College Football 2011: Each Weekend's Top Three Games

Cameron Van TilContributor IIISeptember 2, 2011

College Football 2011: Each Weekend's Top Three Games

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    The 2011 college football season is finally here, and this year’s slate is loaded with excellent matchups.

    For those who plan their autumn Saturdays around the games, well, 2011 may leave you immersed in the action all day long.

    But, in the interest of narrowing it all down to the must-see matchups, here are the top three games of each weekend.   

Week of September 3

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    No. 3 Oregon vs. No. 4 LSU in Arlington, Tex.

    Wow, what a way to kick off the college football season. In a Texas-sized showdown that is sure to have serious national championship implications, Oregon and LSU collide in the Cowboys Classic.  Coming off a 22-19 loss in January’s BCS title game to Auburn, the Ducks are hungry for revenge against another SEC powerhouse. It should be an absolutely fascinating battle between the speed of Oregon’s offense and the size and strength of LSU’s defense. The recent suspension of LSU starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson for his participation in a bar fight has marred the matchup slightly, but it still should be an absolutely phenomenal game.

    No. 5 Boise State vs. No. 19 Georgia in Atlanta, Ga.

    For the second straight year, Boise State begins the season by traveling east and putting their national title hopes on the line against a big-time opponent. Facing a Georgia team that is primed to return to its status as a national power and playing in a Georgia Dome that will be packed with rabid Bulldogs fans, it will certainly be no easy task for Heisman Trophy candidate Kellen Moore and the Broncos.

    South Florida @ No. 16 Notre Dame

    Expectations are high in South Bend this year as many think the Irish could be a BCS team. And right out of the gate we’ll get an indication as to whether Notre Dame is for real or not as they face a fairly talented South Florida team that is a favorite to win the Big East.

Week of September 10

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    No. 16 Notre Dame @ Michigan

    Notre Dame vs. Michigan is always a highlight of the college football calendar. But this year’s meeting will be an especially significant one, as it will be the first game in the long and storied history of the Big House to be played under the lights.

    No. 2 Alabama @ Penn State

    In a rare instance where an SEC powerhouse has scheduled a big-time non-conference road game, it’s a matchup between two storied programs as the Crimson Tide travel to Happy Valley to take on Joe Paterno and the Nittany Lions.

    No. 12 South Carolina @ No. 19 Georgia

    There is a very good chance this game could decide the SEC East, as the very talented Georgia Bulldogs are the biggest threat to keep Heisman Trophy candidate Marcus Lattimore and the Gamecocks from a second consecutive trip to the SEC Championship game.

Week of September 17

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    With a buffet of great matchups this Saturday, let's expand the day's list to four games:

    No. 1 Oklahoma @ No. 6 Florida State

    College football fans are in for yet another early season treat, as the Big 12 favorite and the ACC favorite square off in Tallahassee. Although Oklahoma trounced Florida State 47-17 when these two teams met in Norman last year, the Seminoles are much improved, and this time they get the Sooners at home. Obviously this game has major national title implications for Oklahoma, but also very much so for Florida State as well. Outside of this game, No. 22 Florida is the only other ranked team the Seminoles play the entire season. So if FSU can get past the Sooners, there’s certainly a good chance you could see a 12-0 Seminoles team playing on Jan. 9 in New Orleans. 

    No. 18 Ohio State @ Miami

    From the Tattoo-gate scandal at Ohio State that led to the resignation of legendary coach Jim Tressel, to the Nevin Shapiro scandal at the U that some believe will bring about the death penalty to Hurricanes football, these two programs dominated the headlines of a turbulent college football offseason. What a different scene it will be from when these two teams faced each other last year: no Jim Tressel, no Terrelle Pryor and a dark cloud of uncertainty looming over the Miami football program and its future.  

    Washington @ No. 10 Nebraska

    Heck, UW and Nebraska may as well be in the same conference, as this matchup will be the third between the two teams in the past 364 days. The Huskies got blown out by Nebraska in Seattle last September 56-21 but then put together a physically dominant performance in last year’s Holiday Bowl, beating the Cornhuskers 19-7. Needless to say, Nebraska will be hungry for revenge.    

