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Columns Front Office Writers Joe Heisman NCAAF Sports

Best conference games for the 2018 college football season

While non-conference games are fun and have drama, conference games contain the competitiveness and rivalries that fans really want to see. With that, the best game for each conference will be listed here so that fans can get a glimpse of what could be season-defining games.

AAC: Houston at Memphis Nov. 23

These two teams, along with USF and UCF, have been the class of the AAC the past few seasons. UCF is favored to win the conference after their undefeated season last year, but play in a different division than these two teams and should make the championship game without too much harm done.

Houston and Memphis are the two teams most likely to make it to the AAC Championship Game from the AAC West, meaning this game will likely be more competitive and have more on the line.

Memphis will have to figure their offense out without Riley Ferguson and Anthony Miller on the team anymore but they do return seven starters on each side of the ball. Houston still has Ed Oliver, one of the best defensive linemen in the country, who will make things tough for Memphis. If the Cougars find an offense, the sky is the limit for this team in the AAC.

ACC: Florida State at Miami Oct. 6

Shaq Quarterman Miami
Shaq Quarterman (Photo by twitter.com)

Clemson loses its spot on this list because they are simply a lot more talented than the rest of the teams on their schedule and should make the ACC Championship Game pretty easily. Miami, on the other hand, is a team who will likely struggle after winning many close games last year. If they want to have a chance at the ACC Championship Game they will have to go through a lot of good teams, including their rival Florida State.

Florida State will be breaking in their new head coach Willie Taggart and hoping they can improve on their 7-6 record from last season. They have the talent to compete, but doing so in a coach’s first year is always tough.

Miami nearly got to the College Football Playoff last season but lost their last three games of the season including the Orange Bowl to Wisconsin. They are ranked very highly by many and should be looking to build on what they did last year by finishing the season out strong.

Big Ten: Ohio State at Michigan Nov. 24

Ohio State has dominated this series in the 21st century, but Michigan should be better this season than they were last. “The Game” has the rivalry, history and two pretty good teams playing each other making it the game to watch in the Big Ten.

Michigan’s offense should look a whole lot better this season with Shea Patterson under center. He will have some good receivers, including Donovan Peoples-Jones to work with. If the offense can be half as good as the defense, Michigan has a chance to win the Big Ten.

The Buckeyes are used to excellence and replacing a lot of players from year to year. They have to replace important players like quarterback J.T. Barrett and corner back Denzel Ward. Defensive linemen Nick Bosa and Dre’Mont Jones will be expected to lead the defensive charge, while running backs J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber help break in a new quarterback. By this point in the season though, they should be rolling on all cylinders.

Big 12: Oklahoma at West Virginia Nov. 23

Kyler Murray Oklahoma football
Kyler Murray (Photo by sportingnews.com)

The Big 12 lost a lot of good players from last season, which includes Baker Mayfield and Mason Rudolph. That sets up West Virginia to be the biggest challenger to Oklahoma in the Big 12.

West Virginia got great news when Will Grier and David Sills V decided to return to school. With those two returning, the offense should be able to score with the best in the country. The defense, like most of the Big 12, just needs to hold it together.

Oklahoma needs to replace one of the all-time greats in Mayfield, but have a promising prospect in Kyler Murray, who was selected in the MLB Draft, but elected to play football this season at Oklahoma. He will be reliant on Rodney Anderson to pick up big yards on the ground. The defense, which returns six starters, will also have to step it up if they want to play in a big bowl game.

C-USA: FAU at MTSU Sep. 29

Lane Kiffin brought life back to FAU football last season and now has them in the driver’s seat in the conference. There is a significant gap in talent between FAU and all other teams in the conference, but if anyone can knock off the Owls it is MTSU.

Middle Tennessee won seven games last year and could do a little better this season if their quarterback Brent Stockstill stays healthy. In total, they have sixteen returning starters and should be able to at least give FAU a game.

Florida Atlantic has 15 returning starters from their team that went 11-3 last season. That includes 10 starters returning on the defensive side of the ball. On offense, they will feed Devin Singletary who has rushed for 2,941 yards in his first two years.

