25 Games to Watch in 2011

A pivotal year of college football looms ahead. How will five of the nation’s best historical teams (Florida, Texas, Alabama, USC and Notre Dame) perform after major disappointments in 2010? Will the 2010 upstarts be just another one and done, or are Mississippi State, Stanford and FSU legitimate title contenders? These 25 games will shape the season more than any others.

25) Texas @UCLA

A UCLA team that seems to have Texas’ number gets a chance to inflict a double whammy on Mack Brown and the Horns in the Rose Bowl. How does Manny Diaz fit in as Will Muschamp’s replacement? Can Garrett Gilbert get the job done on the road? He’ll have help on offense, as he always does. But UCLA may have a trick up its sleeve. I say Texas does just enough on offense to win, and feeds off of a few turnovers to avenge last year’s 34-12 embarrassment in Austin.

Johnathan Franklin Tailback Johnathan Franklin #23 of the UCLA Bruins runs the ball against the Texas Longhorns at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on September 25, 2010 in Austin, Texas.

Prediction: Texas 28, UCLA 23

24) Alabama @Penn State

Why is this one here? Well, for starters, it’s an SEC underdog vs. a Big 10 Baddie. Just kidding. It’s a loaded Tide D that may do everything up to and including washing the Lions out to sea. Matt McGloin may top his INT number from the Florida game, amazing as that seems (he threw 5 against- or should I say to?- the Gators). Any BCS interconference game is interesting, but you can shut your TV off at halftime here. Trent Richardson goes by Penn State as easily as he goes through his front door in a romp.

Prediction: Alabama 45, Penn State 6

23) Miami @Florida State

Another rivalry game, just without an SEC team. Is this game really relevant? Of course. Root for FSU, everybody, so Miami can further sink into the dust. Then we can take over FSU under Muschamp. One team at a time. This will be EJ Manuel’s final test before he comes to the Swamp, but it’ll be FSU’s defense that wins this game for them. Weird, huh? The loss of Leonord Hankerson will doom the Canes in this one. FSU never trails, and although Miami keeps it surprisingly close for awhile, FSU will win convincingly.

Prediction: FSU 31, Miami 10

22) Boise State vs. Georgia (Atlanta, GA)

If LSU did not play Oregon on the same night (at the same time, too) then this game would already be tabbed as the ABC Gameday game. Welcome to college football, Isaiah Crowell. Here’s your first test. No pressure. Let’s see if Boise’s Doug Martin can take some pressure off of Kellen Moore and confuse Todd Grantham’s vaunted defense. I think Boise may have finally gone too far with its scheduling with this one. You’re messin wit da SEC!!! Oh and the last time these teams played, Georgia blew the Broncos out. Think that’s on both teams’ minds?

Prediction: Georgia 38, Boise State 21

21) Florida @Auburn

It’s not just a Gator-known fact, or an SEC-known fact, it’s a nationally known fact- Florida chokes against the SEC West. It happens every year and every year Gator fans catch flak for it. But there’s more to it than that. Cam Newton may be gone, but Gene Chizik and Jay Jacobs aren’t. We’d like to pay them back for buying Newton. Oh and Will Muschamp worked at Auburn back in 2007- when Auburn beat us in the Swamp. Neither Barrett Trotter nor Kiehl Frazier is another Cam Newton, though, and Florida’s defense is nasty. The Gators force a key turnover to escape with a W.

Prediction: Florida 34, Auburn 23

20) LSU @Alabama

Two of the nastiest and most physical defenses get together in Tuscaloosa. This game should be a defensive struggle with few points. Boring. Right? Actually, this game features one of the nation’s best running backs in Trent Richardson, and a trio of talented yet unproven Tigers in Russell Shepard, Reuben Randle and Spencer Ware. Running QB’s, regardless how bad they are, are fun to watch. Jordan Jefferson will have plenty of help around him in 2011- and just enough to sneak out of Bryan Denny Stadium with a win.

Prediction: LSU 17, Alabama 7

19: Ohio State @Nebraska

I keep this game at 19 because I’m not sure if Ohio State will be hit any harder. If they aren’t, though, this game will shoot up in my rankings. This is the game that Terrelle Pryor and Jim Tressel, among others, finally make their return. From Nebraska’s side, it’s their first home Big 10 game. And it will not be a memorable one. Prince Amukamara and Ndamukong Suh are no longer there to make the Huskers’ D the force that it was. They do have star defensive end Jared Crick, but I imagine he’ll be double teamed. Ohio State’s got too much firepower to lose, even on the road.

