2018 College Football Schedule Release: 10 Games We're Most Excited About

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistSeptember 25, 2017

2018 College Football Schedule Release: 10 Games We're Most Excited About

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    We don't have a complete look at college football's 2018 schedule yet, but what we do know certainly makes it exciting.

    For those teams that have gotten off to a rough start and are already looking forward to next season, there are a lot of reasons to start circling dates on the calendar for marquee national games. 

    We're only four weeks into this year's college football season and conference play is just getting ready to heat up, so there are plenty of reasons to live in the present and enjoy each week's slate of games. Crazy things happen all the time in this sport, after all.

    But with games like USC and Texas giving us a rematch in Austin and Michigan renewing its historic rivalry with Notre Dame, it's never too early to take a peek into the future.

    With playmakers sprinkled throughout the top 10 teams in the polls, plenty of unbeatens and so much football left to play, 2017 should give us plenty of memories still. But let's take a look at why 2018 is going to be at least as much fun.

Alabama vs. Louisville (Sept. 1 in Orlando, Florida)

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    You have to hand it to Alabama: The Crimson Tide haven't shied away from scheduling some of the nation's top programs over the past few years, something they were criticized of during the first few years of Nick Saban's regime.

    Last season, the Tide toppled USC in a lopsided season opener long before the Trojans discovered star signal-caller Sam Darnold was waiting in the wings.

    This season, Alabama dispatched of Florida State in what was billed as a potential preview of a College Football Playoff matchup before FSU quarterback Deondre Francois' injury. The season-ending setback spoiled the Seminoles' season, but the Tide had that game in hand long before he was hurt.

    The score wound up 24-7.

    In 2018, Alabama starts its season against Lamar Jackson and the Cardinals—that's if the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback elects to stay for his senior season.

    He's one of the nation's most dynamic stars, and even though he can do a lot of things, it's going to be interesting to see just how NFL general managers rate his skill set for draft purposes. Jackson definitely could leap to the League, but he also could stay for a final year of seasoning under Bobby Petrino.

    If that happens, it's going to be a lot of fun to watch blossoming UA star signal-caller Jalen Hurts and Jackson trade throws and runs. Alabama's defense is always championship-caliber, though, so just seeing them on the schedule may help Jackson make his pro decision.

Michigan at Notre Dame (Sept. 1)

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    These two storied programs haven't met since 2014 when the Fighting Irish shut down then-coach Brady Hoke's Wolverines 31-0 in a dominant performance.

    It was a lot of fun for Notre Dame, who'd broken off the series the year before to help pave the way for its scheduling arrangement with the ACC, leading Hoke to joke that the Irish were "chickening out."

    "It was great revenge," linebacker Jaylon Smith told UND.com.

    In the years since, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly and Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh wanted to renew the series, and it has become a reality. Of course, Harbaugh understands the significance of the rivalry, having been a part of it as a Wolverines quarterback in the early-to-mid 1980s.

    Now a coach, Harbaugh has Big Blue back to its standard spot among the nation's elite programs, and though Kelly has fallen on tough times recently, the Fighting Irish have plenty of firepower as well. If he can finish a strong season this year, he'll avoid the hot seat and still be around in South Bend next year.

    That game should be a great one, as the Wolverines' stable of young stars will be even more seasoned and Notre Dame continues to improve with star quarterback Brandon Wimbush at the helm. The old rivalry will have plenty of new reasons to keep us watching.

    If you appreciate the history of football, you'll tune in.

Auburn vs. Washington (Sept. 1 in Atlanta)

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    With its home-and-home series with Clemson in the rear-view mirror, Auburn will play another national powerhouse in 2018.

    Much like its hated rival Alabama, you can't argue with Auburn's scheduling. Athletic director Jay Jacobs isn't afraid to play anybody, anywhere, anytime. Though the Tigers were competitive with Dabo Swinney's Tigers each of the past two years, they lost both games.

    Now, they'll get the opportunity to play another College Football Playoff participant to open the season in Atlanta. The Huskies have another great chance to make it again this year, too. They also could return stars like quarterback Jake Browning, running back Myles Gaskin and receiver Dante Pettis.

    The former two are especially players who look like elite four-year collegians. 

