The Toughest Non-Conference Game for the Top 10 CFB Teams in 2015

By Amy Daughters -

Did you know that it’s only 225 days until the start of the 2015 college football season?

And what better way to celebrate than by taking a look at the biggest non-conference game for each of the top contenders going into the second year of the Playoff era?

These are the games that will likely decide who’s in and who’s out of the bracket before the pot of controversy even begins to simmer.

We’ll use ESPN’s Way-Too-Early Top 25 by Mark Schlabach to establish the ten teams in the running and if nothing else, the exercise will confirm, once again, that all schedules aren’t created equally.

10. Alabama

Who: Wisconsin
When/Where: Saturday, Sept. 5, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas

Alabama has a history of scheduling non-conference games vs. big-time teams, especially from the Big Ten where three of their last five early-season opponents came from.

The Crimson Tide and Badgers have squared off only once in history, a 1928 regular-season game that Wisconsin won 15-0 in Madison.

The balance of Alabama’s non-conference schedule is Middle Tennessee (Sept. 12), Louisiana-Monroe (Sept. 26) and FCS Charleston Southern (Nov. 21).

9. Clemson

Who: Notre Dame
When/Where: Saturday, Oct. 3, Memorial Stadium, Clemson, S.C.

Though Notre Dame is technically an ACC team, this game counts as one of Clemson’s four non-conference games. It also marks the first time since 2009 that the Tigers haven’t faced two SEC opponents in the regular season.

The last and only time these two squared off was in a home-and-home series in 1977 and 1979. The Tigers and Irish split the two games, with the visitor winning on each occasion.

Clemson’s other non-ACC opponents are FCS Wofford (Sept. 5), Appalachian State (Sept. 12) and South Carolina (Nov. 28).

8. Georgia

Who: Georgia Tech
When/Where: Saturday, Nov. 28, Bobby Dodd Stadium, Atlanta, Ga.

In what could be a difference maker in the second-ever Playoff race, Georgia won’t play a power-five team out of SEC action until Nov. 28, when it travels to Atlanta for its annual grudge match with Georgia Tech.

The Bulldogs faced Clemson in their 2013 and 2014 openers, but as recently as 2012 played Buffalo, Florida Atlantic and Georgia Southern out of conference for a 12-2 finish.

The balance of Georgia’s non-conference schedule is Louisiana-Monroe (Sept. 5), FCS Southern (Sept. 26) and Georgia Southern (Nov. 21).


Who: Virginia
When/Where: Saturday, Sept. 5, Rose Bowl, Los Angeles, Calif.

After scheduling non-league games with Texas, Nebraska and Kansas State over the last six years, 2015 is arguably UCLA’s easiest non-conference slate since 1992 when it drew Cal State-Fullerton, BYU and San Diego State.

The Bruins have only squared off with Virginia once previously, last season in Charlottesville, a game they won 28-20 despite only scoring seven offensive points.

UCLA’s other non-conference games are against UNLV (Sept. 12) and BYU (Sept. 19).

6. Michigan State

Who: Oregon
When/Where: Saturday, Sept. 12, Spartan Stadium, East Lansing, Mich.

In what’s likely to be the first top-ten clash of 2015, the Spartans and Ducks will wrap up the back end of their home-and-home series with a Week 2 meeting in East Lansing.

The two have met five times previously, including home-and-home series in 1979-80 and 1998-99. The home team has never lost.

The balance of the Spartan’s non-league slate is at Western Michigan (Sept. 4), Air Force (Sept. 19), and Central Michigan (Sept. 26).

5. Oregon

Who: Michigan State
When/Where: Saturday, Sept. 12, Spartan Stadium, East Lansing, Mich.

Oregon’s quest to return to the College Football Playoff will hinge early vs. Michigan State in East Lansing, where the Ducks have never won a game.

Oregon’s other non-conference games in 2015 are FCS Eastern Washington (Sept. 5) and Georgia State (Sept. 19).

4. USC

Who: Notre Dame
When/Where: Saturday, Oct. 17, Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind.

USC and Notre Dame have played consecutively since 1946 and the series has swapped between a mid-October date in South Bend and a late-November date in Los Angeles since 1960. The Trojans’ last road win vs. the Irish came in 2011.

The balance of USC’s non-league schedule is Arkansas State (Sept. 5) and Idaho (Sept. 12).

3. Baylor

Who: Rice
When/Where: Saturday, Sept. 26, McLane Stadium, Waco, Texas

Though Rice hardly sounds like a giant killer, its recent success makes it Baylor’s stiffest non-Big 12 opponent vs. the alternatives: SMU and FCS Lamar.

