College Football Preview: The Top 25 Must-See Games in 2011

Dmitriy Ioselevich@dioselevSenior Analyst IIIJanuary 19, 2011

College Football Preview: The Top 25 Must-See Games in 2011

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    GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 10:  Quarterback Cameron Newton #2 of the Auburn Tigers celebrates the Tigers 22-19 victory with the fans after defeating the Oregon Ducks in the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 10
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    The 2010 college football season ended in dramatic fashion, with the Auburn Tigers pulling out an exhilarating 22-19 victory over the Oregon Ducks in the national championship. That wasn't the only big game this past season, though. Several powerhouse teams matched up against each other in unforgettable games that constantly shifted the college football landscape.

    But since we've talked the 2010 season to death, it's probably time to move on and take a look at what's in store for next season. Here's an early preview of the top 25 must-see games in 2011.

LSU at Oregon (Sept. 3)

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    GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 10:  LaMichael James #21 of the Oregon Ducks scores on a eight-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter against the Auburn Tigers during the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 1
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    What better way to start the 2011 college football season than with a matchup between two of the nation's top teams? Oregon returns LaMichael James and Darron Thomas in what promises to be another high-powered offense, while LSU welcomes a top recruiting class to an already stacked roster. This showdown will take place at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. 

Georgia at Boise State (Sept. 3)

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    LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 22:  Quarterback Kellen Moore #11 of the Boise State Broncos warms up before playing against the Utah Utes in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas at Sam Boyd Stadium December 22, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Boise State Won 26-3.  (Photo by Et
    Ethan Miller/Getty Images

    The Broncos should have gone undefeated last season, losing only to lowly Nevada 34-31 in overtime. Their path to a possible BCS National Championship will have to go through Georgia in 2011, a team that is on the upswing with 18 promising incoming recruits. Since quarterback Kellen Moore is returning, the Broncos will be very tough to beat. Both of these teams have a lot to prove in just the first week of the season.

Texas Tech at TCU (Sept. 10)

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    PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 01:  Quarterback Andy Dalton #14 of the TCU Horned Frogs throws a pass against the Wisconsin Badgers in the 97th Rose Bowl game on January 1, 2011 in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    The Horned Frogs went undefeated last season, and even with quarterback Andy Dalton going pro, they're still one of the best teams that don't play in a BCS conference. TCU is aching for a shot at the national championship, but they'll need to beat good non-conference opponents to get there. Texas Tech should be a good test for them.

Alabama at Florida (Oct. 1)

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    ORLANDO, FL - JANUARY 01:  Keshawn Martin #82 of the Michigan State Spartans has a pass broken up by DeMarcus Milliner #28 of the Alabama Crimson Tide during the Capitol One Bowl at the Florida Citrus Bowl on January 1, 2011 in Orlando, Florida.  (Photo b
    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    The Gators gave the Crimson Tide their first loss of the season in 2008. Then Alabama returned the favor in 2009, and again in 2010, dominating 31-6. Alabama returns many of its top players and should be early favorites for the SEC title. But Florida has one of the top recruiting classes in the nation, led by Jeff Driskel, and should be able to keep this game close on its home turf.

Nebraska at Wisconsin (Oct. 1)

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    ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 04:  Quarterback Taylor Martinez #3 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers drops back to pass against the Oklahoma Sooners during the Big 12 Championship at Cowboys Stadium on December 4, 2010 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    In one of the premier out-of-conference games all year, the Cornhuskers meet the Badgers. Nebraska returns Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead, while Wisconsin returns quarterback Scott Tolzien as well as running backs James White, John Clay and Montee Ball. These two very experienced teams will look for a statement win before beginning the conference schedule.

Texas at Oklahoma (Oct. 8)

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    GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 01:  Landry Jones #12 of the Oklahoma Sooners throws the ball against the Connecticut Huskies during the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl at the Universtity of Phoenix Stadium on January 1, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Peters
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Texas opens its conference schedule at Oklahoma, a team that is expected to be a serious contender for a national title with superstar Landry Jones at quarterback. The Sooners topped the Longhorns 28-20 in a close game, but Texas has won four of the last six meetings. The Longhorns will have to win this one if they want a legitimate shot at the Big 12 South title.

