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The Top 50 Non-Conference Games of 2011
Oregon RB LaMichael James & LSU WR Russell Shepard
Oregon RB LaMichael James & LSU WR Russell Shepard
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Mar 7, 2011


They're the games that get the conference debates going, and for the top teams, they're the ones that shape a season. They're the games used to compare and contrast, and they're the games that bring the respect. They're the non-conference games, and CFN highlights the 50 most important ones - and some that should be just play fun - that you must watch.

2011 Spring Preview - No. 20
 
Top 50 Non-Conference Games

(No. 1-10)

2011 Spring Preview
- Top 50 Non-Conference Games (No. 1-10) 
- Top 50 Non-Conference Games (No. 11-20) 
- Top 50 Non-Conference Games (No. 21-30) 
- Top 50 Non-Conference Games (No. 31-40) 
- Top 50 Non-Conference Games (No. 41-50) 
2010 Spring Preview - Top 50 Non-Conference Games 
2009 Spring Preview - Top 50 Non-Conference Games 
2008 Spring Preview - Top 40 Non-Conference Games 
 
10. USC at Notre Dame, Oct. 22

USC had a decent year considering it had nothing to play for. There were clunkers against Oregon and Oregon State, but the Trojans could’ve and should’ve won tight battles with Washington, Stanford, and Notre Dame. It doesn’t matter what the excuses, you can’t lose to the Irish if you’re the USC head coach, and Lane Kiffin appeared to know it at the time. With the rivalry game coming in the middle of the season, it might get lost a little bit in the shuffle of big conference games, but it all depends on what each team does with its first half of the season. The Trojans will be four games into Pac 12 play and hold the interesting distinction of not facing a non-BCS team (if you include the Irish) this year. The game means everything to the Irish in a home sandwich game between Air Force and Navy. The schedule isn’t all that bad after a tough September, and a win over USC might be the catalyst to huge second half.

9. Auburn at Clemson, Sept. 17

Most remember the epic comeback over Alabama as Auburn’s toughest win in its championship season, but an argument could be made that it was the overtime win over Clemson. In one of the hardest-hitting games of the year, the team teams traded body shots all game long in a phenomenal battle that could’ve gone either way. Cam Newton wasn’t Cam Newton yet and had one of his worst outings of the season, but the Tigers survived and went on to have its all-timer of a season. This Auburn team appears to be a shadow of its former self, needing at least a year before some of the great recruiting classes mature, and it’ll have dealt with a nasty SEC opener against Mississippi State the week before. If Auburn is 3-0 after facing Clemson, it should have an unbeaten September before going on the road to face South Carolina. Clemson gets warm-ups against Troy and Wofford, and if it can beat the defending national chaps and beat Florida State at home the week after, look out.

8. LSU at West Virginia, Sept. 24

The two teams played a somewhat strange, but very entertaining game in Baton Rouge with the Tigers pulling off a 20-14 victory. This year, LSU will have already have faced Oregon in a neutral site game in Cowboys Stadium, and it’ll have kicked off its SEC season at Mississippi State, but everything else about the schedule works out relatively well – even with a date at Alabama. The Tigers can afford to lose one game and still be in the hunt for the national title, but it can’t be against a veteran West Virginia team that could be a dangerous sleeper in the national title chase. With Dana Holgorsen revamping and boosting up the offense, the Mountaineers could be a scary out. If they can get by a road game at Maryland, and pull off the home upset over the Tigers, they’ll be front and center in the national title chase.

7. Florida at Florida State, Nov. 26

As if Will Muschamp doesn’t have enough pressure to deal with in his first season, he has to close out a rough slate against a strong Florida State team looking to make it two in a row. The Seminoles embarrassed the Gators 31-7 last season, and they’ll have the talent on both sides of the ball to do it again unless Muschamp and his staff can revitalize the program in a year. The Gators get a week off to prepare with a light scrimmage against Furman, while Florida State will be finishing up the ACC schedule before going to Gainesville, and if all goes according to plan, there will be bigger fish to fry in the conference title game a week later. Florida has won six of the last seven in the series, and with the recruiting classes that Jimbo Fisher has put together, needs to take back the rivalry in a hurry.

6. Boise State vs. Georgia (in Atlanta), Sept. 3

When last we saw Boise State get a chance against Georgia in a big statement game to open up a season, Jared Zabransky couldn’t stop giving the ball away in a 48-13 Bulldog stomping of the upstart WACers. The Broncos have gone 70-8 since that loss and have moved up in national respect since the embarrassment in Athens, but they need to come up with another splashy opening day win – after beating Virginia Tech last year – to get the national debate going again about whether or not they’re worthy of being in the BCS Championship chase. If they win, it might be a one game season with the only truly dangerous game left on the slate against TCU at home. Things are far different for a Georgia team coming off a wildly disappointing season and a bowl loss to UCF. Head coach Mark Richt is on a hot seat, and with the SEC schedule kicking off the following week against South Carolina, and with a trip to Georgia Tech to finish up, losing to Boise State in what amounts to a home game will be a big, big problem.