Prediction: Ohio State 31, Nebraska 7

18) Florida @South Carolina

Gators vs. Spurrier never gets old, but this year has especially high stakes. Like last year, I would not be surprised if this game decides the SEC East. Unlike last year, it’s in Columbia. And unlike like year, Florida (hopefully) has an offense that can do something other than snap balls into the Gulf of Mexico. South Carolina will have a great offense again, but for the second straight year, their secondary is extremely weak. If Charlie Weis allows Brantley to unleash machine gun fire everywhere, the Gamecocks will have no shot. He will, and they won’t. Oh and there’s the Chicken Curse, that, even in a year that it seemed to be broken, remained. Florida blows SC out in retaliation for last year.

Prediction: Florida 42, South Carolina 17

17) Texas vs. Oklahoma (Dallas, TX)

What, just because Sam Bradford and Colt McCoy are gone that means this game means nothing? Landry Jones quietly emerged as a top passer in 2010, while his counterpart, Garrett Gilbert, struggled. But Gilbert has also shown flashes of greatness. Sure, they’ve been few and far between, but he has demonstrated his talent. The huge question mark is the Horns’ offense. They hid their spring practices, and because of that we don’t know what type of Manhattan project Mack Brown is devising. Who knows, Case McCoy may start. Sometimes, there are great looking games that turn into shocking blowouts. This will be one of them.

Prediction: Oklahoma 44, Texas 13

16) Oregon @USC

Once upon a time, USC ruled the west. Then along came a bunch of Ducks. Now, Oregon owns the west. Here’s USC’s chance to take the distinction back. Lane Kiffin promised his team would be hungry last year despite the sanctions. That didn’t really work out, huh Lane? Matt Barkeley has shown promise, but in no way shape or form can he and his offense match the offensive machine Chip Kelly will send out. Make it three in a row for the Quack Attack, though probably not in a fashion quite as lopsided as the last two years.

Oregon running back LaMichael James breaks into the clear on a 43-yard touchdown run against USC defenders (from left) Wes Horton, T.J. McDonald and Devon Kennard in the first quarter Saturday.

Prediction: Oregon 41, USC 16

15) Ohio State @Miami

Just call this game the Depletion Bowl. Who suffers more- Ohio State because of their sanctions or Miami because of their decline the last few years? I’ll take Ohio State on that front. Miami’s got Al Golden. You know, a legit head coach. Ohio State does not. The losses to this Hurricane team are heavy, but not as bad as Ohio State’s. Miami at least has some firepower on offense. Without their stars, Ohio State does not. Damien Berry wins it in OT for the Canes to reverse the 2002 outcome, and the entire nation laughs at both teams the entire way.

Prediction: Miami 29, Ohio State 23 (OT)

14) Florida vs. Georgia (Jacksonville, FL)

Here come the SEC games, all at once. I’m sure the Will-Muschamp-went-to-Georgia-and-now-he’s-coaching-their-rival story has been overdone. It doesn’t hide the fact. He DID play at Georgia, and he IS coaching their rival. Mark Richt is likely going to be very desperate, but when you’ve lost 18 of the last 21 against a very good team, desperation might not do any good. It sure didn’t do any good the last two years. Oh, and Florida’s defense will be ferocious, and Georgia’s offense will rely solely on Isaiah Croweel, Aaron Murray and Orson Charles. That’s 11 on 3 and a major mismatch. Florida gets a solid win in Muschamp’s debut in the Cocktail Party.

Prediction: Florida 41, Georgia 21

13) Mississippi State @Auburn

We won’t have to wait long to find out if MSU is legit. They travel to Jordan Hare on a Thursday night in mid-September to take on a young but talented Tiger team. Then there’s the story of Cam Newton… oh you know it already. One thing that’s been overlooked- Gus Malzahn is a great offensive coordinator. Watch out for Michael Dyer to run rings around defenses this year. The only issue with that is the youth of Auburn’s o-line. They lose many pieces from their title team of a year ago. I don’t really think Auburn has a chance because the only star defensive player from last year (Fairley) is gone. If the Tigers can force turnovers, they have a shot, but I don’t think Dan Mullen’s teams will do that.

Prediction: Mississippi State 37, Auburn 12

12) Auburn @Clemson

A week after dealing with Mississippi State, we find out if Auburn can win on the road. This is a team that Auburn should have lost to last year in Jordan Hare Stadium, but pulled it out in OT. Watching Kyle Parker rip Auburn’s defense to shreds gave me a pretty good idea that Auburn would have a weak D. What will Clemson expose this year? Or will it be anything? Clemson does lose some key players from a year ago, although I’m not sure if they’ve ever gotten over the los of Jacoby Ford, nor am I sure if they ever will. Mike Dyer does just enough against Clemson’s D to pull it out for War Eagle.

