Every year, there are at least a few great non-conference matchups worth watching amidst a slew of Georgia Southern vs. SEC Power #3 games. Without further adieu, here's my top 5 non-conference games to watch in 2012:
#6 - Washington at LSU, Sept. 8
LSU is going to be really, really good this year. Washington will be bringing a rather green team into Death Valley with just 11 starters returning on both sides of the ball combined. What Washington is bringing back is a talented and experienced QB and three members from his offensive line. LSU will be breaking in a new offensive backfield but will have plenty of talent returning. Can Washington push LSU at all in this week two game? That's the question on my mind and one I'm definitely interested in the answer to.
#5 - Florida at Florida State, Nov. 24
The annual Florida/Florida State rivalry dominated the college football landscape in the late 90s. While a return to that sort of prominence probably isn't in the cards this year, this game could have serious implications. It's all there for Florida State to make a serious National Title push this year with Phil Steele even ranking the Seminoles #1 in the country. Florida, on the other hand, should have vastly upgraded at QB this year and could have one of the best defenses in the country. If a few things go right, this game might carry the weight of the 90s but most likely it'll be a game to determine which of these two teams end up with 10 or 11 wins on the season.
#4 - Auburn vs. Clemson (in Atlanta), Sept. 1
There is a lot of talk in both Auburn and Clemson about their squad's prospects for a run at something bigger this season, which may or may not be realistic for either team. Clemson is returning 15 starters off of a 10-win ACC Championship team, with an offense led by Tajh Boyd that promises to be amongst the best in the ACC. Auburn on the other hand returns most of it's defense (9 starters) from a year ago along with 7 offensive starters. Auburn is breaking in a new QB though, and that could be the difference in this game. If either team wants to make a push for at least their conference crowns, a win here would do a lot to really push things ahead.
#3 -Michigan at Notre Dame, Sept. 22
One of the best games last year, and it could easily be that way again. Depending on how the Wolverines emerge from the Alabama game, this could be another chance for Dernard Robinson to make a Heisman push and for Michigan to catapult themselves into the National Championship spotlight. If they emerge from this game undefeated, the Wolverines could be #1 or #2 in the country. Notre Dame needs this win badly. It's at home and a win here might be needed to rebound from the previous week at Michigan State.
#2 - Notre Dame at Oklahoma, Oct. 27
I'm really looking forward to this matchup as I will be in the stadium for it, so personally I have a bit of an upwards bias here. However, I'm not alone in anticipating this matchup for sure. Notre Dame is either going to be a battle tested team that has a few losses under it's belt or they're going to be a machine of a team way up in the rankings when they come to Norman. Oklahoma is 1-8 all time vs. Notre Dame, that may or may not mean something.
#1 - Michigan vs. Alabama (in Dallas, TX), Sept. 1
This in season bowl game is going to be a fantastic matchup. People are too quick to give Alabama the win, and while the Tide might be a big favorite in Week 1 -- I always have a rule that you can not rule out a dynamic senior quarterback looking to make a statement. Michigan was 3 TDs away from playing LSU in last seasons National Championship. Don't forget that important note.
Other Honorable Mentions: Stanford at Notre Dame, October 13. Nebraska at UCLA, September 8. Notre Dame at USC, November 24. South Carolina at Clemson, November 24. Cal at Ohio State, September 15. Arizona State at Missouri, September 15. Air Force at Michigan, September 8. Virginia Tech at Pitt, September 15.