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The most important game for each Top 25 team

The Oklahoma-Texas game could be the most important matchup for each team in 2018. John Korduner/Icon Sportswire

We're more than two months away from the start of another college football season, but it's never too early to starting looking at the key games for each Top 25 team. Here are the rivalry showdowns and nonconference battles that could decide the College Football Playoff.


1. Alabama: Nov. 24 vs. Auburn

Once again, Alabama saves the best for last with what has become an almost annual SEC championship play-in game against Auburn to end the regular season. The rest of the season, with a Lamar Jackson-less Louisville and Tennessee and Missouri out of the East, could turn out to be a cakewalk otherwise. -- Alex Scarborough


2. Clemson: Oct. 27 at Florida State

Even though Florida State is going through a coaching transition, the Seminoles remain an immensely important game for the Tigers, not only for ACC championship hopes but for their playoff hopes, too. Nobody else on the schedule matches them in the talent department. Plus the game is on the road and wedged in between two difficult division games against NC State and Louisville. Clemson has to have this one. -- Andrea Adelson


3. Ohio State: Sept. 29 at Penn State

No disrespect to The Game, but Ohio State-Penn State has had far more bearing on the Big Ten title race during the past decade. The game takes place much earlier this season, as Ohio State visits Happy Valley. This will be the first true road test for the Buckeyes' new starting quarterback. Ohio State will need Nick Bosa and others to put pressure on Nittany Lions star Trace McSorley. -- Adam Rittenberg


4. Georgia: Oct. 27 vs. Florida

There's an argument to be made that Florida is always the most important game on Georgia's schedule, but this year offers even more intrigue with Dan Mullen having set up shop in Gainesville, promising better results on offense and a more heated rivalry after saying of the Bulldogs winning the East, "Even a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in a while." -- Scarborough


5. Oklahoma: Oct. 6 vs. Texas

With Lane Kiffin and Chip Kelly both coming to Norman, the Sooners have an intriguing nonconference slate. But the Red River Showdown on Oct. 6, in what figures to be a defining moment for new QB Kyler Murray, will be the pivotal springboard as the Sooners begin their quest for a Big 12 four-peat. -- Jake Trotter


6. Washington: Oct. 13 at Oregon

That opener in Atlanta against Auburn is mighty tempting, but even if the Huskies lose that game, their CFP hopes aren't technically done. Without USC on the schedule, the defining moment for Washington will be the Oct. 13 trip to Eugene to play an Oregon team that could be very pesky in the Pac-12. -- Edward Aschoff


7. Wisconsin: Oct. 13 at Michigan

Paul Chryst's team will be heavily favored to win the Big Ten West for the third straight year. The Badgers will have to win a few tricky division games, but to establish themselves as a legitimate CFP contender, they must win in Ann Arbor. Wisconsin won last year's meeting, but Michigan should have a better team with an improved quarterback situation to test a Badgers defense that returns only four starters. -- Rittenberg


8. Miami: Oct. 6 vs. Florida State

The Hurricanes made strides last season, and one of the biggest happened in Tallahassee, when they broke an agonizing seven-game losing streak to rival Florida State. To keep building on their momentum, it is crucial to get past the Seminoles. A win obviously helps their Coastal Division hopes, but it also gives them valuable bragging rights on the recruiting trail. -- Adelson


9. Michigan State: Oct. 13 at Penn State

No Michigan? No Ohio State? Here's the deal: For those games to truly matter in Michigan State's quest to win the East Division, the Spartans must first get through Penn State on the road. A win in State College gives MSU tremendous momentum before Michigan comes to town, and the Spartans also host Ohio State later in the fall. A loss could put Michigan State's division title hopes in peril, especially if Penn State already has a win over Ohio State. -- Rittenberg


10. Michigan: Nov. 24 at Ohio State

Could it ever be anyone but the Buckeyes? Jim Harbaugh is in danger of becoming the first Michigan coach to go 0-4 in his first four shots at the Wolverines' top rival. Ending that streak at the end of the season would make fans happy. It's also likely to be a necessary hurdle to clear if Michigan wants to make a trip to the Big Ten title game. -- Dan Murphy


11. West Virginia: Nov. 23 vs. Oklahoma

Oklahoma is the only Big 12 opponent that West Virginia has yet to defeat since joining the conference. When the Sooners travel to Morgantown on Nov. 23, a trip to the Big 12 title game could be on the line. And, perhaps, even more. -- Trotter


