Life does exist outside of the SEC, or so I hear.
In 2019, there will be plenty of times in which I find myself watching other headliner games that’ll have Playoff implications, or implications for the SEC.
But regardless of what’s at stake, there will be storylines that’ll have my attention despite the fact that they won’t involve an SEC team.
So here are 5 non-SEC matchups that I’m most excited to see in 2019 (I realize that 4 of the 5 games involve former SEC quarterbacks):
5. Sept. 14: Clemson vs. Syracuse
No, that’s not a typo. There’s a football game in the Carrier Dome that I’m extremely pumped for in a non-ironic way. Welcome to 2019. What looks like Clemson’s toughest conference game of the season will get primetime treatment with the Saturday night ABC slot.
The past 2 matchups were down-to-the-wire finishes that involved Clemson’s starting quarterback getting knocked out. Even if Trevor Lawrence is upright for all 60 minutes, I’m looking forward to seeing how he handles what should be a unique road atmosphere. Let’s not forget that Syracuse had a lead on Clemson in Death Valley when Lawrence went down in the second quarter.
Dino Babers can motivate a rock as far as I’m concerned. If Syracuse does win, he can just hit the repeat button on his 2017 post-Clemson win speech.
4. Oct. 19: Oregon vs. Washington
Jacob Eason vs. Justin Herbert? Please and thank you. I always like the idea of watching a couple of guys who could be starting in the NFL in a few years. The fact that it’ll be a matchup involving the 2 Pac-12 favorites will make it even better.
This game should be huge for the former Georgia quarterback’s draft stock. If Eason outplays the guy some believe will be a top 3 pick in next year’s draft, his redemption season will take on new life. Given the path that Eason’s career took after starting out as being billed the 5-star savior in Athens, I’d be all for watching that storyline take shape.
Besides the quarterback battle, this is just a strong rivalry. Last year’s game in Eugene was decided in overtime, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if history repeated itself. Not only will this game have huge Pac-12 North implications — it could get College GameDay treatment if Michigan-Penn State doesn’t — it could also be a Playoff eliminator game.
Let’s hope that Eason and Herbert are healthy and both teams are firing on all cylinders heading into this one.
3. Oct. 26: Notre Dame vs. Michigan
I almost put this one at No. 1. Why? Growing up in the Midwest, this was the game that I grew up on. Some of my favorite childhood memories of college football involve those Lloyd Carr vs. Charlie Weis battles in the mid-2000s. But even after those coaches moved on, this rivalry has still been pretty entertaining minus the brief mid-2010s hiatus. Six of the past 7 games were decided by 11 points or less.
This year is their first time playing in Ann Arbor since 2013. Brady Hoke remembers that day well, and not just because it was a 41-30 Michigan win. It was a few months after he called out Notre Dame for “chickening” out of the rivalry:
That was then and this is now.
Now, both teams have a potential Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback in Ian Book and Shea Patterson, and both are coming off seasons with double-digit wins. When was the last time these historic programs played after winning double-digit games? That was 2007, but Notre Dame was in the first year of the post-Brady Quinn/Jeff Samardzija era while Michigan had preseason national title hopes (they were infamously dashed in season opener against Appalachian State).
Anyway, I’m all for this rivalry being nationally relevant on a yearly basis once again.
2. Oct. 12: Texas vs. Oklahoma (in Dallas)
Hmmmmmm. Where do I start?
You can just look at the programs involved in the Red River Rivalry and bank on it being must-see TV. But this year isn’t like any other in recent memory. With both teams expected to start in the top 10, this could be the most important game these teams played in a decade (2008 was the last time these teams played as top-10 teams).
Will Sam Ehlinger vs. Jalen Hurts have shades of Sam Bradford vs. Colt McCoy? One can only hope. Excluding the road tilt at UCLA in nonconference play, this will be Hurts’ first headliner game in an Oklahoma uniform. Watching him battle his home state Longhorns will be plenty intriguing, as will seeing how Ehlinger embraces his inner Baker Mayfield and becomes public enemy No. 1 for Oklahoma fans (if you can’t see the Ehlinger/Mayfield comparisons, look closer).
The great thing about this rivalry is that Lincoln Riley is 35 and Tom Herman is 44. This is already one of the top coach vs. coach showdowns in the sport, and it feels like we’re still in the early stages of it. Margins of victory of 5, 3 and 12 suggest that Herman and Riley aren’t very far apart. I’d expect that to continue come October.
1. Nov. 30: Ohio State vs. Michigan
Sorry to be cliché here, but the buildup for “The Game” feels like it grows with each Jim Harbaugh loss. Granted, that 0-4 start against Ohio State all came with Urban Meyer on the sidelines. That won’t be the case this year with Ryan Day running the show in Columbus (some would say he ran the show last year, too).
That new dynamic plus watching Patterson take on Justin Fields figures to be an intriguing battle of former 5-star SEC quarterbacks looking to add what would be their most impressive win to date.
I realize some in scarlet and gray would debate that this rivalry is lacking juice because of how one-sided it has been. If Ohio State wins its 8th consecutive matchup against Michigan, it’ll mark the longest streak in the rivalry since 1909. You can bet that stat will get thrown around a ton.
And call me a purist if you want, but I’ve come to appreciate this traditional rivalry sticking to its noon kickoff time. This game always feels like it should be played under a cold, gray Midwestern sky in late November. Even as Michigan finally transitions to an RPO-based system, this game still feels like a throwback.
Then again, there was nothing throwback about the Buckeyes putting up 62 points against the top-ranked defense last year. Maybe it’s Michigan’s turn to finally even the score. Or maybe it’s going to be another year of Harbaugh smashing his headset on the sidelines in the midst of another befuddling loss to the Buckeyes.
Either way, I’m here for it.