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2008 Spring Preview - Top 40 Non-Conf. Games
USC LB Brian Cushing
USC LB Brian Cushing
Posted Feb 26, 2008

As spring ball kicks in, it's time to start looking ahead, way ahead, with the 20 big questions of the off-season beginning with the 40 Top Non-Conference Games. There are several big first-time matchups, while two juggernauts square off in a national title-like showdown.

Spring Preview 2008

The 20 Big Questions

By Pete Fiutak 

With spring ball underway, here are the 20 Big Questions to start off the offseason, beginning with the top non-conference games. Next up: How good will the season be? What are the likely new rule changes? What non-BCS team could be a BCS buster, and was all the goodwill ruined by Hawaii's loss to Georgia?

20. 40 (plus one) non-conference games to get really, really excited about ...

Along with the always great conference rivalry games, there are more than enough good non-conference games to get fired up about. If these don't give you a few special feelings, you're reading the wrong publication.

SMU at Texas Tech, Sept. 13
Gear it up. June Jones and SMU will have a little bit of time to warm up the engines for a game that should be one of the biggest displays of offensive fireworks this season. One thing to note: SMU was 116th in the nation in pass defense last year and gave up 473 passing yards and four touchdown passes in last year's 49-9 loss.

Fresno State at Kansas State, Sept. 6
The Wildcats went to Fresno in the final week of their 2007 regular season in need of a win to go to a bowl game. The Bulldogs roared in a 45-29 win thanks to a 23 of 29, 313-yard, two touchdown passing day from Tom Brandstater.

North Carolina at Rutgers, Sept. 11
UNC is hardly in as bad a shape as Rutgers was when Greg Schiano started turning things around, but this could still be a statement game. If Butch Davis truly has things on the right track in Chapel Hill, his young team pulls off a big road win like this. The Big East, perception-wise, probably can't afford a loss here.

Texas Tech at Nevada, Sept. 6
While this might not seem like that big a deal, it's not just Texas Tech's only non-conference road trip, it's also its only game against a 2007 bowl team until the October 18th trip to Texas A&M. If you like offense, the Wolf Pack was 11th in the nation while Texas Tech was second.

Oregon State at Utah, Oct. 2
Utah was looking to make a statement in last year's season opener against the Beavers, and instead it lost QB Brian Johnson to a broken collarbone and lost starting RB Matt Asiata for the year in a 24-7 loss.

BYU at Washington, Sept. 6
A quirky game that could get lost in the early season shuffle, BYU has to go on the road and show, without question, that it's one of the nation's better teams, especially with the UCLA game to follow. Washington, and especially Ty Willingham, can't afford a loss after opening up at Oregon and with Oklahoma coming to Seattle the week after.

Kansas State at Louisville, Sept. 20
Call this one of the best 2007 bowl matchups between teams that didn't get invited anywhere. This is a nice island game for the Wildcats, with two weeks off to prepare after facing Fresno State and with two weeks to rest before starting the Big 12 season against Texas Tech.

UCF at Miami, Oct. 11
These two have never played, and it might be the one chance for George O'Leary's UCF team to beat Miami before Randy Shannon's program becomes a mega-monster. No, the Knight won't get the same recruits the Canes will, but a win would still do wonders when it comes to getting the in-state talent.

California at Maryland, Sept. 13
The first ever meeting between these two will be vital for Maryland to get in the national consciousness, while Cal could either be reeling, or ready to make a statement after opening the year against Michigan State and at Washington State.

Oregon at Purdue, Sept. 13
If you like the Big Ten - Pac 10 debates, this one's for you. If Oregon wants to be the national power it thinks it is, it needs to reload and keep up the pace in a likely shootout against Curtis Painter and the high-powered Boilermaker attack. It's the first meeting between the two programs since a 13-7 Purdue win in 1979.

USC at Virginia. Aug. 30
USC needs to use this as a tune-up before the showdown against Ohio State. In their last six road openers (Colorado in 2002, Auburn in 2003, Virginia Tech in 2004, Hawaii in 2005, Arkansas in 2006, and Nebraska in 2007), the Trojans are 6-0 against the highly-ranked teams by a combined score of 249 to 78 (41.5 to 13). This is the first meeting between the two programs.

Iowa at Pitt, Sept. 20
Both once-proud programs are looking for a big breakthrough season with teams strong enough to get back to bowl games after not going last year. The winner will have a big feather in its cap before diving into their respective conference seasons. Pitt one the last meeting between the two, 26-14, in 1952 when Iowa was in the Western Conference.

South Florida at UCF, Sept. 6
UCF had better show up in this in-state series in a big, big hurry or be cemented as the Sunshine State's fifth best team for a long time. USF is 3-0 in the last three years, including last season's 64-12 bombing, to outscore the Knights by a combined total of 119 to 40.

Oklahoma at Washington, Sept. 13
Oklahoma's last venture into the Pacific Northwest didn't exactly go well, losing to Oregon 34-33 in one of the most controversial games in college football history. The week before the fiasco, the Sooners beat Washington in Norman.

