Across the landscape of college football there are many games featuring teams from different conferences. Most of these games are played at either the beginning or the end of the season, Whether it’s a hotly contested rivalry game, or the first time both teams have met, these games can make or break a team’s season.
The opening weekend of college football typically provides fans with big non-conference matchups, while some major non-conference rivalry games are played at the end of the season. These games bookend the season by adding an early spark to fans’ interest in early September and rekindling the old flames of heated rivalries in late November.
With the conference schedules taking up the vast majority of a team’s season, many teams are limited to only three or four non-conference games per year. These games can add strength to a team’s schedule in order to build a solid resume to impress the College Football Playoff Committee. These games also gives fans a chance to see their team play a team they’re not accustomed to playing.
In looking ahead, here’s the ten best non-conference games going into the 2018 season.
- Michigan vs Notre Dame (Sept. 1): In a rivalry that claims 24 national championships, 82 bowl wins, 10 Heisman Trophy winners, 178 Consensus All Americans, 857 NFL Draft Picks, and 1,829 total wins between the two schools, this heated rivalry looms extremely large. The renewal of this storied rivalry has a lot at stake for both teams this year. A win for Michigan slightly cools the hot seat for Jim Harbaugh, but a loss just notches another lost rivalry game to his resume. A win for the Irish gives Notre Dame needed momentum going into a season where the schedule only gets harder down the road, while a loss puts them behind the metaphoric eight ball and makes their quest to break into the College Football Playoff that much harder. Either way, this game has the most to lose for any two teams going into college football’s opening weekend.
- Washington vs Auburn (Sept. 1 in Atlanta, GA): This rare PAC-12 versus SEC matchup pits two teams that, on paper, are very equal. Both have senior quarterbacks looking to lead their teams to the College Football Playoff. Both have rebuilt defensive lines that will be tested early. Both teams are also looking to start the 2018 season off with a win after losing their bowl game last year. For Auburn, this will be the third straight game they’ve played in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, having lost the last two (SEC Championship and Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl). By September 1st both teams will most likely be ranked in the Top 10, and this year’s Chick-fil-A Kickoff looks to be a must watch matchup for college football’s opening weekend.
- Ohio State vs TCU (Sept. 15 in Arlington, TX): Alone, the coaching matchup of Urban Meyer versus Gary Patterson makes this a great game. Ohio State has a history of scheduling tough non-conference games away from home and won’t be intimidated by playing in Jerry’s World just 20 miles away from TCU’s campus. Both teams will be relying on inexperienced quarterbacks and rebuilt defenses, both of which will be anchored by their defensive lines. Given the lack of experience on offense for both squads, one can guarantee both coaches will have their hands full in preparing for this mid September showdown.
- Miami vs LSU (Sept. 2 in Arlington, TX): The Sunday night game of opening weekend puts two solid programs against each other that haven’t played since the 2005 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. In the game Miami was obliterated 40-3, and after the game the Hurricanes decided to take the post game ceremonies into LSU’s tunnel in order to physically even out the score a little. This became one of the many lowlights to the end of Larry Coker’s tenure as head coach in Coral Gables. Anyway, history aside, this game has all the makings of a solid must-see matchup. Both teams have to fill major holes on both sides of the ball, especially at wide receiver and defensive back. No matter the inexperience, this game should be a lot closer than the last time these two teams met, and hopefully more peaceful.
- Notre Dame vs USC (Nov. 24): An old classic rivalry finds itself as the last regular season game for both teams. By the time this one kicks off both teams will have a clear idea where they may be playing their postseason games. The Irish and Trojans are both coming off stellar seasons in 2017, but the Trojans are the ones looking for revenge in this game after getting demolished 49-14 in South Bend last October. As always, this game will have a lot of hype, and due to it’s late November date, potential postseason play will be at stake for both teams.
- USC vs Texas (Sept. 15): Texas has, arguably, the hardest non-conference schedule in college football. This matchup against the Trojans argues for Texas’ favor in that debate. A thrilling 27-24 double overtime victory for the Trojans last year in Los Angeles gives the Longhorns all the motivation they need to get revenge against the Men of Troy. Look for this game to be just as thrilling as head coaches Clay Helton and Tom Herman face off again in Austin.
- South Carolina vs Clemson (Nov. 24): The 116th edition of the Palmetto Bowl will surely have a lot more at stake for both schools than it has in past years. Clemson has dominated the rivalry the past four years, winning three of the past four games by ten or more points. This ACC vs SEC rivalry obviously won’t affect conference standings for either team, but it could impact the College Football Playoff race. Both teams have a lot of promise going into the 2018 season, and a loss in this heated rivalry could derail some postseason plans for either squad.
- Texas vs Maryland (Sept. 1 in Landover, MD): On paper this game may not be vastly popular, but it is certainly noteworthy. Texas has a chance to run the table in the Big 12, and Maryland has a great chance to finally make some noise in the Big Ten. Maryland has been getting stronger little by little over the past few years. For Texas, going into Tom Herman’s second year as head coach, the Longhorns look to build on their success from last season. This game may get overlooked during the opening weekend madness, but it has the potential to be one of the best games during Labor Day Weekend. This is a game that can put either team on the right track to a very successful 2018 campaign.
- Clemson vs Texas A&M (Sept. 8): The hype going into this game is going to be centered around Dabo versus Jimbo. Pegged as, arguably, the best coaching matchup in the ACC the past five or so years, this is a key early season game for both teams. Clemson will have many young players that will get their first taste of playing in front of 100,000+ fans in a hostile atmosphere, while Texas A&M will get the opportunity to see if they can hang with the big boys of college football against a solid Clemson team. A true test for both teams in the second week of the season will surely give the winner tons of momentum going forward.
- Army vs Navy (Dec. 8 in Philadelphia, PA): In a game that transcends more than just football, the annual matchup between the U.S. Military Academy and the U.S. Naval Academy shows us all why American college football is so incredible. Having played since 1891, these two institutions are the most bitter of rivals on the field. The pageantry and history of this game is unquestioned as it stands alone on its own Saturday after all the other regular season games and conference championship games are finished. Knowing these men will take a different field of battle after graduation puts this epic rivalry game as a definite must-see game every year for any college football fan.
The 2018 college football season looks to be provide thrilling matchups from September through December. Many teams will start out their season with a true test, while others will look to build their non-conference resume through their rivalry games towards the end of November. Nonetheless, the 2018 season will offer every fan across the nation a plethora of football enjoyment.