Top 11 Nonconference College Football Games
by Robert Ferringo - 7/16/2010
Unlike college basketball, where teams play an extensive and expansive schedule that is packed with preseason tournaments, high-level meetings between regional powers, and neutral site matchups between teams from power leagues, in college football we don’t have much to work with to determine how conferences stack up head-to-head. Because the league schedule dominates college football we are forced to glean a lot from a little when teams from BCS leagues meet up in key nonconference clashes.
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Below is a look at the Top 11 nonconference college football games of 2010. Several of these games have national championship implications and several others pit traditional powerhouses against one another in rivalries both new and renewed. Others will have far-reaching ramifications for teams trying to claw their way into that top tier. But no matter what is at stake, these games are the best of the bunch and they will help paint the overall picture for what will be another exhilarating college football season:
(And here’s a suggestion: don’t make any plans for Sept. 11.)
11. Connecticut vs. Michigan (3:30 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 4)
This game may not get a lot of national attention, but I think that it’s a pivotal contest for both schools. Connecticut has been one of the best mid-level programs in the country over the last three years and they are definitely a Big East sleeper this year. And if they want to step up into the big time, a big win at the Big House wouldn’t hurt. Connecticut has a lot of experience (16 starters), has plenty of leadership, and loves to play the physical brand of football that the Big Ten is known for. For Michigan, this is a make-or-break game in a make-or-break season for Rich Rodriguez. If he loses this game right out of the shoot he may not make it to Big Ten play. This is his third year in the program and he has 15 starters that all know his system. Notre Dame is on deck as well – a potential distraction – and Michigan has suffered embarrassing home losses to Appalachian State and Utah in two of the last three years.
10. Nebraska vs. Washington (3:30 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 18)
Jake Locker is a one-man wrecking crew and he’ll be looking to pull another prime upset in Seattle this year. The Huskies knocked off USC at home last season and UW has 18 returning starters from that crew ready to suit up for this matchup. Nebraska is one of several long-time powerhouses that are almost “back” to national prominence. But the Huskers lost a crucial nonconference game last year (against Virginia Tech at Blacksburg) and they need to get this win – along with another Big 12 North title – if they want to be in the mix for a BCS at-large berth. Nebraska has its own stud signal caller, Zac Lee, and this game is a matchup of two of the most experienced teams in the country.
9. Florida State at Oklahoma (3:30 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 11)
I thought about using Florida State-Florida in this slot, but I think the Oklahoma game has a bit more intrigue because of the novelty. This is a marquee nonconference test for the Sooners (a trip to Cincinnati is also daunting) in what some people think could be a national championship year. Last year Florida State went to Provo and just wrecked the same BYU team that crippled OU’s season. Now the Seminoles will bring senior quarterback Christian Ponder and a load of speed into Norman to take on the Sooners. But remember: just three years ago Miami wandered into Big 12 country and got lit up, 51-13, by the Sooners.
8. Iowa at Arizona (10:30 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 18)
Iowa lived a charmed life last season and there are several wins that you could point to and say that they were lucky to get. Their 27-17 victory over Arizona was not one of them. Iowa dominated that game much more than the score admits, and this year the Wildcats will be looking for revenge. This will be Iowa’s first true road game (4-8 in L12) and it comes the week after a big rivalry game against Iowa State. Arizona has one of the Pac-10’s best offenses and it will be an excellent chess match to see them go up against a devastating Iowa front seven. Arizona’s defense is suspect. But that means that Swingin’ Dick Stanzi might have to go out and win this one. That’s a harrowing prospect for the Black and Gold.
7. Oregon State vs. TCU (1 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 4)
This is a game with BCS bowl ramifications for a “mid-major” college program. TCU has been a Top 15 staple the last two seasons and some people think that this might be its best team yet. They have 16 starters back and they open the season with 14 seniors on the first string. This game will be played in nearby Arlington, another boon for the Texas team, and Oregon State will open its season with a quarterback making his first start. However, Mike Riley is one of the best coaches in college football and he possesses Jacquizz and James Rodgers, two of the most potent offensive weapons in the game. Oregon State has 15-starters back from a somewhat disappointing eight-win team in 2009, and it will definitely not be a pushover. Neither of these two teams “move the dial” in terms of TV ratings. But ask anyone in the sport and they’ll tell you that these are two very tough programs with excellent coaches.
6. Miami at Pittsburgh (7:30 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 23)
When the second-toughest nonconference game on your schedule is still one of the best inter-conference games of the year, you know you have a tough slate. Former Big East stalwart Miami will head back up to Beast Country to take on this year’s Big East favorites. These two programs haven’t met since 2003 but the Panthers will benefit from both the home turf and from having All-American running back and Heisman candidate Dion Lewis toting the rock. Miami is just 11-13 in road games over the last four seasons and this will be the second of three away from home (they are at Ohio State two weeks prior, with a trip to Clemson on deck). This is all part of a brutal early season stretch for the ‘Canes and Pittsburgh may be able to catch them looking past.
