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Wayne Staats | | August 20, 2021

Top 9 nonconference games in the 2021 college football season

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There are nonconference games that happen about every year that are always worth watching. Think Army-Navy, Clemson-South Carolina and others. But there are also games that have matchups you don't see very often. Like once-every-hundred-years often.

 Here are some of the nonconference games we're most excited about for the 2021 college football season. Rankings are from the preseason AP Poll.

No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 14 Miami (FL) in Atlanta, Georgia — 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday, Sept. 4

The Crimson Tide have made it a habit of winning big against nonconference opponents to start the season:

  • Def. Duke 42-3 in 2019 in Atlanta
  • Def. Louisville 51-14 in 2018 in Orlando
  • Def. then-No. 3 Florida State 24-7 in 2017 in Atlanta
  • Def. then-No. 20 USC 52-6 in 2016 in Arlington, Texas
  • Def. then-No. 20 Wisconsin 35-17 in 2015 in Arlington, Texas
  • Def. West Virginia 33-23 in 2014 in Atlanta
  • Def. Virginia Tech 35-10 in 2013 in Atlanta
  • Def. then-No. 8 Michigan 41-14 in 2012 in Arlington, Texas

That's more than a little pattern. That's a habit. There's also some added intrigue to this. This marks the first time Alabama and Miami will play since the 1993 Sugar Bowl — when the Tide romped 34-13 to win the national title.

This is also the first start for Bryce Young, Alabama's new starting quarterback.

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No. 3 Clemson vs. No. 5 Georgia in Charlotte, North Carolina — 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 4

The national title outlook will change a bit with this one. Could some No. 1 votes be at stake? Two of the most successful programs in the last few years meet up here in a major test. There's also a fun twist here going back to the 1980s. In 1980, Georgia beat Clemson 20-16 in September en route to winning the national crown. The next season, Clemson topped the Bulldogs 13-3 in September...en route to winning its own national title.

No. 23 Louisiana at No. 21 Texas — 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 4

So, are you excited about Sept. 4 yet? Don't sleep on this one. Texas has a new head coach in Steve Sarkisian and hopes he can return the team to glory. But Louisiana has already proven to be a problem for Big 12 teams. The Ragin' Cajuns shocked Iowa State by 17 points to open the 2020 campaign, the same season that saw the Cyclones end up 9-3 and Fiesta Bowl champs. The upset vaulted Louisiana to a 10-1 season and a spot in the final CFP Top 25.

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No. 11 Oregon at No. 4 Ohio State — 12 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 11

Ohio State may be a perfect 9-0 against the Ducks, but the two teams have met only twice since the 1990s as Oregon has climbed into national contention.

OSU topped the Ducks in the 2010 Rose Bowl (2009 season) and then memorably won the first CFP National Championship by outscoring Heisman winner Marcus Mariota 42-20 in January 2015 thanks to Ezekiel Elliott's 246 rushing yards and four touchdowns.

No. 18 Iowa at No. 7 Iowa State — 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 11

COVID-19 forced the cancelation of the 2020 game, so hopefully 2021 will see another edition of the rivalry. More often than not, the Cyclones and the Hawkeyes seem to play down to the wire, no matter the national rankings (or not-ranked status) of the schools.

Iowa State has lost five in a row in the series, but the Cyclones are coming off a 9-3 season that featured the highest final national ranking in program history at No. 9. This is the most hyped team in program history.

Auburn at No. 19 Penn State — 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 18

This will be Auburn's first regular-season game against a Big Ten team. Ever. And these two will play again in 2022, with that one set for Jordan-Hare Stadium.

The winner of this one hopes this is a springboard for the rest of the season as a possible challenge to the expected favorites in its division (Alabama in the SEC West and Ohio State in the Big Ten East). This also comes a few weeks after Penn State opens its season at Wisconsin.

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Nebraska at No. 2 Oklahoma — 12 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 18

Hello again.

The longtime rivals from the Big Eight and Big 12 days play for the first time since 2010.

This year's game holds great significance. The series' return comes in part as OU and Nebraska remember the 1971 game — the Game of the Century. That day, No. 1 and undefeated Nebraska scored late to beat undefeated No. 2 OU.

No. 9 Notre Dame vs. No. 12 Wisconsin in Chicago — 12 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 25

These two used to play more often than you might expect. There have been 16 prior meetings, including 10 times from 1900 through 1936. They also met three seasons in a row from 1942 through 1944 — with the Irish ranked No. 1 the final two games.

But the Irish and Badgers haven't faced off since 1964.

This isn't the only nonconference Wisconsin game of note, either. The Badgers host Army on Oct. 16.

No. 8 Cincinnati at No. 9 Notre Dame — 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 2

It's been a long time. Much more than a century, in fact.

This is the first meeting since Notre Dame beat Cincinnati 58-0...on Oct. 20, 1900. As Cincinnati notes, the game was so long ago that it was 14 years before Cincinnati became the Bearcats and 27 years before Notre Dame became the Fighting Irish.

After both the Irish and Bearcats completed double-digit win seasons in 2020, this should have already been marked on calendars. But in an added twist, the Irish have hired the Bearcats' Marcus Freeman as their new defensive coordinator.

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