All posts by Jason Lindekugel

The Big 12’s Best Football Games of 2016

Last year the Big 12 looked to be one of the best conferences, at least at the top, with TCU and Baylor heading into 2015 in the top five. It was hard to get any clarification on which team would prevail because the conference back-loaded the schedule, having most of the big games at the end of the year. By that point Oklahoma was on a roll, and Baylor and TCU had been hit with key injuries. What games will determine the Big 12 champ in 2016? Here are the best Big 12 games to look forward to in 2016, along with a couple non-conference games that will keep fans on the edge of their seat.

10. Texas vs. Iowa State (Saturday, October 15)

Texas had an abysmal season in 2015, but nothing was worse than getting shutout 24-0 by the Iowa State Cyclones. The game isn’t in a great spot for Texas, coming after back-to-back weeks versus Oklahoma State and Oklahoma, but I’m guessing the Longhorns won’t want to be embarrassed again.

9. Texas vs. Baylor (Saturday, October 29)

Texas beat Baylor last year, but Baylor having to play its eighteenth string quarterback played a big part in that. Outside of that, Baylor has dominated the series since 2010. The loser of this game will likely be out of the conference race with a month left in the season.

8. Baylor vs. TCU (Saturday, November, 11)

This matchup has featured the conference’s best two teams over the past few seasons. Two years ago it was one of the most exciting games of the past couple years while last year’s couldn’t have been more opposite, thanks to injuries and awful weather. Hopefully we get something closer to the 2014 version between two teams that now expect to compete for conference championships year after year.

7. Baylor vs. Oklahoma State (Saturday, September 24)

Last year Baylor ended Oklahoma State’s undefeated run (10-0) with a 45-35 win in Stillwater. This time it will be each team’s first conference game so both will be hoping to launch an undefeated conference season. Baylor has to replace six starters on each side of the ball so the timing couldn’t be better for a Cowboys team that returns 16. With nine of those starters coming on offense, this game could hit 100 total points.

6. Texas vs. Notre Dame (Saturday, September 3)

Notre Dame absolutely embarrassed Texas last year in the season opener. The Longhorns will try to get revenge on their turf this year but the Irish are expected to be the much better team again in 2016 (7:30 est on ABC). If this game ends similarly to last season’s debacle, it could be the beginning of the end for Charlie Strong in Austin.

5. Texas vs. Oklahoma (Saturday, October 8)

Though Texas has now been down for a while, it always shows up for the Red River Rivalry. This is one where you really can throw records out the window. Last year’s unlikely Longhorns’ win over the Sooners almost cost Oklahoma a trip to the playoff. Oklahoma will likely be favored in this game, but the Longhorns should show improvement this year which means another contested rivalry game with Big 12 championship ramifications.

4. TCU vs. Oklahoma (Saturday, October 1)

Two years ago TCU’s upset against Oklahoma propelled it to arguably the best season in school history. Though devastated by injuries last year, the Horned Frogs almost derailed the Sooners’ playoff bid in Norman. This year TCU has to reload on offense, and this will be a big game early in the season that determines if TCU’s program has reached “reload not rebuild” status.

3. Oklahoma State at Oklahoma (Saturday, December 3)

Oklahoma State exceeded expectations last year in what was thought to be more of a rebuilding year. Now with 16 starters back (most in the Big 12) the expectation will be to compete for the conference crown. If they can survive a tough conference road slate, this one could decide the Big 12 title. If not, the the Pokes will still seek revenge for the Sooners blasting them in the Bedlam rivalry game a year ago.

2. Oklahoma vs. Ohio State (Saturday, September 17)

Oklahoma gets an early test that could determine its season’s fate. Ohio State could learn the ceiling of its season with just six starters back. Even with some uncertainty between the teams, a non-conference matchup with two Heisman contending quarterbacks (Baker Mayfield and J.T. Barrett) will be must-see television.

1. Baylor at Oklahoma (Saturday, November 12)

This game has often been a de facto Big 12 Championship game in recent years, and the winner of this one could have the inside track this year as well (if Oklahoma doesn’t perform its usual meltdown in years with high expectations). Both teams have a lot to replace on defense, but with Seth Russell and Baker Mayfield returning, as well as a plethora of skill position talent for each school, neither team should have a problem putting up points.

E-mail Jason at jason [dot] lindekugel [at] campuspressbox [dot] com or follow him on Twitter @JLindy87


Featured image courtesy frankleleon

The Best Football Games of 2016

It has felt like forever since Alabama knocked off Clemson for the national title. But worry not college football aficionados, it’s getting closer. Spring games are in the books and in just a couple short months, preview magazines will be hitting the shelves. Before we know it we’ll be settling in for another exciting college football season.

I recently listed the best ten games each conference has to offer in 2016, but here I’ve whittled those down to the ten best games to look forward to in 2016. Fans have been looking forward to some of these games for two or three years. Do those games look as exciting now as they did when they were scheduled? Let’s find out.

10. LSU at Wisconsin (Saturday, September 3)

We begin the Top 10 Games of 2016 with the first of four games from the opening weekend (3:30 pm est, ABC). If that doesn’t get you as riled up for college football as spring game attendance numbers do then I don’t know what will. This is the one game where the off-field storylines probably over-shadow the on-field ones. Dave Aranda just became LSU’s defensive coordinator after leaving the same position at Wisconsin. Not only is an SEC team playing north of the Mason-Dixon line a rare occurrence, it’s an SEC team playing a virtual road game, in Wisconsin. Oh, and it’s at Lambeau Field. There have been just a few classic games played there.

