Worst to first: Ranking all 79 Division I-A state football games

Bama vs. Florida State. Saban vs. Fisher. Our No. 1 game wasn't much of a surprise, was it? (AP Photo/File)
Bama vs. Florida State. Saban vs. Fisher. Our No. 1 game wasn't much of a surprise, was it? (AP Photo/File)
Published Jul. 20, 2017

With college football about to transition from offseason to preseason, I've ranked all 79 Division I-A games in the state. My extremely subjective, scientific criteria: How important should this game be, and how excited does this matchup get me?

79. Alcorn State at FIU, Sept. 9: If the Panthers have trouble against a Braves team that went 5-6 last year, Butch Davis' coaching reboot could be in some serious early trouble.

University of Maine

Hey, look, Max Staver just might get to start in Florida after all.

78. Maine at UCF, Sept. 30: Former Gators quarterback Max Staver is in the mix to start for the Black Bears and might get a chance to play in Florida after all.

77. Northern Colorado at UF, Sept. 9: McElwain faces a middle-of-the-pack Big Sky school that isn't his alma mater (Eastern Washington).

76. Delaware State at FSU, Nov. 18: This isn't even the I-AA Delaware school where Joe Flacco went.

75. Bethune-Cookman at FAU, Sept. 16: The first win of the Lane Kiffin era?

74. Bethune-Cookman at Miami, Sept. 2: FSU opens against 'Bama. Gators open against Michigan. 'Canes open against … a Division I-AA team.

73. Stony Brook at USF, Sept. 2: Only this high because it's Charlie Strong's home debut. It should go better than Willie Taggart's (a 53-21 embarrassment to McNeese State).

72. UMass at USF, Oct. 14: Homecoming for the Bulls and for Minutemen starting cornerback Isaiah Rodgers (Blake High).

71. Louisiana-Monroe at FSU, Sept. 9: Auburn and Oklahoma both put up 50-plus on the Warhawks last year. FSU should do the same in its obligatory creampuff between 'Bama and Miami.

70. FAU at Wisconsin, Sept. 9: Seems like a good time to point out that Kiffin's worst loss as a college coach was USC's 36-7 defeat at Oregon State in 2010.

Getty Images

Will Lane Kiffin be covering his mouth (and eyes) when FAU takes on Wisconsin?

69. FIU at Rice, Sept. 23: The Owls' record has dropped by multiple wins each of the past three seasons, and now they lose their starting quarterback and top receiver from a 3-9 team.

68. Miami at Arkansas State, Sept. 9: This year's random 'Canes non-conference road game should be a lot like last year's 35-point rout of Appalachian State. But this one gives UM a close-up of our Rick Stroud's alma mater.

67. Charlotte at FIU, Sept. 30: SBNation's Bill Connelly calls the 49ers a startup. After going 4-8 last year, they're still more bust than boom.

66. FAU at Charlotte, Nov. 25: It's the last game of the Owls' season. What are the odds it's the last game of Kiffin's FAU career?

65. UAB at UF, Nov. 18: Nice to have the Blazers back in college football. That's about the only good thing I can say about this week-before-FSU sacrificial lamb.

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64. FAU at Buffalo, Sept. 23: The Bulls were 2-10 last year and had one of the nation's worst offenses. This one doesn't even get the MACtion fun of playing on a random weeknight.

63. Old Dominion at FIU, Nov. 11: ODU has the conference's top defensive ends and could dominate an FIU line that gave up 31 sacks last year.

62. FAU at Old Dominion, Oct. 7: ODU was quietly one of the best stories in the country last year (10-3, Bahamas Bowl champs). The Monarchs still aren't ready to crack the top two in the C-USA East.

61. Tulane at FIU, Oct. 14: Green Wave coach Willie Fritz could be vying for his 200th career win in this one.

60. Texas-San Antonio at FIU, Nov. 4: A strong season this year (including a win over Butch Davis) would help put Roadrunners coach Frank Wilson on the major-college radar.

59. North Texas at FAU, Oct. 21: This has high-scoring potential, if both quarterbacks work out. UNT's Mason Fine made the Conference USA all-freshman team last fall, and De'Andre Johnson is trying to revive his career after being dismissed from FSU for punching a woman.

Getty Images

De'Andre Johnson isn't wearing garnet and gold anymore, but he's hoping to get his career back on track.

58. FIU at Middle Tennessee State, Oct. 7: Brent Stockstill and the Blue Raiders will be a semi-early test for FIU's rebuilt defensive line.

57. Marshall at FAU, Nov. 3: Wharton High alum Chase Litton faces an FAU defense that could start at least other Hillsborough County products, end Haiden Nagel (Sickles High) and linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair (Hillsborough High)

56. FAU at Louisiana Tech, Nov. 11: Ex-Bulls coach Skip Holtz has three consecutive nine-win seasons and three bowl wins with the Bulldogs. If he makes it four in a row, do bigger programs start calling again?

55. FIU at Indiana, Sept. 16: Hard to see ex-USF assistant Tom Allen and the Hoosiers making a third consecutive bowl if they drop this one.

