College football schedules for the 2011 season are set and the countdown to the first game has begun. With the season still eons away, fans can only mentally visualize how these games will play out once the players finally hit the field.
Each college football fan will have a handful of matchups on these schedules circled as can't-miss games. While this list will without a doubt vary depending on which side of the country you reside, the joyous anticipation felt by each of us for the season to start is practically identical.
Let’s take a look at what I think are the 50 biggest games of the year and try to predict a few winners on my way.
Boise State made the trip down south to play Georgia six years ago and that game certainly did not play out like Broncos fans hoped.
While these two teams are pretty evenly matched, Boise State has yet to win a game against the SEC, posting a 0-4 record.
Prediction: Georgia 28, Boise State 24
In what will be the most anticipated game during the first week of the season, the LSU and Oregon matchup will whet the appetites of any person that calls themselves a college football fan.
Each team will be looking to make an early statement on why they deserve a trip to the 2012 National Championship Game.
LSU has won 10-straight games against the Pac-10, but this one will hardly be a cake walk.
Prediction: LSU 35, Oregon 30
Two dark horse conference contenders battle under the bright lights of Friday night football.
Arizona State looks to avoid the notorious slow start that fans have become accustomed to. Missouri will have its first true road test without Blaine Gabbert.
The winner of this matchup gains a slight confidence boost to say the least.
Prediction: Arizona State 21, Missouri 20
Although the Notre Dame/Michigan game still ranks high in the hearts of their devout fanbases, this game hasn’t played a major part in the national rankings for years.
With Notre Dame receiving a ton of offseason hype and Michigan primed for a turnaround, this second-week matchup could go a long way in determining which directions the Irish and the Wolverines head.
Prediction: Notre Dame 38, Michigan 35
Two offenses with potential to light up the scoreboard take the field in this cross BCS conference matchup.
Although this may seem like a mundane game to the casual fan, the sketchiness of both team’s defenses could mean that that this one will come down to a decisive final possession.
Arizona tends to play their best ball right out of the chute, but they have gotten railed by Big 12 teams the last two times out. The Cowboys offense should mimic their performance against Arizona in the Alamo Bowl.
Prediction: Oklahoma State 40, Arizona 28
Early last season, Penn State took a trip down to Alabama and got rolled.
While this game will take place at Beaver Stadium, the outcome should not be that different. The Nittany Lions are much improved from the last time these two teams met, but Alabama’s defense is suffocating and should keep this game out of reach.
Prediction: Alabama 21, Penn State 10
This matchup marks the first game of the newly formed Pac-12. For the Utes, it is their first chance to prove that they were worthy of the conference leap.
Unfortunately for Utah, USC is probably the best team in their division and starting off undefeated in Southern California will not be an easy task.
The Trojans should welcome Utah into the conference with a notch in the L column.
Prediction: USC 28, Utah 24
The Holy War between Utah and BYU has been around since the late 19th century, with the Utes holding a fairly convincing edge.
Although both teams are starting new chapters in their storied histories, this rivalry should stay strong for years to come.
Since BYU is now an Independent, a win against Utah is more important than ever. The last three games in this series have been decided by four points or less. However, the Cougars always seem to have a better chance of winning this rivalry game at home.
Prediction: BYU 20, Utah 17
Both Oklahoma and Florida State are preseason favorites to take home their conference’s crown. While this matchup won’t necessarily harm their chances of accomplishing these predictions, it will be a heavyweight bout nonetheless.
Oklahoma annihilated Florida State last year, squashing the Seminoles by 30 points. Although Florida State should put together a stronger showing this season, the Sooners will definitely still have the edge in this one.
Prediction: Oklahoma 32, Florida State 24
Ohio State takes at trip down to Miami for the first time ever and they will have to do it without their star players and head coach.
The Hurricanes struggled in a wet game against the Buckeyes last year, but playing at home and against a handful of backups should play in their favor.
Prediction: Miami (FL) 17, Ohio State 14
A week after playing Michigan, Notre Dame will be tested again against these extremely dangerous Spartans.
The Irish have been unlucky versus Michigan State over the past few seasons, losing four of the last six matchups. However, this game is a bit of a toss-up and will depend greatly on which team marches out the gates with gusto.
Prediction: Michigan State 21, Notre Dame 20
The third Saturday in September can mean nothing else but Florida versus Tennessee.
Florida currently has a stranglehold on this rivalry, riding a six-game winning streak.
Tennessee’s program is definitely improving and this season is filled with potential for the Vols. However, this is probably not the year that they snap the Gators’ commanding string of wins.
Prediction: Florida 27, Tennessee 19
UCLA took the Longhorns by surprise last season, marching into Austin and leaving with an unbelievable 34-12 victory.
