The long, torturous wait is almost over.
The 2017 college football season begins at the end of the month. As such, we take a look at the premier games of the season and predict where ESPN’s “College GameDay” will make stops each week along the way to the College Football Playoff.
Week 1: Florida State vs. Alabama (Atlanta)
Lee Corso already let the cat out of the bag that “GameDay” will be headed to Atlanta for Florida State-Alabama. It wasn’t much of a secret anyway. This could be the greatest Week 1 game in college football history. It will be a showdown between two top five teams and possibly even No. 1 vs. No. 2 depending on how the preseason AP poll shakes out.
Week 2: Oklahoma at Ohio State
Other options: Auburn at Clemson, Georgia at Notre Dame, Stanford at USC, Pitt at Penn State, TCU at Arkansas, Boise State at Washington State
Both Ohio State and Oklahoma will be ranked in the Top 10. The Sooners are looking for redemption after a 45-24 shellacking last year in Norman. The Buckeyes are still bitter over backup Oklahoma QB Austin Kendall saying before last season’s game that Oklahoma would “light up” Ohio State’s defense (oops). And 33-year-old Sooners head coach Lincoln Riley will experience baptism by fire in only his second game replacing Bob Stoops. While it will be tough for ESPN to pass on Auburn at Clemson, Oklahoma-Ohio State is Week 2’s ABC “Saturday Night Football” game of the week, solidifying Columbus as the pick.
Week 3: Texas at USC
Other options: Miami (FL) at Florida State, Clemson at Louisville, Tennessee at Florida
There are also storylines galore for this game. The rematch of the 2006 Rose Bowl — arguably the greatest college football game ever played. The Sam Darnold vs. Shane Buechele QB duel. Darnold making an early case for the Heisman Trophy and No. 1 overall NFL draft pick. USC looking to prove it’s the best team in the country. Tom Herman returning home to Southern California. And, of course, Texas trying to prove it is “back” — again.
Week 4: TCU at Oklahoma State
Other options: Notre Dame at Michigan State, Penn State at Iowa, UCLA at Stanford
This “GameDay” trip to Stillwater relies on both teams surviving early road tests, as TCU plays at Arkansas in Week 2 and Oklahoma State will have played at Pitt the previous week. But this should be a game between undefeated Top 20 teams, including one in Oklahoma State that has the offensive firepower it needs to make the College Football Playoff. And anytime you have the opportunity to see Lee Corso fire off Pistol Pete’s guns, you take it.
Week 5: Northwestern at Wisconsin
Other possibilities: Clemson at Virginia Tech, Georgia at Tennessee
This week would have been the perfect opportunity for GameDay to visit Pullman, WA, for the very first time in advance of USC at Washington State, but that game is tragically scheduled for Friday night. So Northwestern vs. Wisconsin is ESPN’s consolation prize. There’s never a bad time to visit Madison and this matchup between two preseason Top 25 teams could very well decide who plays in Indianapolis as the Big Ten West Division champion.
Week 6: LSU at Florida
Other options: Arkansas at South Carolina, Alabama at Texas A&M, West Virginia at TCU, Penn State at Northwestern
The drama behind this game dates back to last fall when Florida postponed the LSU game due to Hurricane Matthew and some felt the Gators were ducking the Tigers. The game was later played in Baton Rouge and Florida head coach Jim McElwain had some choice words for LSU afterward, saying, “They got what they deserved — and it should have been worse.” Just to pour kerosene on the fire, Florida has made the rematch in Gainesville its homecoming game. Oh yes, there will be bad blood…
Week 7: Oklahoma vs. Texas (Dallas)
Other options: Ohio State at Nebraska, Arkansas at Alabama, Auburn at LSU
The Red River Shootout, er, “Showdown” hasn’t been the same in recent years but there’s a new wave of optimism in Norman and Austin with first-year head coaches expected to take the Sooners and Longhorns back to the top of the sport — sooner rather than later. One thing’s for sure: There will be plenty of offense in this game, as Lincoln Riley and Tom Herman are two of the most creative offensive minds in the game.
Week 8: Louisville at Florida State
Other options: Tennessee at Alabama, Auburn at Arkansas, Oklahoma State at Texas, Michigan at Penn State, USC at Notre Dame
Louisville and QB Lamar Jackson absolutely humiliated the Seminoles last season with a 63-20 drubbing of the ‘Noles. Expect things to be slightly different this year in Tallahassee as an absolutely stacked FSU defense headlined by safety Derwin James will be ready and waiting for the reigning Heisman Trophy winner.
Week 9: Penn State at Ohio State
Other options: Oklahoma State at West Virginia, UCLA at Washington, Georgia vs. Florida
“GameDay” doesn’t like visiting the same location twice in one season but this rematch of last year’s classic in Happy Valley is too good to pass up. Both teams will begin the 2017 season ranked in the Top 10 and they’ll likely collide in Columbus with the Big Ten East Division championship and a College Football Playoff bid on the line.
Week 10: LSU at Alabama
Other options: Oregon at Washington, Ohio State at Iowa, Oklahoma at Oklahoma State, Stanford at Washington State
When LSU and Alabama play, you know you are in store for a low-scoring slugfest. This year should be no different with LSU RB Derrius Guice and Alabama RB Bo Scarbrough plowing through the trench warfare between these two teams. If new LSU head coach Ed Orgeron somehow escapes Tuscaloosa with a victory, he will immediately reach deity status in Baton Rouge.
Week 11: Florida State at Clemson
Other options: Notre Dame at Miami (FL), Iowa at Wisconsin, USC at Colorado
The Worldwide Leader has to make at least one trip to the home of the defending national champions and there’s no better time than when Clemson plays host to Florida State. The hitting in this game should be bone-rattling with both defenses loaded with NFL talent such as Clemson defensive linemen Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins and Florida State defensive backs Derwin James and Tarvarus McFadden.
Week 12: Texas at West Virginia
Other options: UCLA at USC, Michigan at Wisconsin
The number of “GameDay” options will be limited because this is “Cupcake Week” in the SEC as they gear up for rivalry games. Texas at West Virginia should be a matchup between two Top 25 teams and there’s nothing like a trip to West Virginny. Mountaineers head coach Dana Holgorsen should be pounding energy drinks from the crack of dawn in a game that could decide who plays in the Big 12 Championship Game and end in couches ablaze across Morgantown.
Week 13: Alabama at Auburn
Other options: Ohio State at Michigan, Washington State at Washington, Florida State at Florida, West Virginia at Oklahoma
Alabama has owned Auburn recently but the Tigers will attempt to wake up the echoes of the “Kick Six” in 2013 with star talent on both sides of the ball and Heisman hype already engulfing QB and Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham. If Stidham lives up to expectations, this could be a de facto SEC Championship Game.
Championship Week: Big 10 Championship Game (Indianapolis)
It’s so tough to predict which conference championship game will host “GameDay” before the season even starts. We know it won’t be the Pac-12 since the title game is on Friday night. And the odds are against the ACC or SEC hosting it because the divisions are so lopsided. The Big 12 is intriguing because there are no divisions but there’s a disappointing possibility of a rematch from a couple weeks earlier. The best bet for “GameDay” is the Big 10 title game in Indianapolis that will most likely be the Penn State-Ohio State winner vs. Wisconsin for a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Week 15: Army vs. Navy (Philadelphia)
It’s the only game of the week, last game of the regular season and now an annual stop for “GameDay.” Army snapping Navy’s 14-game winning streak last fall should add a little sizzle to the matchup between these two service academies.