The Owls are 25-15 since 2012, including going 2-1 in bowl play and capturing the 2013 C-USA title. That’s all-world compared to the Mustangs’ 13-24 since mark over the same time frame and their 6-18 record since 2013.

The Bears haven’t played a power-five opponent out of conference in the regular season since 2009 when they beat Wake Forest 24-21 in the opener.

Baylor and Rice last met in 2011 and have played three times since the old Southwest Conference broke ranks in 1996. The Owls haven’t beaten the Bears since 1992, dropping six straight since then.

2. Ohio State

Who: Virginia Tech
When/Where: Monday, Sept. 7, Lane Stadium, Blacksburg, Va.

Though a second-consecutive loss to Virginia Tech seems completely unlikely after the Buckeyes’ national championship run, the Hokies remain OSU’s toughest non-league hurdle in 2015.

Last season’s upset loss in Columbus was also the only time in history the Buckeyes and Hokies have met on the gridiron.

The balance of Ohio State’s non-Big Ten slate consists of Hawaii (Sept. 12), Northern Illinois (Sept. 19) and Western Michigan (Sept. 26).

1. TCU

Who: Minnesota
When/Where: Thursday, Sept. 3, TCF Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, Minn.

Though Minnesota might not look as scary as Notre Dame, don’t forget that the Golden Gophers finished last season at 8-5, exactly the same record the Irish posted.

TCU and Minnesota hooked up at the front end of a home-and-home series last season in Fort Worth, a game the Horned Frogs took 30-7. The only other previous meeting came back in 1974 when TCU traveled to Minneapolis and lost 9-7.

The Frogs’ other non-conference opponents in 2015 are FCS Stephen F. Austin and SMU.

Comments (32)

Right. Weird. Sh*t, UCLA was one less defensive touchdown away from losing to a bad 2-10 Virginia team the year before. But yet that didn’t sway the voters from continuing to move them up in the rankings. And once again they start In the top 10. A joke if u ask me, not like anyone is though. Haha. They won’t be any good, especially not a top 15 team. But hey, the analysts love the PAC12 so continue to expect to see unworthy PAC12 team ranked high in preseason.
Also check out Baylors beat non conference game – Rice. Wow, another joke. They better go undefeated and hope there isn’t another undefeated team or once again the Little10 will be left out, as they should have been this year. But Go Tigers Baby. Glad to see us start in the top 10, however as of now, I only see OSU and TCU being better than us and the season ain’t started. Watch out for my tigers winnng it all next year, as long as Watson gets healthy and starts season. Our backup Qbs will need some time to get acclimated to college speed and atmosphere.

Thank you. Finally one fan who sees them for who they are. Or how they haven’t played up to their ability or potential. I saw them squeak by quite a few times last while not playing good football.

Why is TCU ahead of OSU in the ranking? Oh the ESPN no-sense.
First they had 2 SEC teams in the playoff. Then their predictions had Baylor in the playoff. Then had Ohio St getting blown out by Alabama. Then had Oregon bet Ohio St. Do you really want to rely on a bad source or rankings?

Predictions are one thing to mess up but the rankings are inexcusable. If we all were right most of the time we would be gambling and making the big bucks. However, it just pisses me off how many people listen, follow and f*cking preach what they see and hear on ESPN. It drives me crazy probably partly because I live in California and am a fan of Clemson and the ACC. Which rarely gets any recognition although we did have 3 teams in the top 15 and Clemson should have definitely been higher. They want it east vs west coast and they will do anything to keep it that way. One reason PAC12 and SEC haven’t met in a bowl. If they’re the shouldn’t they play the best. I just wan to spread the word and get other people to spread the word. But if ur a fan of the PAC12 sorry u won’t be a fan of this.

Huh? ESPN has no desire for an east vs west. They’re concerned and only concerned with making sure the SEC looks good. The reason the SEC and Pac12 teams don’t play much is because the Pac12 schools require a home and home series.

And John. The sec looks good whether or not ESPN does a damn thing. The SEC is the best hands down. No matter what their bowl record was this year. What ESPN does do is build up the PAC12. They get the best, undeserving rankings of any conference. The best football players come from the south east for the most part so the best football will be played in the SEC and ACC until other confernces steal the players from the south. As can be seen by how many players each conference (SEC, ACC) gets drafted and then continue to be successful in the NFL.

