The countdown is on. The dog days of summer are upon us and the wait until Fall Camps get started is upon us. Believe it or not, only about a month and a half until college football gets going once again. Every season brings new excitement, interesting storylines, and riveting action that we simply cannot take our eyes off of. Part of that early season intrigue is looking at the non-conference matchups. Stay with us as we break down the Best Non-Conference College Football Games in 2019 (Part One).
Best Non-Conference College Football Games
For our first contest in the Best Non-Conference College Football Games in 2019, we start our countdown with two bowl teams from a year ago. The first Thursday night of the season will see Butch Davis and his resurgent FIU squad against Tulane who won five of their last six games last year.
One of the biggest upsets of 2018 gives us a return game in Blacksburg. The Hokies will be out for blood to avenge last years embarrassing loss. Ryan Willis might be the second-best quarterback in the ACC.
Gone is a 1,400-yard rusher and a 3,700-yard passer from a year ago for the Broncos. Meanwhile, the Thundering Herd return eight starters on offense from a team that averaged 28 points a game and finished with nine wins.
BYU has a murders row schedule that could legitimately see them starting 0-8. Zach Wilson, an underrated sophomore hopes to shoulder the load for the Cougars. Tennessee showed improvement towards the middle of last year and will need to carry that over into a good start in 2019.
Just as the Drew Lock era ends, the Kelly Bryant era gets started in Missouri. The Tigers still have an outstanding receiving corps which includes the best tight end in the country in Albert Okwuegbunam. Wyoming took a minor step back last year but ended the season with four consecutive wins. A home win against Missouri could bolster this Cowboy club.
Purdue is coming off an up and down season in 2018 that included a 29-point victory over Ohio State. But, also included a one-point home loss to Eastern Michigan. Meanwhile, Vanderbilt is coming off a bowl season but must replace Kyle Shurmur at quarterback.
A tough schedule for Wake Forest begins on the opening Friday night of the season as they host Utah State. The Deacons are coming off another bowl season, but this game could be pivotal to returning. The Aggies are coming off of a 10-win season in 2018 which will be difficult to match. However, they do return the best Mountain West Conference player in Jordan Love.
It’s a pivotal year in Los Angeles. After back to back 10-win seasons, Clay Helton dropped of a 5-7 record last year. The Trojans travel to Provo in the third week of the season in what may end up being a must-win for USC to get back to the typical expectations.
After one of the best seasons in Kentucky football history, they open the 2019 campaign at home against Toledo. Consistency and improvement from Terry Wilson will be key in the passing game. Toledo is a trendy pick for the MAC in 2019. This has the makings of a high scoring affair to start the season.
Typically, we see the most improvement from the first season to the second season under a new head coach. That’s exactly where UCLA finds itself as they enter the second year under Chip Kelly. Cincinnati hosts the return match this season. This could be a pivotal matchup with UCLA facing Oklahoma and Cincinnati playing Ohio State in the non-conference.
Nevada is coming off an eight-win season and a bowl berth in 2018. The Wolfpack lose starter Ty Gangi. However, they do add former Florida State and Last Chance U star Malik Henry to the fold. A win over a Big 10 squad could do a long way in getting back to a bowl.
Our first Week 0 game takes us to the islands. Hawaii returns 18 starters from an eight-win season a year ago. Cole McDonald is one of the best quarterbacks in the conference after a 36 touchdown pass season. Arizona is in a similar boat as UCLA in terms of entering the second year of a new coach. After struggling to start the year, Khalil Tate had 28 total touchdowns last year. Can he return to his Heisman form?
Oregon State struggled to a 2-10 season a year ago including blowout losses to Ohio State and Oregon. The Beavers will most likely be an underdog in 11 of the 12 games this season so an opening game upset over Oklahoma State would be huge. Comparatively, the Cowboys had a bit of a rebuilding year in 2018 and look to get back in the double-digit win category. The emergence of a new quarterback could loom large in this game.
