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Hold your seats everybody we are officially less than one month away till college football kicks off. One of the best things about college football starting is we get a ton of great non-conference battles early on in the season before conference play kicks in.
Here are the top 10 best non-conference games of the year which will help shape the College Football Playoff come December:
1. Notre Dame at Georgia, Sept. 21
Not only is this the best non-conference game of the season but it's the best overall game of the year regardless of conference affiliation. Both programs should be in the top 5, undefeated "under the lights" in Sanford Stadium. There also could be some bad blood since a lot of Georgia players decided to Twitter trash talk when Clemson rolled over ND in the Cotton Bowl playoff game. For some odd reason UGA thought they belonged in the playoffs over ND even with two losses on their resume. UGA went on to play Texas in the Sugar Bowl and got ran over by Bevo pregame and by the Longhorns players throughout. Both teams are legit playoff contenders again this season. This is also only the 3rd matchup between the two teams with UGA winning a close one in 2017 in South Bend 20-19. This game is also the hottest ticket on the market as it will mark the first time Notre Dame has played "between the hedges." This game is so big that it was recently announced it would be played on CBS in prime time, under the lights, while bumping the traditional Alabama - LSU clash in November to a 3:30 start. Not only are playoff implications on the line but possible Heisman Trophy contention could be decided as top 10 favorites Jake Fromm will battle it out with Ian Book.
2. LSU at Texas, Sept. 7
Can we really say "Texas is back!" this year? Yes. Yes we can. How many teams beat both Oklahoma and Georgia last season? Only one. Those fighting McConaugheys. All right all right. Texas has their Tim Tebow-like QB back in Sam Ehlinger and will face a fired up LSU squad looking to beat up on a team they share a border with but rarely face. This game in just the 2nd week of the season will help determine if Texas is really back under Tom Herman and if LSU can contend to make a playoff this season.
3. Auburn vs. Oregon, AT&T Stadium (Arlington, Texas), Aug. 31
Kudos goes out to Auburn for scheduling another PAC-12 team out of conference. Last season they beat Washington, who went on to win the conference, in Atlanta opening weekend. This year they face the Ducks, who some say can win the PAC 12 under Mario Cristobal, in Jerry World. Oregon has their QB back for his senior season in Justin Herbert who will be looking to make a Heisman push opening weekend vs a good Auburn pass rush. Auburn will be looking to make a national push under coach Gus Malzahn. If Auburn loses this game Malzahn will be on the hot seat all year as they have road games at Texas A&M, Florida and LSU not to mention games vs Georgia and rival Bama too. This is a must win for the Gus Bus.
4. Texas A&M at Clemson, Sept. 7
The Aggies came the closest to beating Clemson last year as they went down to the wire in a thrilling game in College Station. As we all know once freshman QB Trevor Lawrence was injected into the starting lineup shortly after no one stood a chance as Clemson rolled to one of the best, if not-the-best, seasons in college football history 15-0. Jimbo Fisher will be looking to build off a positive first season with the Aggies but is gonna have his hands full trying to stop Lawrence and WRU studs Justyn Ross and Tee Higgins not to mention RB Travis Etienne. Right now this looks like it could be Clemson's toughest test of the season as they have to replace their entire defensive front.
5. Miami vs. Florida, Camping World Stadium (Orlando, Florida), Aug. 24
The first official college football game of the season comes early vs two in-state teams that hate each other even though they don't face each other very often. This will be Miami head coach Manny Diaz's first game at Da U as he is looking to bring the swag back to South Beach which apparently left a long time ago. He's gonna have his hands full as of now they still haven't got a starting QB named. Florida will be looking to build off a solid 10-win season under coach Dan Mullen in year 1 which included a blowout of Michigan in the bowl game. This game August 24th in Orlando is gonna be so hot and disgusting that it should probably be rated NC-17 as clearly the viewing is not intended for minors. As a college football fan I fucking love it.