Florida at LSU (Oct. 8)

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    GAINESVILLE, FL - OCTOBER 09:  Quarterback Trey Burton #8 of the Florida Gators scores a touchdown during the game against the Louisiana State University Tigers at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on October 9, 2010 in Gainesville, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwo
    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    Florida may not be the best college football team in the state anymore (Florida State and Miami can both lay claim to that honor), but the Gators are still a force to be reckoned with in the SEC. Last season the Tigers came to Florida and won a closely fought game, 33-29, and now the Gators will have the opportunity to return the favor on LSU's home field.

Michigan at Michigan State (Oct. 15)

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    JACKSONVILLE, FL - JANUARY 01:  Quarterback Denard Robinson #16 of the Michigan Wolverines passes against the Mississippi State Bulldogs during the Gator Bowl at EverBank Field on January 1, 2011 in Jacksonville, Florida  (Photo by Rick Dole/Getty Images)
    Rick Dole/Getty Images

    Michigan did not beat its cross-state rival in Rich Rodriguez's three years as head coach. But Rodriguez is gone and Denard Robinson is back, meaning the Wolverines could finally have a chance to get the monkey off their backs. They were thoroughly humiliated in a 34-17 loss to the Spartans on their home field, and then lost four of their next six games. If Michigan wants national respect, it'll have to beat Michigan State this time around.

Florida at Auburn (Oct. 15)

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    TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 1: Defensive end Antonio Coleman #52 of the Auburn Tigers sets on defense against the Northwestern Wildcats in the Outback Bowl January 1, 2010 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    Florida concludes its brutal three-week stretch against the top teams in the country with a matchup against the defending national champion, Auburn. These two teams haven't played each other in a while, so it will be interesting to see how they match up with Cam Newton expected to be gone and the Gators on the comeback trail.

Wisconsin at Michigan State (Oct. 22)

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    MADISON, WI - SEPTEMBER 26: Jeff Stehle #79 of the Wisconsin Badgers moves off the line against the Michigan State Spartans on September 26, 2009 at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Wisconsin's only regular season loss last year came against Michigan State, falling 34-24 to open conference play. The Badgers return most of their offense (which topped 70 points three times in 2010), but so do the Spartans with both quarterback Kirk Cousins and running back Edwin Baker expected back. These are the two best teams in the Big Ten, and whoever wins may go on to clinch the conference title.

Auburn at LSU (Oct. 22)

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    AUBURN, AL - OCTOBER 23:  Patrick Peterson #7 of the LSU Tigers against Craig Stevens #46 of the Auburn Tigers at Jordan-Hare Stadium on October 23, 2010 in Auburn, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    In a matchup between the yellow Tigers and the blue Tigers, who will win? Auburn handed LSU its first loss of the season last year, 24-17. LSU should have a better chance this time around playing at home, and with Auburn double-threat Cam Newton going pro. But LSU will also be playing without Patrick Peterson, one of the best college cornerbacks since maybe Charles Woodson. Anything's possible in this one.

Arkansas at Ole Miss (Oct. 22)

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    NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 04:  Quarterback Ryan Mallett #15 of the Arkansas Razorbacks looks to pass against the Ohio State Buckeyes during the Allstate Sugar Bowl at the Louisiana Superdome on January 4, 2011 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Matthew
    Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    The Razorbacks will say goodbye to quarterback Ryan Mallett, but they have some very talented potential replacements in Tyler Wilson. Arkansas is still a dangerous team and they pummeled the Rebels 38-24 last season. Ole Miss, meanwhile, is a slowly improving team that has a chance to make some noise in the SEC with a victory against Arkansas.

USC at Notre Dame (Oct. 22)

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 27:  Running back Robert Hughes #33 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish carries on a five yard run to score the eventual winning touchdown in the fourth quarter through the tackle of linebacker Malcolm Smith #6 of the USC Trojans a
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    The Trojans won eight straight games in the series with Notre Dame before finally succumbing to fate and losing to the Irish, 20-16. USC will have a shot at redemption in 2011 and is in a good position to win with 26 highly touted incoming freshmen. The Trojans may need to save their energy for the next game on this list, though.

