Now that the Crystal Ball has been handed out and the confetti has finally settled on the BCS Championship Game, it's already time to start thinking about the 2011 college football season.
The schedule for next year hasn't been finalized yet, but the opponents have been, and already there are some games that look very enticing. Some are non-conference games involving national championship contenders and big-name programs. Others are conference rivalries and games that could determine the fate of each conference.
So with the schedules hitting the press soon, here are the 25 most exciting games of 2011.
Notre Dame and USC has been one of the classic rivalries from the old days, but it had lost its luster in recent years. Namely because USC had dominated for so many years. But without their starting quarterback and with a rookie head coach, the Fighting Irish went into the Coliseum and beat the Trojans. Now it will be the Trojans heading to South Bend looking for payback.
The Aztecs had one of the best passing offenses in the league and will be a great test to see if Michigan's much-maligned defense had improved any since the Rich Rodriguez era. It's also a showdown between two pretty good quarterbacks in Denard Robinson and the Aztecs' Ryan Lindley.
And did I mention it'll be Brady Hoke's first game against his old school?
We've all heard the jokes about the Big East, and while TCU will bring legitimacy to the conference, that won't be until 2011. Until then, West Virginia is the best the conference has, and the game against the defending champions in Connecticut will probably go a long way towards deciding the Big East conference.
The defending National Champions get tested in the second week of the season against a Mississippi State team that could be a darkhorse in the SEC West. The Bulldogs were one of the few teams that came close to knocking off the Tigers last year and kept Auburn pretty much controlled. Without Cam Newton, this could be a win for the Bulldogs.
The last time the Cardinal went to Los Angeles, Andrew Luck and Jim Harbaugh had a coming-out party that resulted in a complete domination of the Trojans. In fact, the Cardinal has won two straight against the Trojans at the Coliseum. Harbaugh isn't there anymore, but Luck still is, and you know he'd love to go out with a big win.
Texas A&M was one of the hottest teams at the end of this past season and returns its quarterback in Ryan Tannehill. Arkansas will be breaking in a new quarterback and coming off of its first-ever BCS Bowl Game. It all leads up to a great non-conference game between two old Southwest Conference rivals who should be ranked pretty high in the preseason polls.
(*in Arlington, Texas)
Alabama and Penn State met last year in a game that was high on hype and not that high in return. Penn State should be a better team this year, while Alabama will be somewhat reloading with Mark Ingram and Julio Jones moving on among others. If nothing else, the atmosphere under the lights in Happy Valley should be phenomenal.
The game will be missing its two biggest stars in Blaine Gabbert and Daniel Thomas, both of whom are moving on to the NFL. But this could very well be the game that decides who is the better team out of the old Big XII north. If it was the old days, it would probably decide who goes to the conference title game, but that's a different story for a different day.
When the two teams met in the Alamo Bowl, to say it was a blowout would be an understatement. But that was an Arizona team that didn't win after October. Now the two teams will meet again in a non-conference matchup in Stillwater. Regardless, it should be a pretty good game between two pass-happy offenses and a good non-conference test for the Cowboys.
Like Alabama and Penn State, there was a lot of hype surrounding this game that it never got close to living up to. If there is an equalizer for the Hurricanes heading into this matchup, it's that Terrelle Pryor could very well miss this game if his suspension holds up. Either way, it should be interesting.
Georgia will serve as this year's primo non-conference game for Boise State, and it should be an interesting and exciting matchup on both sides. Boise State will have Kellen Moore at quarterback, while Georgia (ranked in the top 25 by the Orlando Sentinel) will have to bounce back from a disappointing campaign and replace A.J. Green.
The in-depth reason for putting this game on the list is that it's two of the better offenses in the Big XII and two of the hottest teams in the nation at the end of last season with playmakers all over the field.
In short, it could very well be the conference title game.
Texas and Texas A&M is always a great rivalry game, and it's even better when there's more on the line and both teams are doing well. The Aggies knocked the Longhorns out of a bowl game in Austin last season, and with both teams projected near the top of the Big XII, then it could have a playoff atmosphere to boot.
Two of the three teams that finished in a first-place tie in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes and Spartans didn't play last year, which made the tiebreaker a little more complicated. Michigan State could be in contention for the Big Ten title again this year, and Ohio State could be trying to stay above water with Pryor out. If the suspension holds, he would be out for this game, among others.
This game will have historical significance as well as Big Ten title implications. It will be only the third time ever Nebraska and Ohio State will meet and the first time since 1956 (Ohio State won both previous matchups for those of you wondering). The suspended Buckeyes should make their season debuts in this game, and Nebraska will be trying to adjust to the Big Ten.
Wisconsin gave Ohio State its lone loss of the season and eventually kept the Buckeyes out of the Rose Bowl. This could be one of the games that decides who comes out of the Leaders Division (yes, that's the name of the division), especially considering how competitive the division is.
Another big game with conference title implications. LSU and Alabama will probably be considered the favorites in the SEC West and perhaps even in the National Championship discussion as well. They played a fantastic game last season that ended with LSU knocking off the Crimson Tide. This game should be nothing short of a classic either, considering what will be at stake.
Oklahoma blew out Florida State last year in a game that, you guessed it, didn't live up to the hype. But Florida State is a better team than it was at this time last year, and Oklahoma has to replace, among others, Ryan Broyles. Plus the Seminoles will be at home and will have a chance to re-establish themselves against a national power.
Nevada and Boise State had the Game of the Year on a frigid Friday night in Reno. The two will play again in a new conference (Mountain West), but still with a great chance to compete for a title. It will be hard to live up and even top what they did last year in terms of dramatics. But it still sets up to be one heck of a game.
Regardless of what the teams might be doing, Oklahoma and Texas is still one of the bigger games of the year. And more often than not, the winner of the game has gone on and win the conference. Texas is not as bad as their record suggested last season, and Oklahoma always has a strong team under Bob Stoops. They've had some classics in the past; this year should be no different.
Cam Newton had his Heisman moment in Tuscaloosa last season, bringing the Tigers back for a come-from-behind win to save the perfect season. Alabama would love to exact some revenge on the Tigers, and while Auburn probably won't be competing for a National Title this season, it's still a rivalry game that's produced some great moments.
Two of the titans of the mid-majors, who met in the Fiesta Bowl in 2009 and have turned the college football world on its ear, will be conference rivals for one season. So to say Boise State and TCU will have a lot on the line will be an understatement. Not only could it be for the Mountain West title, it could very well be for a BCS berth.
Two of the more exciting offenses in college football. It's not exactly going to be a defensive clinic out there. And while Oregon will be favored, it should be fun to watch these offenses going up and down the field for a few hours considering some of the talent that should be on that field.
One of two huge games, Oregon will play with possible BCS and National Championship implications. Stanford hung around with the Ducks last season for a large chunk of the game, and Oregon will have to head to Palo Alto this season. It will be the in-conference game of the year in the PAC-12 between the two best teams in the conference.
The non-conference matchup everyone will be waiting for. Two National Championship contenders in a game we rarely see between two power conferences, especially with teams that could have so much to lose early on. Kudos for both schools for making this happen, and whoever does emerge as the winner will have a big leg up on the BCS race.
(*in Arlington, Texas)