The Biggest Game Left for Each of College Football’s Top 25

We are about two-thirds of the way through college football season, but there are a tremendous number of big games still left on the schedule.  A big reason for this is because there are 11 teams who are still undefeated, and there are five games on the schedule among those teams (although it remains to be seen if they are still perfect when those games are played; none of them are this week).

Even for teams with a loss or more, there is still plenty to play for.  Three of the four College Football Playoff teams a year ago had one loss, and a conference title could potentially be in the works for the two-loss teams if they can win out.  Therefore, every team ranked in my power rankings has a big game remaining on their schedule (some have more than one), so let’s look at each team’s most meaningful matchup through the balance of the schedule.  (For the games in which television details have been finalized, which are mostly from the next two weeks, that information is given.)

1. TCU (8-0):  November 27 vs. Baylor (7:30 pm ET, ESPN)
The Horned Frogs have games before this one on the schedule with Oklahoma State and Oklahoma, but this is the game that those who follow college football closely have circled on their calendars since last year.  This game will likely play a role in determining the conference champion (there is no title game in the Big 12), and may even become a de facto championship game and/or College Football Playoff play-in game.

2. Clemson (8-0):  November 7 vs. Florida State (3:30 pm ET, ABC)
This game has become an annual virtual title game for the ACC’s Atlantic Division, and this year will be no different, as both teams will enter the game controlling their own destiny in the ACC Atlantic.  The Tigers host the Seminoles in this contest, a game that appears to be likely to eliminate one team from College Football Playoff contention, particularly with such a crowded field trying to play their way in.

3. Ohio State (8-0):  November 21 vs. Michigan State
Typically, the biggest game on the Buckeyes’ schedule would be when they play “That Team Up North”, the Michigan Wolverines, in the regular season finale.  However, both teams are likely to enter this game a week earlier undefeated, and the game could very well eliminate the loser from national title contention.

4. LSU (7-0):  November 7 at Alabama (8:00 pm ET, CBS)
Many at LSU will call Alabama their biggest rival to begin with, particularly since former Tigers coach Nick Saban began coaching in Tuscaloosa.  LSU hasn’t won in this series since 2011 (the 9-6 overtime game between #1 and #2), and may have to do so this year to win the SEC West.  The Tigers have two games after this one against ranked, divisional opponents, but this one in Tuscaloosa is the biggest game of the season for the Tigers.

5. Baylor (7-0):  November 27 at TCU (7:30 pm ET, ESPN)
Last year, Baylor beat TCU, 61-58, overcoming a 21-point fourth quarter deficit at home, with an earlier loss to West Virginia costing the Bears an outright conference title and a trip to the College Football Playoff.  This time around, they could enter the game perfect, and the game could be a de facto play-in game for the four-team tournament.  With the Playoff committee’s low overall rankings for the Big 12, it would appear the league’s champion, which could be one of these two teams, will need to be perfect to reach the Playoff.

6. Michigan State (8-0):  November 21 at Ohio State
The Spartans have been solid for the last several years under coach Mike Dantonio, but for them to reach the next level, and go beyond a Big Ten title and compete for a national championship, they will have to win a game like this.  This game will also be huge in the Big Ten title picture, as a Michigan State loss (plus a Michigan win over Ohio State) could create a three-way tie in the East.

7. Alabama (7-1):  November 7 vs. LSU (8:00 pm ET, CBS)
Auburn is the Crimson Tide’s biggest game annually, but with those Tigers struggling, and that game likely to not be very competitive, it is a contest against a different set of Tigers which will be pivotal.  With the Crimson Tide already having one loss, this game (and every other for that matter) is a virtual elimination game for their title chances, both nationally and in the SEC, and LSU is the toughest team left on their schedule by far.

8. Stanford (7-1):  November 28 vs. Notre Dame
After beating Washington State last week, Stanford should be able to cruise to the Pac-12 North Division title.  However, the Cardinal have higher aspirations than just a conference title, and with both teams coming into this game with (at least) one loss, it will surely eliminate the loser from contention for the College Football Playoff.

