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The Top Power 5 Non-Conference Games in 2018

Another week closer to kickoff of college football.

One of the most unique things about college football is that the first month of the season is heavily regarded as pre-season for the major power 5 schools.  They get “tune-up” games to prep themselves for their conference games.  They all do it.  But what we are seeing are actually playoff elimination games among the power teams.  The last two seasons we’ve seen Ohio State and Oklahoma play each other and ultimately be the ones that have knocked each other out (I know many said Iowa ultimately doomed Ohio State, but it wouldn’t have mattered had the Buckeyes beat Oklahoma early on, but still).  We saw it as well in 2014 and 2015 when Oregon & Michigan State took turns beating each other, which would be a key factor in both teams playoff run.  We also see that some years teams that were highly thought of, do not amount to much, for some reason or another after playing another power 5 opponent (Florida State last year?).  Also, with these games, it gives everybody bragging rights among the region, from the Big Ten to the SEC to the Big 12 to the ACC to the PAC-12 of which conference and region is THE BEST.  This year, we will have some fun ones for sure that will make the season be an exciting one early on.  I’m not counting the likes of the rivalry games among the ACC and the SEC East schools as they play each other every year (in-state games with Georgia-Georgia Tech, South Carolina-Clemson, Kentucky-Louisville, Florida-Florida State) or Notre Dame vs. USC and Stanford.  I tried to make this as a bit of a rank of the best ones to see to “you could probably just see the highlights” but knowing me, I probably will watch all of them.

Auburn

WASHINGTON VS. AUBURN, SEPTEMBER 1:  It’s the Chick Fil-A Kickoff Classic in Atlanta and many will view it as a top ten match-up.  Washington is heavily favored to win the PAC-12 and be a threat for another Playoff berth while Auburn is one of the SEC’s powerhouses.  To me, it is also that game of whoever loses, is pretty much done for.  The Huskies could actually go undefeated in PAC-12 play with a great balance of offense and defense, but it is the PAC-12 and nothing is what you expect out there.  So an unexpected loss going with a loss to Auburn would seal their fate.  Auburn cannot afford to lose this match as they drew a bad straw of having major road games at both Mississippi schools and then Georgia & Alabama are both road games too near the end of the year.  A win doesn’t necessarily mean the Tigers would be Playoff bound with the Bulldogs and Tide late but it could carry them a long way during the season.  But one note: this will be Auburn’s third straight game in the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.  They are hoping this time’s the charm as the Tigers are already 0-2 in the new digs.

LSU

MIAMI VS. LSU, SEPTEMBER 2:  A couple of years ago, this game would have been considered advantage LSU with all their recruiting prowess and being near the top of the college football world while Miami was left in a bit of disarray.  How times have changed.  Mark Richt has steered the ship down in Miami and is looking to be a major playoff threat while LSU has slipped and the expectations for the Tigers are not as high as we are accustomed to seeing.  But this is a big match regardless.  First to see if Miami can show they are elite if they can beat one of the SEC’s big boys and if LSU is still a legit threat to the likes of Alabama and Auburn.  A loss will sting either team, but moreso LSU as their schedule is unforgiving (they have Georgia and Alabama later on, but both are home games in Baton Rouge, but may not matter as much) and may put Ed Orgeron on the hot seat.

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CLEMSON AT TEXAS A&M, SEPTEMBER 8:  Jimbo Fisher’s first true test with the Aggies is seeing an old face from his past: Dabo Swinney and Clemson.  Clemson had 3 won three straight games against Jimbo’s Noles, but given that Fisher has seen Clemson it may work to his advantage.  However, Clemson is one of college football’s top dogs and whenever you have a new coaching change and a head coach like Fisher that is very different from the prior head coach (Kevin Sumlin), there will be an adjustment period.  That said, Jimbo Fisher was brought in to win the big games that Sumlin couldn’t so College Station will be rocking that night.  But Clemson on the other hand, has been very familiarized over the years with playing SEC schools and winning their fair share of them since 2012 (Auburn, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, LSU).  I sometimes joke that it’s Clemson’s way to start prepare themselves whenever they want to jump to the SEC.