54. FAU at Western Kentucky, Oct. 28: Kiffin's first game as a head coach was Tennessee's 63-7 win over Western Kentucky. This one won't turn out quite so well.

53. USF at UConn, Sept. 9: Randy Edsall's last Big East game at UConn was a 19-16 win over USF. His first AAC in Round 2 with the Huskies should be a pounding by the Bulls.

52. FSU at Wake Forest, Sept. 30: Demon Deacons have a bad offense and could dip on defense. Only interesting if this somehow gets connected to #WakeyLeaks.

51. UCF at Cincinnati, Oct. 7: Knights' defense might not be as good as last year's, but that won't matter against a bad Bearcats offense. Hopefully UCF at least gets Skyline Chili out of the trip.

50. Middle Tennessee State at FAU, Sept. 30: These teams combined for 133 (!!!) points in last year's meeting. Former FSU quarterback De'Andre Johnson and ex-Baylor OC Kendall Briles might be able to top that.

49. East Carolina at UCF, Oct. 14: ECU might be 1-4 heading to Orlando. And they'll leave 1-5.

48. Cincinnati at USF, Oct. 28: With Cincy breaking in rookie head coach Luke Fickell, this could be uglier than USF's 45-20 rout last year.

47. USF at Tulane, Oct. 21: The Green Wave returns 15 starters, so this isn't a gimme.

46. Western Kentucky at FIU, Nov. 25: Expect former USF quarterback Mike White to star in front of a semi-hometown crowd.

45. Virginia at Miami, Nov. 18: Bronco Mendenhall might do great things at UVA. But not this year, and not in this game.

Associated Press

Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall likely will have to bide his time for a bit before knocking out any heavyweights.

44. UConn at UCF, Nov. 11: With UConn adding ex-Auburn OC Rhett Lashlee, both teams could run up-tempo, fun offenses. It still won't replace the excitement of the dearly departed Civil ConFLiCT (Oct. 26, 2013-Oct. 22, 2016).

43. UCF at SMU, Nov. 4: Thanks to future first-round receiver Courtland Sutton, the Mustangs will be good enough to knock off solid opponents in Chad Morris' third year. Watch out, Knights.

42. FSU at Boston College, Oct. 27: On a Friday night for the third year in a row, for some reason. FSU won the other two by a combined 52 points.

41. FSU at Duke, Oct. 14: 'Noles are 19-0 against Duke. Make it 20-0.

40. Vanderbilt at UF, Sept. 30: Vandy star Ralph Webb makes his final visit to play his hometown, after averaging 104 yards in his three previous games against the Gators.

39. USF at East Carolina, Sept. 30: Brutal scheduling for the Pirates. USF should be their third consecutive ranked opponent, and Quinton Flowers torched them for 365 yards and three touchdowns last year.

38. Marshall at FIU, Nov. 3: Only this high because of a potential Hillsborough County quarterback showdown between Marshall's Chase Litton (Wharton) and FIU's Alex McGough (Gaither/Wesley Chapel).

Getty Images

Will it be a battle of former Hillsborough County QBs when FIU hosts Marshall?

37. UCF at Temple, Nov. 18: Winner gets second place in the AAC East.

36. Syracuse at Miami, Oct. 21: Unlike FSU, UM has extra time to prepare for Dino Babers' Baylor-style offense.

35. Navy at FAU, Sept. 1: Even Nick Saban will smirk when Navy blows the Owls out of the water in Kiffin's FAU debut.

34. USF at San Jose State, Aug. 26: Charlie Strong's USF debut takes place 2,800 miles from home against a Spartans team that returns 17 starters from a 4-8 team.

Andres Leiva | Times

Will USF fans travel across the country to watch Charlie Strong's Bulls' debut?

33. FIU at UCF, Aug. 31: We'll find out quickly how good Butch Davis is. His FIU debut comes on a Thursday night against a team that blew out the Panthers by 39 last September.

32. UF at Missouri, Nov. 4: The Tigers and Oklahoma State are the only teams to return a 3,000-yard passer, 1,000-yard rusher and 1,000-yard receiver. That should test a UF defense poised to regress.

31. UCF at Maryland, Sept. 23: Former UF assistant D.J. Durkin is on the right track at Maryland. It might not show in the brutal Big Ten East, but it might against the Knights.

30. Miami at Pitt, Nov. 24: The Panthers should still be solid but lose too much on offense to contend in the Coastal.

29. Miami at North Carolina, Oct. 28: Ditto.

28. Florida at South Carolina, Nov. 11: Will Muschamp might finally have a quarterback (Jake Bentley). That still might not be enough to beat his former team.

Monica Herndon | Times

Can Will Muschamp guide South Carolina to a win against his former team?

27. North Carolina State at FSU, Sept. 23: If FSU doesn't block better than it did last year, standout end Bradley Chubb and the rest of the NC State defense could make this interesting.

26. Georgia Tech at UCF, Sept. 16: Paul Johnson's Yellow Jackets are the most confusing team in the country. Watch them lose to the Knights but beat Miami.

25. Memphis at UCF, Sept. 9: UCF made a six-game improvement in Scott Frost's first season. Beating a Memphis team expected to challenge for the West title in the AAC opener would be a nice step forward.