9. Oklahoma at Houston (Saturday, September 3)

Oklahoma is getting a lot more than it bargained for, because I’m guessing they didn’t think Houston would be a top 15-type team when this game was announced a couple years ago. A Sooner defense that replaces half of its starters, including its best pass-rushers, will get to face dynamic Houston QB Greg Ward Jr. On the other side, Houston will be starting four new defensive backs and gets to try and limit Heisman contender Baker Mayfield. Expect points, lots of them (ABC, Noon est). And the loser? They leave opening weekend not being able to afford another loss the rest of the way if they want to make the Playoff.

8. Florida State at Ole Miss (Monday, September 5)

The Seminoles and the Rebels doesn’t have quite the same ring to it that some of the other games on this list do, but it could be just as important. The Seminoles will be ranked highly to begin the year, but a loss on opening weekend would leave them no margin for error the rest of the season. The Rebels probably missed their golden opportunity a season ago, but their bid to dispel that notion can get off to a strong start with a win here. A few years of great recruiting classes mean Ole Miss can match up with Florida State talent wise. The Rebels also have a quarterback returning in Chad Kelly,who led the Rebels to wins over Alabama and LSU last year. On an opening weekend that features plenty of intriguing match-ups, this stand-alone game on Labor Day night is the perfect ending.

7. Ohio State at Oklahoma (Saturday, September 17)

These two teams have scheduled tough out-of-conference contests for years, but this one raises the bar. It’s hard to say this game has lost some of its luster when both teams could be ranked in the top 10. As it sits now however, there is a lot more uncertainty between these two programs than fans would have hoped when the game was announced. Having to replace key starters on defense, it will be difficult for Oklahoma to replicate the success it had last year, and it’s hard to know what to expect out of a Buckeye team that brings back just six starting players. All of these factors keep this game from being top five on this list. Both of these teams easily reload, and with Heisman contenders at quarterback in Baker Mayfield and J.T. Barrett, this match-up is still one of the best non-conferences games we’ll see all year (7:30 pm est on Fox).

6. Baylor at Oklahoma (Saturday, November 12)

The shift in the Big 12 has been amazing the past couple years, with Baylor vs. TCU being the game. Oklahoma took back some of that hold with its Big 12 championship last year. With TCU’s season looking much more like a rebuild, it leaves the Bears and Sooners to battle as the conference favorites. Both teams should have potent offenses, and with questionable defenses, this game should provide an entertaining four hours even if both teams aren’t still in the playoff race.

5. Stanford at Notre Dame (Saturday, October 15)

The Cardinal and Irish played an instant classic last season that Stanford won narrowly, 38-36. It was effectively a playoff elimination game and could be again this season. Stanford will have to replace Kevin Hogan, who won 36 games under center for the Cardinal. That won’t be a huge disadvantage in a 2016 Pac-12 conference that sees a lot of teams having to replace their starting signal-caller as well. Because of this, Stanford will have its sights set on another Pac-12 championship, but this mid-season non-conference game will determine if the conference title or a playoff spot is the Cardinal’s ceiling. On the other side, Notre Dame will be looking to make up for an opportunity lost last year when they came so close to making the Playoff, even after suffering a multitude of injuries at key spots. This game will be their best chance to put a statement win on their resume (7:30 pm est, NBC).

4. Alabama vs. USC (Saturday, September 3)

This is one of the aforementioned games that fans have looked forward to for years, since the day it was announced. Though the Trojans haven’t exactly lived up to their end of the bargain in terms of making this a matchup of playoff contenders, the game is still reason enough to clear your schedule on the season’s opening Saturday night. Alabama may have gotten back to the top of the college football mountain, but the defense was still vulnerable against playmakers, which USC has. Both teams will have a new starting quarterback under center and what a way to break them in. Need one more reason to tune in? These storied programs haven’t played in over 30 years, so who knows when we’ll see it again (ABC at 8:00 pm est).

3. Clemson at Florida State (Saturday, October 29)

It’s the annual “which team is the ACC’s playoff contender” game. Florida State has every starter returning on offense, most important of which is electric running back Dalvin Cook. Clemson has the Heisman favorite in quarterback Deshaun Watson. Both offenses should be great, but this one will be decided by whose defense makes enough plays. The Seminoles’ stop unit has been underwhelming the last couple years considering the talent on hand, and the Tigers’ have to replace five defensive starters who left early for the NFL draft.

2. Michigan at Ohio State (Saturday, November 26)

“The Game” finally returned to national prominence thanks to Jim Harbaugh’s arrival in Ann Arbor. Harbaugh had Michigan ahead of schedule in 2015, but the Buckeyes showed they still had a ways to go, laying the smack down on the Wolverines to end each team’s regular season. This year looks to be different, however. Michigan might be ranked in the top five while Ohio State has just six starters returning. With the Wolverine’s trying to make a playoff push, will it be Urban Meyer’s squad in the spoiler role?

1. Alabama at LSU (Saturday, November 5)

For almost a decade, the winner of this game became an instant front-runner for a spot in the BCS Championship Game or College Football Playoff. This year will be no different. After answering questions about their dynasty potentially falling, the Crimson Tide will have few naysayers this season. With the cupboard as full as it always is for Nick Saban, he’ll be expected to lead Alabama to the Playoff once again. On the other side is LSU, which feels like it’s coming off a disappointing season, even after finishing 10-3. With the most starters in the nation returning (spurring a likely top 10 pre-season ranking), this is Les Miles chance to over-take Saban and get back atop the SEC.

