Top 30 Group of 5 nonconference games
Everyone's going to talk about Georgia-Clemson, and for good reason. But how many people are talking about Boise State-UCF? Just as many people should be talking about that game but won't. What about Cincinnati's games against Notre Dame and Indiana? If you're a college football fan, and are looking to broaden your horizons, then these 30 games are just what you're looking for. Most of them might not have playoff implications, but you're going to miss out if you choose not to watch them.
1. Cincinnati at Notre Dame-- October 2nd
The Group of 5 champion against the 2020 College Football Playoff disappointment. If Cincinnati wants to move the meter for the underdogs at all, a win in South Bend would be huge. Desmond Ridder must step up in a big game once again, and do it against Cincinnati’s former DC Marcus Freeman.
2. Utah at BYU--September 11th
One of the most underrated rivalries is back, and both teams will look much different from the last time. BYU’s moving on from Zach Wilson while Utah ushers in the Charlie Brewer era. A great uniform matchup where the teams just also happen to not like each other, what more do you need?
3. Liberty at Ole Miss--November 6th
Malik Willis and Matt Corral square off in what should be a thrilling matchup. Depending on their records when they get to this point, this could be one of the games of the year. Liberty’s offense goes as far as Willis takes it, and Corral thrived in Lane Kiffin’s first year as the Rebels head coach.
4. Cincinnati at Indiana--September 18th
It’s tough to imagine a scenario where Cincinnati gets respect from the CFP committee, but a win here followed by a win over Notre Dame would move the meter a little. Desmond Ridder and Michael Penix are two of the most underrated quarterbacks in the country, and this one has exciting potential.
5. Nevada at Cal--September 4th
Jay Norvell took Nevada to new heights last year, and he returns with another stacked team. Carson Strong took a giant step forward, and gets top target Romeo Doubs back too. It’s hard to know what kind of team Cal was last year in the four games they played, but it still won’t be easy for the Wolf Pack to pull off the upset.
6. Coastal Carolina vs. Kansas--September 10th
Fun fact: Kansas has never beaten Coastal Carolina. The Chanticleers are also tied with every Big 12 team except Texas Tech for wins over the Jayhawks in the past two seasons. Even with freshman quarterback Grayson McCall, Coastal never wavered on the road. Now they’re looking for the trifecta.
7. SMU at TCU--September 25th
TCU appears to be on the way back up after its worst three year stretch under Gary Patterson. SMU is looking to retain the Iron Skillet after winning it in 2019. The Mustangs offense will be just as explosive this year as it was last year even with a new quarterback, and Patterson’s defense could be in store for a long day.
8. UCF at Louisville--September 18th
Last time Louisville faced an AAC team, Lamar Jackson was getting planted on the ground numerous times by Houston’s defense. Now they face a motivated UCF team with a new coach. Scott Satterfield is hoping this team can bounce back after a 4-7 season, and there will be plenty of new faces leading that charge.
9. Marshall at Appalachian State--September 25th
A top Group of 5 matchup was a defensive battle last year, with the Thundering Herd winning 17-7. The rematch should be just as good. Marshall QB Grant Wells got off to a hot start last year before cooling off, and he’ll have to prove he can sustain success over a longer period of time with key weapons gone.
10. Buffalo at Coastal Carolina--September 18th
This one won’t get as much attention as it deserves, but this has the makings of a classic. Coastal Carolina took the college football world by storm last year, but Buffalo did some damage too. The Bulls came one championship game short of an undefeated season, and they’ll be motivated to show the MAC is back against a good Sun Belt team.
11. San Jose State at Western Michigan--September 25th
Another underrated matchup that won’t get talked about as much. All Western Michigan has done is continue winning after PJ Fleck left. San Jose State exploded in 2020. Both teams return a good amount of talent, including both quarterbacks. So if you’re sick of watching the same big teams play, give this sneaky good game a shot.
12. Toledo vs. Colorado State--September 18th
I cannot emphasize how underrated some of these games truly are this year. Toledo hasn’t been elite for a couple years now, but they have the talent to get back. Colorado State’s offense is led by Dante Wright and Trey McBride, two underrated players, and we could be in store for a shootout.
13. Army vs. Air Force--November 6th
One of the three matchups for the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy. Air Force just had a double digit win season in 2019, and Army won nine games last year. With Navy trying to figure things out reeling from a rough 2020 season, this game carries a ton of weight for the winner of the trophy.
14. Boise State at UCF--September 2nd
What will Boise State look like with a new coach? It seemed like they didn’t have the same flare lately, so will they return to that level or regress? UCF’s in the same boat, so this one has big implications for more reason than one. Dillon Gabriel versus Hank Bachmeier will be one of the most entertaining QB matchups this season.
15. Liberty at Syracuse--September 24th
Liberty went to the Carrier Dome last year and made a statement with their 38-21 win. Flames quarterback Malik Willis returns this year, and the Orange won’t love facing him again. Dino Babers needs to find a way to revive his program, and a loss to Liberty and Hugh Freeze certainly wouldn’t help.
