The Top 25 Non-Conference Showdowns We Wish We Could Schedule in 2014

Brian Pedersen@realBJPFeatured ColumnistFebruary 14, 2014

The Top 25 Non-Conference Showdowns We Wish We Could Schedule in 2014

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    With a scant few exceptions, the 2014 college football schedule is set in stone.

    While TV power brokers will ultimately determine kickoff times, and some games might move a day or two for broadcast purposes, for the most part we know who will play whom from August through December in the leadup to the first-ever playoff to determine a national champion.

    This shift away from the somewhat-flawed BCS system has led to an uptick in the overall quality of non-conference games that top-level teams have scheduled for 2014, though there's still plenty of room for improvement.

    Here are the 25 non-conference games we'd wish could have been put on the slate for the upcoming season.

25. USC vs. Washington

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    Yes, we know that USC and Washington are both in the Pac-12, which completely negates the concept of this being a non-conference game that we wish would have happened this year.

    But we still wish it would, since it's not going to, a victim of the conference's unbalanced schedule that only allowed for teams to face nine of their 11 contemporaries. That's a shame, really, because who wouldn't want to see Steve Sarkisian coach the school he used to be an assistant at against the one he just bolted from in November?

    There are a lot of these types of former-coach-vs.-old-team scenarios available, but this is the only active one where the situation involves a coach jumping from one team to another within the same league. USC and Washington are slated to face each other in 2015, so we'll just have to wait until then.

24. Air Force vs. Baylor

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    Air Force coach Troy Calhoun became Public Enemy No. 1 of all coaches who implement uptempo offenses on Wednesday when, as chairman of the NCAA Football Rules Committee, he spoke in support of a proposed rule that would prevent teams from spanning the ball in the first 10 seconds of the play clock.

    Not coincidentally, Calhoun's Air Force team (that went 2-10 in 2013) averaged among the fewest plays per game of any team in FBS, at 67.6, though Calhoun told Yahoo! Sports that the proposal is based on an attempt to make the game safer.

    Air Force's schedule doesn't include many super-fast teams in 2014, as it avoids Fresno State on the Mountain West schedule, so wouldn't the apropos thing be for the Falcons to be forced to try to "slow down" Baylor? You know, the 2013 FBS scoring and total offense leader that ran 83.4 plays per game last year?

23. Georgia State vs. Miami (Ohio)

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    Georgia State went 0-12 last season, its first as the program transitions into FBS. The Panthers have a chance to open 2014 with their first-ever victory at the upper level when they host lower-division Abilene Christian on Aug. 27, the first official game of the upcoming season.

    But wouldn't it be more fun if Georgia State opened against Miami (Ohio), the only other team that failed to win a game in 2013? It would be a great confidence booster for at least one program, though the loser might have nothing else to look forward to the rest of the year.

    The RedHawks might not mind having such an opener for new coach Chuck Martin, seeing as the existing schedule only includes three truly winnable games for the struggling program: FCS opponent Eastern Kentucky and a pair of 1-11 Mid-American foes (Massachusetts and Western Michigan), though they're all at home.

22. Boston College vs. Hawaii

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    Non-conference games are scheduled for various reasons, most of which involve money. Programs try to load up on weak teams at home to pad their record but also line their pockets with extra revenue from a home-heavy slate.

    Sometimes a road game is scheduled as a way to provide a team with a different challenge, a change of scenery, maybe to a place where it wouldn't hurt to get noticed by future recruits.

    Trips to Hawaii can work in both ways, as the NCAA allows teams who play at Hawaii to add a 13th game to their schedule. This usually results in an extra home game for the island visitor, which translates to more revenue, and the cycle continues.

    So, for the sake of hypotheticals, why not have Hawaii host the FBS team that's farthest away? That would be Boston College, which is a mere 5,090 miles away. The Eagles have shown they're not afraid to go far to play, having visited New Mexico State and USC last season.

    The teams actually have met in Hawaii once before, opening the 1996 season against each other.

21. Colorado State vs. Washington State

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    Outside of the BCS games, some of the ones on New Year's Day and Johnny Manziel's farewell performance in the Chik-Fil-A Bowl, most of the 2013 bowl games didn't provide that much excitement to anyone other than those participating and their devoted fanbases.

