The 1 Can't-Miss Game in Every Week of the 2017 College Football Season

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistApril 12, 2017

The 1 Can't-Miss Game in Every Week of the 2017 College Football Season

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    College football fans are eagerly awaiting the start of the 2017 season, but most excitement right now is limited to poring over schedules and picking out the best games.

    If you could watch only one game every week, though, where should you devote your attention?

    Think of this as the ultimate road trip. We're trying to enjoy the best matchups while taking in as many different stadiums and experiences as possible over the 13-week stretch leading into the conference championships on Dec. 2.

    Unique nonconference games, rivalries, season expectations and potential impact both on the conference and national level were all factors in choosing the locations.

Week 1: Florida State vs. Alabama

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Game info: Saturday, Sept. 2; Mercedes Benz-Stadium in Atlanta

    Why it's must-see TV

    What a spectacular opening game. There's an excellent chance Alabama and Florida State are ranked No. 1 and No. 2 nationally heading into the showdown that opens Mercedes Benz-Stadium in Atlanta.

    The Crimson Tide have reached the national championship in two straight seasons and return Jalen Hurts at quarterback. Although the defense lost several NFL-caliber talents, no roster is better built to immediately reload after those departures.

    Meanwhile, Florida State has aspirations of returning to the biggest stage, which it last reached three years ago. Quarterback Deondre Francois put together a promising first season, showing top-tier potential. Plus, Safety Derwin James will make his official return from injury in this game.

    Early key to the game

    With James healthy and Tarvarus McFadden returning at corner, the 'Noles should contain Calvin Ridley and Alabama's otherwise new group of targets. But can running back Bo Scarbrough and the Tide successfully run on a talented defensive front?

Week 2: Oklahoma at Ohio State

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    Game info: Saturday, Sept. 9; Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio

    Why it's must-see TV

    The second weekend of 2017 has a couple more brilliant matchups with Auburn vs. Clemson and Georgia vs. Notre Dame. But Columbus offers the premier tilt.

    Ohio State will enter the campaign looking to atone for an embarrassing 2016 finale. Still, the 31-0 beatdown happened in the College Football Playoff. There are worse places to lose.

    Quarterback Baker Mayfield, assuming he's available for this contest, will lead an Oklahoma team that fell to the Buckeyes 45-24 in Norman last season. And in addition to the revenge factor, the Sooners are two-time defending Big 12 champions.

    Early key to the game

    Mayfield picks apart blitzes, but Ohio State probably won't need to send extra pressure thanks to what should be a dominant defensive line. Oklahoma's revamped surrounding cast must be ready to win individual battles all game long.

Week 3: Texas at USC

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    Game info: Saturday, Sept. 16; Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles

    Why it's must-see TV

    The ACC boasts Miami/Florida State and Clemson/Louisville, but we have a hype-on-hype clash in California.

    Tom Herman is essentially viewed as the savior of the Texas program. No pressure, Tom. While it's best to temper expectations for 2017, an upset at USC would spark a rampant declaration of "Texas is back! For real this time!"

    And that's because the Trojans are considered a leading contender for the national championship this season. Sam Darnold helped USC win nine straight games to close the previous campaign, capping the impressive stretch with a Rose Bowl victory.

    Early key to the game 

    How effectively will Darnold handle the two types of pressure? First, the national spotlight will be directed at this matchup. After an offseason full of attention, will he continue to thrive? Second, Texas defensive coordinator Todd Orlando will attack USC's rebuilt O-line, and Darnold occasionally struggled with properly reacting to blitzes in 2016.

Week 4: Washington at Colorado

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    Game info: Saturday, Sept. 23; Folsom Field in Boulder, Colorado

    Why it's must-see TV

    With a nod to Temple at South Florida on Thursday night, Washington's trip to Colorado serves as a tone-setter in conference play for both teams.

    After what should be 3-0 starts in nonconference play, the programs will meet in a rematch of the 2016 Pac-12 championship game. But as the headlines happily follow a surging USC, these schools have slid into the background.