The second stint of the Mack Brown tenure begins in Chapel Hill. Brown has a bit of a reclamation project that he’s inherited. Especially, with a tough schedule. This will be a must win for any bowl chances for the Tar Heels. That won’t be easy as App State returns 10 starters off of a 10-win season. Zac Thomas and Darrynton Evans provide a 1-2 punch at quarterback and running back that is very formidable.
Georgia Tech may look a little different in 2019. The Yellow Jackets are moving from the option attack to a pro-style offense in Geoff Collins first season at the helm. Expect some growing pains early on in the transition. South Florida had a jekyl and hyde season in 2018. After winning their first seven, they dropped their final six. But, they do return nine starters on offense but will need Blake Barnett to be more consistent.
There’s plenty of reasons for Memphis fans to be excited. Even with the departure of Darrell Henderson, the Tigers still have Patrick Taylor as the leading running back in 2019 along with Brady White as the returning quarterback. This is a return game from 2016 in which Ole Miss won by 20. Conversely, the Tigers will be breaking in a new quarterback with the loss of Jordan Ta’amu. The receiving corps will also be overhauled as AJ Brown and DJ Metcalf are gone.
Rivalry Games Already?
Notre Dame is fresh off its playoff berth in 2018. Ian Book returns as the signal caller in South Bend off a tremendous season last year. The loss of Dexter Williams and Miles Boykin could loom large. However, the Irish are still a legitimate contender for the playoffs this season. USC actually had the Irish on the ropes last season, but Notre Dame prevailed by seven. Can the young JT Daniels improve enough to upset the Irish?
We mentioned earlier that Georgia Tech could have an adjustment early on to the offensive philosophy changes. Those should be ironed out before this game. Georgia will most likely be playing for a playoff berth late in the season. And, as you know, anything can happen in rivalry games.
This could very well end up being more of an attractive game later in the season than it does now. After many years of being one of the best games of the season, this game has turned into a non-significant game on the national scale. This could actually turn out to be one of the best non-conference college football games. Florida State is coming off of a rebuilding season and Florida will have a lot of confidence after the season-ending victory against Michigan and a 10-win season.
The Red Raiders are coming into the post-Kliff Kingsbury era in 2019. Expect Texas Tech to move into more of a conventional offense under first-year head coach Matt Wells. The cupboard is far from bare in Lubbock, particularly on offense where Alan Bowman returns. This screams the first one to 50 points being the winner.
Clemson is loaded at every position. They bring back explosive players at every level of the offense and defense. The Tigers schedule is somewhat soft in what’s becoming a little bit of a watered down ACC. In fact, this road game against South Carolina could turn out to be their toughest of the year. The Gamecocks had the biggest success of any team last season against the Tigers in scoring 35 in last years Palmetto Bowl.
An early season upset of the Spartans in 2018 was a big kickstart to Herm Edwards first season in Arizona State. Even so, both teams had a very uneven season last year. The Michigan State offense was anemic last year, but their defense was steady. Both teams look for better seasons in 2019 and this early season game could bolster their campaigns.
The Buffaloes have been dominant in this game over the last few years. Last year, the Buffaloes won by a count of 45-13. However, Colorado ended last year on a bad note by losing seven straight. Steven Montez should be poised for an excellent year for the Buffs. Meanwhile, Colorado State faced their first losing season last year since 2012. The Rams are picked near the bottom of the Mountain West Conference. A victory in this rivalry game could give them the confidence they needed.
This could have been an old Big 12 matchup, but neither were members at the same time. This game figures to fall in line with many Big 12 games where defense is optional, at best. West Virginia must replace Will Grier at quarterback and former Oklahoma quarterback Austin Kendall appears to be poised to take that position on.
We stay with West Virginia here in our final game of the best non-conference College Football Games. This would have been a return game from last year, but last years game was canceled. The Wolfpack was 9-4 a season ago, but have major holes to fill on the offensive side of the ball. In an otherwise light non-conference slate for NC State, this game should be another shootout.