    Except for the absolute first game, the New Mexico Bowl, which for the second straight season provided a wild finish and an almost unfathomable comeback.

    Washington State led 45-30 with less than three minutes remaining when a combination of Colorado State urgency and WSU gaffes enabled the Rams to pull out a 48-45 victory. The win came on a last-second field goal, moments after WSU fumbled a kickoff following CSU's tying touchdown and two-point conversion with less than a minute left.

    Who doesn't want to see those teams play again? Maybe the University of New Mexico would let them play in Albuquerque again, just for fun.

20. Bowling Green vs. Wake Forest

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    The Mid-American Conference has become the unofficial proving ground for up-and-coming coaches looking to get a better job at a bigger program, and 2013 was no different.

    MAC champion Bowling Green lost its coach, Dave Clawson, not long after the Falcons upset Northern Illinois in the league championship game, with Clawson heading to Wake Forest. He follows Dave Doeren, who left Northern Illinois after the 2012 season to coach fellow ACC school North Carolina State, while several other current coaches at automatic qualifier schools previously ran MAC teams.

    Even without Clawson, though, Bowling Green is probably a better team in 2014 than Wake Forest, but there's only one way to truly prove that.

19. Kentucky vs. Purdue

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    There were six teams from the five major conferences that failed to win a league game in 2013, and Purdue might have been the worst of the lot.

    The Boilermarkers were atrocious on offense, while just really bad on the defensive side. Not exactly what the school had hoped for in Darrell Hazell's first year on the job.

    Much of the same could be said for Kentucky, though the Wildcats were a little less bad on both sides of the ball and managed to beat an FBS program, even if that happened to be 0-12 Miami (Ohio). The rebuilding project under first-year coach Mark Stoops didn't do more than dig a few post holes for the foundation.

    What better way for each of these struggling programs to get a jump on their turnarounds than with a chance to steal a win from a fellow downtrodden team? The schools are also only about 250 miles apart, so it would make for a nice road trip for one fanbase hoping to pull out a victory away from home.

18. Georgia vs. Louisville

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    The coach-faces-his-old-team storyline usually applies to head coaches, often ones that jumped from a smaller school to one with a bigger profile, and likely for far more money.

    But then there's Todd Grantham, who left Georgia to be part of Bobby Petrino's staff at Louisville. The move, which could be considered lateral at best with him going from an established SEC program to one that's moving into the ACC, also came with a raise from $850,000 to $1 million annually, the Louisville Courier-Journal's Jeff Greer reported.

    Grantham's unit struggled in 2013 at Georgia, and now he goes to a gig where former coach Charlie Strong had established an ironclad defense but one that lost several key players. And the Cardinals will be facing a rather tough schedule, one that includes Clemson, Florida State, Miami and Notre Dame.

    It'd be quite a treat to see Grantham try to scheme to stop Georgia, too, especially seeing as his defenders lined up against those guys every day in practice last season.

17. Penn State vs. Pittsburgh

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    Now that James Franklin has taken over the Penn State program with hopes of returning it to its old glory, maybe he can bring back another dormant tradition: facing the other big-name team in the state.

    And no, Temple doesn't count, though the Nittany Lions did beat up on the Owls each year from 2006 to 2012 (and will host them in November this season). We're talking about Pittsburgh, whom Penn State used to face on a regular basis but hasn't been matched up with since 2000.

    Thankfully, the powers that be at these schools actually beat us to the suggestion: Penn State and Pitt will resume their rivalry in September 2016 with the start of a four-year home-and-home series beginning at Heinz Field.

16. Florida vs. Georgia Southern

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    When an upset of monumental proportions happens in sports, one of the first things most commonly said afterwards is that the event was a fluke. Replayed 10 times, the favored side would win nine times.

    So why not test that theory by allowing for the biggest upset of the 2013 season—Georgia Southern's win at Florida—to get a do-over in 2014?

