Long before we get to those bitter border and in-state conference wars that have come to define college football, we deal with a slate of non-conference games that, in many years, leave something to be desired.
In 2015, however, there are some pretty interesting matchups during the first month of the season that hardcore college football fans should definitely consider must-see TV.
Here are the 10 most intriguing non-conference matchups of the 2015 college football season.
Thursday, Sept. 3
Michigan at Utah – The Jim Harbaugh era gets underway on the first night of the season. His Wolverines will be underdogs against Kyle Whittingham’s Utes in what should be an electric atmosphere in Salt Lake City.
TCU at Minnesota – The Horned Frogs are expected to be a serious College Football Playoff contender, while some are looking at the Gophers as a dark horse to win the Big Ten West. Both teams will be looking to make a statement to the nation in this one, with the Gophers thinking revenge for the beating they took a season ago.
Friday, Sept. 4
Washington at Boise State – Chris Petersen returns to Boise to take on the program that he turned into the model mid-major program and a national power. After losing plenty of star power to the NFL draft and graduation, Petersen will step onto the blue turf as an underdog for the first time.
Saturday, Sept. 5
Texas at Notre Dame – These two storied programs will meet for just the 11th time, with Texas making its first trip to South Bend in 20 years. A win by the Longhorns could be the catalyst Charlie Strong needs to get the Texas program back to relevancy.
Arizona State at Texas A&M – This early season battle of what should be top 20 teams is going to carry a lot of weight as the rest of the season progresses. The winner will get a boost in the court of public opinion, adding extra flare to their respective conference schedule. It’ll also be the first time in history that these two programs meet.
BYU at Nebraska – Nebraska’s record 29-game winning streak in home openers could be in serious jeopardy when Bronco Mendenhall’s Cougars visit Lincoln. The Huskers lost their best offensive and defensive players from a season ago and also went through a coaching change. On the other side of the ball, BYU quarterback Taysom Hill looks to pick up where he left off in 2014, as he was mentioned in most Heisman discussions before going down in early October with a broken leg.
Wisconsin vs. Alabama (Arlington, TX) – The last time we saw these teams, Alabama was losing to Ohio State and Wisconsin defeated Auburn. The Tide will be favored in this game, but don’t underestimate the number of impact players that Alabama lost. Wisconsin lost Heisman Trophy runner-up Melvin Gordon and not much else. This also will be head coach Paul Chryst’s first game at the helm of his alma mater.
Monday, Sept. 7
Ohio State at Virginia Tech – The Buckeyes will have revenge on their minds for the upset that took place in Columbus last season. That said, anyone who has seen a night game at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg – on TV or in person – knows what kind of atmosphere Urban Meyer’s bunch is walking into. The Hokies are ready to be more than just a speed bump on Ohio State’s road to a repeat.
Saturday, Sept. 12
Oklahoma at Tennessee – Bob Stoops finds himself in the unfamiliar position of leading Oklahoma into a season and not being one of the favorites to win the Big 12. Meanwhile in Knoxville, there is a lot of chatter about “being back,” largely due to the talent the Vols return and the way they ended the 2014 season, winning three of their last four.
Oregon at Michigan State – This is a bit of a flip-flop game compared to a season ago. Oregon will be the road team coming off of a successful year, facing a high-profile quarterback in hostile territory. Both the Spartans and Ducks have questions all over the field. This game will not only set the tone for both teams, it could end up having Playoff ramifications before all is said and done.