9. Notre Dame (7-1):  November 28 at Stanford
This marks the only ranked opponent left on the schedule for the Fighting Irish.  By late November, this could very well be a top 10 matchup (it already is in my rankings), and with both teams already having one loss will almost certainly be a playoff elimination game.  This series has been very competitive in recent years, a trend which should continue.

10. Iowa (8-0):  November 27 at Nebraska
The Hawkeyes are currently undefeated and have a healthy cushion in the Big Ten West, and do not have any ranked opponents left on the schedule.  This border rivalry, which is annually the day after Thanksgiving, could potentially come after the Hawkeyes have clinched the division (they have a two-game lead currently, and own all tiebreakers), but could keep them undefeated as they (most likely) head to Indianapolis for the Big Ten title game eight days later.

11. Florida (7-1):  November 28 vs. Florida State
The schedule is very favorable between now and Thanksgiving for the Gators, as all they have to do to clinch the SEC East is beat Vanderbilt this Saturday or South Carolina next week.  However, while the division is all but locked up, the Gators currently sit tenth in the Playoff rankings, and if they win out and get some help, could reach the top four.  Short of their potential SEC title game opponent, easily the toughest opponent on their schedule is Florida State, although the Gators do get the Seminoles at The Swamp in Gainesville.

12. Oklahoma State (8-0):  November 7 vs. TCU (3:30 pm ET, FOX)
The Cowboys are undefeated thus far, but haven’t beaten anyone who has even sniffed the top 25 so far, and they are therefore 14th in the Playoff rankings.  That can all change Saturday, as they host the undefeated Horned Frogs, who are ranked first in my rankings, although they are eighth in the Playoff poll.  This game begins a brutal stretch in November, which includes home games with Baylor and Oklahoma the last two Saturdays of the month, but how big those games end up being will, in part, depend on how well the Cowboys perform in this enormous test.

13. Michigan (6-2):  November 28 vs. Ohio State (12:00 pm ET, TBD)
After an incredibly tough loss to Michigan State, the Wolverines are most likely out of the playoff picture with two losses, but they can still have a big influence in who makes the playoff.  Ohio State is currently the top-ranked team in the AP Poll, and is third in the Playoff rankings, and could come into this game needing a win to reach the Big Ten title game, but if the Wolverines win out between now and then, they could be trying to reach the league championship game as well.  In any circumstances, this game is one of the biggest on the college football calendar every year, as it is one of the two or three most intense rivalries in the sport.

14. Oklahoma (7-1):  November 14 at Baylor
This game begins a gauntlet stretch for the Sooners, as they play at Baylor, at home against TCU, and at Oklahoma State in consecutive weeks.  All three of those teams are currently undefeated and will be a handful to face, but the first game can be said to be the most important for the Sooners.  To keep any Playoff shot alive, they have to win all three of the games, especially since their loss is a bad one (Texas), and with a win could have some excellent momentum to carry them through the rest of this stretch.

15. Memphis (8-0):  November 14 at Houston
The Tigers are undefeated thus far, and have two big tests to get through to stay that way through the end of November.  The first is this one, against a Houston team that is also undefeated, should be a de facto title game in the West Division of the American Athletic Conference, and is therefore a slightly bigger game than the following week against Temple, although Temple is probably the best team in the conference.  Oddly enough, in all likelihood the winner of this game will play Temple in the AAC title game, meaning Memphis could play them twice in three weeks.

16. Ole Miss (7-2):  November 21 vs. LSU
A week ahead of the Egg Bowl against Mississippi State, this rivalry, which is nearly as intense, is the biggest threat to the Rebels being able to win out.  If they can win their remaining games, they will win the SEC West, and they do have a bye the week before to prepare, which will be needed, because stopping the Tigers and Leonard Fournette will be difficult.

17. Florida State (7-1):  November 28 at Florida
The Seminoles trip to Death Valley to play Clemson will be a huge game in the ACC title race, and this game doesn’t affect that conference title quest for Florida State.  However, it is an in-state rivalry with bragging rights and potential recruiting implications on the line, and while the Seminoles, who have won four out of five over the Gators, don’t have to win this game to win the ACC, they must have it to reach the College Football Playoff.

