As the 2015 College Football Season looms in the distance, it is undeniable that we, the fans, are eagerly anticipating what will be here in just three months: the pageantry, the tradition, the rivalries, the energy, the humility. The 2015 College Football Season will undoubtedly bring new and exciting debate and fight that has already been circulating since Urban Meyer and the Ohio State Buckeyes proudly hoisted the trophy of the inaugural College Football Playoff Championship: who will be "in" this year? Can a dark-horse candidate take the Heisman?
While the teams will cement their resumes and tell their stories on the field, one of the best parts of college football is in fact the hype, the pomp and circumstance, and the build-up. It's the energy and the vibrancy in tailgating and the pride in arriving long before kickoff or before the sun even rises on gameday morning, and it starts with ESPN's College Gameday. College Gameday is one of the best traditions of College Football Saturday, and it can never be too early to predict from where the show will originate each week, and what matchups jump out from the page.
Week 1: September 5, 2015
The Pick: Wisconsin vs. Alabama (Dallas, Texas)
Though Wisconsin lost its 2014 Heisman Trophy finalist running back Melvin Gordon to the NFL Draft, the Badgers still return a host of offensive starters to a team poised to make another run at the Big-10 title. Wisconsin ended its 2014 campaign on a high note—knocking off the Auburn Tigers in the Outback Bowl—and looks to defeat two SEC foes in consecutive games. Both Wisconsin and Alabama (semi-finalist of the Inaugural College Football Playoff) should be ranked in the preseason top 15, and their primetime date in the annual Cowboy's Classic is too appealing of a matchup for the College Gameday crew to pass up. Notre Dame also plays host to Texas in Week 1, which is too an attractive choice, but expect to have Gameday set up camp in Dallas for the season's opening weekend.
Week 2: September 12, 2015
The Pick: Oregon vs. Michigan St. (East Lansing, Michigan)
Both the Ducks and Spartans finished the last season ranked in the AP Top 5, and are expected to be preseason top 5 teams heading into the 2015 season. When the two met last September in Eugene, the Oregon Ducks cruised to a 46-27 victory, and scored 28 unanswered points in the second half to outlast Michigan St. Don't expect much of the same in their 2015 matchup, however, as the Spartans return 7 senior starters to their veteran defense along with senior quarterback Connor Cook. Cook has led the Spartans to consecutive New Year's Day triumphs over Stanford in the 2014 Rose Bowl Game and Baylor in the 2015 Cotton Bowl Classic in a particularly dramatic 21-point come-from-behind win. This top 5 pairing provides all the makings for a classic slugfest, and expect College Gameday to make its 8th visit to East Lansing for the season's second week.
Week 3: September 19, 2015
The Pick: Stanford vs. USC (Los Angeles, California)
Since the Stanford Cardinal completed a noteworthy 55-21 defeat of USC back in 2009, the USC-Stanford rivalry has been one of the most followed and most stimulating across the country, with a history of dramatic back-and-forth triumphs, and heartbreaks. 2010—Cardinal walk off on a field goal to outlast USC 37-35. 2011—USC and Stanford trade blows in an exhilarating 3-overtime classic, 56-48 (Gameday visited). 2012—Trojans fail to complete game winning drive and fall on the road ranked #2 in the nation. 2013—USC connects on a 48-yard field goal to upset 5th ranked Stanford. 2014—Placekicker Andre Heidari again gives the Trojans the go-ahead score on a 53-yard field goal, and defensive end J.R. Tavai forces a fumble on a sack of Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan to save the 13-10 lead. So, what will the 2015 matchup in primetime bring? You can bet College Gameday will be on location to find out.