Fresno State at UCLA, Aug. 30   
For those of you desperate to see a sequel to the 2003 Silicon Valley Bowl, a scintillating 17-9 Bulldog win, your wish has come true. Fresno State has a good enough team to be a BCS at-large sleeper, while UCLA will be looking to come out roaring in Rick Neuheisel's opener.

Notre Dame at Boston College, Nov. 8
The Notre Dame schedule is tougher than it appears, but there are only three games against bowl teams in the first eight. And then comes the date with Boston College, who'll have to sandwich the Irish between Clemson and Florida State.

Michigan State at California, Aug. 30
It wouldn't be like Ohio State winning at USC, but considering the PR hit the Big Ten has taken recently, a MSU win in Berkeley would do wonders. The Spartan schedule is wide open after, so there's an outside chance of a 7-0 start with an upset.

Oregon State at Penn State, Sept. 6
It's the first ever meeting between the two as the Beavers visit Beaver Stadium (sorry about that). It's a weird start for OSU going on the road to face Stanford, Penn State and Utah, to go along with home dates with Hawaii and USC in the first five games, but an upset win would likely mean a 3-0 start before dealing with the Trojans. Penn State will coast to 4-0 with a win.

Kentucky at Louisville, Aug. 30
UK's win over Louisville in the rivalry game was the jumping off point for its big season, while it set the wheels in motion for a rough first campaign for Steve Kragthorpe. The Cardinals had better win their season opener, especially after beating the Wildcats four times in a row before last year, or else the seat will get really, really warm under Kragthorpe's bump.

Wisconsin at Fresno State, Sept. 13
The last time these two hooked up, David Carr was winging it and Bernard Berrian was tearing off big returns as Fresno State just missed in a 23-21 loss to the Badgers in something called the John Thompson Classic. Fresno State is loaded and will be looking to pull off another big upset at home. Wisconsin can't be looking ahead to Michigan.

West Virginia at Colorado, Sept. 18
It's the first time the two programs have ever met with Dan Hawkins and Colorado looking to make a major statement to kick off a brutal stretch against the Mountaineers, Florida State, Texas and Kansas. Meanwhile, this will be the first big test for Bill Stewart as the full-time head coach.

Boise State at Oregon, Sept. 20
It only seems like these two teams play all the time, but that's Oregon State, not Oregon. Even though it seems to make sense geographically, this is the first time the two teams have ever met. It's a heck of a home oasis for the Ducks after going to Purdue and with dates at Washington State and USC to follow. This has to be the Broncos' statement moment if they have any BCS dreams.

Miami at Texas A&M, Sept. 20
Last year's showdown between the two big names was supposed to be among the biggest non-conference games of the season, but Texas A&M decided to blow off its running game in a strange 34-17 loss. Yeah, the Canes really got revenge for that 70-14 1944 loss.

Utah at Michigan, Aug. 30
If you thought Appalachian State was a rough home opener for the Wolverines, wait until they have to deal with Brian Johnson, Darrell Mack and a Utah team that's more than good enough to get the RichRod era get off to a resounding thud. It took everything in the bag for Michigan to win 10-7 in 2002 in the only meeting between the two teams.

Cincinnati at Oklahoma, Sept. 6
The two teams combined for 21 wins last season, with each hitting the double-digit mark. OU will get the Fiesta Bowl taste out of its mouth with an obliteration of UT-Chattanooga, but it had better be ready to face the defensive pressure of a Brian Kelly program looking to make a national splash.

Notre Dame at USC, Nov. 29
Yeah, USC has won six in a row in the series, and yeah, it's been insanely one-sided with Pete Carroll's boys winning by a combined score of 246 to 92 (an average of 41 to 15.3), but it's still one of the greatest of rivalries. It's the regular-season finale for Notre Dame and a chance to show just how far the team has come since last year's disaster.

South Carolina at Clemson, Nov. 29
One of college football least appreciated rivalries, Steve Spurrier could desperately use a win as the Gamecocks have lost five of the last six including last year's 23-21 bowl-costing heartbreaker. Tommy Bowden has lived off this series.

Michigan at Notre Dame, Sept. 13
The Irish have lost the last two to the Wolverines by a combined score of 85 to 21, but Charlie Weis can quickly start to erase memories of last year's disaster with a big win. Rich Rodriguez can't start off his introduction to this series with a loss, even if his program will need a year or so to get the pieces in place.

UCLA at BYU, Sept. 13
You'll finally be able to sleep well knowing the 1-1 tie from last year's meetings will be broken. This is a statement game for both programs as BYU needed a blocked extra point to beat a battered and wounded Bruin team in the Las Vegas Bowl, and now Rick Neuheisel's team should be much stronger. A Cougar win would prove that Bronco Mendenhall has a heater on his hands, while this would be a very, very nice win if the Bruins can get it.

12. Virginia Tech at Nebraska, Sept. 27
A rematch of the 1997 Orange Bowl, a 41-21 Husker win, it's also the first real test for Bo Pelini after starting out with Western Michigan, San Jose State and New Mexico State. With Missouri and at Texas Tech to follow, the Huskers can't afford a loss. This is the second road trip for Tech in a nasty stretch of four road games in five dates.