18. Utah (7-1):  November 21 vs. UCLA
The Utes began the year 6-0 before dropping a game to USC, and this game against UCLA is their next test, as it is the only ranked team remaining on their schedule.  This game is also likely to determine the Pac-12 South’s champion, and also is necessary for the Utes to stay alive in the College Football Playoff race, as the Utes are currently 12th in the committee’s rankings.

19. Toledo (7-1):  November 27 vs. Western Michigan
The Rockets came into November ranked, although they lost to Northern Illinois on Tuesday night after both polls and the CFP committee rankings had been released.  After the loss, Toledo no longer leads in the MAC West, but instead is a game back in the loss column to Western Michigan, meaning when these two teams play, if they both win out between now and then, it will be for a trip to the MAC Championship Game.

20. Houston (8-0):  November 14 vs. Memphis
The Cougars are currently undefeated, but despite non-conference games against SEC and ACC opponents, they have yet to play a ranked team.  That will change when they play Memphis, with the two teams most likely entering the game as fellow unbeatens.  This game will likely determine the AAC West Division winner, but with the Cougars all the way down at 25th in the Playoff rankings, they need this game to have any shot at representing the so-called “Group of Five” in the New Year’s Six bowls.

21. Temple (7-1):  November 21 at Memphis
Temple’s shot at a perfect season ended against Notre Dame, but they still have a good shot at a conference title, as they have a two-game lead in the AAC East.  Because of that cushion, this game isn’t as big for the reason of trying to win the division as it is for trying to reach the New Year’s Six, as well as potentially presenting them with a preview of the league title game, should Memphis win the West title.

22. Duke (6-2):  November 7 at North Carolina (12:00 pm ET, ESPN2)
The battle for the Victory Bell will be big for both sides, as it represents a route to the ACC title game for a pair of schools which aren’t traditional football powers.  Instead, these two share possibly the biggest rivalry in college basketball, and here it spills into Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill.  How Duke responds to last week’s controversial, heartbreaking loss to Miami will be a key to this game.

23. UCLA (6-2):  November 28 at USC
While the Bruins do have one contest left against a currently ranked team, this game could end up being bigger if they upset the Utes.  If UCLA beats Utah, and if USC and UCLA both win all their games between now and Thanksgiving, this game would be for the Pac-12 South Division title.  These two rivals always play intense games to begin with, so a divisional title game would only increase the intensity that much more.

24. Mississippi State (6-2):  November 14 vs. Alabama
While it is part of a crazy scenario, the Bulldogs could still potentially win the SEC West, but that scenario starts with them winning the rest of their games.  That is an uphill climb, but this game against Alabama, as well as the Egg Bowl against Ole Miss, are both at home.  This game also represents their best chance to play spoiler for a team in or around the Playoff’s top four, and is also a chance for the Bulldogs’ first win over the Crimson Tide since 2007.

25. North Carolina (7-1):  November 7 at Duke (12:00 pm ET, ESPN2)
The Tar Heels enter this rivalry game undefeated in conference play, and are trying to win their first divisional title since the ACC went to divisions in 2005.  While a loss wouldn’t eliminate them from the possibility of a division title, a win would make one probable, and would send a message to the Playoff committee, who left them out of the Top 25 this week.

 

Here are all of the games listed above, in chronological order:

November 7
Florida State at Clemson
LSU at Alabama
TCU at Oklahoma State
Duke at North Carolina

November 14
Memphis at Houston
Oklahoma at Baylor
Alabama at Mississippi State

November 21
Michigan State at Ohio State
Memphis at Temple
LSU at Ole Miss
UCLA at Utah

November 27
Baylor at TCU
Iowa at Nebraska
Western Michigan at Toledo

November 28
Florida State at Florida
Notre Dame at Stanford
Texas A&M at LSU
Ohio State at Michigan
UCLA at USC

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