Top 10 “Must See” NCAA matchups

Top 10 “Must See” NCAA matchups
August 27, 2013, 11:45 am
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This time of the calendar year, between the end of the NBA & NHL playoffs and the first opening kickoff, is where the “dog days” of summer begin to set in.  Baseball is the only consistent outlet for sports fans to get their fix.  Have no fear though…college football is only a few days away.

As we count down towards the return of Saturday gridiron glory, we have also taken a look at groups of players who figure to play a large role in the college football season.  We have already outlined potential impact freshmen, players who will face significant expectations this fall, players on the verge of greatness, and the best redemption stories.

Today, rather than examining individual players, we look at the best showdowns between top teams throughout the region this fall.  Here are the Top 10 “must see” matchups:

Note: All rankings reflect preseason AP Top 25 poll

10.  #15 Texas Longhorns vs Baylor Bears

Game Date: December 7th

While only Texas is currently ranked in this matchup, do not be surprised if Baylor finds itself within the Top 25 come game time on December 7th.  The Bears return a ton of key pieces to their explosive offense, including preseason Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year in Lache Seastrunk.  Bryce Petty enters the season with only 14 career passing attempts.  By December, he should be fully transitioned into a leadership role within Art Briles’ system.

The Longhorns are coming off a 9-4 campaign in 2012, including a 56-50 shootout loss to Baylor.  David Ash returns as the starter for Mack Brown’s squad.  Offensive coordinator Major Applewhite has a stable of running backs to choose from, but will look to push the tempo in a spread-it-out style with Ash this season.  If both teams live up to expectations, this early December matchup could be played with double-digit win totals on the line.

9. Houston Cougars vs Rice Owls

Game Date: September 21st at Reliant Stadium

The 2013 edition of the Bayou Bucket finds two teams that are coming into the season with very different expectations.  The Rice Owls, fresh off only their third bowl appearance since 1961, are picked to finish second in the Conference USA western division.  The Houston Cougars, on the other hand, open the inaugural season of the American Athletic Conference projected to finish in the middle of the pack.

Both squads feature returning starters at the quarterback position, with Taylor McHargue and David Piland.  Rice has one of the top defensive players in the country: cornerback Phillip Gaines.  Houston is looking to replace one of the country’s most dynamic players after Charles Sims transferred in the spring to West Virginia.  The cross-town rivals meet early in the season, leaving the winner in great shape for the remainder of their schedule and the loser hoping to bounce back quickly.  This is a highly anticipated showdown each year, and the 2013 version will not disappoint. 

8. Texas Tech Red Raiders vs # 20 TCU Horned Frogs

Game Date: September 12th

The Red Raiders and Horned Frogs lit up the scoreboard when their offensive firepower collided in 2012.  Texas Tech ultimately prevailed in three overtimes in the “instant classic” game, but TCU was playing without star quarterback Casey Pachall.  Trevone Boykin filled in admirably for Pachall last season, but the Horned Frogs were not the same without their efficient passer (3-6 in final 9 games).

Entering 2013, the scripts have been flipped for these two programs.  Pachall is back from suspension, and is prepared to build on his 15-2 career record as the starting quarterback in Fort Worth.  On the other side, Red Raider legend Kliff Kingsbury is now the head coach of his alma mater.  With Seth Doege out of the picture after graduating, inexperienced passer Michael Brewer will get the first crack at trying to guide Kingsbury’s dangerous “Air-Raid” attack.  This game has all the makings of another shootout between two teams that know how to find end zone.

7. Baylor Bears vs #13 Oklahoma State Cowboys

Game Date: November 23rd

Pound for pound, Baylor and Oklahoma State may have the two most explosive offenses in the points-happy Big 12 conference.  The Bears averaged over 44 points per game in 2012, which was good for fourth in the nation…and still was less than the Cowboys.  Oklahoma State put up almost 46 points per contest last season.  Both of these squads like to push the tempo and turn games into a track meet.

Mike Gundy plans to play both of his quarterbacks (J.W. Walsh and Clint Chelf) in the season opener against Mississippi State.  The two combined for 28 touchdowns and more than 3100 yards a year ago.   By the time these two teams match up in November, Gundy should have his quarterback situation figured out.  If not, the Cowboys will have trouble living up to the preseason hype as Big 12 champions.

6. #15 Texas Longhorns vs #16 Oklahoma Sooners

Game Date: October 12th at the Cotton Bowl

The “Red River Rivalry” is one of college football’s most storied yearly games.  Unfortunately for the Longhorns, this rivalry has failed to live up to the billing in recent seasons.  With Landry Jones at quarterback, Oklahoma throttled Texas to the tune of a 146-58 point differential in the last three meetings, including a 63-point outburst in 2012.