Arkansas at Texas, Sept. 13
Bobby Petrino, welcome to the old Southwest Conference days and your first really, really big game since leaving Louisville. He'll get a chance to tune up against Western Illinois and UL Monroe, and then reality sets in against the Longhorns, Alabama, Florida, at Auburn and at Kentucky, making this almost a must-win to get a little momentum going. A win for Mack Brown and Texas would likely mean a 4-0 start before dealing with the Big 12 season.

Kansas at South Florida, Sept. 13
This is the prove-it battle that would've been a blast in the middle of last October. Yes, Dorothy, Kansas is playing a real, live non-conference game. For everyone wondering if the Jayhawks are the real deal after last year's shocking campaign, this game will show it. This is South Florida's shot to show off on a game of national importance and a chance to give the Big East a big win.

Tennessee at UCLA, Sept. 6
If the hoops teams if they play in March, will the showdown on the football field take a back seat? Tennessee got blasted at Cal in last year's opener in the first road trip against a Pac 10 team since a 30-24 win over UCLA in 1997. The Vols get a tune-up against UAB while UCLA has to get by a nasty first game against Fresno State. Beating the Bulldogs will be better than it might appear, if Rick Neuheisel can pull it off, but a win over Tennessee would really get the Bruin crowd moving. These two used to play all the time in the mid-80s and early 90s, but this battle will have even more intrigue than some of those classics.

Florida at Florida State, Nov. 29
The Gators have won four straight in the one-time major-league series, with the Noles bottoming out in a 45-12 loss last year, and now if the FSU program is going to start turning things around in the Jimbo Fisher era, presented by Bobby Bowden, then this is a home win it must have. Florida gets to rest and relax against Citadel the week before the rivalry.

Georgia Tech at Georgia, Nov. 29
Chan Gailey was a good head man for Georgia Tech, but his failures against Georgia ended up doing him in. The Yellow Jackets have lost seven straight in the series, and if new head coach Paul Johnson can come up with the win, and better yet, if he can ruin a Georgia national title run, this will quickly become a must-see rivalry. Will the option work against the Dawg defense? This is probably the last type of attack Georgia will want to deal with in the regular season finale.

Miami at Florida, Sept. 6
The Canes get one game, Charleston-Southern, to figure out the quarterback situation and get the offense moving, and then it's prime time in Gainesville. A win would instantly change the perception of the early part of the Randy Shannon era, while an impressive performance by the Gators would set the tone to a possible national title run. While it seems like this is an every year rivalry, the two haven't played since the 2004 Peach Bowl and Florida hasn't won since a 35-23 victory in 1985.

Alabama vs. Clemson
(in Atlanta), Aug. 30
Every once in a while, a non-conference game is just plain interesting. If Clemson is the power team it's supposed to be, it keeps the Alabama four-game regular season losing streak going. If Nick Saban's Tide program is ready to turn a corner, this would be a nice time to do it. The fan base is already nuts after one of the nation's best recruiting classes, and a win over the Tigers would send expectations through the roof.  The Tide won the last meeting between the two 56-0 in 1975 and has won the last 11.

Georgia at Arizona State, Sept. 20
Alright Georgia, if you're really a national title contender, prove it. The Dawgs will be coming off a nasty SEC road opener against South Carolina while ASU gets three tune-ups. It's very likely Dennis Erickson's club could be playing two of the top three ranked teams in the span of a few weeks facing the Dawgs and going to USC, with a trip to Cal in between. Georgia hasn't faced a Pac 10 team since beating Oregon State 41-7 in early 1987, while ASU played an SEC just a few years ago when a road trip to LSU got moved to Tempe, thanks to the Hurricane Katrina aftermath, with the Tigers winning 35-31 in the final moments.

Auburn at West Virginia, Oct. 13
One team has mastered the spread attack, and the other is just starting to figure it out. If Auburn had Pat White, where would it be ranked? As is, West Virginia head coach Bill Stewart gets a shot to come up with a big, big win that would prove his program is among the elite of the elite. This is Auburn's toughest road test by far until ending the year at Alabama.

Illinois vs. Missouri (in St. Louis), Aug. 30
Who could've ever guessed that last year's 40-34 Missouri win over the Illini, with Illinois coming up with a big late comeback to make it close, would've been a battle between two teams that would've combined for 21 wins? As strange as it still might seem for the long time basketball rivals, this football showdown is far, far bigger with BCS implications.

Ohio State at USC, Sept. 13
It's the epic matchup of superpowers you really wanted to see over the last few seasons, and it could've been the 2007 BCS Championship game if the Trojans hadn't gagged against UCLA. These two have played each other in a slew of recent Rose Bowls, right? The last game between the two was in 1990, with USC winning 35-26. The last Rose Bowl matchup was in 1985, and the last Buckeye win over the Trojans came in the 1974 Rose Bowl. The winner will likely be the nation's No. 1 team, or at least No. 2, with full control of its national title destiny.