Remember last year, when everyone was eyeing the season-opening Alabama-Florida State game as one of the most anticipated matchups?
The third-ranked Seminoles lost that game and several more, barely finishing with a winning record.
Even late in the season, a huge showdown between two top teams might not mean as much in hindsight. Consider the Iron Bowl between No. 1 Alabama and No. 6 Auburn. The Crimson Tide lost but still went on to win the national title.
So predicting the most important games of the regular season is a tricky proposition, but with that caveat out of the way, there are several matchups that already stand out when looking through this year’s schedule. Here are a few of those games to watch in 2018:
Michigan at Notre Dame (Sept. 1)
Jim Harbaugh is 28-11 since taking over the Wolverines. That’s a clear improvement from where Michigan was, but a bit underwhelming considering the hype and expectations that accompanied Harbaugh’s arrival. Specifically, the Wolverines have struggled against their big rivals, going 1-5 against Ohio State and Michigan State. This year’s Michigan team has the potential to be terrific after adding transfer quarterback Shea Patterson , but it also faces a brutal schedule that includes road games against Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State. Win this opener against the Irish, and it’s a big step forward for Harbaugh’s program. Lose, and the honeymoon is well and truly over.
LSU vs. Miami (Sept. 2)
The Hurricanes took a 10-0 record into their regular-season finale in 2017. Then a loss at Pittsburgh started a three-game losing streak that took some of the shine off Miami’s resurgence. Both LSU and Miami may have tougher games down the road in conference play, but the winner of this early-season showdown in Arlington, Texas, will earn some immediate buzz.
Oklahoma at TCU (Oct. 20)
TCU takes on Ohio State in a huge nonconference matchup Sept. 15. If the Horned Frogs win that one, then this showdown a month later with the Sooners becomes even more intriguing. TCU had one of the nation’s top rushing defenses last year, but Oklahoma’s Rodney Anderson gained 151 yards on the ground against the Horned Frogs .
UCLA at Oregon (Nov. 3)
Chip Kelly’s debut season at UCLA includes a trip to Oregon to face the Ducks. Even if neither team turns out to be a title threat in the Pac-12, this should be quite a scene when the star coach takes on his former team. See also: Dan Mullen and Florida playing at Mississippi State on Sept. 29.
Auburn at Georgia (Nov. 10)
These Southeastern Conference rivals split two meetings three weeks apart toward the end of last season. Auburn won 40-17 in November, only for Georgia to take the rematch 28-7 in the SEC championship game. There’s every possibility that this matchup could impact the title race in both SEC divisions.
Wisconsin at Penn State (Nov. 10)
Given the uncertainty surrounding Urban Meyer at Ohio State , it may be Wisconsin that is the Big Ten’s most likely playoff team. The Badgers appear to have a smooth path through their division, but they’ll have a lot to prove in a pair of crossover matchups against teams from the East. Wisconsin plays at Michigan on Oct. 13 and has this trip to face the Nittany Lions.
Follow Noah Trister at www.Twitter.com/noahtrister