24. Georgia Tech at Miami, Oct. 12: 'Canes get two scheduling breaks: A bye week to prepare for the triple option plus a Thursday night (when Tech has lost its last seven).

23. UCF at Navy, Oct. 21: Ken Niumatalolo is the most underrated coach in America. His Midshipmen will be fine, despite losing Newsome High's Will Worth and his 25 touchdown runs.

22. FIU at FAU, Nov. 18: In the lamest weekend on the schedule, the Shula Bowl's coaching matchup (new FAU coach Lane Kiffin vs. new FIU coach Butch Davis) deserves some national sizzle.

21. Florida at Kentucky, Sept. 23: If Mark Stoops is going to hang around Lexington, he needs to build on last year's 7-6 season. Beating the Gators for the first time since 1986 would certainly help.

Andres Leiva | Times

Does Kentucky have a prayer against Florida? Eh, recent history says no.

20. Miami at Duke, Sept. 29: No way it can top the eight laterals (and two missed calls) that led the 'Canes win the last time they played in Durham, right?

19. Tulsa at USF, Nov. 18: Expect a shootout. Both teams ranked among the nation's top six scoring offenses last season, and both programs have ties to Art Briles' high-scoring coaching tree.

18. Temple at USF, Sept. 21: AAC champs should take a step back in their first year under new coach (and former Gators defensive coordinator) Geoff Collins. Still a key test for USF.

17. Toledo at Miami, Sept. 23: Seriously. Miami has lost the week after playing FSU in three of the past four years. This year's test? An explosive Rockets offense with a quarterback (Logan Woodside) who led the country with 45 touchdown passes last year.

16. Syracuse at FSU, Nov. 4: 'Noles are coming off of a short week with Clemson up next, against a good quarterback (Eric Dungey) ready for Year 2 in the Dino Babers offense. It's a trap!

15. Houston at USF, Nov. 4: Tom Herman is gone, but the Cougars still have future top-five pick Ed Oliver, who might be able to eat Quinton Flowers.

Associated Press

Houston's Ed Oliver is an enemy of quarterbacks around the AAC. Watch out, Quinton.

14. Notre Dame at Miami, Nov. 11: Thirty years ago, this would have been No. 1. Now it doesn't crack the top 10.

13. Virginia Tech at Miami, Nov. 4: If Mark Richt's Hurricanes are going to (finally) win their first Coastal Division title, they'll have to go through last year's champion Hokies.

12. Texas A&M at UF, Oct. 14: One week after playing Alabama and one week before a bye that could include a coaching change, this is a huge game for Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin's scorching hot seat. And UF, too, which is 2-4 against the SEC West under Jim McElwain.

11. Illinois at USF, Sept. 15: Fresh off a 3-9 first season, Lovie Smith returns to Raymond James Stadium for the Bulls' biggest non-conference game. Prediction for how Lovie will feel afterward? Very disappointed.

10. Louisville at FSU, Oct. 21: Reigning Heisman winner Lamar Jackson hung 63 on the 'Noles last year. FSU's improved, loaded defense won't let that happen again.

The Courier-Journal

Florida State hopes to corral Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson when the teams meet this season.

9. Tennessee at UF, Sept. 16: If last year's game taught us that a duck can pull a truck, what zoological tidbits might we learn this year — other than whether Butch Jones belongs on the endangered species list …

8. UF-Georgia, Oct. 28, Jacksonville: The Gators have beaten UGA three years in a row, but this year's Bulldogs have the nation's best backfield (outside of Tuscaloosa) and are trendy picks to win the SEC East.

7. USF at UCF, Nov. 24: Given USF's weak schedule, the War on I-4 is one of the Bulls' biggest tests on their quest to a New Year's Six bowl … and maybe an undefeated season.

Associated Press

Will Scott Frost and UCF be in position late in the season to upend USF's big bowl dreams?

6. UF-Michigan, Sept. 2, Arlington, Texas: Good news for UF: The Fightin' Harbaughs lose 17 starters and could need time to mesh. Bad news for UF: Their last meeting was a 41-7 Citrus Bowl blowout that didn't even seem that close.

5. FSU at UF, Nov. 25: Seminoles could have a playoff berth at stake, but Jim McElwain really needs to close the gap.

4. Miami at FSU, Sept. 16: The 'Canes have gotten close to knocking off FSU each of the last three years. Is this the year they finally beat Jimbo?

3. LSU at Florida, Oct. 7: Hurricane Matthew is long gone, but the animosity from last year's scheduling fiasco is still fresh in a rivalry that has been decided by one score each of the past three seasons.

2. FSU at Clemson, Nov. 11: A defacto play-in game for the College Football Playoff. Again.

1. Florida State-Alabama, Sept. 2, Atlanta: Nick Saban against his former assistant, Jimbo Fisher. Two top-tier programs. A new stadium. A potential rematch in this stadium in the national championship. Not bad, I guess.

Associated Press

Bama vs. Florida State. Saban vs. Fisher. Our No. 1 game wasn't much of a surprise, was it?

Contact Matt Baker at Follow @MBakerTBTimes.