Sure, no national championship - nor any conference championship, for that matter - is going to be determined in the first month of the season, but there's no arguing that month one's play will go a long way in determining who is in the running for both titles come the stretch run. Great non-conference battles highlight this list of the top ten games of September, though it's not too early for some early league play to be heating up as well.
September may not be early enough to reach the dreams many teams have set, but it provides more than enough time to destroy them.
(10) California at Tennessee - September 2
With the exception of Ohio State-Texas, this is about as big as they get when it comes to cross-country non-conference showdowns. The Bears are our pick to win the PAC 10 this fall, while the Vols are looking to rebound from an atrocious 2005 season. There's no better way to get things back on track than a win over a top ten opponent, but stopping Heisman candidate Marshawn Lynch and the Cal offense will be no easy task.
(3) Notre Dame at Georgia Tech - September 2
The Irish, led by Heisman candidate QB Brady Quinn, are one of the leading favorites to take home this year's national title under second-year head coach Charlie Weis. Georgia Tech, though, expects big things from a senior QB of their own in Reggie Ball. He's got one of the nation's top wideouts in Calvin Johnson to throw towards, meaning the Jackets have not only week one upset hopes, but ACC title hopes as well. Which squad makes the early statement?
(15) Florida State at (4) Miami - September 4
The ACC will be jumbled as always, but there is little doubt that these two squads will be sitting near the top of the standings once the dust has cleared. The question, though, is which one will take the early leap forward and set themselves up nicely for a run through conference play in 2006? Losing this one isn't a death sentence - especially for FSU since it's on the road - but winning it sure does help both your psyche and your BCS hopes.
(1) Ohio State at (11) Texas - September 9
The winner of this one ended up winning the national title last fall, and that could very well be the case again in 2006. Both teams are among the early favorites to do just that, and no matter who picks up the victory, it will be a hard-fought success. While the 'Horns are looking to replace all-everything QB Vince Young, it appears OSU has all the pieces in place to make a championship run. To prove their worth, though, they need to win this one on the road, just like Texas did in 2005.
(5) LSU at (13) Auburn - September 16
For most people (this site included), it's a race between the two Tigers for the SEC West title, with everyone else in a distant third place. Though it's difficult to say in what usually turns out to be a wild and wacky SEC West race, this one very well could decide the division title. Afterall, neither squads' fans are expecting to lose more than one conference game all season long, and that may be the requirement for making a trip to Atlanta.
(8) Florida at Tennessee - September 16
This one is always the SEC's elite matchup for the month of September, though the Vols' lack of success a season ago may take some of the focus off of it this year. The Gators are one of the favorites to win the SEC this fall, while many expect a drastic turnaround for UT in 2006. Georgia and South Carolina should be near the top too, but no other game will have as much impact on the SEC East race early in the season as this one will.
(7) Michigan at (3) Notre Dame - September 16
Boy is this one big! Though Ohio State is the favorite in the Big Ten race, the Wolves have the talent to make a serious BCS run of their own. A win in South Bend would likely get people talking about a national title run for UM, but there's no doubting that the Irish are a championship contender themselves. The good news for the loser is that it's early in the season, but with both teams' difficult schedules, a win here is almost required to stay in the national title chase.
(4) Miami at (12) Louisville - September 16
No longer is Louisville considered a "mid-major" or any other such derogatory term. The Cards are now a BCS member, and they've certainly proved their worth in recent years. The 'Canes should recall what happened to rival FSU when the Noles ventured to Papa John Stadium a few years back because with QB Brian Brohm and RB Michael Bush leading the UL offense, another loss for the boys from Florida is very possible.
Arizona State at (10) California - September 23
Quarterback controversy or not, the Sun Devils will have a capable man under center and should be right in the thick of things in the PAC 10 race this fall. Much the same, Cal should also be in the mix, and in fact, the Bears are our pick to win the conference in 2006. It's early in the season, but no one wants to lose one already, especially at home. The Bears better defend the home turf if they're going to live up to our expectations.
(1) Ohio State at (14) Iowa - September 30
The Hawkeyes have joined the Big Ten elite in recent years, and another run at a BCS bowl berth is expected in 2006. To make that possible, though, they'll have to pull out some huge wins and take advantage of the home field. That opportunity presents itself on the final Saturday in September, and the nation will be watching to see if the (now) top-ranked Buckeyes march on or if the Hawkeyes and star QB Drew Tate begin to make their move.