One of the greatest side benefits of the College Football Playoff has been major conference teams’ decreased reluctance to schedule other power opponents. And the 2019 non-conference schedule has some pretty enticing matchups.
Here are 12 of our favorite non-conference games heading into the season. We omitted traditional rivalry games from this list like Florida-Florida State and Clemson-South Carolina because otherwise this list could exclusively be filled with rivalry matchups. Instead, we chose 12 games between teams that we don’t see play each other on a regular basis.
12. BYU at Tennessee (Sep. 7)
This game may not be the sexiest matchup of 2019, but it’s important for both teams. BYU is the biggest non-conference opponent to come to Neyland Stadium in years and the Volunteers probably need the win for a 7-5 or better regular season. The Cougars, meanwhile, return 17 starters after a bowl appearance in 2018 and the trip to Neyland could reasonably be considered the easiest of the first four games. BYU opens with Pac-12 South favorite Utah and plays USC and Washington after the Volunteers.
11. Cincinnati at Ohio State (Sep. 7)
Ohio State will be a heavy favorite, especially because this game is in Columbus. But Cincinnati has a claim to being the best Group of Five team and this should be more competitive than the 50-28 win the Buckeyes had over the Bearcats in 2014. Cincinnati returns 14 starters and open with a home game against an improved UCLA team on Aug. 29. That should be a win for Cincy and the Bearcats could be 4-1 heading into an Oct. 4 matchup against UCF at home.
10. Nebraska at Colorado (Sep. 7)
This classic Big 8 rivalry returned last fall for the first time since 2010 with Colorado delivering Nebraska a 33-28 defeat in Lincoln. This time in Boulder, the Huskers hope to return the favor. Nebraska is entering its second season under Scott Frost and expectations are already sky-high. This Week 2 matchup against the Buffs will be the first test of the year for Nebraska and the home debut for new CU coach Mel Tucker.
9. Washington State vs. Houston (Sep. 13)
Houston has two big challenges to kick off Dana Holgorsen’s first season with the Cougars. UH opens the season with a trip to Norman to face the four-time defending Big 12 champion Oklahoma Sooners. And after an FCS opponent in Week 2, Washington State will travel to Houston for a fun matchup at NRG Stadium, home of the Texans. Seeing two Air Raid coaches — Holgorsen and WSU’s Mike Leach — go head-to-head in an NFL stadium should be a lot of fun.
8. Boise State vs. Florida State (Aug. 31)
The Broncos head out on the road to visit a Power Five opponent for the fourth straight season in 2019. And Florida State should be much better than it was a season ago. The Broncos bring back six starters on offense including the entire offensive line. Simple math means, however, that there’s a lot of skill-position production to replace with QB Brett Rypien, RB Alexander Mattison and WRs Sean Modster and A.J. Richardson gone. FSU has eight starters back on each side of the ball as it attempts to flip a -11 turnover margin from 2018.
7. Stanford at Central Florida (Sep. 14)
This is the type of game that UCF needs to win if it wants to keep claiming it’s one of the stronger teams in college football. The Knights were physically dominated in the Fiesta Bowl against LSU and now they get Stanford off a cross-country road trip. While the Cardinal return just nine starters overall, QB KJ Costello is back for his junior season. A Stanford win wouldn’t be a surprise. And it would be a statement that the Cardinal will contend with Oregon and Washington in the Pac-12 North yet again.
6. Texas A&M at Clemson (Sep. 7)
Clemson’s trip to Kyle Field last September was one of its biggest tests en route to a national championship. This time, the Tigers will host the Aggies and will have Trevor Lawrence under center for the entire game. Early last season, Lawrence was splitting time with Kelly Bryant, who has since transferred to Missouri. But that was a different A&M team, too. It was just Jimbo Fisher’s second game with the Aggies. We’ll see if his program has grown enough to give mighty Clemson a challenge in Death Valley.
5. Miami vs. Florida (Aug. 24)
Week 0 gets started with a bang as the two in-state rivals are playing each other for the first time since 2013 when a then-unranked Miami team toppled a ranked Florida squad. This will be Miami’s first game with Manny Diaz as the team’s head coach after Mark Richt stepped down following the 2018 season. While Feleipe Franks established himself as Florida’s starter at the end of last season, it’s currently unclear who will start for Miami. Will N’Kosi Perry take the first snap? Or will Ohio State transfer Tate Martell win the job?
4. Notre Dame at Michigan (Oct. 26)
Things didn’t go so well for Michigan against Notre Dame last fall in South Bend. This year, the Wolverines have high expectations once again and will get a chance to return the favor in Ann Arbor. The game is later in the season in 2019, so we’ll already have a pretty good idea who both of these teams are and it will have an impact on where both teams land in the first College Football Playoff rankings of the season.
3. Oregon vs. Auburn (Aug. 31)
For the second straight season, Auburn is opening its season with a high-profile Pac-12 opponent. Last year it was a 21-16 victory over Washington. This year, the Tigers head to AT&T Stadium in Texas to face the Oregon Ducks. While Auburn will be breaking in a new quarterback (either Joey Gatewood or Bo Nix), the Ducks return one of the nation’s top signal callers in Justin Herbert. Herbert may have been the No. 1 pick if he decided to leave school last year, but instead he returned for his senior season.
2. Notre Dame at Georgia (Sep. 21)
If this is the year Georgia is finally going to overtake Alabama as the top dog in the SEC, we can learn a lot about the Bulldogs at home against a Notre Dame team fresh off a College Football Playoff appearance. And don’t forget this: While Notre Dame was getting beaten up by Clemson in the semifinals, plenty of UGA players went straight to Twitter to tell you they should have made the top four instead.
1. LSU at Texas (Sep. 7)
This is an early season battle between two top-10 programs with high expectations entering 2019. Both are trending upward after big bowl wins to cap off the 2018 season, and this is one of those games that will cause overreaction in both directions. The winner will be perceived as a legitimate national title contender while folks wonder just how good the losing team actually could be. Early September hot takes are the best!
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