In our initial article, we broke down game 26-50 as we looked at the best non-conference college football games in 2019. Now, we take another step and look at 25 all the way to number one. Stay with us as we break down the Best Non-Conference College Football Games in 2019 (Part Two).
Best Non-Conference College Football Games
For our first contest in round two of the best non-conference college football games in 2019, we look at a Big 12 versus the SEC matchup. It’s a changing of the guard in Manhattan as Chris Klieman begins his reign at Kansas State. Meanwhile, Mississippi State must replace a lot on defense but did receive a bonus on offense in graduate transfer Tommy Stevens.
Louisville could be one of the most improved teams in the country in 2019. With a 2-10 campaign in 2018, improvement still might not get them into a bowl game. However, with the optimism to begin the season, will the Cardinal be improved enough for the upset of the Irish on Labor Day?
TCU could have more on the line in this one than Purdue. The last two seasons that Gary Patterson’s squad had a sub-par season (seven or fewer wins) they have rebounded with a double-digit win season the following year. Alex Delton comes over from Kansas State and should be the starter for the Frogs. Two of most explosive receivers in college football in Rondale Moore and Jalen Reagor will be on display in this one.
Last season was a difficult one for Will Muschamp’s squad. The schedule is incredibly difficult for the Gamecocks in 2019. That’s what makes this battle to start the season so pivotal. A win for the Gamecocks here would set up a 2-0 start before entertaining Alabama. Meanwhile, an upset victory for North Carolina could point to a big jumpstart for Mack Brown and company.
After 25 consecutive victories, LSU finally handed the Knights their first loss in over two years. The offense will be potent again this year with eight returning starters and they add transfer Brandon Wimbush from Notre Dame. Conversely, Florida Atlantic stepped back with a 5-7 campaign last season. However, FAU is becoming known as Transfer U. Deondre Francois will be a big improvement at quarterback as he comes over from Florida State.
The Jalen Hurts era in Norman begins on the Sunday night of the opening weekend. If the spring game is any indication, Oklahoma may not have much drop off at quarterback. However, the Sooners could have problems corralling Houston quarterback D’Eriq King and new head coach Dana Holgorsen. The scoreboard should light up the Oklahoma sky.
This game has the opportunity to be a dud. But, any time Alabama plays they will get the best shot. The mentality will be interesting here. The Crimson Tide will have the sour taste of the shellacking they took at the hands of Clemson in the national title game. If the Tide come in angry and looking to prove a point, this game could get ugly. But, if they come in tight and look to do too much early then we could see a close game going into the fourth quarter.
Nebraska is a trendy pick to win the Big Ten West division this year. The Cornhuskers finished 2018 strong in four of their last six with the two losses coming by a total of eight points. Adrian Martinez could be one of the best quarterbacks in the league this year in his sophomore season. A win here could give Nebraska a 4-0 start before hosting Ohio State on September 28th.
Running the football is one constant that you can expect for Wisconsin. This year will be no different as Jonathan Taylor returns as one of the best running backs in the country. The Badgers will most likely be trotting out true freshman Graham Mertz at quarterback. How he handles his first game of the season in a tough road environment will be critical to the Badgers success.
Both of these squads are fringe top 25 teams to start the season. Both are similar in many ways, but both are extremely well coached as well with Kirk Ferentz for Iowa and Matt Campbell for Iowa State. Iowa only has 10 returning starters from a season ago. Meanwhile, the Cyclones are more experienced with 16 returning starters including quarterback Brock Purdy. This could end up being one of the best non-conference games of the season.
Last year was one of the best versions of the Holy War. Utah came back from 20 down to beat the Cougars 35-27. The Utes return 14 starters off of the nine-win Pac 12 south championship team of a year ago. This will be one of the marquee matchups of the first full Thursday night of the season. Utah should be on upset alert early on.
This should be the Sooners toughest test before facing Texas in Dallas in October. The first road game could be interesting for a Sooner defense that must improve under first-year defensive coordinator Alex Grinch. Meanwhile, it’s conceivable that UCLA could be staring 0-2 in the face before hosting the Sooners. However, if the Bruins can beat Cincinnati and San Diego State in the first two games of the year, this game could have increased national interest.
Any time that a mid-major has an opportunity to beat a reputable Power Five opponent, it gets some notoriety. Now, when it’s Boise State, that brings even more attention. The Broncos could make a claim to be a non-power five playoff contender with a victory here. Meanwhile, Willie Taggart is trying to get the Seminoles back into national relevance again. This game will shape the seasons of both teams in a big way.
