Philadelphia, PA – Every year about this time, it is a labor of love to find the best venues week in and week out for the upcoming FBS season.
With a week to go, it's time to get your itineraries set with an eye on the can't miss games in 2012.
Adding to the long-awaited anticipation of the start of the FBS season, there are a number of marquee matchups right out of the gate that should leave college football fans salivating for more.
It starts on Friday, Aug. 30 with a Top 25 showdown between Boise State and Michigan State. The rest of the weekend includes Notre Dame in Ireland to take on Navy, North Carolina State against Tennessee at the Georgia Dome, nationally ranked Clemson at Auburn and a Labor Day ACC showdown between Georgia Tech and nationally ranked Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.
However, the eyes of the nation will be watching Saturday's (Sept. 1) Top 10 showdown between the Michigan Wolverines and the defending national champion Alabama Crimson Tide. A lot of questions could be answered right away. After a highly successful debut season in Ann Arbor, is coach Brady Hoke ready to put the Wolverines back in the national title picture? Nick Sabin's Crimson Tide are reaching dynasty status with a pair of national titles in the last three years. Three in a four-year span becomes more of a reality if the Tide roll in Arlington, Texas.
The second week of the season will seem like a bit of a letdown compared to the first, but there are still games that peak the imagination. Iowa State at Iowa will hold regional interest, as the state rivals always put on a good show. The improving Washington Huskies go on the road to tangle with SEC giant LSU, but the best bang for the buck may come in Columbia, where the Missouri Tigers will be welcomed into the SEC with a clash against the hugely talented Georgia Bulldogs.
Florida State will start its highly anticipated ACC run with a home date against Wake Forest, California hits the road to take on Ohio State in Columbus, Michigan State meets up with Notre Dame and Florida and Tennessee get it on in one of the nation's premier rivalries. But the two matchups that will headline the week are Alabama at Arkansas and USC at Stanford.
Alabama will hit the SEC slate at full speed following the opener against Michigan, but the Razorbacks are loaded with talent and would like nothing better than to throw their hat in the SEC ring.
Lane Kiffin has been waiting for a couple of years now to get his team into a meaningful game and this one is it. The Cardinal no longer have Andrew Luck at the helm, but that won't take much shine off this marquee Pac-12 tilt.
LSU at Auburn, Clemson at Florida State and Kansas State at Oklahoma are huge games that could shape conference and national title runs, but it is Michigan at Notre Dame that gets the nod here. Motivation is never a problem when these two rivals square off. Whether or not Michigan falters in its season opener against Alabama is irrelevant, as the Wolverines will be in a must-win situation with the Big Ten schedule looming large. Coach Brian Kelly wants the Irish to be a BCS contender again, and a win over the likes of Michigan, especially following a showdown with Michigan State, could be just the statement Notre Dame needs.
Conference action takes center stage as Stanford kicks off this week with a trip to the Pacific Northwest to take on Washington in Pac-12 action. SEC foes Tennessee and Georgia get it on in Athens, Big Ten's Ohio State travels to East Lansing to tangle with Michigan State playing the role of spoiler in 2012, Texas and Oklahoma will clash in a Big 12 battle in Stillwater, while Wisconsin heads to Lincoln to take on Nebraska in another Big Ten affair.
It doesn't slow down any as October action begins with Georgia Tech and Clemson in Death Valley, LSU in Gainesville against Florida, Georgia in Columbia against South Carolina, West Virginia jumping into the deep end of the Big 12 with a trip to Austin to take on Texas and Nebraska getting its first real road test against Ohio State in Columbus.
South Carolina at LSU should be a good one in week 7. Stanford at Notre Dame will be worth checking out as well, but the Red River Rivalry should top both, as Texas and Oklahoma once again collide in Dallas. Mack Brown is looking to return Texas to Big 12 glory, but they may be in for a long day as Bob Stoops and Oklahoma could use the game as a stepping-stone toward the national title.
Mid-October is chock-full of big-time matchups, with Virginia Tech heading to Clemson, South Carolina taking on Florida in the Swamp, Florida State and Miami meeting in a Sunshine State showdown, rivals Michigan State and Michigan meeting in Ann Arbor, Alabama and Tennessee mixing it up in Knoxville and Kansas State making a rare trip to Morgantown to tangle with new conference foe West Virginia.
Notre Dame continues its tough schedule in Norman against Oklahoma and although the Irish's season may well already be determined by this point, it is still a matchup both fans and detractors alike can rally around. TCU starts a five-game gauntlet to close out the season in its new conference - the Big 12 - with a trip to Stillwater against Oklahoma State. Michigan State and Wisconsin meet in a huge Big Ten clash in Madison, as do Michigan and Nebraska in Lincoln.
However, it is the "World's Largest Cocktail Party" that grabs national attention, as rivals Florida and Georgia get it on in Jacksonville for what could be SEC East supremacy.
Conference championship implications abound to start off November, with games like Oklahoma State at Kansas State, Nebraska at Michigan State and TCU at West Virginia, but the focus of the nation will be split between the Bayou and the City of Angels, as perhaps the top four teams square off in a pair of absolute monster games.
Oregon and USC will meet up at the Coliseum for Pac-12 bragging rights, and either team could be catapulted directly into the national title game barring a season-ending collapse. The same can be said in Baton Rouge, as LSU and Alabama collide in a rematch of last year's national title game. This late in the season, the winner will move into the driver's seat in the SEC West not to mention the national title picture, while the loser will be on the outside looking in.
The nation may need some time to collect its breathe following Week 10, but Florida State at Virginia Tech, Georgia at Auburn, Baylor at Oklahoma, West Virginia at Oklahoma State and Kansas State at TCU will all keep one's interest heading down the stretch.
At this point of the season, it is more about the ability to avoid a letdown as the postseason approaches. However, there are still games that should hold significance, like N.C. State at Clemson, Stanford at Oregon, Oklahoma at West Virginia and Ohio State at Wisconsin (if only for the Badgers).
It's rivalry week and there is plenty of action worth watching, both in and out of conference. Those games include LSU at Arkansas, Auburn at Alabama, Florida at Florida State, South Carolina at Clemson, Georgia Tech at Georgia, Oklahoma State at Oklahoma, Oregon at Oregon State, TCU at Texas, Notre Dame at USC and Michigan at Ohio State.
Conference championships games in the MAC and Conference-USA are obviously important for the respective leagues, but they will pale in comparison to the Pac-12, ACC and SEC title games. Throw in Oklahoma at TCU and Texas at Kansas State and the final week of the regular season looks to be a fitting end to what is sure to be an outstanding 2012.