Course I do man. If ur going to make a Way Too Early top 25 or 10 or whatever. Let’s be just a little more realistic. But hey whoever made this got hired and got their beliefs acknowledged and approved by someone so they obviously think they are right. Too bad though. Am I the only one that thinks these 3 PAC12 teams are overrated? Especially with two of them losing their Qbs. Funny how that affects other team rankings but not theirs. Hopefully we are all starting to recognize the west coast is full of high flying flashy offenses which will never win you a national championship. Oregon got lucky against FSU with all the turnovers and without OSUs turnovers Oregon would have gotten beat by fifty. The top PAC12 teams Otegon Arizona and ASU stink and can get beat by forty evey other game until they learn to at defense by then again it’s not about learning to play defense they just don’t get the talent on defense that the SEC and ACC get. Go tigers baby.

That would where you are 100% percent wrong. ESPN is financially invested in the SEC, not the Pac 12. ESPN continues the spin to make the SEC look better than it actually is. It is not hands down better than the rest. Beyond the bowl record, the non-conference record was also not that great. But continue believing otherwise.

I will watch, listen and make an opinion. Thanks for the stats and numbers, appreciate that, however it only goes so far. Especially the ones you come up with. Funny how all the past stats of their national titles and so forth you don’t seem to mention. And I’m an ACC fan but am realistic and know they are the best because I watch, analyze and critique football. I watch, listen and from what I see the SEC is the best. Don’t get me wrong other conferences will have better years from time to time. As we saw this year. They lacked depth at qb in the SEC and when you lose so many Qbs the year before to the NFL with the parity now a days of course other confernces can have a better year record wise but that doesn’t mean it’s better football. But don’t go saying they aren’t the best because of their bowl record. It was bound to happen. Believe it or not from what I see, most people are haters and dislike the best, for many reasons. And maybe they are financially invested possibly because they ARE the best. But I highly doubt you can differentiate between to equally talented teams. I can promise you the SEC wouldn’t allow 9-10 teams from each other conference to join their conference. You aren’t seeing Maryland join the SEC, in fact the ACC didn’t even think they were worthy, the tough Big10 can have them.

Plus, your assumption on Pac 12 defenses vs SEC is greatly flawed. Their defenses look good because the offenses in that conference are that bad. You are right that the Pac 12 talent is on the offensive side of the ball, however same can be said of the SEC with defense. But again, those defenses looked so great against TCU, Georgia Tech, Notre Dame, East Carolina, Wisconsin, etc. styles and schemes play a huge part in how successful an offense or defense looks.

Patrick Ryan, please don’t try so hard, you are who you are and nothing more. To say “You aren’t seeing Maryland join the SEC, in fact the ACC didn’t even think they were worthy, the tough Big10 can have them.” is completely stupid. The “tough Big 10” picked up Maryland for one simple reason, the television market, nothing more – nothing less. Any additions made to the Power 5 Conferences in the last 10+ years has solely be made for television market reasons and nothing else. Granted other considerations are made as to the schools credits and standards, but the first and truly sole reason of Conference additions has been the Television Market concern. As for Maryland themselves, the ACC didn’t provide the revenue stream the B1G can for them and thus they left to make more money. Follow the money trail young man.

Ok good points. I Gotchya. Thanks for some incite. I hope they get back to the Ralph Friedgen era. Was personally fine with them leaving the ACC and us picking up Louisville, not so sure how I feel about Pitt. Hope the new coach works out. They’ll hopefully compete like BC does now. So what’s going to happen at OSU with the Qbs? Any leaving if so who?

Keep watching, continue thinking about it. What good would it be for college football to have one great conference? They need two. And they don’t want it to be the ACC for many reasons. They want it to be the PAC12 vs SEC, at least to a degree. Why hasn’t the SEC and PAC12 met in a bowl in 8 yrs or longer?Have u looked at the rankings as well as preseason rankings, which do directly influence the entire season? Have you seen the bowl matchups? They don’t care about getting the best teams to play the best teams. They keep who they want at the top by controlling the other variables. May be over ur head. Only becoming more clear to me. And I love it that the PAC12 doesn’t stand a chance at a national title for a while since Mariota is gone. And even with him they couldn’t do it because they don’t play defense out here. Why the SEC is the best conference, no matter how much u guys will only try to look at this years bowl record. And again I am a fan of ACC and Clemson. And to eliminate any bias I have lived in California for the last 12 years. I’m just realistic.

Does the OP know that Notre Dame is not an offical member of the ACC in Football? If he thinks they are, than what division are they in, The Altlantic, or The Coastal?

Shes actually knows her sh*t but it doesn’t seem like u even read the articles. Ur question is answered in the first sentence of the the paragraph.