5. Arkansas vs. Texas A&M, Oct. 1

This matchup seems like it should’ve been great over the last two seasons, but it wasn’t. The 24-17 Arkansas win over A&M last year was relatively entertaining, but the 47-19 Hog win in 2009 was a mega-disappointment. Can things be different this year with two high-powered offenses and plenty of hope for both? The Aggies were red hot over the second half of last year with Ryan Tannehill at the helm, and he gets back almost all the top players around him to make the offense more potent. Arkansas has to go on without Ryan Mallett, but Tyler Wilson could be just as prolific a passer with all the top wide receivers returning. The key might be momentum with Arkansas coming off the SEC opener at Alabama and with Auburn coming up a week later, while A&M will have played Oklahoma State in the Big 12 opener the week before and with a trip to Texas Tech to follow.

4. Ohio State at Miami, Sept. 17

Al Golden was hired to wins games like this. Randy Shannon did a good job with Miami, but he didn’t do enough in ACC play and he didn’t beat enough big-name teams. Last year, the Canes would’ve had the Buckeyes in trouble before the interceptions started to flow – with four from Jacory Harris – in a 36-24 loss. There won’t be any excuses this time around for Miami, and it’s almost a no-win game for Golden in a lot of ways considering it’s at home and Ohio State won’t have Terrelle Pryor, DeVier Posey, and Dan Herron. With road games at Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Florida State, and South Florida still on the schedule, a loss might be devastating for Golden and any hopes of a strong first-year record. Ohio State can probably lose this game and still be in the hunt for the national title considering everyone will understand that it’s a different team without the offensive stars, but a win might mean a 5-0 start before getting everyone back for the Nebraska showdown. There will be some rough battles with Colorado and Michigan State, but they’re at home.

3. Alabama at Penn State, Sept. 10

It’s a bit of a stretch to say that last year’s 24-3 Alabama trouncing of Penn State exposed the Nittany Lions as average, but it showed they weren’t ready for primetime. It could be a much different story this year for Penn State with eight starters back on both sides of the ball and looking to show to make a defining statement with the win. Alabama is Alabama and is one of the most talented teams in the country, but it’ll have to be ready to roll without QB Greg McElroy, WR Julio Jones, RB Mark Ingram, and three other key starters. It’ll be the national debut for either A.J. McCarron or Phillip Sims after what should be a terrific battle for the Alabama starting quarterback job, but Penn State’s veteran defense will be certain to make it a fight. Joe Paterno is famous for never looking ahead to a big game no matter who the opponent is the week before, but even he’ll have to acknowledge that facing Indiana State in the opener will allow his team to spend the offseason focusing on the Tide.

2. Oklahoma at Florida State, Sept. 17

In Oklahoma’s weird and uneven 2010 season, it needed everything in the bag to beat Utah State in the opener and to get by Air Force and Cincinnati in tight games, but it was a 47-17 walk in the park against a Florida State team that went to the ACC title game and finished with ten wins. This year, OU will be just about everyone’s No. 1 team going into the year, or at least top three, but it has to go to Tallahassee this time around. The Seminoles won’t have Christian Ponder at the helm, but they will have 20 returning starters and a boatload of talented young players from two phenomenal recruiting classes. OU gets to start out the season with a shootout against Tulsa, and it has a showdown against Missouri to kick off Big 12 play after facing the Noles, but it has two weeks off to prepare for it nastiest non-conference game by far. FSU blew away Florida last year and has started out hot under Jimbo Fisher, but beating the Sooners would be special. With dates against ULM and Charleston Southern to prepare, the Noles should be ready for their last home game until late October.

1. Oregon vs. LSU (in Dallas), Sept. 3

Yes, the two teams have played before, but it was a much different world in 1977 as LSU blasted the Pac 8’s Oregon 56-17. They also faced off in the 1930s, splitting the series, but things are just a wee bit different this time around in this national title-caliber matchup.

Can LSU handle the Oregon pace? It’s one thing to spend the entire offseason trying to prepare for it, but it’s another to actually have the wind to go through it in live action. Without a tune-up game to get into live game shape, it’ll be up to the Tiger offense to control the tempo from the start and control the clock. Certain to be in almost everyone’s preseason top five, LSU can come up with a huge win for its season and for the SEC, but it’s not like things get too much easier with a trip down the road to face a sneaky-strong West Virginia and with conference play still to deal with. Is the offense up to the challenge and can it hang punch-for-punch? This will be telling to see how far the coaching staff, and if he’s the starting quarterback, Jordan Jefferson, have come.

Oregon has the talent returning to rev up the high-powered offense to 2010 levels, and while the new Pac 12 will be interesting and there will be some challenges, it’s not out of line to suggest that a win in Arlington should set the bar even higher for a possible run to the national title. There’s a date at Stanford and going to Arizona, Washington and Colorado will be interesting, but any team with national title aspirations, and any team good enough to beat LSU in Dallas, should be able to win those. Last year was big, and 2011 can be even more fun, and the new Pac 12 can gain a huge measure of respect, with a Duck win.

2011 Spring Preview
- Top 50 Non-Conference Games (No. 1-10) 
- Top 50 Non-Conference Games (No. 11-20) 
- Top 50 Non-Conference Games (No. 21-30) 
- Top 50 Non-Conference Games (No. 31-40) 
- Top 50 Non-Conference Games (No. 41-50) 
2010 Spring Preview - Top 50 Non-Conference Games 
2009 Spring Preview - Top 50 Non-Conference Games 
2008 Spring Preview - Top 40 Non-Conference Games