Jones is no longer with the Sooners, having moved onto the NFL.  Blake Bell was originally thought to be the heir apparent to Jones, but youngster Trevor Knight has won the quarterback competition in Norman.  Knight’s blend of athleticism and accuracy is what won him the job.  However, he has yet to play in a high-intensity setting like the Cotton Bowl.  This matchup will be closer than it has been in years past.

5. #12 LSU Tigers vs #20 TCU Horned Frogs

Game Date: August 31st at AT&T Stadium

The college football season gets started with a bang at AT&T Stadium (more commonly known as “Jerry World”).  The year’s opening weekend features a top 20 faceoff between the cream of the crop from the SEC and Big 12.  Two of the top redemption storylines will also play out in this game, with both Casey Pachall and Jeremy Hill looking to win back the love of their respective fan bases.

Early-season games are usually highlighted by big plays as a result of the opponent making big mistakes.  LSU lost a ton of talent on the defensive side of the ball, but the Tigers reload year in and year out.  Whichever team can limit the mistakes and capitalize on turnovers by the opposition should be in line to add a nice win to the résumé…which will almost certainly come in handy later in the season.

4. #16 Oklahoma Sooners vs #13 Oklahoma State Cowboys

Game Date: December 7th

This year’s “Bedlam” series finds the Cowboys, not the Sooners, as the favorite to win the Big 12 conference.  Oklahoma, an 8-time winner of the league, will be trying to catch their cross-state counterparts atop the standings.  By early December, both teams should have a clear-cut idea as to whether they have a chance to win the conference and earn the automatic BCS Bid.

For whatever reason, this game is either a high-scoring battle down to the wire, or a blowout that is over before the third quarter.  Expect to see this year’s edition play out like the first of those two scenarios.  Defense is a secondary concern to both the Sooners and the Cowboys when they square off.  Whichever unit can make the crucial stop late will end up pushing their team to victory.

3. #7 Texas A&M Aggies vs #12 LSU Tigers

Game Date: November 23rd

The Aggies lost only two games in their first season as a member of the SEC.  Many fans and analysts expected Texas A&M to struggle in the country’s top conference, but instead they thrived behind the exciting play of Heisman winner Johnny Manziel.  One of those two losses came at the hands of the Tigers, who went into Kyle Field and came away with a 24-19 win.

Texas A&M has an opportunity to get some revenge… but to do so they will have to enter Baton Rouge and beat LSU in perhaps the toughest night venue in all of college football.   Manziel and Mike Evans played well against the Tigers the last time around.  In order for the Aggies to stand a chance, the quarterback/wide receiver combo needs to connect early and often.

2. #12 LSU Tigers vs #1 Alabama Crimson Tide

Game Date: November 9th

The top two perennial powers of the SEC do battle in early November in 2013.  If there is one thing that seems to be a constant each autumn in college football, it’s the LSU-Alabama game coming down to the final seconds in a grind-it-out thriller.  The last three regular season meetings have been decided by a TOTAL of 10 points…Quite simply, these teams spend the entire year prepping for each other and leave everything on the field when they finally meet.

The Crimson Tide have gotten the better of the Tigers in each of the last 3 meetings, including the National Championship two seasons ago.  LSU’s defense has held strong against the Tide in each matchup (except for a fatal T.J. Yeldon screen pass in 2012), but its offense has come up short time and time again.  Zach Mettenberger has to outduel his quarterback colleague in A.J. McCarron for the Tigers to push ‘Bama to the brink of defeat.  If it is less than a one-score margin late in the game, literally anything is possible.

1. #1 Alabama Crimson Tide vs #7 Texas A&M Aggies

Game Date: September 14th

The premier “must see” matchup of the entire college football regular season pits the Crimson Tide against the Aggies.  Alabama’s lone defeat in their title year of 2012 came at home against Texas A&M.  Johnny Manziel had his Heisman moment against the top team in the country, and the rest was history for the redshirt freshman.

Nick Saban’s squad wants revenge in the worst way, but to get it they’ll have to earn it.  Kyle Field and the “12th Man” is one of the toughest atmospheres in the nation for visiting teams.  The Tide are battle tested though, and A.J. McCarron plays his best football in the biggest games.  For Manziel, a win against the number one team in the biggest game of the year would go a long way to doing what only Archie Griffin has done… repeating as a winner of college football’s most prestigious award.