All the meaningful polls are out. The first games are (mercifully) only eight days away.
Your mission this day, should you decide to accept it, is to name 10 regular-season games that will play a role in deciding the BCS national championship. Also, you need to tell us why these games are potential stumbling blocks or building blocks along the road to New Orleans.
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Here is my list. What's yours?
Oregon vs. LSU, Sept. 3 (Arlington, Tex.): Both teams are in the top 10 and both are dealing with off-field issues as they prepare to meet at Cowboys Stadium. Oregon has the ongoing investigation into its relationship with Texas-based scout Willie Lyles. LSU had a number of players involved in a bar fight on Aug. 19 and Judge Miles could be handing down some suspensions. One of those involved is starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson. Despite those distractions, this is a monster game because the winner clears a big hurdle on the way to New Orleans. The loser sees its margin of error evaporate for the rest of the season.
Boise State vs. Georgia (Atlanta), Sept. 3: Over the past three seasons Boise State has won 38 of 40 games and has built up a lot of equity in the process. So if the Broncos, who step up in class by joining the Mountain West, can put together their second undefeated season in three years they just might get the benefit of the doubt from the voters, especially if they are the only unbeaten team standing on the morning of Dec. 4. But first Boise State has to fly across the country and face the Georgia Bulldogs just 75 miles from their campus. Boise played at Georgia in 2005 and got taken to the woodshed, 48-13. But that Georgia team won the SEC championship. This Georgia team is coming off a 6-7 season and coach Mark Richt is feeling a sense of urgency. He needs the win to calm down parts of the Bulldog Nation.
Oklahoma at Florida State, Sept. 17 : A year ago the Sooners destroyed the Seminoles in Norman (47-17) and it probably would have been a lot worse if the little brother of Oklahoma's head coach (Bob Stoops) wasn't the Florida State defensive coordinator (Mark Stoops). But this is Year 2 of Jimbo Fisher in Tallahassee and the defense is finally starting to resemble the Florida State units of old. FSU fans started talking about this game about five minutes after the Seminoles beat South Carolina in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. With all due respect to the Big 12, this will be the toughest road game the Sooners play all season.
Arkansas at Alabama, Sept. 24: A little of the luster was taken off this game when Arkansas running back Knile Davis was lost for the season with an ankle injury. With Davis, who led all SEC running backs with 1,322 yards in 2010, I felt Arkansas had an outside shot to be this season's Auburn. The offense is that good. Don't get me wrong, Arkansas is still a really good team and there is still depth at running back with Ronnie Wingo and Dennis Johnson. But Davis was a difference maker. A year ago in Fayetteville, Arkansas had control of the game against the Crimson Tide and let it slip away with two fourth-quarter interceptions by Ryan Mallett. It was a bitter, bitter loss for coach Bobby Petrino and one he would love to avenge.
Nebraska at Wisconsin, Oct. 1: The late addition of Russell Wilson at quarterback transforms Wisconsin from a solid team built on a strong running game to one that can do everything and will be more than capable of winning the Leaders Division and Big Ten title. In order to do that, Wisconsin will have to beat Nebraska, the new kid on the block, not once but twice. The first meeting comes in Madison. The winner this day is still in the discussion for the national title. We predict they will meet again for the Big Ten championship on Dec. 3 in Indianapolis.
LSU at Alabama, Nov. 5: Since Nick Saban returned to college coaching at Alabama in 2007, this game has had some drama. Last season it was Les Miles reaching down to eat a piece of the Tiger Stadium turf just before yet another big gamble that worked in a 24-21 win by the Tigers. The four games between Saban and Miles have all been nail-biters and this one could be the best of the bunch. This season we face the possibility that both teams could be undefeated, ranked in the top three and with the SEC West championship on the line when they meet at Bryant-Denny Stadium. If both teams are unbeaten, this will be nothing less than a quarterfinal game for the national championship because the winner, we believe, will also take the SEC title on Dec. 3 and then advance to New Orleans.
Oregon at Stanford, Nov. 12: If the Ducks beat LSU in the opener, it's hard to see them stumbling anywhere in September and October. That's because, quite frankly, everybody in that conference is playing checkers while Chip Kelly is playing chess. But Stanford has Andrew Luck and a bunch of guys who believe they let the Ducks get away last season. The Cardinal took an early 21-3 lead and then got their doors blown off 52-31. Stanford has holes to fill up front and I really wonder if the Cardinal will be as tough now that Jim Harbaugh is the head coach of the 49ers. If Oregon wins this one, Kelly could make good on his post-BCS title game promise last January in Glendale, Ariz., when said "We will be back."
TCU at Boise State, Nov. 12: Remember the drama of last year's Nevada-Boise State game? This could match it. Think about what could be going on for this game. If Boise State beats Georgia and gets on a roll, the Broncos could be unbeaten and ranked in the top five. TCU, the defending Rose Bowl champ, would like nothing better than to win a conference championship in its final year as a member of the Mountain West. After everything Gary Patterson and the Horned Frogs have accomplished (36 wins in the past three seasons), they had to watch while Boise jumped into the MWC and became the favorite in 2011. It would be really sweet for TCU to march onto the blue turf and walk out with a win.
Florida State at Florida, Nov. 26: If Florida State upsets No. 1 Oklahoma on Sept. 17, I do not see the Seminoles losing a regular-season game. But their trip to The Swamp on the Saturday after Thanksgiving could be scary. Florida is going through a transition under Will Muschamp in an attempt to become a more physical team that runs the ball and controls the line of scrimmage. Florida probably won't contend for the SEC East title but they could throw a big monkey wrench into Florida State's postseason plans. Florida State's program has jumped ahead of Florida's in terms of momentum and recruiting. Fisher wants to keep his foot on the gas and a win in Gainesville always helps. Florida State has not won at Florida since 2003.
Oklahoma at Oklahoma State, Dec. 3: I don't know what the over is going to be in this game, but I would take it. If the Oklahoma State offense keeps clicking the way it did last season, this is going to be a shootout of the first order. The game will feature the two best passing combinations in all of college football: Oklahoma's Landry Jones (4,718 yards passing in 2010) to Ryan Broyles (131 catches) and Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden (4,277 passing) to Justin Blackmon (111 catches). The Big 12 championship could be hanging in the balance and if the stars line up just right, the winner's next assignment could be the BCS championship game.
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