Preview 2013 - The Games That Truly Matter
Stanford QB Kevin Hogan
Preview 2013 - The 13 battles for '13 that will decide the national title.
13 for '13 - Games That Matter
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By Rich Cirminiello
Yeah, every game matters in the fall, but, of course, some matchups are more influential than others, especially when the subject is the sprint for a spot in the last-ever BCS National Championship Game.
No more than 10 or so programs, give or take a yet-to-be-determined upstart or two, have a fighter's chance of appearing in the final game of the 2013 season on January 6th, 2014 in Pasadena. The following dozen regular season games warrant extra scrutiny, both for their potential entertainment value and for their impact on the race to this year's title game.
Basically, these are the 13 for '13 games that should get the juices flowing.
13. Louisville at Cincinnati, Dec. 5
Naturally, the meaning of the 53rd—and possibly final—Battle for the Keg of Nails plummets if the Cardinals aren't unbeaten. But what if they're 11-0, which they'll be favored to reach versus a very soft schedule? And what if the Bearcats just so happen to be in the midst of a dream season with a strong team returning under new head coach Tommy Tuberville? While dominating The American won't earn an automatic ticket to Pasadena, Louisville will be in the discussion if it's one of two or fewer teams without a blemish. The program will sell QB Teddy Bridgewater and head coach Charlie Strong - and last year's Sugar Bowl disposal of No. 3 Florida. Just brace yourself. The regular season finale at Nippert Stadium doesn't look like much now, but it could really, really matter on a day full of major matchups.
12. LSU at Georgia, Sept. 28
The Tigers at the Dawgs Between the Hedges might be the best game of the first half of the season, and it could and should go a long way toward deciding the SEC race. Much is riding on the start to the season with Georgia opening against Clemson, and LSU traveling to Arlington, Tex. to play TCU on Aug. 31. If the Bulldogs can navigate Clemson as well as South Carolina in Week 2, they'll have a chance to finish the month of September with the best résumé in the FBS by far. This game marks the first regular season meeting between the programs in four years, as well as a return to Athens for former Georgia quarterback and LSU starter, Zach Mettenberger.
11. Ohio State at Northwestern, Oct. 5
On Sept. 28, the Buckeyes will host defending Big Ten champion Wisconsin in what promises to be a very physical and emotional game in what might amount to the Leaders title game. A week later, Ohio State must travel to Evanston for its biggest pre-Michigan landmine to a perfect season. Northwestern is dangerous, returning many of the key components from last year's 10-win team that won a bowl game for the first time since 1949. OSU's national title dream could die in primetime in front of an electrified Ryan Field crowd, but NU has to keep up its end of the bargain and be as consistent and strong as it was last season. The Wildcats have beaten the Buckeyes just once in the last 29 meetings, a memorable shocker in 2004 that changed the course of Ohio State's season. A second victory in 30 games could be even more important.
10. Florida vs. Georgia, Nov. 2
The Eastern half of the SEC will boil down to three pivotal games in 2013. The Cocktail Party, as is often the case, is one of them, but the Gators and the Bulldogs will have to clear a number of hurdles for this game to potentially count for more than just a chance to face the West winner in Atlanta on Dec. 7. Both teams will have already played multiple ranked opponents prior to descending upon Jacksonville. How bad does Will Muschamp want his first victory in this storied rivalry? He's 0-6 all-time in the series, 0-4 as a Georgia safety and 0-2 as the Florida head coach.
9. South Carolina at Georgia, Sept. 7
It's not going to take very long to know the identity of the frontrunner in the hotly-contested SEC East. The Gamecocks will travel to Athens in Week 2 in a game that has been perennially pivotal since Steve Spurrier took the reins of the program in 2005. Spurrier has won the last three against Mark Richt, yet only once went on to represent the division in the league championship game. South Carolina embarrassed Georgia last fall, 35-7, but lost the next two games to cede divisional control back to the Dawgs. While both teams avoid Alabama and Texas A&M during the regular season, they'd love a crack at either one on Dec. 7 at the Georgia Dome, which could wind up being a stepping stone to Pasadena a month later.
8. Ohio State at Michigan, Nov. 30
Okay, okay, because they're divisional battles, so Ohio State vs. Wisconsin and Michigan vs. Nebraska and/or Michigan State will be more important in the title race, but Wolverine fans don't need any extra reasons to be jacked about a visit from their despised rival. Keeping the Buckeyes from playing for a spot in the BCS National Championship Game sure would raise the Big House roof a few stories higher, but it could also be the first of two meetings with the Big Ten championship up a week later. Ohio State has just one scary road trip prior to The Game, an Oct. 5 visit to underrated Northwestern, but avoiding landmines will be a weekly task. Michigan's Brady Hoke lost his first meeting with Urban Meyer and can ill-afford an 0-2 start against the future rival coach in the East.
