College Football 2011: 10 Non-Conference Games to Watch
Non-conference games often mean nontraditional matchups, national heavyweights meeting up at neutral sites, and chances for smaller schools to make big leaps in prestige. That means that non-conference games can be among the most exciting of the year.
This is a look at 10 of college football's most interesting non-conference games for 2011.
Each of these games features a pair of prominent programs, so whether the game has national title implications or just brings an interesting test for one of the teams, all of these games should be worth watching for true fans of the game.
Georgia vs. Boise State
These teams match up on September 3 on a "neutral site" in Atlanta, a venue that will clearly be pro-Georgia considering it's basically a home game.
Georgia will be trying to rebound from a disappointing last few years while Boise State makes a run at another BCS birth, so even though it's only the first game for each team, there is plenty at stake for both squads.
A loss by Boise makes them a difficult team to invite to a BCS bowl, but a loss for Georgia makes coach Mark Richt's already hot seat even hotter.
The Broncos upset Virginia Tech at another "neutral site" to begin 2010, and have been circling this game on their calendar since it was announced, as this is their one true showcase game of the year on national television against an elite program.
LSU vs. Oregon
This is another September 3rd matchup on a neutral site, this one being Cowboys Stadium in Dallas, TX.
These two legitimate preseason national title contenders could make a major statement early with a huge win in Week 1. Depending on preseason rankings, an Oregon win could possibly get them a No. 1 ranking.
As if that's not enough of a storyline, the Ducks' speedy ground game against one of the best defenses in the SEC will be a must-see battle featuring plenty of big-name players from each school.
This is clearly the premier non-conference game for this season, and my only complaint is that it will be on at the same time as the Georgia/Boise State game (8 PM EST).
Alabama at Penn State
This September 10th game is one of the biggest-name matchups of the year, and while both are Top 25 teams, Alabama is potentially the top team in the country while Penn State tries to rebound from a down year.
This early on both teams will have issues at quarterback, with Alabama trying to find a new starter to replace the graduated Greg McElroy, and Penn State looking to find some consistency after significant struggles from start to finish in 2010.
The quarterback situation may make this game a little closer than it would look on paper, especially since the Lions have seven starters back on defense and a pair of quarterbacks with starting experience.
Oklahoma at Florida State
When these big name programs face off on September 17th, both may be ranked in the Top 10.
Oklahoma is the most talented team in the Big 12, while Florida State is on its way back to the top under coach Jimbo Fisher. A win here would give Fisher his first true signature victory and prove to anyone that doubts him that he can win the big games, while Oklahoma's coach, Bob Stoops, tries to show he hasn't lost the ability to win the big ones.
This could also be a good test for both quarterbacks as Florida State's new quarterback, EJ Manuel, is a former top recruit who finally gets to take over for the now departed Christian Ponder, and Oklahoma's Landry Jones may contend for a Heisman this year.
Pittsburgh at Iowa
This September 17th game likely won't have a huge national impact, but I'm interested in seeing what Pitt's new offense can do against Iowa's defense.
Iowa's trying to rebuild a little this year after some graduations, while Pitt is in a complete rebuilding year due to a coaching and system change. The rebuilding Iowa defense also should be tested by facing an offense that is expected to put up a ton of points for new coach Todd Graham.
A win for Pitt would be good for the Big East, even if it is a weaker-than-usual Iowa team. Iowa's rebuilt defense stopping Pitt's attack would just help coach Kirk Ferentz's already strong reputation with the NFL.
Ohio State at Miami
September 17th is looking like a huge weekend for college football fans.
Ohio State will likely be struggling without some of its top players early on, and Miami's coaching change will mean that they have some issues of their own.
This game still means that there will be loads of talent taking the field for a pair of big-name programs. New Ohio State coach Luke Fickell will get his first real test in this one, as will the Buckeyes' new, not-yet-announced quarterback.
If new Miami coach Al Golden gets talented yet inconsistent quarterback Jacory Harris clicking, then this game could be a true must-watch.
LSU at West Virginia
Dana Holgorson's team gets its first true test in an opponent from the SEC with a loaded defense.
LSU will have to deal with a potentially very potent offense that features eight returning starters including quarterback Geno Smith, who had a pretty successful transition into the starting role last year with 24 TDs to seven picks and a 65 percent completion percentage.
Holgorson's explosive offense took no time at all to get started at Oklahoma State last year, so I wouldn't expect much of a transition period here with an experienced quarterback.
Arkansas vs. Texas A&M
These two teams with high-powered offenses will face off on October 1st on a neutral site in Arlington, Texas.
Arkansas may have lost star QB Ryan Mallett and A&M may have lost their star QB Jerrod Johnson, but these two teams are both highly ranked, and the new look Big 12 needs a big victory to keep some respect with Nebraska gone and Texas coming off a down year.
The good news here is that by the time this game rolls around, both teams will have had time to break in their new starters at quarterback to go with a pair of the nation's top 10 backfields.
Expect plenty of offense in this one.
Notre Dame at Stanford
A late-season rivalry game which features a team in the hunt for the national title usually makes for a good game.
Stanford is a title contender, but if they come into this rivalry game looking ahead to a Pac-12 championship game or something more, the Irish could trip them up.
Even if they take the Irish seriously, the Irish have the talent to pull the upset, especially at the end of the year as some of the young talent matures in coach Brian Kelly's second year.
This could be pretty high scoring if Notre Dame's offense is clicking. Also worth noting is that this could be a showcase game for Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, a preseason front-runner for the Heisman.
Florida State at Florida
This November 26th game will be very important for bragging rights.
A Seminoles win here in the Swamp could signal the first change in the "it" program in the state of Florida since Florida took the role from Miami in 2005.
New Gators coach Will Muschamp will try to keep the team at the level that Urban Meyer brought them to, but there are likely some growing pains this year as they try to switch to a more pro-style offense despite being loaded up with spread offense talent.