Prediction: Auburn 34, Clemson 24

11) LSU @West Virginia

Another SEC vs. the World matchup! Here we have an LSU team that lost most of its defense and simply reloaded. But now we’ll see how well Les Miles can recruit defense without Bo Pelini. John Chavis… oh forget it. But we DO know that LSU’s defense will always be nasty. The two guys I look for most here are Morris Claiborne, a corner, and freshman Anthony Johnson, a nose tackle. As for WVU? Well, they have some major question marks as well, but they also have their home crowd behind them. The biggest question in this game: can WVU stop Jordan Jefferson? Or, even better- how good is Jordan Jefferson? I say good enough. But LSU wins here in spite of him, not due to him.

Prediction: LSU 29, West Virginia 3

10) Alabama @Florida

Omarius Hines and DeQuan Menzie - Florida v Alabama

The only reason this game isn’t any higher is because in the grand scheme of things, it means nothing. Of course, this could be a battle of Top 10 teams again, but neither team will be hurt at all if this game is their only loss. Alabama’s offense that torched Florida last year is gone, and Florida’s offense that torched Vanderbilt last year is gone. Both have enormous question marks on offense. We do know that both defenses will be nasty. By the way, Will Muschamp worked for Nick Saban. Oh, you knew that already? My bad. So you already know that the defenses will dominate this game. I say Florida’s D dominates a little more to squeak by.

Prediction: Florida 20, Alabama 13

9) Ohio State @Michigan

Come on, it’s a gigantic rivalry. The entire country wants to see this. The question is what do they see? Does Brady Hoke ressurect a defense that surrendered 52 points to Mississippi State? Can Denard Robinson have a whole season like he had a first half of 2010? If both those answers are yes, Michigan will win. I don’t think either one happens- not in one year. Maybe in time, Hoke will even the series out, but not yet. Jim Tressel and his five players will (likely) be back for this one, and in their final regular season game, play well. Terrelle Pryor burns Michigan’s D again. Michigan hangs around for some time, though, but Ohio State pulls it out.

Prediction: Ohio State 31, Michigan 20

8) Arkansas @LSU

Knowing how explosive Arkansas’s offense promises to be, it was only a matter of time before one of their games made this list. It’s the classic great offense vs. great defense battle. Usually, the great defense wins. But in this case Arkansas is SO powerful that LSU won’t be able to stop it. Between Greg Childs, Jarius Wright, Joe Adams and Knile Davis, defenses have so many different guys to keep their eyes on. That’s not to mention the guy that’s getting them the ball, Tyler Wilson. I do think that too much was taken from his only performance last year, a great one against Auburn. It’ll come to this: LSU’s defense is talented and young. Arkansas’ offense is talented and experienced. Arkansas gets it done once again in the battle for the Golden Boot, and in convincing fashion.

Prediction: Arkansas 37, LSU 17

7) Oklahoma @Florida State

Beware the Noles. They’re back under Jimbo Fisher. Or are they? We’ll find out here. Oklahoma loses DeMarco Murray but their offense should still be respectable. As for FSU, they lose Christian Ponder, but their offense should be more than respectable. They return a pretty good defense, too. The guy I look for is Xavier Rhodes, who may very well be the top cornerback in the nation with the loss of Janoris Jenkins. But that’s not why FSU wins. Bob Stoops, going back to his days as Florida’s DC, has always been a thorn in FSU’s side, and he re-entered their side last year in a 47-17 thrashing. FSU breaks that curse and stomps on Oklahoma thanks to a 2nd half barrage- something akin to the 1996 Sugar Bowl.

Prediction: Florida State 48, Oklahoma 21

6) Arkansas @Alabama

The rematch of the first classic SEC game from a year ago (debatably; Auburn-MSU could be). Another offense vs. defense battle, as most of Arkansas’s games will be. The difference is that Alabama has Trent Richardson, an explosive tailback that very well may win the Heisman. Of course, Alabama has no other threat as dangerous as Richardson, but their defense is every bit as good as LSU’s and more. What makes this so much better than Alabama-LSU is the fact that Arkansas is still improving, while LSU is not. But it’s in Tuscaloosa- meaning Alabama wins. It’ll be close, but Alabama’s defense forces an interception in double OT to survive.

