What are the best non-conference football games in '15?
There is a lot that is still unknown about the College Football Playoff Committee.
One thing that was learned about the new postseason format in year number one is that the voters value strength of schedule. Teams have ramped-up non-conference scheduling almost instantly (See: No. 4 below) and the results are a healthy list of top-level games.
It may take a few full seasons for the new trends to take hold across the nation (like, say, in the Big 12) but that doesn't mean 2015 isn't loaded with great non-conference matchups.
Two national title contenders finishing the back half of a home-and-home? Yes, please. The Spartans will be fired up at home and have revenge on their minds after the 46-27 loss in Eugene last fall. The winner will get a huge Playoff notch in its belt in what should be one of the best games of the year regardless of conference.
The 87th meeting between USC and ND could carry a lot of Playoff weight if all goes according to plan for both. USC smoked the Irish in L.A. last season and is 5-1 in its last six trips to South Bend. However, that lone loss came in the Trojans' last visit two seasons ago.
|These two historic programs have only met twice. Clemson won the last meeting 16-10 in 1979 in South Bend. Two years earlier, Joe Montana led the Irish to a 21-17 victory in Death Valley in the battle of two top-15 teams. Both teams could be ranked in the top 10 when they meet Oct. 3 for the rubber match.|
|The modern Big Ten power and traditional SEC power have only met once in history, a 15-0 Badgers win at home in 1928. The fast track in Arlington, Texas, should help an already superior Alabama team. The Crimson Tide is a 10-point favorite over the Big Red. A win by Wisconsin would rock the college football world right out of the gate.|
|Tennessee and Oklahoma have played three times. The Vols won in 1939 while OU took a 1968 meeting and a 34-10 outcome last season. The game last fall was closer than the 24-point margin and this year’s battle means a lot for both teams. Both have conference title aspirations and an early win over a ranked foe could catapult one into national conversations.|
|Related: SEC Football Teams as Rock and Roll|
The Aggies and Sun Devils have never met before and fans on both sides should be thoroughly entertained throughout the pseudo-neutral site season opener. Two great offenses should light up the Houston skyline en route to a feather-in-the-cap non-con win.
This should be a physical, hard-hitting affair once again. And both are Playoff sleeper teams. Stanford has won three straight in the series at home and four of the last six overall. Notre Dame needed an epic fourth quarter to beat the Cardinal 14-10 last fall in South Bend.
Two of the top three winningest programs in college football history will do battle in the best true home game of Week 1. Notre Dame has won four straight and eight of the 10 total meetings all-time and is a touchdown favorite for the season opener. Both quarterback situations should be interesting to track.
The Gators lead the Sunshine State rivalry 34-23-2 all-time, but the Noles have been the better team since Jimbo Fisher arrived. Florida State has won four of the last five, including his last two trips inside The Swamp.
