What’s the season-defining game for each Top 25 team next season?

From first-week blue-blooded matches to November’s conference battles that define the landscape of college football, a season-defining game could happen at any moment.

Fans enjoyed last season as Ohio State outplayed Notre Dame, Georgia announced its intention to win back-to-back titles with a 49-3 thrashing of Oregon, and Florida State reasserted its place in the top 25 in just its first week. action. Of course, that was followed by Tennessee’s loss to Alabama, Georgia’s loss to Tennessee, and Michigan’s second straight entry against Ohio State en route to the college football playoffs.

The season-defining game may be circled months in advance on the calendar, or it may come out of nowhere in college football, but these are the games our writers have their eye on for each team in the top 25 Too Early this coming fall.

1 Georgia Bulldogs

It’s not that hard to pick a season-defining game for two-time reigning national champion Georgia because there aren’t that many tough games to play in 2023. The non-conference schedule includes home games against the FCS program UT-Martin, Ball State (which replaced OU), and UAB, as well as a road event at Georgia Tech in the regular season finale on November 25. An early home game against South Carolina and a trip to Auburn in late September can be tough for the Bulldogs, but their November 18 game in Tennessee is likely to be their toughest yet. UT believes it will be out for blood after the Bulldogs knocked down the then No. 1 Volunteers 27-13 at Sanford Stadium last season. The game wasn’t that close. Georgia led 21-3 early in the second quarter and three touchdowns late in the third. Georgia have won 11 of their last 13 games against Tennessee and have only lost once at Neyland Stadium since 2010. Traditionally played at the start of the season, the game went a long way in determining which team would compete for the SEC East. title. This season, the SEC finals in Georgia could decide which of them will win the division. — Mark Schlabach

2. Ohio Buckeye

In most seasons, there is only one answer here, and certainly after the last two. Ohio State can’t afford to lose again to Michigan on Nov. 25 in Ann Arbor. Consecutive losses in The Game overshadowed the otherwise successful and significant career of Ohio State coach Ryan Day, who rose to the quarterback position to a level never seen before in Columbus. Day faced major backlash after last year’s loss at home, Ohio State’s first loss to Michigan since 2000. An impressive performance against Georgia in the CFP semi-finals restored some goodwill, but Day and Buckeyes would eventually be judged by the game against Michigan. Ohio State has held its own against its archrival three times in a row since 1995-97. The difference this year is that the Buckeyes may not be the clear favorite in the game. Ohio State fills in for its starting quarterback, asking questions throughout the defense as well as places like the running back. Michigan, meanwhile, is returning one of the country’s best offensive backfields. While the Buckeyes demonstrated last year that a win over Michigan was not required to qualify for a four-team CFP, they can’t rely on a likely spot at large again. — Adam Rittenberg

3 Michigan Wolverines

The same game applies to Michigan and Ohio states, although coach Jim Harbaugh and his team turned the tide in what was a painfully one-sided series. It’s hard to imagine Michigan winning a third consecutive Big Ten title – and a third straight CFP – without defeating Ohio State in the Big House. Unlike the last two seasons, Michigan should come out in the fall as the team that wins the Big Ten. The Wolverines are bringing back quarterback JJ McCarthy, running back Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards, wide receiver Cornelius Johnson, and several players from the award-winning offensive line. They again lack a notable non-league game (East Carolina, UNLV, Bowling Green). The traffic schedule is not easy: Pennsylvania, Michigan, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska. Michigan may be able to forgo a road game as long as it sweeps the home table, where it played very well under Harbaugh. A third win in a row over Ohio State will leave no doubt as to which team is the boss of the Big Ten. — Rittenberg

4. Florida Seminoles

It’s always difficult to pick the first game as the deciding game of the season because in the era of the college football playoffs, teams overcame early losses and ended up in the top four. But the LSU game in Orlando seems like an easy choice here, and we can point to last season for that reason. There were a lot of questions about the Seminoles before the start of the season, and none of them were about whether they could win 10 games. But the win over LSU in New Orleans showed it was going to be a different type of Florida State team and a different season. The loss is there, and who knows what happens. Now this early 2023 matchup could be even bigger as both teams have high hopes. The buzz around the state of Florida, and the victory will only help to continue the buzz. — Andrea Adelson

