Ranking college football's best September nonconference games of 2021Sporting News — (Bill Bender)
The long-winding 2020 college football season ended with Alabama winning another College Football Playoff championship.
The Crimson Tide defeated Ohio State 52-24, which completed a schedule that was impacted by COVID-19 from start to finish. Several of those nonconference matchups in the regular season that make September special were canceled. We're not talking about the traditional matchups like Iowa-Iowa State, which will be good, too. We're talking about the game we don't normaly get to see.
Here's hoping that changes in 2021. Here are 10 nonconference matchups we're looking forward to next September.
Best 2021 September nonconference matchups
1. Clemson vs. Georgia (Sept. 4)
The Tigers and Bulldogs meet at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C., in what should be the first top-five matchup of the season. D.J. Uiagalelei takes over for Trevor Lawrence at Clemson, and that experience from this season should pay off against another loaded Bulldogs' defense. It is the first sizable piece of the College Football Playoff puzzle.
2. Oregon at Ohio State (Sept. 11)
This was one of the best nonconference matchups that was wiped out in 2020. The Ducks are the two-time defending Pac-12 champions and return a tough defense led by Kayvon Thibodeaux and Noah Sewell. Ryan Day, a former Ducks assistant, will have another loaded offense in Columbus.
3. Miami vs. Alabama (Sept. 4)
Hopefully D'Eriq King, who suffered a torn ACL in the Cheez-It Bowl, is recovered for this matchup at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The Crimson Tide remain perfect in neutral-site openers under Nick Saban, and Bryce Young likely will be the starting quarterback for the defending national champions.
4. Wisconsin vs. Notre Dame (Sept. 25)
The Badgers and Irish were supposed to meet at Lambeau Field last season. The matchup at Soldier Field in 2021 should be just as good between two schools that are built around their offensive lines. Graham Mertz leads the Badgers' offense, and it will be even more intriguing if Wisconsin transfer Jack Coan starts for the Irish.
5. Auburn at Penn State (Sept. 18)
Big Ten-SEC matchups always draw interest, and first-year coach Bryan Harsin faces a challenge on the road at Happy Valley. Veteran quarterbacks Bo Nix and Sean Clifford have enjoyed measured success the past two seasons, and this one will determine who might be serious about making a run in their conference.
6. Cincinnati at Indiana (Sept. 18)
The Bearcats also face Notre Dame, but that matchup is on Oct. 2. The matchup against Indiana will set the table for that either way. Tom Allen and Luke Fickell have made significant breakthroughs to put their programs on this stage. Michael Penix Jr. should be back, and receiver Ty Fryfogle is returning for the Hoosiers. Desmond Ridder announced he's returning to Cincinnati, too.
7. Texas at Arkansas (Sept. 11)
This classic Southwest Conference rivalry comes back to life in Fayetteville. Sam Pittman made progress in his first year with the Razorbacks, and Steve Sarkisian will have a potent offense in his first season with the Longhorns. These schools have not played since 2014.
8. Washington at Michigan (Sept. 11)
This was another home-and-home altered by COVID-19 this season. The Wolverines are sticking with Jim Harbaugh, and the quarterback competition will be a focus in Ann Arbor this offseason. Washington should be ranked for this game under second-year coach Jimmy Lake.
9. LSU at UCLA (Sept. 4)
The Tigers take a rare nonconference trip to the Rose Bowl, where a young roster led by quarterback Max Johnson and cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. will be expected to lead a turnaround in 2021. The Bruins are entering Chip Kelly's fourth season, and Dorian Thompson-Robinson will look for a signature victory in his senior season.
10. Nebraska at Oklahoma (Sept. 18)
There was a time when this was the marquee game in all of college football. The Sooners should be ranked in the top five with an offense that features quarterback Spencer Rattler. It's business as usual with Lincoln Riley. Scott Frost enters his fourth season still looking to put Nebraska back on the national stage. A win here would do the trick.