The season-defining games for college football’s top 25 teams

Recently, we took a look at the most significant strengths of every Way-Too-Early Top 25 team. Today, we’ll break down the most specifying matches of the 2024 season, from Texas vs. Oklahoma in Week 7 to, of course, Michigan vs. Ohio State in Week 14.

Any regular-season match in between SEC heavyweights Georgia and Alabama would be circled around on fans’ calendars for months. But with the Crimson Tide retooling after Nick Saban’s retirement, Georgia fans will spend the summer dreaming about the Bulldogs’ Oct. 19 journey to Texas. The Longhorns might be the most tough challenger this season after winning a Huge 12 title and reaching the CFP for the very first time in 2023, and it will likewise be Georgia’s very first journey to Austin in 66 years. Georgia hasn’t played at Texas considering that a 13-8 loss on Sept. 20, 1958. In truth, the teams have actually only played when considering that 1984, when the Longhorns won 28-21 in the Allstate Sugar Bowl following the 2018 season.– Mark Schlabach

Similar to every year, all eyes will be focused on the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend. Three straight losses versus Michigan has Ohio State wanting to show itself. With Jim Harbaugh having actually won a national title at Michigan and back in the NFL with the Los Angeles Chargers, Ryan Day is under pressure to bring back order in the sport’s greatest competition. An 11-0 start wasn’t sufficient in 2023. If the Buckeyes are fortunate enough to take pleasure in similar success in 2024, it won’t matter if they lose versus the Wolverines on Nov. 30.– Blake Baumgartner

On Oct. 12, Autzen Stadium will get its very first real test of Huge 10 football when Ohio State gos to. Dan Lanning’s objective of turning Oregon into one of the country’s top groups will have to go through 2 of the sport’s most storied programs in the Buckeyes and Michigan. Sure, the Ducks will take a trip to Ann Arbor in early November to face the defending nationwide champions, however their matchup versus Ohio State might set the tone for their season.– Paolo Uggetti

Texas’ match against Oklahoma on Oct. 12 will be a key determining stick game. The Longhorns will currently have actually faced Michigan in the Big Home on Sept. 7 and have Georgia at home on Oct. 19, the week after the intense competition clash with the Sooners in Dallas. A lot of Texas seasons are defined by how it fares versus OU, however in the very first season in the SEC, there will be a greater degree of problem.– Dave Wilson

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Arrange strength can definitely vary from year to year, however Notre Dame’s slate for 2024 establish perfectly on paper. 6 of its first eight challengers finished 6-6 or even worse in the last regular season and a seventh– Miami (Ohio)– will be a heavy underdog, while the eighth (Louisville) is at home. So, if the Irish start 8-0, the stage will be set for what figures to be a significant face-off in South Bend against Florida State. A win vs. the Seminoles would likely offer the Irish an inside track on an area in the expanded playoff and could leave just a journey to USC on Nov. 30 as a true challenge to an undefeated regular season.– David Hale

As SEC schedules go next season, Ole Miss got among the more favorable ones. The Rebels do not need to deal with Alabama or Texas, and they get two of their most difficult opponents in your home– Oklahoma on Oct. 26 and Georgia on Nov. 9. The game, though, that may go the longest way toward forming Ole Miss’ season is the Oct. 12 journey to LSU, but it will get a bye the week in advance. Looking at the first half of the Rebels’ schedule, they have a good chance of being 6-0 entering into that game. Ole Miss has won two of its previous 3 games versus LSU. A third in four games would put the Rebels in excellent position to make their first College Football Playoff look.– Chris Low

Missouri is looking for its 2nd straight double-digit win season after winning 11 games a year earlier, and the 2024 schedule sets up nicely. The game that right away jumps out is the Oct. 26 road game at Alabama. Missouri is 0-5 versus Alabama since joining the SEC in 2012. The game against the Crimson Tide comes throughout a stretch where the Tigers play 3 of their 4 games (all versus SEC challengers) on the roadway, although they get a bye between Alabama and the home game against Oklahoma on Nov. 9. Winning in Tuscaloosa to liquidate October would establish one of the most essential Novembers for Missouri in current history.– Low

There’s been regular conversation on how Penn State can find ways to close the deal against the best teams on its schedule. Its Nov. 2 matchup versus Ohio State will supply another chance to change that narrative. With Oregon and Michigan not on the slate this fall, a great deal of focus will be placed on the Buckeyes’ check out to State College as the program aims to reach the CFP for the first time. And last season’s 20-12 loss in Columbus, where the offense handled just 240 overall lawns, will be fresh on the Nittany Lions’ minds.– Baumgartner

