Pick 6: Intriguing early nonconference games
There are positive signs that a widespread upgrade in nonconference scheduling is coming to college football.
With an emphasis on strength of schedule in the coming College Football Playoff, plus the need to fill TV time slots with games fans want to watch, good nonconference games could become more plentiful in the coming years.
For now, we'll take what we can get. As always, there are a handful of nonconference games in the first couple weeks that are worth circling on the schedule.
Note: For the purpose of this exercise, we've eliminated games being played by independents Notre Dame and BYU. The Fighting Irish and Cougars could practically fill up this list on their own.
1) Georgia at Clemson, Aug. 31. Week 1's main event. Both teams are likely to be ranked in the top 10 or so. Two of the best quarterbacks in the country in Georgia's Aaron Murray and Clemson's Tajh Boyd will get a chance for a quick start in the Heisman Trophy chase. And it's being played in Death Valley. Those neutral site games have obvious appeal, but nothing beats a big game at one of the best sites in college football. Also, it's a chance for the Tigers to make it two straight over the SEC after beating LSU in a bowl.
2) Oklahoma State vs Mississippi State at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Aug. 31. There was much discussion, debate and droning on this offseason after Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops suggested that maybe the Southeastern Conference isn't all it's cracked up to be because the bottom of the 14-team league left a lot to be desired last season. A coach defending his conference is pretty much business as usual, though taking even the slightest shot at the SEC always causes a stir. Well, Oklahoma State is favored to win the Big 12 this season, and Mississippi State is pegged for the bottom of the SEC West. Let's see if Stoops is on to something.
3) LSU vs. TCU at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Aug 31. Another SEC-Big 12 showdown on the opening Saturday of the season, though this one shapes up to be more good-on-good as both the Tigers and Horned Frogs figure to be ranked. TCU coach Gary Patterson's comments about how LSU's Les Miles disciplined running back Jeremy Hill, who was arrested in the offseason, adds a little spice to an already interesting matchup. Hill hasn't been suspended for the game, but Miles hasn't ruled it out.
4) Boise State at Washington, Aug. 31. The return match for the Broncos and Huskies after they finished last season playing in the MAACO Bowl in Las Vegas. Boise State rallied late to win that one 28-26. Round 2 also marks the re-opening of Husky Stadium. The running track around the field is gone and the stands are closer to the field. It should be plenty loud as the Broncos try to silence yet another team from the BCS automatic qualifying conferences.
5) Wisconsin at Arizona State, Sept. 14. The Sun Devils and Badgers have similar expectations coming into this season. Not quite conference favorites, but talented teams that could certainly challenge for a spot in the BCS. The winner likely gets a nice bounce in the rankings. Plus, it'll be a matchup of the Badgers' power and the Sun Devils' speed.
6) UCLA at Nebraska, Sept. 14. The Bruins made a statement early last season in Los Angeles by beating the Cornhuskers 36-30. Quarterback Brett Hundley and the Bruins' put up 653 yards against Nebraska. Now the Bruins come to Lincoln with the Huskers looking for payback and with one of the most versatile and dynamic offenses in the country, led by quarterback Taylor Martinez. Expect another high-scoring game
Other notable early season nonconference games: North Carolina at South Carolina, Aug. 29; Rutgers at Fresno State, Aug. 29; Alabama vs. Virginia Tech at Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Aug. 31; Tennessee at Oregon, Sept. 14.