Week 4: September 26, 2015
The Pick: Mississippi St. vs. Auburn (Auburn, Alabama)
The Mississippi St. Bulldogs look to build off of their unprecedented success in the 2014 season, where they were at a time ranked #1 by the College Football Playoff Selection Committee, and reached the Orange Bowl, which was only the school's second major bowl appearance in its history. The Bulldogs return senior quarterback and Heisman Trophy hopeful Dak Prescott, and should roll into Auburn with a record of 3-0. When the two last met on October 11, 2014, the Auburn Tigers were ranked #2 and the Bulldogs were just below them at #3. The game was all it lived up to, with the Bulldogs ultimately taking the victory, 38-23. Should both Auburn and Mississippi St. be ranked in the top 10 or 15 by the end of the season's first month, I can't imagine College Gameday missing this highly-anticipated rematch.
Week 5: October 3, 2015
The Pick: Notre Dame vs. Clemson (Clemson, SC)
Due to its new deal with the Atlantic Coast Conference, Notre Dame will meet Clemson on the road in one of the most anticipated contests of the 2015 season. Though the Fighting Irish recently lost its starting quarterback, Everett Golson, to the Florida St. Seminoles by way of a transfer, Notre Dame is high on his replacement, lefty Malik Zaire, to lead the Irish to the College Football Playoff. The Clemson Tigers had a strong 2014 showing: they posted a 10-3 record (losing only to ranked opponents Georgia, Florida St. and Georgia Tech) and completely humiliated Oklahoma in the Russell Athletic Bowl, winning 40-6. Tiger Head Coach Dabo Swinney has led Clemson to double-digit win seasons four years in a row. Though Alabama takes on Georgia in the same week, it should be a "no-brainer" to have College Gameday make its 4th visit to Clemson if both teams are healthy by early October.
Week 6: October 10, 2015
The Pick: Northern Iowa vs. North Dakota St. (Fargo, North Dakota)
The sixth week of the 2015 College Football season, on the surface, appears to be an "off-week," so look here for Gameday to make what is becoming to be an annual trip to Fargo, North Dakota to showcase the North Dakota St. Bison of the FCS. The Bison are coming off an unprecedented 4th consecutive FCS national championship, an achievement never before accomplished by any other team in the history of Division I College Football.
Week 7: October 17, 2015
The Pick: Penn St. vs. Ohio St. (Columbus, Ohio)
In year two of the James Franklin era at Penn St., the Nittany Lions look to build off an up and down 7-6 campaign last season, which ended with a Pinstripe Bowl overtime victory over Boston College. The Lions will be led by junior quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who, by some NFL Draft experts, is believed to be a potential #1 overall draft pick for 2016. Though the Ohio St. Buckeyes went on to win the inaugural College Football Playoff National Championship last season, its most difficult test was indeed Penn St., a game which the Buckeyes squeaked by, 31-24 in double overtime, sacking Hackenberg on a crucial 4th&5 to leave Happy Valley victorious. This is certainly a "must-win" game for the Buckeyes if they have any hope of repeating an appearance in the College Football Playoff. Though USC travels to South Bend for its annual date with Notre Dame on the same day—which in itself is an attractive candidate—you can bet that a primetime kickoff at the sold-out Horseshoe in Columbus, Ohio will have College Gameday written all over it.
Week 8: October 24, 2015
The Pick: Auburn vs. Arkansas (Fayetteville, Arkansas)
Though a 7-6 record is never much to brag over, the Arkansas Razorbacks look to prove that their 2014 winning record and rout over the Texas Longhorns in the postseason was no fluke. In the previous year, the Razorbacks were a lowly 3-9, and of course head coach Bret Bielema and the Arkansas offense made major strides to find success in 2014. Should the Razorbacks mean business in the new campaign, look for College Gameday to make an appearance in Fayetteville. It is not unreasonable for the Razorbacks to roll into this contest with a 6-0 or perhaps 5-1 record, which begs the question, could Arkansas be the surprise team of the SEC and the Ole Miss or the Mississippi St. of 2015?
