The slate of SEC non-conference games is often a topic of conversation for college football fans. This discussion is not restricted to the southern part of the country. Debating, mocking, and arguing over SEC programs’ scheduling is a nationwide conversation. While there are plenty of match-ups among the SEC non-conference games that could make one roll their eyes, there are also some games that appear mouth-watering to football starved fans.
Top Five SEC Non-Conference Games
Strength of schedule has become even more important with the introduction of the College Football Playoff. Social media amplifies every discussion on sports, and no team is safe from being called out of the scheduling of too many cupcakes. When looking at the top SEC non-conference games this season, rivalry games are omitted from this list. Multiple SEC East teams end their season with in-state rivals from the ACC, but this list is more for the early season prime time match-ups. Recently, neutral site games have become a big part of scheduling between power five conferences. The 2019 slate is no different, although there are also a few marquee contests that take place in the on-campus environment.
Florida Gators vs Miami Hurricanes (8/24 at a neutral site in Orlando)
This match-up from the sunshine state is the appetizer for the entire college football season. This Saturday is looked at as week zero, with only two games between FBS opponents. The battle for the Seminole War Canoe Trophy is the headliner. Florida comes into 2019 with a lot of expectations in year two under coach Dan Mullen. He will look to get the offense on track and show the kind of improvement and production that side of the ball has lacked since Urban Meyer left town almost a decade ago.
Feleipe Franks is the main quarterback, and he will look to build on the strides made in 2018. The Hurricanes defense is a talented and aggressive group that thrives on turnovers, so ball security will be key. Lamical Perine leads a tough Gators rushing attack, and he will need to play at a high level. The Miami defense is spearheaded by its elite group of veteran linebackers. The Hurricanes will be starting a freshman under center in Jarren Williams. The defense will likely have the edge for both teams. Whichever team can take care of the ball has a chance to start the season on a positive note.
Auburn Tigers vs Oregon Ducks (8/31 at a neutral site in Dallas)
The stadium known as Jerry World will host a rematch of the 2010 national championship game on opening weekend. The Tigers are looking to bounce back from a disappointing 8-5 record in 2018. Coach Gus Malzahn seems to be on a perpetual hot seat at Auburn, and he begins 2019 in a similar fashion. The Tigers will be led by a potentially dominant defensive front, but have question marks on offense. Most notably, they will roll out a first-time starter in two weeks, with freshman Bo Nix potentially getting the start at quarterback, (an announcement is expected within the next 24 hours).
The Ducks are set under center, with NFL prospect and senior Justin Herbert running the offense. Oregon averaged nearly 35 points and 430 yards of offense a game last season. They also return a 1000 yard rusher in CJ Verdell. Auburn is built on defense, and their ability to slow down the Ducks attack will be crucial. Tailbacks JaTarvious Whitlow and Kam Martin will need to step up to help whichever freshman signal-caller coach Malzahn hands the keys to. Both of these programs have College Football Playoff aspirations. An opening weekend victory over a team with similar goals will provide a huge boost.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish @ Georgia Bulldogs (9/21)
Two years ago, Jake Fromm made his first career start in the fabled stadium in South Bend, leading the Bulldogs to a 20-19 victory. Notre Dame makes the return trip to Athens in 2019. This is another match-up of two programs that will expect to challenge for a spot in the College Football Playoff. The Bulldog fans took over Notre Dame Stadium during the previous meeting. It will be interesting to see how much presence the Irish fan base has at Sanford Stadium.
Ian Book returns at quarterback for the Irish, after leading them to the semifinals a season ago. He and Fromm could both be involved in Heisman Trophy campaigns in 2019. A big performance in this marquee match-up could propel one of them even more. Notre Dame looked overmatched in their semifinal loss to Clemson last January, and Georgia will try to do the same with a similar caliber of athletes. With this being the fourth game on the Bulldogs’ schedule, the hope is that they will have figured out who will take over to catch the ball from Fromm. Their current group of receivers lacks game time and experience.
Texas A&M Aggies @ Clemson Tigers (9/7)
Last season, no team gave the eventual champion Tigers as tough of a tussle as the Aggies. Quarterback Kellen Mond and receiver Kendrick Rogers had big-time performances in that contest and will need to be at their best again. The Aggies can make a huge statement in year two under Jimbo Fisher if they can pull off the upset in enemy territory. Jashaun Corbin will get the first chance to step into the starting tailback role. It will likely be a running game by committee approach, with a few other names also getting chances.
The Aggie defense will be pushed to its limits. Clemson’s defense may be vulnerable early in the season due to having to replace so many starters. The Tiger’s offense, on the other hand, is loaded and will be among the best in the nation. Trevor Lawrence returns at quarterback as a Heisman front runner, and he has an abundance of weapons at his disposal. Texas A&M will need to create pressure on the sophomore star and try to break up the rhythm of the Tigers offense. Winning on the road against the defending champs is the toughest task any team will face in 2019. If they can pull it off, the ceiling of expectations for the Aggies will raise exponentially.
LSU Tigers @ Texas Longhorns (9/7)
Ed Orgeron will take his bayou bengals to the lone star state in week two of the regular season. The Tigers and Longhorns are each in a position where their success is constantly measured by how they perform against their own inter-conference demons in Alabama and Oklahoma. A victory in this showdown of storied programs could provide some insight as to which of these teams is ready to truly challenge their current powerhouse rivals. Expect a physical hard-hitting affair between two teams that have developed a reputation for defense. Of all the SEC non-conference games in 2019, this one could have the biggest national implications.
LSU’s ability to open up its offense remains its biggest question. Quarterback Joe Burrow and his number one target Justin Jefferson both return for the Tigers. They will be breaking in a new starter at tailback. The experience in the passing game should help with that. It is also a big year for Longhorn’s signal-caller Sam Ehlinger. The dual-threat junior had 3300 yards passing and another 492 on the ground last season. He will face a LSU defense loaded with next-level talent, especially in the secondary. The quarterback who protects the ball and makes good throws in key moments will likely earn his team a huge early-season victory.