Fall Football Preview: 10 Can't Miss Non-Conference College Games
by Robert Ferringo - 7/20/2009
For all of the BCS bitching that we have to endure during the college football season, there is one thing that playoff advocates can't deny: perhaps no other major sport gets as intense and as interesting, as quickly, as college football does.
Conference championships pay the bills for coaches and programs across the country. But if regional rivalries are the lifeblood of college football then national recognition is the skeleton. And the best way to boost your national Q-rating is through marquee nonconference games early in September. This season there no shortage of high voltage action that's ready to flood our primal football urges right from the opening weekend on Sept. 5.
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On the first Saturday of The Fall there are no less than five marquee games that feature major players on the national stage: Missouri-Illinois. LSU-Washington, Alabama-Virginia Tech, BYU-Oklahoma, and Georgia-Oklahoma State. That right there is a lineup for Jan. 1, not early September. But when you mix in other intriguing matchups between teams like Central Michigan-Arizona, Oregon-Boise State (Sept. 3), Baylor-Wake Forest, and Nevada-Notre Dame and then add a splash of rivalry with Colorado-Colorado State, you are getting a good cross-section of what this sports is all about.
While the focus of the sport's base is on backyard brawls and bowl games, the nonconference schedule can be make-or-break for a season. No one cares about a team that goes 6-2 to win a conference co-championship if they got blitzed in their two big nonconference BCS matchups. Want proof? Did anyone take Ohio State seriously last year after they were rocked by USC in September? That would be a resounding "no".
With that in mind, here are the Top 10 nonconference games of the 2009 college football season:
10. TCU at Clemson (Sept. 26)
Last year the Horny Frogs had a defense that would slap it's own momma if it meant a three-and-out. And while they're a little light this season this is still a big game for a program that has more bowl wins in the last two years (two) than Notre Dame does in the last 15 (one). After getting bitched by Alabama, Clemson is back to a schedule loaded with nonconference lightweights. But TCU is a team that won't be afraid of them and the Frogs are 31-9 in non-conference over the course of the last seven years. Both teams need this one to boost the resume.
9. East Carolina at West Virginia (Sept. 12) and at North Carolina (Sept. 19)
Several teams have multiple big games this year but I'm packaging ECU because of what they pulled off last September. Virginia Tech and West Virginia were each stunned by the Pirates as ECU steamed to a pair of the biggest upsets of the year. Can they do it again? WVU is at home and has revenge, but that might not be enough. And a Carolina Clash with the upstart Tar Heels the following week is going to put Skip Holtz's crew right back into that emotional tornado again this fall. (Oh, and ECU has a rematch with Va. Tech in November.)
8. Illinois vs. Missouri (Sept. 12) - in St. Louis
This also qualifies as one of the top revenge games of the year. Missouri spanked the Big Ten's Illini in the season opener last year and it seemed like Illinois never really recovered. There is an odd, paper mache rivalry that has been manufactured between these schools, which makes it a bit more intriguing. But knowing that the series is done after next year has it losing some luster. Illinois needs to make a statement for the Big Ten and Mizzou will still be breaking in new starters all over the field.
7. Notre Dame at Pittsburgh (Nov. 17)
Who could miss this battle of wits between Charlie Weis and Dave Wannstedt? Even though both appear, at least to me, to be mildly retarded these two NFL washouts each have pretty solid teams this year. This might not be as marquee as some of the games on this list - or on Notre Dame's schedule - but at the end of the season we may look back on this as a clash between 9- and 10-win teams that just missed a BCS berth. Also, last year's four-overtime game was one of the better nonconference tilts of the season.
6. Oklahoma at Miami (Oct. 3)
The over/under for the amount of times bobbleheads are going to replay or mention the 1984 Orange Bowl in the lead-up to this game is 2,874. The O/U for references to OU's 2007 maiming of Miami that week: 34. There is no doubt that these are two all-time great programs. But over the last 10 years Miami hasn't held up its end of the bargain. And that's why a game that would have been No. 1 on the list 15 years ago is now No. 6.
5. Oklahoma at BYU (Sept. 5) - at Arlington
Again, I'm more intrigued by the Sooners' matchup with those crazed Mormon heathens than their game with Miami because the Cougars have had a very solid program over the last decade. Even if they have done so by harvesting 32-year-old offensive and defensive linemen by sending them on Mormon Missions. The men in the BYU program might be older and more physically mature than most soft schools in the Mountain West. But over the last five years they've gotten rocked when they face elite competition. But because this is a season opener will it be different?
4. USC at Notre Dame (Oct. 17)
The classic 2005 game has at least helped to prop up this game as a must-see. And even though we already know the ending (the three meetings since the Bush Push have gone to USC by a combined 120-27) it should still be decent theatre.
3. USC at Ohio State (Sept. 12)
Much like the ND-USC game, this is a matchup in which we feel like we already know the ending. And after this game woefully failed to live up to its billing as the No. 1 nonconference game of the season last year I think a lot of people will be looking past this game. Yes, the Trojans have treated the Big Ten like a racist Republican farmer in South Central over the past few years. But, if you really look at USC's resume, they have not gone on the road and beaten anyone the caliber of Ohio State. In fact, they have only played two regular season road games against ranked non-conference opponents over the last five years. This one should be really, really good.
2. Alabama vs. Virginia Tech (Sept. 5) - in Atlanta
Stop me if you've heard this one: Alabama taking on the clear-cut ACC favorite in a marquee national TV game that was designed to whip The South's crazed college football base into even more of a fervor to start the year. The Crimson Tide answered the bell in this exact same situation last year and delivered a first-round knockout of wannabe Clemson. The Hokies are going to be a much stiffer test. And while these teams won't combine to crack 30 points this game is going to be the type of bloody slugfest that really whets the blood lust of rednecks and other football fans everywhere.
1. Georgia at Oklahoma State (Sept. 5)
There are a lot of reasons to love this game right here. Instead of some bloated, long-ago rivalry game this is just a random matchup of two teams that are very good right now. Also, and I know this sounds crazy, but these are two dark horse national title contenders and I think that one of these teams ends up in a BCS bowl game. Everyone is completely overlooking Georgia this season. But if you really look at their schedule and look at all of the players coming back from injury then you'd realize that this team is just one win - albeit what would be a miracle win over Florida - away from the SEC Championship and on the doorstep of the national title game. Oklahoma State is in a similar spot. They get Texas at home and a rivalry game with Oklahoma. If they win both they are in the national title game. That won't happen. But if they win one of those two games, and beat the Bulldogs in Stillwater, then they will likely find themselves in a BCS bowl. This is a matchup of the finesse of the Big 12 against the speed and power of the SEC, and with future NFL players all over the field this will be a great way to start the season.
Honorable Mention: Oregon at Boise State (Sept. 3), Stanford at Wake Forest (Sept. 12), North Carolina at Connecticut (Sept. 12), UCLA at Tennessee (Sept. 12), Florida State at BYU (Sept. 19), Utah at Oregon (Sept. 19), Cal at Minnesota (Sept. 19), South Florida at Florida State (Sept. 26).
Robert Ferringo is a professional handicapper and you can purchase a full season's package of his football selections for just $25 per week! Click here for details.
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