We are less than four weeks away from the beginning of college football. Time, then, to nitpick our way through all of the schedules and project the most important games of the year — games we feel could make or break a team's season. Ten games. All compelling, all excruciatingly drama-filled and for the loser, a true bubble burster. — LISA HORNE (NOTE: Games are ranked in their order on the schedule)
Oregon at Stanford, Nov. 12
This game will most likely be for all the marbles in the Pac-12 North. Both teams are highly ranked in the USA Today Coaches Preseason Poll, and both are the clear frontrunners in their division. There are some question marks on both teams — the Ducks are dealing with only half of their starters returning from last year, plus there's that nasty NCAA cloud hanging over their heads. Stanford is breaking in head coach David Shaw (above), but they do return Heisman candidate Andrew Luck.
TCU at Boise State, Nov. 12
TCU and Boise State have been sounding the drum for the Little Sisters of the Poor for years, and this year, the Bronces looks like the favored sister to cause chaos in the BCS. But never count the Horned Frogs out — Gary Patterson (pictured) is one of the best coaches in the country in getting inexperienced players to step up. It'll be fun to see how well they've jelled when they square off against Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore. First team to 50, wins.
LSU at Alabama, Nov. 5
This is big-boy football with the winner probably representing the West in the SEC Championship Game. While both Arkansas and Mississippi State also have high hopes to win the West, all eyes will be on the Tigers and Crimson Tide. This is black-and-blue football in front of the most rabid fans in the country. This is heart-stopping, drama-filled football, not for the faint of heart. It's the Mad Hatter vs. The Most Powerful Man in College Football. We can't wait.
USC at Notre Dame, Oct. 22
One of the greatest intersectional rivalries in the country will have an interesting twist this year — both USC and Notre Dame look to be about even in terms of expectations from the so-called experts. In other words, we expect this to be a tightly-contested game. USC can't play in any postseason games, but Notre Dame, itching to get back in the BCS picture, can. Is this Notre Dame's year, or does USC play spoiler?
Clemson at Virginia Tech, Oct. 1
Virginia Tech's first four games — against Appalachian State, East Carolina, Arkansas State and Marshall — don't do them any favors in prepping for their first Atlantic Coast Conference game hosting Clemson. Conversely, Clemson will have already played Florida State and Auburn before travelling to Blacksburg to square off against the Hokies. Virginia Tech spanked Clemson the last two times they played (2006 and 2007), but more than half of the Hokies' points scored in that '07 game didn't come from their offense. Who will be more prepared?
Nebraska at Wisconsin, Oct. 1
This game is the first conference matchup for both teams this season. It's also the first Big Ten conference game for the newest member, Nebraska. This game is compelling because Nebraska faces a different challenge than the one it faced in the Big 12 — power football, week in and week out. Are the Cornhuskers up to the task in new environs? If Wisconsin beats Nebraska and gets past Ohio State in late October, are the Badgers bound for New Orleans on Jan. 9?
Oklahoma State at Texas A&M, Sept. 24
If you are of the belief that someone other than Oklahoma will win the Big 12 — and I am — then one of these two teams is probably your best bet to be wearing that conference crown. The Cowboys have been on the verge, with last year's heartbreaking loss to Oklahoma keeping them out of the Big 12 Championship Game due to the Big 12's tiebreaker rules. The Aggies, on the other hand, have made a slow, steady climb in progress and return almost everyone from their 9-4 team last year. Both teams looked locked and loaded.
Oklahoma at Florida State, Sept. 17
Oklahoma embarrassed Florida State last year 47-17, so there is some wounded pride at stake here. Couple that with both teams being highly ranked and this is one of the most important non-conference games of the year. Both teams are sub-.500 in BCS Championship Games but this year expectations are sky high in Norman and Tallahassee. Who is finally going to step up and make a legitimate run at a BCS title? And win it?
Boise State vs. Georgia, at Atlanta, Sept. 3
This game almost demands Boise State to score 40-plus points to impress the pollsters. Why? If Georgia wins, the naysayers will say Boise State is overrated and can't hang with the big boys. If Boise State wins? They beat an overrated SEC team. There's only one way to win over the critics, and that's by scoring often and at will in Georgia's backyard, which could be bad news for Georgia head coach Mark Richt. Boise State needs this win to go BCS bowling and shed its Cinderella image.
LSU vs. Oregon, at Arlington, Texas, Sept. 3
The good: Both LSU and Oregon are highly-ranked. The bad: One loss may drop the loser out of the top-10 rankings and its tough schedule may hinder it from getting back to the top. Losing early can be a benefit — you have a couple of months to climb back into the thick of it — but not when there are potential landmines on your schedule for three months straight. The winner of this game could be playing for the BCS Championship Game, but the odds go up with a loss out of the starting gate.