Dorm Report: Pivotal FBS non-conference matchups
By Nicholas DeLorenzo, Associate College Football Editor
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - With the FBS finally implementing a playoff system for the 2014 campaign, the excitement is palpable as the new season begins to inch closer.
While most if not all of the four playoff spots will likely be determined late in the season with conference matchups and championship games, there will be plenty of intrigue early in the fall as well, as several contending teams will have make-or-break-type contests early in the season.
Here's a look at some high-profile non-conference bouts that are sure to kick the college football season off with a bang:
Florida State vs. Oklahoma State, Aug. 30
The 2014 season's iteration of the Cowboys Classic at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, will pit the reigning national champion Seminoles against a 10-win Cowboys squad which narrowly missed claiming the Big 12 title a season ago. All eyes will be on Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston as he attempts to put a tumultuous offseason in the rearview mirror and continue to prove he's one of the nation's elite signal callers. Don't sleep on Oklahoma State, however. Coach Mike Gundy's bunch had the nation's 14th-ranked scoring offense in 2013 (39.1 point per game), and the Cowboys' balanced attack could spell trouble for FSU's defense.
Clemson at Georgia, Aug. 30
These in-state rivals opened last season against each other as a pair of Top 10 teams, with Clemson's 38-35 victory catapulting it to an outstanding 11-2 campaign, including a win over Ohio State in the Orange Bowl. Meanwhile, the loss for Georgia set off a disappointing 8-5 campaign. Expectations won't be nearly as high for either team this year now that each must adjust to losing an elite quarterback -- Clemson's Tajh Boyd and Georgia's Aaron Murray -- but this crucial matchup will nonetheless set the winner on a more positive course heading into conference action.
Wisconsin vs. LSU, Aug. 30
Following a similar tradition as the Cowboys Classic, the AdvoCare Texas Kickoff also sets a pair of top-flight programs against each other on opening weekend with the Badgers and the Tigers squaring off at NRG Stadium in Houston. Wisconsin slipped a bit to 9-4 last season after winning the Big Ten championship in 2012 and has high hopes to bounce back to the top of the pack in 2014 thanks to the return of one of the nation's most explosive running backs, Melvin Gordon (1,609 yards, 7.8 yards per carry, 12 touchdowns). LSU has won 10 or more games in four straight years and in seven of nine seasons under coach Les Miles and has a talented roster in place to threaten the big guns of the SEC West Division once again.
Michigan State at Oregon, Sept. 6
It was a familiar story for the Ducks in 2013. They appeared to control their own destiny in terms of a national championship game berth after an 8-0 start but faltered with crucial November losses for the third straight season. With star quarterback Marcus Mariota returning for another run at an elusive championship in head coach Mark Helfrich's second season, the Ducks figure to be the favorites in the Pac-12, but first they'll try to bolster their resume against Michigan State, which finished up 13-1 last season (8-0 in the Big Ten) and knocked off Stanford in the Rose Bowl. Having Oregon's high-octane offense (45.5 ppg, 565 yards per game) try to do damage against Michigan State's stout defense (13.2 ppg, 252.2 ypg) is sure to be appointment viewing.
Michigan at Notre Dame, Sept. 6
Another rivalry game to keep an eye on will take place in South Bend between the Wolverines and the Fighting Irish. Both teams failed to reach lofty expectations a season ago, with Notre Dame following up an appearance in the 2013 BCS National Championship Game with a 9-4 mark, while Michigan's record (7-6) decreased for the second straight season. Neither are expected to threaten one of the four slots in the College Football Playoff, but the spectacle of two elite programs squaring off is always a sight to behold. The Wolverines have won this matchup in four of the past five September meetings, although the Irish came out victorious the last time they hosted in 2012 (13-6).
Virginia Tech at Ohio State, Sept. 6
Coach Urban Meyer made a heck of an impression to begin his tenure at Ohio State with 24 consecutive wins, but while the Buckeyes appeared poised to earn a berth in the national championship game a year ago, they came up small in the Big Ten Championship Game with a 34-24 loss to Michigan State before falling in the Orange Bowl to Clemson, 40-35. OSU is primed for another outstanding run in 2014, especially with the return of Heisman hopeful Braxton Miller, and its first big test will come against Virginia Tech. The Hokies have fallen from the national spotlight in recent years, collecting just 13 combined victories in 2012 and 2013 after eight straight double-digit win campaigns, but they are always a formidable threat to pull off an upset. Frank Beamer, the nation's longest-tenured FBS coach, has had sustained success in Blacksburg during his 27 seasons. The Hokies' 21 consecutive bowl appearances is the second-longest active streak behind only Florida State's 32.
Auburn at Kansas State, Sept. 18
Last season, the Tigers had one of the more improbable runs to the BCS National Championship Game in recent memory thanks to its top-ranked rushing offense (328.3 ypg). While Auburn fell short of the title and come into this season without its Heisman finalist running back Tre Mason, the squad is expected to be a major threat in the SEC once again in 2014 as coach Gus Malzahn and starting quarterback Nick Marshall each enter their second year in their respective roles. Kansas State failed to hang with the Big 12 elite last season (8-5, 5-4 Big 12), but the Wildcats are just two years removed from a Fiesta Bowl appearance and have won 19 of their past 23 games at Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium.
Other notable matchups: UCLA at Virginia (Aug. 30), West Virginia vs. Alabama (Aug. 30), Fresno State at USC (Aug. 30), BYU at Texas (Sept. 6), UCF at Missouri (Sept. 13), Tennessee at Oklahoma (Sept. 13), Auburn at Kansas State (Sept. 18).
06/06 12:18:58 ET