The college football season can’t get here soon enough. We are still months away but it is never too early to start thinking about what some of the best games of the season will be. Here are the best non-conference games on the schedule for the 2018 season.
5. Clemson at Texas A&M (Sep. 8)
Jimbo Fisher may have left Florida State for Texas A&M, but he will still have to take on Clemson this season. The Aggies are a borderline top 25 team based on what they have returning from last season and might be able to give Clemson a game.
Seven starters return on each side of the ball for Texas A&M with fans being most excited over Trayveon Williams at running back. He will have a tough time going up against Clemson’s defensive line. The quarterback competition had better produce a viable starter if they wish to move the ball against Clemson.
The Aggies had a very young defense that was not very good last year, but has the returning starters working with a talented defensive coordinator in Mike Elko. Vast improvements should be shown through another offseason of training and the schemes of Elko.
Clemson is once again a favorite to return to the College Football Playoff. They always have good talent and return 15 starters from last season.
On the defensive side of the ball, that defensive line is appointment television with at least four future NFL players. They will be tasked with slowing down Williams and making it tough for whoever the quarterback ends up being for Texas A&M.
The offense will have a lot of playmakers returning. Kelly Bryant and co. should be able to put up points in this game, although Bryan’ts throwing ability will be put to the test against a very long secondary, especially with him breaking in some new receivers around Hunter Renfrow.
This game can either be the first big step towards Clemson’s return to the College Football Playoff or the first big win for Fisher at Texas A&M.
4. LSU vs. Miami in Arlington, TX (Sep. 1)
Miami nearly made the College Football Playoff last season in Mark Richt’s second season at the helm. LSU is always competitive and will help create one of the many great matchups of the opening weekend of college football.
The Hurricanes return 14 starters. On offense, Malik Rosier will have to prove he can pass better than last season in this game as he is going up against a great secondary. He will have help with talented receiver Ahmmon Richards in the lineup and Travis Homer helping balance the offense in the run game.
The defense could hold LSU scoreless because of their linebackers and secondary. They have three junior linebackers, including Shaq Quarterman, who are all playmakers with speed. The secondary features a lot of seniors but if they want to limit LSU’s attack they need to prove they can help in run support.
LSU doesn’t return talent at all positions but recruits well enough where it won’t be the biggest issue. On offense three offensive linemen return, but Myles Brennan will have to prove he’s as good of a player as advertised coming out of high school at the quarterback position. The Tigers will keep the ball on the ground a lot, as Miami only brings back one starting defensive lineman from last season.
The defense will be tasked with keeping this a low-scoring affair, so that their offense may be able to put up just enough points to win the game. In this game, if they hold them to three or seven points, it still might not be enough. Linebacker Devin White will need to be all over the field like last season to help lead this defense to a stellar performance good enough for a win.
LSU might not be as talented as every year, but will still be able to compete in this game. As for Miami, it has to feel good to play in big-time non-conference games once again.
3. USC at Texas (Sep. 15)
Last season this game didn’t look like much on paper, but Texas was able to force the game into OT before falling to USC. Now this game looks to be competitive, even if neither team are real title contenders.
Texas had an up and down year in Tom Herman’s first year, but now return 12 starters and get in some of his recruits. Offensively, the quarterback competition will still have to be settled, but whoever wins the job needs to find Collin Johnson, the 6-foot-6 receiver, often.
The defense is going to start a lot of upper-classmen. They were a solid defense overall, but terrible against the pass. If they can correct that, the Longhorns will have a chance to win this game and do some damage in a Big 12 that is more wide-open than last year.
There is a lot of talent returning for USC, but the biggest question mark is at quarterback. JT Daniels, Jack Sears or Matt Fink will be flanked by some good talent, so someone needs to step up and take the job. If they can, they may be able to take advantage of that lackluster Texas secondary.
USC’s secondary is very talented along with their linebackers. The defensive front is where there are some inexperienced players. Texas will likely try to take advantage of this so everyone will have to crash the line and hope that the Longhorns can’t beat them with their passing game.
2. Auburn vs. Washington in Atlanta, GA (Sep. 1)
Two national championship contenders will meet up on the first Saturday in the season. While the loser may not be eliminated from the chance to play in the College Football Playoff, the winner will have an early leg up on nearly every other team in the country.
Washington will have one of the best offenses in the country this season. It will be able to run the ball with Myles Gaskin and pass with Jake Browning behind a talented offensive line that has Trey Adams as a top NFL Draft prospect. They will need some wide receivers to step up after losing John Ross and Dante Pettis in consecutive years because if the offense is one dimensional, it will be hard to win this game.
The Huskies have a chance to sport one of the best defenses in the country as well, as they have nine starters returning. Their secondary will be great, but they’ll need to find replacements at linebacker and on the defensive line for some really good players who are now in the NFL. Auburn will likely run the ball a lot and see if the replacements can fill in well.
Auburn will be looking to Jarrett Stidham to make their offense really pop this season. The running game is always productive but if the passing game can pick it up a little bit they can really be a good unit. He’ll have Ryan Davis at wide receiver on the outside to help him with that. This secondary will surely make it tough, so Stidham will have to be at his best.
The front seven, which includes Marlon Davidson and Dontavius Russell, should be able to slow down Gaskin but there are some unproven players in the secondary. If they can step up and match the play of the inexperienced receivers for Washington, this has the makings of a defensive struggle.
This is a game that will have great implications and pit some really great players against each other.
1. Michigan at Notre Dame (Sep. 1)
Yes, this rivalry is back for a new edition. Jim Harbaugh is still vying for a season that is deemed worthy by Michigan fans, while Brian Kelly is trying to bring a championship to South Bend.
Notre Dame lost two offensive linemen in the first round of the NFL Draft, but they have some experienced and talented players filling in. The success of the team relies on the quarterback and skill position players stepping up. They will not have it easy in their first game against Michigan.
Fans are excited to see how the defense performs, even though defensive coordinator Mike Elko has departed for Texas A&M. Each level of the defense has returning players and potential stars. The ones who will really make their names known are defensive tackle Jerry Tillery, linebacker Te’Von Coney and safety Alohi Gilman. They will have to force Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson into mistakes to win this game.
Michigan will be relying on Patterson to inject some life into this offense. He’ll have three offensive linemen back and Donovan Peoples-Jones in his second year as a receiver that has hopefully taken some steps forward this offseason. Patterson will have a lot to do because the running game will likely not offer much support.
The defense is what could set this team apart. Rashan Gary should be able to show more of what he can do in his third season on the defensive line. Linebacker Devin Bush is very fast and will need to continue to track down ball carriers around the field. The secondary returns all starters and should be able to shut down most passing games. If they can do that and make Notre Dame one dimensional, they’ll have a great chance to win.
The history, expectations and implications of this matchup make it a great way to kick-off the season.