MAC: Ohio at Northern Illinois Oct. 13

This game will pit two of the more consistent teams in the division against each other. When Ohio and Northern Illinois play it could be a foreshadowing of the MAC Championship Game.

Ohio brings back just 11 starters, but have Nathan Rourke, A.J. Oullette and Papi White as a three-headed monster on offense. The defense will likely take a step back but the offense should be even better than their ninth-ranked unit last season.

Northern Illinois won nine games last season and have 12 players with experience in the starting lineup for next season. Defensive end Sutton Smith had a lot of sacks last year and will be tasked with leading the defense, which should be the stong point of the team.

MWC: Fresno State at Boise State Nov. 9

A rematch of the MWC Championship Game will be the game of the season this year.

Fresno State had a surprisingly fast turnaround under Jeff Tedford, who went 10-4 last year. They played Boise State in the last week of the regular season and won, but lost to them in the rematch the next week for the MWC Championship Game. Tedford will be relying on 15 starters who all decided to come back to Fresno State. The defense was the strong point last year and will just need to replace players on the defensive line.

Boise State brings back all but six players on offense and defense and should be able to defend their MWC crown. Brett Rypien will be the player to watch on offense, as the senior quarterback has plenty of experience. The defense should be better with their returnees.

Pac-12: Stanford at Washington Nov. 3

Jake Browning Washington football
Jake Browning (Photo by uwdawgpound.com)

In the last three seasons, one of these two teams have represented the Pac-12 North in the Pac-12 Championship Game. Since the start of the game in 2011, Oregon is the only other school to represent the Pac-12 North. It will likely come down to Stanford and Washington for the fourth straight season.

Stanford had a “down” year last season and still went 9-5. They received a huge help when running back Bryce Love decided to continue his education and forgo the NFL Draft. He will provide the running game, but Stanford needs to find a consistent quarterback.The defense will be solid again, making them a threat for the Pac-12 and the College Football Playoff.

Chris Petersen has brought Washington back to life in his first four seasons and has a chance to continue that in 2018. Quarterback Jake Browning and running back Myles Gaskin wil lead the great Washington offense again, but more playmakers are needed at receiver. The defense ranked fifth in the country last season and only lost two starters. With both units being great, Washington is one of the favorites to make the CFP out of the Pac-12.

SEC: Auburn at Alabama Nov. 24

Tua Tagovailoa Alabama football
Tua Tagovailoa (Photo by bamahammer.com)

Was there really another option other than the Iron Bowl (maybe Auburn-Georgia)? Since 2009 at least one of these teams have been in the BCS Championship Game or the College Football Playoff Championship Game. It is likely to happen again this season.

Auburn actually won the Iron Bowl last season, but got knocked out of the CFP picture when they lost to Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. The defense was one of the best in the country and returns seven players, including three defensive linemen, who will be needed in order to beat Alabama. Quarterback Jarrett Stidham will be tasked with taking the offense to another level without the services of running back Kerryon Johnson. He is the x-factor for Auburn.

There were doubts about Alabama making the CFP after losing to Auburn, but they made it and ended up winning it all. They also found a new star in Tua Tagovailoa who saved their chances in the second half of the CFP Championship Game. He and Jalen Hurts are still battling for the job, but will have a solid offensive line and a good running back in Damien Harris to work with. The defense will need some time before being broken in, with just two returning starters. Luckily for Alabama, they have been in this position many times before.

Sun Belt: App. St. at Arkansas St. Oct. 9

While Troy had a great season last year, Appalachian State and Arkansas State should be the premier game on the Sun Belt schedule.

Appalachian State won nine games last season and bring back half of their starters. Jalin Moore will lead the offense from his running back position, but they need to find a new quarterback in order to be successful. The defense lost a lot of talent and will need to find their legs early (they play at Penn State in week one).

The Red Wolves have Justice Hansen returning and he led the team to have the 13th ranked scoring offense in the country last season. With six players with starting experience flanking him on offense, Hansen will have another big year. The defense, however, doesn’t have much experience returning. If they end up falling short of expectations it will likely be on the defensive side of the ball.

 

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