Top College Football Non-Conference Games & Early Predictions
The best and brightest non-conference games of the 2017 college football season, complete with the early, early, EARLY predictions.
2017 Top 40 Non-Conference College Football Games
40. Air Force at Michigan, Sept. 16
Both teams are rebuilding, but they have a few weeks to figure it out before they meet. The Wolverines had to scratch and claw their way to a 31-25 win over the Falcons the last time they met in 2012. This time around, it’s the final tune-up before the Big Ten season starts.
March, Pre-Spring, Knee-Jerk Early Prediction: Michigan 31, Air Force 6
39. Toledo at Miami, Sept. 23
The two met just once before, with an awful Toledo team giving an eventual national title Hurricane squad a run in a 24-14 1987 battle. This time, watch out. The Rockets might be the best team in the MAC, while Miami will be coming off the massive road game at Florida State.
March, Pre-Spring, Knee-Jerk Early Prediction: Miami 34, Toledo 17
38. Oregon at Wyoming, Sept. 16
Just how hot will Wyoming be? Can QB Josh Allen pull off a shootout win at home over a Duck team coming off the Nebraska game and with the Pac-12 season at Arizona State starting up the week after? It’s only the second meeting, with Oregon winning 48-14 in 2014. Expect a wild game with neither defense doing anything positive.
March, Pre-Spring, Knee-Jerk Early Prediction: Oregon 45, Wyoming 34
37. Western Michigan at USC, Sept. 2
Call this the measuring stick starter for USC before dealing with Stanford and Texas next. Sam Darnold and company should be able to roll over a rebuilding WMU program with a new head coach and too many new starters from last year’s Cotton Bowl boat rowers, but the Trojans have to show up. The two have never met.
March, Pre-Spring, Knee-Jerk Early Prediction: USC 44, Western Michigan 17
36. UCLA at Memphis, Sept. 16
UCLA won a wild 42-35 shootout in 2014, but this time around it’s in Memphis against a very, very good team looking to make a national statement. With the Pac-12 opener at Stanford coming up next, the Bruins can’t lose focus or they’ll get bombed.
March, Pre-Spring, Knee-Jerk Early Prediction: UCLA 34, Memphis 30
35. Wyoming at Iowa, Sept. 2
Iowa lost to North Dakota State last season, and this year it has to face a former Bison head coach. Craig Bohl and a dangerous Wyoming team are looking to make a huge splash to kick off the season, and they might be just good enough to do it. The spotlight will be on Cowboy QB Josh Allen in what could be his NFL draft prospect big moment.
March, Pre-Spring, Knee-Jerk Early Prediction: Iowa 26, Wyoming 20
34. Army vs. Navy, Dec. 9
Army was able to bust through the long, long losing streak last season and finally make this a true rivalry again – at least in terms of competitive balance. For the first time in a long, long time, Army-Navy really and truly is worth watching for more than just the pageantry.
March, Pre-Spring, Knee-Jerk Early Prediction: Navy 23, Army 20
33. San Diego State at Arizona State, Sept. 9
Can San Diego State – the two-time defending Mountain West champ – show that it’s every bit as good as it’s been over the last two seasons? With Stanford coming up next, and a favorable slate the rest of the way, it could be a two-game run to see if they’ll be in the New Year’s Six chase. Oddly enough considering how close the two are geographically, this is only the 11th meeting, and the first since 2007.
March, Pre-Spring, Knee-Jerk Early Prediction: Arizona State 27, San Diego State 20
32. Western Michigan at Michigan State, Sept. 9
Okay, Michigan State. Are you back to being good again? It’ll be a long, long off-week before the Notre Dame showdown if the Spartans can’t beat the guys down the road. With USC before this, there’s a chance Western Michigan loses more games before September 10th than it did all of last year, but the spotlight is brightly on MSU. It needs to look and be impressive.
March, Pre-Spring, Knee-Jerk Early Prediction: Michigan State 31, Western Michigan 10
31. Georgia Tech at UCF, Sept. 16
Just how good is Georgia Tech? The UCF defense might be rebuilding a bit, but it was terrific last season and might have something up its sleeve to slow down the Yellow Jacket offense. It’s a huge game for the Scott Frost era – a win would launch UCF nationally – while this would be a home killer for Tech if it loses. It’ll be the fourth meeting, with Georgia Tech winning the last one in 2000.
