The start of the 2019 season is seven and a half months away, but it’s never too early to look ahead at the biggest nonconference games on the schedule. This list features several rematches, renewed rivalries and a Notre Dame first. But perhaps most importantly, all of these games figure to have College Football Playoff implications.
Here’s a quick glance at the biggest matchups we can’t wait to see:
1. Notre Dame at Georgia, Sept. 21
Let’s be real. The trash talk coming from Georgia players via Twitter as they watched Notre Dame get trucked by Clemson in the College Football Playoff semifinal makes this Week 4 matchup between the Irish and Bulldogs must-see TV. And considering both teams should be in the top 5 and playoff contenders again at that point, this one is already circled 50 times on the calendar though it’s eight months out. This will be Notre Dame’s first trip to Athens, Georgia, and a return game after the two played in South Bend in 2017 (Georgia won 20-19). It will be hard to ignore the playoff implications in this one, especially considering the Irish must once again — in all likelihood — be perfect to have any shot at the top four.
Clemson is the new king, but Alabama will be back, along with Georgia, Ohio State and Notre Dame, while a couple of teams from Texas elbow their way into the top 10.
From national champion Clemson to No. 25 Iowa, here are the best teams from the 2018 college football season.
2. LSU at Texas, Sept. 7
Texas is back! Coach O is redeemed! Let us all rejoice! Until someone loses this game, and then hoo boy — time to shut down social media. In all seriousness, this will be one of the most attractive nonconference matchups in 2019, given the way both teams finished bowl season. Both sides return quarterbacks with impressive bowl performances in Sam Ehlinger and Joe Burrow, and though LSU loses several talented players on defense, that unit should still be among the saltiest Texas will play next season.
3. Notre Dame at Michigan, Oct. 26
This game comes at an interesting time in both teams’ schedules. The Irish will have already played Georgia and USC; Michigan will have already traveled to Wisconsin and Penn State. If both teams manage to make it to this game undefeated, they are all but certain to be top-five teams with the playoff in their sights. Both teams return their quarterbacks, but the pressure on Jim Harbaugh is much higher than that which Brian Kelly faces.
4. Texas A&M at Clemson, Sept. 7
Texas A&M came the closest to derailing Clemson in 2018, going down to the wire in College Station after a big fourth-quarter rally. But that was a Clemson team that didn’t have Trevor Lawrence as its starting quarterback. Though the Tigers lose their entire defensive front, they are the team to beat heading into 2019 with Lawrence, Travis Etienne, Tee Higgins, Justyn Ross and others back. This could be the biggest test on Clemson’s schedule against a team that will be further ahead in Year 2 under Jimbo Fisher.
5. Auburn vs. Oregon, AT&T Stadium (Arlington, Texas), Aug. 31
Oregon appears to be on the rise again under Mario Cristobal after finishing the season with some momentum and signing a top-five recruiting class. It also gets quarterback Justin Herbert back for his senior season. Auburn coach Gus Malzahn may or may not have quieted his critics after the Tigers crushed Purdue 63-14 in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, but now he’s got to decide on a new starting quarterback. If Auburn loses this game, expect the howls about his job security to start right away.
6. Miami vs. Florida, Camping World Stadium (Orlando, Florida), Aug. 31
There is no love lost between the two in-state programs or their fan bases, and their first meeting since 2013 will include plenty of intrigue. Florida made major strides under Dan Mullen in Year 1, and now the question is whether the Gators can aim even higher in 2019. Meanwhile, Miami enters the game with Manny Diaz as head coach, taking over after Mark Richt’s surprise retirement. Miami is struggling through quarterback issues like those that have plagued Florida, and the play at that position could determine how well both teams fare in 2019.
7. Florida State vs. Boise State, TIAA Bank Field (Jacksonville, Florida), Aug. 31
Boise State remains one of the top Group of Five teams in the country, and locking in the Seminoles for a two-game series remains a scheduling win. Meanwhile, Florida State cannot afford a loss to open the season — not after a disappointing first year under Willie Taggart. This game was moved from Tallahassee to a neutral site in Jacksonville and will give us a better idea about these respective programs headed into 2019.
8. Stanford at UCF, Sept. 14
LSU broke UCF’s 25-game winning streak in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl, but there is one hard truth that remains unchanged: For UCF to have any shot at making the top four, it must go undefeated and have impressive nonconference wins to boot. On paper, Stanford is the best nonconference opponent UCF has on its 2019 schedule (Pitt is the other Power 5 nonconference game). If UCF loses either game, the playoff talk will end quickly.
9. Houston at Oklahoma, Aug. 31
Dana Holgorsen and his Red Bull will make their Houston debut against an Oklahoma team that says goodbye to Kyler Murray and hello to an entirely revamped defense under new coordinator Alex Grinch. The Cougars have an exceptionally challenging schedule, but running the table could make for a compelling playoff argument.
10. Nebraska at Colorado, Sept. 7
The hype machine has already started for the Cornhuskers in Year 2 under Scott Frost. They are ranked No. 24 in our Way-Too-Early Top 25 and return dynamic quarterback Adrian Martinez. The improvement was evident as 2018 went on. This is a rematch between former Big Eight rivals after Colorado won 33-28 in 2018, but the Buffs have serious questions after losing seven straight to close the season.
South Carolina vs. North Carolina, Bank of America Stadium (Charlotte, N.C.), Aug. 31: Mack Brown begins his second stint as North Carolina coach against a South Carolina team that had a disappointing 2018.
Arizona State at Michigan State, Sept. 14: Arizona State pulled off one of the biggest nonconference upsets a year ago with a field goal as time expired to beat Michigan State. Bet the Spartans have a little extra juice for this one.
Oklahoma at UCLA, Sept. 14: Oklahoma beat UCLA badly in 2018, and this game will be a huge measuring stick to see where the Bruins are in Year 2 under Chip Kelly.
Pitt at Penn State, Sept. 14: This is the last scheduled meeting between the two rivals, so you can bet Pitt is going to want to play a little bit better than it did in 2018, when it lost 51-6 at home to the Nittany Lions.