In every college football season there are a handful of games that are critical to determining the eventual national champion. This season there are a handful of teams that have the most realistic opportunity to play in the BCS National Championship Game, but they all have key games that could either help or derail their chances.
The following are the eight most important games of 2008.
8. Arizona State at USC
The Sun Devils travel to the Coliseum for what could be a de facto Pac 10 Championship Game. The Sun Devils are hungry and want to prove that USC isn't the only national contender in the Pac 10. Dennis Erickson worked wonders in his first season at ASU and will be looking for an improved performance this season.
This could be the only bump in the road for the Trojan's hopes for a seventh straight Pac 10 title and depending on how their week three match-up with Ohio State goes this game may be a must win the Trojans. A loss in both games and USC's season becomes a huge disappointment.
7. Auburn at West Virginia
If West Virginia wants to play for the championship in January, they must win all their games. That includes a tough date with South Florida and an even tougher date with the Auburn Tigers.
Bill Stewart, in his first season as the head Mountaineer, will be severely tested by the Tigers, who were picked by the media to play in the SEC Championship Game.
The Tigers must travel to Morgantown though, and the Mountaineer faithful will be out in force. I have a feeling that won’t mean much to Tommy Tuberville and his Tigers. The SEC is full of bigger and louder stadiums. But will the Tiger defense be ready for Heisman candidate Pat White?
If West Virginia wins this game, it will give them a boost of confidence that could propel them to the undefeated season that has eluded them the last couple of years.
6. Ohio State at Wisconsin
In what will likely be a battle for the Big Ten championship, the Buckeyes will travel to the rough confines of Camp Randall Stadium. The Badgers are tough at home, and the Buckeyes have not fared well there under Jim Tressel.
But that was against Barry Alvarez’s Badger teams. Bret Bielema hasn’t gotten the best of Jim Tressel yet. The bottom line for the Buckeyes: Win this game or your national championship hopes are over.
5. Missouri at Texas
Missouri came so close last season. As far as regular season matchups go, their trip to Austin may be the toughest on the schedule. The Tigers have everyone believing they are destined for a trip to the Big XII Championship Game.
The Longhorns, on the other hand, are slightly sliding under the radar. Sure they have to replace Jamaal Charles and Limas Sweed, but can anyone remember the last time that Texas didn’t finish the season with at least 10 wins?
4. Florida at Tennessee
After last season’s beatdown at the hands of the Gators, the Vols will be looking for payback. Yes, they lost David Cutcliffe to Duke and Erik Ainge to the NFL, but there are capable replacements for both. New coordinator Dave Clawson will move players around more, which should be confusing to defenses.
The Gators' pass defense must improve, but that may be the only weakness for this team. Florida must win this game, with a tough matchup against LSU and the colossal matchup against Georgia coming in the next few weeks. A loss here could be very bad for their SEC and national championship hopes.
3. Georgia at LSU
If the Bulldogs want to get to the BCS Championship Game this season, one major hurdle will be going into Baton Rouge and getting by last season’s SEC and National Championship winner, LSU.
LSU doesn’t rebuild, but this season will be the closest they have come to “rebuilding” in quite some time. Still, they are LSU, and Tiger Stadium is one of the toughest college stadiums to play in. Georgia must bring their A-game if they want to win. A loss by the Dawgs would mean a serious hit to their national title hopes.
2. Ohio State at USC
The biggest non-conference game of the season has national title implications written all over it. The most dominant program from the Big Ten this decade will meet the most dominant program from the Pac-10 this decade, pitting arguably the nation’s top two defenses and top two coaches against each other.
Ohio State and USC have combined for 11 BCS Bowl appearances, five National Championship Game appearances, two BCS National Championships, 10 conference championships, and four Heisman Trophies since 2001.
The winner of this game will be on a fast track to the 2008 national championship and will be in full control of their destiny. The loser may not be completely out of the race, but they will have taken a serious hit.
1. Georgia vs. Florida (in Jacksonville)
This game is as big as it gets. Most likely, this season’s “Cocktail Party” will be a matchup of two top five teams fighting for a right to play in the SEC Championship Game, not to mention the national title implications for both schools.
Then there is this little business of last season’s game. We all remember it well. Knowshon Moreno takes the handoff, leaps into the end zone to score the first touchdown of the game, and then is surrounded by his Georgia teammates—yes, all of them, jumping up and down and celebrating wildly in the end zone.
A shot had been fired. Georgia went on to win that game 42-30, but the Gators remember—the head Gator maybe most of all.
“That wasn’t right. It was a big deal,” Urban Meyer says in his new book. “And it will forever be on the mind of Urban Meyer and in the mind of our football team. So we’ll handle it. And it’s going to be a big deal.”
This game is going to be a big deal…a very big deal.