Feature image courtesy Matt Velazquez

The Sun Belt’s Best Football Games of 2016

The Sun Belt is quite the oddball conference. Not only does it not have a conference championship game (one of only two conferences with that dubious distinction, shout-out to the Big 12), but it has an odd number of teams, 11. Oh and the Idaho Vandals are in the conference. I don’t know about you but when I think of sun, I think of Idaho.

That doesn’t mean you should ignore the conference in 2016. Appalachian State and Georgia Southern just joined the Football Bowl Sub-Division in the past couple years, and Georgia State didn’t even have a football team until 2010. Yet, all three of those teams finished in the top four of the conference last year and will compete to top Arkansas State, who won the conference with an 8-0 record in 2015. The Sun Belt may be the most interesting non-Power 5 conference this year, and here are its most intriguing games:

10. Georgia State @ Troy (Saturday, October 15)

Troy struggled to just three conference wins in 2015 but was competitive in its game at Georgia State. With 15 starters back the hopes at Troy are for improvement and to maybe challenge for the conference crown. It will take a while before we know if that’s a possibility because the Trojans toughest conference opponents come at the end of the schedule. This will be their first chance to show if they are legit or not.

9. Georgia Southern @ Western Michigan (Saturday, September 24)

Georgia Southern gave the Sun Belt some respect by dominating the MAC champion in its bowl game in 2015. They’ll look to set a similar tone this year when playing one of the MAC’s better teams in the Western Michigan Broncos. Many of the offensive stars return between these two teams for what should be an entertaining game of contrasting offensive styles.

8. Appalachian State @ Troy (Saturday, November 12)

Appalachian State rolled through most of its seven conference wins in 2015, but Troy was the one team that kept it close. The Trojans lost by just a field goal in a triple-overtime thriller on the road. They’re one of the few teams that will be as experienced as the Mountaineers and will look to return the favor this year on their own home turf.

7. Arkansas State @ Georgia State (Saturday, November 4)

After rolling through the conference undefeated last year, Arkansas State will be starting a new quarterback and returns just the eighth-most starters in the conference. Assuming they take a step back, they could at least upset Georgia State’s chances for the conference title in this late season showdown.

6. Appalachian State @ Tennessee (Saturday, September 3)

Before playing the Miami game, the Mountaineers will have a chance to make their first statement in the season opener at Neyland Stadium (7:30 pm est on SEC Network). The Volunteers have failed to live up to the hype the past couple years and Appalachian State is obviously no stranger to upsetting Power 5 teams.

5. Appalachian State vs. Miami (FL) (Saturday, September 17)

Appalachian State’s quarterback Taylor Lamb upped his touchdown total by 14 last year while not increasing his interception total at all. Lamb will lead an experienced Mountaineers team that went 11-2 last year in a home game against a perpetually disappointing Hurricanes squad. If the Canes play the type of undisciplined football they did last year, it wouldn’t be shocking to see App State pull off the win (ESPN/ESPN2 at Noon est).

4. Georgia State at Wisconsin (Saturday, September 17)

Georgia State gets a chance to make a real statement here. As previously stated, they have 17 starters returning to a team that made a bowl game last year. Wisconsin hasn’t been the same power it was a few years ago, and it’ll be coming off games against LSU and Akron to start the year. They’re in for a long day if they overlook the Panthers.

3. Georgia Southern @ Georgia State (Saturday, November 19)

These two football up-starts battle in what looks to be a budding rivalry. The schools were already considered rivals but since Georgia State has only had a football team for a few years, the real rivalry is just beginning. Helping breed a better rivalry is the fact that this game could have conference title implications.

2. Georgia State at Appalachian State (Saturday, October 10)

Last year was just Georgia State’s third in the FBS and yet it finished fourth in the conference and made a bowl game. This year they’ll try to build off that success and make a run at a conference championship with 17 starters returning. Last year was Appalachian State’s second year in the FBS after dominating the FCS ranks the previous few years, and it went 11-2.

1. Appalachian State at Georgia Southern (Thursday, October 27)

App State and Georgia Southern were two of the best teams in the conference last year, and with at least seven defensive starters back and the starting quarterback returning for each squad, 2016 should be no different. With Arkansas State taking a step back after their 2015 conference championship, this game could decide the champ this season.

E-mail Jason at jason [dot] lindekugel [at] campuspressbox [dot] com or follow him on Twitter @JLindy87

Featured image courtesy of Jamie Williams

The Mid-American Conference’s Best Football Games of 2016

Who’s ready for some MACtion? In 2015, the Mid-American conference was basically just a playground for Bowling Green. Quarterback Matt Johnson threw his way to 46 touchdowns and nearly 5,000 yards, leading the Falcons to a MAC championship and a ranking as the sixth-highest scoring team in the country. With Johnson now off to chase an NFL dream, the MAC should be wide open in 2016. Here are the ten games that will determine who, if anyone, can prevent back-to-back titles for Bowling Green.

10. Kent State @ Penn State (Saturday, September 3)

Kent State was 3-9 last year with two wins coming against UMass and Delaware State. Penn State was a mediocre 7-6 but finished 6-1 at home. Kent State won’t win this one, but with 18 starters back they should put up a good fight. If not, it could be another long year for the Golden Flashes.

9. Miami (OH) @ Ohio (Saturday, October 1)

This rivalry game is known as the Battle of the Bricks, so that’s cool. These teams will be positioning for a run in the MAC East. Miami struggled to a 3-9 season last year but should show improvement with 15 starters back. Ohio brings back just 11 while losing their starting quarterback.

