The beginning of the college football season is a mere two months away, and the first few weeks of the season always feature intriguing out-of-conference games.
Non-traditional games between Power Five foes are the best part of the early season before the conference schedule. Some are scheduled as home-and-home series, while others are one-time meetings created by the ever-growing prevalence of kickoff games at neutral sites.
The first three weeks of the 2016 season are filled with these kinds of matchups, so here are the 10 most interesting out-of-conference games early in the season. (Note: Miami-Notre Dame did not make this list because it is a semi-conference game due to the agreement between the ACC and Notre Dame.)
10. Tennessee vs. Virginia Tech (Bristol Motor Speedway), Sept. 10 -- A game at a race track! Tennessee has high hopes for 2016 and will be favored in this one against the Hokies in their first game in the post-Frank Beamer era. I'm not totally sold on this being all that great of a game, but the spectacle of a football game at Bristol Motor Speedway is enough to put it on this list.
9. Washington State at Boise State, Sept. 10 -- This game has some serious entertainment potential. Washington State is the country's most prolific passing offense and stunned many by going 9-4 in 2015. Luke Falk can spin it and the Cougars put up points in bunches. They also will give up points in bunches at times and Boise State's balanced attack could have a great deal of success against the Cougars. This game could be a lot of fun to watch -- hopefully the opposite of Washington at Boise State last year.
8. Clemson at Auburn, Sept. 3 -- The Tigers will meet the Tigers in Jordan-Hare Stadium to start the season in their first meeting since 2012. Clemson will be big favorites over an Auburn team that still has a lot of questions to answer on offense. A big loss at home to Clemson would not help Gus Malzahn's cause as he tries to avoid being thrown on the hot seat this season -- if he's not already there.
7. LSU vs. Wisconsin (Lambeau Field), Sept. 3 -- This is a neutral site game only in theory as the crowd will be heavily in favor of the Badgers in Green Bay. Wisconsin quietly posted a 10-3 record in 2015 and figures to be a contender for the Big Ten West crown again in 2016. Facing the Badgers in a hostile environment should provide a good test for the Tigers, who are among the preseason national title favorites. Fans of the power running game should be looking forward to this matchup, which will prominently feature running backs Leonard Fournette and Corey Clement.
6. Notre Dame at Texas, Sept. 4 -- Is Texas going to be any good in 2016? They can answer that question in Week 1 when Notre Dame comes to Austin. Last year, the Irish whooped up on the Longhorns in South Bend and will be favored to win handily again. Charlie Strong has a lot of questions to answer in 2016, and a strong showing from his team against Notre Dame would help cool off his seat a bit.
5. Georgia vs. North Carolina (Georgia Dome), Sept. 3 -- This could be one of the most competitive of the early out of conference matchups. The Tar Heels seemed to overachieve in 2015, making it to the ACC title game with an 11-1 record in the regular season, but can make a big statement in the opener to show that performance was no fluke against the Bulldogs. For Georgia, it will be the first game of the Kirby Smart-era, and possibly the first game of young Jacob Eason's career under center.
4. Alabama vs. USC (AT&T Stadium), Sept. 3 -- A pair of traditional powers open the season in Arlington in the marquee primetime slot. I have this game a little further down the list than others because I question whether it will be all that competitive, but I'm still very interested in seeing how Alabama's offense looks with yet another new quarterback and Bo Scarborough taking over at tailback for Lane Kiffin's offense.
3. Oklahoma vs. Houston (NRG Stadium), Sept. 3 -- This is the game I'm most excited for on the first Saturday of the season and for some reason it's kicking off at 12 p.m. ET, 11 a.m. local time. Houston was the surprise story of 2015 under Tom Herman's guidance and Greg Ward Jr.'s quarterbacking, but they're a known commodity now. They get Oklahoma in the opener, which is Vegas' favorite team not named Alabama this year, in a game that should be electric.
2. Ole Miss vs. Florida State (Citrus Bowl), Sept. 5 -- The newest kickoff game is in Orlando and will feature a delicious matchup on Monday night of the opening weekend of the season. Ole Miss loses some key players this offseason but still has Chad Kelly and the offensive firepower to put up points in bunches. Florida State will introduce a new quarterback this season with Deondre Francois as the front-runner to win the job and tons of talent all over the field including Dalvin Cook at running back and Derwin James -- one of the nation's freakiest athletes -- on defense. I think this game will be spectacular fun to watch, even if the Seminoles run away with it late.
1. Ohio State at Oklahoma, Sept. 17 -- This could have an argument for being the best game of the entire season, not just out-of-conference games. Ohio State lost a ton of talent to the NFL but still has J.T. Barrett at quarterback and there is plenty of young talent on the roster ready to take bigger roles. Oklahoma, as mentioned, is among the national title favorites, but their schedule does them no favors with Houston and the Buckeyes in the first three weeks. If the Sooners can get through those two games unscathed they'll be in pole position going into the conference schedule.
Editor's Note: Previous edition of this post stated that Notre Dame-Texas was on September 10 not September 4.