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April 13, 2010

Top 12 non-conference games of 2010

As we pointed out Monday, it's never too early to start discussing 2010 football schedules.

Today, we will spotlight the 12 best non-conference games of the season.

It's important to note that this does not include non-conference games that are played annually. Some of those games would've made the list, but the idea here is to show that the occasional two-game series can lead to some mighty fine football. (In other words, if your school is on here, be proud!)

TOP 12 NON-CONFERENCE GAMES OF 2010

12. CONNECTICUT at MICHIGAN
WHEN: Sept. 4
THE BUZZ: UConn is coming off its third consecutive bowl appearance, while the Wolverines have been bowl-less in each of the past two seasons. We would not want to be Rich Rodriguez if the Wolverines open his third season with a loss.

11. PITTSBURGH at UTAH
WHEN: Sept. 2
THE BUZZ: This is the best game on the opening day of the season, and it'll be on Versus, not ESPN. Utah (which plays at Notre Dame in November) finished third in the Mountain West last season and has something to prove this season. Utes sophomore quarterback Jordan Wynn will be facing one of the two or three best defenses he will see this season.

10. MIAMI at PITTSBURGH
WHEN: Sept. 23
THE BUZZ: Good early season Thursday night fare - this time on ESPN - with Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt going against a former employer (he was UM's defensive coordinator in 1986-88). Pitt has designs on getting back among the elite, and its early schedule (this game plus the opener against Utah) will show if that's likely this season.

9. OREGON STATE vs. TCU (IN ARLINGTON, TEXAS)
WHEN: Sept. 4
THE BUZZ: Oregon State meets Boise State and TCU in September, with neither at home. This should provide a good gauge as to whether TCU again can contend for a BCS bowl - or whether the Horned Frogs will have to be content just trying to win the Mountain West Conference. This also will be a chance for Oregon State's Rodgers brothers to go "home." Jacquizz Rodgers and James Rodgers are from Richmond, Texas, which is a Houston suburb.

8. NEBRASKA at WASHINGTON
WHEN: Sept. 18
THE BUZZ: This is - by far - the toughest non-conference game of the season for the Cornhuskers, and we say that without knowing how good Washington can be. Nebraska's other non-conference games are against Idaho, South Dakota State and Western Kentucky. Washington opens Sept. 4 at BYU. A win in that one and this game likely will be the biggest for the Huskies since an Oct. 19, 2002, contest at USC in which both teams were ranked.

7. OKLAHOMA at CINCINNATI
WHEN: Sept. 25
THE BUZZ: Cincinnati has a new coach (Butch Jones, hired away from Central Michigan) but is coming off back-to-back BCS appearances. Oklahoma, meanwhile, is coming off its most disappointing season in more than a decade. These teams played in 2008, with OU rolling 52-26 in Norman. This comes a week before OU's showdown with Texas in Dallas.

6. WEST VIRGINIA at LSU
WHEN: Sept. 25
THE BUZZ: The second of two big non-conference games for LSU (more on the other in a minute). This also will serve as an early season referendum of sorts on the two coaches, WVU's Bill Stewart and LSU's Les Miles.

5. NORTH CAROLINA vs. LSU (IN ATLANTA)
WHEN: Sept. 4
THE BUZZ: This is one of seven ACC-SEC regular-season matchups, and it will be played in the Georgia Dome. In each of the past two seasons, Alabama dominated an ACC team in a season opener in the Georgia Dome. Both teams should have excellent defenses, and each has a ton of offensive questions that need to be answered.

4. FLORIDA STATE at OKLAHOMA
WHEN: Sept. 11
THE BUZZ: The last time these teams met, Oklahoma shut down Florida State in the Orange Bowl to win the 2000 national title. This is a prime opportunity for Florida State to start to get back among the national elite.

3. MIAMI at OHIO STATE
WHEN: Sept. 11
THE BUZZ: The last time these teams met, Ohio State won the 2002 national title in a double-overtime thriller in the Fiesta Bowl. In each of the past two seasons, the Buckeyes lost early season showdowns to USC. This season, they're substituting the Hurricanes for the Trojans. Will OSU's luck turn? This is the first game in a tough three-game stretch for UM, which plays at Pitt and at Clemson after this one.

2. PENN STATE at ALABAMA
WHEN: Sept. 11
THE BUZZ: This is the only tough non-conference game for either team. Alabama is the likely preseason No. 1 team, while Penn State has some holes. Still, an Alabama-Penn State matchup is one to watch.

1. BOISE STATE vs. VIRGINIA TECH (IN LANDOVER, MD.)
WHEN: Sept. 6
THE BUZZ: Last season, Boise State opened at home against Oregon. It was said - correctly, as it turned out - that if the Broncos won that game, they would go unbeaten and have a great shot at the BCS. This season, Boise opens away from home. Still, if the Broncos win this game, they will likely go unbeaten. Given that Boise probably will open the season in the top five in the polls, an unbeaten season would give the Broncos a great shot at a spot in the BCS title game. Virginia Tech also should be a preseason top-10 pick, and this will be a big test for the Hokies' rebuilt defense.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.



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