Back by popular demand (or at least an absence of protest), we continue the presentation of the annual Most Intriguing lists for college football. Here are the 25 Most Intriguing Games of 2014:
1. Auburn at Alabama, Nov. 29. As if this game hasn't carried enough payload for ages, consider: the winner has played for the national title each of the last five years. And then there is the unprecedented way the most recent meeting ended last November on The Plains. That's a lot to live up to, but this rivalry usually seems to find a way.
2. Michigan State at Oregon, Sept. 6. The marquee non-conference game of 2014 will do a lot to frame the early stages of the College Football Playoff debate, for these two teams and their conferences as well. Also an intriguing clash of stylistic opposites. The Big Ten really needs this one.
3. Florida at Florida State, Nov. 29. It's a long way to Thanksgiving, but a few of the things that could be on the line when this game is played: the Seminoles' defense of the national title; Jameis Winston's repeat Heisman Trophy bid; Will Muschamp's job; the Gators' viability as a power program.
4. UCLA at Texas, Sept. 13. If you want an early measurement of Charlie Strong's revamping of the Longhorns, this matchup will provide it. Could also provide an early measurement of the Bruins as a playoff team. Unless UCLA flops in its first two games, it will bring a top-10 ranking to Arlington.
5. Baylor at Oklahoma, Nov. 8. The Sooners believe they are back as a national title contender. The Bears believe they are the new power in the Big 12. Odds are they can't both be right, and this game should clear up any misconceptions. Remember, Baylor has never won in Norman.
6. Michigan at Notre Dame, Sept. 6. Wolverines are a major question mark heading into this season. Fighting Irish are as well, now that they're reeling from the potential loss of four players to an academic cheating scandal. But here's why this game matters most: it is (shamefully) the last scheduled meeting between two of the four winningest programs in college football history.
7. Stanford at Oregon, Nov. 1. The Ducks always have a higher ranking, a higher profile and a higher sheen on their space-age helmets. But the no-frills Cardinal has pounded the glamour right out of Oregon the past two meetings, pulling consecutive upsets, winning the Pac-12 North and playing in the past two Rose Bowls. Easy to envision the division race (and possibly a lot more) riding on the outcome of this game again this year.
8. Ohio State at Michigan State, Nov. 8. Should decide the Big Ten East champion, and likely the champion of the entire league. Spartans dealt the Buckeyes a crushing blow in Indianapolis last December, shocking them in the conference title game and knocking them out of the BCS championship game. Was that dawn of the Era of Sparty in the league, or does Urban Meyer get back on to Midwestern dominance starting with this meeting in East Lansing?
9. Alabama at LSU, Nov. 8. Over the past five years, this game has probably been the top collection of NFL-level talent in the nation. Always ferociously played, and usually with high stakes. And any Nick Saban return to Baton Rouge pushes the already crazy home crowd that much closer to insanity.
10. Oklahoma State vs. Florida State in Dallas, Aug. 30. Have success and crab legs gone to the No. 1 Seminoles' heads? We get our first answers in JerryWorld against a Cowboys program that has won six straight season openers.
11. Wisconsin vs. LSU in Houston, Aug. 30. Badgers' Melvin Gordon ran for more than 1,600 yards last year and begins this season as a prime Heisman candidate. But he still won't be the back creating the most pregame buzz. Everyone is waiting to check out Tigers freshman Leonard Fournette, probably the most-hyped running back prospect since Adrian Peterson – the player he is often compared to.
12. Auburn at Georgia, Nov. 15. The Tigers go back between the hedges for the first time since 2011, after consecutive games in Auburn for the first time in the history of a series that dates back to 1892. You might recall last year's game, when the Bulldogs' bungled coverage of a Hail Mary deep ball turned into a fluke Auburn touchdown and ultimately an SEC title. That play epitomized a fate-kissed Auburn season and an utterly jinxed year for Georgia.