    No. 4 LSU @ No. 20 Mississippi State

    After a breakout 2010 that concluded with a 52-14 stomping of Michigan in the Gator Bowl, Mississippi State is out to prove that they are a real threat in the SEC. And what better stage to do so than a nationally televised Thursday night game against BCS title contender LSU. 

Week of September 24

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    No. 15 Arkansas @ No. 2 Alabama

    Alabama and LSU are getting all the attention in the SEC West, but watch out for the Razorbacks. Arkansas is absolutely loaded with talent—they will probably be even better this year than last year, even with the loss of Ryan Mallett—and is certainly capable of winning the division.

    No. 4 LSU @ No. 24 West Virginia

    First off, props to LSU for putting together a very difficult non-conference schedule—playing both Oregon and West Virginia away from home. It’s unusual for a high-caliber SEC team to do such a thing. Also, a Mountaineers win would not only hurt LSU’s national championship chances but would also catapult West Virginia into the middle of the BCS title discussion, as the rest of the Mountaineers’ schedule is pretty favorable.

    San Diego State @ Michigan

    The up-and-coming San Diego State Aztecs look to go into the Big House and beat their former coach Brady Hoke, who just a year ago led SDSU to their first nine-win season since 1971 before accepting the head coaching position at Michigan.

Week of October 1

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    No. 10 Nebraska @ No. 11 Wisconsin

    What a way for the Big Ten to welcome newcomer Nebraska to their conference—sticking the Cornhuskers on the road at Camp Randall Stadium to face defending Big Ten champion Wisconsin. Nebraska could not have asked for a more brutal way to open Big Ten play, but they’re certainly up to the challenge. After all, it’s very possible that the Cornhuskers come right in and take the conference title in their first year. And speaking of the conference title, there’s a good chance this game will be a preview of the Dec. 3 Big Ten championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

    No. 8 Texas A&M vs. No. 15 Arkansas in Arlington, Tex.

    Three years ago, officials from both schools decided to renew the Texas A&M-Arkansas rivalry, which began in 1903 but had not taken place since Arkansas moved to the SEC in 1991. And what a great decision it was. The fact that each team is primed for a big season, in addition to the close proximity between the two schools, makes for a very intriguing matchup—one definitely worthy of being played at Cowboys Stadium.

    No. 2 Alabama @ No. 22 Florida

    Year one of the post-Tebow era was a little rocky for Florida (at least by their standards), but what better way for the Gators to put themselves back on the map than by upsetting the Crimson Tide. Florida should be a better team than they were last year, and keep in mind, the Swamp is never an easy place to play.

Week of October 8

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    No. 1 Oklahoma vs. Texas in Dallas, Tex.

    The 2011 version of the Red River Rivalry may not turn out to be as thrilling as those of previous years. But being one of the best rivalries in college football, it is certainly still a must-watch.  Also, one of the more interesting things this season will be to see how Texas, a program loaded with talent year after year, fares coming off an extremely disappointing 5-7 finish last season. 

    No. 18 Ohio State @ No. 10 Nebraska

    This game looked a whole lot better on paper back when Ohio State still had Terrelle Pryor, but the Cornhuskers’ Big Ten home opener should still be a pretty good matchup.

    Cal @ No. 3 Oregon

    One year after holding the country’s top-ranked offense to its lowest point total of the season, the Bears look to once again slow down the Ducks’ fast-paced offense. However, with the game being at Autzen, it will be a whole lot tougher this time around.

Week of October 15

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    No. 12 South Carolina @ No. 20 Mississippi State

    The Gamecocks and the Bulldogs meet in Starkville for a matchup between two SEC teams looking to build off breakout seasons last year.

    No. 9 Oklahoma State @ Texas

    Justin Blackmon and possible dark horse national championship contender Oklahoma State travel to Austin to face a Longhorns team that is eager to prove they are much better than their 5-7 record from last year suggests.