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MICHIGAN AT NOTRE DAME, SEPTEMBER 1:  This WAS a big rivalry game for both teams back in the 80’s and 90’s.  And living in Michigan growing up, I remember the Michigan/Notre Dame games being just as big as the Michigan/Ohio State games (maybe even more).  I mean it is a similar situation for Michigan and Notre Dame as both are close to each other geographically (Notre Dame is just across the border from Michigan) and the storied pasts of both really made it a game to watch.  But with Notre Dame shifting to being loosely affiliated with the ACC these games aren’t happening as much anymore.  But similar to Auburn/Washington, a loss here for either team will pretty much take them out of a Playoff race (both have nasty schedules) and kick-start the hot-seat watch for both Brian Kelly and Jim Harbaugh.  A win however, will go a long way, especially if Michigan can steal it in South Bend (remember, they have both Michigan State and Ohio State away from Ann Arbor this year).  And we can see if Michigan has their answer in quarterback Shea Patterson, the Ole Miss transfer.

Ohio State

OHIO STATE VS TCU, SEPTEMBER 15:  If only we could take this game and send it back to 2014 when the whole controversy of the Buckeyes and Baylor/TCU of who should have gotten the final Playoff spot happened.  Even in the national championship game (which was played in Dallas that year) you saw TCU fans troll Ohio State.  Ohio State as always will figure to be in the talk of the Playoff.  TCU is a unique situation.  They’ve had years like 2014 where they’ve been VERY good to the point of being a national championship threat.  And then they’ve had moments where you can’t tell if they are a middle-of-the-road Big 12 team.  There are high hopes in TCU to do well this year, especially if Oklahoma is a bit down with Mayfield gone.  IF they beat the Buckeyes early, it puts a feather in their cap and helps with the Playoff resume.  Ohio State could probably afford to lose the game and they have a knack of running the table if many count them out of the Playoff.  But there are two very tough road games after that against Penn State (2 weeks after this game) and Michigan State.  And the Purdue game may be that “gotcha” game like Iowa was last year.  So the Buckeyes can’t shrug this one off too much.

Texas

USC AT TEXAS, SEPTEMBER 15:  If you buy into the hype, Texas should be a Playoff contender.  But last year the inconsistencies by the Longhorns showed all year long and never really put it together.  Some in Texas will say that it was just the adjustment period for Tom Herman’s crew.  However, the Longhorns schedule makes them see Maryland (who throttled them in Austin to begin last year) 2 weeks prior.  If another repeat of last happens, Herman will be very much scrutinized heading into this game.  He may be, regardless, but this game is a must-win for the Horns as last year they fell in Los Angeles.  USC will not have Sam Darnold, but you have to figure the Trojans should be prime with all the talent they have.  I guess this may be a similar game to Auburn vs. Washington as neither team can afford a loss or that may just do in either team’s chances of getting to the Playoff.  And if the Horns lose to Maryland and USC again, it may be a long season for Herman.

Florida State

FLORIDA STATE AT NOTRE DAME, NOVEMBER 10:  This is one that a lot of things will have to fall in place to make this intriguing.  After Florida State had a season in turmoil in part to the whole Jimbo Fisher fiasco, the Noles start anew with Willie Taggart so nationally not many people are figuring the Noles to be a Playoff threat in 2018, which is a slightly odd situation.  And their schedule up to this point against Notre Dame is not forgiving (Virginia Tech, at Louisville, at Miami, and then Clemson and at NC State in the two weeks before Notre Dame).  So by then it may be a tough walk for the Noles and may be out of any serious race.  Notre Dame isn’t as rough but will still have some obstacles (Michigan, Stanford, at Virginia Tech, at Northwestern) and if they stumble on a couple of these, the only thing intriguing would be how much scrutiny does Brian Kelly have at this point in South Bend?  So it could be a highlight game if both teams enter with one or even two losses, but it could be a highlight game in the wrong sense especially if Florida State isn’t ranked by this point.

Oklahoma

UCLA AT OKLAHOMA, SEPTEMBER 8:  Well, many would have wished this was scheduled last year of seeing Baker Mayfield vs. Josh Rosen, but both are now in the NFL, which means the excitement may not be as there, but it is still going to be one to watch.  The Bruins will have offensive guru Chip Kelly as their head coach going against probably the best offense in the nation over the past 3-4 years in Oklahoma.  So this game may end up being a game with a college basketball score, even with new quarterbacks at the helm.  But a loss for Oklahoma may be more damning than a loss for UCLA right now as the Sooners expect to be at the front of the college football world even without Mayfield.

