Top 25 games of the season (or why the SEC still rules)
By Dennis Dodd
CBSSports.com Senior Writer
Aug. 26, 2011

This season's five Ws -- who, what, when, where and wahoo!

The games of the year (ranked 1-25):

1. LSU at Alabama, Nov. 5: Seriously, can we hit the "sim" button on the season and just fast-forward to this mega-matchup? A lot of folks think these are the two best teams in the country. This game could decide the SEC West, the SEC and half of the BCS championship game. Alabama still has quarterback issues, but, oh, that defense. Speaking of quarterback issues, for all of his problems, Jordan Jefferson has missed only seven of 27 passes in his career against Alabama. Last year's 10-of-13 performance in Baton Rouge was one of the best of his career.

2. Oklahoma at Florida State, Sept. 17: FSU has to prove it's back. No. 1 Oklahoma has to stay unblemished to continue its national championship run. The Sooners will have to win without leading tackler and best trash talker Travis Lewis. You get the feeling this is an all-in game for the 'Noles. In other words, if they do lose it's going to be hard to recover emotionally with a trip Clemson up next. Bottom line: OU can afford a loss. FSU can't.

3. Alabama at Auburn, Nov. 26: Don't sleep on the Iron Bowl after last year's all-timer. Remember what has happened in the offseason -- the Toomer's Oaks, the tornado, Saban's 9-foot statue, the Cam Newton investigation hovering over it all. 'Bama will be favored but what will that mean? This is guaranteed to be one of the most emotional Iron Bowls ever.

4. Oregon at Stanford, Nov. 12: This game should decide the Pac-12 North. (It feels funny just writing that.) It also could decide the Heisman given that the leading active vote getters are playing in this game (Andrew Luck, LaMichael James). This is the Cardinal's revenge game. There aren't many of them. After blowing a 21-3 lead last year at Oregon, Stanford watched the Ducks score 49 of the next 59 points.

5. Nebraska at Wisconsin, Oct. 1: Anyone not wearing red gets smacked over the head with a full Leinenkugel's. This is what Jim Delany had in mind when he expanded the Big Ten. Inventory for the league, lots of hype and two top-11 teams. Big Ten title-game preview? Nebraska plays its first conference game in its new league. Wisconsin tries to remind the Huskers who's boss. Russell Wilson never faced a defense like this in the ACC.

6. LSU-Oregon, Sept. 3 in Arlington, Texas: At this rate, patrolmen from Eugene and Baton Rouge will be going out for the coin toss. Call it in the air -- heads and Jordan Jefferson is suspended. Tails, Oregon receives -- another call from the NCAA. But seriously folks, this is one of the biggest season openers in years. The last time two top-five teams played on a neutral field to start the season was 1984. LSU will want to keep its momentum from the Cotton Bowl. Oregon will want to prove it can match up with, and this time beat, an SEC power.

7. Oklahoma-Texas, Oct. 8 in Dallas: Yeah, yeah, I know. The Longhorn Network has more upside at the moment than the actual Longhorns. But the Red River Shootout should be on everyone's bucket list. These two teams could each be 0-4 and it would mean something. Texas is trying to become as relevant as its studio show while OU steams ahead for a possible eighth Big 12 title. Landry Jones has a lot to prove after almost fumbling away last year's game.

8. TCU at Boise State, Nov. 12: Do not underestimate Gary Patterson's ability to motivate. When TCU announced its move to the Big East in 2012, Mountain West presidents got petty and moved this game from Fort Worth to Boise. That alone should fire up Patterson and the Frogs, who are a consensus No. 2 in the league after winning back-to-back titles. TCU's usually stout defense should be fully developed by this late-season encounter that should decide the MWC.

9. Alabama at Penn State, Sept. 10: Last year this game had more history than competitiveness going for it. 'Bama's 24-3 win was considered charitable. Yes, it could have been a lot worse. This year, JoePa's boys are considered a Big Ten dark horse. The holler house known as Beaver Stadium should be in full throat.

