Some college football games to circle

There are just three Saturdays, or 21 days overall, however you prefer to count, until the college football season begins.

For Penn State, the season opener comes on Sept. 1 when the Nittany Lions play host to Appalachian State at Beaver Stadium.

For some fans looking forward to the season, there’s always more than just Penn State to anticipate. So, with that in mind, here are 12 regular season games worth watching (one for each week of the regular season), to help you get a head start on your viewing plans.

Sept. 1, Michigan at Notre Dame (7:30 p.m., NBC): Despite a few other high-profile matchups on the season’s first full weekend, this one probably matters the most nationally and to a majority of viewers in our region. One program gets an early season jump start, while the other (and its lovable coach, because they both fit in that category) has to explain what happened in the first game of the season.

Sept. 8, Iowa State at Iowa (5 p.m., Fox): These two in-state rivals first started playing each other in 1894. Since 1977 they’ve battled for the Cy-Hawk Trophy. Iowa leads the series and has won seven of the past 10 games. Still, last year’s matchup (a 44-41 victory for the Hawkeyes) was decided in overtime.

Sept. 15, Florida State at Syracuse (Noon, TBA): New coach Willie Taggard brings the Seminoles north to the nondescript Carrier Dome for what would seem like an opportunity for an early season road victory. The Orange finished seventh in the Atlantic Coast Conference last season, but battled Florida State before losing, 27-24, on the road.

Sept. 22, Florida at Tennessee (TBA): This year’s version of the game might not match the rivalry at its height, but, make no mistake, four weeks into the season it is important for both programs. In the past decade and a half, the Gators lead the series, 12-3. Still, many of the games have been dramatic and emotional.

Sept. 27, North Carolina at Miami (8 p.m., ESPN): Since you’ll clear your schedule for Ohio State-Penn State this weekend, start early to avoid any clutter. This is a Thursday night game, which should be a victory for the Hurricanes — a potentially top-notch team that often struggles to draw in south Florida unless it’s winning.

Oct. 6, Washington at UCLA (TBA): Six weeks into the season will be a good time to peek in on the progress of Chip Kelly, formerly of the Philadelphia Eagles and Oregon Ducks, in his rookie year at UCLA. And a game against Washington is not an easy test.

Oct. 13, Hawaii at BYU (TBA): In 2018, Hawaii travels to Colorado State, Army, San Jose State, BYU and Fresno State — with this game at LaVelle Edwards Stadium in Provo, Utah, potentially the toughest trip. Getting to Army on Sept. 15 might be more challenging, but BYU has been dominant against Hawaii, leading the series 22-8 and winning four in a row.

Oct. 20, Mississippi State at LSU (TBA): Many Penn State fans will check in on Joe Moorhead long before this, but if he brings consistency and success to MSU ‘s offense, this road game — the team’s toughest to this point of the season — should be a strong indicator of how the entire season plays out.

Oct. 25, Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech (7:30 p.m., ESPN): Credit the Virginia Tech fanbase for setting the standard for atmosphere during Thursday night games on ESPN. When the program was seeking relevance, it was not afraid to play these games and after two decades as a top-tier program (despite some slippage), Thursday nights remain special in Blacksburg, Virginia — which reminds me of Happy Valley, just 370 miles farther south.

Nov. 3, West Virginia at Texas (TBA): There has to be at least one WVU game worth watching, right? This might be a tough assignment, but the Mountaineers have a decent offense and often spring surprise outcomes (good and bad) when least expected.

Nov. 10, Oklahoma State at Oklahoma (TBA): The hype for “Bedlam” might not match the recent results — the Sooners have won 13 of the past 15 games — but with the soft defense played in the Big 12 Conference there will be points scored. Last season the teams combined for 114 points. In 2016 it was 58, and in 2015 they combined for 81.

Nov. 17, Michigan State at Nebraska (TBA): Neither of these teams appears late on the Penn State schedule as they have in many previous seasons, so a mid-November matchup seems like a good time to check them out against each other. How the momentum of hiring coach Scott Frost plays out for Nebraska will be interesting in his first season at his alma mater.

Nov. 24, Auburn at Alabama (TBA): It remains one of the best late-season games in the nation, no matter the teams’ records. Plus, it would’ve been hard to list either of the teams’ games the previous week as Alabama played the Citadel and Auburn hosted Liberty. They’re both back to real college football with this matchup.

Dec. 8, Army vs. Navy (3 p.m., CBS): Kudos to Army for making this tradition-rich game competitive the past couple of seasons. It was worth watching for all the right reasons before, and now it’s become a good game as well. It’s different, heavily run-based, but no less enjoyable — and it certainly features no less effort from the participants.

Sampsell can be reached at stevesampsell@gmail.com.

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