|Oregon's Marcus Mariota will try to elude Michigan State's Shilique Calhoun in a highly anticipated 2014 meeting.|
Sure, it's early, but not too early to look ahead to the 2014 college football season. Be sure to make your calendars for these games -- the top 10 non-conference tilts scheduled for next season. We take a look at the top players to watch in each game, too.
10. Virginia Tech at Ohio StateWhen: Sept. 6, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
Why: The Hokies have an early season chance to pin the first regular-season loss of the Urban Meyer era on Ohio State, but they'll have to do it on the road against a team that is simply more talented. Still, don't be surprised if this is a fourth-quarter nail-biter.
Who to watch: Pro prospects Michael Bennett and Noah Spence lead an Ohio State defensive line that could be the best DL unit in the nation. On the other side of the ball, a revamped Buckeyes offensive line will have to rally quickly â the game is just two weeks away -- to protect a new quarterback after Braxton Miller's season-ending injury. Virginia Tech DB Kyshoen Jarrett is a talented senior who leads a very talented secondary. The most talented might be Kendall Fuller, younger brother of 2014 NFL Draft first-round pick Kyle Fuller. Fuller was the ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year last season as a freshman starter at cornerback.
9. Texas vs. UCLA (in Arlington, Texas)When: Sept. 13, 8 p.m. ET, FOX
Why: You just don't normally see a matchup like this unless it's a bowl game. Two traditional programs with some serious talent clash in this early season treat set for a primetime national broadcast.
Who to watch: UCLA QB Brett Hundley's numbers might not match those of Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Baylor's Bryce Petty this season, but that will be due to fewer pass attempts, not less talent. If you don't normally watch Pac-12 football, this might also be your most intriguing chance to catch one of the best sophomores in the country in LB Myles Jack. Texas' top prospect is DE Cedric Reed, a disruptive pass rusher who could make an uncomfortable pocket for Hundley.
8. South Carolina at ClemsonWhen: Nov. 29 (Time/channel TBA)
Why: This intense rivalry won't be any less so just because the Gamecocks have had Clemson's number for five straight seasons, with every win by a double-digit margin. The Tigers will be at home and bragging rights will be on the line.
Who to watch: Clemson DE Vic Beasley won't have to chase Connor Shaw around anymore. South Carolina QB Dylan Thompson is a much more stationary target. Junior Stephone Anthony is one of the top linebackers in the ACC and could be an early entry candidate. Dynamic South Carolina RB Mike Davis went for 1,183 yards last season and is the SEC East's top returning rusher. The left side of his offensive line, tackle Corey Robinson and guard A.J. Cann, is a dominant senior pair that returned for their senior years.
7. Florida at Florida StateWhen: Nov. 29 (Time/channel TBA)
Why: OK, so maybe a little shine is off this traditional rivalry given Florida's 4-8 record and inability to compete with FSU at home last season. But three factors make this one worth watching: 1) The intensity and hitting in this game always has a razor's edge; 2) Will Muschamp is fully capable of a fielding an outstanding defense to keep things close; 3) prospects galore.
Who to watch: Florida's Dante Fowler could emerge as one of the top pass rushers in the SEC this season, and the time is now for Gators LB Antonio Morrison to match production with potential. QB Jameis Winston Winston, OT Cameron Erving and CB P.J. Williams are among the best in the game for FSU. Another 'Nole to watch with pro potential: DB Ronald Darby.
6. Miami at NebraskaWhen: Sept. 20, 8 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN/ESPN2
Why: A nice helmet game, to be sure, with both programs trying to recapture past glory. Nebraska should be unbeaten entering the game, and Miami, if it can win Sept. 1 at Louisville, should be unbeaten, as well.
Who to watch: So your NFL team needs an inside linebacker or a pass rusher? Miami's Denzel Perryman and Nebraska's Randy Gregory, respectively, are arguably the nation's best players in those roles. Miami RB Duke Johnson is an exciting prospect, too.
5. Clemson at GeorgiaWhen: Aug. 30, 5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Why: Last year's matchup was an exciting offensive-fireworks display that Clemson pulled out at home. Georgia looks to return the favor this season, but the defenses could be the units to shine this time, with both schools starting anew at the quarterback position.
Who to watch: Clemson DE Vic Beasley should be in the conversation for nation's top pass rusher this season. He can help his draft stock more in this game, however, by showing he can handle himself against the run; specifically against Heisman Trophy candidate and top running back prospect Todd Gurley. Want one more to keep an eye on? You won't find him on a lot of 2015 draft-prospect lists, but we like Georgia DL Ray Drew's pro potential, as well.
4. Stanford at Notre DameWhen: Oct. 4, 3:30 p.m. ET, NBC
Why: Notre Dame represents the Cardinal's stiffest non-conference test by far. Both teams have a decent shot to enter this game undefeated, particularly if the Fighting Irish can get past Michigan on Sept. 6.
Who to watch: Stanford has one of the nation's elite offensive tackles in Andrus Peat, and one of its best wide receivers in Ty Montgomery. LB Ishaq Williams and TE Ben Koyack lead the way for the Fighting Irish. Another with pro potential: OG Conor Hanratty.
3. LSU vs. Wisconsin (in Houston)When: Aug. 30, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
Why: You want power football? These teams will be looking to impose physical will upon each other, not trying to win with a breakneck, no-huddle pace. This one will be won or lost on the line of scrimmage.
Who to watch: LSU OT La'el Collins was the only prominent junior the Tigers had last season who didn't make an early jump to the NFL. Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon can get his campaign off to an impressive start against an always-tough LSU defense. DB Jalen Mills of LSU is one to watch, as well.
2. Notre Dame at Florida StateWhen: Oct. 18 (Time/channel TBA)
Why: FSU's brutal non-conference schedule draws the Fighting Irish in a game that will feature some serious pro talent. Notre Dame faces Michigan, Stanford, Louisville and USC this season, but none of those would be a bigger notch on Brian Kelly's belt than the defending national champions.
Who to watch: Obviously, FSU QB Jameis Winston will be on centerstage, but OL Cameron Erving and CB P.J. Williams are major pro prospects, as well. LB Ishaq Williams and TE Ben Koyack are two of Notre Dame's top prospects for next year's draft, but young LB Jaylon Smith might be the most exciting talent on the roster.
1. Michigan State at OregonWhen: Sept. 13, 6:30 p.m. ET, FOX
Why: The best team in the Big Ten last season gets an early season chance to test its defense against the high-scoring Ducks from the Pac-12. Oregon's hurry-up, no-huddle pace can be overwhelming at home, but defense travels better than offense. The loser's chance at the College Football Playoff absorbs a major blow.
Who to watch: Oregon's top NFL prospects include QB Marcus Mariota and CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. It was somewhat surprising that both returned to college for another year. Michigan State DE Shilique Calhoun can turn heads with a big game rushing Mariota. Spartans CB Trae Waynes gets a nice test, as well.
Follow Chase Goodbread on Twitter @ChaseGoodbread.