8. Western Michigan @ Georgia Southern (Saturday, September 24)

This is a game the MAC will really want as a conference. Georgia Southern stomped the MAC Champion Falcons of Bowling Green in their bowl game to the tune of 58-27 last year. The game will feature a contrast in styles between Western Michigan’s balanced offensive attack and a Georgia Southern’s triple-option that produced over 4,700 yards rushing last year.

7. Kent State @ Bowling Green (Tuesday, November 15)

The MAC East is pretty wide open this year, not knowing what to expect from Bowling Green with QB Matt Johnson no longer around. By the time this game rolls around, we’ll know if Kent State has competed at all in the conference. Even if they haven’t, this will be a good chance for an upset against a first-time starting quarterback.

6. Northern Illinois @ Kent State (Friday, November 25)

If there’s a sleeper team in the MAC in 2016, it could be Kent State who returns a nation-high 18 starters this year. The defense was good enough during a 3-9 2015 campaign, but the offense just might need to improve on the paltry 73 points it scored in eight conference games.

5. Western Michigan @ Northwestern (Saturday, September 3)

Western Michigan has a chance to make a statement in this game. Northwestern will have a pretty inexperienced team playing in its season opener against a team it could overlook. Northwestern may have gone 10-3 last year, but was unimpressive in its biggest games. The Broncos are more than capable of putting up points against the Wildcats.

4. Central Michigan @ Oklahoma State (Saturday, September 10)

The Chippewas are unlikely to win this game, but if they play Oklahoma State well on the road it could spell trouble for the rest of the MAC. However unlikely it may be, it is the Mid-American Conference’s best chance to make a statement in the non-conference.

3. Western Michigan @ Northern Illinois (Saturday, October 8)

This is the third of the round-robin of games between the three teams likely to compete for the MAC West divisional crown (Toledo was the fourth to finish 6-2 last year, but returns just ten starters in 2016). Unfortunately for Western Michigan, it plays both games against the other two on the road, back to back.

2. Central Michigan @ Northern Illinois (Saturday, October 15)

Another huge match-up in the MAC West, Central Michigan handed the Huskies one of their two conference losses in 2015. With their starting quarterback returning as well as eight starters on defense, the Chippewas could be on their way to the conference championship game with a road win here.

1. Western Michigan @ Central Michigan (Saturday, October 1)

With Matt Johnson’s time up at Bowling Green, these two rivals will feature the two best quarterbacks in a high-scoring conference. They were also two of the four teams to go 6-2 in the MAC West and will compete again to try and overtake Northern Illinois for a spot in the title game.

E-mail Jason at jason [dot] lindekugel [at] campuspressbox [dot] com or follow him on Twitter @JLindy87

Featured image courtesy David Wilson

The Big Ten’s Best Football Games of 2016

The Big Ten is back! Okay, maybe it isn’t quite to SEC levels yet, but at least it isn’t just Ohio State and everyone else anymore. For a few years Ohio State-Michigan State was the one huge game to look forward to during the regular season. With Michigan’s rise under Jim Harbaugh and Iowa putting together an improbable 2015, this upcoming season will offer plenty of intrigue.

On top of that, the Big Ten has continued scheduling marquee non-conference games, meaning we won’t have to wait until conference play to get a good gauge of who will run the conference in 2016. Here are ten games to look forward to the most for Big Ten fans this fall.

10. Northwestern at Iowa (Saturday, October 1)

The Big 10 West is similar to the ACC Coastal in that it is the vastly inferior division in its conference and is also wide open in 2016. Northwestern and Iowa are the likely favorites heading into the year but with just 11 and 12 starters returning, respectively, it remains to be seen if either team can replicate the success it had last year. The winner of this contest will be much more likely to match that success.

9. Wisconsin vs. LSU (Saturday, September 3)

This will be the third straight year the Badgers start of the season with an SEC power, but this one will be the first that’s basically a home game, as it will be played at Lambeau Field (ABC at 3:30 pm est). An SEC team traveling to Wisconsin to play at Lambeau Field? It might be a tough situation for a potential playoff team such as LSU, but these are the games you can’t afford to lose when you’re staring down a brutal conference slate as well.

8. Ohio State at Wisconsin (Saturday, October 15)

Wisconsin has played Ohio State well for almost a decade now (2014 Big Ten Championship notwithstanding), pulling off a couple upset wins and losing by a single score many times. With Ohio State returning an FBS-low six starters, this could be the year the Badgers collect another one of those upset wins with the Buckeyes visiting Camp Randall.

7. Michigan State vs. Wisconsin (Saturday, September 24)

The first part of Wisconsin’s conference schedule is a gauntlet and it starts here. If they suffer a loss here, the season could get ugly with the following three weeks against Michigan, Ohio State, and Iowa. Likewise, the Spartans can’t afford an early-season loss like this one if they hope to return to the Big Ten title game.

6. Michigan State at Notre Dame (Saturday, September 17)

With all of the Spartans’ success recently, they still haven’t beaten the Irish since 2010. Okay, they haven’t played the last two years, but Notre Dame still has a three-game winning streak in the series. It is almost always a good game when these two teams meet, with 10 of the past 14 decided by one score.

5. Iowa vs. Michigan (Saturday, November 12)

There’s a 100 percent chance Iowa fans will be talking about how the Hawkeyes aren’t getting mentioned enough heading into 2016. They may have a point. Iowa’s defense should be good again and keep them in games. And though the Hawkeyes only return five starters on offense, they do get QB CJ Beathard back. This is Iowa’s only overly difficult game on the schedule, but win or lose, it could be a Big Ten Championship preview.

