montravius Adams and others to have to work double time to get through Alabama's strong offensive line.

No. 5 Ohio State Buckeyes

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    Game: Nov. 8 at Michigan State

    The road won't be a friendly place for Ohio State in 2014. All five of the games the Buckeyes play outside of Columbus (including the opener against Navy in Baltimore) come against teams that won at least seven games last season.

    But only one of those foes is ranked—amazingly, it's the only OSU opponent in 2014 that begins in the preseason Top 25—and it just happens to be the only Big Ten team to beat the Buckeyes in the past two seasons. Michigan State, the reigning conference champs thanks to its victory over OSU in the title game last December, gets to host this game under the lights.

    OSU couldn't get to Spartans quarterback Connor Cook, who threw for a then-best 304 yards and three touchdowns, while Jeremy Langford averaged 5.3 yards per carry. The Buckeyes' experienced defensive line, particularly Michael Bennett, Joey Bosa and Noah Spence, cannot let that happen again.

No. 4 Oklahoma Sooners

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    Game: Dec. 6 vs. Oklahoma State

    Bedlam knows no locale.

    With a rivalry as intense and full of drama as the one between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, where the game is played doesn't have any effect on the toughness of the matchup. Just look at last season, where host OSU needed a victory in this regular-season finale at home to claim the Big 12 title, only to see the visiting Sooners rally late to end that dream and steal a BCS bowl berth in the process.

    Now it's Oklahoma's turn to be the host in this series that (despite the Sooners having won 10 of 11) has seen three of the last four meetings come down to the final minutes.

    Oklahoma's 2014 schedule is set up perfectly for it to win the conference and vie for the College Football Playoff, as its only ranked opponents (Baylor and Kansas State) come to Norman and its five road foes went a combined 22-39 last season. Normally the road slate is the first place to search for a team's toughest game, but with such a weak lineup away from home the Sooners' playoff hopes will be determined at home.

    Oklahoma won last year despite yielding 144 yards and two touchdowns to OSU running back Desmond Roland. The Sooners can't risk letting Roland go off again, so linebacker Eric Striker and the rest of the front seven will have to buckle down and force the Cowboys to throw.

No. 3 Oregon Ducks

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    Game: Oct. 11 at UCLA

    Oregon's schedule features three games against teams that are ranked among the top 11 in the preseason AP poll. Only one of those is outside the confines of loud and rowdy Autzen Stadium, though, and should prove to be the biggest hurdle toward the Ducks' goal of reaching the College Football Playoff.

    Last year's 42-14 win over UCLA proved to be one of the high points of Oregon's season, a game in which it turned a tight 14-all game at the half into a runaway with a dominant second-half performance. The Ducks stifled Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley, putting the spotlight on their underrated defense as being just as important to success as Marcus Mariota and the offense.

    UCLA will be looking at this one as a major revenge game, since it was the second of back-to-back road losses last October that knocked its season off the rails. The Ducks came up short in big road games in 2013, and will need to reverse that trend this year to truly stay in the playoff hunt.

    Being able to keep Hundley from having a big game will be essential for Oregon. That means containing him in the pocket, a job that will fall to the likes of ends Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner, while shutdown corner Ifo Ekpre-Olomu has to avoid letting UCLA's passer fake him off the primary target.

No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide

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    Game: Nov. 8 at LSU

    When your division alone comprises 20 percent of the preseason Top 25, there isn't going to be a lack of tough games. That's what Alabama faces yet again in 2014, as four opponents from the SEC West start the year ranked.

    Alabama plays only four road games, and they happen to come in pairs. The second road trip is far tougher, starting with a visit to Tennessee that will get as much attention for offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin's return to the school he coached at for one season than for the matchup. A bye week comes after that game, meaning the Crimson Tide will have two weeks to rest and prepare for Les Miles' Tigers.

    And they'll need every moment of it.

    The Alabama-LSU series is among the best in college football, and usually features a treasure trove of future NFL talent. This game will be no different, but one of the most intriguing potential matchups involves two younger stars. Alabama defensive lineman A'Shawn Robinson had a solid freshman year, but he'll have his hands full trying to take down LSU freshman tailback Leonard Fournette if all the hype surrounding this recruit holds true.

1. Florida State Seminoles

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    Game: Oct. 30 at Louisville

    Every game is going to be a big one for the defending national champions this season, as the target that is already on the backs of a program like Florida State gets that much bigger as the road to a title defense goes on. No opponent will overlook the Seminoles, not when so much media attention will be surrounding the team.

    "When you win a national championship, people do target you," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher told Garry Smits of The Florida Times-Union. "It's part of the culture you create and that you have to handle and deal with."

    There will be no shortage of such high-profile games for FSU this season, starting with the opener against Oklahoma State in Arlington, Texas, and the visit from Notre Dame. But it's a Thursday night visit to the ACC's newest member, Louisville, that has the makings of being the most difficult.

    The 'Noles will have had a bye week before facing the Cardinals, using that time to come down from the excitement surrounding Notre Dame's trip to Tallahassee. That leaves plenty of preparation time, but maybe too much, and combined with a weeknight road game means that the status quo pregame schedule won't work.

    The game will be a great opportunity to see what Bobby Petrino has done with the Cardinals' offensive holdovers. Florida State has an experienced secondary with cornerback P.J. Williams and safety Jalen Ramsey, but Louisville's passing game should be pretty potent behind quarterback Will Gardner and targets like receiver DeVante Parker and tight end Gerald Christian.

    Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.