Texas will make the trek to Los Angeles this year and this first road test for the Longhorns could be indicative of how their 2011 season will unfold. Another loss to UCLA could quickly deflate Texas’ balloon.
Prediction: Texas 21, UCLA 14
West Virginia will be a favorite to win the Big East in 2011. However, they will run into the buzz saw that is LSU in this Week 4 matchup.
On paper, these two teams seem pretty evenly matched. Last season’s battle in Baton Rouge was close, but LSU was still maturing into the team that they are this season.
The Tigers should convincingly prove that they are the better team.
Prediction: LSU 28, West Virginia 17
When these two teams square off, the scoreboard operator is usually busy for the entire game.
While Oklahoma State currently rides a three-game winning streak in this rivalry, Texas A&M is primed to reverse that trend this season.
Stopping Justin Blackmon and Brandon Weeden will be essential to an Aggies win. However, this will be much easier said than done.
Prediction: Oklahoma St. 37, Texas A&M 35
The Southwest Classic started over 100 years ago. After a two-decade hiatus, the rivalry returned in 2009.
Since the rebirth, Arkansas won both matchups thanks to the explosive arm of Ryan Mallett. With Mallett taking off early to the NFL, the Aggies look to be the favorite in this year’s matchup.
If Arkansas’ offense is still searching for an identity, this game could get out of hand.
Prediction: Texas A&M 28, Arkansas 20
Five of the last seven games in this matchup have gone Alabama’s way, with two of those wins coming in the SEC championship game.
While Florida is still trying to figure out whether they are SEC East contenders or pretenders, Alabama is expected to make a legit run for the SEC crown.
Alabama should have the edge entering this game against either version of these Gators.
Prediction: Alabama 30, Florida 20
In this rematch of last season’s SEC championship game, this year’s duel should have a much different feel after the mass exodus of Auburn players.
South Carolina, on the other hand, brings back its top weapons in Marcus Lattimore and Stephen Garcia, giving them the upper hand this time around.
Auburn holds a six-game winning streak in this series and that is definitely hard to ignore.
Prediction: South Carolina 21, Auburn 20
Nebraska has not squared off against Wisconsin since1974. This time around, there will be much more on the line. This will be the Cornhuskers first Big Ten battle and it should be memorable.
While Wisconsin’s offense is capable of picking apart practically any defense in the NCAA, Nebraska’s stout defense is no joke. Plus, Nebraska’s wicked offense should wreak havoc before the day is through.
Prediction: Wisconsin 17, Nebraska 14
The Battle of the Victory Bell started in 1888, leaning in Cincinnati’s direction for the past several years. The Bearcats own a five-game winning streak, scoring at least 24 points in the past four.
While this matchup does not have the glitz and glamour as most games, the history is still there and will definitely be interesting to watch.
Prediction: Cincinnati 35, Miami (OH) 28
TCU has dominated the Battle for the Iron Skillet over the past decade, winning 10 of the past 11 meetings with SMU.
With the potential-filled arm of Kyle Padron returning for SMU and the depletion of talent for TCU, this is a better year than any for the Mustangs to get back on track in this rivalry.
However, TCU’s overall success recently cannot be denied. The Horned Frogs should have decent talent filling the holes on their roster, providing them with an excellent chance of keeping their winning streak alive.
Prediction: TCU 24, SMU 21
In what could be a preview of the first-ever Big Ten championship game, Nebraska’s starters could have the upper hand in this highly anticipated matchup.
With Ohio State’s suspended starters expected to return this week, shaking off the rust could be the biggest issue for the Buckeyes.
This trip could be a rude awakening for Ohio State, making the possible rematch in December that much more interesting.
Prediction: Nebraska 21, Ohio State 14
No matter where these two teams land in the standings, the Red River Shootout will always be one of the most exciting matchups of the college football season.
This year, the question marks surrounding the Longhorns, parlayed with the deep potential swirling around the Sooners, makes this seem like Oklahoma’s game to lose.
While Texas has won four of the last six games in this rivalry, the Sooners should assert their dominance before this one is over.
Prediction: Oklahoma 24, Texas 14
Notre Dame snapped a nine-game losing streak to USC last season and Irish fans are hoping that it is going to be the start of a new trend.
Notre Dame holds a slight edge in this game considering it is being played in South Bend, where The Irish post a 25-13-1 record against USC. With a rapidly maturing offense, the Golden Domers may be able to keep Lane Kiffin’s Trojans winless in this rivalry.
Prediction: Notre Dame 28, USC 21
Last year’s battle between Auburn and LSU came down to the wire. This season, with the game in Baton Rouge, LSU should be able to switch the outcome.
