While in-conference rivalry games are usually deemed the most important games during a college football team’s season, non-conference games, which are normally played during the first few weeks of the season, are just as important. In the College Football Playoff era, we’ve seen the importance that non-conference games have in determining how teams are ranked. Additionally, non-conference games provide excitement to fans as they get to see big-name schools who normally don’t play each other get a chance to add a resume-boosting win. Here’s a ranking of the ten best non-conference games for the upcoming 2019 NCAA Football season.
1. Notre Dame at Georgia – Week 4
Last year’s game, a thrilling 20-19 Georgia win, was one of the most exciting and consequential games of last season as it would’ve helped propel Georgia into the College Football Playoff had they not collapsed in the SEC Championship Game. Nevertheless, both of these teams have reached the CFP in one of the past two seasons. While 5-star recruits will be all over the field for both teams, the QB matchup, Notre Dame’s Ian Book versus Georgia’s Jake Fromm, will determine who wins this game.
2. Notre Dame at Michigan – Week 9
Last year’s matchup, a 24-17 win for the Fighting Irish, was the biggest non-conference resume-boosting win that any team had last season. Michigan had one of the best defenses in the country last season and the team is projected to begin the season with a top-ten AP Poll ranking. This will be a gritty defensive battle in the Big House that could prove to be a monumental game when the CFP committee decides which four teams are in.
3. LSU at Texas – Week 2
These two programs have been two of the more successful teams in the 21st century, although LSU has been much more dominant than Texas this decade. We know LSU is a contender but is Texas legitimate? Well, last season’s Sugar Bowl win over Georgia showed that they just might be a CFP contender. The Longhorns Sam Ehlinger looked like a budding star last season as did LSU’s Joe Burrow. There might not be a better atmosphere for a game this season with two top-ten teams playing under the lights in Austin in Week 2.
4. Texas A&M at Clemson
Last season’s matchup, a 28-26 win, was one of the most unexpectedly fun games of the season. Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond had 430 passing yards against a Clemson defense that shut down Tua Tagovailoa in the CFP Championship Game. Kelly Bryant, who has since transferred from Clemson, looked great for the Tigers against the Aggies. Now, we’ll have Mond leading the top-ten ranked Aggies into Death Valley to face Trevor Lawrence, Travis Etienne and a whole bunch of stars for Clemson. This could potentially be the most entertaining game of the entire season.
5. Stanford at UCF – Week 3
UCF has been one of the most outstanding teams in the past two seasons, finishing undefeated in 2017 and with just one loss in 2018 against LSU in the Fiesta Bowl. Their QB, McKenzie Milton, has been their leader and a dark-horse Heisman Trophy candidate and will prove to be a handful for Stanford’s tough defense if he’s healthy. A win against a team who hasn’t lost a regular season game since 2016 would be crucial for Stanford. This should be a fun battle between two ranked teams, one that has a top defense and one that has a top offense.
6. Oregon vs Auburn at AT&T Stadium in Dallas
Man, this could’ve been a fun QB matchup between Oregon’s Justin Herbert and Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham, however, Stidham left school early for the NFL Draft. This is a rematch of the classic 2011 BCS Championship Game where Cam Newton led the Tigers to a win over the Ducks. Watching Herbert, the potential No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, go up against a vaunted SEC defense should be entertaining. The winner of this game will have a solid win over a ranked team on their resume.
7. Florida vs Miami at Camping World Stadium in Orlando
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This matchup will be a battle between two of the most famous college football programs, however, neither team is expected to be a real CFP contender. Florida will definitely start the season as a ranked team, with QB Feleipe Franks leading the way. As for Miami, they brought in Manny Diaz as their new head coach following another disappointing season. This game could either be a defensive battle or a shootout but one thing is for sure; it will be the first game of the entire season and the winner will have an impressive win on their resume.
8. Arizona State at Michigan State
Arizona State upset the Spartans last season 16-13 with new coach Herm Edwards at the helm. Now, Edwards has brought in a better recruiting class and will take on Michigan State in East Lansing. The Spartans quarterback Brian Lewerke will need to take on a bigger role with star running back LJ Scott having gone to the NFL and he’ll have a tough time against the Sun Devils. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Arizona State shock the Spartans once again.
9. Oklahoma at UCLA
Let’s face it, this game shouldn’t be close. UCLA looked like a dumpster fire last year while Oklahoma made it to the CFP. However, new UCLA coach Chip Kelly has brought in plenty of talent to hopefully improve the Bruins. Yet, this game is likely to be the Jalen Hurts show for Oklahoma. The former Alabama star transferred to the Sooners and is looking to become the third straight Oklahoma quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy and he’ll need to ball out in Los Angeles to make a statement.
10. Utah at BYU
This game makes the list not for the quality of play that we should expect to see but instead for the Holy War rivalry. Utah has dominated the Holy War in years past, winning eight straight games against BYU. Utah finished 9-3 in the Pac-12 last season and made it to the Holiday Bowl. BYU finished 7-6 but had a shocking upset of Wisconsin in Madison. As most rivalry games are, this should be a close, intense battle that could go either way.