Before every college football season begins, fans around the country circle big games on their calendars. We will get a head start by wishing you good luck when trying to invite a college football fan out on the same day as those matchups.
Which games could have fans reaching into their bag of excuses to get out of other obligations during the 2018 campaign? There’s a large pool of games to choose from.
Even before a down is played, we can project some of the most intriguing games on the schedule. Many of them will have College Football Playoff implications, while others will pit programs against each other that haven’t played in awhile.
We picked 10 must-see games on the 2018 college football slate. For the purposes of this exercise, we removed traditional rivalry games from the list; those games are always must-see affairs for college football supporters. With the field narrowed down, it was easier to pick other games that caught our eye.
Here are the matchups you’ll be kicking yourself for missing next season. You can scroll up to see our choices.
MICHIGAN AT NOTRE DAME – SEPT. 1
This will be one of the marquee matchups of Week 1. Michigan will likely debut prized Ole Miss transfer quarterback Shea Patterson, and the Fighting Irish return senior starting signal-caller Brandon Wimbush. If Michigan wins, it will likely give the Wolverines some room to lose a game or two in a competitive Big Ten conference, while remaining in contention for the College Football Playoff. For Notre Dame, a loss would likely mean it has to go undefeated for the remainder of the season to have a shot at the playoff. That won’t be easy with a schedule that also features Stanford, USC, Virginia Tech, Florida State and Northwestern.
WASHINGTON VS. AUBURN – SEPT. 1 (ATLANTA)
The Pac-12 missed out on having a playoff team last season, but Washington has a chance to change that with an opening win over SEC West power Auburn. It won’t be easy to accomplish, as the Tigers return a stout defense and starting quarterback Jarrett Stidham. An Auburn victory would be a big boost for its playoff resumé, while an upset by the Huskies would be a good sign for the Pac-12’s chances to return to the playoff in 2018.
OHIO STATE AT PENN STATE – SEPT. 29
The Big Ten East will be a gauntlet in 2018. Four teams from the division — Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan — all have realistic chances to represent the conference in the College Football Playoff. The first meeting between two of the aforementioned programs comes on Sept. 29, when the Buckeyes travel to Happy Valley to face the Nittany Lions. A white-out is scheduled for the Penn State faithful, and few games during the year will generate as much pregame hype as this one.
STANFORD AT OREGON – SEPT. 22
Both of these Pac-12 North foes boast Heisman Trophy candidates, and they could serve as challengers to playoff hopeful Washington. Stanford is led by 2017 Heisman Trophy runner-up Bryce Love, who had the second most rushing yards in the country last season. The Ducks will be guided by junior quarterback Justin Herbert. This matchup will be the Pac-12 opener for Oregon, while the Cardinal play its second conference game after a Week 2 meeting with USC. We should know if Stanford is a true contender after Week 4, and this could be the start of a run to the Pac-12 title game for the Ducks.
CLEMSON AT TEXAS A&M – SEPT. 8
Simply put, there isn’t a team in that ACC that boasts the overall talent Clemson possesses. Neither do most teams around the country, including Texas A&M. But a Week 2 meeting between the Tigers and Aggies has all the makings of a college football game you need to see. New Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher is familiar with Clemson after spending the last eight seasons in the ACC as Florida State’s head coach. Kyle Field is one of the loudest venues in college football, and while the Tigers should be a comfortable favorite, it will be a good test for a Clemson team going after a fourth consecutive playoff appearance.
TCU VS. OHIO STATE – SEPT. 15 (ARLINGTON, TEXAS)
Ohio State has faced Oklahoma the past two seasons, and the winner of that game advanced to the College Football Playoff both years. Will that trend continue now that the Buckeyes’ Big 12 foe is TCU? The Horned Frogs will have a new quarterback, sophomore Shawn Robinson, and they need to replace key defensive starters from a team that finished as Big 12 runner-up to the Sooners in 2017. This is Ohio State’s only game away from Ohio Stadium during the first four weeks of the season, and TCU will want to go into its first Big 12 matchup of the year against Texas the following week on a high note.
FLORIDA ATLANTIC AT OKLAHOMA – SEPT. 1
If Florida Atlantic doesn’t win this season opener on the road against Oklahoma, the chance for any Group of Five team to make the College Football Playoff is for all intents and purposes finished. The playoff committee has set a precedent by ranking undefeated Western Michigan and UCF teams 15th and 12th in the final 2016 and 2017 rankings, respectively. The argument against them was that they didn’t have enough quality wins against top competition.
GEORGIA AT LSU – OCT. 13
Georgia travels to Death Valley for its first meeting with LSU since 2013. Five years ago, the Bulldogs won a 44-41 shootout over the Tigers in Sanford Stadium. There may not be as many points this time around, but it will still be an intriguing game to watch between the SEC title contenders. It has been a decade since Georgia played in Tiger Stadium, and it will likely be a night game. Evening tilts on LSU’s home field are among the greatest spectacles in college football.
WISCONSIN AT NORTHWESTERN – OCT. 27
Wisconsin wasn’t challenged often during last year’s undefeated regular season, which ended with the Badgers representing the Big Ten West in the Big Ten title game. But Northwestern was one of two Wisconsin opponents, along with Purdue, to lose by single digits. The Wildcats finished second in the Big Ten West behind the Badgers in 2017, so this meeting could decide which team heads to the conference title game this time around.
MISSISSIPPI STATE AT ALABAMA – NOV. 10
Alabama and Auburn are the favorites in the SEC West, but Mississippi State was picked to finish third in the division by media members at SEC Media Days. The Bulldogs even garnered two first-place votes despite having a new coach in Joe Moorhead. A talented roster, led by senior quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, returns for a Mississippi State team that Alabama needed a late score to beat in 2017. However, the Bulldogs have to travel to Bryant-Denny Stadium this time around. If Mississippi State wants a chance to upset the hierarchy in the West, beating defending national champion Alabama is a must. It will be one of the best SEC games of the year.