4. Michigan State vs. Ohio State (Saturday, November 19)

This game won’t have the same cache it has the past few seasons, but will still be extremely important. It was never going to come close to Michigan-Ohio State but the winner of this game has been in the title race for a few years now. Michigan State will be looking to prove it won’t take a backseat to the Urban Meyer-Jim Harbaugh show, and Ohio State will be looking to get revenge on the team that ended its Playoff hopes last year.

3. Ohio State at Oklahoma (Saturday, September 17)

A classic out-of-conference game, which is good because the Big Ten doesn’t have a lot of marquee teams. This is an interesting game for many reasons, including that it’s a rarity as far as storied programs facing off in the regular season (Fox, 7:30 pm est). As previously stated, Ohio State will be reloading and this game will give us a good idea of how this year’s team compares to the Buckeyes of the past couple of seasons. On the Oklahoma side, the Sooners have a tendency to completely tank when they start the year in the Top 10 (a likelihood in 2016). This game will have Sooners fans yelling “Not this time!” or “Here we go again”.

2. Michigan at Michigan State (Saturday, October 29)

Michigan State has been more of the ‘Big Brother’ than Michigan recently, and the point was rubbed in even more last year when this happened. But, Spartans fan should enjoy that moment. If they don’t win this year’s edition of the rivalry in East Lansing, it could be a while before they beat the Maize and Blue once Harbaugh has them rolling.

1. Michigan at Ohio State (Saturday, November 26)

Was there any doubt? Michigan had a surprisingly good first season under Jim Harbaugh, but their game against the Buckeyes made it clear they weren’t on the same talent level yet. The expectations will be different this year with Michigan a Top 10 pre-season team and Ohio State reloading. Regardless, this one should determine who heads to the Big Ten title game.

E-mail Jason at jason [dot] lindekugel [at] campuspressbox [dot] com or follow him on Twitter @JLindy87

Featured image courtesy Brad Muckenthaler

The Mountain West’s Best Football Games of 2016

The Mountain West has taken quite the fall from grace. Just ten years ago things looked great, as it was the dominant non-BCS conference. With TCU and Boise State challenging for BCS title appearances, and Utah and BYU very solid programs as well, there were years the MWC was better than some BCS conferences.

Now, Boise State is the only of those four teams still around, and even the Broncos have fallen back to the pack with former coach Chris Petersen now at Washington. It has left a less interesting conference, albeit one that is much more competitive. San Diego State ran away with it in 2015. Will that change this fall? Here are the ten games that will shape the Mountain West in 2016.

10. Fresno State @ Nebraska (Saturday, September 3)

Fresno State wasn’t very good last year, but Nebraska hasn’t exactly been dominating since joining the Big Ten, either. It’s a long shot, but the Bulldogs would earn the Mountain West a huge amount of respect if they can knock off the Cornhuskers in Lincoln on the season’s opening weekend.

9. Utah State @ Boise State (Saturday, October 1)

The unfortunate Chuckie Keeton era is over at Utah State, but replacing him won’t be the Aggies biggest issue. Kent Myers played a good chunk of the season last year and finished with 16 touchdowns to just 3 interceptions. He’ll lead an offense with eight starters returning against Boise State in a game between two teams competing for a conference title bid.

8. Nevada @ San Jose State (Saturday, October 15)

These were the only two teams besides San Diego State to even finish .500 in their division last year. The winner of this one will later play the Aztecs with a spot in the conference championship game likely on the line.

7. San Diego State @ Northern Illinois (Saturday, September 17)

Northern Illinois has been the class of the MAC recently, and San Diego State rolled through the Mountain West last year. It may not mean much to most of the country, but this game is for bragging rights over the strength of Group of Five conferences.

6. Boise State @ Oregon State (Saturday, September 24)

Boise State, playing its second consecutive Pac-12 team, gets a bye before this one. The Broncos might be favored and will look for a win to provide the team some momentum and confidence heading into its conference slate.

5. California @ San Diego State (Saturday, September 10)

This is one of the bigger non-conference games among Mountain West teams. The Aztecs will bring in the nation’s second-longest winning streak and look to avenge last year’s 35-7 loss to Cal. It will be much easier with departed Cal quarterback Jared Goff playing on Sundays.

4. Washington State @ Boise State (Saturday, September 10)

Boise State hasn’t been the same team in the past few years that it was when Chris Petersen had them rolling, but the Broncos should improve from their four losses a year ago under third-year coach Bryan Harsin. The Broncos knocked off the Washington Huskies last year and will look to do the same against the Huskies’ rival.

3. San Diego State @ Fresno State (Saturday, October 15)

This in-state battle for San Diego State is against one of the few teams to play them close in 2015. The Bulldogs played a close-ish 21-7 game against the Aztecs and now get them at home. With SDSU’s defense not as dominant as a year ago, Fresno could pull the upset.

2. Nevada @ Hawaii (Saturday, October 1)

Hawaii was pretty dreadful last year and didn’t notch a conference win. They return 17 starters this year though so that streak should end at some point. Will it here? If a Nevada team looking to compete for a conference title game spot overlooks the Warriors, they could be in for a long trip back from the islands.

1. San Diego State @ Nevada (Saturday, November 12)

San Diego State dominated the Mountain West last year, allowing just 90 points in eight conference games. Nevada should have a good offense, but its defense will have to improve after giving up 320 yards rushing to the Aztecs in this match-up last year.

