College Football: Top 10 Nonconference Matchups
by Robert Ferringo - 7/11/2012
The NCAA presidents recently voted in favor of a four-team playoff system starting in 2014 that will allegedly decide, once and for all, whom the champion of college football is. For most of the mouth-breathing, PBR-drinking college football fan base this news was long overdue and seen as the cure for all that ails their beloved sport.
For me, I couldn’t care less.
The pros and cons of the college football playoff system are going to be “discussed” ad nausea throughout the upcoming college football betting season. I will leave that discussion for the bobbleheads. However, one interesting speculative nugget is that strength of schedule component in the new system could have a big impact in the nonconference football season.
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As the sport is currently constituted, the early part of the year is used primarily for tune-up games before conference play. Big schools schedule cupcake games and FCS teams and use the first couple weeks of the season as a way to ease into things.Occasionally we get a marquee nonconference tilt between two powerhouses – like when Ohio State and USC played a few years back, or the Alabama-Penn State matchups recently – but for the most part it is blowouts and barbeque until the “real games start”.
But if strength of schedule becomes a bigger issue then we can expect a lot more marquee matchups in early September. This season is not devoid of important nonconference affairs, but it is a bit weaker than what we’ve come to expect each season.
10. Central Florida at Ohio State (Saturday, Sept. 8)
This one is under-the-radar and won’t get a lot of national publicity. But this Central Florida team is one of the best mid-majors in the country. They have also had some near misses against Top 20 teams in the past few years, including nearly taking down No. 6 Texas in 2007 and No. 17 South Florida in 2008. Ohio State will still be learning Urban Meyer’s systems and they will still be trying to find their identity after last season’s suspension-laden campaign. This could be a chance for a tough, physical mid-major team to make a statement.
9. Wisconsin at Oregon State (Saturday, Sept. 8)
This is a huge game for the Beavers and I expect them to be sky-high. Oregon State endured a humiliating 35-0 defeat last year at Camp Randall and this will be their chance for revenge. OSU Coach Mike Riley is starting to feel some heat after two straight down years and this is a big chance to make a statement. Wisconsin is coming off an 11-win season and a tight loss to Oregon in the Rose Bowl. They have won 10 straight road- or neutral-field openers and will be as physical as ever.
8. North Carolina at Louisville (Saturday, Sept. 15)
Louisville is one of the favorites in the Big East this year. And you can laugh all you want about that conference, but over the last decade no league in the country has been anywhere close to as profitable for college football handicappers as the Beast. The Cards lost just 14-7 in a slugfest last year in Chapel Hill. Now they will be looking to return the favor against a Heels team that should be stronger and more athletic now that (most of) their administrative woes are behind them.
7. BYU at Boise State (Thursday, Sept. 20)
Over the last decade these have been two of the best programs in the West. This one will be nationally televised from the Smurf Turf on a Thursday night and there will be a lot of eyes on this one. Boise has a tremendous advantage here. Not only are they at home and catching the Cougars on a short week, but also they are catching BYU off their Holy War rivalry game against Utah the Saturday before.
6. Boise State (+7.5) at Michigan State (Friday, Aug. 31)
There are some games on the docket on Thursday, Aug. 30, but big-time college football essentially kicks off with this game. Boise State has been incredible the last three years in these marquee nonconference showdowns, taking down Oregon in 2009, Virginia Tech in 2010 and Georgia last year in their season openers. Sparty will be making its first attempt without Kirk Cousins and they are just 6-13 against Top 25 foes in the last five years. But Michigan State has won 13 straight home openers.
5. Auburn (+2.5) vs. Clemson (Saturday, Sept. 1)
This is one of the marquee games of the opening weekend and will take place in Atlanta for the Chick-fil-A Kickoff. Clemson won, 38-24, at home last year to snap Auburn’s 17-game winning streak. But that game had a bit of a misleading final. Auburn led 14-0 and 21-7 before Clemson rattled off four straight TDs to take control. If Clemson is a true national player this year – and with Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins they could be – they will prove it here.
4. Michigan (+2.5) at Notre Dame (Saturday, Sept. 22)
Some say last year’s game was a classic. I say that last year’s game – and the 12,000 points scored in the last three minutes – is what is annoying about college football. Regardless, this is one of the best rivalry games in college football and it is one of the top revenge games this year. Most of the primaries are back in this one so I expect another tight one.
3. Florida (+6.5) at Florida State (Saturday, Nov. 24)
The Seminoles enter the season with the best odds to win the ACC. Florida is the frontrunner in the SEC East and, by extension, is on the short list of BCS national title contenders. This late-season tilt could be for something more important: in-state bragging rights. The last time here the Seminoles laid a 52-17 beating on the Gators and two touchdowns or more have decided the last six meetings.
2. Notre Dame (+12.5) at Oklahoma (Saturday, Oct. 27)
Over the past decade the Irish have gotten their asses handed to them by teams ranked in the Top 15. But, undaunted, they keep going toe-to-toe with powerhouses like USC and now Oklahoma. The Irish have an absolutely murderous schedule this year (including a road trip to tussle with the Trojans), but this game stands out because they haven’t been to Norman in nearly 50 years. I expect a lot of build-up for this game but, to be honest, when bullets start flying I expect the Irish to get manhandled by the Big Boys once again.
1. Alabama vs. Michigan (Saturday, Sept. 1)
Michigan is playing some of the top rivalry and top conference games in college football in 2012. It seems like just about every week they will square off in a killer matchup. But this is the biggest nonconference game of the year, with the defending National Champion Crimson Tide carrying the flag for the SEC while Michigan, off 11 victories and a Sugar Bowl win of its own, will attempt to salvage some pride for the Big Ten. This game will be played on semi-neutral ground in Arlington at Cowboys Stadium.
For Michigan, this is a chance for Denard Robinson to prove me wrong. I have long felt that if he played in the SEC he would be just another dude. But because he is in the Big Ten – not exactly known for its speed and athleticism compared to other leagues – he is a national name. Going up against Alabama’s dominating defense, which has four three-year starters among the five returning first-teamers, will really tell the tale.
For Alabama, this game offers another national stage on which to prove their “dominance” on the college landscape. Two somewhat fluky National Championships (if you can call any title a fluke, that is) have legitimized them as a powerhouse. But another title would make this team a dynasty. And outside of road games at Arkansas and LSU this year (and maybe a trip to Knoxville) there aren’t a lot of potential losses on the schedule. If anyone is going to stop ‘Bama they may have to get them early. The Wolverines have a chance. (But not really.)
Honorable Mention: Houston at UCLA (Saturday, Sept. 15); Missouri at Central Florida (Saturday, Sept. 29); California at Ohio State (Saturday, Sept. 15); Miami at Kansas State (Saturday, Sept. 8); Washington at LSU (Saturday, Sept. 8); Illinois at Arizona State (Saturday, Sept. 8)
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