16. Nevada at Kansas State--September 18th
Nevada shocked many last year, and they have a chance to notch two Power 5 wins in 2021. Kansas State lost to Arkansas State last year, so an upset is more than a possibility here. Romeo Doubs could be in store for a big day for the Wolf Pack after we saw Red Wolves WR Jonathan Adams score three touchdowns against the Wildcats.
17. Buffalo at Nebraska--September 11th
Even without Lance Leipold, the Bulls should be motivated and ready to face the challenge that awaits them in Lincoln. A good way to start the season would be to beat a Nebraska team that’s scrambling for answers. Scott Frost lost a number of key players to the transfer portal, and will have his hands full with the Bulls.
18. Houston vs. Texas Tech (NRG Stadium)--September 4th
Last time these two teams played, it was an offensive shootout. It will look a little different, as neither team has the offensive firepower it did back then. Houston’s hoping Year 3 under Dana Holgorsen goes better than the first two, and a Power 5 win to start the 2021 season would ease concerns fans have about the direction of the program
19. Memphis at Arkansas State--September 11th
Memphis lost a ton of talent to the NFL Draft and the transfer portal, leaving Ryan Silverfield with a bunch of holes to fill. Arkansas State enters the Butch Jones era, and isn’t a stranger to pulling off upsets. With quarterback Logan Bonner off to Utah State, the Red Wolves offense belongs to Layne Hatcher.
20. Tulsa at Oklahoma State--September 11th
Tulsa was a fourth quarter implosion from an upset last year, and now has to try to pull off the upset without a couple key players in Zach Smith and Zaven Collins. Luckily, nearly everyone else came back, including almost everyone on defense. Oklahoma State also lost a couple big names, but returns a ton of key talent that makes them scary.
21. Army at Wisconsin--October 16th
For the first time ever, Army and Wisconsin will meet. Two defenses that refuse to break will square off against offenses that love to go slow. Wisconsin’s the more talented team, but that means absolutely nothing to Army. The Badgers offense is officially in the hands of Graham Mertz, but will they open up the playbook?
22. Navy vs. Army--December 11th
This game doesn’t have the same excitement that it once had, at least not on the field. It’s still one of the best games of the year, but Navy took a step back last year. The tradition remains intact, but it’s a more intriguing game when both teams are playing at a high level. Army is the favorite and Navy’s playing catch-up.
23. South Alabama at Tennessee--November 20th
If you haven’t watched Jalen Tolbert yet, tune in to this one. Tennessee will be working under new head coach Josh Heupel, who’s UCF teams didn’t exactly thrive defensively. Tolbert is an incredible deep threat capable of making anyone look bad. Sun Belt teams have had some recent success in Knoxville too, so keep an eye out for this one
24. BYU at USC--November 27th
BYU stunned the Trojans at home back in 2019, and now look to do the same on the road. USC made it to the Pac-12 Championship Game last year, but came up short. Clay Helton remains on the hot seat too, so everyone involved in the program has motivation. Kedon Slovis is a dark horse Heisman candidate to watch.
25. Western Michigan at Michigan--September 4th
There’s no way that Western Michigan wins this game, but what a frenzy it would cause if they did to start the year. Jim Harbaugh would be fired before he left the stadium, and Michigan would be in a rebuild. What a great way for college football to start the 2021 season. The Wolverines have a lot to prove this year.
26. Vanderbilt at Colorado State--September 11th
Vanderbilt is under new leadership, but has typically been the worst team (or one of) in the SEC for a long time. Can Colorado State beat an SEC team at home? This is the best chance they’ll have, and it would be entertaining to have the Mountain West claim superiority over the SEC.
27. Memphis vs. UTSA-- September 25th
Memphis has a lot of pressure in their nonconference schedule because they’re facing two inferior opponents. At least because of their conference affiliation. UTSA is a dangerous Conference USA team, and Memphis’ program will know the direction they’re headed after this game.
28. UTSA at Illinois--September 4th
UTSA gets a chance to pull off an upset against a Big Ten team to start their season, and it should be fun to watch Sincere McCormick run all over the Illini. Bret Bielema has his work cut out for him now that he’s back in the Big Ten, and a loss here would get things off to a rocky start.
29. Arizona State BYU--September 18th
Arizona State was supposed to be the sleeper team in the Pac-12, and now gets a full season to prove why. BYU won’t be the same team they were in 2020, but they'll still be competitive. The Cougars offensive line should have their hands full against the Sun Devils front seven, and it will be a matchup within the game that plays a big role in the outcome.
30. Oklahoma at Tulane--September 4th
We didn’t get to see Oklahoma visit Army last year, so this is our consolation prize. Tulane is a sleeper team coming into 2021, and a stunning upset over the playoff-aspiring Sooners would put them on the radar quickly. Spencer Rattler begins his Heisman campaign, and it could get ugly if he finds his rhythm early.