Non-Conference games provide a different level of intrigue to college football. While conference games aren’t the exact same every year, the matchups against teams in other conferences switch things up. Fans get to see teams they don’t normally watch, and some matchups can add to a team’s resume. A handful of teams have a tough non-conference schedule but wins strengthen their case for the playoff. North Carolina, Oregon, and Notre Dame all see formidable opponents throughout the year, and they can’t afford to slip up if they want to make the playoff.
This is one part of my College Football Preview, check out the rest here.
8/29 Hawaii at Arizona
9/3 BYU at Utah
9/5 Toledo at Tulsa
9/5 TCU at SMU
9/5 Cal vs. TCU
9/5 Baylor vs. Ole Miss (Houston)
9/12 Memphis at Purdue
9/12 Iowa State at Iowa
9/19 Wyoming vs. Utah
9/19 San Diego State vs. UCLA
9/25 Marshall vs. Boise State
9/26 Oklahoma at Army
9/26 Miami at Michigan State
9/26 FAU vs. USF
10/10 Notre Dame vs. Stanford
11/28 Florida State vs. Florida
12/12 Army vs. Navy
Top non-conference college football games
15. WISCONSIN VS. NOTRE DAME (GREEN BAY), October 3rd
Last time the Badgers played a non-conference at Lambeau Field in 2016, they stunned the LSU Tigers. While this game’s not at the beginning of the season, Wisconsin can make just as big of a statement.
14. FLORIDA STATE AT BOISE STATE, September 19th
Power 5 teams rarely travel to face a Group of 5 team. The Seminoles were upset by the Broncos last year in Tallahassee, and now they head to the Blue Turf to face a Boise State team ready to pull off another upset.
13. NEBRASKA VS. CINCINNATI, September 26th
Scott Frost hosts a familiar foe, but one that’s much better than he remembers. The Bearcats were struggling at the time, but Luke Fickell’s brought Cincinnati to the top of the AAC. Frost and his Cornhuskers need to show they can compete in the Big Ten, and a loss here would put a dent in that goal.
12. NORTH CAROLINA AT UCF, September 4th
Both the Tar Heels and Knights can score points in a hurry, and it could be a shootout. Sam Howell versus Dillon Gabriel. Josh Heupel against Mack Brown. There are a ton of intriguing storylines with this game, and the fireworks won’t be lacking in Week 1.
11. USC VS. NOTRE DAME, November 28th
A classic non-conference rivalry that always summons mentions of the “Bush Push” that could have playoff implications in 2020. Notre Dame’s ready for a playoff run, and this could give them the final push into the postseason tournament. USC can also make a run, but they should focus on competing for a conference title first. If they get that far, then this game gives them a chance to look at a bigger goal.
10. OKLAHOMA VS. TENNESSEE, September 12th
Baker Mayfield and the Sooners went into Knoxville and won a thriller in 2015. Tennessee’s been struggling for the last few years, but Jeremy Pruitt’s brought them back up. Winning in Norman will be tough, but a win changes the narrative for both the Vols and Sooners.
9. VIRGINIA TECH VS. PENN STATE, September 12th
Penn State has its sights set on overthrowing Ohio State in the Big Ten East, but they can’t get caught looking too far ahead. Virginia Tech’s a sleeper team, and a win for the Hokies would make a big statement. Justin Fuente against James Franklin is an extremely underrated coaching matchup.
8. TEMPLE AT MIAMI, September 5th
The newest Canes defensive end, Quincy Roche, left for Miami after winning AAC Defensive Player of the Year with the Owls. He’ll face his former team right away, the Temple’s been known to pull off an upset.
7. AUBURN VS. NORTH CAROLINA (ATLANTA), September 12th
Sam Howell has a lot of big matchups this year, but winning them puts him in the driver’s seat for the Heisman Trophy. After facing Dillon Gabriel and the UCF Knights in Week 1, Howell faces Bo Nix and the Auburn Tigers in Week 2. It’s a tough road to begin the season, but the Tar Heels are equipped to handle the pressure.
6. MICHIGAN AT WASHINGTON, September 5th
Both teams are looking for new quarterbacks, but both return stifling defenses. Jim Harbaugh’s on the hot seat after struggling to put Michigan in the playoff conversation. Washington enters the Jimmy Lake era, and fans are curious to see what that looks like after consistent success with Chris Petersen.
5. OREGON VS. NDSU, September 5th
Bison quarterback Trey Lance gets a chance to show why he’s a riser on NFL Draft boards. This will be the toughest secondary he faces, so there will be a lot of weight put into this game. NDSU’s known to pull off big upsets, but is this one too big for them?
4. USC VS. ALABAMA (ARLINGTON), September 5th
The 2016 matchup was a 52-6 blowout in favor of the Tide. USC’s looking to surprise everyone. With their schedule, a win here puts them in the playoff conversation, but it’s not going to be easy. Kedon Slovis, Tyler Vaughns, and Amon-Ra St. Brown will give Alabama a lot to think about in Week 1, but the Tide are on a mission after a disappointing 2019 season.
3. OHIO STATE AT OREGON, September 12th
Oregon, like North Carolina, has a tough first two games, but winning both yields huge dividends. Ohio State’s looking to avenge their Fiesta Bowl loss in the playoff, and a win in Eugene adds the Buckeyes’ resume early in the season.
2. CLEMSON AT NOTRE DAME, November 7th
If Notre Dame’s undefeated heading into November, their entire month has huge implications. Both the Irish and Clemson could be Top 10 teams when this one comes around, which adds to the hype.
1. TEXAS AT LSU, September 12th
The defending national champions get their first big test in their road to repeating. Texas needs this one and is looking for revenge from last year’s 45-38 loss in Austin. Winning in Death Valley won’t be easy, but a win gives Texas respect and launches Sam Ehlinger’s 2020 Heisman campaign.