More often than not the greatest games during a season occur in October and November as conference races heat up and national implications rise to the surface, but in every year, there are early season games that shape the landscape of those later important games. Here is my list of games played in the first 4 weeks of the season that are must watch contests, listed in order of importance.
********** 10 Star Games:
LSU @ Texas – September 7: A team is never REALLY back until they establish consistency in winning. Texas had an amazing season in 2018, beating hated rival Oklahoma in the regular season Red River Showdown, and surprising Georgia in the Sugar Bowl to finish 10-4 and #8 in the Final Billingsley Report. This game will go a long way to answer the question of whether the Longhorns can be CONSISTENT winners. LSU is expected to be a contender in the always tough SEC West race. It would be a huge feather in the cap of the Bayou Bengals to return home with a win under their belt in Austin. Texas 27 LSU 24
Notre Dame @ Georgia – September 21: This is a much anticipated return trip of the series which saw the Bulldogs travel to South Bend in 2017 and escape with a thrilling 20-19 win. Both of these teams have National Championship aspirations in 2019, and this game will determine which of these two teams will be propelled into the conversation really fast. As much as I like Notre Dame’s chances for repeated success this year, the Bulldogs prevail Between the Hedges, Georgia 28 Notre Dame 24.
Texas A&M @ Clemson – September 7: If anyone is going to disrupt Clemson’s quest for an undefeated regular season, the Aggies are the team to do it. I’m tempted to pick an upset, but at home in Death Valley, it’s hard not to go with the Tigers. Clemson 28 Texas A&M 27.
Oregon vs Auburn – Arlington, Texas – August 31: The reputation of the entire Pac 12 Conference is on the shoulders of this game. No doubt there are other non-conference games that are important, USC hosting Fresno State and both USC and Washington travelling to BYU, but there is nothing greater to shout about than beating an SEC West stand out like Auburn. This is a very tough call because these are very evenly matched teams. The early Las Vegas Line has Auburn by 2 and I’m ever so slightly inclined to agree. Auburn 31 Oregon 30.
******* 7 Star Games
Boise State vs Florida State – Jacksonville – August 31: A great opening weekend game which will tell right away if the Seminoles have turned a corner. The Broncos are a very well coached, talented team which has shown the consistency in the program that the above mentioned Texas team so desperately needs to show. The early Las Vegas Line has Florida State favored by 3, but I’m inclined to go with the Broncos here, very close. Boise State 31 Florida State 30.
Florida vs Miami (Fla.) – Orlando – August 24: The opening game of the 2019 season. I can say the same thing about Miami as I did Florida State, how improved are the Canes? Florida is the frontrunner for the SEC East crown. A lot is expected of the Gators and these two teams, well, have a history to say the least and it ain’t pretty. These teams have played 55 games with Miami holding a slight edge 29-26. They last met in 2013 and Miami squeaked out a 21-16 win. Florida has lost an unbelievable 7 of the last 8 games in this storied rivalry. The Gators are hungry and out to prove a point. Florida 35 Miami (Fla.) 17.
***** 5 Star Games
Utah @ Brigham Young – August 31: The Holy War used to be an end of season ritual for the Nation to feast on, but Utah joining the Pac 12 changed all that (For the most part. They did play November 24 last year). Thankfully, the two teams made keeping this game on the schedule a priority. The reason I value this game so highly is because the Utes are considered to be the frontrunner for the Pac 12 crown, and folks, this is a tough opening game. If the Utes stumble here, they may win the conference crown, but making a run for the National Championship will be in doubt. The Cougars want this game BAD. They have lost 8 in a row in this series. Again, I’m tempted to pick an upset. BYU is very capable. But, I just can’t do it. Utah 27 BYU 24.
Stanford @ Central Florida – September 14: I must admit, I thought the 2017 undefeated season by UCF was a fluke. No way they could repeat. So, what did they do? Go undefeated in the regular season for the second year in a row. The schedule has always been questionable in strength, so what did the Golden Knights do? Invite Stanford for an early season showdown. I certainly admire them for upgrading the schedule. Question is, are they still good enough to back it up? I think so….barely. UCF 31 Stanford 24.
Nebraska @ Colorado – September 7 : So much has been written about Scott Frost’s return and the Cornhusker’s late season surge last year. This game will tell us what we need to know about expectation levels for Nebraska. These two old Big 8 rivals will pull out all the plugs to win this game. Not a lot is expected of Colorado in 2019, but playing on the road early in the altitude of Boulder against a hated rival is a very tall order for the Huskers. Beware. A slip here and it could spoil a good season before Nebraska even gets started. Nebraska 35 Colorado 28.