Monday, June 26, 2006

CFB's Top Non-Conference/Non-Rivalry Games

USC and Notre Dame will be the most anticipated non-conference matchup in 2006, but the Trojans and Irish are rivals that play every year. Notre Dame’s games with Michigan and Michigan State are other great games but are rivalries. Texas and Ohio State had a memorable game last year, and this year's contest, between the two, will again be one of the biggest non-conference/non-rivalry games of the season.

The NCAA approved the 12 game regular season for 2006 but that has not led to any more prominent non-conference matchups than in prior years. The 12th game has led to a few interesting intersectional games like Washington State at Auburn and Fresno State at LSU; however, most 12th games will pit BCS powers against Division IAA schools or IA pasties.

Fans can blame the NCAA for the less than stellar matchups. The NCAA will allow 6-6 teams to be bowl eligible and count any wins over IAA teams towards the six wins. In the past, a school had to finish over .500 and IAA wins could be counted towards bowl eligibility only once every four years.

So what games will be worth tuning into? There still will be a good number of games to watch in 2006 between non-conference/non-rival schools. I list my top 15 with the Longhorns and Buckeyes atop.

1. Ohio State at Texas, Sept. 9- This home and home between the schools has been the best thing to happen to college football in the last two years. Last year's game ultimately decided who won the national championship. If Texas had not won in Columbus, Ohio State easily could have taken their spot in Pasadena. Most people forgot, late in the season, how big of a win it was for Vince Young and Texas. This year, however, Young will not be lining up behind center. Texas is still loaded and is the home team. But the Buckeyes have this year's "Vince Young" in Troy Smith. Smith is considered by some the best quarterback in the nation. The duel-threat signal caller will have an early shot to jump atop the Heisman race with a big win in Austin. I like Texas to hold home court.
2. California at Tennessee, Sept. 2- This game doesn't have quite the luster because the Vols are coming off of a 5-6 season and Cal had an unimpressive 8-4 season. But many are calling for Cal to knock of USC in the Pac 10 this year, and some are expecting Tennessee to contend for the SEC East. There might not be a more exciting game on opening weekend, or the entire season for than matter. The early season winner will have a leg up on a big season and position itself for a BCS bowl berth. I like the Bears chances in this early contest.
3. Oklahoma at Oregon, Sept. 16- The Sooners and Ducks met two years ago in Norman and it was no contest, 31-7 OU. Last year they met in the infamous Holiday Bowl. It was unlike the high-scoring shootouts synonymous with the game in San Diego, instead it was a 17-14 Sooner yawner of a win. This time OU-UO should be one of the most intriguing games of the year. The "Oregon" offense will be in year two and it will be firing on all cylinders against Oklahoma, arguably the nation's best defense. The Sooner offense is still trying to find its stride with quarterback Rhett Bomar, but is still considered a national title favorite. Adrian Peterson is 100% and looking to top 2,000 yards on the season, but who will block for him? It may not matter because the Duck defense lost mammoth DT Haloti Ngata to the NFL. Michigan was a national title contender in 2003 when it visited Autzen Stadium and lost. New teams don't adjust well to the "Zoo", I like the Ducks chances to pull the upset.
4. Miami at Louisville, Sept. 16- Two years ago Louisville was an eyelash away from upseting the third ranked undefeated Hurricanes at the Orange Bowl. This year the Cardinals have a better team and host a Miami team that is not as good as the one from 2004. In theory, it should be a Louisville victory. However, things don't always work out so easily. Miami has an influx of new offensive assistants that can change the whole mantra of Larry Coker's team. The 'Canes don't lack talent, but the team chemistry could be their doom in Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.
5. Penn State at Notre Dame, Sept. 9- Only if this game was scheduled last year. Penn State had the better team in 2005, but it would have been a classic matchup between top 10 teams. This year is a different story. Both schools will be ranked in the top 25 but Notre Dame will be a consensus top three team, while Penn State is rebuilding and will be ranked in the low teens at best. I would like the Nittany Lions chances better at Beaver Stadium, but not in the Irish's 2006 home opener.
