Top 25 College Football Non-Conference Games of 2019

The playoff picture could be heavily impacted by these marquee matchups

Between conference realignment and the perceived importance of strong schedules in the eyes of the College Football Playoff committee, the number of intriguing non-conference matchups seems to grow larger each year. Many programs are beginning to figure out that if they want to get a leg up in the race to college football's final four, they need to start taking risks in the non-conference portion of their schedules.

 

Notre Dame's barnstorming philosophy of scheduling and the recent return to relevance of Army make those two independent programs major players and key factors when it comes to the non-conference slate of 2019.

 

Other non-conference games have more situational or historical intrigue as opposed to postseason implications.

 

Any way you cut it, it's tough to shine a light on the best 25 non-conference matchups in any one season. Here is our best effort at doing just that.

 

1. LSU at Texas, Sept. 7

The "Texas is Back" punchline doesn't seem so funny after the way Longhorns finished the 2018 season. Head coach Tom Herman thinks his team is close to being a major player once again. Meanwhile, in Baton Rouge, Ed Orgeron has exceeded the expectations most had for him. The two programs will meet up early on in the season, with the winner positioning themselves nicely in every major poll to follow.

 

2. Oregon vs. Auburn, Aug. 31 (Arlington, Texas)

The Ducks seem to be on a path back to the top of the Pac-12. First, they'll need to prove themselves in AT&T Stadium against an Auburn program that lost plenty of talent and leadership, but repeatedly establishes itself as a contender early on.

 

3. Notre Dame at Georgia, Sept. 21

There is a lot of chatter about the Bulldogs being as much of a favorite to win the SEC as Alabama is. With that chatter comes pressure, and Georgia will be faced with all it can handle when the Fighting Irish set up shop "between the hedges" early in the season.

 

4. Notre Dame at Michigan, Oct. 26

There hasn't been more hype around the Wolverines since Jim Harbaugh took over. They'll be looking for revenge against a Notre Dame team fresh off a College Football Playoff appearance a season ago and locked, loaded and hungry to make a run at another.

 

5. Texas A&M at Clemson, Sept. 7

It didn't take long for Jimbo Fisher to turn the Aggies into a team that many expect big things from. They'll be looking to make a statement against the defending champions. We'll know a lot about both teams by the end of this one.

 

6. Miami vs. Florida, Aug. 24 (Orlando, Fla.)

The Gators have their sights set on an SEC East title and getting into the playoff. First, they'll need to take down a Miami team going through a coaching transition with nothing to lose and plenty to prove.

 

7. Florida State vs. Boise State, Aug. 31 (Jacksonville, Fla.)

The Seminoles have fallen off in recent years in terms of performance and prestige. They can't afford an early loss to a Boise State program going through a reloading phase.

 

8. Oklahoma at UCLA, Sept. 14

Jalen Hurts steps in at quarterback in Norman, and those are some big shoes to fill considering that last two players to hold that job won the Heisman Trophy. He'll be charged with keeping pace on the scoreboard with what should be a vastly improved Chip Kelly offense.

 

9. Florida State at Florida, Nov. 30

State pride, recruiting, coaching jobs and potential bowl bids could all be on the line when these two rivals square off.

 

10. USC at Notre Dame, Oct. 12

On the field, the pressure will all be on the Irish, as this is a game Notre Dame should win handily. On the sidelines, Clay Helton needs a win over a major rival to prove his worth in the eyes of the USC administration.

 

11. Arizona State at Michigan State, Sept. 14

Both of these teams are dark horses to sneak up and win their respective conferences. The outcome of this game could be what keeps them in or out of the playoff conversation as the season progresses.

 

12. Washington State at Houston, Sept. 13

You should feel sorry for the scoreboard operator in this one — he'll be busy. Mike Leach's Air-Raid offense will square off with new head coach Dana Holgorson and a roster of Cougars who are no strangers to hanging points themselves.

 

13. Iowa at Iowa State, Sept. 14

All bets are off when these two meet early every season. This year, it's looking like both teams could be in the Top 25 when they meet, putting much more than in-state bragging rights on the line.

 

14. Nebraska at Colorado, Sept. 7

Perhaps no team has more hype and expectations of improvement heading into the season than the Huskers. Nebraska outplayed Colorado in Lincoln last season, but miscues and an injury to quarterback Adrian Martinez let the game get away from them late. An early-season win over a Power 5 opponent would be huge for either team.

 

15. Pitt at Penn State, Sept. 14

Pat Narduzzi can scheme with the best of them, so Pitt is always a threat. The Panthers will be looking to build off a season where they made an appearance in the ACC Championship Game. Penn State doesn't lose to Pitt often, but a mass exodus of talent from 2018 makes the Nittany Lions vulnerable.

 

16. Stanford at UCF, Sept. 14

Here is another shot for UCF to make a statement against a high-profile opponent. Stanford can gain a lot of confidence heading into conference play with a sound win.

 

17. Army at Michigan, Sept. 7

When this one was first put on the schedule a couple of years ago, it probably drew a collective shrug from the Michigan faithful. Now, Army is coming off a double-digit- win season and is projected by many to do it again in 2019. Think they're still shrugging in Ann Arbor?

 

18. Houston at Oklahoma, Sept. 1

Plenty of points on the field and familiarity amongst the coaches will be the stories in this one. This is an opportunity for Dana Holgorsen to notch a signature win early on in his tenure.

 

19. Notre Dame at Stanford, Nov. 30

Stanford has a real chance to be a College Football Playoff contender heading into the last week of the season. The Cardinal will welcome a Notre Dame team that is probably more talented at most positions -- regardless of what the Irish record is at this point.

 

20. UCF at Pitt, Sept. 21

UCF can't claim to deserve shots against the big boys of the Power 5 if the Knights can't get wins over the Pitts of the world. The Panthers, on the other hand, are in a bit of a no-win situation here.

 

21. Northwestern at Stanford, Aug. 31

Pat Fitzgerald's Wildcats are always ready for a fight. They'll bring it against a Stanford team with high hopes for the 2019 campaign.

 

22. Duke vs. Alabama, Aug. 31 (Atlanta)

Nobody expects Duke to pull off the upset, but we're all intrigued every year to see how Alabama looks against Power 5 competition. If the Crimson Tide win — close or by blowout — we're in for plenty of overreaction. If Duke pulls off the stunner, you should shred all of your preseason magazines (except Athlon, of course).

 

23. Army at Air Force, Nov. 2

Army has high hopes heading into 2019, including crashing the New Year's Six party (as an at-large qualifier). If the Black Knights can't clear a Rocky Mountain-sized hurdle in Colorado Springs, those dreams will be dashed in an instant.

 

24. Army vs. Navy, Dec. 14 (Philadelphia)

The history and pageantry together make this game deserving of a spot on this list every year. The recent opposite trajectories of the two programs give it extra intrigue.

 

25. James Madison at West Virginia, Aug. 31

There's usually not much for a Power 5 head coach to worry about when he welcomes an FCS program to town on opening weekend. That's not the case in this one, as new Mountaineers head coach Neal Brown will be staring across the field at one of the elite programs in the FCS to begin his tenure in Morgantown.

 

— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo!, SBNation, USA Today and Bleacher Report. He is a three-time FWAA writing contest award winner. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.

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