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Five Non-Conference Games That Will Shape College Football Playoff Picture

College football returns this weekend, with the very, very early “Week 0” slate headlined by what’s sure to be a non-conference thriller between Florida and Miami in Orlando. Prior to that game’s kickoff, we take a look at five other non-conference tilts that could well adjust the postseason frame…

Boise State vs. Florida State (@ Jacksonville)

(August 31, 7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Few things are certain in college football except that people will disagree with the College Football Playoff’s quartet and Boise State will try to steal an New Year’s Six bid. Detractors will inevitably tell them they have to play somebody, and they’ll fulfill that request by taking on the Seminoles in the Sunshine State. Bronco upsets of ACC competition on an NFL field aren’t unheard of; it was only back in 2010 when they beat Virginia Tech in Landover on opening day, after all.

Florida State will be desperate to get off to a good start after last season’s disastrous 5-7 campaign. Withstanding the Broncos’ challenge would be a perfect way to get things going.

Army @ Michigan

(September 7, 12:00 p.m. ET, Fox)

The Wolverines continuing their rivalry with Notre Dame this October seems like a sexier choice to be on this list, but an interesting test awaits them in Ann Arbor early in the season.

West Point is enjoying a football renaissance on the Hudson, as the Black Knights are coming off back-to-back 10-win seasons for the first time in program history. Last season’s slate didn’t feature any eye-openers (their biggest win was perhaps the one-sided 70-14 showing against Houston in the Armed Forces Bowl), but they did take future CFP representatives from Oklahoma to the brink in a late September showdown that ended in overtime.

This will be Army’s best chance to prove to national viewers that they’re worthy of an NY6 spot, as well as their largest obstacle in obtaining an undefeated season. Michigan, who also faces Wisconsin and Iowa early in the fall, better not get caught looking ahead.

Texas A&M @ Clemson

(September 7, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC)

The Tigers’ national title defense gets off to a most interesting start. Sandwiched between two dangerous ACC foes (Georgia Tech and a visit to Syracuse) is a rematch with the Aggies. Clemson tops the initial AP rankings, while Jimbo Fisher’s second season at the Aggie helm starts in 22nd.

This 2019 sequel has a lot to live up to. Last year’s installment featured the Aggies nearly making up a two-touchdown deficit in the fourth quarter, with the Tigers needing a stop on a two-point conversion to escape College Station with a 28-26 victory. That game gave the nation its first glimpse of Trevor Lawrence, who threw for 93 yards and a touchdown while spelling then-starter Kelly Bryant.

Will Lawrence’s presence afford the Tigers an easier matchup? Or will the Aggies continue the Fisher-induced momentum and throw an early wrench into Clemson’s plans for a modern dynasty?

Stanford @ Central Florida

(September 14, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2)

Whereas Boise State is generally accepted as a crasher of Power Six parties nationwide, the “national champions” from UCF continue to face criticism with generally weak schedules. Tired of hearing about their poor slates, the Knights have a…hmm, what’s the color?…GOLDEN opportunity to capitalize against the Cardinal.

Stanford seeks redemption themselves. Last season ended triumphantly via a four-game winning streak that included a Sun Bowl victory over Pittsburgh.

However, a feeling of what might have been still permeated Palo Alto. Two losses, both from the state of Washington, denied them a chance to play for the Pac-12 title. Silencing the conference conspiracy theorists on their own turf would be a great way to start early momentum.

Notre Dame @ Georgia

(September 21, 8:00 p.m., CBS)

The Fighting Irish and the Bulldogs have met just twice in each of their historic timelines. But both showdowns have had major implications on the ensuing postseason picture, especially for the victorious Bulldogs. A win in the 1981 Sugar Bowl allowed Georgia to capture the national championship. 36 years later, Georgia stole a narrow 20-19 out of South Bend en route to the CFP and later the national title game back in 2017.

This latest incarnation should be no exception. Georgia’s schedule isn’t exactly frightening (they avoid Alabama and LSU during the regular season and don’t play Florida and Auburn until November), so this game is nothing short of a must-win for them. Notre Dame, of course, plays an entirely non-conference slate. Their Georgia visit is preceded (Louisville, New Mexico) and followed (Virginia, Bowling Green, USC) by presumably easy matchups. Early momentum, and early critic shutdown, can be earned with a win in Athens.