6. Nebraska at USC, Sept. 16- 10 years ago this game would have been the game of the century. Nebraska was coming off of its second straight national title and USC was in the midst of a good run under Coach John Robinson. This year the game is not really getting the hype it deserves. Nebraska is not the I back power option attack of the Tom Osborne era and USC is far from the pedestrian student body right days of John Robinson. USC's offense may not be as strong as last year's but the defense will pose enough problems for Nebraska's West Coast offense to win.
7. Notre Dame at Georgia Tech, Sept. 2- Everyone's preseason pick to win the national title is Notre Dame. There is not a dominant team in 2006 like USC and Oklahoma were the last three years, so why not pick the Irish and their Golden Boy quarterback Brady Quinn. But how funny would that be if their dreams of a national title ended inside the confines of Bobby Dodd Stadium? It could very well happen. The 'Wreck is a good football team and the offense is led by a senior quarterback, Reggie Ball, and the best wide receiver in college football, Calvin Johnson. If the defense can hold their own against the Golden Boy, I like Tech's chances.
8. USC at Arkansas, Sept. 3- USC whipped the Razorbacks last year in L.A., therefore, this game is somewhat of an afterthought. Arkansas only went 4-7 last year but played a difficult schedule and was very close in many of its games. This year the 'Hogs are loaded and should be back in the bowl picture. USC will be breaking in a new quarterback and tailback for the first time since 2003. Ironically, USC opened the 2003 season on the road at an SEC West school, as well, at Auburn. A game USC won 22-0. Like the 2003 game against the Tigers, I expect the Trojan defense to dominate, while the offense progresses at its own pace.
9. Washington State at Auburn, Sept. 2- Washington finished 4-7 last year but was just as close to finishing 9-2. The Cougars caught all the bad breaks in 2005, losing four close games in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. This year the Cougars will be just as good, if not better. Auburn on the other hand will be a national title contender. The Tigers have sputtered out of the gate the two out of the last three years and Washington State is a team that can not be taken lightly. Despite Auburn's lack of success in home openers, this is the year it lays down the hammer.
10. Michigan State at Pittsburgh, Sept. 16- Prepare to replace the scoreboard. Two of the nation's best quarterbacks will square off, Pitt's Tyler Palko and MSU's Drew Stanton. Both of these quarterback's teams had losing seasons last year, but will be poised to turn it around. There might not be a better quarterback battle all year, and that includes Stanton vs. Quinn the following week.
11. Colorado at Georgia, Sept. 23- Dan Hawkins took his Boise State Broncos into Athens last year and got embarrassed. This year he has to return to the site of the massacre as the Buffs first year coach. This time he has more talent at his disposal and UGA is rebuilding per se, but the outcome shouldn't be any different.
12. UCLA at Notre Dame, Oct. 21- These are the type of intersectional games college football fans love. The Pac 10's golden boys versus the nation's golden boys. UCLA doesn't have a chance in South Bend, unless the Bruin defense just dominates, which is highly unlikely.
13. Fresno State at LSU, Oct. 21- The 'Dogs came close to upsetting No. 1 USC last year, but Death Valley is a different story. LSU will be more than ready for the so-called "giant killers".
14. Purdue at Hawaii, Nov. 25- Hawaii will lead the nation in passing yards. Purdue will try to get back its high-flying passing days after last year's embarrassment of just 10 touchdowns passes. The Island is always friendly to the Warriors late in the season when a bowl bid is on the line.
15. Texas Tech at TCU, Sept. 16- TCU upset Oklahoma last year only to lose at SMU the following week. The Red Raiders are the toughest team on the 'Frogs schedule this year. Tech has a defense to go along with their pass happy offense, and it should be enough to hold off TCU even in Fort Worth.


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