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13 non-conference college football games in 2019 to get excited about now

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Next season is practically already here.

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The 2018 college football season is over. That can only mean one thing: time look at the next year’s schedule and see what’s exciting.

A few of the biggest teams don’t anyone that interesting in non-conference play. Alabama is once again kicking off in Atlanta against a power-conference opponent, but sadly for the viewing public, and I guess for Duke fans, that opponent is Duke.

Ohio State doesn’t have a Power 5 opponent on the non-conference schedule. (If you’re mad about that, blame TCU.) Oklahoma’s schedule doesn’t look as compelling now as it did before UCLA went 3-9 and Houston gave up 70 points in a bowl. However ...

The 2019 season will bring us some big-budget bangers.

Your season-opening neutral-site showdown at Jerry World? That’s Oregon vs. Auburn. The Ducks will return QB Justin Herbert and mix in a top-10 recruiting class. Auburn will be coming off a bad, dramatic season, but who ever knows what the Tigers will do in any given year. Could Auburn win 10 games? Yes. Could Auburn infuriate its fans? Yes. Could those things happen at the same time? Yes. Anyway, this is a chance to watch a probably-good Pac-12 team on a TV channel you have, before you usually go to bed.

In Week 2, we’ve got the first leg of a home-and-home series: LSU at Texas. Two teams coming off New Year’s Six bowl wins, with big hype coming their way. These programs somehow haven’t played in the regular season since 1954. It should be fun!

Also in Week 2, we’ll get a rematch in Texas A&M at Clemson. The Tigers will probably be big favorites, although they will be replacing an awful lot from this year’s team. The 2018 game was really close! Maybe this one will be too!

UCF wasn’t able to coax Florida into a home-and-home, but Stanford at UCF is happening in Week 3. These Knights haven’t had a chance to show off against a good power-conference opponent before AAC play. They’ll finally get their shot this year, provided Stanford is good. Hopefully they play at noon local time, for maximum Body Clock effect.

Notre Dame has some big ones. There’s Notre Dame at Georgia in Week 4, where the Irish will try to avenge a 2016 loss that saw UGA fans overrun their stadium. Then there’s Notre Dame at Michigan in a Week 8 rematch of the teams’ 2017 opener, which will feature the Wolverines facing sky-high expectations and pressure after another season of missed opportunities. College GameDay could show up for either or both.

There are other games to circle now, in addition to the heavyweight fights.

BYU’s entire September is interesting, even though the Cougars haven’t been must-watch TV the last two years. The reason? Chaos potential, as BYU could ruin some seasons — hell, even ruin the whole Pac-12’s Playoff chance — before the season has even gotten going. Or BYU could start 0-4 and the program could fall into an existential crisis. Fun!

The Utah at BYU Holy War is on Thursday, August 29, giving opening night a good game with rivalry stakes. Also worth checking out: BYU at Tennessee, featuring two wildly different fanbases, and USC at BYU, given that Clay Helton absolutely, positively needs to win lots of football games right now. Washington at BYU could be fun too.

Week 1 features Florida State vs. Boise State in Jacksonville. This game might have looked more interesting a few years ago, but now we have the real possibility of the Noles losing to Boise State. If that happens the year after they missed a bowl, the fanbase will be furious. Meanwhile, Boise’s always a contender for the Group of 5 New Year’s Six slot.

In Purdue at Nevada, there will probably be a gazillion points by the time the game ends at 4 a.m. Eastern time on the Sunday after Week 1.

Cincinnati at Ohio State in Week 2 will probably be a Buckeyes win, but the Bearcats were excellent in 2018 and should return a lot from an 11-win team. Ohio State has a new coach, and while it hasn’t lost to an in-state school since 1921, the Bearcats could keep it closer than most.