13. Oklahoma vs. Texas in Dallas, Oct. 11. For the first time since 1998, this isn't Stoops vs. Mack. What will the new nature of the rivalry be with Charlie Strong in burnt orange?
14. Oregon at UCLA, Oct. 11. On paper, the best matchup of the season in a loaded Pac-12. This also could be the first of two – or, what the heck, three – meetings between the two this season. Ducks have won the past five, most of them with ease.
15. Michigan at Ohio State, Nov. 29. Could this be Brady Hoke's last stand as coach of the Wolverines? Michigan hasn't won in the Horseshoe since 2000, and might need a miracle to do it this year – although a bad Michigan team nearly pulled off the shocker last year.
16. UCF at Missouri, Sept. 13. Teams went a combined 24-3 last year and posted big bowl victories, yet they've been largely discounted coming into this season. Which one will make an early statement about staying power at the expense of the other?
17. USC at Stanford, Sept. 6. Among the many ways Lane Kiffin infuriated Trojans fans was losing his Pac-12 opener the past three seasons. Steve Sarkisian gets the chance to correct that trend – but has to do it against the Cardinal. Talk about a quick gut check, and it comes after a tricky opener against Fresno State.
18. Texas A&M at South Carolina, Aug. 29. Life after Johnny Football and Jadeveon Clowney begins bright and early, with a Thursday night season opener. Aggies are replacing the most exciting player in school history; Gamecocks are replacing the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft. Which team is more prepared for the new reality?
19. Auburn at Kansas State, Sept. 18. Bob Stoops started the Big 12's attack on SEC invincibility. Now the battleground switches to Manhattan, Kan., on a Thursday night. For Auburn, this is no consolation game; it's closer to a College Football Playoff elimination game.
20. Virginia Tech at Ohio State, Sept. 6. For the first time under Urban Meyer, the Buckeyes will play a non-conference game against an opponent with a pulse. The Hokies have slipped in recent years, but at least they're tougher than Florida A&M and UAB.
21. Boise State vs. Mississippi in Atlanta, Aug. 28. These are the kind of games Chris Petersen won with remarkable regularity at Boise. Can the Broncos still slay a big dog from a power conference without him? And as Hugh Freeze's recruiting coups mature, are the Rebels ready to make a run at the SEC elite?
22. Florida State at Louisville, Oct. 30. In each of Jimbo Fisher's first three seasons as coach of the Seminoles, they always found an ACC road game to blow. That changed last year with Jameis Winston – but if you're looking for the Noles' biggest league challenge, this Thursday night game might be it.
23. Akron at Penn State, Sept. 6. Nobody will hold it against James Franklin if he loses his debut game as coach of the Nittany Lions to UCF in Ireland. If he follows that with a home loss a week later to the Zips, the honeymoon is over. But coming off transoceanic travel and facing a program that has improved dramatically under Terry Bowden, this is a trap game.
24. Western Kentucky at Marshall, Nov. 28. If the easiest schedule in history plays out as it appears going in, the Thundering Herd will be looking to wrap up a 12-0 regular season the day after Thanksgiving against the Hilltoppers.
25. Appalachian State at Michigan, Aug. 30. Looks like a nothing game on paper. But so did it in 2007 when Lloyd Carr hastened the end of his tenure in Ann Arbor with a season-opening, incomprehensible upset loss to App State.
Just missed the list: South Carolina at Clemson, Nov. 29. Notre Dame at Florida State, Oct. 18. USC at UCLA, Nov. 22. UCLA at Arizona State, Sept. 25. Clemson at Georgia, Aug. 30. UCF vs. Penn State in Ireland, Aug. 30. North Carolina at Duke, Nov. 20. BYU at Texas, Sept. 6. Oklahoma at Texas Tech, Nov. 15. Stanford at Notre Dame, Oct. 4. Stanford at UCLA, Nov. 28. Stanford at Washington, Sept. 27. Utah State at Tennessee, Aug. 31. Houston at Cincinnati, Dec. 6. Ohio State at Maryland, Oct. 4.
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