    But the Tigers have plenty about which to be excited as well. Quarterback Jarrett Stidham is an underclassman, and there is a stable of exciting receivers. Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele is building a powerhouse on that side of the ball.

    This has the potential to be a good, intriguing out-of-the-box matchup to open the year.

USC at Texas (Sept. 15)

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    What happens when two blue bloods get together for their first showdown since the 2006 Rose Bowl?

    Well, first of all, everybody watches. Secondly, their Sept. 16 tilt became an instant classic where a young team with a first-year head coach in Tom Herman nearly pulled off a major upset of a College Football Playoff contender, eventually losing.

    But the best thing about Texas' 27-24 loss to USC is the Longhorns have the opportunity to avenge that game at home next year. The best thing for us is we all get to watch.

    Freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger looks like he could become a star in Austin, and though things may be bumpy this year for the Longhorns, they should be expected to rebound under Herman, a proven player's coach who can rebuild the program to its glory.

    The worst thing about next year's game is USC stud quarterback Sam Darnold isn't expected to be around for it. Though he's just a sophomore, the signal-caller redshirted as a freshman, meaning he's eligible to turn pro after this year.

    Considering he and fellow Los Angeles-based college quarterback Josh Rosen of UCLA are lighting it up this year, Darnold may not return. But he does show some need for polish, as turnovers have plagued him. If he comes back in 2018, this will really be one to watch.

    If not, Texas' chance for payback escalates.

LSU vs. Miami (Sept. 1 in Arlington, Texas)

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    This is a game that's really difficult to predict because nobody knows what the next year will bring for either program.

    For Miami, second-year coach Mark Richt looks like he's on the verge of bringing back a new version of The U, one that maybe doesn't have quite the swagger or negative headlines as the old one but is nonetheless deep and talented.

    The Hurricanes are recruiting as well as anybody now, and behind star junior running back Mark Walton, they're ranked and off to a resounding start in 2017. This is a program on the rise.

    LSU is right there with them from a recruiting standpoint, but the jury is out on whether or not Ed Orgeron has the coaching chops to get the program back to competing for championships.

    He's an elite recruiter, and he's done an exceptional job hiring offensive coordinator Matt Canada and keeping defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, but does he have the recipe for success? What happens if Aranda gets a head coaching gig, as a lot of people believe he's close to being ready for?

    One thing is certain: There will be an abundance of athletes flying around and making plays. The stars from South Florida and the Bayou are as good as any around, and that's good news for big plays.

TCU vs. Ohio State (Sept. 15 in Arlington, Texas)

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    After Ohio State split its home-and-home series with Oklahoma in the past two years, the Buckeyes came to an agreement to play another school from the Big 12 in 2018.

    In what was originally expected to be a home-and-home, Ohio State and TCU agreed to play one game at a neutral site in 2018. So, that means whoever the Buckeyes' talented young quarterback is next year will get to take all the talent around him into Arlington, Texas, to take on the Horned Frogs.

    They may not exactly welcome Urban Meyer's team.

    Just ask Oklahoma State what TCU can do, and coach Gary Patterson has a bunch of young playmakers who'll be a year older and better in '18 probably along with senior quarterback Kenny Hill. This could be a very good game.

    The contest makes a lot of sense for Meyer, who has enjoyed recruiting success in the Lone Star State recently for some of the nation's top prospects. Now, they'll take their brand down there in a big-time game.

    This could wind up being two of the top teams in 2018, and we'll get to watch them battle during the first few weeks of the season.

Tennessee vs. West Virginia (Sept. 1 in Charlotte, North Carolina)

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    The last time West Virginia quarterback Will Grier got to play against Tennessee, he was torching the Vols, completing fourth downs left and right and breaking UT's heart with a fourth-quarter comeback win. Then, he was Florida quarterback Will Grier in 2015.

    Now, if he sticks around for another season in Morgantown, Grier will get to play against Tennessee yet again.

    It's just a matter of who will be coaching the Vols. 

    After a rocky start on Rocky Top in 2018, the heat is mounting for Butch Jones, and while Tennessee has plenty of talent to play well this year and next, the Vols are underachieving. If he can turn it around, he has a good chance to hang around; if not, UT may be looking for a new head coach for the first time since 2013.