    Arizona State @ No. 3 Oregon

    Thanks to a loaded North division and a relatively weak South, there is a good chance this game will be a preview of the inaugural Pac-12 championship game on Dec. 2. However, although ASU returns 17 starters and played the Ducks pretty well last year, this game is at Autzen, which means an upset is pretty unlikely.

Week of October 22

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    No. 25 USC @ No. 16 Notre Dame

    USC vs. Notre Dame is almost always a must-see, but this year’s matchup has the potential to be the best version of this historic rivalry since the “Bush Push” game of 2005. Both teams have been somewhat disappointing in recent years—the past few seasons USC has ceased to be a BCS title contender and has suffered from NCAA sanctions that made them ineligible, and Notre Dame has put together a string of mediocre seasons—but both are definitely on the upswing and are primed for successful seasons. USC, although ineligible, is still loaded with talent, and many believe Notre Dame has the ability to crack a BCS bowl this year. After snapping USC’s eight-game winning streak in the rivalry last year, the Irish look to make it two in a row against the Men of Troy.

    No. 9 Oklahoma State @  No. 21 Missouri

    Dark horse national championship contender Oklahoma State visits Columbia to take on a talented Missouri team that, even with the loss of first-round draft pick Blaine Gabbert, may in fact be better than last year’s 10-win Tigers team.

    No. 11 Wisconsin @ No. 17 Michigan State

    Wisconsin tries to get revenge for a 34-24 loss to the Spartans last year that kept the Badgers from an undefeated regular season.

Week of October 29

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    No. 7 Stanford @ No. 25 USC

    It’s crazy to think that just four years ago the Cardinal were 41-point underdogs when these two teams met at the Coliseum. Now it’s Stanford who not only will be the favorite, but also will likely be a national title contender. The Cardinal edged USC 37-35 last year in Palo Alto, and this year’s game figures to be another great one. In addition, this game features two of the best quarterbacks in the country (Andrew Luck and Matt Barkley).

    No. 19 Georgia vs. No. 22 Florida in Jacksonville, FL

    Two programs that appear to be headed back in the direction of national prominence meet in the game known as the "World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party."  

    No. 11 Wisconsin @ No. 18 Ohio State

    The Buckeyes try to get payback for last year’s loss at Wisconsin that knocked Ohio State from its No. 1 ranking in the country.

Week of November 5

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    No. 8 Texas A&M @ No. 1 Oklahoma

    The Aggies and their high-powered offense travel to Norman to face Heisman candidate Landry Jones and the preseason No. 1 Oklahoma Sooners in a matchup of two BCS title contenders.

    No. 4 LSU @ No. 2 Alabama

    The SEC has won five straight national championships and LSU and Alabama are probably the two best teams in the conference this year. So it’s not a stretch to say that this game could be for the national championship.

    No. 12 South Carolina @ No. 15 Arkansas

    Two teams that are absolutely loaded with talent and have the potential to be freakishly good meet in a very intriguing SEC battle.

Week of November 12

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    No. 3 Oregon @ No. 7 Stanford

    In what many experts are pegging as the "game of the year," the Ducks travel to the Farm to take on Stanford in a matchup that's almost sure to have major national championship implications. Also, not one, not two, but three Heisman Trophy candidates will be on display in Palo Alto this night (Andrew Luck, LaMichael James and Darron Thomas). Last year the Cardinal gave Oregon a run for their money, jumping out to a 21-3 first quarter lead and a 31-24 advantage at halftime before the Ducks pulled away in the fourth quarter.

    No. 14 TCU @ No. 5 Boise State

    The two kings of the non-automatic qualifiers square off in what will be their only matchup as conference rivals. (This is Boise State’s first year in the Mountain West and next year TCU bolts to the Big East.) If the Broncos can escape Atlanta with a win over Georgia in their opening game, then it's very likely that both Boise State and TCU will enter this showdown undefeated and as legitimate national title contenders. The defending Rose Bowl champion Horned Frogs may have lost star quarterback Andy Dalton to the NFL, but they will still be a major challenge for Heisman candidate Kellen Moore and the Broncos. It should be an excellent matchup between the physical, hard-hitting TCU defense and Boise State’s high-powered offense.

