It’s time for another edition of AP’s dream college football road trip, where we map out a schedule of games worth traveling to during the upcoming season.
As usual, there are only two rules: First, we have to see every team in the AP’s preseason Top 25 at least once. And second, the travel between games must be reasonable in the time available. If you’re at a Big Ten game at noon, don’t plan on being in Texas in time for an evening kickoff that same day.
(Soon it will be possible to embark on a Big Ten-only road trip from coast to coast, but we can consider that itinerary some other season.)
GAME 1: No. 17 Pittsburgh vs. West Virginia (Sept. 1)
We’ll start with a rivalry game returning from hiatus. The Panthers and Mountaineers play their Backyard Brawl for the first time since 2011. Pitt starts the season ranked but must replace Kenny Pickett.
GAME 2: No. 19 Arkansas vs. No. 23 Cincinnati (Sept. 3)
Yes, Ohio State-Notre Dame is tempting. So is Georgia-Oregon. But there will be other chances to see those teams. Instead, we’re headed to scenic northwest Arkansas, where the Razorbacks host a Cincinnati team coming off a playoff appearance.
GAME 3: No. 18 Wisconsin vs. Washington State (Sept. 10)
Alabama-Texas is probably the marquee matchup this weekend, but instead we’ll jump around with Badgers and see if there’s any extra bad blood between the Big Ten and Pac-12 this year. Bonus points for visiting Madison before it gets colder.
GAME 4: No. 6 Texas A&M vs. No. 16 Miami (Sept. 17)
The Hurricanes tune up against Bethune-Cookman and Southern Mississippi before this trip to Kyle Field gives them their first major test under Mario Cristobal.
GAME 5: No. 4 Clemson at No. 22 Wake Forest (Sept. 24)
A huge day for college football in North Carolina, with the Demon Deacons hosting the Tigers and North Carolina hosting Notre Dame. Depending on the kickoff times, it may actually be possible to attend both.
GAME 6: No. 25 BYU vs. Utah State (Sept. 29)
There’s another potential chance to see BYU — we’ll get to that later — but just to be safe, pencil in this in-state matchup, conveniently (for our purposes) scheduled on a Thursday night.
GAME 7: No. 10 Baylor vs. No. 12 Oklahoma State (Oct. 1)
A nice preview of what the battle for Big 12 supremacy might look like once Oklahoma leaves. Or perhaps even before Oklahoma leaves.
GAME 8: No. 24 Houston at Memphis (Oct. 7)
Quarterback Clayton Tune and the Cougars chase an American Athletic Conference title this year before departing for the Big 12. This Friday night matchup in Memphis is part one of a two-day swing through the South.
GAME 9: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 6 Texas A&M (Oct. 8)
The drive from Memphis to Tuscaloosa should be no problem, and after all the sniping between Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher this offseason, this matchup between the Crimson Tide and the Aggies is a must see.
GAME 10: No. 7 Utah vs. No. 14 Southern California (Oct. 15)
Now we head to Salt Lake City to check in on Lincoln Riley and USC. Also, BYU hosts Arkansas this same day so a double dip is possible if the game times accommodate it.
GAME 11: No. 11 Oregon vs. UCLA (Oct. 22)
By this point, we’ll have a sense of how the Ducks look under new coach Dan Lanning. And whether former Oregon coach Chip Kelly is making any progress at UCLA.
GAME 12: No. 13 North Carolina State vs. Virginia Tech (Oct. 27)
The Wolfpack have matched their highest ranking in the preseason AP poll, and they might be the best threat to Clemson in the ACC. This one is a Thursday night game (so handy!).
GAME 13: No. 8 Michigan vs. No. 15 Michigan State (Oct. 29)
These two rivals played a pulsating game in East Lansing last year that ended up being Michigan’s only loss of the regular season. The scene shifts to Ann Arbor this time.
GAME 14: No. 4 Clemson at No. 5 Notre Dame (Nov. 5)
The question for the Irish is whether they can measure up against the very top teams in the country. They’ll have a chance to try in their opener at Ohio State, but this home game against Clemson in prime time may be a better opportunity for coach Marcus Freeman to deliver a signature victory.
GAME 15: No. 9 Oklahoma at West Virginia (Nov. 12)
By this point, Brent Venables will be well into his first season at Oklahoma. If the Sooners are in contention for a playoff spot, this could be a big game — especially if West Virginia quarterback JT Daniels is healthy and playing well.
GAME 16: No. 3 Georgia at No. 20 Kentucky (Nov. 19)
We finally cross paths with the defending champs for this late-season SEC East tilt against Kentucky. The AP poll has the Wildcats as the second-ranked team in the division. If that turns out to be accurate, this could be a monster weekend in the Bluegrass State. (And if not, at least basketball season will already be underway.)
GAME 17: No. 21 Mississippi vs. Mississippi State (Nov. 24)
Celebrate Thanksgiving in Oxford at the Egg Bowl — and see what antics Lane Kiffin, Mike Leach and their teams have in store this year.
GAME 18: No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 8 Michigan (Nov. 26)
Ohio State season ticket holders should get their money’s worth this season, with home games against Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan on the schedule. The last of those is the most important, of course, especially after Jim Harbaugh finally beat the Buckeyes last year — and threw a bit of shade at Ryan Day afterward.
Follow Noah Trister at https://twitter.com/noahtrister
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