E-mail Jason at jason [dot] lindekugel [at] campuspressbox [dot] com or follow him on Twitter @JLindy87

Featured image courtesy Nathan Rupert

The SEC’s Best Football Games of 2016

Breathe easy SEC fans. After what must have felt like an eternity, one of your schools finally claimed the national championship. Alabama’s one loss came in a classic game against the Ole Miss Rebels. With Ole Miss set up to be a top fifteen team again, their matchup with the Crimson Tide is surely one of the best games of the SEC season in 2016. What about the other nine best? With some big-time non-conference games for the SEC, ranking the top ten SEC games was a near impossible task. Here’s what I came up with:

10. Arkansas vs. LSU (Saturday, November 12)

Bret Bielema has some momentum going at Arkansas, but they’ve still only won 13 regular season games combined the last two years. One team the Razorbacks have had consistent success against is LSU, beating them each of the past two years after losing by one score three years ago. Even if pre-season expectations hold, the Tigers could be handed another upset loss here by the Razorbacks’ pounding running game, one week after a physical match-up with Alabama.

9. LSU vs. Wisconsin (Saturday, September 3)

This one looks weird to even type. The SEC doesn’t often have non-conference games like this, especially ones that are basically road games. The Tigers are fortunate that Wisconsin isn’t at the same level it’s been at most of the last five or so years. The mystique of an SEC team playing up north and the game being at Lambeau Field will be fun for a while before LSU’s size and athleticism overpowers Wisconsin (3:30 pm est, ABC).

8. LSU vs. Ole Miss (Saturday, October 22)

The Tigers and Rebels figure to be the biggest challengers to Alabama in the SEC West. Ole Miss will have already had its match-up with the Crimson Tide, but Les Miles will have to make sure his team isn’t looking ahead to its game with the defending champ two weeks from this day. The LSU-Ole Miss winner should have the inside track to Atlanta should Nick Saban’s squad have a couple slip-ups.

7. Ole Miss vs. Florida State (Monday, September 5)

Opening weekend gets capped off with a Labor Day night game (8:00 pm est on ESPN) between two top 15 teams and playoff hopefuls. This game will set the tone for both teams’ season. Whether Ole Miss is actually favored or not, the program is at a point where it expects to win a game like this. If that’s not enough, they’ll get scrutinized by the rest of the SEC for letting an ACC team beat them.

6. Arkansas vs. Ole Miss (Saturday, October 15)

Ole Miss will be the team looking for revenge on October 15. With a win over Alabama under its belt, Ole Miss was in the driver’s seat to make it to the SEC championship and possibly the College Football Playoff. It all came crashing to the ground with a 53-52 OT loss to the Razorbacks that was made possible by an absurd 4th down conversion.

5. Alabama at Ole Miss (Saturday, September 17)

Alabama may have won the championship last year, but they’ll be out for blood in this one (3:30 est, CBS). The Rebels handed the Tide their only loss of the 2015 season, a loss that resulted in many questioning if the Crimson Tide dynasty was coming to an end. On the other side, Ole Miss lost a lot of talent to the draft but has been stock-piling top recruiting classes the past few years. With a two-game win streak over Alabama, the Rebels won’t be intimidated.

4. Florida at Tennessee (Saturday, September 24)

Tennessee plays three conference games before facing the Tide and this is number one. Jim McElwain led the Gators on a surprising run to the conference title game in his first year in Gainesville. This September game could go a long way in determining if he returns there in year two.

3. Alabama at Tennessee (Saturday, October 15)

Tennessee has played Alabama tougher than most teams in the last couple years but have a nine-game losing streak in the series to show for it. They couldn’t fulfill the hype last year and will try to break through again in 2016. Even with a new quarterback, it’s hard to imagine the Tide losing at home, and this is the second of Alabama’s only set of back-to-back road games. If the Vols are going to end their losing streak to Bama, this is the year.

2. Alabama vs. USC (Saturday, September 3)

With all the intriguing match-ups in the SEC, it’s hard for a non-conference game to make noise. It’s also hard to find a match-up between two more storied programs (ABC at 8:00 pm est). USC won’t be expected to win this game, but unlike most teams, they at least have comparable athletes to Alabama’s. USC isn’t anywhere near where Alabama is right now, but it’s rare to see these kinds of non-conference games, so enjoy every minute of it (even if Nick Saban is coaching circles around Clay Helton).

1. Alabama at LSU (Saturday, November 5)

For a few years, the Iron Bowl replaced this game as the one with the most title implications. It looks like Les Miles has his Tigers primed to return to title contention after a couple of “down” years. Both teams could start the year in the top 5 and will hopefully remain there until this contest, where we will likely see another 9-6 type game that determines a playoff spot.

E-mail Jason at jason [dot] lindekugel [at] campuspressbox [dot] com or follow him on Twitter @JLindy87

Featured image courtesy Amy Meredith

Conference USA’s Best Football Games of 2016

Conference USA and the Mid-American Conference were pretty similar in that they both had one team which basically did whatever it wanted. In C-USA that team was Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers rolled through the conference undefeated, averaging 50 points per game in conference play.

However, Western Kentucky has just 11 starters returning, and the starting quarterback is not one of them. In general, the conference sees many of its top teams from last year returning very few starters, while the teams that finished at the bottom bring back quite a few. It should make for an exciting year for Conference USA and could open the door for a dark-horse candidate to break through. These ten games will help decide if we see two new teams in the conference championship game in 2016.

10. Charlotte at Louisville (Thursday, September 1)

Last year was Charlotte’s first season in the FBS, and just its third season fielding a football team. They struggled, as expected, going 2-10 but actually beat a Georgia State team in the opener that would go on to make a bowl game. I don’t think Charlotte will be able to knock off Louisville, but with 17 starters back can they hang around for a while? The final score of this game will show if the 49ers can possibly make a bowl game this year, or if the team is still years away.