    One team is going to pick up a critical victory. The other will drift even further out of the spotlight.

    Early key to the game

    Whichever offense controls the ground should earn the decisive advantage. Right now, Washington appears to have a slight edge on both sides of the trenches. But running back Phillip Lindsay has explosive potential for Colorado's offense.

Week 5: Clemson at Virginia Tech

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Game infoSaturday, Sept. 30; Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, Virginia

    Why it's must-see TV

    Another rematch from 2016's conference championship week, Virginia Tech will host Clemson for the first time since the 2011 season.

    In an otherwise unspectacular week, this is a pivotal matchup. Both teams appear likely to regress slightly this season after losing their quarterback and a few leading contributors. As a result, their respective margins for error are thinner than 2016.

    Early key to the game

    Both offenses have multiple questions that cannot be answered right now. Clemson's defensive line only has one uncertainty: How good can it possibly be? Virginia Tech must handle an imposing Tigers front headlined by Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence and Clelin Ferrell.

Week 6: LSU at Florida

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    Game info: Saturday, Oct. 7; Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida

    Why it's must-see TV

    Similar to the previous Saturday, Week 6 is filled with conference games but seemingly lacking on significant matchups. The best of the group behind this SEC showdown are West Virginia at TCU and Ole Miss at Auburn.

    So let's focus on Gainesville, where two-time defending SEC East Division champion Florida will host LSU.

    Both programs have questions at quarterback. The Gators are waiting to decide the competition, and the Tigers need serious improvement from the position in order to regain status as a real contender in the conference—and subsequently, nationally.

    Early key to the game

    Timely plays have become essential in this series, which has featured four one-possession finishes in the last four years. Florida won that category in 2016, pulling off a pair of goal-line stands and also getting a 98-yard touchdown pass.

Week 7: Oregon at Stanford

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    Steve Dykes/Getty Images

    Game info: Saturday, Oct. 14; Stanford Stadium in Stanford, California

    Why it's must-see TV

    Prior to the annual tilt between the Pac-12 North Division rivals, Stanford will have traveled to USC. With a bad result there, the Cardinal could not afford another loss when Oregon comes to town Oct. 14.

    No matter how the Ducks begin 2017, though, this is a prove-it game for new head coach Willie Taggart. Oregon hosts Nebraska and Washington State before then, but the previous road contests are Wyoming and Arizona State—opponents that are simply not at Stanford's level.

    Early key to the game

    The Cardinal sported a respectable offense in 2016 but gained fewer than 400 yards in eight of 13 games. Against Oregon, however, they amassed 540. Long story short: The Ducks better not be awful defensively again, because even a deliberate attack like Stanford could tear them up.

Week 8: Michigan at Penn State

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    Game info: Saturday, Oct. 21; Beaver Stadium in University Park, Pennsylvania

    Why it's must-see TV

    Despite losing to Michigan 49-10 during the regular season, Penn State ended up bouncing back and winning the 2016 Big Ten championship.

    As of now, the Nittany Lions are looked upon more favorably in way-too-early top 25s than Jim Harbaugh's team. But James Franklin has yet to solve the Wolverines, who have limited the last two Penn State offenses to a combined 3.7 yards per snap.

    While an overhauled Michigan lineup will have played Florida in Texas, Ohio State can attest to Beaver Stadium being a problematic venue. The young Wolverines won't have entered a more inhospitable building prior to this tilt.

    Early key to the game

    Saquon Barkley ripped off a 56-yard run against Michigan in 2015 and a 33-yard scamper last season. The problem? His other 28 carries netted 38 total yards. Penn State absolutely must establish Barkley on the ground.

Week 9: Georgia vs. Florida

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    Rob Foldy/Getty Images

    Game info: Saturday, Oct. 28; EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Florida

    Why it's must-see TV

    Florida, as mentioned earlier, has won the SEC East in two straight seasons. Nevertheless, the Gators are not considered the favorite in 2017.

