NCAAF
June 14, 2021

25 Non-Conference CFB Games You Can't Miss in 2021

Summer is nearly here. That means that college football is right around the corner.

Unlike last season when college football was forced to cut out a vast majority of non-conference games until the bowl season, we’re expecting plenty of non-conference action. Needless to say, there’s a lot of making up to do in that area, and we’re expecting just that.

The early part of the schedule, in particular, is loaded with high-level non-conference games. Naturally, the same can be said of the last few weeks of the schedule as well.

From start to finish, here are 25 non-conference games during the 2021 college football season that you need to put on your calendars.

Week 1: Alabama vs Miami

What a way to kick off the season! Assuming Miami quarterback D’Eriq King has fully recovered from his knee injury, he and the Hurricanes figure to give the reigning national champions an immediate test on a neural site.

Week 1: West Virginia vs Maryland

These longtime border rivals haven’t met since 2015, so there figures to be a lot of pent-up emotion on both sides. Even if neither team is a national power at the moment, this should be an interesting matchup in College Park.

Week 1: Georgia vs Clemson

This will probably be the game of the week to start the college football season.

Both of these programs will be expected to contend for a national championship this year. That means one will give their hopes a huge boost while the other will have little margin for error the rest of the season.

Week 1: LSU vs UCLA

Chip Kelly is still the coach at UCLA but enters 2021 with a lot to prove. He has a golden opportunity for a signature win when the Bayou Bengals visit the Rose Bowl.

Of course, LSU also had a lot to prove and needs to get off to a fast start after a down year in 2020.

Week 1: Louisville vs Ole Miss

The second season of the Lane Kiffin era begins with a marquee non-conference game.

While Louisville isn’t the same program it was when this game was scheduled, Scott Satterfield has the Cardinals moving in the right direction and they’ll be eager to get a shot against an SEC team.

Week 2: Pittsburgh vs Tennessee

Can Josh Heupel bring Tennessee back to national relevance? We could get an early answer in the second week of the season when the Volunteers host a Pitt team that’s always tricky and has been known to upset quality opponents.

Week 2: Oregon vs Ohio State

We should have seen this game last year, so it’s a great relief to see it in 2021. Keep in mind that these are both defending conference champions who will fancy their College Football Playoff chances.

Week 2: Iowa vs Iowa State

Every year, this is one of the most overlooked in-state rivalries in college football. With Iowa State being a potential dark horse for the CFP, this game becomes even more important.

Week 2: Texas vs Arkansas

It’s a new era for Texas with Steve Sarkisian taking over as the head coach.

The Longhorns could be challenged the second week of the season when they visit a rebuilding Arkansas team in a battle of two of the original members of the Southwest Conference.

Week 2: Washington vs Michigan

The pressure is on Jim Harbaugh heading into 2021, so hosting a quality power-five program in Week 2 will be a huge test for Michigan.

Of course, the Huskies played just four games last season, so who knows how that will impact them ahead of a big game.

Week 2: Utah vs BYU

If you didn’t already know, this is one of the most hate-filled rivalries in college football. Dubbed “The Holy War,” it’s a must-watch every time it’s played.

Week 3: UCF vs Louisville

Most power-conference teams shy away from playing UCF. But the Knights will get their chance to visit Louisville and upend an ACC foe.

Week 3: Michigan State vs Miami

Just two weeks after opening the season with Alabama, the Hurricanes face another stiff challenge when they welcome Michigan State to South Beach. This figures to be a heavyweight matchup and an interesting clash of styles. 

Week 3: Virginia Tech vs West Virginia

For just the second time since 2005, the Black Diamond Trophy will be up for grabs. This rivalry was heated during the 1980s, 90s, and early 2000s when the Hokies and Mountaineers were both part of the Big East. It’ll be wonderful to see it get renewed.

Week 3: Nebraska vs Oklahoma

This used to be one of the marquee rivalries in the Big 12, but the Cornhuskers and Sooners haven’t met in over a decade. This will be the first game since the 2010 Big 12 Championship Game with the Sooners hosting the first of a home-and-home series.

Week 3: Auburn vs Penn State

It’s rare that SEC teams visit Happy Valley, so this will be a special occasion.

This will also be the first big test for new Auburn coach Bryan Harsin. Of course, the Nittany Lions are also trying to bounce back from a down year, and depending on what happens in Week 1 in Wisconsin, Penn State might be desperate for a win.

Week 3: Oklahoma State vs Boise State

It’s not every day that a power-conference team agrees to make the trip to Boise to play on the blue turf. Kudos to Mike Gundy and the Cowboys for scheduling a big-time matchup with the Broncos.

Week 4: Notre Dame vs Wisconsin

Once again, every Notre Dame game is technically a non-conference game. With all due respect to Florida State and rival Purdue, this is the first big game on Notre Dame’s schedule.

Both the Irish and the Badgers will be top-15 teams this preseason, so there’s a lot at stake for both teams.

Week 8: USC vs Notre Dame

Thanks to the pandemic, USC and Notre Dame didn’t play last year for the first time since 1945. Needless to say, this season’s matchup in South Bend will be an important one and could have CFP ramifications.

Week 9: Virginia vs BYU

Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall spent 11 seasons at BYU, making this a homecoming for him against the Cougars and Kalani Sitake, the coach who replaced him. Plus, this will be one of several tests against power-conference opponents for the Cougars, who went 11-1 against a schedule of cupcakes in 2020.

Week 9: North Carolina vs Notre Dame

Mack Brown’s Tar Heels will probably be ranked higher than the Irish at the start of the season. While we don’t know where each team will be ranked in Week 9, there’s no question it’ll be exciting to see UNC quarterback Sam Howell play in front of a packed house in South Bend.

Week 12: Louisiana vs Liberty

No, the names aren’t flashy, but these were two of the best teams outside of the power conferences last season. There’s a chance both could be top-25 caliber teams again this year.

Week 13: Florida State vs Florida

Even with the Seminoles down over the last few years, this is always a must-watch game. After a break last year, the Gators have a chance to win their third in a row against the Seminoles.

Week 13: Clemson vs South Carolina

This is another in-state rivalry game that we didn’t get to see last year. First-year South Carolina coach Shane Beamer will try to snap Clemson’s six-game winning streak against the Gamecocks.

Week 15: Army vs Navy

This game speaks for itself. Every year, it’s a must-watch game for every college football fan.

Photo: Getty Images