Fall Camps are opening up around the nation, and that means that we are in the final stretch of the offseason, and college football is right around the corner. September 1st is the kickoff of the season with 15 games scheduled for Thursday night, highlighted by Wisconsin hosting UNLV on ESPN.
The rest of the teams kick off that weekend, and there are a few big time non conference matchups on that weekend, and plenty more the rest of the season.
With kickoff less than a month away, I’ve decided to highlight the top 10 out of conference games in the 2011 season, in descending order.
10. September 9th – Arizona State vs. Missouri
The second week of the season has a couple of exciting out of conference clashes, and it all starts with a Friday night game in Tempe. ESPN will have the coverage as Missouri travels to Sun Devil Stadium for a game against Arizona State.
Both of these teams enter the season with high expectations. Even with Blaine Gabbert gone, the Tigers will open the season ranked 21st in the Coaches Poll. Arizona State received the most votes of any team that was unranked, but the Sun Devils are one of the favorites in the newly formed Pac 12 South.
This will be a good early test for both teams to see where they stand. Missouri was a 10-win team last season, but expectations are lower without Gabbert, even though the Tigers return 16 starters on offense and defense. Arizona State was just 6-6 last season, but expectations are soaring in Tempe, and Dennis Erickson needs to deliver if he wants to keep his job.
9. November 26th – Stanford vs. Notre Dame
I know this game is light years away, but this could have a major impact on the season on one of the final weekends of the regular season. Notre Dame, in their second season under Brian Kelly, will travel to Palo Alto for a game with potentially huge ramifications.
Stanford, ranked 6th in the inaugural Coaches Poll of the 2011 season, has Pac 12 and National Championship aspirations even without Jim Harbaugh. Andrew Luck is a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender, and the Cardinal could be the National title mix heading into this game with Notre Dame.
The Fighting Irish have high expectations, entering the season ranked 18th. There are some people that think much higher of Notre Dame, and I’ve seen projections that have them with 10 wins.
If Notre Dame is as good as some expect, then this game could put a BCS bowl game on the line if the Cardinal miss out on the Pac 12 Championship game.
8. September 17th – Miami vs. Ohio State
This game looked a lot bigger before all the attrition in Columbus this offseason. Jim Tressel is gone, and so is quarterback Terrelle Pryor. Luke Fickell is trying to hold all the pieces together this season, with NCAA sanctions set to rain down on the Buckeyes.
Still, this game is intriguing on the third weekend of the regular season as Ohio State travels to Coral Gables to take on Miami. The Buckeyes defeated the Hurricanes 36-24 at the Horseshoe last season, thanks to a bevy of Jacory Harris interceptions.
This will be the first test for Ohio State after opening the season with home games against Akron and Toledo. We will also get to see what Al Golden has in store during his first season with the ‘Canes.
Miami is looking to prove once again that they are legit, and OhioState is trying to fight through all the mess that surrounds the program and both will get a chance to do so on September 17th.
7. September 8th – Oklahoma State vs. Arizona
Oklahoma State is being touted as a serious National Title contender, opening the season 8thin the Coaches Poll, and they will get an opportunity to prove themselves on a Thursday night in Stillwater against Arizona.
There aren’t a whole lot of expectations in Tuscon this season, but they certainly aren’t a team that can be taken lightly. Oklahoma State should win the game, with the likes of Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon back on campus following an 11-win season.
The Cowboys get their shot at proving themselves on a National stage against the Wildcats, in the only game that will be played on September 8th. We also can’t underestimate Arizona, led by quarterback Nick Foles. Foles led Arizona to the #1 ranked passing offense in the Pac 10 last season.
Again, Oklahoma State will be favored to win this game probably by double digits, but it still should be a very intriguing matchup.
6. September 24th – West Virginia vs. LSU
This will be the second big out of conference matchup for LSU, after opening the season against Oregon. (More on that game later) I know a lot of people have written this game off, but I for one, think it’s going to be an outstanding matchup in Morgantown.
LSU will open the season ranked 4th, while West Virginia wasn’t ranked in the Coaches Poll, but if you remember back to last season, the Tigers narrowly avoided being upset in Baton Rouge by the Mountaineers.
There is quite a bit of excitement in Morgantown with Dana Holgerson’s new pass heavy offense and Geno Smith leading the way at QB. LSU is a National Title contender, and they could be fighting for their National Title hopes in just the fourth week of the season if they lose the opener to Oregon.