    No matter who coaches the Vols, they should be loaded with talent in 2018 with virtually everybody returning, led by dynamic running back John Kelly. They'll also get injured receiver Jauan Jennings and linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. back if they stick around.

    Meanwhile, Grier is pinballing passes all around for the Mountaineers as the perfect quarterback for Dana Holgorsen's system. Though they lost a heartbreaker to Virginia Tech to open the season, this is a legit contender for the Big 12 title this year and in the future.

    This could be a good, under-the-radar game between two mountain-based fanbases who like to travel and get crazy.

UCLA at Oklahoma (Sept. 8)

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    Life after Baker Mayfield is going to be tough for the Sooners, who may be preparing for a memorable run in 2017 with their senior quarterback and so many playmakers around him.

    But coach Lincoln Riley's team isn't going anywhere.

    All those running backs and a bunch of the receivers will return, and OU is recruiting extremely well right now in the wake of Bob Stoops' retirement.

    The anticipated departure of Josh Rosen may be a little more difficult for coach Jim Mora Jr. and the Bruins. 

    The way the team has looked with the QB back and healthy have quelled the hot-seat rumors for Mora, at least for the time being. They look like they'll have a nice rebound season this year, but it's almost a certainty with the way he's playing and his pro projection that this will be Rosen's final season in Westwood.

    We all saw how the Bruins played without him last year, so it's going to be vital that they find somebody who can orchestrate Jedd Fisch's offense in the wake of his departure.

    So, this one won't have the star power that it would if they met this season. But it's still an intriguing game between two programs that expect to win, no matter the situation or the players on the roster. This is a good, old-fashioned Big 12 vs. Pac-12 battle between two tradition-rich teams.

Clemson at Texas A&M (Sept. 8)

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    Speaking of uncertainty, Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin has a seat that's every bit as hot (if not hotter) than Jones and Arkansas' Bret Bielema.

    There's no telling what the future will hold for the Aggies. But if they do part ways with their coach, there's plenty of money in College Station to make a dynamic coaching hire. If that happens, there's plenty of talent on that roster.

    But will Kellen Mond or Nick Starkel (whoever wins that quarterback job) have enough playmakers to hang with Dabo Swinney's Clemson Tigers, who proved through the first few weekends of this season that they've built a brand and not just a one-year powerhouse.

    The Tigers look like a potential dynasty following their national championship from a year ago, and the thoughts of signal-caller Kelly Bryant, all those star receivers and young defenders being a year older is scary. They'll almost certainly be a Top Five team by the time they play against the Aggies.

    So, while there are question marks on one side, it will still be the Tigers against an SEC West program capable of beating them. Swinney's team has proved against Alabama and Auburn in the past two seasons that doesn't exactly scare them. But it's intriguing nonetheless.

    If the Aggies have somebody else coaching them, this will be his first real test, too. Boy, what a test it will be.

Colorado at Nebraska (Sept. 8)

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    How do you like that throwback picture up there?

    One of the best rivalries of the first decade of the Big 12 will be returning, though Colorado is now in the Pac-12 and Nebraska is in the Big Ten. Realignment may have obliterated the storied rivalry between the Buffaloes and the Cornhuskers, but a mini-version is coming back.

    The programs will reunite for a four-game series from 2018-24. After a home-and-home, they'll take a three-year hiatus before renewing the home-and-home series again in 2023-24. 

    Then-Colorado athletic director Mike Bohn (now at Cincinnati) arranged for the series with Tom Osborne before he retired from the AD job at Nebraska. Though the Huskers have a decisive advantage, their first five meetings as Big 12 participants all went to Nebraska but by a grand total of 15 points.

    The Buffaloes gained a measure of revenge, but then things dissipated when the programs went their separate ways. After years of frustration and futility following those great teams, both are winning again. Last year, CU coach Mike MacIntyre had the Buffs in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

    Though Nebraska coach Mike Riley isn't winning enough to satisfy the Huskers, they're doing OK, too.

    By the time these games roll around, they'll be back on the national radar. And it's a game you should know about because it could be exciting, just like it used to be.


    Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of Sports Reference and cfbstats, and recruiting data courtesy of Scout.

    Brad Shepard covers college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter at @Brad_Shepard.