Week 9: October 31, 2015
The Pick: Michigan vs. Minnesota (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
After a disappointing "off-year" going 5-7, the Michigan Wolverines turn to the leadership of new head coach Jim Harbaugh, who, in stints at Stanford and the San Francisco 49ers has pretty much won immediately wherever he has coached. The Wolverines benefit from a favorable 2015 schedule, skipping out on facing Wisconsin and Nebraska. The Minnesota Golden Gophers, on the other hand, look to continue the success of a respectable 8-win season, in which they were regularly ranked and featured a much-revered running back in David Cobb. If the Gophers remain healthy and prove that they could be the "real deal"—especially if they find a way to knock off TCU at home in the season opener on September 3rd—Minnesota should very well find itself hosting College Gameday for the first time in school history for its primetime battle with Michigan on Halloween night.
Week 10: November 7, 2015
The Pick: Michigan St. vs. Nebraska (Lincoln, Nebraska)
Should Michigan St. have beaten Oregon and should Nebraska have survived conference foes Wisconsin and Minnesota, it is reasonable to conclude that both teams should roll into Lincoln with unblemished records, which should make for quite the primetime showdown. Though the Cornhuskers have lost starting running back Ameer Abdullah, new head coach Mike Riley from Oregon St. should find ways to quickly rebuild around veteran dual-threat quarterback Tommy Armstrong. Nebraska also returns 9 starters on defense. Michigan St. escaped Nebraska in last year's thriller, 27-22, and this year's rematch could have both contenders vying for a spot in the Big-10 championship game. Clemson plays host to Florida St. this weekend, which would be an interesting choice of location to monitor the progression of Seminole QB Everett Golson, however Lincoln, Nebraska is the place to be come November 7th.
Week 11: November 14, 2015
The Pick: Oklahoma vs. Baylor (Waco, Texas)
The Baylor Bears are coming off of an impressive 2014 in which they led the nation in scoring with 48.2 points per game, and just came up short for a spot in the College Football Playoff. This year, Baylor looks to win the Big-12 Conference Title outright, after being crowned co-champions with TCU, a team it beat 61-58 in October 2014. Should Baylor be able to adequately compensate for the loss of All Big-12 quarterback Bryce Petty, look for Gameday to profile the Bears' road to the Big-12 title against Oklahoma, which, aside from playing TCU on the Friday of Thanksgiving weekend, should be Baylor's biggest challenge of 2015.
Week 12: November 21, 2015
The Pick: USC vs. Oregon (Eugene, Oregon)
The Trojans are a unanimously attractive candidate for a Preseason AP Top 5 ranking and semi-finalist spot in the College Football Playoff. However, to reach the playoff, USC must beat Oregon on the road in a hostile Auzten Stadium—a place where the Oregon Ducks are virtually unbeatable. However, the last time these two teams met in Eugene, the Trojans escaped a valiant Oregon comeback and walked out with a 38-35 victory. College Gameday chose to skip over what was in 2011 one of the Pac-12 games of the year, and rather set up camp that November weekend in Texas for SMU vs. Houston. You can bet that Gameday will not make the same mistake twice, choosing to miss out on what will again be the Pac-12 game of the year, and set up for a potential rematch between the two in the Pac-12 Championship Game at Levi's Stadium.
Week 13: November 28, 2015
The Pick: Ohio St. vs. Michigan (Ann Arbor, Michigan)
The Buckeyes fought off a resilient Wolverine squad in a 42-28 victory last year in Columbus, but the Urban Meyer/Jim Harbaugh coaching matchup is too juicy for College Gameday to overlook, and makes for perhaps the most anticipated edition of the Ohio St.-Michigan rivalry since 2006 when the teams entered the game #1 and #2, respectively. Though this rivalry weekend presents a host of interesting matchups for Gameday to visit such as USC vs. UCLA and Alabama vs. Auburn, ESPN knows that the more intriguing story will come out of Ann Arbor between Meyer and Harbaugh.