Alabama will be checked when it faces Georgia in the house on Sept. 28. Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire This is a simple one. Even before Nick Saban retired, the 2024 SEC opener for Alabama was circled in crimson. Georgia visits Tuscaloosa on Sept. 28, only the fifth time in the previous 20 years the 2 SEC powerhouses have satisfied in the regular season. Of course, this time it will lack Saban on the sideline. Saban owned Georgia and Kirby Smart with a 5-1 record since Smart got here in 2016. This will be Kalen DeBoer’s SEC launching and a possibility to set the tone against a Georgia program that’s won two of the past three championship games. It will be particularly essential in front of the home fans at Alabama.– Low

With Cameron Increasing back and completely healthy, all eyes will be on Utah’s trip to Stillwater on Sept. 21 to face Oklahoma State, where the Utes will be hoping their stout defense can begin a rebound project after an uncharacteristically down one in 2023. The Utes and Cowboys could be vying for Huge 12 supremacy in the wake of Oklahoma and Texas departing for the SEC, and this match could set up the Utes for success. The back half of the schedule sets up well for Utah, making this game against Oklahoma State an early crucial outcome.– Uggetti

Under new head coach Brent Brennan, the Wildcats initially big test– and likely the tone-setter for their very first season in the Big 12– will be their journey to Kansas State. The floor is open for either Wildcats team to turn into one of the Big 12’s significant forces. Kansas State is coming off a nine-win campaign and two years gotten rid of from fighting for the Huge 12 title, while Arizona is intending to construct on Noah Fifita’s standout 10-win freshman season. The Sept. 14 match could be a high-scoring affair and a measuring stick for simply how Arizona will fare in its new conference.– Uggetti

LSU coach Brian Kelly wishes to restore LSU’s track record on defense this season, as the Tigers will get checked early versus USC in the Vegas Kickoff Classic at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas on Sept. 1. The Trojans will not have Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Caleb Williams, tailback MarShawn Lloyd and leading receivers Brenden Rice and Tahj Washington, who assisted them rank third in the FBS in scoring (41.8 points) and 5th in passing (333 backyards) last season. Lincoln Riley’s offenses will constantly can piling up backyards and points, however naturally USC has had its own problems on defense. Slowing down LSU’s respected attack will be a test of its own.– Schlabach

Michigan’s ability to change the story versus Ohio State has actually been as big of a reason as any for its dominance over the previous 3 seasons, collecting a 30-3 record (26-1 in the Big Ten). Yes, the Wolverines welcome Texas in the Big Home in September as its nonconference slate gets a much-needed jolt, however things every year focus on what occurs on Thanksgiving weekend. With an opportunity to potentially put another stain on Ryan Day’s period, Michigan vs. Ohio State on Nov. 30 will be remarkable to view– no matter what occurs in the season’s first 11 weeks.– Baumgartner

We’re going to go out on a limb and say Texas on Oct. 12. However it’s not even if it’s always the make-or-break game on the Sooners’ schedule. It’s due to the fact that OU will be two games deep into the SEC slate, after Tennessee (in Norman) and Auburn (on the road). When the Sooners head to Dallas to face the Longhorns, they’ll be coming off a bye and starting the stretch run of the season, with South Carolina and Ole Miss following, and a final killer one-two punch to end the season with Alabama in Norman and LSU in Baton Rouge. The Texas game might be a see-saw contest for Oklahoma, with either a huge confidence boost or the vultures beginning to circle.– Wilson

The answer moved to LSU the previous couple of seasons, however we will return to an old standby– Clemson. Both groups are anticipated to be amongst the favorites to win the ACC championship, and they play in Tallahassee on Oct. 5. The apparent (juicy) story is DJ Uiagalelei facing his old group and the quarterback who took his beginning job in Cade Klubnik. But at this point in the season, Florida State will have currently played 4 conference games in a true peculiarity of its schedule. What takes place against Clemson could genuinely determine whether it has a shot at back-to-back ACC championships. Two other substantial games loom– a road contest at rival Miami and then 2 weeks later, a huge match at Notre Dame.– Andrea Adelson

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The trip to Oklahoma on Sept. 21 to start the SEC season will garner a great deal of publicity, particularly with Josh Heupel returning to his alma mater. However the must-win game for the Vols if they’re going to make a push for the College Football Playoff is the home contest against Florida on Oct. 12. Alabama comes to Knoxville the following week, a two-game stretch that will shape Tennessee’s season. Yes, the 3rd Saturday in October is constantly a crucial date in Tennessee football lore, but it won’t suggest nearly as much next season unless the Vols can determine a method to exercise their satanic forces against the Gators. Florida has won 17 of the previous 19 meetings in the series.– Low

