Sure, nothing beats the anticipation for bitter conference rivals going at it in annual late-season battles. But before getting to that point, the early portion of the college football season provides rare opportunities to see powerhouses, often with less familiarity with one another, battle it out.
Here are eight must-watch non-conference matchups to keep an eye on as the 2017 season approaches:
Michigan vs. Florida | AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas
Saturday, Sept. 2 at 3:30 p.m. ET on ABCWeek 1 is chock-full of intriguing non-conference matchups at big-time neutral sites. Saturday's afternoon game at Jerry World is no exception. Two-time defending SEC East champ Florida takes on a Michigan team that's won 10 games in consecutive seasons. Each side has something to prove. The Wolverines carry over just five starters from last year and just one on defense while the Gators look for either redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks or Notre Dame transfer Malik Zaire to step into the starting quarterback spot and carry the offense to new heights.
Alabama vs. Florida State | Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Georgia
Saturday, Sept. 2 at 8 p.m. ET on ABCNon-conference matchups don't get better than this in Week 1. Alabama and Florida State both enter 2017 as legit title contenders, which may make for the first-ever opening week matchup between the top two teams in the polls. Two of the most dynamic quarterbacks will be on the same field in rising sophomores Jalen Hurts (Alabama) and Deondre Francois (FSU), and so will can't-miss athlete Derwin James, who returns to the Seminoles defense after a devastating knee injury in 2016. The primetime affair will also mark the opening of the Atlanta Falcons' brand-new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. What a way to make an entrance.
West Virginia vs. Virginia Tech | FedEx Field, Landover, Maryland
Sunday, Sept. 3 at 7:30 p.m. ET on ABC
Once a top Big East rivalry, West Virginia and Virginia Tech will rekindle their head-to-head series with the first matchup in 12 years. They'll do so on NFL turf on opening Sunday. The Mountaineers lead the all-time series 28-22-1 but the Hokies had the edge in the last two meetings in 2004-05. Both programs won 10 games last season and figure to be competitive again in 2017. The Black Diamond Trophy will be on the line in Week 1.
Clemson vs. Auburn | Memorial Stadium, Clemson, South Carolina
Saturday, Sept. 9 at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN
Week 2 will see a rematch of one of last year's top early games between a pair of Tigers. Eventual national champion Clemson held on to a 19-13 victory at Auburn to begin the 2016 campaign. Now the two-year series moves to Death Valley. Clemson will look to continue its title defense despite heavy losses on offense while Auburn hopes to stay in the SEC race behind its new quarterback in Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham. Both teams are built on defense, however, which should result in another low-scoring affair.
Ohio State vs. Oklahoma | Ohio Stadium, Columbus, Ohio
Saturday, Sept. 9 at 7:30 p.m. ET on ABC
Noah Brown was the story of last year's meeting between Ohio State and Oklahoma in Norman. The former Buckeyes receiver finished with three touchdown catches, including an absurd one-handed catch he pinned against a defender's back in the end zone. OSU quarterback J.T. Barrett will look for another playmaker to step up in this year's backend to the series in Columbus, Ohio. For Oklahoma, two-time Heisman finalist Baker Mayfield returns under center to make new head coach Lincoln Riley's job easier. One stat to keep in mind: under coach Urban Meyer, Ohio State has lost at home only twice in five seasons (34-2).
BYU vs. Utah | LaVell Edwards Stadium, Provo, Utah
Saturday, Sept. 9 at 10:15 p.m. ET
The "Holy War" between BYU and Utah saw a two-year absence in 2013-14 but has since returned spectacularly with a pair of thrillers with Utah winning each by a combined eight points. Last year's 20-19 finish came down to a stuffed two-point conversion in the final 30 seconds. Expect it to be another nailbiter this year, as both rivals come off 9-4 seasons.
USC vs. Texas | LA Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, California
Saturday, Sept. 16 at 8:30 p.m. on FOX
You'll see the tape of these two teams' last matchup shown on repeat each and every bowl season. Now, for the first time in 11 years, Texas and USC will take the field against each other once more. Their Jan. 4, 2006 meeting at the Rose Bowl was for the national title, which Longhorns quarterback Vince Young clinched on a iconic touchdown run with 26 seconds left on the clock. Fast-forwarding to 2017, Texas now enters a new era under newly-hired coach Tom Herman while USC has realistic CFP dreams behind Heisman candidate Sam Darnold.
Florida vs. Florida State | Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Gainesville, Florida
Saturday, Nov. 25 at TBD
Florida and Florida State will take breaks from their respective conference schedules in Week 13 for their annual battle for supremacy in the Sunshine State. Francois shined with 201 total yards and two touchdowns while the Seminoles defense held the Gators to just 207 yards in FSU's 31-13 win last November. The Seminoles have now captured four straight head-to-head victories since 2013, although Florida still has the 34-25-2 all-time edge.
Honorable mentions: UCLA vs. Texas A&M (Sept. 3), Notre Dame vs. Georgia (Sept. 9), Oregon vs. Nebraska (Sept. 9), Washington State vs. Boise State (Sept. 9).