2020-21 CFP contenders playing non-conference road games

By Amy Daughters -

Of the top 21 teams with the best shot of winning the College Football Playoff title – according to the oddsmakers in Vegas – 11 (or 52%) will play one of their non-conference games at the opposing team’s home field. The other ten will play their entire non-league schedule at home.

This caveat may have an impact on who is – and isn’t – unscathed when the CFP committee sits down to field the 2020-21 bracket.

These games all have the potential to become subtle difference makers in the narrative of this season.

As a note, each of the teams listed will play a true road game. Neutrally sited games are not included.  

CLEMSON +225 (1)

at Notre DameSaturday, Nov. 7

Clemson’s last away game in non-ACC play other than South Carolina (which it plays annually) was a visit to College Station to play Texas A&M in Week 2 of the 2018 season, a narrow 28-26 win. Its most recent loss to a non-conference opponent on the road came in 2014 when it opened at (12) Georgia and fell 45-21.

Dabo Swinney is 73-7 (91%) at home during his tenure at Clemson vs. 40-17 (70%) in road action. It amounts to the Tigers being 21% more likely to lose at Notre Dame than if they would have played them at home.

OHIO STATE +350 (2)

at OregonSaturday, Sept. 12

Ohio State hasn’t played a non-conference roadie since 2016 when it rolled into Norman and took down (14) Oklahoma 45-24. Its last loss in such a game came in 2011 when it fell 24-6 at Miami Fla.

The Buckeyes are 67-5 (93%) over the last decade at home vs. 38-8 (83%) in true road games.

FLORIDA +1200 (6)

at Florida StateSaturday, Nov. 28

Though Florida’s most recent road trip to Florida State (in 2018) resulted in a 41-14 win, the Gators suffered back-to-back losses there in 2016 and 2014. Overall, Florida is 21-13-1 (61%) at home against the Seminoles vs. a 14-13-1 (51.8%) mark in Tallahassee.

OKLAHOMA +2500 (T7)

at ArmySaturday, Sept. 26

Oklahoma is one of three top contenders set to play its non-conference roadie at a non-Power school. The Sooners played a non-Big 12 opponent on the road as recently as last season, scoring a 48-14 win at UCLA in Week 3. They haven’t lost such a game since 2009 when they got edged 21-20 at (17) Miami Fla. The last time they visited a non-Power opponent was in 2014 when they scored a 52-7 win at Tulsa.

Impressively, in the last decade Oklahoma has enjoyed the same success on the road (posting a 41-7 or 85% mark) as it has at home in Norman (53-8 or 87%).

PENN STATE +2500 (T7)

at Virginia TechSaturday, Sept. 12

Penn State’s most recent non-league road game came in 2018 when it visited Pitt and blasted the Panthers 51-6. Its last loss to such an opponent came two years earlier, in 2016, when it fell 42-39 at, again, Pitt.

James Franklin is 35-7 (83%) at home in his seven seasons thus far as the head man in State College. Compare that to his 15-13 (53%) mark in away games. It amounts to a 30% advantage at home.

TEXAS +4000 (13)

at LSUSaturday, Sept. 12

The Longhorns played a non-conference away game as recently as 2017, when they, as an unranked team, visited (4) USC and got edged 27-24. They haven’t won a true non-Big 12 roadie since 2012 when they visited Ole Miss and dominated the Rebels 66-31.

In the last decade, Texas is 37-24 (61%) at home in Austin vs. 24-22 (52%) on the road.

MICHIGAN +4500 (14)

at WashingtonSaturday, Sept. 5

Michigan’s most recent non-conference away game came in the 2018 opener, a 24-17 loss at (12) Notre Dame. Its last such win came in 2013 when it traveled to UConn and won 24-21. The Wolverines haven’t won an away game against a non-conference opponent that’s now considered a Power club since a 2010 win at Notre Dame.

In his six seasons at Michigan, Jim Harbaugh is 30-5 (86%) in Ann Arbor vs. 15-9 (63%) in true road action.

MIAMI FLA. +8000 (T17)

at Michigan StateSaturday, Sept. 26

The Hurricanes last visited a non-ACC opponent in 2018 when they made the trek to Toledo, Ohio and beat the Rockets 49-24. Their most recent road trip to a Power program’s venue came in 2016 when they lost 30-27 at Notre Dame. They haven’t beaten a current Power club out of ACC play on the road since a 2010 win at Pitt (the Panthers were Big East members until 2012).

Miami is 47-18 (72%) at home over the last decade vs. 27-26 (51%) in road action.

TENNESSEE +8000 (T17)

at OklahomaSaturday, Sept. 12

Tennessee hasn’t played a non-conference roadie since 2014 when it visited (4) Oklahoma and fell 34-10. It hasn’t won such a game since it traveled to Memphis in 2010 and triumphed 50-14. Its most recent road win at a Power opponent came all the way back in 2003 when it won 10-6 at (6) Miami Fla.

The Volunteers are 45-28 (62%) at home since 2010 vs. 11-32 (26%) in road action. The 36% differential is the widest gap of the teams mentioned.

NORTH CAROLINA +10000 (T20)

at UCFFriday, Sept. 4

North Carolina last played a non-ACC opponent on the road in 2018, suffering a 24-17 loss in the opener at Cal. Its last such win came a season earlier, in 2017, when it won big (53-23) at Old Dominion. The most recent road victory over a Power foe was in 2016, a 48-23 win at Illinois.

The Tar Heels are 40-24 (63%) in Chapel Hill over the last decade vs. a 23-28 mark (45%) in true road action.

UTAH +10000 (T20)

at WyomingSaturday, Sept. 19

Utah hit the road to play a non-conference opponent as recently as last season when it visited BYU in its opener and won 30-12. Its last win at a Power 5 member’s home was in 2014, a 26-10 victory over Michigan in the Big House.

Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham is 70-24 (74%) at home in 15 seasons in Salt Lake City vs. a 50-35 mark (59%) on the road.

Historical data courtesy of Sports Reference/College Football

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Comments (2)

“It amounts to the Tigers being 21% more likely to lose at Notre Dame than if they would have played them at home.”

This isn’t correct as it assumes that the quality of Clemson’s home and away opponents is equal. Given that Clemson’s home schedule regularly features one-off games with mid-majors (Charlotte, Georgia Southern, Kent State, Troy) and FCS schools (Wofford, Furman, The Citadel, SC State), teams that Clemson would never have a corresponding road game against, it’s probably fair to assume that their road slate features significantly higher quality opponents than their overall home schedule.