Holgorsen returns to face his old boss when Houston takes on Washington State. Houston was a difficult non-conference in facing both Oklahoma and Washington State. Mike Leach is building a consistent program in Wazzu. Washington State loses Gardner Minshew but will add graduate transfer Gabe Gubrud from Eastern Washington.
Last year, this game landed number one on our list. For the traditionalists, you can’t get any better than the Cadets against the Midshipmen. Army should be 11-1 coming into this game and potentially knocking on the door of a Group of Five bowl game. Kelvin Hopkins returns as the signal caller in West Point. Navy struggled to their worst season since 2011 last year. But, this looks like a much team in 2019.
And then there were 10
We begin our top 10 of the best non-conference college football games in 2019 with two programs that couldn’t be more similar. Both Northwestern and Stanford embody their head coaches of Pat Fitzgerald and David Shaw possibly more than any program in the country. Expect a low scoring, field position game between these two.
Week 0 gets off to a great start with this blockbuster. These schools are on opposite ends of where they began a season ago. This year has Florida as a pre-season top 10 team with conference championship aspirations. Meanwhile, Miami might be on the outside of the top 25 looking in. Manny Diaz is now the head man and all signs point to Tate Martell grabbing the starting spot. This game will catapult the winning team on a journey into the national spotlight.
Another rivalry game in the top 10. Notre Dame again has aspirations to return back to the playoffs under second-year quarterback Ian Book. Meanwhile, Stanford gets two of their toughest non-conference games at home this season. That is especially important as the Cardinal only return nine starters from a year ago.
You know that your program has hit more mainstream if a non-power five team makes the top 10 twice. That’s where the Cadets find themselves as they travel to Ann Arbor. Last year, Army outplayed Oklahoma everywhere but the scoreboard and the Sooner escaped with the overtime win. Now, the Wolverines have been a popular Big 10 championship pick as well as a playoff pick. The Army attack is very difficult for a team to prepare for once a year. Michigan fans are pointing to Ohio State in November, but this game could loom large.
The Cardinal make it here for the third time. The schedule makers are not doing any favors for Stanford as they have one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the country with Northwestern, Notre Dame, and now UCF here. UCF had been missing the big non-conference opponent to bolster their playoff resume. A win here against Stanford could solidify that argument.
Texas A&M gave Clemson one of their toughest games in 2018. Now, they must make the return trip to Death Valley. Will Clemson battle through complacency this year with the national championship last year? The Aggies are a little ahead of schedule with their nine-win season of 2018. However, will Jimbo Fisher’s club be ready to slay the dragon?
The Irish derailed the Wolverines early with an impressive victory in the first game of the year. Now, the Irish must return the favor in late October in the Big House. Can Jim Harbaugh’s squad take the next step after back-to-back blowout losses to end 2018? Shea Patterson will need to continue to improve and find a consistent running back to get into the playoffs this season.
The Tigers underachieved a bit last season. Now, Gus Malzahn has taken over the play-calling duties for the Auburn offense. But, they will be breaking in a new quarterback as they begin the season against Oregon. Comparatively, the Ducks have one of the most experienced quarterbacks in Justin Herbert. Oregon should flirt with a top 10 preseason ranking. With an otherwise weak non-conference schedule, this is a huge game for both teams before conference play.
Georgia used this game to springboard themselves into the playoffs in 2017 with a tight victory over the Irish. The Bulldogs should be no worse than number five in the preseason polls to start the season. Georgia is in a position of reloading versus rebuilding, but have some key holes to fill on both sides of the ball. Jake Fromm and D’Andre Swift are two of the best quarterback and running back combinations in the country.
Here we are at our number one non-conference game of 2019. LSU played better than advertised in 2018. They overachieved to the tune of a 10-win season and ended the UCF winning streak. Now, they return 16 starters off of that team including quarterback Joe Burrow. The conference slate is manageable for SEC standards so a win here puts them firmly in playoff contention.
Meanwhile, after a Sugar Bowl victory over Georgia, Sam Ehlinger proclaimed Texas as back. Now, a victory over the Tigers here could lay some truth to that claim. However, the Longhorns only return eight starters from a year ago. Only three of those starters are on defense, so that unit will need to gel quickly. If Texas can beat LSU in this game, it will likely set the stage for a monumental Red River Rivalry game in October.
This concludes our list of the best non-conference college football games of 2019. Check back and look at games 50-26 in part one of our look at the best non-conference college football games.