A key play late from Aussie punter Jordan Berry and teammate Johnny Holton helped the Pittsburgh Steelers to their second victory of the NFL season.
The season previews are starting to roll out, spring practice is out of the way, media days are in progress and, despite the season still a couple of months away there are plenty of great games to look forward to – and maybe book some tickets for.
Below are the ten best games to look forward to this season. While the Fun Belt and MACtion have unpredictability, these are some of the biggest schools in their biggest matches in 2016.
A few games were unlucky to miss the cut.
West Virginia versus BYU (@ Maryland) – just for the personality clash between fans. Just think of UFC fans at a netball game.
Miami @ Notre Dame – Miami will be improved with Mark Richt now in at HC, and Notre Dame are genuine contenders this year. This brings back the old “Catholics versus Convicts” matches of the 80’s and 90’s.
Penn State @ Pitt – in-state rivalry, and these fans do not like each other. Playing for only the second time this century. A win for Pitt would be a boost in recruiting, and a Penn State loss would warm the seat under Coach Franklin
UCLA @ Texas A and M – UCLA have the Rosen One as a sophomore. Texass have had an off-season of turmoil, losing multiple five star players, and assistant coaches who can’t stay off twitter. The loser will spend the rest of the season on the back foot and a HC on the hot seat.
Alabama @ Auburn – the Iron Bowl is one of the top three rivalries in American sports. It’s always big, but how big it will be will depend on Auburn’s season.
North Dakota State @ Iowa – The 5-time defending FCS Champions visit last seasons Rose Bowl representatives.
California versus Hawaii (@ Sydney) – the game to open the 2016 season, an offensive battle a week before all other teams take the field.
Here is the top ten.
10. Alabama versus USC (@ Arlington)
Two programs with the richest of pedigrees getting together for the first time in over 30 years. We don’t know how good USC are going to be – a coach heading into his first full season, a new starting quarterback.
Whoever gets the quarterback job (most likely Max Browne) will have an experienced and deep offense around him. Jones and Davis are a great backfield combination, JuJu Smith-Schuster is one of the best WR’s in the country and the entire offensive line is intact. However, they are playing the defending National Champions.
They may have lost players to the NFL, but this is Alabama, they’ll just reload with five star recruits. How USC perform will be in a direct contradiction to any pre-season hype around them.
9. Houston versus Oklahoma (@ Houston)
Houston have been solid for a few seasons now, but the hire of first season coach Tom Herman took them to another level last season. He rejected overtures from bigger programs to stick with Houston.
Oklahoma once again went against all pre-season predictions from the experts and made the national semi-finals. A lot of their pieces return, and they have the talent edge over Houston. Houston though, will know that a win in this week one game will set them up as a genuine playoff credible team.
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops is known as Big Game Bob because he wins the big ones but has a tendency to lose the small ones. Houston will this marked as a big one, but with games ahead, will the Sooners? It’s just a shame this game is 11am local time.
8. Clemson @ Auburn
Another week one match-up, this time pitting the Tigers against the Tigers. Clemson will enter the season as second favourites for the title, and have favourite for the Heisman Deshaun Watson returning. However, Jordan Hare Stadium is not the most welcoming of places, especially at night. Auburn were the biggest disappointments of last season, and the coaching staff are coaching to save their skins. Opening the bag of tricks and defeating a top two team will do a lot to ease the pressure.
7. Florida State versus Ole Miss (@ Orlando)
When FSU scheduled this game they probably didn’t think Ole Miss will be where they are today. A few great recruiting classes the past few years have made Ole Miss a contender.
This game, only the second ever between the two teams, will take pride of place on the holiday Monday of the opening weekend. A loss for either team may spell the season over already in week 1, with FSU having Clemson later in the season, while Ole Miss have LSU and Bama on their schedule. The winner will be in the early discussion for a playoff berth.
6. Tennessee versus Virginia Tech (@ Bristol)
The Battle of Bristol will have a crowd of 160,000 for this game. The raceway is located about halfway between both campuses. Everybody is waiting for Tennessee to turn the corner after a number of good recruiting classes, but just haven’t been able to win a big game.
Virginia Tech are looking to bounce back after a few lean seasons, with legend Frank Beamer retiring, the quarterback whisperer Justin Fuentes takes over. He will turn them into contenders, but is week two of this first season too soon? Did I say there will be 160,000 attending? This game will be rocking.
5. Michigan @ Ohio State
Oh boy, The Game. Michigan State coach Jim Harbaugh has been trolling hard this offseason, and everybody has bitten and rules have been changed because of him. The only person who hasn’t bitten has been Urban Meyer. But when you have three National Championship rings you just let the other guy shoot his mouth off.
Ohio State have won the last five meetings, and while they have lost players to the NFL, they will reload. This is the last match of the regular season for both teams, and if both are unbeaten the hype around this game will be absolutely huge.
4. Stanford @ Notre Dame
This game should pit two unbeaten teams. This is a likely knockout game, with the loser saying goodbye to any chance of a playoff berth. The winner will have a signature win and will automatically get a top four ranking. Could this be Christian McCaffery’s signature game in his Heisman campaign? Or will Malik Zaire earn a trip to New York?
3. Ohio State @ Oklahoma
Congrats to both teams for scheduling this home and home. This week three game has last season’s Big 12 Champs and semi-finalists against the 2014 National Champions, who are 50-4 in their last four seasons.
If Oklahoma get past Houston, this game will be their only hurdle towards an unbeaten season (unless Big Game Bob does his annual slip up). Ohio State would have given the new starters a run in the first two weeks, and until facing the two Michigan schools in the final two weeks, the rest of their schedule is a relative cakewalk. This will rightly be the biggest game in the first half of the season.
2. Clemson @ Florida State
This week nine match-up will decide the ACC Atlantic, and therefore the ACC, and therefore have a huge impact on the national title race. The home team has won eight of the last 10, with the honours shared five wins apiece. This may also go a long way to deciding the Heisman race, with Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson and FSU RB Dalvin Cook to have big years. Clemson have lost a lot on defence, but they will have home field advantage and are coming off a bye week.
1. Alabama @ LSU
It’s simple, the winner of this game can book a place in the semi-final. LSU have few minefields this season, with a visit from Ole Miss, before an off week into this game, their toughest challenge. Bama should be unbeaten also, but will have a tougher schedule leading into this, with road games at Ole Miss, Arkansas and Tennessee.
Alabama have won the past five meetings between the two, and have done so by playing the same game plan as LSU, just with better talent and better coaching. But can Leonard Fournette become a Lousiana sports legend?