Updated: October 2018

Key College Football Games for 2018

 

The 2018 college football season is nearly here. There are a number of games that will dictate how the season goes for the 130 Football Bowl Subdivision teams. Here’s a look at six that should have major implications on the College Football Playoff.

 

Michigan @ Notre Dame, Sept. 1
It was one of the longest-running rivalries until the two schools decided to stop playing each other for the past four years. The Wolverines and the Fighting Irish rekindle their love for each other in South Bend this year. The last time the two played Notre Dame stomped Michigan, 31-0.

 

For Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, this is the first time he will face the Irish. Both he and Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly need this victory. Kelly is just 14-11 over the past two seasons and needs to make the Irish relevant again. After back-to-back 10-3 seasons, Harbaugh and Michigan suffered through an 8-5 campaign last year. The Wolverines have never finished above third place in the Big Ten East Division under Harbaugh, which has the Michigan faithful squirming.

 

Michigan returns six starters on offense and will feature Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson at quarterback. The nation’s third-best defense last season (271 yards per game) returns eight starters. Kelly and the Irish are in much the same boat with five returning starters on offense and nine on defense. Senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush struggled at times last year and still accounted for 30 touchdowns (16 passing, 14 rushing).

 

LSU vs. Miami, Sept. 2
It’s an early season test for two programs looking to become relevant in the College Football Playoff talk. Miami returns a ton of talent to a defense that wowed the nation last year with its turnover chain. All three starting linebackers are back as well as three of four starters in the secondary. That experience will be an advantage against LSU QB Joe Burrow, a transfer from Ohio State.

 

LSU also overhauled its offense firing offensive coordinator Matt Canada and hiring Steve Ensminger. The Tigers’ new pro-style multiple offense will take advantage of a strong LSU running game and the talents of Burrow, a former four-star dual threat quarterback out of Ohio.

 

The Tigers strength will again be its defense. LSU was a Top 20 defense in most categories last year under defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, one of the nation’s highest paid assistants. The Tigers return seven starters and should make this early season game a defensive battle.

 

USC @ Texas, Sept. 15
If Tom Herman is going to make his mark at Texas, a statement win over a program like USC would do it. A Longhorns’ victory would be a significant step for the program in Herman’s second year. Last year, the Trojans squeaked out a 27-24 win over the Texas at home.

 

USC won’t have the star power it did a year ago, but the Trojans do return seven starters on offense and seven on defense. Incoming freshman J.T. Daniels will likely take over at quarterback and will have just two games under his belt when he meets the Longhorns. Texas needs drastic improvement against the pass. They finished 108th in the nation last season. Where the ‘Horns are strong is against the run where they were eighth. Texas has seven returning starters on its defense.

 

A Trojans win would go a long way in making a case for the CFP should the Trojans take a loss sometime during the season. The Pac-12 has been considered the weakest of the Power 5 conferences and a solid non-conference win would be a plus.

 

TCU vs. Ohio State, Sept. 15
Urban Meyer and the Ohio State Buckeyes enjoy these early season challenges. The last two years, Ohio State had a home-and-home series with the Big 12’s Oklahoma. This year, it’s TCU in a game to be played at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. In both games with Oklahoma, the road team was the winner. With this year’s game in Texas, it might as well be a home game for head coach Gary Patterson and the Horned Frogs.

A win here would benefit either team especially if they end up not winning their respective conference. In 2016, the Buckeyes didn’t win the Big Ten, but their 45-24 win over Oklahoma on the road was one of the reasons they were able to make the College Football Playoff.

 

Both teams will be breaking in new quarterbacks, Dwayne Haskins for Ohio State and Shawn Robinson for TCU. The Buckeyes may have the advantage on offense with two potential 1,000-yard backs in J.K. Dobbins (1,403 yards in 2017) and Mike Weber (1,096 in 2016). Ohio State also has a potential No. 1 overall draft pick in DE Nick Bosa. The 6-4, 263-pound junior registered 8.5 sacks last season and should see an increase in his production with more reps.

 

TCU must replace six starters on defense, a unit that finished fifth in the nation against the run last season, one spot ahead of Ohio State.

 

Auburn @ Alabama, Nov. 24
For the past nine seasons, the winner of the annual Iron Bowl has played for a national title. Alabama has played in each of the four College Football Playoffs and three of the last five BCS national titles. Auburn played in the other two.

 

Alabama has won seven of the last 10 Iron Bowls, but it was Auburn that got the best of the Crimson Tide last year. Returning starting QB Jarrett Stidham completed 21-of-28 passes for 237 yards and rushed for 51 and a touchdown to lead Auburn to a 26-14 victory last year.

 

This year’s game will feature two of the best defensive lines in the nation. Auburn returns three of four starters including DE Marlon Davidson and tackles Derrick Brown and Dontavius Russell. Alabama returns just two players on defense who were regulars last year, but head coach Nick Saban will just reload with another cast of five-star recruits. Senior Isaiah Buggs (6-5, 287) returns at defensive end.

 

The big question at Alabama in 2018 is who will start at quarterback – Jalen Hurts or national title game hero Tua Tagovailoa. Whoever it is will have had the entire season to prepare for this one.

 

Michigan @ Ohio State, Nov. 24
The Ohio State-Michigan rivalry is so intense that street signs with the letter “M” are altered during game week. Lately, it appears Michigan has removed itself from the rivalry having won only once in the past 14 seasons. The Buckeyes have won each of the last six and have a huge advantage this year in playing at home at the Horseshoe, also known as Ohio Stadium.

 

The 2018 season should give quarterback Dwayne Haskins enough time to become comfortable in running the Ohio State offense. That offense returns running backs J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber both of whom should take the pressure off of Haskins.

 

Michigan is hopeful that new quarterback Shea Patterson can inject some life into the Wolverines offense. Michigan finished 110th in passing offense and 105th overall in 2017. New offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton takes over the offense. Don Brown remains as the coordinator of one of the nation’s best defenses. Michigan was the best in the nation against the pass (150.1 yards per game) and No. 3 in team defense (271.0).

 

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