9. North Texas vs. Southern Methodist University (Saturday, September 3)

This is an intriguing non-conference game between Group of Five schools. Both schools will have coaches with little experience. Chad Morris is in his second year at SMU and North Texas will be in its first year under first-time coach Seth Littrell. Littrell and Morris will have some familiarity with each other, as both were offensive coordinators at ACC schools. With two offensive minds at the helm, it could provide an entertaining game to start the year.

8. Southern Mississippi at Kentucky (Saturday, September 3)

Southern Miss went 7-1 in conference last year but lost all three games it played against Power 5 teams. Though Kentucky isn’t a world-beater, defeating the Wildcats, an SEC team, in the season opener would certainly help with recruiting (ESPNU at 7:30 pm est).

7. Old Dominion at Charlotte (Saturday, October 1)

Old Dominion and Charlotte combined to go 3-13 in conference play last year. So why is their matchup on this list? For starters, both teams return 17 starters in a conference where most of the good teams return a lot fewer. Additionally, these teams have been part of the Football Bowl Sub-division for two years or less. This game will show which team is closer to becoming a respectably competitive program.

6. Rice at Western Kentucky (Thursday, September 1)

We will see right off the bat what this Western Kentucky team looks like after losing so many key players from last year’s dominant team. They’ll get Rice at home on the season’s opening night in a conference clash that will tell us if Rice is ready to step up and challenge for their own division.

5. Florida International vs. Indiana (Thursday, September 1)

FIU will get back-to-back chances to start the year for a nice non-conference win. Indiana did make a bowl game last year but I don’t think anyone would be shocked if they laid an egg against a Group of Five school.

4. Florida International vs. Maryland (Saturday, September 10)

There aren’t a lot of winnable games for Conference USA against Power 5 competition, but this would be one of them. Maryland was abysmal last year and the Florida International Panthers get the Terps at home in the September heat.

3. North Texas at Rice (Saturday, September 24)

Louisiana Tech was the only school besides Southern Miss to finish above .500 in the West division. With LA Tech returning just nine starters, the spot is wide open as main challenger to the Golden Eagles. North Texas and Rice are two of those teams vying for that spot and this early season match-up will determine who has the early leg up.

2. Florida Atlantic at Florida International (Saturday, October 1)

Both teams will look to get over the .500 hump after going 3-5 in conference play a year ago. Florida Atlantic won eight of the first nine games between these two rivals, but the series has been pretty even since. Both teams return 14 starters so we should see a pretty heated battle.

1. Rice at Southern Mississippi (Saturday, October 1)

Southern Mississippi was in the conference championship game last year and Rice will be looking to take over its spot, with 16 starters returning this year. They’ll be extra motivated to get Southern Miss back for the 65-10 drubbing it put on the Owls last year.

E-mail Jason at jason [dot] lindekugel [at] campuspressbox [dot] com or follow him on Twitter @JLindy87

Featured image courtesy

The Pac-12’s Best Football Games of 2016

It’s hard not to think that the Pac-12 missed its window. For a year or two it appeared on par with the SEC as the nation’s best conference, and going into last year there was a lot of promise with Stanford, Oregon, and USC poised to be top ten teams.

The conference provided some great games throughout the season but was ultimately left out of the College Football Playoff. It looks like 2016 will be a transition year for the conference with much less dominance at the top. On the other hand, this should increase the competitiveness of the conference as a whole.

There are many conference tilts to look forward to on the west coast this season, and that’s before you get to marquee matchups against Notre Dame and Alabama. Here are the ten games to mark on your calendar for Pac-12 teams in 2016:

10. Stanford at UCLA (Saturday, September 24)

It feels strange having conference games this early, but with Pac-12 teams playing nine conference games, it’s basically a necessity. It’s fun for fans, probably not so fun for coaches like David Shaw, who has to have a new quarterback make a conference start on the road a few weeks into the season. UCLA and Stanford only bring back 11 and 12 starters respectively, so we’ll see who has done the best job reloading in the first month.

9. Washington vs. Stanford (Friday, September 30)

I mentioned earlier that Washington could make a run at a Pac-12 Championship appearance in 2016. If they’re going to do it, it’s got to start here. A Friday night down on The Farm. It’s early enough in the season that Stanford’s passing game could still be unsettled with a new quarterback. If Stanford takes care of business, we can expect another year of the Cardinal and Ducks competing for that Pac-12 North title.

8. Arizona at UCLA (Saturday, October 1)

Arizona and UCLA were both big disappointments last year so expectations will be lower coming into this one. Which team can bounce back stronger from their lackluster 2015? With many of the top quarterbacks from a year ago gone, this game could feature the conference’s two best in Arizona’s Anu Soloman and UCLA’s Josh Rosen.

7. USC at Washington (Saturday, November 12)

This one probably won’t come anywhere near 80 total points. Washington actually beat USC in L.A. 17-12 last year and will be looking for more in Chris Petersen’s second year leading the Huskies. With plenty of uncertainty at Stanford and Oregon and 15 starters returning, Washington could be primed to make a run at the Pac-12 North crown.

6. Oregon at USC (Saturday, November 5)

It doesn’t matter that neither Oregon or USC lived up to expectations last year (or the past few years for USC). There’s still plenty of glitz and glamour that comes with this game. Going back the last five times these teams have met, there’s been an average of 82.8 points per game total. Even if you live on the East Coast, it’ll be worth staying up for this one.

