|Rainier Ehrhardt / AP Photo|
|Clemson QB Tajh Boyd has a chance to make a statement in the season opener against Georgia.|
Here is a look at the top 20 non-conference games in college football this season:
20. Ohio State at California, Sept. 14, 7 p.m. ET, Fox -- After escaping with a 35-28 win over the Golden Bears last season in Columbus, the Buckeyes' push for a BCS championship could end before it begins with a slip-up here. Under new head coach Sonny Dykes, Cal has an inexperienced but talented core on offense, led by wide receiver Bryce Treggs and Chris Harper, that should test Ohio State corner Bradley Roby and safety C.J. Barnett.
19. Oklahoma State vs. Mississippi State (in Houston), Aug. 31, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2 -- The Cowboys can bolster their credentials as Big 12 favorites with a win over an SEC opponent, but they will have to do it without promising left tackle Devin Davis (torn ACL). Oklahoma State never lacks for offense, but head coach Mike Gundy identified Mississippi State signal-caller Tyler Russell as a future NFL quarterback.
18. Alabama vs. Virginia Tech (in Atlanta), Aug. 31, 5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN -- The Hokies are so depleted at critical positions like left tackle that even head coach Frank Beamer seems to be downplaying expectations against the two-time defending BCS champion Crimson Tide. Much like it did last season with Michigan's Denard Robinson, Nick Saban's defense could end the notion that Logan Thomas ever has a hope of playing quarterback in the NFL.
17. Texas at BYU, Sept. 7, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2 -- Get a good look at Cougars outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy, one of the top senior defenders in college football, in a matchup made spicier by the clash over Texas offensive lineman Desmond Harrison's eligibility. Van Noy will have to be dominant to make things easy for an injury-depleted group of corners working against the Longhorns' new up-tempo approach.
16. Tennessee at Oregon, Sept. 14, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN/ESPN2 -- New head coach Butch Jones is digging out of a mess at Tennessee and will be forced to play freshmen all over the place in one of the most hostile environments in football. That's a bad combination against the Ducks' speedy offense, featuring quarterback Marcus Mariota, running back De'Anthony Thomas and tight end Colt Lyerla.
15. Mississippi at Texas, Sept. 14, 8 p.m. ET, Longhorn Network -- Ole Miss has dramatically improved its talent under second-year head coach Hugh Freeze, while Texas is looking to regain its footing after several uncharacteristic down seasons. Rebels wide receiver Donte Moncrief is a rising star, but he will be challenged by the Longhorns' gifted secondary of Quandre Diggs, Duke Thomas and Carrington Byndom.
14. Wisconsin at Arizona State, Sept. 14, 10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN2 -- Coming off three straight Rose Bowl bids, the Badgers are again loaded on the offensive line. They will have to be in vintage form to keep Sun Devils defensive tackle Will Sutton, who racked up 23.5 tackles for loss and 13 sacks in a breakout campaign last season, out of the backfield.
13. UCLA at Nebraska, Sept. 12, 12 p.m. ET, ABC -- The Bruins and Cornhuskers delivered one of last season's most entertaining games at the Rose Bowl and now take the show back to Lincoln, Neb. UCLA All-America outside linebacker Anthony Barr will get to show off his ridiculous athleticism running down quarterback Taylor Martinez and running back Ameer Abdullah.
12. Georgia at Georgia Tech, Nov. 30, time/network TBD -- Clean Old-Fashioned Hate should feature lots of old-fashioned collisions between Georgia sophomore stud running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall and Yellow Jackets defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu.
11. Boise State at Washington, Aug. 31, 10 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1 -- The Broncos are looking to bust the BCS one final time before the system is replaced by a four-team playoff in 2014. To do so, they will first have to spoil Washington's return to a newly renovated Husky Stadium by containing Steve Sarkisian's offensive quartet of tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, running back Bishop Sankey, quarterback Keith Price and wide receiver Kasen Williams.