LSU’s offense struggled against Auburn in 2010, having to swap between Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee throughout the game. Hopefully this year, they will have the quarterback position solidified way before the kickoff of this game.
With Auburn looking to fill several holes on its roster, LSU should be the more stable and better team.
Prediction: LSU 21, Auburn 14
Although Tennessee isn’t exactly in the same talent-tier as Alabama this season, the third Saturday in October is always a rivalry game that people will flock to see.
The Tide have won five of the last six games in this series, holding the Volunteers to less than 10 points in the past three meetings.
Alabama should keep this game well out of reach and win their fifth straight game against Tennessee.
Prediction: Alabama 24, Tennessee 10
The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party never seems to disappoint.
While Florida currently rides a three-game winning streak and has won 12 of the past 15 games in this rivalry, the games are often very close no matter how far apart the teams are in the standings.
The futures of both squads are a little suspect entering the season, and the game this year is really up for grabs.
Prediction: Florida 30, Georgia 28
The astonishing upset handed to the Buckeyes by Wisconsin last year still strongly resonates months after the final whistle blew.
Ohio State will undoubtedly be out for blood this time around and they may even be able to play the upset role in the process.
With the backups playing Michigan State and the starters coming back cold against Nebraska, Ohio State could be in a 1-2 conference hole entering this extremely important divisional game.
Prediction: Ohio State 28, Wisconsin 24
It is not odd to think that both teams will enter this late-season game undefeated, fighting for the top spot and a possible invitation to the SEC championship game.
Picking a winner for this game is like selecting an American brewed beer at the bar—either way, you can’t go wrong. But once your selection arrives, you might regret not picking something else.
In a game this tight, the outcome will most likely come down to home-field advantage.
Prediction: Alabama 21, LSU 20
When Boise State announced they would be heading to the Mountain West conference, many dreamed about the wonderful matchups they would have with TCU for the next several decades.
TCU quickly burst that bubble by doing a conference leap as well, moving to the Big East in 2012.
However, two games are slated between the kings of the mid-majors and even with TCU’s depleted squad, this game should determine this year’s Mountain West champ.
Prediction: Boise State 27, TCU 20
Auburn finally turned the tide in the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry, snapping a four-game losing streak to Georgia last season.
However, the Tigers have lost two-straight at Sanford Stadium. With several question marks surrounding Auburn this season, this streak should stay intact.
Prediction: Georgia 24, Auburn 17
The rivalry between Florida State and Miami has gone back and forth the past five years, with neither team able to string together back-to-back victories.
The Seminoles have an excellent chance to reverse this recent trend. Florida State appears to be the better squad entering the season. Inconsistencies have plagued the Hurricanes lately, and last year’s showing against Florida State was downright embarrassing.
Prediction: Florida State 35, Miami 21
Stanford’s only blemish last season came at the hands of Oregon in one of the most exciting games of the year.
This season, the Ducks make a trip to the Farm and things could play out much differently. Both teams should put up massive amounts of points and the game will most likely come down to which quarterback holds the ball last.
Prediction: Stanford 55, Oregon 49
With Boise State deserting the WAC this season, Hawaii versus Nevada becomes the marquee matchup for the conference.
Both teams shared the WAC championship title last year and will be the front runners to take the crown this season.
Whichever team comes out of this game victorious will probably take the title.
Prediction: Nevada 28, Hawaii 24
The Duel in the Desert ended in ultra-dramatic fashion last year. The Wildcats watched their kicker blow two PATs, allowing the Sun Devils to sneak away with a heartbreaking victory.
Arizona State returns a bevy of players this year and they are a dark-horse pick by many to take the Pac-12 South. However, Arizona might be looking to play the role of dream smashers once this rivalry game finally comes around.
Prediction: Arizona State 35, Arizona 30
Over the past eight years, either Oregon or USC has won or held a share of the Pac-10 championship crown.
If USC can win its appeal to lift a portion of their sanctions, this could be a preview of the first ever Pac-12 championship game.
The Trojans have lost three of the last four to Oregon and they have not won in Eugene since 2005. The Ducks should hold the edge in this battle, but it has the makings to come down to the wire.
Prediction: Oregon 32, USC 26
Stanford dismantled California last year in The Big Game, taking home its largest victory margin in decades.
However, it has been 10 years since the Bears have lost to Stanford on the Farm, a stat that Cal will probably relinquish once this game is through.
Although it can be debated on whose defense is better, the Cardinal's offense is head and heels above Cal’s and they should take this game easily.
Prediction: Stanford 35, California 21
The Lone Star Shootout dates back to 1894 with Texas owning a healthy advantage in the standings.
Last season, Texas A&M marched into Austin and wrangled a win from the Longhorns. Odds are they will be able to do the same this season on their home turf.