March, Pre-Spring, Knee-Jerk Early Prediction: Georgia Tech 24, UCF 16
30. Utah at BYU, Sept. 9
The Holy War will set the tone for each program’s season. Utah has it relatively easy to start the year, but the Pac-12 slate kicks in hard soon after – a loss could mean a rough first half. BYU is coming off a date with LSU and has Wisconsin up next, but with no conference title to play for, this is the game that really and truly matters to the program.
March, Pre-Spring, Knee-Jerk Early Prediction: BYU 27, Utah 24
29. Mississippi State at Louisiana Tech, Sept. 9
It was one of Louisiana Tech’s worst performances of the season, getting rolled by a struggling Mississippi State team 45-20 in Starkville. This time around, it’s a home game for the Bulldogs – the Conference USA version – while the ones from the SEC will need to keep their focus with LSU up next. Can Louisiana Tech get the offense back up to speed and bomb away? It should be a great test for the MSU D.
March, Pre-Spring, Knee-Jerk Early Prediction: Mississippi State 41, Louisiana Tech 31
28. Stanford at San Diego State, Sept. 16
Look … out. Stanford should be good enough to win the Pac-12 North and potentially take the conference title, but this is a dangerous sandwich date in between a trip to USC and a home game against UCLA. This might not be the Aztec team of last year, but it’ll get a few games to warm up for what could be a make-or-break moment for the Mountain West and its best program over the last two seasons. The two have only met four times, with Stanford winning the last game in 1988 31-10.
March, Pre-Spring, Knee-Jerk Early Prediction: Stanford 17, San Diego State 13
27. Houston at Arizona, Sept. 9
Houston made a name for itself – and got Tom Herman the Texas gig – by rolling over the big boys from the big leagues over the last two seasons. Arizona is hardly 2016 Oklahoma or 2015 Florida State, but it’s still going to be a jacked up team in need of a big early win. After last year’s disastrous season, this is huge for Rich Rodriguez – the Cats will almost certainly go 3-0 before the Pac-12 season starts if they win. The two programs have only met twice, with Arizona last winning 37-3 in 1986, but losing in 1969.
March, Pre-Spring, Knee-Jerk Early Prediction: Arizona 38, Houston 34
26. Arizona State at Texas Tech, Sept. 16
It wasn’t the shootout it was supposed to be in the 2013 Holiday Bowl – Texas Tech won 37-23 – but in the third meeting between the two, the fireworks should be there. Both teams backed late in the season when fighting for bowl eligibility, and both programs need to keep the pressure off the head coach. Coming off the San Diego State game, this will be very, very difference for the Sun Devils, while Texas Tech should be ready to roll with a week off to prepare.
March, Pre-Spring, Knee-Jerk Early Prediction: Texas Tech 40, Arizona State 37
25. Notre Dame at North Carolina, Oct. 7
It’ll be an interesting first month for both teams, and with what’s coming next, this is a decent bridge game to reassess where both are at. The Fighting Irish will get a week off before dealing with USC, while North Carolina dives knee-deep into the rest of the ACC season after this. It’s only the third time the two have meet, but the first two were doozies. The Irish won a 50-43 firefight in 2014, while the Tar Heels took a 29-24 battle in 2008.
March, Pre-Spring, Knee-Jerk Early Prediction: Notre Dame 34, North Carolina 30
24. Texas Tech at Houston, Sept. 23
Houston will have already played Arizona, and Texas Tech will have dealt with Arizona State the week before. If either one, or both, lose those big early games, the pressure will be on the two former big-time-quarterbacks-now-head-coaches – Major Applewhite at Texas and Kliff Kingsbury at Texas Tech – to come up with an important win. With Oklahoma State and the Big 12 slate up next, the Red Raiders need this more. Expect lots of points, lots of big plays, and lots of fun in a great atmosphere.
March, Pre-Spring, Knee-Jerk Early Prediction: Houston 41, Texas Tech 38
23. Oklahoma State at Pitt, Sept. 16
Can this please, please, please be as fun as last year’s game? Pitt will be coming off a date with Penn State – just like last season – and it should be yet another wild and crazy shootout after the Panthers stunned the Cowboys 45-38 in Stillwater. If the Panther secondary hasn’t improved, QB Mason Rudolph, WR James Washington, and the high-octane OSU offense will go nuts. However, it’s a home game for Pitt with a chance for the program – and the ACC.- to come up with the type of win used in the my-conference-is-better-than-your-conference debates.