|Paul Johnson's squad broke through with a huge 30-24 win over the Dawgs in Athens last season. It was just Johnson's second win in seven tries against the Dawgs and his first since beating Mark Richt in his first year in Atlanta in 2008. There is an outside chance both teams are poised to play in a championship game a week after the meeting.|
|Related: ACC Football Teams as Rock and Roll|
|The Jackets and Irish will be playing for the 35th time — 27 of which have resulted in Notre Dame wins. The last time these two met, however, Georgia Tech crushed the Golden Domers 33-3 in South Bend. There is a good chance both of these teams could reach 10 wins in 2015.|
|National television on Labor Day Night to begin a national title defense sounds like fun to me. Bud Foster and one of the nastiest defenses in the nation will test whichever Buckeyes quarterback Urban Meyer decides to run out there. One coach desperately needs a national statement win and the other coach has major revenge on the mind after the Hokies' upset win last fall.|
|Bobby Petrino has won all 10 season openers but will have a tough time against the heavily favored Tigers. Louisville won the only previous meeting between the two programs, a 16-3 decision over Auburn in Birmingham back in 1974.|
|The Tigers own a 66-42-4 all-time series lead but are coming off their first win in the rivalry since 2008. Clemson could be eyeing a Playoff bid in the season finale and will be looking for its first win in Williams-Brice Stadium since 2007. Dabo Swinney is 2-5 against Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks.|
|There are few chances in the non-con this fall for the Big Ten to make a statement than on Thursday night to open the season in the Twin Cities. TCU will be a top-ranked team and is an 18-point favorite heading to TCF Bank Stadium. The Frogs stomped the Gophers 30-7 in Fort Worth last fall but Minnesota has won the only other meeting between the two — a 1974 victory in Minneapolis.|
|Related: Big 12 Football Teams as Rock and Roll Bands|
|A bizarre but interesting matchup of underrated coaches takes place at an odd time, halfway through November. The Tigers and Cougars have only played once before, a 21-17 BYU win in the 1983 Holiday Bowl. Taysom Hill vs. Maty Mauk late in the year sounds fun to me (if both can stay healthy).|
|Chris Petersen returns to Boise in charge of a Pac-12 name brand that is in clear rebuilding mode. The blue turf won't be nearly as welcoming as the Broncos have eyes on another Mountain West title and New Year's Day bowl berth. The Huskies' major questions under center and on the D-line will have to be answered to leave Idaho with a win.|
|Nebraska's 41-31 win in Lincoln last year broke the all-time series tie (6-5). Both teams should be good enough to make a run in their respective leagues but both head coaches need a marquee win (for different reasons). However, there is no national title on the line like in many previous Miami-Nebraska bouts.|
|These two have only met three times with all three games taking place in Ann Arbor. Utah has won two of those meetings, including a 26-10 thumping of the Wolverines last season. On a Thursday night with Jim Harbaugh leading the way, this game should be much more intriguing.|
|Older fans of both sides will likely remember the first and only meeting between BYU and Michigan. The Cougars won the 1984 Holiday Bowl 24-17 en route to a national championship. The Maize and Blue will be finishing a brutal first month of the Jim Harbaugh era that features two Pac-12 foes and the Taysom Hill-led Cougars.|
|Related: Big Ten Football Teams as Rock and Roll Bands|
|The Cougars and Bruins have played 10 times with UCLA claiming seven wins. However, BYU has won the last two meetings, including a 58-0 embarrassment in 2008. Jim Mora's defense will need to be on its toes early against an athlete like Taysom Hill.|
|This could be a program-defining win for Sonny Dykes and Cal in Austin in Week 3. The Horns are at home and more talented (and can actually play defense) but quarterback Jared Goff is a superstar in the making and could set himself up for a nationally acclaimed season with a win in Texas. The Bears are 0-5 all-time against the Longhorns.|
|The Carolina Bowl has only taken place twice since 1991 with the South side winning both times (2007, 2013). The season opener features two defenses that are in desperate need of improvement if either team has any prayer of competing in their respective divisions.|
|The color schemes alone will look amazing on the floor of towering Memorial Stadium in Lincoln. BYU and Nebraska get their seasons started in style in the first-ever meeting of the two national brands. Fans who are unfamiliar with Cougars dual-threat quarterback Taysom Hill will learn all about him (if healthy) and Big Red Nation will get their first look at the Mike Riley-led Huskers.|
The Panthers and Irish have played each other pretty even, with Notre Dame winning seven of the 12 meetings dating back to 1999. The last six played in Pittsburgh have been split, including a memorable 28-21 Panthers upset win in the last tangle.
|Related: Pac-12 Football Teams as Rock and Roll Bands|
* - neutral field
Best of the Rest:
Maryland at West Virginia, Sept. 26
Louisville at Kentucky, Nov. 28
Ole Miss at Memphis, Oct. 17
Texas Tech at Arkansas, Sept. 19
Miami at Cincinnati, Oct. 1
Iowa at Iowa State, Sept. 12
Boston College vs. Notre Dame, Nov. 21*
Pitt at Iowa, Sept. 19
Stanford at Northwestern, Sept. 5
LSU at Syracuse, Sept. 26