5. West Virginia at LSU (8 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 25)
The Mountaineers are still smarting a bit from their turnover-laden loss at Auburn last year. But they will fearlessly wander into SEC Country again this year and attempt to win down in the Bayou. Tigers Stadium is one of the most difficult venues in the country to play at and LSU is 60-11 in its last 71 home games. But Big East teams don’t scare easily, and this WVU squad could be in line for another conference title. They have nine defensive starters back from one of the best units in the country and the offense will rely on super-speedster Noel Devine. LSU will be seasoned after an early test against North Carolina (read on) and the homefield edge will be massive here.
4. LSU vs. North Carolina (8 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 4)
This is the third year of the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game and this is the third year that it has given us one of the best nonconference matchups of the year. North Carolina possesses the best defense in the country and it will be on full display against one of the top teams in the mighty SEC. The last two kickoff classics have seen ACC titans squashed by Alabama (Clemson lost 34-10 in 2008, Va. Tech lost 34-24 last year). Can the ACC reverse the trend? LSU will likely be favored simply because they hail from the SEC and Les Miles has a solid 18-11 mark against ranked foes in his time there. LSU has also won 13 straight September games and is 12-1 in season openers. But UNC has nearly twice as many returning starters (19 to 10) and every key playmaker back from last year’s eight-win team. The Tar Heels have appeared to be on the verge of joining college football’s top tier. This game would go a long way to getting them there.
3. Penn State at Alabama (7 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 11)
The defending national champions will get their first test in the second week of the season against Joe Pa and his Nittany Lions. Alabama lost nine starters from last year’s dominating defense and we’ll find out early if this year’s group will be able to hold a candle. Penn State has eight starters back from an offense that has averaged 38.9 and 28.8 points per game the past two seasons, respectively. But the Nittany Lions are sans Darryl Clark, the triggerman for their spread attack. Penn State’s mammoth offensive line is going to be able to hold up against Alabama’s defense. But we don’t know if sophomore Kevin Newsome will be able to do the same. The SEC owns the Big Ten. But this is a chance for the Midwest to strike early and get a marquee win in SEC country.
2. Boise State vs. Virginia Tech (8 p.m., Monday, Sept. 6)
It’s very simple: if Boise State wins this game they have a shot at a national championship. They will again decimate the weak WAC, but this game gives the Broncos another opportunity to collect a major BCS conference scalp. Unlike last year’s big nonconference win – an ugly 19-8 home victory over Oregon that should have been much, much bigger – Boise State will have to leave the Smurf Turf and go win this game on the road. It will be played in VT’s neck of the woods, down at Landover, Md., and on grass (FedEx Field). Frank Beamer rarely gets outfoxed and he will have his club ready for Boise’s bag of tricks. The Broncs have 20 starters back from last year’s group and have just one goal: win it all. But Tyrod Taylor, a veteran offense, and an athletic and exceptionally well-coached defense and special teams stand in their way. Virginia Tech is 42-10 in its last 52 nonconference games and they are used to winning these tussles.
1. Miami at Ohio State (3:30 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 11)
This game has National Title implications as well as Heisman ramifications. These two traditional powers meet up at the Horseshoe for an early season clash that will be the marquee nonconference win for one of these teams. Ohio State finally got over its BCS bowl hump with a convincing Rose Bowl win last year. Everyone was quick to proclaim that Miami was “back” after a nine-win campaign and return to the Top 20 last year. But they are not back. They are not back until they win a game like this, on the road against another powerhouse. Miami is just 1-4 in its last five road openers but they have that little luxury that has bothered Ohio State time and time again: speed. Quarterbacks Terrell Pryor and Jacory Harris will be on full display and the better performer will benefit from some early season Heisman buzz. Both teams are favored to win their respective conference. But the winner here will have a hell of a chip to play when BCS selection time comes rolling around.
Honorable Mention: Tennessee vs. Oregon (Sept. 11); Auburn vs. Clemson (Sept. 18); Utah at Notre Dame (Nov. 13); Oklahoma vs. Cincinnati (Sept. 25); Arkansas vs. Texas A&M (Oct. 9); Florida State vs. Florida (Nov. 27)
Robert Ferringo is a writer and a professional sports handicapper for Doc’s Sports. Last year he brought home +62.5 Units for his clients in the NFL and he is regarded as one of the top totals players in the sport. He guarantees a winning football season this year or he will work for free until you turn a profit. You can sign up for his college football and NFL picks and get more information here.
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