March, Pre-Spring, Knee-Jerk Early Prediction: Oklahoma State 37, Pitt 34
22. Tennessee at Georgia Tech, Sept. 4
You want to hear some howling? You want the panic sirens to go off? Just imagine what would happen if Tennessee lost its opener in the place where it would like to finish up its regular season? It’s one of the several big early opening moments of the new Atlanta Stadium, with the two going at it in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in primetime. With a trip to Florida coming up two weeks later, the pressure will be on Butch Jones to figure out the option attack, or the hot seat will be flaming. The two programs used to play on a regular basis, but they haven’t met since 1987 – a 29-15 Volunteer win.
March, Pre-Spring, Knee-Jerk Early Prediction: Tennessee 34, Georgia Tech 17
21. TCU at Arkansas, Sept. 9
No throat-slashing gestures this time around. The 41-38 Arkansas win was one of the most thrilling games of the early part of last season, helped by TCU QB Kenny Hill’s ill-timed penalty that helped the Hogs pull it out. Both teams have big conference fish to fry in the weeks following this, and considering how the respective seasons went last year, the loser will have plenty of work to do to avoid another potential disappointing campaign.
March, Pre-Spring, Knee-Jerk Early Prediction: Arkansas 31, TCU 23
20. Boise State at Washington State, Sept. 9
Boise State was able to hold on for dear life last season in a 31-28 win over the Cougars, and then Wazzu went on a run winning eight straight games. This year, Washington State gets the Broncos at home before jumping into Pac-12 play, while Boise State has a rocky first half of the season and can’t give this away. For the Mountain West, this is a big moment early on – the league could use as many big brand name wins as it can get.
March, Pre-Spring, Knee-Jerk Early Prediction: Boise State 27, Washington State 21
19. Louisville at Kentucky, Nov. 25
It was one of the wackiest, wildest, most exciting games of last year, with Kentucky pulling it out with a dynamic running game to overcome a massive performance from Lamar Jackson. It’s the regular season finale for each team again, and it’ll be a great measuring stick a year after the 41-38 firefight.
March, Pre-Spring, Knee-Jerk Early Prediction: Louisville 37, Kentucky 23
18. Notre Dame at Stanford, Nov. 25
The Cardinal gutted their way out to a 17-10 win at South Bend last year, and – maybe – kept the Irish out of the College Football Playoff two years ago. It’s the regular season finale for both, and each team should be better and stronger than when they faced each other in 2016. What will this mean for Stanford? Will this be a fun exhibition before playing for the Pac-12 title, or will this be a step on the ladder for something bigger? What will the Brian Kelly job status look like at this point?
March, Pre-Spring, Knee-Jerk Early Prediction: Stanford 27, Notre Dame 13
17. Clemson at South Carolina, Nov. 25
Almost always a dogfight of a rivalry game, last season, this was when Clemson was kicking it into high gear on its national championship run. Remember, there was still some doubt about the Tigers after the loss to Pitt a few weeks earlier, and then came a 56-7 pounding of the Gamecocks to show that everything was working. How much better is South Carolina a year later? No matter how Will Muschamp’s second season is going, he and the program needs to take back the rivalry.
March, Pre-Spring, Knee-Jerk Early Prediction: Clemson 26, South Carolina 20
16. Virginia Tech vs. West Virginia (in Landover), Sept. 2
You’d think this matchup would be a regular thing, but it’s fallen away after their old Big East days – they haven’t met since 2005. Will this be Will Grier’s debut at quarterback for the Mountaineers? Who’ll be under center for Virginia Tech? Both teams have it relatively easy for a few weeks after the neutral site showdown – they both play East Carolina – so even in respective rebuilding years, the winner should get off to a hot start.
March, Pre-Spring, Knee-Jerk Early Prediction: Virginia Tech 30, West Virginia 21
15. NC State vs. South Carolina (in Charlotte), Sept. 2
It’s an interesting and important kickoff to the season for both teams. South Carolina is looking to come up with a big performance to start Will Muschamp: The Sequel, while NC State needs to show that it can beat a decent SEC team and might be a player in the ACC chase. It’s a neutral site game in Charlotte for the first time the two have met since a 7-3 Gamecock win in 2009. With these two defenses, there might not be much more scoring this time around, either.
