College football is just around the corner -- we’re less than 11 weeks away from the Gophers’ season opener against New Mexico State on Aug. 30. So, with that in mind, I’ll be examining some story lines, players and trends to watch over the next few weeks. Here’s today’s installment:
Week by week: A look at the best matchups of 2018
Week 1 (Aug. 30-Sept. 3)
Marquee matchup: Michigan at Notre Dame
* There are several great matchups over Labor Day weekend, beginning on Thursday, Aug. 30, but Wolverines vs. Fighting Irish gets the nod because it’s no longer played every year and there’s some bad blood between the programs.
Others to watch: Washington at Auburn, Miami (Fla.) vs. LSU at Arlington, Texas (Sept. 2), Virginia Tech at Florida State (Sept. 3).
Sleeper game: South Dakota State at Iowa State
Week 2 (Sept. 8)
Marquee matchup: Clemson at Texas A&M
* Dabo Swinney meets Jimbo Fisher again, this time in College Station.
Others to watch: USC at Stanford, UCLA at Oklahoma, Colorado at Nebraska, Penn State at Pitt.
Sleeper game: Michigan State at Arizona State
Week 3 (Sept. 15)
Marquee matchup: LSU at Auburn
* Home team has won five consecutive and seven of the past eight in the series.
Others to watch: Ohio State vs. TCU at Arlington, Texas; USC at Texas, Alabama at Ole Miss.
Sleeper game: Boise State at Oklahoma State
Week 4 (Sept. 22)
Marquee matchup: Texas A&M at Alabama
* Aggies play Clemson and the Crimson Tide in the span of three weeks. That’s some serious scheduling.
Others to watch: Wisconsin at Iowa, TCU at Texas, Nebraska at Michigan.
Sleeper game: Stanford at Oregon
Week 5 (Sept. 29)
Marquee matchup: Ohio State at Penn State
* Football doesn’t get much more entertaining than the past two games between the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions, with Penn State’s 24-21 upset win in 2016 and Ohio State’s huge rally for a 39-38 triumph last year.
Others to watch: Stanford at Notre Dame, Tennessee at Georgia, Michigan at Northwestern.
Sleeper game: Pitt at Central Florida
Week 6 (Oct. 6)
Marquee matchup: Texas vs. Oklahoma at the Cotton Bowl
* Sure, the Longhorns are rebuilding, but don’t count them out of the Red River Showdown. The past four meetings have been decided by seven points or fewer.
Others to watch: Florida State at Miami (Fla.), Notre Dame at Virginia Tech, Nebraska at Wisconsin, LSU at Florida.
Sleeper game: Northwestern at Michigan State
Week 7 (Oct. 13)
Marquee matchup: Michigan State at Penn State
* The Spartans torpedoed the Nittany Lions’ Big Ten East title hopes last year with an upset win in East Lansing. Both teams should be in the hunt for the division title.
Others to watch: Wisconsin at Michigan, Georgia at LSU, Washington at Oregon.
Sleeper game: Oklahoma State at Kansas State
Week 8 (Oct. 20)
Marquee matchup: Michigan at Michigan State
* Key game for Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh, who has lost two of three to the Spartans. Michigan State has won eight of the past 10 in the series.
Others to watch: Oklahoma at TCU, Auburn at Ole Miss, Alabama at Tennessee.
Sleeper game: USC at Utah
Week 9 (Oct. 27)
Marquee matchup: Clemson at Florida State
* Tigers have won three in a row in the series, including a 37-34 thriller in the last meeting in Tallahassee in 2016.
Others to watch: Wisconsin at Northwestern, Iowa at Penn State, Florida vs. Georgia in Jacksonville.
Sleeper game: Navy at Notre Dame
Week 10 (Nov. 3)
Marquee matchup: Alabama at LSU
* Though the Crimson Tide has won seven straight in the series, expect a tight game in Baton Rouge, where four of the past five games have been decided by seven points or fewer, including two in overtime.
Others to watch: Penn State at Michigan, Notre Dame at Northwestern, Stanford at Washington, Nebraska at Ohio State.
Sleeper game: UCLA at Oregon
Week 11 (Nov. 10)
Marquee matchup: Auburn at Georgia
* We were treated to a double dose of the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry, when the Tigers routed the Bulldogs 40-17 in Auburn before Georgia rolled 28-7 in the SEC Championship Game. College Football Playoff aspirations could be on the line.
Others to watch: Wisconsin at Penn State, Ohio State at Michigan State, Florida State at Notre Dame, Oklahoma State at Oklahoma.
Sleeper game: TCU at West Virginia
Week 12 (Nov. 17)
Marquee matchup: Miami (Fla.) at Virginia Tech
* This game could decide the ACC Coastal Division title. The Hokies have won four of the past five in Blacksburg.
Others to watch: West Virginia at Oklahoma State, Stanford at California, Michigan State at Nebraska.
Sleeper game: USC at UCLA
Week 13 (Nov. 22-24)
Marquee matchups: There’s more than just one this week, with Michigan at Ohio State in The Game, Auburn at Alabama in the Iron Bowl, Notre Dame at USC, Florida at Florida State, Washington at Washington State in the Apple Cup and Mississippi State at Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl.
Others to watch: Nebraska at Iowa, Virginia at Virginia Tech, Oregon at Oregon State
Sleeper game: Central Florida at South Florida.
Week 14 (Nov. 30-Dec. 1)
Conference championship games, followed by the College Football Playoff announcement on Dec. 2.
Week 15 (Dec. 8)
Army vs. Navy in Philadelphia.