Pick Six Plus: A journey through the Top 25 in 17 games
Do a quick web search for “college football road trip” and a number of creative possibilities come up.
The Sporting News outlined an impressive journey that includes several quick turnarounds. The travel mileage is helpfully included. Herosports.com mapped out a schedule of nearly 50 games — and even offered an FCS version too. The Athlon Sports version has a restriction: You can’t see any team more than once. That certainly leads to some tough decisions.
These trips would of course require a serious commitment of both money and time. But planning them out is still a fun way to look ahead to the season. So here’s The Associated Press contribution to the genre, in which we lean heavily on the recently released preseason Top 25. There are only two rules for our college football dream itinerary:
1. We must see every team in the preseason rankings at least once.
2. Travel between games must be plausible. You can’t plan to go to a Pac-12 game on a Friday night and then expect to be in Big Ten country by noon Saturday.
Let the journey begin:
GAME 1: No. 11 Oregon vs. No. 16 Auburn (Aug. 31 in Arlington, Texas)
Opening week is usually full of mismatches, but with a few big nonconference games sprinkled in. This neutral-site clash — a rematch of the national championship game played in January 2011 — is the start of a crucial season for Auburn coach Gus Malzahn.
GAME 2: California at No. 13 Washington (Sept. 7)
This isn’t the day’s marquee matchup by any means — not with LSU facing Texas and Clemson hosting Texas A&M — but the Huskies were a tough team to schedule for this exercise, with some big games on other dates running into conflicts. So we’ll cross Chris Petersen’s team off the list early. Also, Washington did lose to Cal a season ago.
GAME 3: No. 1 Clemson at No. 22 Syracuse (Sept. 14)
The Orange are in the preseason Top 25 for the first time since the Donovan McNabb era. Their home opener at the Carrier Dome — or whatever it’s called this season — is against Trevor Lawrence and the defending champs.
GAME 4: No. 9 Notre Dame at No. 3 Georgia (Sept. 21)
Notre Dame’s traditional rivalries with Southern California and Michigan are still going strong, but the game everyone seems to be pointing to for the Irish is this trip into SEC territory. Georgia won at Notre Dame by a point in 2017.
GAME 5: No. 23 Washington State at No. 14 Utah (Sept. 28)
Utah reached the Pac-12 title game last season, and Kyle Whittingham’s team is favored to win the conference this year in the preseason media poll. Washington State needs to replace quarterback Gardner Minshew.
GAME 6: No. 17 Central Florida at Cincinnati (Oct. 4)
After winning 12 games last season, Cincinnati hopes to halt UCF’s two-year run of dominance in the AAC. This is the first of three two-game weekends on our itinerary.
GAME 7: No. 18 Michigan State at No. 5 Ohio State (Oct. 5)
It’s an easy drive from Cincinnati to the Horseshoe, and the Spartans and Buckeyes have provided some quality Big Ten slugfests in recent years.
GAME 8: No. 2 Alabama at No. 12 Texas A&M (Oct. 12)
The Aggies’ schedule includes the top three teams in the preseason poll — and only the Alabama game will be at Kyle Field. Keep an eye on the start time for Alabama-Texas A&M. If it’s at night, then it may be possible for some fans to catch both that and the Oklahoma-Texas showdown earlier in the day in Dallas. (We’ll leave the Red River Shootout off for now, though.)
GAME 9: UCLA at No. 25 Stanford (Oct. 17)
Stanford beat UCLA 49-42 last year. This Thursday night matchup is too convenient to pass up.
GAME 10: No. 7 Michigan at No. 15 Penn State (Oct. 19)
The day off between games means it’s reasonable to fly from California to Pennsylvania. The reward is a big matchup in Happy Valley between two teams that traded blowouts the past three years. Michigan won 49-10 in 2016 and 42-7 last season. Penn State won 42-13 in 2017.
GAME 11: No. 19 Wisconsin at No. 5 Ohio State (Oct. 26)
The Badgers were a disappointment last year. They get Michigan and Michigan State at home in 2019, so they could have a lot to play for when it comes time to face Ohio State on the road.
GAME 12: No. 3 Georgia vs. No. 8 Florida (Nov. 2 in Jacksonville, Florida)
The Cocktail Party hasn’t been decided by single digits since 2013, but this year the game could be a must-see. Florida is coming off a 10-win season and pounded Michigan in the Peach Bowl. Georgia has played in two straight SEC title games and came agonizingly close to a national title two seasons ago.
GAME 13: No. 6 LSU at No. 2 Alabama (Nov. 9)
The Tigers haven’t beaten Alabama since that 9-6 game in 2011 when they were both undefeated, and last year the Crimson Tide rolled 29-0. But LSU may be the toughest opponent on Alabama’s regular-season schedule, and on a weekend without many other marquee games, this matchup stands out.
GAME 14: No. 10 Texas at No. 21 Iowa State (Nov. 16)
Keep an eye on that Iowa State-Iowa game in September. If the Cyclones win that one, they could be on their way to a special season — and the same obviously applies to Texas if it can win its early showdown with LSU.
GAME 15: TCU at No. 4 Oklahoma (Nov. 23)
The Sooners put up 52 points against Gary Patterson’s TCU team last year, but this could be a trap game for Oklahoma before its regular-season finale at Oklahoma State. By this point, we should know if Jalen Hurts (or anyone else) has a shot to make it three straight Heisman trophies for the Sooners.
GAME 16: No. 20 Iowa at No. 24 Nebraska (Nov. 29)
The last remaining teams on the list play each other on the day after Thanksgiving, and if things break right, that game could certainly have division title implications in the Big Ten. With all 25 teams now accounted for, we get a freebie: We can pick any game we want to attend the following day, provided it’s a reasonable drive from Nebraska.
GAME 17: No. 5 Ohio State at No. 7 Michigan (Nov. 30)
It’s not a short drive from Lincoln to Ann Arbor, but since the Nebraska-Iowa game is in the afternoon, the trip is doable. With Urban Meyer out of the way, Michigan tries again to beat Ohio State for the first time under Jim Harbaugh.
Follow Noah Trister at www.Twitter.com/noahtrister