    No. 2 Alabama @ No. 20 Mississippi State

    Heisman trophy candidate Trent Richardson and BCS title contender Alabama visit Starkville for a tough road test against upstart Mississippi State.

Week of November 19

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    No. 20 Mississippi State @ No. 15 Arkansas

    If it seems like Mississippi State has been mentioned a lot so far, well, they have. That’s just the nature of being a good team in the SEC; the conference is so full of talented teams that almost every week will provide a marquee matchup. This week, the Bulldogs travel to Fayetteville to face a Razorbacks team that is sure to give LSU and Alabama a run for their money in the SEC West.

    No. 25 USC @ No. 3 Oregon

    The Matt Barkley-led Trojans will be one of the biggest obstacles between Oregon and a second consecutive BCS title game appearance.

    No. 10 Nebraska @ Michigan

    Nebraska faces potential Heisman candidate Denard Robinson and the Wolverines in the Cornhuskers’ first trip to the Big House as a conference foe.

Week of November 26

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    It's rivalry week, and thus it would be next to impossible to list just three games.  So, here are the top four:

    No. 15 Arkansas @ No. 4 LSU

    This year’s edition of these rivals’ annual day-after-Thanksgiving clash not only promises to be a highly entertaining matchup, but also could very well carry a lot of weight in the SEC West race.

    No. 16 Notre Dame @ No. 7 Stanford

    For the better part of the past decade, the Notre Dame-Stanford game was merely a matchup between two great institutions with football teams that were mediocre at best. But this year will be much different. In fact, it’s certainly possible that both Notre Dame’s BCS hopes and Stanford’s national championship dreams could be on the line during this late-season battle in Palo Alto.  

    No. 2 Alabama @ No. 23 Auburn

    The Iron Bowl, arguably the fiercest rivalry in college football, got even more venomous this offseason when a diehard Bama fan poisoned Auburn’s iconic 130-year-old oak trees on Toomer’s Corner. As for the game itself, the Tide are chomping at the bit to get revenge for last year’s heartbreaking 28-27 loss to eventual national champion Auburn—a game in which Alabama blew a 24-0 second quarter lead. On the other side, the Tigers will have an extremely difficult time this season replacing 15 starters from last year’s national championship team. The mere seven starters that Auburn returns is the fewest of all 120 FBS teams.    

    No. 18 Ohio State @ Michigan

    It’s highly unlikely either team will be in the national title picture and Ohio State’s offseason scandal prevents us from witnessing a Terrelle Pryor vs. Denard Robinson matchup. But it’s still Michigan-Ohio State—one of the greatest rivalries in all of sports.

Week of December 3

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    No. 1 Oklahoma @ No. 9 Oklahoma State

    There’s no longer an official Big 12 championship game, but this end-of-the-season clash in Stillwater could very well turn out to be a de facto one.  And of course, if things go favorably for one or both of these teams, then more than just a conference championship, but also a spot in the BCS title game, could be on the line. Meanwhile, the Cowboys are looking for their first win in the Bedlam series since 2002 and for revenge after the Sooners’ thrilling 47-41 victory over them last year. Expect another highly entertaining game this time around.

    ACC Championship game in Charlotte, N.C.

    By virtue of a ridiculously easy schedule in which they face zero teams ranked in the preseason Top 25, there’s a very good chance that Virginia Tech enters this game undefeated and playing for a spot in the BCS title game. Their opponent will likely be Florida State, who also could very well be undefeated if they can manage to beat Oklahoma in September.   

    SEC Championship game in Atlanta, Ga.

    With the past five national champions all coming from the SEC, there’s no reason not to believe that the winner of this game could be the next one. Expect this year’s SEC Championship game to feature the Crimson Tide and the Gamecocks.

Week of December 10

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    Army vs. Navy in Landover, Md.

    It’s the only game of the week, but the Army-Navy game would make this list no matter what week it’s played. There’s simply no scene quite like it in all of sports. Both teams should be decent—Army’s improvement means that the game should be a lot more competitive than in recent years. But Army vs. Navy is always a must-see, regardless of their talent levels.