6. Notre Dame at Michigan, Oct. 26
Catholics vs Khakis is back! For the first time that I can recall this game between the two bitter rivals will not come in early September, instead it's in late October. The Khakis will be looking for revenge as Harbaugh's Michigan team got pushed around last year in South Bend. This year for some strange reason Michigan is again ranked by many pundits to be a top 5 program and will be looking to make a statement vs Brian Kelly's potential top 5 squad. ND will be coming off battles vs UGA and USC but they have a bye week heading into Ann Arbor which should help returning QB Ian Book prepare against a revamped Wolverines defense that got scorched by Ohio State and Florida to end the season. Both programs could be in playoff contention come kickoff but whomever loses will most certainly have those playoff aspirations dick punched.
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7. Stanford at UCF, Sept. 14
The "back-to-back undefeated National Champs" UCF saw their 25-game winning streak end last season in the Fiesta Bowl vs LSU and will be looking to make a statement vs the might conifers of Stanford. This is a huge game for both programs as Stanford will be looking to rebound after a disappointing 2018 season with senior QB K.J. Costello back. UCF will be looking to start a new winning streak under ND transfer QB Brandon Wimbush behind center. I'm not sure how much playoff implications are on the line here but we know for sure who ever loses will not be in it. For the UCF haters out there that could be music to their ears.
8. Houston at Oklahoma, Aug. 31
Dana Holgorsen makes his Houston debut against powerhouse Oklahoma in Norman. Holgorsen will look to put a ton of points on the board with senior QB D'Eriq King who accounted for 51 TDS last season. Oklahoma not to be outdone will debut Alabama transfer QB Jalen Hurts who will be looking to keep the Heisman Trophy transfer winning streak going under QB whisperer Lincoln Riley. If you like shootouts this could be the most entertaining game of the season in week 1.
9. Florida State vs. Boise State, TIAA Bank Field (Jacksonville, Florida), Aug. 31
We all know Willie Taggart had an "interesting" first year in Tallahassee which saw the Seminoles winning record and bowl streak come to an end last year. Taggart will be looking to get off to a good start vs an underrated Boise State team who remains one of the top non Power 5 teams in the country. If Taggart loses this game basically at home even though it's in Jacksonville the tomahawk chop could quickly become pink slip chops for himself and the AD.
10. Nebraska at Colorado, Sept. 7
Frost is coming early to Boulder! Scott Frost will be looking to build off a positive 2nd half of his 1st season in Lincoln with a road win at Colorado. The former Big Eight rivals played last season in a game that went down to the wire 33-28 in favor of the Buffaloes. Nebraska QB Adrian Martinez returns and brings a dynamic punch for the Cornhuskers offense. While it's just year 2 this game could be used as a major statement for Frost and company especially when it comes to recruiting on the national stage. But let's be honest there are no playoff implications in this game.
Army at Michigan, Sept. 7: ESPN currently has this game as Michigan with a 95.5% chance of winning at home. I'm not so sure about that. I think Army could pull the upset especially coming off a 10-2 season in which one of the losses was in overtime to Oklahoma.
Oklahoma at UCLA, Sept. 14: Chip Kelly's offense vs Lincoln Riley's offense should be entertaining for the first quarter till Oklahoma torches them in the Rose Bowl.
Pitt at Penn State, Sept. 14: The old "EAT SHIT PITT" rivalry game between two in-state programs should be entertaining even with both programs looking at rebuilding years.
CFB Playoff Odds - Probability (via @betonline_ag )— Todd Fuhrman (@ToddFuhrman) March 12, 2019
Y -250; N +195 (67.8%)
Y -250; N +195 (67.8%)
Y +110; N -140 (44.9%)
Y +145; N -175 (39.1%)
Y +160; N -200 (36.6%)
Y +300; N -400 (23.8%)
Y +300; N -400 (23.8%
Y +350; N -500 (21.1%)
Betonline released their top college football playoff odds probability for next season and it's hard to argue the first two in Clemson and Alabama.