The 2024 season produces change in the Big 12, where Oklahoma State will have an early test versus Utah on Sept. 21 that will let us know early how ready the Pokes are to contend for the conference championship. Numerous ESPN press reporters have the Utes making the playoff field in the brand-new 12-team format. This matchup includes groups that had the fourth (Oklahoma State) and 16th (Utah) most returning production in college football.– Harry Lyles Jr.NC State will either prove its bona fides in September or be an afterthought before the calendar turns to October. The Sept. 7 neutral-site game against Tennessee will set the phase for the Wolfpack, however their ACC title hopes rest practically totally with a conference opener at Clemson on Sept. 21. The Wolfpack have not won in Death Valley because 2002. The back half of the schedule is inviting, but the shine will be all but gone if NC State can’t make the most of the greatest stages in September.– Hale Clemson’s three most difficult games are likely all in the first 5 weeks, including

the season opener versus Georgia, a home date against NC State and a journey to Tallahassee. However if we’re forced to select one, let’s put the spotlight on Georgia. Clemson’s 3 worst seasons during Swinney’s run of success at the school have actually been available in 2014, 2021 and 2023. The common thread? The Tigers lost their opener in all 3 years, consisting of two to the Bulldogs. Georgia won’t define the Tigers ‘ACC or playoff hopes, but it will be the supreme base test to choose if Clemson can getting back to contending for a nationwide title.– Hale The game possibly lost some of the shine it had before Jedd Fisch left Arizona for the Washington head-coach position, but the Sept. 14 game versus

fellow Wildcats is a huge one. It’s the very first conference game of the season for Kansas State, where it’ll deal with one of the much better quarterbacks in all of college football in Noah Fifita, who will have his No. 1 target back in Tetairoa McMillan. As there is with all head-coaching departures, there was an exodus of skill at Arizona, but it ought to be a fun game, nonetheless.– Lyles In some way, we have handled to select Clemson for multiple groups here on this leading 25 list. There is a reason for that, especially for Louisville. Last season, the Cards made their first ACC championship game appearance since signing up with the conference in 2014. It so happened in 2015, the first year without divisions, meant Louisville did not have to play Clemson for the very first time as an ACC member. Well, Clemson is back on the schedule this year– and the game is at Clemson on Nov. 2. Louisville is 0-8 perpetuity against the Tigers. So now you see why this is most certainly a season-defining game.– Adelson This year’s game between Kansas and Kansas State will be a roadway contest for the Jayhawks. Last season, in the very first ranked matchup in 28 years, the Wildcats rallied from an 11-point deficit to win in Lawrence and commemorated on the Jayhawks logo at midfield, extending their Sunshine Face-off winning streak to 15 games. There’s a solid chance this is a ranked matchup again, and Jalon Daniels could enhance his profile as a Jayhawk legend with a triumph, especially if it helps the Jayhawks make the brand-new 12-team playoff along the way.– Lyles The Wildcats open the 2024 season with four straight games at Kroger Field and require to benefit from it by winning at least 3 of them. After opening the season versus Southern Miss on Aug. 31, the Wildcats will play back-to-back SEC contests against South Carolina and Georgia. The Bulldogs are going to be heavy favorites to win, even on the road, so Kentucky requires to function against the Gamecocks on Sept. 7. Kentucky has won seven of the past 10 games in the series, however South Carolina won back-to-back contests, including a 17-14 triumph in Columbia last season. The Wildcats had simply 293 backyards of offense with 3 turnovers in that loss. With SEC roadway contests at Ole Miss, Florida, Tennessee and Texas staying on the schedule, Kentucky requires to make its mark early.– Schlabach It is tough to call any opener a season-defining game, but it suits this case. Miami opens at Florida in a game that both coaches frantically need to win to show their respective fan bases that things will be different this year. For the Hurricanes, a win would assist set the tone for what comes next– a manageable schedule that features just

2 teams anticipated to be ranked in the preseason leading 25. Miami coach Mario Cristobal has a 12-13 record his very first 2 years taking control of at his university. He has stacked remarkable recruiting classes and efficiently utilized the portal. This is the year the Hurricanes should take the next step. Beating Florida can help get them there.– Adelson There suffices talent on hand that the Aggies can make a statement in Year 1 under Mike Elko. There will be huge interest in A&M’s Week 1 home game versus Notre Dame. But the Texas rivalry returns this year for the first time because 2011, and it carries massive implications on and off the field. The Longhorns are coming off a CFP look, have recruited very well under Sarkisian and everything about this competition has actually been judged through transitive residential or commercial property for the past decade-plus. Now, the Aggies can try to declare some momentum in the heavyweight fight by getting the Longhorns at Kyle Field to end the season on Nov. 30, and they’ll anticipate Elko to end his first project on the best foot.– Wilson

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