5. Oregon vs. Stanford (Saturday, November 12)

As usual, this is the favorite to decide which team heads to the conference title game. One of these schools has won the Pac-12 each of the five years since going to twelve teams and a conference championship game. There is a little uncertainty this year however, with neither team returning its starting quarterback and barely half of its total starters.

4. USC vs. Notre Dame (Saturday, November 26)

Notre Dame beat USC 41-31 in a high-scoring affair last year. This game is always must-see TV, but it could feature one if not two playoff hopefuls. Worst case scenario? Two teams with talented offenses and nothing at stake give us an entertaining shootout like last year.

3. Stanford at Notre Dame (Saturday, October 15)

These two teams played what may have been the best game of the regular season last year. A true instant classic where the loser’s playoff hopes were all but dashed. We can only hope to get half the game we saw last year when Stanford breaks up its Pac-12 schedule with a trip to South Bend. This will also be one of the few times Notre Dame can beef up its playoff resume.

2. USC vs. Alabama (Saturday, September 3)

Two college football heavyweights playing in Jerry World. Nick Saban has dominated season openers, but will be starting a new quarterback. USC will as well, but nine of the 10 other offensive starters return. That USC speed versus Alabama’s defense? Sign me up.

1. Stanford vs. USC (Saturday, September 17)

Oregon has the glitz and glamour, but Stanford has also remained steady atop the Pac-12 for the last half-decade. These two teams played a couple of entertaining games last year, and this could be a Pac-12 Championship preview once again. This early-season game with two new starting quarterbacks will tell us a lot about what to expect from each team this season (ABC, 8:00 pm est).

E-mail Jason at jason [dot] lindekugel [at] campuspressbox [dot] com or follow him on Twitter @JLindy87

Featured image courtesy Ray Terrill

The ACC’s Best Football Games of 2016

The ACC has been at the bottom of the Power 5 conferences barrel for years now, but at least has had some respectability thanks to the power at the top. Clemson’s rise towards the top of the college football world has made the yearly Seminoles-Tigers match-ups must see TV. But there are plenty of other games that will help shape the ACC in 2016. Here are the ten best games of 2016 that will feature a team from the Athletic Coast Conference.

10. North Carolina at Miami (Saturday, October 15th)

It’s one thing to get embarrassed by the national runner-up like Miami did against Clemson last year. It’s another thing to get blown out by a basketball school. Miami will look to get some revenge from that game, and the winner will take an early lead in the Coastal Division race.

9. Miami at Virginia Tech (Thursday, October 20th)

Like most of the past few years, this year looks to be a case where whoever takes the Atlantic Division (Clemson/Florida State) will run roughshod over its Coastal champion counterpart in the conference title game. The Coastal is more wide open this year than any, and not because there are a lot of great games. This will be a pivotal game for two new head coaches and besides, Thursday night games in Blacksburg are always fun tv.

8. North Carolina at Florida State (Saturday, October 1st)

Florida State-Clemson is the leader in the clubhouse for most exciting ACC game, but this one may be number two if you like points. Florida State’s defense hasn’t been very good since its outstanding 2013 campaign and North Carolina could trot out one of the nation’s highest scoring offenses this year. And we know how good their defense is.

7. Florida State versus Florida (Saturday, November 26th)

With recent conference shifts, each rivalry that withstands those changes becomes more important. Florida may not be up to Florida State’s talent level, particularly on offense, this game could give them a chance to end their rival’s playoff hopes in the Seminoles’ own home stadium.

6. Florida State at Miami (Saturday, October 8th)

It will also be interesting to see if Mark Richt can do what Al Golden could not, beat the Seminoles. As the Canes have toiled in mediocrity, it has made this game more and more important to their fans. Miami hasn’t beaten Florida State since 2009 and a win here by the Seminoles would match the longest win streak in the rivalry’s history.

5. Miami at Notre Dame (Saturday, October 29th)

It will be interesting to see if Mark Richt can turn Miami around and if so, how fast. He has the quarterback to do it, but he’ll need more than that if he’s going to go into South Bend (3:30 pm est, NBC) and beat a really talented Fighting Irish team. Regardless of the records, this game will be hyped up because of these programs’ histories.

4. Louisville at Clemson (Saturday, October 1st)

That aforementioned Cardinals defense better show up on this day. DeShaun Watson’s Heisman campaign will be full steam ahead by this point, and the Louisville defense will be one of the few on Clemson’s schedule that has a chance to even slow him down.

3. Florida State at Louisville (Saturday, September 17th)

Louisville was a bit of a disappointment last year, flaming out in the first month before putting together a string of wins when they were already out of contention. The Seminoles could be ranked in the top ten at this point but will have to survive a conference road game against maybe the best defense in the country (on ABCS at Noon).

2. Florida State versus Ole Miss (Monday, September 5th)

The Seminoles and Rebels each made a New Year’s Six bowl last year and return the talent to be a playoff contender in 2016. This Labor Day night (ESPN, 8:00 pm est) contest could end one of these squad’s playoff hopes after just one week of play.

1. Clemson at Florida State (Saturday, October 29th)

This has been the preeminent game in the ACC for a few years now, with the winner making it to the title game two of the last three years. Clemson’s defense lost a ton of talent to the NFL, and with every offensive starter back for the Seminoles, this could be a shootout and maybe the most exciting game of the season regardless of conference.



E-mail Jason at jason [dot] lindekugel [at] campuspressbox [dot] com or follow him on Twitter @JLindy87

Featured image courtesy Jason A G