Clemson and Dabo have been to the playoffs 4 years in a row and have a 5-2 playoff record with two Natty's under their belt. Bama and Saban have been to the playoffs 5 years in a row with a 6-3 playoff record and also two Natty's. If my math is correct that means Clemson has made the playoffs 80% of the time and Alabama has made it 100%. I would safely assume to bet good money on both of these juggernaut programs to make the playoffs again. With both being at 67.8% odds right now you might as well load up a mortgage or kid's college fund on it or at the very least some hooker money on it.
UGA at 44.9% is too high. Even with Jake Fromm back they still have Kirby Smart as their coach and he's good for at least 2-3 losses per season. Yes UGA has played Bama close recently but they still lost those games. The Dawgs have made the playoffs once going 1-1. I'd say their odds are better at 20%.
Oklahoma at 39.1% looks right. Sooners have made the playoffs 3 of the 5 years but have yet to win a playoff game even with two Heisman Trophy winners in Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray leading the way. Their defense still sucks but they got one of the best young coaches in the game in Lincoln Riley who has made the playoffs both seasons in Norman. Throw in transfer Jalen Hurts who has never missed the playoffs and by going by the numbers alone Oklahoma looks like the best bet here with their odds.
Ohio State is interesting at 36.6% because they have a new head coach and a new QB in Justin Fields. You really don't know what you are going to get out of either at this point. What we do know is Ohio State has made the playoffs twice. My math says that's 40% and looking at their schedule I don't see any sure fire L's on it.
Michigan on the list at 23.8% has to be a joke. Michigan has never made the playoffs. They lost all of their best defenders and as we saw in their Big Ten finale last season vs rival Ohio State they still gave up 62 points with those guys. The Buckeyes simply own Michigan and Jim Harbaugh. I don't see that changing this year.
Notre Dame at 23.8% is about right. They have made the playoffs once and played for a Natty 6 years ago. The talent and depth returning for the Fighting Irish is impressive but they will need to beat two teams (UGA and Michigan) on this list on the road in order to make the playoffs. They also don't have a conference championship to win so if they lose one game they are most likely out of the playoff race. QB Ian Book is back but Brian Kelly's track record with returning starters isn't the greatest at Notre Dame.
Texas is the hot team right now at 21.1%. After the Longhorns dismantled UGA in the Sugar Bowl and beat Oklahoma during the regular season the steers are definitely pointing up. The problem with Texas is they have to beat Oklahoma twice to make the playoffs. Good luck with that Longhorns.
Two of the top 3 Heisman vote getters from 2016 are back including the winner Lamar "Action" Jackson. But like last year Jackson came from out of nowhere to win the school's first ever Heisman Trophy for Louisville so don't take this list as the end all, be all.
Here is a look at the preseason candidates I feel have the best chance of hoisting the hardware in New York City.
Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville: A playmaker with his arms and legs the reigning Heisman winner will have his work cut out for him this season as every opponent's objective will be to contain him. He took an insane amount of sacks last year: 46. Needs to cut it in half if he hopes to even walk to NYC.
Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma: Wake n Bake has back-to-back NYC invites in his back pocket as a Heisman finalist. If he wants to win one this season he has to beat Ohio State in Columbus.
Sam Darnold, QB, USC: Darnold seems to have the early momentum going for him in terms of preseason Heisman hype. Not a starter at the beginning of the 2016 season, he led USC to 9 straight wins to close out the year. If he puts up the numbers he did or exceeds them he's a lock for an invite.
JT Barrett, QB, Ohio State: It was a rocky up and down season for Barrett last year despite getting the Buckeyes to the College Football playoffs. His QBR continues to decline as he gets older which is alarming.
Jake Browning, QB, Washington: After having shoulder surgery it appears the Pac-12 Offensive player of the year is ready to roll and get the Huskies back to the playoffs. After finishing 6th last year in Heisman voting his main competition will be Darnold for West coast votes.
Deondre Francois, QB, FSU: Francois will get plenty of chances to make a Heisman push starting with week 1 in Atlanta vs Alabama.
Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State: The Big Ten offensive player of the year appears to be the best returning back in the nation. If Barkley puts up another 2000 plus all-purpose yards and has Penn State in National Title consideration he should "hurdle" to get an invite.
Jalen Hurts, QB, Alabama: The SEC offensive player of the year as only a true freshman Hurts will need to improve his passing efficiency as teams will continue to stack the box in order to stop the run.
Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State: The rising senior had a spectacular 28 TD-to-4 INT ratio last year. Perhaps one of the more underrated players in the nation, if Rudolph can get the Cowboys a Big 12 Championship he will be a contender for the Heisman.
BACK FROM INJURY
Seth Rosen, QB, UCLA: Coming off shoulder surgery the Rosen One will need to live up to his high school hype and beat the likes of crosstown rival USC in order to crack consideration.
Derwin James, S, FSU: James is coming off a meniscus tear in his left knee that caused him to redshirt 2016 season. While he is a safety he is also a special enough athlete to garner recognition like Jabrill Peppers did last year for Michigan.
Bo Scarbrough, RB, Alabama: Coming off a broken leg in the National Title game vs Clemson no Heisman list would be complete without at least one Bama running back on it. Scarbrough will get plenty of chances to make a statement like Mark Ingram and Derrick Henry did starting in week 1 vs FSU.
DON'T FORGET ABOUT
QUARTERBACKS: Trace McSorley (Penn State), Luke Falk (Washington State), Nick Fitzgerald (Mississippi State), Quinton Flowers (South Florida), Josh Allen (Wyoming)
RUNNING BACKS: Royce Freeman (Oregon), Nick Chubb (UGA), Josh Adams (Notre Dame), Derrius Guice (LSU), Kamryn Pettway (Auburn)
WIDE RECEIVERS: James Washington (Oklahoma State), Calvin Ridley (Alabama), Equanimeous St. Brown (Notre Dame), Courtland Sutton (SMU)
THE MULTIPURPOSE CANDIDATES
Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M: Coming off nearly a 1000 yard season receiving Kirk also had 3 kick returns for TDs last season. He's one of the most dynamic players in the nation and will be feared by all special teams coordinators.
Jarrett Stidham, QB, Auburn: The Baylor transfer is already getting serious Heisman dark horse consideration talk down in Auburn because of his dual-threat capabilities. If Stidham can lead Auburn to a SEC Championship game you better believe he can also make it to NYC for a Heisman invite.
Brandon Wimbush, QB, Notre Dame: The redshirt sophomore is the unquestioned leader of the ND offense now with Deshone Kizer in the NFL. Wimbush has the same build and leadership skills of Brady Quinn who was a two-time finalist and also has plenty of offensive weapons around him to lead a potent Fighting Irish attack this fall.
Kyle Allen, QB, Houston: The Texas A&M transfer put up some impressive numbers in the SEC before suffering a AC sprain in his shoulder. At Houston he will be given the chance to run Major Applewhite's offense that should put up points and contend for a New Year's six bowl.
Ed Oliver, DT, Houston: Defensive players have basically next to none shot at winning the Heisman but I still gotta put Oliver on this list because he's that special. As a true freshman last year he started all 12 games and despite the constant double teams he managed to sack the QB five times.
Arden Key, DE, LSU: Key is one of the top underclassmen's in Mel Kiper's 2018 NFL Draft position rankings. Coming off a 12 sack season the rising junior will be a force to be reckoned with all year vs the Bayou Bengals.
Dexter Lawrence, DT, Clemson: Still just considered a freshman Lawrence is a future #1 overall draft pick who is so great it would be impossible for me to keep him off this list. While playing nine games as a true freshman Lawrence racked up 7 sacks, two fumble recoveries, two block kicks and a team-leading 20 QB pressures. It would not be shocking to see Lawrence get double digit sack numbers this season.
With the Coaches and AP preseason polls both out I figured I would look at the programs who are the most underrated going into the 2016 season. These teams are all predicted to either finish middle of the road or near the bottom of their respective conferences despite their numerous starters returning and top head coaching ability.