    Sadly, much like Buster Douglas' knockout of Mike Tyson, a chance to get revenge usually doesn't happen. Had it been possible this time around, Florida could at least take solace in knowing another loss wouldn't be as embarrassing since Georgia Southern is now a transitional FBS team rather than an FCS foe.

    Instead, Florida has failed to heed the adage that those who ignore history are destined to repeat it. The Gators have the same slot on their 2014 schedule reserved for another FCS team, this time Eastern Kentucky.

15. Navy vs. Texas Tech

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    Football is a game of matchups, and we salivate when the best of one attribute is matched up against the top team in another area.

    So let's pit the nation's best option run game, Navy, against FBS' most traditional air power, Texas Tech.

    Talk about a clash of approaches, you'd have a Texas Tech team that averaged 54 pass attempts per game last season—second only to Washington State, which just happens to be coached by the man (Mike Leach) who recruited the guy (Kliff Kingsbury) who's now coaching Texas Tech—against a Navy squad that ran the ball an FBS-leading 59 times per game in 2013.

    Maybe the most intriguing aspect of such a game would be how either team would handle a situation where they were either wise to (or forced to) execute a different style of moving the ball.

    The teams have met once before, in the 2003 Houston Bowl, with Texas Tech's air attack overwhelming Navy's run approach 38-13.

14. North Dakota State vs. Wyoming

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    Craig Bohl had done pretty much everything he could at North Dakota State, leading the Bison to three straight FCS national titles. It was time for him to move on, and Wyoming seems like a perfect fit for his style of play and attachment to a community.

    The Cowboys struggle to get high-level non-conference opponents to come to Laramie each year, so most seasons they end up scheduling an FCS opponent. In the next three years, they'll host Montana, North Dakota and UC Davis, respectively.

    Why not the old gang from Fargo?

    Actually, the answer is quite simple: Bohl coached North Dakota State to a win over an FBS team each of the previous three years, so the last thing he'd want to do is have his Wyoming career start off with one of those setbacks.

13. Marshall vs. Oregon State

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    The sports-media-hype machine often promotes games via individuals involved in the contest rather than the teams they play for.

    This is all well and good, but when those players happen to never have opportunity to be on the playing surface at the same time—for instance, starting pitchers in baseball—the hype seems unnecessary, not to mention unjustified.

    That being said, how cool would it be to have a showdown between the nation's two active leaders in passing yards?

    In 2014, that would require Marshall and Oregon State to meet. The game would feature a pair of senior quarterbacks in Marshall's Rakeem Cato (10,176 yards) and Sean Mannion (10,436) who have been starting since their freshman years.

    Sure, they'll never be actually facing each other, but they'd probably be doing their best to outperform each other in the total-yards category.

12. Boise State vs. Washington

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    Chris Petersen is the latest Boise State coach to leave the blue turf behind for greener pastures, though he waited far longer than Dirk Koetter and Dan Hawkins to make his move.

    He also went somewhere a lot closer than Koetter (Arizona State) and Hawkins (Colorado), heading a few hundred miles west to Washington. It just happens to be a program that his former school has played frequently of late, with Boise beating Washington in the 2012 Las Vegas Bowl and then getting whooped in Seattle to open the 2013 season.

    The teams are going to meet again in 2015, with Petersen getting a homecoming of sorts when he's set to take the Huskies to Boise. There will still be a good number of his former players on that Broncos team, but it would be nice if that matchup could happen this season to maximize the "look what you're missing out on, coach" opportunities.

11. USC vs. Texas (If Max Wittek Transfers There)

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    Max Wittek will be the latest high-profile player to take advantage of the NCAA's lenient graduate transfer rule when he finishes school at USC early this spring and heads elsewhere to use his final two years of eligibility.

    Where he goes isn't known yet, though Bleacher Report Big 12 lead writer Ben Kercheval notes that possible destination Texas would be a great fit for both sides. And because he'd be a graduate student, he could play right away at any school he attends that offers a degree program that USC doesn't, per the NCAA rule. 

    It would also make for a great storyline if Wittek and his new team, whether it be Texas or whomever, ends up facing USC in 2014.