March, Pre-Spring, Knee-Jerk Early Prediction: South Carolina 17, NC State 13
14. Wisconsin at BYU, Sept. 16
Big name teams often have a nightmare of a time making the trip to the elevated air of Provo, and this could turn out to be a trap for the Badgers. It’s the third meeting – BYU winning in 1980, and Bucky taking it in 2013 – and it’ll be a big moment for a Cougar team that will have already faced LSU and Utah before having to deal with the power and toughness from the Big Ten heavyweight. Wisconsin has a dreamy schedule with just two difficult road games – Nebraska and this. Don’t worry about how it looks – just get out with a win, if possible.
March, Pre-Spring, Knee-Jerk Early Prediction: Wisconsin 27, BYU 17
13. Georgia at Notre Dame, Sept. 9
The one and only time these two met, Herschel Walker was carrying the Bulldogs to the 1980 national title with a 17-10 win in the Sugar Bowl. The Dawgs have to come to South Bend in a massive moment for Brian Kelly and the Fighting Irish. Want to prove that 2016 was an aberration? Want to show that things are different? Beat the team that might win the SEC East. A Georgia win likely means a 4-0 start before going to Tennessee.
March, Pre-Spring, Knee-Jerk Early Prediction: Notre Dame 28, Georgia 23
12. Pitt at Penn State, Sept. 9
Who knew that Pitt’s 42-39 thriller over the Nittany Lions on September 10th of last year was going to play a massive role in the College Football Playoff selection? The two teams should come up with another wild shootout if everything goes according to plan, with former USC QB Max Browne possibly getting his first big chance to make the Pitt offense his. Beat the Panthers, and Penn State will almost certainly be 3-0 going into the Big Ten opener at Iowa.
March, Pre-Spring, Knee-Jerk Early Prediction: Penn State 38, Pitt 28
11. Notre Dame at Michigan State, Sept. 23
You would’ve been called wacky if someone told you 1) Notre Dame’s 36-28 loss last year at home to Michigan State was just a part of an eventual 4-8 clunker, and 2) Michigan State would go 1-9 the rest of the way. Considering the Fighting Irish will have played Georgia, and have a road date coming up at North Carolina a few weeks later, and with Iowa coming up next for the Spartans, there will be big, big problems for the loser. The Spartans get a week off to prepare.
March, Pre-Spring, Knee-Jerk Early Prediction: Michigan State 24, Notre Dame 23
10. USC at Notre Dame, Oct. 21
At least over the last few years, one of the greatest rivalries in all of sports has been reduced to a clunker for the loser – usually indicative of a disappointing, underachieving season – and simply a notch on the belt for the winner. This year, Notre Dame gets a much-needed week off to get ready to host a battle-tested Trojan team that’ll have faced Stanford, Texas, and road games at Cal and Washington State by this point. Considering the rest of the schedules for both teams, the loser is almost certainly out of the playoff hunt.
March, Pre-Spring, Knee-Jerk Early Prediction: USC 23, Notre Dame 17
9. Texas A&M at UCLA, Sept. 2
Josh Rosen was Josh Rosen – for good and bad – as UCLA lost to Texas A&M in a 31-24 thriller of a season opener. The stakes are the exact same this time around, with UCLA desperately needing a hot start after a 4-8 season, while the eternal hot seat under Kevin Sumlin will be turned up to 11 if the Aggies lose.
With dangerous road games at Memphis and Stanford – along with a date with Colorado – before September is up, the Bruins can’t give away the home game. With road games at Arkansas and Florida in the first half of the season, along with a home date against Alabama, a loss in LA would be an issue.
March, Pre-Spring, Knee-Jerk Early Prediction: UCLA 30, Texas A&M 24
8. Nebraska at Oregon, Sept. 9
Who knew that Oregon’s 35-32 loss in Lincoln last season would be the start of an ugly 2-8 run the rest of the way? It’s the first big moment for the Willie Taggart era, and while there’s a honeymoon, losing at home would hardly be a plus for a team with Pac-12 title upside and two road games to follow. The Huskers have a light and breezy September, needing to beat the Ducks for a possible 5-0 start before facing Wisconsin and Ohio State.