1) Pittsburgh Panthers - Pitt went 8-5 in their first season under coach Pat Narduzzi. They return 8 starters on each side of the ball including cancer survivor James Conner, the ACC Player of the Year in 2014. I could see them contending for the ACC Coastal division even though many pundits have them finishing near the bottom half of the division.
2) Wisconsin Badgers - The Badgers won 10 games in their first season under coach Paul Chryst. They have a roster capable of winning the Big Ten North over Iowa. If they can somehow manage to beat LSU in their opener at Lambeau Field I could see them upsetting the likes of Michigan and Ohio State this year because of the confidence factor.
3) TCU Horned Frogs - TCU is projected to finish 5th in their conference behind Oklahoma, Baylor, Oklahoma State and even Texas (a team they beat 50-7) despite winning 11 and 12 games the last two seasons. You know head coach Gary Patterson is going to have them ready to make some noise and it wouldn't shock me to see them win the Big 12 even with Kenny Hill at QB.
4) Utah Utes - The Utes have the best defensive talent in the PAC 12 and return a veteran offensive line from a team that won 10 games last season including beating the likes of Michigan and Oregon by 42 points in Eugene! But still most pundits have them finishing in the back of the PAC 12 South. If they can find a consistent QB and some solid playmakers on offense I don't see any reason why they can't contend for a PAC 12 Title under coach Kyle Whittingham.
5) BYU Cougars - Taysom Hill is back at QB! BYU also returns 16 starters and while their coaching staff is brand new and the schedule is rather brutal the first half I can see them upsetting the likes of Utah, UCLA, West Virginia, Michigan State and Mississippi State. They should score a ton of points under first year coordinator Ty Detmer's offense.
College Football week 1 betting lines are already out. Here are some games I'm going heavy on to get the ball rolling for early Christmas shopping aka filling up the SportsCrack Pub with booze and victory cigars.
Georgia Tech (-3) vs Boston College in Dublin - Last year was a disastrous season for Justin Thomas and the Yellow Jackets. Big expectations were thrown on Paul Johnson and his crew because of an 11 win 2014 season. Now everyone thinks they suck because they went 3-9. They are playing an awful Boston College team in Dublin and since I've been to Dublin to watch college football (ND vs Navy 2012) I'm 100% confident the Yellow Jackets run all over the Golden Eagles. GT covers big!
Houston (+10) vs Oklahoma - How in the world is Houston at home a double digit underdog? This game will be close and right now I'm leaning on Tom Herman and his Cougars for the down right win. 10 points is way too much. Oklahoma is a tad overrated going into this season anyways. Houston as the homedog!
Wisconsin (+10) vs LSU at Lambeau Field - While it's not on their homefield you know Wisconsin is going to play their asses off on Lambeau Field. It's basically a home game for them and SEC teams don't travel well north of the Mason Dixie line. Leonard Fournette will have a big game and I think LSU wins a close one but you gotta take Wisconsin as the double digit dog here!
USC (+10.5) vs Bama at JerryWorld - In terms of pure talent USC with maybe the exception of LSU might be the only team that can match up with Bama athletically on their schedule. Everyone has been talking about how Bama is going to blow out the Trojans in Dallas but I don't see it. I think USC gives them a run for their Nick Saban bail money. Take FUSC as the dog!
Notre Dame (-4.5) at Texas - Last year ND throttled Texas 38-3. This year they return a seasoned QB (Deshone Kizer or Malik Zaire it won't matter) going into Austin vs a true freshman QB for the Horns. Charlie Strong is already fighting like mad to keep his job but this result will not help. ND beats Texas and wins big!
Ole Miss (+6) vs FSU in Orlando - For some reason and it's really the only reason I can't shake how bad FSU got beat by Houston in the Peach Bowl. I also can't forget how Ole Miss has beaten Bama the last two seasons. The Rebels match up well here with the Criminoles and will be sending in Swag Kelly to face a likely first time starter in Deondre Francois. I'm betting my money on Kelly to get the job done. Ole Miss wins a close one!
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