The Aggies have the offensive power to contend for a Big 12 title. Back-to-back victories in this rivalry will go a long way towards that goal.
Prediction: Texas A&M 30, Texas 28
The Battle for the Golden Boot may not be the most storied rivalry in the SEC, but that doesn’t make it any less exciting.
With Knile Davis running the ball for Arkansas, the Razorbacks should stay within striking distance of the SEC East title for the majority of the season.
However, this game against LSU could put an end to any real aspirations that they may have at obtaining that divisional crown.
Prediction: LSU 28, Arkansas 20
Although the Big East appears to be wide open once again this season, it seems like there is a high likelihood that it will come down to either Pittsburgh or West Virginia.
The Mountaineers have won six of the last nine meetings between these two teams, currently riding a two-game winning streak.
Geno Smith and company definitely have an upper hand in this game, especially with home-field advantage.
Prediction: West Virginia 28, Pittsburgh 17
Although it will be hard to live up to the drama produced by last year’s Iron Bowl, this year’s version should be just as exciting.
Auburn will most likely be looking to play the role of spoiler, especially if Alabama enter this game undefeated.
Alabama’s talent is definitely more prevalent and they should be able to dispel the demons from last year’s loss.
Prediction: Alabama 24, Auburn 21
Florida took a humiliating stumble in last year’s Sunshine Showdown, losing to Florida State 31-7 and snapping a six-game winning streak in the rivalry.
Things won’t get any easier for the Gators this season as the Seminoles are being hyped as one of the top teams in the nation.
However, Florida holds a 20-9-1 record at home against Florida State and has not lost to the Seminoles in Gainesville since 1999.
Prediction: Florida 28, Florida State 27
Michigan’s new coach Brady Hoke can’t wait for this rivalry game. In fact, he has installed a clock in Schembechler Hall counting down the minutes to this kickoff against Ohio State.
The Wolverines are currently riding an abysmal seven-game losing streak to the Buckeyes, which lead many to believe that this clock is really just counting down to yet another rivalry game loss.
Prediction: Ohio State 20, Michigan 17
Last year’s Bedlam Series was one for the history books. It was a back-and-forth game that had fans at the edge of their seats to the very end, eventually finishing in the Sooners’ favor.
Oklahoma currently rides an eight-game winning streak in this series and has not lost at home to the Cowboys since 2001.
With the high-powered nature of both of these offenses slated to take the field again this year, this game should be absolute pandemonium for a second-straight year.
Prediction: Oklahoma 40, Oklahoma State 35
While the programs of Oregon and Oregon State appear to be headed in different directions, this does not mean that this year’s Civil War will lack that cutthroat feel.
The Ducks have won three straight in this series and should enter this game as heavy favorites. However, count on the Beavers to try and play that vicious spoiler role this late into the season.
Prediction: Oregon 38, Oregon State 21
Say what you will, but this game always seems to have a historic feel to it.
Stanford has rattled off two-straight wins against the Irish and they are anxious to keep the streak rolling in this yearly rivalry.
Strapped with Andrew Luck and a shutdown defense, the Cardinal could be working on a perfect season at this point into the year. Notre Dame should be ranked pretty high, as well, making this an epic battle to remember.
Prediction: Stanford 35, Notre Dame 24
Clemson’s offense is suspect this year with the loss of Kyle Parker. But let’s be honest, it was a little shaky last year with him.
Although Marcus Latimore will run into Clemson’s stingy defense, their secondary might not be equipped to handle Stephen Garcia.
South Carolina should cruise to its first three-game winning streak against the Tigers since 1968-1970.
Prediction: South Carolina 31, Clemson 18
Some people across the country don’t consider this to be a “must-see” rivalry. Those people would be wrong.
Even when UCLA is down in the dumps, the Bruins always find a way to muster a final lunge towards the Trojans.
Because of their sanctions and their unusually weak showing last season, USC has fallen off the radar of a few. But beware of this sneaky horse they are parking in your heads. These Trojans are armed and dangerous.
Predictions: USC 27, UCLA 20
The “soon-to-be-legendary” rivalry between Colorado and Utah begins with this game.
Although these teams met fairly frequently in the early 20th century, this will be the first time they battle as Pac-12 members.
Depending on how Utah handles the gauntlet of a BCS conference, the Buffaloes could encounter a bunch of beleaguered Utes this late into the season.
Prediction: Colorado 17, Utah 14
In the past 14 years, Army has won only two games against the Midshipmen.
Navy returns seven players from last season’s dynamic rushing game, but they lose duel-threat Ricky Dobbs.
Although Navy’s offense is a little worrisome without this weapon, they should not sacrifice any traction in this rivalry.
Prediction: Navy 20, Army 13