College Football's Non-Conference Games to Watch in 2013
Conference rivalries are highlights of every football season, but credential-building non-conference games are what can add some spice.
There are a few intruiging non-conference games in 2013 that I wouldn't want to miss, starting with the inter-state battle between Louisville and Kentucky on 14 September. The Cardinals are the AAC (ie- the 'old' Big East) favorites and have Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback, while the Wildcats will debut a new coach in Mark Stoops and hope to better last season's 2-10 record. It is not basketball, but this football rivalry between two programs who schedule each other only reluctantly could be an early-season gem.
The ACC, where Louisville will be in 2014, has some interesting out-of-conference match-ups but the opener between Clemson and Georgia on 31 August could be a classic. The Bulldogs could have won it all last year and will have Aaron Murray back at quarterback while Clemson returns Tagh Boyd and Sammy Watkins to their powerful offense.
The Big Ten has an early season showdown as Notre Dame travels to Michigan on Saturday 7 September in a clash that is soon to become a rarity, much to the dismay of the Wolverines. Michigan will be hoping for revenge as the Irish defeated them 13-6 last season. Devin Gardner hopes this season will be different for the Wolverines as they try and defeat Tommy Reese and last season's runner up Irish.
The Big 12 has a few notable non-con contests, but Notre Dame strikes again as Oklahoma travels to South Bend on 28 September. The Irish dominated the Sooners in Norman last season, 30-13, and quarterback Blake Bell will look for a different outcome this season.
Conference USA is what it is, a medicore conference, but the Houston schools, Rice and Houston, play on 21 September at Reliant Stadium. The Owls are coming off a bowl victory over Air Force, while the Cougars, now in the AAC, just missed playing in a bowl game last season.
The Pac 12 teams will schedule anyone and everyone, but the big non-conference game of 2013 has to be the annual meeting between Notre Dame and USC, which is slated for South Bend on 19 October with a night-time kickoff. USC has fallen behind UCLA in the conference, and Lane Kiffin's job is suddenly on the line. Kiffin must replace Matt Barkley at quarterback; if he does not, this game may not mean as much.
The SEC, college football's strongest conference, has some attractive match-ups scheduled, but Florida and Miami will always top them all, no matter what the records are. This season they will meet on 7 September and will be their first meeting since 2008. The Gators were in the BCS hunt all last season while the Canes have been under NCAA investigation but still had a winning season last year.
Non-conference matchups are great for college football, and sometimes, they become more important than the league games. With the new four-team playoff system being put in place for the 2014 season and beyond, it may well be this portion of contending teams' schedules that determine whether or not they qualify for a berth.
It should make for even more quality non-con clashes.