Alabama

LOUISVILLE VS. ALABAMA, SEPTEMBER 1:  This would be far higher had Lamar Jackson stayed in Louisville.  Many figure it will be a “ho-hum” decisive win for Alabama as they really crack the whip in their first week match-ups against power teams in kickoff classics (Florida State, USC, Wisconsin, etc.) and with no Jackson and only two starters returning on defense and Brian VanGorder taking over at coordinator (why?), it may be a long night for the Cardinals.  And Saban never lost to Bobby Petrino when Petrino was at Arkansas too.  I guess what makes it intriguing is where the game is played at: Orlando, the home of UCF.  And there has been a lot of trolling back and forth between fans of Alabama and fans of UCF about the whole National Championship argument.  But that’s really about it.

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WEST VIRGINIA AT NC STATE, SEPTEMBER 15:  Both teams are considered sleepers in their conferences this year as the Mountaineers believe their offense ranks up there with the likes of the Sooners and Cowboys and Will Grier is considered a Heisman candidate while NC State’s Ryan Finley is also considered one.  And it is a rare ACC vs. Big 12 match we haven’t seen.  But NC State is slowly trying to take a page out of Clemson’s book and have a dominant front line though Bradley Chubb has moved on.  And one of the knocks on West Virginia (and most of the Big 12) is they can’t handle those big, physical defenses.  But NC State will be challenged by the Mountaineers offense for sure and see how well they can do without having Chubb there.

Mizzou

MISSOURI AT PURDUE, SEPTEMBER 15:  This is an intriguing one for me as both Missouri and Purdue took big strides last year from being near the bottom of their respective conferences to being bowl participants.  And it is having some to think that both teams (yes, even Missouri) are sleepers in their respective divisions.  Last year Purdue thumped Missouri early on in Columbia, but the Tigers weren’t the same team by the end of the year.  And it’s also intriguing as Mizzou has a pretty good offense which will be matched by a surprisingly stingy Purdue defense.  But this is the lone regular season match-up between the Big Ten vs. SEC until Bowl season so this is huge from that standpoint and a loss for either one could carry after-effects.

Ole Miss

OLE MISS VS. TEXAS TECH, SEPTEMBER 1:  Another one of the kickoff classic games that is in Houston, which is a good spot considering the vicinity for both the Rebels and Red Raiders.  While I don’t view it as a key, impactful game with playoff implications, I do view it as one of those games with conference bragging rights which has really picked up between the SEC and the Big 12 (well, aren’t the bragging wars between the SEC and everybody at this point?).  Both teams are considered middle-of-the-road teams in their conference and it also looks like both teams will be very offensive minded squads which means you could see a 51-48 game here, as we keep seeing with Texas Tech on a yearly basis (though they had made strides on defense last year).  So this is a game I’m actually going to be watching that first week.

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MISSISSIPPI STATE AT KANSAS STATE, SEPTEMBER 8:  Another tilt among the Big 12 and SEC against two teams figure to be middle of the road in the conference.  It is the first challenge for Joe Moorhead.  It may be fitting he is facing against a Big 12 team with his offensive mind the way it is, but Kansas State is also a team that can surprise you and just take all the wind out of your sails.

09.30.17_MSU FTBL VS IOWA

MICHIGAN STATE AT ARIZONA STATE, SEPTEMBER 8:  While on paper and on a talent level it seems like the Spartans would handle the Sun Devils, traveling across country can do some crazy things to some of the better teams.  The Spartans after having a nice rebound year in 2017, some have been considering them a sleeper in the rough Big Ten East (and reminder they get both Michigan and Ohio State in East Lansing this year) while Arizona State seems to be in a bit of a transition going from the really up-tempo offense/no defense under Todd Graham to Herm Edwards (who seems like he will really slow the pace down).  It is a bit of a test for both to see if Michigan State can win on foreign territory and for Herm Edwards to see if he is really cut out to be a college coach.

It will be a fun start for sure.

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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