    Wittek only got into 10 games in two years for the Trojans, starting the final two contests of the 2012 season after Matt Barkley went down with a season-ending injury. He never really got an opportunity to show his stuff last year, and though the coaching staff is completely different now, he'd no doubt relish a chance to show up USC.

10. Cincinnati vs. Texas Tech

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    Tommy Tuberville had no say in whether he'd want to play his former school when he left Auburn for Ole Miss after the 1998 season. He ended up going 7-3 against the Rebels with Auburn, but he did lose in the first and last meetings of his 10-year run with the Tigers.

    But Tuberville never faced either of those former employers when he took the job at Texas Tech, avoiding the SEC altogether during his three seasons in Lubbock.

    No more running away, Tommy. It's time you faced the music again, which means having your current Cincinnati squad line up against Texas Tech.

    Cincy's future non-conference slates include games against the ACC and Big Ten, but nothing against the Big 12 or SEC. That needs to change.

9. Louisville vs. Texas

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    It wasn't very surprising that Charlie Strong decided to leave Louisville for Texas. That kind of job is too big to pass up, no matter how good you have it at your current locale.

    It also wasn't surprising that Strong did his best to try to bring over some of his best recruits that had pledged to him and the Cardinals, most notably 4-star defensive tackle Poona Ford and 3-star defensive lineman Chris Nelson.

    Considering everything Louisville gave him—including his first head-coaching gig—it seems like the least Strong could do is find a way to put the Cardinals on the schedule.

    Texas has games lined up against the likes of Notre Dame, Ohio State and USC in the future. Why not Louisville, too?

8. Arkansas vs. Wisconsin

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    Bret Bielema didn't exactly leave his longstanding position at Wisconsin on the best of terms following the 2012 season, going to Arkansas before the Badgers could play in a third straight Rose Bowl. It's fair to say that, despite the success he had at the school, he wouldn't be very welcome if he were to visit Madison.

    That is, except if it were to bring the Razorbacks to Camp Randall Stadium for a game.

    Bielema's Arkansas team went 3-9 in 2013, one of the worst seasons in program history and the worst since joining the SEC in the 1990s. Meanwhile, Wisconsin had another solid year, making a New Year's Day game, although new coach Gary Andersen continued the Badgers' recent trend of postseason losses by falling to South Carolina in the Outback Bowl.

    Arkansas has a home-and-home series planned with Michigan in 2018 and 2019, so the school isn't afraid to play solid teams on the road. Maybe a petition can be circulated via Twitter to get a Hogs-Badgers series set up, too.

7. Ohio State vs. Oklahoma

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    Urban Meyer and Bob Stoops are two of the top luminaries in college football, with a combined three national championships between them. In fact, Meyer's second title (while at Florida) came at the expense of Stoops' Oklahoma team in the 2009 BCS National Championship game.

    But that was the one and only time these coaching greats have met, which is a crying shame.

    Meyer's new team, Ohio State, faced a lot of criticism during its 24-0 start to his tenure for the lack of tough opponents outside Big Ten play. And while the 2014 non-conference slate is somewhat improved, with home games against Cincinnati and Virginia Tech and a matchup with Navy in Baltimore, it could always be better.

    Playing Oklahoma would make it much better. And Stoops probably wouldn't mind a chance to avenge that title-game loss.

6. Arkansas vs. Louisville

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    When last we saw Bobby Petrino in the state of Arkansas, he was in a neck brace and explaining a motorcycle accident that involved a female athletic-department employee to whom he wasn't married. He was fired after that scandal, and he went away from coaching for a season before popping up again at Western Kentucky.

    He's now at Louisville for the second time in his career, returning to a school he left for an NFL job six months after signing a 10-year contract. In doing so, Petrino had to face a lot of the decisions he's made in the past.

    So now that he's been willing to go down that road, what's stopping Petrino and Louisville from playing a game at Arkansas?

    The Razorbacks have fallen apart since Petrino's firing, going 4-8 under interim coach John L. Smith and then 3-9 this past season under Bret Bielema. No doubt the Arkansas faithful would like a chance to knock out their former coach.