Stanford at USC (Oct. 29)

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    PALO ALTO, CA - OCTOBER 09:  Stepfan Taylor #33 of the Stanford Cardinal runs with the ball against the USC Trojans at Stanford Stadium on October 9, 2010 in Palo Alto, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Andrew Luck will be back in a Cardinals uniform next season, but so will running back Stepfan Taylor. Stanford has to be one of the favorites for the national championship, but the recently downtrodden Trojans gave them a serious game last year, narrowly losing 37-35. USC welcomes a terrific rookie class, including top prospect George Famar, so this should be an interesting rematch.

Wisconsin at Ohio State (Oct. 29)

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    MADISON, WI - OCTOBER 16: Zach Boren #44 of the Ohio State Buckeyes is tackled by Blake Sorensen #9 and Culmer St. Jean #15 of the Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium on October 16, 2010 in Madison, Wisconsin. Wisconsin defeated Ohio State 31-18. (P
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Wisconsin took care of the Buckeyes, 31-18, last season, and will be favored in this rematch. But Ohio State is not a team to be taken likely, especially with one of the nation's top incoming recruiting classes. The big question is how long will it take Terrelle Pryor and company to reintegrate themselves into the Buckeyes offense after their five-game suspension?

Michigan State at Nebraska (Oct. 29)

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    7 Sep 1996:  Wide receiver Derrick Mason of the Michigan State Spartans attempts to break free from the grasp of defensive back Eric Stokes of the Nebraska Cornhuskers during a reception in the Spartans 55-14 loss to the Cornhuskers at Memorial Stadium in
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    The Spartans face off against the Cornhuskers in Nebraska's first major test as a Big Ten team. Michigan State failed in its attempt to be recognized as a Top 10 national team with its blowout 49-7 loss to Alabama in the Capital One Bowl, but it could have a second opportunity here by beating former Big 12 powerhouse Nebraska. The Cornhuskers, meanwhile, will have an opportunity to prove that they belong in the Big Ten by beating the reigning conference champion.

Texas A&M at Oklahoma (Nov. 5)

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    NORMAN, OK - NOVEMBER 12:  Jason Carter #7 of the Texas A&M Aggies moves to make the reception during the game against the Oklahoma Sooners on November 12, 2005 at Memorial Stadium in Norman, Oklahoma.  The Sooners won 36-30.  (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty I
    Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    The Aggies return one of the most solid teams in college football, and they beat the Sooners convincingly 33-19 last year. But Oklahoma brings in an incredible 18 recruits next season, including six of the top 150 prospects. Oklahoma is also the defending Big 12 champion, so there is much to prove for both sides here.

Oregon at Stanford (Nov. 12)

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    PALO ALTO, CA - NOVEMBER 27:  Doug Baldwin #89 of the Stanford Cardinal goes in for a 42-yard touchdown reception while Suaesi Tuimanunei #28 of the Oregon State Beavers tries to tackled him at Stanford Stadium on November 27, 2010 in Palo Alto, Californi
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Only one team was good enough to beat Stanford last season, and that was the Oregon Ducks. The high-powered Oregon offense rolled over the Cardinals for a surprisingly easy 52-31 victory. Neither of these teams will look much different in 2011, so it may be a bit of a stretch to expect a different result. But maybe home-field advantage and the best quarterback in the country will be enough to keep the game close.

Texas at Texas A&M (Nov. 24)

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    AUSTIN, TX - NOVEMBER 25:  Running back Cyrus Gray #32 of Texas A&M holds off University of Texas defensive end Sam Acho #81 during the second half at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on November 25, 2010 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Darren Carroll/
    Darren Carroll/Getty Images

    These two long-time rivals face off in a rare Thursday night game to close out the season again. The Longhorns fell to the Aggies, 24-17, in 2010 but they won 49-39 in 2009 and dominated 49-9 in 2008. Texas has fallen off the college football map a little bit after a 2-6 record in the Big 12, but it could make a big statement by defeating Texas A&M. The Longhorns will have to figure out a way to stop Cyrus Gray and Ryan Tannehill first.