12. Notre Dame: Oct. 6 at Virginia Tech

This is the game coach Brian Kelly and his players cited most often this spring. Why? Because Blacksburg is nuts. Notre Dame admits it didn't handle a raucous atmosphere at Miami last season, leading to a blowout loss that ended the team's CFP chances. The offseason has been all about performing amid chaos. While Virginia Tech isn't the best team Notre Dame faces, a night game in Blacksburg will show whether the Irish can contend. -- Rittenberg


13. Penn State: Sept. 29 vs. Ohio State

The winner of this meeting has won the conference title in each of the past two seasons, and it won't be a huge surprise if that pattern continues in 2018. Penn State gets the benefit of playing host this time at the start of the conference schedule. This late September battle will set the tone for how the East Division unfolds this fall. -- Murphy


14. Stanford: Nov. 3 at Washington

The winner of the Stanford-Washington game has played in the Pac-12 championship game the past three seasons. By Nov. 3, the Cardinal will have already played USC, Oregon, Notre Dame and Utah. Getting through all of that will be tough enough, but Stanford must beat Washington to have a shot at the Pac-12. -- Aschoff


15. Virginia Tech: Nov. 17 vs. Miami

The Hokies face a difficult opener against Florida State and also get Notre Dame at home, but the game that could end up deciding their ACC championship game fate is against Coastal Division rival Miami at home Nov. 17. The Hurricanes have won three of the past four, but to reassert itself in the division, Virginia Tech has to find a way to win this one. -- Adelson


16. Mississippi State: Sept. 29 vs. Florida

Maybe this year's Florida game isn't the most important in Mississippi State history, as Gators coach Dan Mullen claims. But it will be the most important game this season, not just because the Bulldogs will try to beat their former coach but also because it could set the tone for a season in which they have high expectations with a loaded defense and Nick Fitzgerald back at quarterback. -- Scarborough


17. USC: Nov. 17 at UCLA

With no Washington or Oregon on the schedule, USC has another shot at a Pac-12 title. But the game everyone will be looking at is that Nov. 17 showdown with crosstown rival UCLA -- and Chip Kelly -- in the Rose Bowl. Chip Kelly and Clay Helton for the city of Los Angeles! -- Aschoff


18. UCF: Nov. 23 at USF

The Knights play two Power 5 opponents (Pitt and UNC) and go on the road to play Memphis, but the most important game always comes back to rival USF. The teams play in Tampa on Nov. 23. If their epic contest from last season is any indication, this one could end up being another game of the year. -- Adelson


19. Auburn: Sept. 1 vs. Washington

The Tigers' 2018 schedule is brutal, and the test starts right out of the gate with a neutral site matchup against Pac-12 power Washington in Atlanta. Quarterback Jarrett Stidham is back, but we'll learn a lot about how good the offense will be with Kerryon Johnson gone and significant questions at receiver. -- Scarborough


20. TCU: Sept. 15 vs. Ohio State

The Horned Frogs can lose to Ohio State in Arlington, Texas, on Sept. 15 and still have a great season. But if they can knock off the Buckeyes, Gary Patterson's squad could set itself up for a special one. -- Trotter


21. Boise State: Sept. 15 at Oklahoma State

With 10 defensive starters and QB Brett Rypien back, the Broncos probably will open in the preseason Top 25. But by taking down Oklahoma State in Stillwater on Sept. 15, they could significantly enhance their national credibility for a New Year's Six berth. -- Trotter


22. Texas: Oct. 6 vs. Oklahoma

The Maryland (Sept. 1) and USC (Sept. 15) games will be important litmus tests for how far the Longhorns have come in Tom Herman's second season. But Texas coaches are defined in large part by how they do in Dallas. And Texas' path back to preeminence goes through Oklahoma. -- Trotter


23. Texas A&M: Sept. 8 vs. Clemson

The Aggies aren't going to contend in the West. Not in Jimbo Fisher's first year. There's too much work to do on both sides of the ball. But in the first big-time game at home, against playoff contender Clemson, Fisher would do well to make it competitive and thereby set the right tone for the program moving forward. -- Scarborough


24. Oregon: Nov. 10 at Utah


Oh, that home game with UCLA means the return of Chip Kelly. It should be great, but new coach Mario Cristobal is probably thinking about a Pac-12 title. That means a win on Nov. 10 at Utah is crucial to making that happen. Oregon thrashed Utah 41-20 at home last year. -- Aschoff


25. South Carolina: Oct. 6 vs. Missouri

At home, in the middle of the season before a stretch run that will include Tennessee, Florida and Clemson, South Carolina needs to find a way to beat Missouri. The matchup of Drew Lock and Jake Bentley at quarterback will be appointment television with two of the league's best going head-to-head. -- Scarborough