David Fox Rivals.com College Football Staff Writer
Do yourself a favor. Grab a calendar and clear it for Sept. 16. Birthdays, weddings, anniversaries ? observe them on Sunday.
No one will mind. Seriously.
Any self-respecting college football fan should spend Sept. 16 in front of the TV, no doubt wearing out the remote. At least seven games that day could have national-title implications.
Like SEC action? The Western Division could be decided on this day with LSU playing its first conference game at Auburn. In the Eastern Division, Florida will have its first major test of the season at Tennessee.
Clemson has designs on the ACC title but will have to play Florida State in Tallahassee, where the Tigers have not won in six tries.
Two dark horses in the Bowl Championship Series race will have early tests. Louisville, seeking a spot in the national title game, plays host to Miami. TCU, hoping for its first BCS game appearance, will face Texas Tech.
Then there are revenge games on the schedule with Oklahoma heading to Oregon in a rematch of the Holiday Bowl, which the Sooners won 17-14. Iowa plays host to Iowa State, which embarrassed the Hawkeyes 23-3 last year.
Don't wear yourself out in Week Three, however. There's a marquee game each week. Here is Rivals.com's early look at which matchups could be the Game of the Week in 2006:
Rivals.com 2006 Games to Watch
Week 1 Cal at Tennessee (Sept. 2, 5:30 p.m., ESPN)
Cal believes it can make a run at the Pac-10 title and possibly the national championship. Tennessee is coming off a disastrous 5-6 season. Cal coach Jeff Tedford will find out if his offense under new coordinator Mike Dunbar and quarterback Nate Longshore is up to the task in the opener. The Bears will be playing against a tough defense in front of more than 104,000 fans. Tennessee will find out early if quarterback Erik Ainge and the offense can keep up with the Pac-10. Other notable games: Notre Dame at Georgia Tech, Florida State at Miami (Sept. 4)
Week 2 Ohio State at Texas (Sept. 9, 8 p.m., ABC)
Will this be a changing-of-the-guard game? Last season, Texas' Vince Young used this game in Columbus to start the Longhorns' run to the national title. Will the same happen for Ohio State's Troy Smith? By this time, Texas will have a 21-game win streak on the line after opening the season against North Texas. Other notable games: Penn State at Notre Dame, Clemson at Boston College, Arizona at LSU, Georgia at South Carolina
Week 3 LSU at Auburn (Sept. 16, 3:30 p.m., CBS)
A tough call for the Game of the Week this week, but the SEC West race will take shape after these two top teams tussle. These schools have represented the West in five of the last six SEC title games. Auburn has the luxury of playing at home, where it has defeated LSU three times in a row. Other notable games: Michigan at Notre Dame, Miami at Louisville, Florida at Tennessee, Clemson at Florida State, Oklahoma at Oregon, Nebraska at USC
Week 4 Notre Dame at Michigan State (Sept. 23, 8 p.m., ABC)
In a tough decision with Penn State-Ohio State, the Notre Dame-Michigan State game gets the nod for its revenge factor. The Spartans beat the Irish 44-41 in overtime and planted their flag in the Irish's home turf. Notre Dame's defense will have to do what it couldn't last year ? stop Drew Stanton ? if it wants to repay the favor. Other notable games: Penn State at Ohio State, Arizona State at Cal, Wisconsin at Michigan
Week 5 Oregon at Arizona State (Sept. 30, time and network TBA)
Give the West Coast some love and take a chance on this one. The rest of the Pac-10 hopes to unseat USC this season, and the Ducks and Sun Devils are top contenders. With Cal in the mix as well, the winner of this game could eliminate the other from the Pac-10 race before either team plays the Trojans. Other notable games: Auburn at South Carolina (Sept. 28), Ohio State at Iowa
Week 6 Texas v. Oklahoma (Oct. 7 in Dallas, time and network TBA)
The Sooners beat the Longhorns five times in a row before the Longhorns' 45-12 rout in last year's Red River Shootout. This one should be more competitive. The winner might be determined by which team gets the best performance from its starting quarterback ? redshirt freshman Colt McCoy at Texas and senior Paul Thompson at Oklahoma. Other notable games: TCU at Utah (Oct. 5), Nebraska at Iowa State, Michigan State at Michigan, Oregon at Cal, LSU at Florida, Tennessee at Georgia
Week 7 Florida at Auburn (Oct. 14, time and network TBA)
Of course, the importance of this game will be determined by Week Three's matchups and Florida's date with LSU in Week 6. The game could shape up to be a meeting of undefeated teams ? or two-loss teams. The last time the Gators went to Auburn, the goalposts fell as the Tigers handed Florida its first loss of the season in 2001. Other notable games: Virginia Tech at Boston College (Oct. 12), Michigan at Penn State, Arizona State at Southern California
