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Sure, nothing beats the anticipation for bitter conference rivals going at it in annual late-season battles. But before getting to that point, the early portion of the college football season provides rare opportunities to see powerhouses, often with less familiarity with one another, battle it out.
Here are eight must-watch non-conference matchups to keep an eye on as the 2017 season approaches:
Michigan vs. Florida | AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas
Saturday, Sept. 2 at 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC The last time the Gators and Wolverines met was in the 2016 Citrus Bowl. Week 1 is chock-full of intriguing non-conference matchups at big-time neutral sites. Saturday’s afternoon game at Jerry World is no exception. Two-time defending SEC East champ Florida takes on a Michigan team that’s won 10 games in consecutive seasons. Each side has something to prove. The Wolverines carry over just five starters from last year and just one on defense while the Gators look for either redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks or Notre Dame transfer Malik Zaire to step into the starting quarterback spot and carry the offense to new heights.
Alabama vs. Florida State | Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Georgia
Saturday, Sept. 2 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC Bo Scarbrough is one of the important offensive pieces returning for Alabama. Non-conference matchups don’t get better than this in Week 1. Alabama and Florida State both enter 2017 as legit title contenders, which may make for the first-ever opening week matchup between the top two teams in the polls. Two of the most dynamic quarterbacks will be on the same field in rising sophomores Jalen Hurts (Alabama) and Deondre Francois (FSU), and so will can’t-miss athlete Derwin James, who returns to the Seminoles defense after a devastating knee injury in 2016. The primetime affair will also mark the opening of the Atlanta Falcons’ brand-new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. What a way to make an entrance.
West Virginia vs. Virginia Tech | FedEx Field, Landover, Maryland
Sunday, Sept. 3 at 7:30 p.m. ET on ABC Once a top Big East rivalry, West Virginia and Virginia Tech will rekindle their head-to-head series with the first matchup in 12 years. They’ll do so on NFL turf on opening Sunday. The Mountaineers lead the all-time series 28-22-1 but the Hokies had the edge in the last two meetings in 2004-05. Both programs won 10 games last season and figure to be competitive again in 2017. The Black Diamond Trophy will be on the line in Week 1.
Clemson vs. Auburn | Memorial Stadium, Clemson, South Carolina
Saturday, Sept. 9 at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN Week 2 will see a rematch of one of last year’s top early games between a pair of Tigers. Eventual national champion Clemson held on to a 19-13 victory at Auburn to begin the 2016 campaign. Now the two-year series moves to Death Valley. Clemson will look […]