Patrick Ryan, enjoy your take on some matters and your passion towards ACC Football, but sorry to say, ACC Football is not even a big draw and are of little interest amongst the home folks on the Eastern Seaboard and don’t have a national following to speak of when it comes to College Football The two biggest brands in College Football continue, and I mean continue, to be the SEC and The Big Ten. The two conferences continue to lead in both attendance and television viewership.

When looking at the 2014 College Football Season the average home game attendance (announced crowd) was lead by the SEC with an average home game attendance for all 14 Schools of 78,082, which was followed by a good distance this 2014 by The Big Ten that averaged 65,430. Following the SEC and The Big Ten in order of average home game attendance were; The Big 12 with an average of 58,262, The PAC 12 with an average home game attendance of 52,121 in the seats, and NOT EVEN reaching 50,000 – The ACC with an average home game attendance of 49,145.

You may not like the numbers or may want to find a way to slight them more to your favor, but the facts are the facts, ACC Football is of little interest, sorry.

Just a thought how many different college football games can be watched in the state South Carolina on a given Saturday? Any idea? South Carolina, Clemson, South Carolina St, Citadel, Coastal Carolina, Presbyterian, Wofford, Furman, Winthrop, South Carolina Upstate, College of Charleston and Charleston Southern. Any i’m missing? Would this influence those stats? But I’m just slighting them in my favor. Haha

There are many diff variables that directly influence both attendance at games and televised viewers. And I mean many however I could give a rats ass about how many people attend the games or how many viewers watched the games televised. That is meaningless when it comes down to the quality of football played. I don’t expect most of the country would to be able to differentiate between two teams similar in ability and talent. So ur saying because more people attend the games and get more viewers they play better quality football? I don’t remember mentioning anything about attendance. And yes USC is a brand name for the PAC12 and they got beat by BC in front of maybe forty thousand fans. What’s that mean? Do you think that title 9 which has run out many smaller programs that resided on the west coast has anything to do with attendance and fan bases? Do you know how many smaller division 1AA teams there are in the south? Many more than are on the west coast. That may influence attendance at games because why travel across the state when you can watch Coastal Carolina play pretty damn good football. And having to do with viewers the games you are given (depending on the time of the game) directly influence how many people view the game. If OSU is playing Maryland on ESPN and clemson is playing GT on espnu, who will have more viewers? It’s a given, but it doesn’t mean it’s better football. Those two things directly influence what uv said. And where’d you come up with not a big deal to the hometown folks. I grew up a college coaches son on east coast and have lived in California for 13 years. They care ten times more about college sports on east coast than west coast. It’s not even close. Have you been to Georgia, Florida, North Carolina or South Carolina during football season? All I’m trying to say is the best football is played in the SEC and the rest are all equal depending on the year. So what do you think, sorry for long post not good at being short. Haha

Yeah Maryland went to the BIG so what.. You talk like the SEC didn’t want them..that they couldn’t compete. Well the SEC brung in 2 medicore teams as in Mizzou and A&M out of the Big 12. Who has one the East the last 2 years..I will let you SEC guru’s answer Here is something for you SEC guys to research. Check out what Mizzou and A&M ranking where for the last 10 years before entering the SEC. Its like magic…Now they are ranked every year…LETS JUST SAY OVERRANKED CONSISTENTLY. You talk about every conference can have a good year.What about last year in BCS games …The SEC is down and will stay down. Their offense is way behind and will take years for them to catch up. The only meaningful games they will win is against each other.

I personally think they are better now because they are in the SEC and are getting better recruits who know what will happen if you are successful in the SEC. Texas AM and Mizz are both better programs than The Maryland Terps.

@Patrick Ryan
That’s because you are a delusional twat who thinks the SEC is the greatest. The fact is the SEC hasn’t won a BCS bowl game in 2 years. They also were swept in their marquee games this past year, but I know you don’t care about this because it hurts your skewed view. You also don’t seem to realize that the SEC, which is known for defense, just got lit up by everyone. And for your information, the SEC’s offense is horrendous.

With the BCS format ending, the bias in the CFP has been significantly eliminated. The only two things good out of the SEC in the last 8 years was Alabama, Tim Tebow, and anyone who beat them and played a horrendous out of conference schedule. I.e. Auburn 2013 (best OOC game a 6-7 Wash St team).

Go home. You’re drunk.

Not yet but hey I would like to be. And drunk, I still know more about college football than you do. Haha Go Clemson Tigers Baby. You and a lot others are nothing but haters. Keep on hating. Must be sad to be a hater.