Week 8 Texas at Nebraska (Oct. 21, time and network TBA)
Nebraska is eager to reassert itself as a national power. What better way to do it than against the defending national champion in Lincoln? The game could be a preview of the conference title game. Cornhuskers coach Bill Callahan has never faced Texas, and Nebraska hasn't beaten the Longhorns since the 1999 Big 12 Championship Game. Other notable games: Iowa at Michigan, Boston College at Florida State, Alabama at Tennessee
Week 9 Florida v. Georgia (Oct. 28 in Jacksonville, Fla., 3:30 p.m., CBS)
Florida's murderer's row of games against Alabama, LSU and Auburn will end against Georgia, whom the Gators have beaten 14 of the last 16 times. By now, Georgia's quarterback situation will be settled. Both teams should be a contender for the SEC East crown going into what was formerly known as the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. Other notable games: Clemson at Virginia Tech (Oct. 26), Texas at Texas Tech, Tennessee at South Carolina
Week 10 Virginia Tech at Miami (Nov. 4, time and network TBA)
This is another one that gets the nod for its revenge factor. Miami went into Blacksburg, Va., last year and crushed Virginia Tech's national title hopes and ended the Hokies' undefeated season 27-7. This game between old Big East foes should again play a role in deciding the ACC Coastal Division. (If you prefer new Big East foes, see the Nov. 2 game in the Rivals Five). Other notable games: West Virginia at Louisville (Nov. 2), LSU at Tennessee (Nov. 4)
Week 11 Georgia at Auburn (Nov. 11, time and network TBA)
The fourth in-conference SEC game to make the Games to Watch list, Georgia-Auburn is the conference's longest rivalry. Both would love to spoil the other's hopes for the SEC title. Auburn won last year's matchup 31-30 in a game sealed by John Vaughn's 20-yard field goal in the final six seconds. Other notable games: South Carolina at Florida, Texas Tech at Oklahoma, Oregon at USC
Week 12 Cal at USC (Nov. 18, 8 p.m., ABC)
Will USC fall off its perch? This game will be the Trojans' toughest of the season at this point. All eyes will be on Cal running back Marshawn Lynch and his Heisman campaign, but this could be a game when the defenses take charge ? a rarity in the Pac-10. Remember, Cal was the last team to beat USC during the regular season. Other notable games: Michigan at Ohio State, Auburn at Alabama, West Virginia at Pittsburgh (Nov. 16)
Week 13 Notre Dame at USC (Nov. 25, 8 p.m., ABC)
A no-brainer even during rivalry week. USC won last year's game 34-31 on Reggie Bush's infamous push of Matt Leinart into the end zone. Expect another close one this year in a game that is likely to have national-championship implications. Other notable games: Texas A&M at Texas (Nov. 23), Boston College at Miami (Nov. 23), Florida at Florida State, South Carolina at Clemson
Notable games in Week 14: USC at UCLA; ACC, Big 12 and SEC championship games; MAC Championship Game (Nov. 30); Conference USA Championship Game (Dec. 2)
The Rivals Five
Must-See Non-Saturday Games: Those of you pining for college football to be played only on Saturday, get over it. Midweek games are here to stay and this season there will be plenty of prime matchups in prime time.
1. Monday, Sept. 4: Florida State at Miami Last year's sloppy contest should remind us why top teams shouldn't play each other in Week One. These two can be forgiven, especially if Miami and FSU continue their tradition of nail-biters. Their last four meetings have been decided by a combined 18 points.
2. Thursday, Sept. 28: Auburn at South Carolina It's a rare SEC matchup on a Thursday, although it will be the Gamecocks' second of the year. The game between the conference's best defensive coach (Auburn's Tommy Tuberville) against the conference's best offensive coach (South Carolina's Steve Spurrier) will be an interesting one.
3. Thursday, Oct. 5: TCU at Utah TCU wants its first BCS bowl bid. Utah wants to play with the big boys, too. This game could determine which one gets to realize those dreams. Get a good look at both teams before bowl season.
4. Thursday, Oct. 26: Clemson at Virginia Tech Clemson will have already faced Florida State, and Virginia Tech will be a week away from facing Miami. So, the ACC won't be decided on this day. However, the game could shape up to be a must-win for both teams looking for a spot in the conference title game.
5. Thursday, Nov. 2: West Virginia at Louisville The Big East title, a BCS Bowl bid and possibly a national championship berth could be decided on a Thursday night at Papa John's Stadium. College football purists will grumble, but this should be one of the top games of the year. Need proof? Look at last year's game.