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Texas at Michigan, Miami at Florida headline the Top 10 non-conference games of the 2024 season

On3 imageby:Jesse Simonton07/08/24


With the latest round of conference realignment and the dissolution of divisions in every power league, we’re in store for some crazy-good games in the 2024 season. 

But don’t sleep on this fall’s non-conference slate, either, which features a bunch of matchups with potential College Football Playoff stakes. There’s also an all-time narrative game in Week 1 and several classic helmet matchups. 

Here are my Top 10 non-conference games in the 2024 season:

Steve Sarkisian, Sherrone Moore
Ricardo B. Brazziell | American-Statesman | USA TODAY NETWORK – Junfu Han | USA TODAY NETWORK

1. Texas at Michigan — Week 2 (Sept.  7)

The Wolverines will put the nation’s longest active winning streak to the test against a Texas team looking to make a road statement for the second straight season. Last year’s win over Alabama propelled Steve Sarkisian’s team to a Big 12 title and a College Football Playoff berth, and a victory in the Big House — even against a depleted Michigan team — could similarly catapult the Longhorns to a special season in Year 1 of the SEC. Sherrone Moore takes over the reigning national champs, and the former Wolverines’ OC isn’t a stranger to coaching in major matchups — beating Penn State and Ohio State as the team’s interim last season. A win against a Top 5 Texas team would more than validate Moore’s promotion, though.

2. Miami at Florida — Week 1 (Aug. 31)

Narrative. Narrative. Narrative. Both fan bases have been sweating this game for months already, and then when it finally comes, it will be 3:30 Saturday afternoon with temps probably in the high-80s and 80% humidity. On one sideline stands Billy Napier, who is 11-14 and needs as much early goodwill as any coach in America. On the other is Mario Cristobal, who continues to excel in everything but coaching games on Saturdays. The Gators have one of the hardest schedules ever, so a Week 1 loss would put a desperate program behind the eight-ball already. The ‘Canes have gone all-in on chasing a ACC Championship, but a loss in Gainesville (in a game they’re favored) would mean Cristobal would’ve won just once in his last six games. Talk about pressure. Welcome to the 2024 Anxiety Bowl. 

3. LSU vs. USC (Las Vegas) — Week 1 (Sept. 1)

If Miami at Florida is the Anxiety Bowl, this is the Doubt in the Desert — as in the loser is going to feel really concerned about the direction of their program despite neither Brian Kelly nor Lincoln Riley being in any danger of getting fired. LSU has lost two straight marquee openers against Florida State, and even though the Tigers didn’t do enough in the portal to address concerns in the secondary and defensive line, they still have a much better overall roster than USC. Riley reportedly wanted out of this game, which only heightens the game’s intrigue. These two programs produced the last two Heisman Trophy winners and both fired their defensive coordinators from last season. 

4. Georgia vs. Clemson (Atlanta) — Week 1 (Aug. 31)

At first glance, this game might merit a higher ranking on this list. It’s a gorgeous helmet matchup, and we’ve seen these teams tussle several times in the last decade. But the programs are trending in very opposite directions — as evidenced by the game’s way-too-early line which has Georgia as close to a two-touchdown favorite. The Bulldogs bring back one of the best rosters in the country, while the Tigers have continued questions offensively because of Dabo Swinney’s refusal to use the transfer portal. The opener will feature two of the top defenses in 2024, so the good (UGA offense) on good (Clemson defense) showdown could provide some early clues as to how the rest of the season could play out. 

5. Notre Dame at Texas A&M — Week 1 (Aug. 31)

This is a juicy, juicy matchup. Marcus Freeman is entering the pivotal Year 3 at Notre Dame — taking a Top 10 team with a stacked defense and Duke transfer quarterback Riley Leonard into College State against former Blue Devils head coach Mike Elko. The Aggies have quietly had a strong offseason, and the roster is in much better shape than many might perceive after a slew of portal departures. ESPN’s College GameDay will be in attendance for this one, setting the stage for one of the biggest games in Week 1. We’ll find out right away if EA Sports is right about Kyle Field being the toughest stadium to play in.  

6. Penn State at West Virginia — Week 1 (Aug. 31)

While the Backyard Brawl is a more venomous rivalry, these two neighbors don’t share a lot of love, either, and WVU will look to get a bit of revenge after getting waxed at Penn State last season. The Mountaineers are at home this time, and might actually have the better quarterback between Garrett Greene and Drew Allar. West Virginia is looking to continue its momentum after winning nine games in 2023 — but to do so means Neal Brown hit right on a slew of defensive portal additions. The same can be said for Penn State’s latest offensive coordinator. How quickly can Andy Kotelnicki put his fingerprints on a spotty offense? 

7. Florida State at Notre Dame — Week 9 (Nov. 9)

These two rivals played an overtime thriller in 2021, and this year’s matchup between potential Top 15 teams should be primetime viewing. The Irish have one of their easier schedules in many, many years, and yet they show-up twice on this list. That’s the Independent life for ya. Depending on the outcome in Week 1 against the Aggies, this is probably a game Notre Dame must win to ensure its College Football Playoff hopes. The Seminoles are the co-favorites to win ACC again in 2024, so the matchup doesn’t carry quite as much weight. DJ Uiagalelei famously had the best game of his career in a loss to Notre Dame four years ago. Can he replicate the same magic and lead FSU to an upset win?

8. NC State vs. Tennessee (Charlotte) — Week 2 (Sept. 7)

This is a really fun matchup between two programs that exist within similar tiers in their respective conferences — not at the top but aiming to chase a championship and make the College Football Playoff. Both teams are coming off 9-win seasons, with the nation set to get its first real glimpse of 5-star phenom Nico Iamaleava. Tennessee’s rebuilt secondary will be tested by NC State’s new-look, portal-makeover offense that includes All-ACC playmaker KC Concepcion, quarterback Grayson McCall and transfer receivers Noah Rogers and Wesley Grimes.

9. Alabama at Wisconsin — Week 3 (Sept. 14)

Kalen DeBoer’s first challenge as the head coach for the Crimson Tide will be a road trip to Camp Randell to square off against the Badgers. Wisconsin had a disappointing Year 1 under Luke Fickell, but they hit the portal hard in hopes of fixing an offense that was broken for much of 2023. Considering the rest of Alabama’s schedule (notable games against Georgia, Tennessee, Missouri, LSU, Oklahoma — all preseason Top 25 teams), this is a game the Tide need to win if they hope to make the College Football Playoff this fall. 

10. Colorado at Nebraska — Week 2 (Sept. 7)

The Buffs walloped the Cornhuskers 36-14 in Deion Sanders’ home debut, with quarterback Shedeur Sanders putting on a show with nearly 400 total yards and three touchdowns. But Matt Rhule stands to have a much improved team in Year 2, and it could be Nebraska’s young quarterback Dylan Raiola who has the coming out party this season. The Cornhuskers also get to ease into 2024 with an opener against UTEP, whereas Colorado faces FCS power North Dakota State in Week 1. 

Honorable Mention: Arizona at Kansas State (yes, the two Big 12 foes are actually moving forward with a previously scheduled series that won’t count in the conference standings), Washington vs. Washington State (the Apple Cup lives on!) and UCF at Florida.