10. Arkansas at Alabama, Sept. 24: Nothing like an easy SEC opener. Are you kidding? This is why the SEC West is the toughest "conference" going. We know Tyler Wilson can play. That's more than can be said for Knile Davis, who is out for the season with an ankle injury. If not for Ryan Mallett's three interceptions last year, the Hogs might have won in Fayetteville. If all that Arkansas optimism is going to be fulfilled this season, the Hogs must show well in Bryant-Denny. If not, they're in for a third-place finish in the West and another BCS bowl looks in doubt.

Second 10

11. Ohio State at Nebraska, Oct. 8: The Buckeye Four make their season debut. Who will be the Bucks' quarterback?

12. Oklahoma at Oklahoma State, Dec. 3: OU's Ryan Broyles is 1,577 receiving yards away from becoming the leading pass catcher in history (Nevada's Trevor Insley leads with 5,005 yards). The record could fall in this last regular-season game. As long as the Sooners don't fall, Broyles will be happy. An 11th win in the past 13 meetings against OSU could propel OU into the national championship game. They call this rivalry Bedlam but the Cowboys haven't made much noise lately, last winning in 2002.

13. LSU at West Virginia, Sept. 24: Five months ago Dana Holgorsen was escorted out of Mardi Gras Casino. On this date, he'll be the toast of Morgantown in his first big-time game. Mountaineers just want a coach to cozy up to. Bill Stewart was pushed out. Before that, Rich Rod left for Michigan. West Virginia's spirits are lifted only if Holgorsen is the coach-in-waiting-to-beat-LSU.

14. Notre Dame at Michigan, Sept. 10: Brian Kelly has his quarterback. Michigan has its lights. In the Big House's first post-sunlight game, a winner emerges in the Who-Will-Turn-It-Around-Quicker Bowl.

15. Sept. 17: The ACC's credibility goes on display with four big nonconference games, all against BCS league opponents. You'll see some of them listed separately here, but the date itself is a milestone in the ACC's post-expansion history. Clemson gets a return match from Auburn, West Virginia travels to Maryland, Oklahoma goes to FSU and Ohio State is at Miami.

16. First Big Ten Championship Game, Dec. 3: Things you never thought you would see: A unicorn, this guy with a career and the conservative Big Ten adding a championship game. Well, at least you never thought you would see two of those. Delany realized adding this game was such a no-brainer that a Minnesota-Illinois championship would sell out.

17. South Carolina at Georgia, Sept. 10: A compelling case can be made for Georgia starting 2-0, 1-1 or 0-2. Two of those starts are acceptable. Mark Richt might not survive if he loses his first two against Boise and South Carolina.

18. Boise State-Georgia, Sept. 3 in Atlanta: Buoyed by their clear advantage in uniforms, the Broncos cover themselves in Pro Combat before covering the spread.

19. First Pac-12 Championship Game, Dec. 3: Plenty of tickets are available. I mean plenty of tickets, especially when there is the possibility that the game could be in one of 12 venues.

20. Ohio State at Michigan, Nov. 26: Brady Hoke inherits one big intimidating number -- 2,834 days since the Wolverines beat the Bucks ... and counting.

Five worth your time

21. Auburn at Clemson, Sept. 17: Last season this was one of five games Auburn won by three points or less. Much pressure is on Dabo Swinney this time.

22. Ohio State at Miami, Sept. 17: The Ineligibowl.

23. Arkansas-Texas A&M, Oct. 1 in Arlington, Texas: Say it with me -- Aggies' unofficial SEC opener.

24. Miami at Florida State, Nov. 12: This was supposed to be the ACC's annual signature game. Not quite yet.

25. BYU at Texas, Sept. 10: This isn't a game, it's a site inspection. Battle of the collegiate networks might eventually result in BYU accepting invite to Big 12.