7. Florida State at Clemson, Oct. 19
Might a team from the ACC land a spot in the final BCS National Championship Game? Possibly, even though the league hasn't sent a representative to the game since 2000. The Noles and the Tigers are the hands-down favorites to win a conference title before jetting off to a BCS bowl game. Clemson opens the regular season with Georgia, and closes the year with a trip to Columbia to face in-state rival South Carolina. So, even with one loss, the Tigers might stay in the national title chase. Florida State has fewer margins for error. Its toughest early game will be the Labor Day visit from Pitt, making the trip to Death Valley a litmus test of the program's 2013 ceiling.
6. Oklahoma vs. Texas, Oct. 12
You know that hot seat that Mack Brown is on? It'll get cold and comfy really, really fast if he can erase memories of the 63-21 pasting applied by the Sooners last season and come out of Dallas with a victory. Texas has the most experience and the most talent in the Big 12, and while Oklahoma State, TCU and Kansas State will be tough outs, OU is the biggest threat to the Longhorn dreams of a conference title and a possible national championship. By this point UT will be battle tested with tough games at BYU and home dates against Ole Miss and Kansas State to be ready for the Red River Rivalry. If Texas is anything less than 5-0 by this point, another loss to the Sooners could seal Brown's fate. Meanwhile, Oklahoma will be in for some high-profile fights of its own with a trip to Notre Dame and Big 12 home games against West Virginia and TCU to deal with.
5. Georgia at Clemson, Aug. 31
On your mark, get set, go! No program in America has an opportunity to make a louder opening weekend statement than the victor of this highly-anticipated showdown in Death Valley. There isn't a better non-conference matchup on the 2013 schedule, or, considering Clemson's bowl win over LSU to finish up 2012, one with more meaning in the national title hunt. The quarterback duel between Georgia's Aaron Murray and Clemson's Tajh Boyd on its own makes this a can't-miss event, especially for NFL scouts and Heisman voters, while the winning team will instantly become a trendy contender for Pasadena. Don't count out the loser, though, provided it can build a head of steam and run the table.
4. Texas A&M at LSU, Nov. 23
Three power programs are competing for SEC East supremacy in 2013. Ditto the SEC West. The Aggies and Tigers will have already faced Alabama on Sept. 14 and Nov. 9, respectively, so it's hard to know exactly what this game in Baton Rouge will mean. If the Tide has dropped one to a chief rival, A&M and LSU could be playing for a whole menu of opportunities, from league dominance to a top ranking. The Aggies' 2012 move to the SEC helped renew a rivalry that will deliver a lot of entertaining new chapters in the future. The Tigers will want to duplicate last year's defensive effort, when they became the only opponent to hold Heisman-winner Johnny Manziel without a touchdown.
3. LSU at Alabama, Nov. 9
LSU-Bama matters. LSU-Bama is always going to matter. It's a classic battle between two of the sports heavyweights, with coaches Nick Saban and Les Miles as the central figures in this emergent rivalry. The two powerhouses have combined to win half of the last 10 national championships, and the last four matchups between them have been classic showdowns. The Tigers and the Tide will perform Act II of the 2013 SEC West trilogy that begins in College Station and concludes two weeks later in Baton Rouge. Whoever goes on to win the division will to be one gigantic step closer to playing for the national title on Jan. 6.
2. Oregon at Stanford, Nov. 7
There have been plenty of titanic Thursday night games over the years in college football. This one between the Pac-12's two favorites has a chance to rank among the biggest. The winner of this mega-clash of philosophies likely captures the North Division, and probably goes on to represent the league in Pasadena. Of course, that could mean Pasadena on New Year's Day or Pasadena five days later, with a national title at stake. Last year's meeting at Autzen Stadium was a thriller won by the visitors. This fall's game should be every bit as exciting, and might be even more impactful on the national landscape. The speedy Ducks offense vs. the physical Cardinal D alone will be worth clearing the schedule to catch every play of this can't-miss matchup.
1. Alabama at Texas A&M, Sept. 14
It's the most anticipated game of the 2013 season. And fans won't have to wait long to soak it all in either. Just about every game involving Johnny Manziel will be a huge deal, the byproduct of the incessant hype surrounding the magnetic Heisman winner. Pit him against defending national champ Alabama at Kyle Field, and you've got the recipe for a circus-like atmosphere. Beyond the theatre and drama of this one is the reality that the winner immediately becomes the nation's No. 1 team, and will wear that target for as long as it remains unbeaten. The Tide will be in a good position to get revenge for last year's loss to Manziel and the Aggies; unlike A&M, Bama will enter Week 3 battle-tested and well-rested, opening the year with Virginia Tech and a bye week.