Mark Your Calendars
By Jim Johnson
After weeks of talking, toe is finally ready to meet leather and kickoff the 2006 college football season next week. The next 14 Saturdays will be overflowing with exciting football to watch. To help your planning and theodds of you winning negotiations with your significant other for TV time, here are the games you don’t want to miss. I’m restricting my list to the games actually played on Saturdays. There are a lot of quality games during the week this season, but since few of them overlap they don’t take much effort to sort out and prioritize.
Sept. 2: Notre Dame at Georgia Tech is the big game of the weekend. It will be a good test for Heisman favorite Brady Quinn on the road against Tech’s tough defense. A game that might tell us more about what is to come, however, is Cal at Tennessee. If the Golden Bears go in to Knoxville and pound the Vols, it will legitimize Cal as a contender for the Pac-10 and quickly turn up the heat on Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer. Keep an eye on Northern Illinois at Ohio State as a trap game for the Buckeyes.
Sept. 9: The rematch between Ohio State and Texas, this year in Austin, should be every bit as important and exciting as last year’s clash in Columbus. The winner comes out of this game with legitimate national championship hopes. Georgia’s hopes of winning the SEC East could suffer a blow if its young team can’t escape South Carolina with a win. If the Gamecocks can pull the upset, they would have a leg up on winning the division themselves. LSU needs to be wary of visiting Arizona. A victory in Baton Rouge would be a coming-out party for Coach Mike Stoops’ Wildcats.
Sept. 16: There won’t be many windows of time loaded with better football than 3:30-7:00 ET on this Saturday. Michigan travels to Notre Dame, LSU visits Auburn, and Miami heads to Louisville, and all games are scheduled to kickoff at the same time. The LSU-Auburn game will be critical toward determining the SEC West and possibly a national championship spot. Miami-Louisville provides a great matchup between the Hurricanes’ suffocating defense and the Cardinals’ unstoppable offense. Michigan-Notre Dame is always great to watch, especially when both teams are strong like they are this year. If you’ve got anything left after those games, check out the Clemson-Florida State battle. The Bowden Bowl could have the ACC Atlantic Division title riding on it.
Sept. 23: Penn State at Ohio State is the best of a relatively weak group of games this week. Arizona State at California is likely an elimination game to determine the primary challenger to Southern Cal in the Pac-10. Notre Dame at Michigan State could be a shootout with two outstanding quarterbacks leading prolific offenses against mediocre, at best, defenses.
Sept. 30: Another light week with only one marquee matchup, Ohio State visiting its toughest challenger in the Big Ten, Iowa. Among the other games, these conference matchups look like the most attractive ones: Oregon at Arizona State, Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech, and Alabama at Florida. All of these schools will likely be heading to bowls, and these games will help determine which ones.
Oct. 7: The annual Texas-Oklahoma throwdown highlights this week. LSU at Florida should also be a critical game Oklahoma will be gunning for revenge after Texas laid a whipping on the Sooners last year and will need to win that game to reach a BCS bowl. LSU and Florida will also be jockeying for position in their divisions and the BCS standings. Nebraska’s visit to Iowa State could decide the Big 12 North division –someone has to win it.
Oct. 14: Florida-Auburn and Michigan-Penn State will vie for the best game of this Saturday. The Gators and Tigers both start the season in the Top 10, and the winner of this game is likely to stay there. Penn State will be looking to avenge its only loss last season to the Wolverines, and both teams will be looking to stay within striking distance of a Rose Bowl bid.
Oct. 21: There’s no single can’t-miss game this week, but there are several good ones. Texas could have some trouble at Nebraska, Boston College’s visit to Florida State could be a determining factor in the ACC Atlantic Division winner, Iowa’s trip to Michigan could have a lot to say about the Big Ten race, and Fresno State’s game at LSU will be one of the last opportunities this season for a non-BCS school to claim a major BCS scalp.
Oct. 28: Georgia’s trip to the Swamp to play the Gators could decide the champion of the SEC East and carry major BCS implications. Miami heads to Georgia Tech trying to avenge the physical beating the Yellow Jackets administered to the ‘Canes last year. This will be Tech’s chance to be a major player in the ACC Coastal Division.
Nov. 4: Virginia Tech at Miami is this weekend’s most important game, with the winner likely claiming the ACC’s Coastal Division. Tennessee will look to improve its bowl standing by knocking off visiting LSU.
Nov. 11: Georgia at Auburn appears to be the only game this Saturday that could impact the BCS. Both teams could be trying to wrap up their divisions and set up a rematch in the SEC Championship Game in three weeks. South Carolina at Florida could be interesting if the Gamecocks are still in contention. Texas Tech’s trip to Oklahoma will also impact the bowl positioning for both teams.
Nov. 18: Many of the traditional rivalry games take place this weekend, but the biggest matchup is California at USC with the Pac-10 championship on the line. Michigan-Ohio State could decide the Big Ten title as it has countless times before.
Nov. 25: One of the must-see games of the year is on this day: Notre Dame at USC. If you watched last year’s game for the ages between these schools, one that actually exceeded the hype, then the only thing you need to know is what time it kicks off. Of the rivalry games this weekend, Florida-Florida State is the best of the bunch.
Dec. 2: This is conference championship weekend. Along with the ACC (my pick: Clemson vs. Miami), Big 12 (Nebraska vs. Texas) and SEC (Auburn vs. Georgia) will be the game that oozes more tradition than any other in college football: Army vs. Navy. The records of those two teams never matter, this game is worth watching.
In addition to these games, there will be ones bubble up during the year that become more important than anyone anticipated. It all adds up to another exciting year of college football, one with a plethora of important games since there is no clear cut front-runner for the national championship.