The BCS's propaganda department came up with this rather catchy motto a couple years back: "Every Game Counts." Sure, to some extent, it's true.
That big showdown between UL-Monroe and Florida International on Nov. 24? Well, whoever wins that game just might cause a shakeup in the Colley Matrix, nudging Alabama past Oklahoma because the Warhawks played Auburn and Arkansas. And that subtle shift could push enough decimal points in the Tide's favor for the all-important No. 2 spot in the BCS standings.
Dan Rubenstein on 2012's college football dark horses
But let's not kid ourselves. While every game does count, some games count a heck of a lot more than others. So before we tee it up Thursday night to kick off the 2012 season, we'll give you the 25 games that will count the most toward deciding the participants in the BCS Championship Game.
25. Oct. 27: Georgia vs. Florida at Jacksonville: The Cocktail Party isn't what it used to be, with both programs somewhat down and out the last couple of years. But nobody is going to stop the drinking.
24. Sept. 22, Michigan at Notre Dame: The annual matchup between college football's winningest teams has lost some importance, but if the last three years are any indication, it's still Must-See-TV.
23. Dec. 1, Oklahoma at TCU: The Horned Frogs might've picked the wrong year to go big-time, but their revamped squad will get a shot at derailing OU's national title train in the final regular-season game.
22. Oct. 6, West Virginia at Texas: The Mountaineers' first Big 12 road show will either be a rude awakening for the newcomers or a loud proclamation that there's going to be a new sheriff in town.
21. Oct. 6. LSU at Florida: The Swamp isn't nearly as intimidating a place as it was in the Meyer era, but LSU, even with its best teams, rarely has an easy time of it there. The Gators will show some bite.
20. Oct. 20, Michigan State at Michigan: The Wolverines settled a lot of scores last season for the RichRod-era beatdowns, but still couldn't get the better of Sparty. Big Brother will be running out of patience.
19. Dec. 1, Big Ten Championship Game at Indianapolis: With this year's version of rent-an-ex-ACC quarterback, Wisconsin will be gunning for its second straight conference title against somebody from Michigan.
18. Sept. 29, Wisconsin at Nebraska: With both Ohio State and Penn State ineligible for the postseason, the Badgers will have another cakewalk to the Leaders title, if they can handle their toughest road test all season.
17. Nov. 8, Florida State at Virginia Tech: The ACC has been basically BCS-irrelevant in the past decade, but this game will decide the best team in the conference - until a possible rematch Dec. 1 in Charlotte.
16. Nov. 24, Michigan at Ohio State: Urban Meyer's gang can't go to a postseason bowl game, so an upset of their chief rival will have to do. The Buckeyes might even be favored to take it at the 'Shoe.
15. Oct. 13, Oklahoma vs. Texas at Dallas: The Red River Rivalry will provide ample answers on whether the Longhorns are back or not, as Texas is on a two-game losing streak in this series.
14. Nov. 24, Notre Dame at USC: Other than a hiccup in 2010, the Trojans have PWND the Irish in this series, winning nine of the last 10. But if USC is 11-0 coming in, this will be a classic trap game.
13. Dec. 1, SEC Championship Game at Atlanta: The SEC West winner has won the conference title the past three seasons, each time en route to claiming the national title. It'll be the prohibitive favorite to make it four in a row, as this game usually ends up being a formality.
12. Oct. 6, Georgia at South Carolina: This game, featuring talented, but not talented enough teams, just might decide which SEC East team will be the sacrificial lamb in Atlanta (See No. 13).
11. Sept. 15, USC at Stanford: Do you know the Cardinal have beaten USC in the last three meetings and four of the last five? But can they do it again without any Luck?
10. Aug. 31, Boise State at Michigan State: One thing we've learned during the BCS era is that you never count out the Broncos. They might have to reload offensively, but if they get by this early tough road test (which they have handled with aplomb every year since '08), they have a chance to run the table again.
9. Sept. 1, Michigan vs. Alabama at Arlington, Texas: On paper, this looks like a marquee matchup to get the season under way, but is Michigan really in Alabama's class, particularly with the potential suspensions of two top players? Brady Hoke has had a charmed ride so far, so is this where reality finally bites?
8. Nov. 24, Oklahoma State at Oklahoma: A year ago, the Cowboys utterly humiliated the Sooners to keep alive their hopes of playing for the national title. This time around, OSU will be the underdog, with OU the one with the potential shot at the BCS title game. The Bedlam won't be a low-scoring affair, that much we know.
7. Nov. 24, Florida at Florida State: The Seminoles have won the last two after losing six in a row in the series, but can they beat their arch rival again when it really counts? The Gators should be much more improved from last year's 7-6 campaign and would like nothing more than to spoil FSU's drive to the BCS title game.
6. Sept. 15, Alabama at Arkansas: Last year, the Hogs had the unenviable task of having to play at both LSU and Alabama, resulting in the team's only two losses. This year, they get 'em both at Fayetteville. And the SEC opener in just the third game of the season should be a doozy.
5. Nov. 23, LSU at Arkansas: Had Bobby Petrino not fallen off his bike on a joyride in April, the Hogs might be more formidable than they will be this season. There is no question Arkansas is loaded with talent, but the hiring of loose cannon John L. Smith as interim coach casts much uncertainty around the program.
4. Nov. 17, Oklahoma at West Virginia: Of all the major BCS title contenders, the Sooners have arguably the toughest schedule. And the toughest game of all might be the road trip to Morgantown against the newly minted Big 12 member and its pinball machine offense.
3. Nov. 30, Pac-12 Championship Game: Whoever loses the Nov. 3 game between Oregon and USC will be playing spoiler on the other guys' turf four weeks later. And the stake for the home team will be quite considerable: A loss not only costs it a shot at the BCS title, but also a trip to the Rose Bowl.
2. Nov. 3, Oregon at USC: Yep, on the very same night, the season's two most important games will be played, and this one will be the anti-Alabama-LSU, with the football flying all over the L.A. Memorial Coliseum. But no matter who wins this game, it's almost assured that there will be a rematch (see No. 3).
1. Nov. 3, Alabama at LSU: Last year's regular-season showdown between these two SEC West behemoths was so epically ugly that we were forced to endure an even worse rematch in the BCS title game. Don't expect this year's tussle to be a bed of roses, either, but at least we can be grateful that the loser of this game most likely won't get to pretend that the first game never happened.
P.S. If you're wondering: What about the Big East? ... Well, what about it?
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