5. Arizona vs. Michigan

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    Rich Rodriguez's hiring at Michigan was not greeted fondly by the diehard maize-and-blue fans, and it only got worse after he went 3-9 in his first season. Even though the record got better each year, he was gone after three seasons.

    Now Rodriguez is thriving somewhat at Arizona, as the Wildcats have notched back-to-back 8-5 seasons, winning a bowl game both times. Meanwhile, his replacement at Michigan, Brady Hoke, has gone from an 11-2 mark in his first year to 8-5 and 7-6 records since.

    Though Hoke's job appears safe right now, he probably can't afford any more slippage. Nor could he afford to lose to the likes of Rodriguez if the Wolverines were to play Arizona.

    That's why we'd love to see that game get scheduled.

4. Alabama vs. Oklahoma

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    Oklahoma's performance against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl last month was one of the biggest surprises of the bowl season, with Sooners coach Bob Stoops backing up his anti-SEC smack talk with a convincing victory over the two-time defending national champions.

    Since then, Alabama's Nick Saban has spoken out against the kind of no-huddle offenses that teams like Oklahoma and Auburn (coincidentally the only ones to beat the Crimson Tide last year) use to much success.

    While this supposed concern over player safety isn't exactly smack talk, it is essentially a salvo thrown by Saban toward coaches such as Stoops. And the best way to back up such a volley is with on-field play.

    They're not on each other's schedules for 2014, but maybe they could get lined up in another bowl game? Please?

3. Baylor vs. Oregon

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    Midway through the 2013 season, when Baylor and Oregon both were playing like teams destined to be in the hunt for a national championship, the inevitable speculation and wish-listing for postseason matchups led to a dream game between college football's most exciting offenses.

    In fact, the anticipation of such a possible matchup was so fervent, Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer wrote that such a game would cause Las Vegas sportsbooks to explode.

    The game never came to fruition after Oregon dropped two regular season games, missing out on a BCS bowl game, while Baylor ended up in the Fiesta Bowl and got upset by Central Florida.

    Each team lost a few pieces of their attack from 2013, but high-octane systems are still in place and prolific passers Bryce Petty and Marcus Mariota are both back for another year of big numbers.

    There's still time for the athletic directors in Eugene and Waco to adjust their schedules, scrapping the Ducks' opener against South Dakota and Baylor's visit from Northwestern State, and moving some other games around so that we can get the first 100-point over/under line (for entertainment purposes) in college football history.

2. Penn State vs. Vanderbilt

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    There were so many jobs that James Franklin was seemingly linked to—some even before they were open—that it was almost inevitable he was going to leave Vanderbilt after the 2013 season for a bigger gig.

    Ultimately, Penn State ended up being the school to lure Franklin out of Nashville, and in the process earned several of his Vanderbilt commits as a bonus gift. Franklin is going all-in with his new job, even putting together a hype video of he and his new coaching staff.

    Meanwhile, new Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason had to scrape together a recruiting class that ranked last in the SEC and included only two 4-star players.

    How much do you bet some of those Commodores signees, the ones who'd committed to the school when Franklin was there (and stuck with the program even after he left), wouldn't mind a chance to play and beat Penn State?

    Here's a solution: Penn State and Vandy have a pair of common non-conference opponents this fall, each facing Temple and Massachusetts. Why not have those teams face each other one week, and left the Nittany Lions travel to Vanderbilt Stadium?

1. Alabama vs. Florida State

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    Until the final week of the regular season in 2013, this looked like the BCS National Championship we were going to get.

    Two-time defending champ Alabama was unbeaten, and No. 1, with only rival Auburn and a perceived lesser foe in the SEC Championship standing in the way. Meanwhile, Florida State had steamrolled through the ACC, and its triumph in the conference title game was almost a foregone conclusion.

    Then Nick Saban lobbied for an extra second on the clock in the Iron Bowl, a long field goal came up short, Chris Davis decided to return the missed kick and...

    Well, wouldn't we all like to see what would have happened? A 2014 matchup between the teams wouldn't exactly do that, what with all the early NFL departures from both squads.

    Still, it'd be fun to see Nick Saban get to coach against the Seminoles, not just talk to FSU coach Jimbo Fisher afterwards.