10. Oklahoma at Notre Dame, Sept. 28, 3:30 p.m. ET, NBC -- The majesty and history of Notre Dame Stadium takes on an added layer as these two legendary programs meet for the 11th time. However, Oklahoma has only won once, in 1956 during its NCAA-record 47-game winning streak. Redshirt freshman quarterback Trevor Knight leads the Sooners on the road for the first time against the Irish's outstanding defensive front.
9. USC at Notre Dame, Oct. 19, 7:30 p.m. ET, NBC -- One of Lane Kiffin's few shining moments in his Trojans tenure was a 31-17 win two years ago in the first night game in South Bend, Ind. Kiffin will have to find a way to protect his quarterback, be it Cody Kessler or Max Wittek, and get the ball to reigning Biletnikoff Award winner Marqise Lee enough to knock off Notre Dame again.
8. North Carolina at South Carolina, Aug. 29, 6 p.m. ET, ESPN -- After a whole offseason of watching Gamecocks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney separate the ball and helmet from Michigan's Vincent Smith on a seemingly endless running loop, Clowney will try to deliver more jaw-dropping highlights at Tar Heels left tackle James Hurst's expense on opening night.
7. Florida at Miami (Fla.), Sept. 7, 12 p.m. ET, ESPN -- Duke Johnson lived up to the immense hype as a true freshman, rushing for 947 yards and 10 touchdowns without ever topping 16 carries in a game. Now he and senior quarterback Stephen Morris look to put The U back in the center of the national spotlight against a ferocious Gators defense.
6. Notre Dame at Michigan, Sept. 7, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN -- With the series between the Irish and Wolverines set to take a break, this last meeting for the foreseeable future features a fantastic one-on-one matchup between Michigan's elite left tackle Taylor Lewan and Notre Dame powerhouse defensive end Stephon Tuitt. With each of the last four meetings being decided by a touchdown or less, late-game drama looks to be a given.
5. TCU vs. LSU (in Arlington, Texas), Aug. 31, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN -- LSU looks set to simply reload on defense as it always seems to do, with TCU head coach Gary Patterson identifying Tigers tackle Anthony Johnson as their next future top-10 draft pick. There's also plenty of intrigue over whether Casey Pachall or Trevone Boykin will be TCU's starting quarterback and the uncertain status of controversial LSU running back Jeremy Hill and suspended TCU defensive end Devonte Fields.
4. Florida State at Florida, Nov. 30, time/network TBD -- The Gators are the kind of scalp the Seminoles need to claim to prove the program is among the elite once again. That responsibility falls on talented redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston and sophomore running back James Wilder against what could be the top defense in the mighty SEC.
3. Clemson at South Carolina, Nov. 30, time/network TBD -- The college football playoff doesn't start until next season, but this could end up as a de-facto quarterfinal matchup. The bad blood is always there in this in-state feud, but it could reach a new level after Clowney said Tigers quarterback Tajh Boyd was scared after Jadeveon Clowney delivered 4.5 sacks of Boyd last season.
2. Notre Dame at Stanford, Nov. 30, time TBD/Fox or Fox Sports 1 -- Power, power, power -- Stanford's offensive line anchored by guard David Yankey against Notre Dame's defensive front anchored by Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix III. And the Cardinal front seven is no slouch either, with defensive ends Henry Anderson and Ben Gardner and linebackers Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy. NFL executives in need of defensive reinforcements will be flocking to the Farm.
1. Georgia at Clemson, Aug. 31, 8 p.m. ET, ABC -- Now this is how to kick the 2013 season off with a bang, putting two of the most explosive offenses in college football in the cauldron of Death Valley. Wide receiver Sammy Watkins can take any Tajh Boyd pass, short or long, into the end zone. Aaron Murray will own every SEC career passing record before his senior season is over, but he is still looking for that career-defining win. The winner immediately asserts itself as a legitimate BCS title contender, a distinction neither team has held in more than 30 years.
Follow Dan Greenspan on Twitter @DanGreenspan.