Philadelphia, PA – The NBA Finals ended last week, the NHL handed out Lord Stanley's Cup Monday night and Major League Baseball's regular season is reaching the halfway point.
That means college football's regular season is right around the corner. Or to be precise, 66 days away.
So what better time to start looking forward to the campaign by taking a look at the most intriguing non-conference matchups on the 2013 schedule.
GEORGIA at CLEMSON, AUG. 31
There are only a handful of teams that come into any season with legitimate national title hopes. These are two of those teams. For one of them, the aspirations will go right out the window before the calendar even flips to September as the Bulldogs and Tigers clash in Death Valley during the first weekend of the season. With Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins on the field, Clemson is poised to once again be one of the most lethal offenses in the country. In fact, this game could very well be the launching pad for a dark horse Heisman Trophy run for either player. Meanwhile, Georgia, fresh off a season that ended in disappointment in the SEC title game, will look to break through in the nation's toughest conference after losing such key pieces as Jarvis Jones. This will certainly be a good measuring stick.
ALABAMA vs. VIRGINIA TECH, AUG. 31
With back-to-back BCS national championships in their pocket, the Crimson Tide have a bull's-eye on their back larger than any. The first team of the season to take aim at knocking down coach Nick Saban's squad is the Hokies. Frank Beamer is one of the more respected, and before last season, consistent coaches in the country. However, Virginia Tech wound up going 7-6 in 2012, which broke an eight-year streak of at least 10 wins. The Hokies will be out to prove last season was a fluke and a win over the defending champs would certainly be a major statement in the affirmative. On the other side, Alabama will be out to prove it is still hungry and still tops in college football.
LSU vs. TCU, AUG. 31
Opening weekend is normally chock full of exciting matchups and this year will be no different. While Clemson battles Georgia and Alabama and Virginia Tech duke it out, LSU and TCU will meet up in Arlington, Texas, for a neutral site matchup. Last season, LSU turned in what was a business-like season for it as Les Miles led his team to a 10-3 finish while the squad once again was among the best defenses in the country. However, the NFL Draft was not so kind to the Tigers, who will be breaking in a number of new starters. The Horned Frogs went just 7-6 in a bumpy first season in the Big 12. But that experience was certainly a chance for coach Gary Patterson's program to learn about playing in a BCS conference. This quasi-home game will be a nice test to see if the Horned Frogs are ready to bounce back or are in for another lesson.
NOTRE DAME at MICHIGAN, SEPT. 7
It seems that just about every game on Notre Dame's schedule could be on this list. The Fighting Irish are clashing with a number of major programs in hostile environments and this is one of the best. This early September game will be a rematch of the 13-6 slugfest the Irish won last season en route to their trip to the BCS Championship Game. That score was the most lopsided in the annual series since 2008. Obviously, this is a contest that lives up to the hype year in and year out. However, this series will not be annual for very long as Notre Dame moved up the date for a hiatus of the series to 2015. Michigan coach Brady Hoke blasted the Irish for "chickening out," which likely mirrors how Wolverine players and fans feel. While that may provide a bit more motivation for the Wolverines, the Irish will be fueled by a desire to prove they are a legitimate force yet again. Getting a win in Ann Arbor would definitely quiet many doubters.
UCLA at NEBRASKA, SEPT. 14
When considering the real contenders for the BCS title in 2013, neither of these teams would likely be high on the list. However, both are strong programs that could be classified as dark horses. This is especially true of UCLA, which in its first season under Jim Mora and last year went 9-5 and spent time in the national rankings, reaching as high as No. 15. That was the first national ranking for the Bruins in nearly three years. Now the Bruins will set their sights at even loftier goals, with quarterback extraordinaire Brett Hundley ready to improve on an already impressive freshman campaign. Nebraska is the favorite to take the Legends Division of the Big Ten and will be seeking revenge after losing a 36-30 thriller at UCLA last season.
NOTRE DAME at STANFORD, NOV. 30
It is tough to imagine there is another game on any schedule in the country that got circled as quickly as this one was by Stanford coach David Shaw. Last season, in one of the more hotly contested games of the year, Stanford fell just short, literally, to Notre Dame in a 20-13 overtime thriller. The infamous ending in which Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor was ruled down just inches from the end zone is one that Stanford will not soon forget. Taylor won't be on the field this time, after heading to the NFL, but Stanford should be stout defensively again and a team that could challenge for a national title berth. Notre Dame can make the same claim, but winning at Palo Alto may be the biggest hurdle to that goal.
FLORIDA STATE at FLORIDA, NOV. 30
In-state rivalries rarely fail to live up to expectations. Last season, this matchup did leave a bit of wanting, though, as Florida State earned a 37-26 win in Tallahassee. Still both of these teams are shouldering big expectations this season, making this a highly anticipated game. Florida State is replacing its starting quarterback because E.J. Manuel is gone to the NFL, but that situation should be sorted out by Nov. 30. What should be especially fascinating about this game is the battle of two teams predicated on defense. Both ranked in the top five in the country in total defense in 2012 and though both squads need to replace key players, they will likely be in similar spots this season.
SOUTH CAROLINA at CLEMSON, NOV. 30
Much like the Florida State-Florida matchup, this contest is a long-standin in- state rivalry that will have more than bragging rights on the line. NFL scouts may be particularly interested in this one with the amount of talent that will be on display. For South Carolina, there is defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who is projected by many as the first pick in next year's draft. Clemson will answer with Boyd and Watkins, who also may have their names called early on in next year's draft. Then, of course, there is the fact Clemson, assuming it tops Florida State on Oct. 19, could be playing for its BCS title life. As if that wasn't enough motivation for the Tigers, there is also the fact they have lost to South Carolina in four straight meetings.