Oklahoma at Oklahoma State (Nov. 26)

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    ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 04:  Quarterback Landry Jones #12 of the Oklahoma Sooners looks for an open receiver against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Cowboys Stadium on December 4, 2010 in Arlington, Texas.  The Sooners beat the Cornhuskers 23-20.  (Photo by
    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    The Oklahoma rivalry will write another chapter, but the Cowboys may finally have the upper hand over perennial powerhouse Oklahoma. The Sooners beat Oklahoma State, 47-41, last season, but the Cowboys return all-star quarterback Brandon Weeden and a talented defense. There's not much separating the reigning Big 12 co-champs. 

Notre Dame at Stanford (Nov. 26)

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    SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 25: Andrew Luck #12 of the Stanford Cardinal looks for a receiver against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Notre Dame Stadium on September 25, 2010 in South Bend, Indiana. Stanford defeated Notre Dame 37-14. (Photo by Jonathan D
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Stanford beat Notre Dame 37-14 in 2010, but second-year head coach Brian Kelly and the Fighting Irish have just a little bit of mojo after ending the season on a high note. Could that be enough to power Notre Dame over one of the nation's top teams?

Ole Miss at Mississippi State (Nov. 26)

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    ATHENS, GA - SEPTEMBER 29: Running back Thomas Brown #20 of  the Georgia Bulldogs rushes for a 38-yard touchdown against the Mississippi Rebels at Sanford Stadium on September 29, 2007 in Athens, Georgia.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    The Rebels and Bulldogs face off once again to close out the season. Mississippi State is one of college football's great under-the-radar teams. The only teams the Bulldogs lost to last season were Auburn, LSU, Alabama and Arkansas, beating Florida, Ole Miss (31-23) and Michigan. The Bulldogs are a team to be reckoned with, but they will need to take care of rival Ole Miss to seriously contend in the SEC.

Florida State at Florida (Nov. 26)

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    TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 1:  Defensive tackle Ollie Ogbu #85 of the Penn State Nittany Lions rushes the pocket against the Florida Gators January 1, 2010 in the 25th Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Ima
    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    These two long-time rivals finish off their 2011 season against each other, again. The Seminoles trampled the Gators last season, 31-7, but Florida beat its crosstown rivals 37-10 in 2009. Florida State is expected to be one of the top teams in the nation with the second-ranked recruiting class, but Florida isn't very far behind. The two teams welcome 16 of the top 150 prospects in the country next season, so there will be plenty of fresh blood to be spilled in this rematch.

Ohio State at Michigan (Nov. 26)

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    COLUMBUS, OH - NOVEMBER 27:  Jordan Hall #7 of the Ohio State Buckeyes returns a kickoff against the Michigan Wolverines at Ohio Stadium on November 27, 2010 in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    This used to be one of the biggest rivalries in all of sports before the Wolverines hired Rich Rodriguez and forgot how to win. Michigan has lost six straight in the series and were cut up, 37-7, last season, but with Brady Hoke as the Wolverines new head coach, they will look to finally turn things around.

    This game should be extra important for the Buckeyes too, who will likely need a win in Ann Arbor to get a shot at a BCS berth. Ohio State will be without quarterback Terrelle Pryor, running back Dan Herron and wide receiver DeVier Posey for the first five games of the season, so it will need to finish strong.

Alabama at Auburn (Nov. 26)

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    TUSCALOOSA, AL - NOVEMBER 26:  Quarterback Cam Newton #2 of the Auburn Tigers looks to pass against C.J. Mosley #32 of the Alabama Crimson Tide at Bryant-Denny Stadium on November 26, 2010 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Hard to imagine a better way to finish off the the 2011 college football season. These two fierce rivals aren't just the favorites to win the SEC; they're among the favorites to win the whole thing. Auburn just barely scraped by Alabama, 28-27, to clinch the No. 1 ranking and a BCS berth this season, but can the Tigers do it again without Cam Newton?

    The Crimson Tide lost running back Mark Ingram and wide receiver Julio Jones to the NFL, but running back Trent Richardson is more than capable of filling the void. Both of these schools have highly ranked recruiting classes and both need to win this game to make it to a BCS bowl. But only one team can win. Who will it be?


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