5. Crimson Tide of Alabama

A lot could change before the fall, but it looks like most of Alabama’s toughest games in 2023 will be played at home. Out of the conference, Texas visits Bryant-Denny Stadium in the second week of the season. And in the SEC game, Ole Miss comes to Tuscaloosa on September 23rd, Tennessee on October 21st, and LSU on November 4th. the last game in the game a year ago, which ultimately kept the Crimson Tide out of the college football playoffs for only the second time since the CFP’s inception in the 2014 season. The game in Tennessee, in particular, is of great importance to Alabama. A victory over the Vols will give Tide an extra week to complete the Tennessee and LSU sweep. Also, no one in crimson has forgotten the wild assault scene at Neiland Stadium last season after Tennessee’s game-winning field goal snapped Alabama’s 15-game winning streak. — Chris Low

6. Penn State Nittany Lions

The Nittany Lions suffered two losses last season, one to Michigan and one to Ohio State. The Buckeyes are scheduled in Pennsylvania on October 21st. If the Nittany Lions are going to make it to the Big Ten championship game or the playoffs, they’ll have to go through Ohio and eventually Michigan. Losing this game makes it harder to reach their goals and probably raises more questions about the program ceiling. Penn State has not defeated Ohio State since the 2016 season, when they won 24-21. This game against Ohio State, with new faces at quarterback, wide receiver and some other key players, will be a measure of where the team is and how far they can go. — Tom Van Haaren

7 USC Trojans

The game that Lincoln Riley’s team may have missed in the schedule this season is the October 21 game against Utah in Los Angeles – the only team (other than Tulane in the bowl game) to beat them last season. But aside from a rematch, if USC is once again on the verge of making it to the college football playoffs, the game that is likely to seal its fate and color their season is a Nov. 11 trip to Eugene to play an Oregon team that has exactly the same expectations are expected in 2023. Last season, the Trojans won a favorable draw and avoided playing the Ducks, but this year’s schedule is loaded with a four-week stretch that starts at The Bluff, including Oregon and Washington (at home). and ends with UCLA. — Paolo Uggetti

8. LSU Tigers

Living in the SEC West means you don’t tend to play just one season-defining game. This is doubly true for the LSU team kicking off the season with arguably the most important game of Week 1 against Florida State. But while we can make the case that FSU is huge, or the opening of the SEC in Mississippi, or maybe the regular season finale against Texas A&M, you still only have one choice if you’re aiming to qualify for the SEC West: bama. Brian Kelly’s first trip to Tuscaloosa on November 4 is likely to be a game-breaker when it comes to trying to replicate the West Division and even if the Crimson Tide faces a few issues and more changes than usual, they’re still Bama and they’re still going take revenge. — Bill Connelly

9. Oregon ducks

It was a loss to the Washingtons at home in 2022 that snapped Oregon’s eight-game winning streak and gave the Ducks their first conference loss of a game. It ended up being one of two Pac-12 losses that proved decisive in keeping the Ducks out of the conference title game and sending them on course for the disappointing Holiday Bowl berth. Expectations are much higher this year in Coach Dan Lanning’s second season, and as this game is scheduled to play earlier, it represents a major milestone this season. With a manageable schedule before then, the Ducks should have a chance to go 6-0 here with four of their six home games the rest of the way (including against USC). That would probably be enough to get into the top 5 and all that. — Kyle Bonagura

10 Tennessee Volunteers

What a second season under Josh Hupel in Tennessee. All the Oxen did was win 11 games for the first time since 2001 and beat Alabama and Florida before beating Clemson in the Capital One Orange Bowl. It’s time for Joe Milton III as quarterback, and Hendon Hooker is leaving for the NFL, and Milton’s first SEC trial will be on the road against Florida. This is a game for the Vols, who haven’t won two consecutive Gators since 2003 and 2004. The SEC schedule is getting a little tighter for Tennessee this season as games in Alabama and Florida are expected on the road. But for this trip to Alabama on October 21 and back to Georgia on November 18 to really make any difference on the national level, the Vols must win…


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