March, Pre-Spring, Knee-Jerk Early Prediction: Oregon 41, Nebraska 30
7. Notre Dame at Miami, Nov. 11
When a showdown is against a potentially loaded Miami team on the road in mid-November, it could and should be a big deal, even if the Irish have problems like last season. Notre Dame win over the Canes was one of the biggest puzzlers of 2016 – the team was good enough to beat Miami, and then come back to lose to Navy. This year, Mark Rich’s team has to keep its focus in the midst of the ACC schedule, but it’s a manageable back half of the season.
March, Pre-Spring, Knee-Jerk Early Prediction: Miami 34, Notre Dame 17
6. Auburn at Clemson, Sept. 9
Auburn’s defense did a better job against the eventual national champs than Alabama’s did. The ACC Tigers pulled out the 19-13 win in the 2016 season-opener, showing just how solid the SEC’s Tigers were going to be in a bounceback year. How will Clemson handle its first big game with the bull’s-eye on its back? Can Auburn make it’s own big statement early on? Either way, it should be another thriller.
March, Pre-Spring, Knee-Jerk Early Prediction: Clemson 27, Auburn 17
5. Florida State at Florida, Nov. 25
Forgetting for a moment that the last few Seminole-Gator games might have made the average sports fan want to quit college football, and life itself, it’s still a massive showdown that should take on bigger significance this time around.
Florida has got to show an offensive sign of life in the Jim McElwain era against FSU, while the Noles – if they’re as good as expected – will have to deal with The Swamp atmosphere to potentially stay in the hunt for the national title.
March, Pre-Spring, Knee-Jerk Early Prediction: Florida State 26, Florida 13
4. Texas at USC, Sept. 16
Yup. The last time these two played, it finished with confetti raining down on Vince Young and Mack Brown holding the BCS Championship trophy after the 41-38 2006 Rose Bowl win. Okay, Tom Herman – let’s see if you can bring some of that big game Houston magic to the Longhorn program.
Okay, USC – let’s see if you can prove you’re really and truly going to be in the national title mix with a win over Stanford followed up by a victory over the Longhorns?
March, Pre-Spring, Knee-Jerk Early Prediction: USC 30, Texas 21
3. Michigan vs. Florida (in Arlington), Sept. 2
For those of you patiently waiting for a rematch of the 41-7 Wolverine win over the Gators in the 2016 Citrus Bowl, your day is coming. Of course, Michigan is replacing just about everyone this time around, and of course, Florida should be better now that Jim McElwain has had a few years to work.
But here’s the narrative – Gator fans will be ticked if the team can’t beat a Michigan team with, roughly, 20 new starters, and Wolverine fans will likely have to put playoff dreams under Jim Harbaugh on hold for another year if Florida pulls this off.
March, Pre-Spring, Knee-Jerk Early Prediction: Florida 19, Michigan 17
2, Oklahoma at Ohio State, Sept. 9
As it turned out, this was a 2016 playoff game. Ohio State might not have won the Big Ten, or even the Big Ten East, but beating the dominant Big 12 champion in its own house was the CFP resume moment above all else. Had Oklahoma won, it would’ve ended up back in the tournament. The stakes are just as high this time around.
OU comes into the season looking like the Big 12’s best team, and OSU will certainly be deep in the hunt for the Big Ten title. Win, and you’re allowed a mistake along the way. Lose, and you’re out unless you’re perfect against everyone else. Go with the cliche – it’s a playoff game.
March, Pre-Spring, Knee-Jerk Early Prediction: Ohio State 30, Oklahoma 27
1. Florida State vs. Alabama (in Atlanta), Sept. 2
Ohio State might have something to say about it, Oklahoma could be in the discussion if the Baker Mayfield stuff shakes out, and USC types will throw their hat into the ring, but in some way, shape or form, if the preseason poll types know what they’re doing, this is a 1 vs. 2 matchup that could end up being repeated in Atlanta in early January.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, Alabama just reloads, but it really does. Last year’s team had far more issues and concerns, and it started out No. 1 and came within two seconds of going unbeaten. Florida State loses Dalvin Cook, but gets just about everyone else back, including a few next-level defensive backs from injury. No, the loser isn’t out of the national title hunt, but the winner has an inside track to getting a spot in the fun.
This will be just the fifth meeting all-time between the two, and the second – FSU won 21-14 in 2007 – since 1974.
March, Pre-Spring, Knee-Jerk Early Prediction: Florida State 30, Alabama 27