We all know we should tune in for Florida State-Oklahoma State, Virginia Tech-Ohio State, and LSU-Wisconsin in 2014, but what other non-conference clashes will be worth our while?
Though it’s impossible to predict when lightning will strike, here’s a handful of non-league games that may magically turn into must-see TV.
When/Where: Saturday, Nov. 22, Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind.
Tune in to see a new-look Irish offense that should improve on its No. 74 national rank in scoring from a year ago grapple with a Cardinal defense that returns five starters to the No. 2 scoring defense from 2013. Also of interest is the coaching matchup, featuring two guys who share just two losing seasons between them.
When/Where: Saturday, Sept. 20, Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Neb.
This year’s clash will be the tale of two coaches. On one hand is Nebraska’s Bo Pelini, hanging on by a thread, needing to convince the Husker faithful that he really is the right guy to get the program back in national championship form. On the flip side is Al Golden, in the early stages of engineering what looks to be a return to glory at Miami.
When/Where: Thursday, Sept. 18, Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium, Manhattan, Kan.
The Wildcats beat Michigan 31-14 in last season’s Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, clobbered Miami (Fla.) 52-13 in 2012, beat the Hurricanes again in 2011 and topped UCLA 31-22 in 2010.
When/Where: Saturday, Sept. 13, Gaylord Family OK Memorial Stadium, Norman, Okla.
On the surface Oklahoma–Tennessee looks like a game between a program on the verge of its first national championship appearance since 2008 and a program on the verge of its first bowl-eligible season since 2010.
But before anyone assumes the Sooners—who should be 2-0 and ranked in the top 10 in Week 3—will blast Tennessee, consider this. Six of the Volunteers’ seven losses last season came to teams ranked in the top 20 and five came against teams ranked in the top 10.
Add in that one of the five wins came over No. 11 South Carolina and throw in Tennessee’s No. 5 ranked recruiting class this year and suddenly this game is far from a sure thing.
When/Where: Saturday, Sept. 13, Jones AT&T Stadium, Lubbock, Texas
Not only does Texas Tech–Arkansas mark the first time the Red Raiders have dared schedule a power-five, non-conference opponent since 2003, it should also be an offensive explosion heard round the world.
It will be Texas Tech’s No. 2 ranked passing offense from a year ago against Arkansas’ No. 73 passing defense and the Red Raiders’ No. 99 ranked rush defense trying to contain the Razorbacks’ No. 21 ranked rushing attack.
When/Where: Saturday, Sept. 6, Autzen Stadium, Eugene, Ore.
The Michigan State–Oregon game will be a lot like watching the guys at the History channel duke it out with the boys from over at the Sci-Fi channel. In other words, it’s good old-fashioned defense against new-age point scoring.
Though the Spartans return just four starters to its No. 3 ranked scoring defense from 2013, it will still be compelling to see MSU try and stop an Oregon team that returns nine starters to the No. 3 ranked scoring offense from a year ago.
When/Where: Saturday, Sept. 20, Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, Mich.
Michigan has been trying to drop a non-conference game it was favored in for a couple of seasons. In 2013, it was a 28-24 nail-biter over Akron coupled with a 24-21 victory at UConn. In 2012, it was a 31-25 win over Air Force.
Candidates for the “whew” game in 2014 are the home opener versus new Sun Belt member Appalachian State (we won’t even go there…), a Week 3 visit from Miami (the one in Ohio) and the Week 4 game against Utah.
Despite a 5-7 finish in 2013, Utah presents the gravest threat for the Wolverines. Remember, this is the same team last season that upset No. 5 Stanford 27-21, lost 34-27 to No. 12 UCLA, and suffered a 20-19 defeat to No. 23 Arizona State.
The Utes are the classic wolf in sheep’s clothing.