Must-see college football games of 2010

If you only could watch twelve games in the entire 2010 college football season, what would they be?

We’ve perused the entire season’s schedule and picked the twelve games that should be the most memorable or impactful. A team or coach’s entire season could be riding on one of these games. Prestigious bowl berths could be at stake. Or maybe they will serve as simple reminder about what makes college football so great.

Circle these dates on your calendar.

Michigan vs. Connecticut, Sept. 4

Why this game? In 2007, the Wolverines lost , 34-32, in their home opener against Appalachian State. In 2008, they lost to Utah, 25-23. While they redeemed themselves last year against Western Michigan, this year’s home opener against UConn has all the makings for yet another closely contested game. With Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez under fire and under investigation by the NCAA, a loss here could trigger an uprising in Ann Arbor. This game screams, "train wreck" —it’s just human nature to stop and gawk.

Alabama vs. Auburn, Nov. 26

The Iron Bowl is always a great rivalry, but this year, Auburn should be fighting Alabama tooth and nail for a chance to represent the West in the SEC Championship game. Last year, Auburn lost, 26-21, despite outgaining the Tide in total yards, 332-291. This year, the Tigers may very well be 11-0 before facing Alabama in the last regular game of the season for both teams. How important is this game? Alabama rescheduled its game against Georgia State to a Thursday night (Nov. 18) to give the Tide more time to prepare against Auburn, which has a bye week before the Iron Bowl. Bring it.

Ohio State vs. Miami (FL), Sept. 11

The Buckeyes are ranked No. 2 while the Hurricanes are ranked No. 13 in both preseason polls. Both teams have high hopes, but only one will move on to keep its BCS championship hopes alive. If Ohio State loses to Miami, the Buckeyes still have to beat Wisconsin and Iowa on the road and Penn State at home to have a shot at the Natty. Miami faces Pitt, Clemson, and Georgia Tech on the road and Florida State and Virginia Tech at home. This looks like an ultimate "statement game." Neither team can afford an early loss with so many potential losses down the road.

 

Boise State vs. Virginia Tech, Sept. 6

One of the best quarterbacks in the country, Kellen Moore, squares off against a Hokies team known for great defense. Although Virginia Tech returns just a handful of defensive starters, its ranked No. 10 in the preseason AP Poll. Boise State—returning last year’s 14-0 team almost intact — has a very soft schedule but is ranked No. 3. One of these teams is over-ranked. One of these teams could defy all odds and play for the BCS Championship. Which team is it?

Oregon vs. Arizona, Nov. 26

The Ducks are favored to play in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1. But like Arizona, they may get tripped up playing USC Oct. 30—the Trojans’ unwelcomed new role of "bowl-spoilers" for the next two years could get ugly. While Oregon has a new quarterback, Arizona has one of the most under-rated (but most accurate) passers in the Pac-10 in Nick Foles. With both Arizona and Oregon most likely having at least one loss from conference play, the winner of this late-season game could be sniffing a bouquet of roses. Last year, the Jeremiah Masoli-led Ducks beat Arizona, 44-41, in double overtime.

Nebraska v Texas, Oct. 16

Sure, lots of pundits are picking Oklahoma to win the Big 12, but the Sooners have a tough non-conference schedule that includes Florida State, Air Force and Cincinnati. Texas and Nebraska, on the other hand, have fairly soft non-conference slates. The Longhorns play Rice, Wyoming and UCLA in September, while Nebraska’s opening month includes Western Kentucky, Idaho and South Dakota State. We’re banking on Oklahoma being a little beat up by the time they play their second conference game against Texas on Oct. 2, while Nebraska should be ready to fight for the Big 12 crown after warming up on Kansas State. Bottom line—this is the preview of the Big 12 Championship game.

TCU v. Oregon State, Sept. 4

The Beavers tend to underwhelm in September—in 2009, they barely beat UNLV and lost to Cincinnati. The year before, they lost to Stanford and Penn State before collecting themselves and beating Hawaii and USC. The Beavers don’t travel well, going 22-27 on the road under Mike Riley. TCU, on the other hand, does well on the road and is 9-2 against BCS teams. The keys matchups of the game are Oregon State running back Jacquizz Rodgers vs. the always stingy Horned Frogs’ front seven, and the Beavers’ secondary against vastly under-rated quarterback Andy Dalton. This game could go down to the last second.

Iowa vs. Wisconsin, Oct. 23

Both Wisconsin and Iowa have the Rose Bowl in their sights this year—Ohio State and Northwestern both stood in their way last year. This year, Iowa is ranked No. 9, Wisconsin No. 12, and both of them get Ohio State at their respective home stadiums. The Buckeyes are at Wisconsin on Oct. 16. Playing devil’s advocate is always a fun role, so let’s assume Ohio State drops a game against either Iowa or Wisconsin. Consequences? The winner of the Iowa-Wisconsin game goes to Pasadena on Jan. 1. Or beyond.

Florida State vs. Florida, Nov. 27

The numbers aren’t pretty: Florida has beaten Florida State by a collective score of 182-58 in the last five years, and the Seminoles have dropped six straight games against the Gators. This year, however, things may be different—Tim Tebow is gone and the Seminoles have returning quarterback Christian Ponder as a legit Heisman candidate. Yes, every year it seems we hear about Florida State being improved, and every year it ends up just a rumor. And a Sept. 11 game at Oklahoma looms large. But a loaded Seminoles’ offense against a rebuilding Gators’ defense means things could get interesting at Florida’s Swamp.

 

Alabama vs. Penn State, Sept. 11

For the football purist, nothing beats a classic intersectional, and this game, only played 13 times before, remains a favorite. It’s old-school football with plain helmet vs plain helmet. Big Ten fans have taken a lot of heat from SEC fans, so this game will either resurrect one conference’s fan base or add fuel to the fire for another’s. Make no mistake, this game is all about conference dominance—even Auburn fans will be rooting for Alabama. It’ll be a low-scoring game, but a chess match between two college football geniuses that is not to be missed.

Pittsburgh vs. West Virginia, Nov. 26

When the last two games’ outcomes are decided in the last minute, it’s a great rivalry. When the last three games are decided by four points are less, it’s automatically the game of the week. West Virginia and Pittsburgh will be the two leading Big East contenders for an automatic BCS Bowl berth and what better game to determine who goes than the Backyard Brawl? Throw in two Heisman candidate running backs in one game—Pitt’s Dion Lewis and West Virginia’s Noel Devine—and you’ve got a Friday night barnburner on a Thanksgiving weekend that includes Michigan-Ohio State, Alabama-Auburn, and Notre Dame-USC, to name a few.

Army vs. Navy, Dec. 11

How special is this game? It’s the only regular season FBS game scheduled for that Saturday. It stands alone as the showcase for true competition between two elite institutions which live by honor and code, respect and tradition. It’s also the only college football game that features two winners every year—this game has no losers in the end. Watch. Listen. Learn. This is the greatest college football rivalry game. Period.