I’m starting to get a little impatient as well folks. We all are. The football offseason is long, tortuous, and incredibly uninspiring. On the bright side, the season is starting to peek over the horizon folks. Before the 2017 college football season kicks off and the Clemson Tigers defend their crown, why don’t we highlight the top non-conference games to watch that will grab your attention and possibly be precursors to the College Football Playoff in 2018. Before the fireworks, here are a few who narrowly missed the cut.
Oklahoma State at Pittsburgh, Sept. 16th – If you likely quality quarterback play and two offenses who like to put scoreboards in overdrive, this is an interesting game for you. Both offenses were ranked in the top 17 in scoring last season and feature a dangerous group of receivers on both sides. It will come down to the dual between two talented quarterbacks in OSU’s Mason Rudolph (a possible Heisman candidate) and Pittsburgh’s Max Browne, a USC transfer.
Tennessee at Georgia Tech, Sept. 4th (Atlanta, GA) – A “neutral site” contest for the Volunteers with a head coach in Butch Jones whose job appears to be on the line with every passing season. Both are ushering in new starters at quarterback, but it’s the run games that will have plenty of say in this contest. Over the past three seasons, GT head coach Paul Johnson is 5-1 against the SEC including wins over Georgia and Mississippi State. An ACC/SEC battle with plenty of young talent on both sides.
Texas A&M at UCLA, Sept. 3rd – Two interesting coaches are on the slate as Kevin Sumlin takes his Aggies to Los Angeles to tango with Jim Mora and his Bruins. UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen looks to turn things around after a sophomore season which ended prematurely due to a shoulder injury. Both teams need a hot start and a win over a quality opponent can go a long way. The Bruins look to avenge last season’s early loss to the Aggies.
North Carolina State vs. South Carolina, Sept. 2nd (Charlotte, NC) – Fifth-year head coach Dave Doeren has a Wolfpack program that is starting to hit it’s stride and is led by a defense that features a great front seven. Speaking of defense, South Carolina’s Will Muschamp is trying to jumpstart his program and his defense also features a pair of standout defenders in the it’s front seven in LB Skai Moore and LB Bryson Allen-Williams. A pair of young coaches trying to steer their respective program while withstanding a plethora of talent in their respective conferences. First team to 21 points probably wins this one.
Top 10 Non-Conference Games To Watch
10. West Virginia vs. Virginia Tech, Sept. 3rd (Landover, Md) – These two neighboring schools have not met since 2005, but they have met 50 times in the series history. Both teams are breaking in new starters at quarterback but the one that will attract the headlines is Will Grier, a Florida transfer who fits the wide-open Mountaineer scheme. He will see a Hokies defense that has perennial All-ACC selections in CB Brandon Facyson, LB Tremaine Edmunds, and S Terrell Edmunds. An underlying story here is if the Hokies can get their offense off the ground after the loss of several key starters.
9. Notre Dame at Miami, Nov. 11th – In the 80s and early 90s, this was a defining rivalry. Remnants still remain between the two schools and this year, the Hurricanes will look gain a little retribution after suffering a 30-27 loss in South Bend last season. Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly is entering a season where his job status is heavily under watch. Getting a win on the road against a talented Miami Hurricanes team will be tougher than expected; a talented Miami team with a defense that was fifth in the nation in tackles for loss in 2016.
8. Boise State vs. Washington State, Sept. 9th – Both teams have an outside chance of cracking the College Football Playoff formula. A sneaky good quarterback battle will be on center stage with Heisman hopeful Luke Falk leading his Washington State offense against solid Boise State QB Brett Rypien. These two teams got together in September of last season which ended in a 31-28 victory for the Broncos. That matchup saw 940 total offensive yards and 47 first downs.
7. Nebraska vs. Oregon, Sept. 9th – The importance level for both teams is interesting. On one side, the Cornhuskers are coming off a nine-win season and enter the season with plenty of momentum and with favorable home conference games, this is a rare road test they will encounter. On the other side, Oregon welcomes a new head coach in Willie Taggart, who will look to get the Ducks back in the winning mentality after a disappointing 2016 campaign.
6. Georgia vs. Notre Dame, Sept. 9th – It’s not often the Fighting Irish get together with a well-known non-conference opponent. Ok, I’m obviously wrong there but the fact that they have an early season home game against a quality SEC opponent has intrigue written all over it. Second-year Georgia head coach Kirby Smart takes his under-the-radar squad into South Bend to take on Kelly and his Fighting Irish team that features a number of playmakers on offense. A win here would provide an early season win that will look very good on the resume for either team.
5. Michigan vs. Florida, Sept. 2nd (Arlington, TX) – The September 2nd weekend in the college football season is filled with a few marquee match-ups, but the one occupying a mid-afternoon slot is two well known teams with eyes towards solidifying their top 20 preseason ranking. The Wolverines lost several stars to the NFL but still feature a number of elite prospects, especially on defense with DL Rashan Gary and LB Mike McCray. This has the makings of an ugly, defensive fight, not to mention that arguably the coolest coach in college football (Jim Harbaugh) will be center stage as well. Did I mention it’s played in AT&T Stadium in Dallas?
4. Auburn vs. Clemson, Sept. 9th – The Clemson Tigers will defend their National Championship this season for those who are incredibly unaware. Their first litmus test of the season is a home game against an Auburn team that will debut a transfer QB in Jarrett Stidham. Sounds familiar? Stidham was tossing touchdown passes for Baylor a couple of seasons back. Clemson will have a new face at QB as well while also breaking in new faces at running back, tight end, middle linebacker, and corner. Auburn is athletic enough to give Clemson a real test early in the season.
3. Texas vs. USC, Sept. 16th – Everyone remembers the last time these two teams got together. It ended in Vince Young writing his name in infamy as he led the Longhorns to the National Championship in the 2006 Rose Bowl. This time around, USC’s Sam Darnold is the big name quarterback and across from him is a dual threat in Shane Buechele who has the talent to help guide Texas back to the national spotlight. The best matchup in this one? Quite possibly the coaching duel between Texas’ Tom Herman and USC’s Clay Helton.
2. Oklahoma vs. Ohio State, Sept. 9th – Two teams that can very well circle back around and meet up in this year’s College Football Playoff. The departure of Bob Stoops as head coach may be felt in this one. Or it may be the electric boost needed to open up the Lincoln Riley era in Norman. He has a national title winning coach in Urban Meyer staring across from him. Sooners’ QB Baker Mayfield vs. Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett is one of the best QB match-ups you’ll see all season.
1. Florida State vs. Alabama, Sept. 2nd (Atlanta, GA) – A National Championship preview? It’s possible. Both teams enter the season within the preseason top four teams and both have title game aspirations. The Seminoles will be leaning on a redshirt sophomore QB in Deondre Francois and a defense with a loaded secondary headlined by Derwin James. Head coach Nick Saban has built a factory in Tuscaloosa and this latest edition of the Crimson Tide feature a bulldozing run game, game breakers at receiver, and a smothering yet relatively young defense. This one has too much talent to be decided early. Expect a nail-biter and expect one of the best games all season will be played on the opening weekend.