Prediction: Alabama 37, Arkansas 34 (2OT)

5) Alabama @Auburn

No matter how bad either or both teams may be, it’s the Iron Bowl. It will always be in any Top 10 done by anybody with half of a brain cell. Throw strategy, records, and talent aside. In rivalry games, none of that matters unless the gap between the teams is as lopsided as 11-0 and 5-6, like 2008. It always matters who is hungrier. In this case, I would say Alabama gets that distinction. This may be as lopsided of a score in this rivalry as you will ever see in Auburn. Mike Dyer might keep the Tigers afloat for a quarter or two, but Alabama’s defense feasts on the young Tigers’ mistakes for a blowout.

Prediction: Alabama 38, Auburn 3

4) Alabama @Mississippi State

If there’s one game that would boost Mississippi State’s resume above all others, it’s this one. A loaded Bulldog offense awaits a loaded Tide defense. Say, haven’t we just seen that? Yes sir. Dan Mullen always seems to have a trick up his sleeve. He’ll definitely have a few of them waiting when the Tide rolls into Starkville. Chris Relf and Vic Ballard are likely going to be limited, but Chad Bumphis will get MSU some points. What MSU cannot do is stop Trent Richardson. Don’t feel bad. Not many teams can. Richardson will carry Alabama to victory- but not before getting a severe test.

Prediction: Alabama 23, Mississippi State 13

3) Florida @LSU

Once again, we have a Muschamp vs. somebody he knows conflict. In this case, he knows LSU because he was the defensive coordinator for LSU’s championship 2003 team. Having been through a few runs in the SEC, he knows how to stop speed. That’s good for Florida because LSU has plenty of it on both sides of the ball. The key player for LSU is going to be, of course, Jordan Jefferson. How good is he, really? We’re going to find out. If there’s one key to this game above all others, it’s in Death Valley. Historically, these teams own their home turf, and this game is on LSU’s turf. As much as I would love to say Florida smashes LSU and rubs it in by bounce passing a fake PAT for the 2 point conversion, I can’t, because that won’t happen. LSU’s defense pulls it out with a key pick.

Prediction: LSU 20, Florida 17

2) Oregon vs. LSU (Dallas, TX)

When I saw this game, I laughed. I really did. It’s an exact replica of last year’s national championship game- speed on both sides, SEC powerhouse vs. plucky western team, neutral field, and hey, it’s the Tigers vs. Oregon again. The only major difference is that it’s LSU’s defense that makes them tick, not the offense. Where is Oregon’s defense? Casey Matthews is gone, and so is any respect nationally for their D. We know Chip Kelly will put a great offense out there- between Darron Thomas and LaMichael James alone they should hit 30 every game. But once again, LSU’s defense is nasty enough to pull games out of the fire. That includes this one, a come from behind thriller in Jerry’s Palace.

Prediction: LSU 28, Oregon 23

1) Florida State @Florida

Go on, call me a homer. Then give me one good reason why this game is not the most looked forward to game of the year. It’s LSU’s 2003 defensive coordinator vs LSU’s 2003 offensive coordinator. It’s the return of a major rivalry that got incredible numbers of views the last 20 years. It’s likely going to feature two top ten teams. It’s a battle between two opponents that co-own a beach house. It’s Florida-FSU. I give Jimbo Fisher and FSU this: he has evened the series out. There will no longer be six year runs by Florida until he leaves. Each team will win on their home field. And this year, Florida is home. I don’t see how Florida can duplicate the 45-12 thrashing from 2007 here, but I do see how they can win. If EJ Manuel is shut down, so is FSU’s offense. It all falls on him, as underrated as their defense is. He will need to play well for FSU to win. And I don’t think he will. Florida’s front 7 is aggressive and fast. That’s a recipe for flushing QB’s out of the pocket. And when that happens, big plays can happen. Remember Chris Rix? Sometimes those plays are big for the other team, and that is exactly what will happen here. Rest assured, FSU fans, your Noles will get plenty of wins over Florida during Fisher’s tenure. This will not be one of them.

Prediction: Florida 33, FSU 14

14 thoughts on “25 Games to Watch in 2011

  1. Not to be Debbie Downer Neil but I don’t see us rolling into Columbia and kicking the living shit out of USC. Now don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see that happen but I just don’t see it going down that way. I believe we’ll win but I think the score will be a little bit closer. Like 24-17 or something.

  2. Yes Neil is very optimistic about next year and I love that but I have to be real we may be above average at best. I also think the Florida vs Georgia is the most anticipated.

  3. Yeah that will be a very important game for both schools. That game will pretty much decide who has a good season and who has a crappy one.

  4. “Go on, call me a homer. …… It’s likely going to feature two top ten teams.”

    No need; it’s patently obvious.

    My god.

Comments are closed.