I think this is a game that is being overlooked by most, and it should be a tight battle between teams that are more evenly matched than a lot of people would like to let on.
5. September 10th – Penn State vs. Alabama
Alabama and Penn State renewed their rivalry last season in Tuscaloosa at Bryant-Denny Stadium last season, and the Crimson Tide put away the Nittany Lions without much trouble, 24-3. Now, the 2nd ranked Tide will look to win a second straight over Penn State in HappyValley.
Alabama is one of the favorites to win their second National Championship in three years, and while expectations are considerably lower for Penn State, you have to think this will be a better game than last season.
Alabama will be heavily favored against Penn State, but it’s unlikely that the Crimson Tide will have established a starting QB yet, and they will likely still be in the trial-and-error process with AJ McCarron and Phillip Sims.
In any case, these two teams have had some classics in the past, and if we’re lucky, this one will be too.
4. October 1st – Texas A&M vs. Arkansas (Arlington, Texas)
Texas A&M andArkansas are both coming off very good 2010 seasons. The Aggies surprised most by winning nine games led by QB Ryan Tannehill, and getting head coach Mike Sherman off the hot seat in the process.
Arkansas had SEC Title aspirations last season, but came up short. They still won 10 games and went to the Sugar Bowl, so it’s hard to complain. But, both of these teams are looking for bigger and better things in 2011. They both enter the season highly ranked, Texas A&M 9th, and Arkansas 14th, and both will come into this game the week after an important conference game.
Texas A&M will see Oklahoma State come to College Station the week prior, while Arkansas travels toTuscaloosa to face Alabama. So, they could both be coming into this game following a loss and needing a win to keep their BCS hopes alive.
Arkansas defeated Texas A&M 24-17 last season in Arlington, but that was before A&M hit their stride. We should see a similarly close game this time around.
3. September 3rd – Georgia vs. Boise State (Atlanta, Georgia)
One of the most exciting opening weekend games is the Chick Fil-A College Kickoff in the Georgia Dome that pits Georgia against Boise State. The Broncos are once again facing off with a big conference team in a season opener. Last season, Boise State won a 33-30 thriller over Virginia Tech in the season opener.
The Bulldogs are entering the 2011 season with high expectations led by Aaron Murray and the “dream team” recruiting class. Boise State made the move into the Mountain West in hopes of increasing their chances at finally playing for a National Championship.
BoiseState was upset late last season by Nevada, and ended up falling from BCS buster to the Las Vegas Bowl. The Broncos look to once again be the top non-AQ team as they enter the year ranked 7th. After a 6-7 record last year, Georgia still enters this year ranked 22nd.
This will be a statement game for both teams as they look to make their case as a contender early on.
2. September 17th – Florida State vs. Oklahoma
The top two out of conference games could potentially be BCS Championship elimination games early in the season. In just the third week of the season, a pair of top five teams will face off in Tallahassee.
Oklahoma is the preseason #1 team in the nation, and will look to get to yet another National Championship game. Led by Landry Jones and Ryan Broyles, the Sooners went 12-2 last season, and with both players back for the 2011 season, Oklahoma has a great chance of getting to the Title game if they can get past the Seminole road block early in the year.
Jimbo Fisher has reenergized the Florida State football program, burning the recruiting trails, and making the ‘Noles once again look like a powerhouse. Florida State starts the season ranked 5th, and they will look to avenge a 30-point loss in Norman to the Sooners last season.
This matchup should be much closer this time around at Doak Campbell, and it is one of the premier out of conference matchups this season.
1. September 3rd – LSU vs. Oregon (Arlington, Texas)
The first weekend of the college football season provides the top out of conference game of the 2011 season. This is another matchup of top 5 teams as Oregon enters the year ranked 3rd, with LSU right behind them at #4, and the two meet up at Cowboys Stadium.
Just like, FSU/OU, this game could possibly be a National Championship elimination game. The Ducks went undefeated in the regular season last year, but lost toAuburn in the BCS Title game in Glendale.
LSU won 11 games in 2010, and finished off the year by beating Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl. Both teams are loaded for runs at the crystal pigskin in 2011, but one of the team’s hopes of a title could be dashed in just one game.
One of these teams will walk away with a marquee out of conference win to bolster their resume, and the other will lose a good bit of ground in the hunt to make it to the Louisiana Superdome on January 9th.