Ranking the SEC's best non-conference games in 2018
They might not have quite the star-studded rankings as 2017, but the SEC’s 2018 slate of non-conference opponents still holds its own.
There are plenty of opportunities to measure the SEC against top teams from the ACC, Pac-12 and Big 12. And they begin early.
Some lack the historic sizzle of the familiar cross-divisional games, but there is plenty of history, including Bobby Petrino in a reunion with the SEC, Ed Orgeron’s meeting with an old employer and Mike Bobo’s double shot of matchups against SEC foes, including an old rival.
Here are the 10 best non-conference games for the 2018 season (excluding some of the annual non-conference rivalry games):
1. Clemson at Texas A&M (Sept. 8)
Jimbo Fisher will face a much tougher program than the original team in this slot, Oregon. Nearly four years ago, when this game was announced, Clemson was ranked No. 21. Now its coming off three consecutive appearances in the College Football Playoff. This is the first meeting since a home-and-home series in 2004-05 where the home team won each game. Clemson returns the best defensive front in the country and QB Kelly Bryant.
2. Alabama vs. Louisville (Sept. 1: Orlando, Fla.)
The Crimson Tide have developed a recent history with Clemson, and had the mega season opener last year against Florida State. Now Nick Saban will take on another top ACC foe in Bobby Petrino at Camping World Stadium. It’s the seventh consecutive year Alabama has opened the season with a neutral-site game. Petrino lost four games against Saban as Arkansas’ coach from 2008-11. The programs last met in 1991, a 34-7 Louisville win in a Fiesta Bowl game coached by Gene Stallings and Howard Schnellenberger. Louisville is starting over at QB, now that former Heisman winner Lamar Jackson is off to the NFL.
3. Auburn vs. Washington (Sept. 1: Atlanta)
The first meeting between the programs, Auburn will look to change its fortunes in Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta after the Tigers fell to UCF and Georgia to end the 2017 season. This is the 2018 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game, the 11th installment season-opening game that annually includes an SEC team. This is the first time a Pac-12 team will be in it. Auburn is making its third appearance in the event, most recently a win over Louisville 31-24 to open the 2015 season. Auburn finished the most recent season ranked No. 10 in the AP poll, while the Huskies were No. 16.
4. Tennessee vs. West Virginia (Sept. 1: Charlotte)
Jeremy Pruitt’s debut will be in Bank of America Stadium, another first-time meeting for the programs. The Vols have not played in the state since a 22-21 loss to North Carolina in 1961. This continues a recent trend of Tennessee playing neutral site games early in the season. Last year, it beat Georgia Tech in Atlanta, and previously beat Virginia Tech at Bristol Motor Speedway. Both teams will be looking to quickly forget the 2017 season after West Virginia went 7-6, and Tennessee was 4-8. Will Grier leads West Virginia.
5. LSU vs. Miami (Sept. 2: Dallas)
LSU returns to a familiar setting in AT&T Stadium for the third game in the AdvoCare Classic. LSU beat Oregon in 2011 and TCU in 2012 in this season opener. LSU and Miami last met in the 2005 Chick-fil-A Bowl, a 40-3 LSU win. The Tigers lead the series 9-3. Miami’s last win against the Tigers came in Tiger Stadium in 1988, a 44-3 result. LSU coach Ed Orgeron was on the Miami staff for that game.
6. Arkansas at Colorado State (Sept. 8)
This will pit current and former offensive-minded coaches from the SEC when Chad Morris meets Mike Bobo. The Rams will return the home-and-home agreement to Arkansas in 2019. The series with Colorado State replaces Arkansas’ scheduled home-and-home with Michigan that was set for 2018 and 2019. Michigan bought out of the two-game contract in 2016. The Rams and Razorbacks have met three times, but not since 1990 in a game coached by Jack Crowe and Earle Bruce. All three games were played in Little Rock and won by Arkansas. This is the second time an SEC school will make a visit to Fort Collins. Mississippi State did it in 1981.
7. Ole Miss vs. Texas Tech (Sept. 1: Houston)
Ole Miss leads the series 3-2, and the last meeting was in 2009, a 47-34 Ole Miss victory, in a game coached by Houston Nutt and Mike Leach. This is the third time in a four-season span that the Red Raiders will travel to Houston, and the first matchup since 2015 where the Red Raiders take on an opponent from the SEC.
8. Vanderbilt at Notre Dame (Sept. 15)
This is the first meeting since a home-and-home series in 1995-96, when Notre Dame won both meetings. The trip to South Bend won’t be unusual for Derek Mason, who went there twice as Stanford’s defensive coordinator. Sandwiched between games against Georgia, Notre Dame is in the midst of three games against SEC opponents in three seasons. It lost to Georgia last season in South Bend.
9. Colorado State at Florida (Sept. 15)
The Rams aren’t backing down from challenges to start the season, with Colorado, Arkansas and Florida out of the gate. This will be the first meeting between the Gators and Rams. The Coloradoan reported that the game is part of the $7 million buyout Florida agreed to pay CSU when it hired coach Jim McElwain in 2014. McElwain was required to pay CSU $2 million and Florida is paying CSU $3 million through 2020 in annual installments of $500,000.
10. Mississippi State at Kansas State (Sept. 8)
K-State capped an 8-5 season with a convincing Cactus Bowl victory over UCLA. This is only the third meeting between the programs. The last one was in 1977, a Mississippi State forfei. Kansas State will visit Starkville in 2019. Of course, this one is most notable for how it was set up. Then-athletic directors Scott Stricklin and John Currie agreed to the series on Twitter.
— Scott Stricklin (@ScottStricklin) July 11, 2014
— John Currie (@John_Currie) July 11, 2014
— Scott Stricklin (@ScottStricklin) July 11, 2014