    That honor goes to Georgia, which boasts a rising star in Jacob Eason plus an experienced supporting cast on both offense and defense. An early September clash at Notre Dame also stands out, but the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party may decide the Dawgs' season.

    Georgia and Florida both face tough crossover teams in Auburn and LSU, respectively, so winning the tiebreaker is essential.

    Early key to the game

    In each of 2014, 2015 and 2016, the Bulldogs' worst single-game rushing total happened against Florida. Last year, they mustered just 21 yards on 19 carries. If Nick Chubb and Sony Michel are healthy, Georgia cannot let that happen again.

Week 10: Oklahoma at Oklahoma State

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    Brett Deering/Getty Images

    Game info: Saturday, Nov. 4; Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Oklahoma

    Why it's must-see TV

    Bedlam has been awfully one-sided during the last 14 years. Oklahoma State, which is a mere 2-12 against Oklahoma in that time, will try to blemish the trend.

    Although the league potentially ruined the meaningfulness of games like this due to a conference championship without divisions, Bedlam features this season's top two Big 12 contenders. The victor here will probably appear in the title game.

    Early key to the game

    The Cowboys have plenty of offensive firepower in Mason Rudolph, Justice Hill and James Washington. But do the Pokes have enough defense? While Oklahoma's offense won't be as productive as last year based purely on statistics, Mayfield has twice efficiently picked apart OSU.

Week 11: Florida State at Clemson

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Game info: Saturday, Nov. 11; Memorial Stadium in Clemson, South Carolina

    Why it's must-see TV

    Clemson has the overall talent to win the ACC. Does it have the right quarterback? That question will be answered by now, so the Tigers can either be vying for the conference crown or hoping to spoil FSU's pursuit.

    The 'Noles will have already played Miami and Louisville. But barring an 0-2 record against the ACC foes, Florida State will be at or near the top of the Atlantic Division standings.

    For eight straight seasons, the winner of this matchup has reached the conference championship game.

    Early key to the game

    Florida State's offensive line regularly allowed pressure in 2016, and there's no guarantee it dramatically improves this year. That could become an enormous problem opposite the aformentioned trio of Wilkins, Lawrence and Ferrell.

Week 12: UCLA at USC

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Game info: Saturday, Nov. 18; Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles

    Why it's must-see TV

    Wisconsin's date with Michigan may decide one or both Big Ten divisions, so Madison might ultimately be the hot spot. But we're headed back to the City of Angels.

    The 2016 edition of the rivalry lacked some star power due to Josh Rosen's season-ending injury. Hopefully the quarterback is healthy for the 2017 game, since UCLA could have a chance to spoil USC's pursuit of a championship in the Trojans' regular-season finale.

    Plus, it's a rare opportunity to see a pair of quarterbacks who are potential first-round NFL draft picks share the field.

    Early key to the game

    Despite the Darnold-Rosen storyline, the running game may be even more important. USC controlled the 2016 matchup, gaining 205 more yards on the ground in a 36-14 win. Time of possession is generally overrated, but it would be foolish to dismiss the Trojans' unfathomable 26-minute advantage. UCLA only had four second-half possessions.

Week 13: Alabama at Auburn

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    Game info: Saturday, Nov. 25; Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Alabama

    Why it's must-see TV: In all likelihood, the Iron Bowl will have a berth in the 2017 SEC Championship Game at stake. Depending on LSU's season, it might not be a winner-take-all scenario, but this result would likely affect any tiebreaker regardless.

    The evidence is simple. Either Alabama or Auburn have reached the national championship (and/or College Football Playoff) in each of the last eight years, and the Crimson Tide have accounted for six of those appearances—including three straight.

    Early key to the game: Assuming Jarrett Stidham officially wins and keeps the quarterback job, Auburn can finally put pressure on Alabama's secondary again. Stidham must demand the Crimson Tide respect the downfield passing game, and Auburn's hope would be that threat aids Kamryn Pettway's success between the tackles.

    All recruiting information via Scout. Stats from or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.