2018 NFL Draft

2013 NFL Draft: 10 intriguing non-conference match-ups

2013 NFL Draft: 10 intriguing non-conference match-ups

By Dane Brugler | NFLDraftScout.com Senior Analyst
You can never go wrong when in-state rivals Florida and Florida State battle it out in the regular season. (Getty)

College football is fun. Conference battles, traditional rivalries and weekly upsets. But non-conference games make the sport even more enjoyable.

Last season, the college football world was treated to LSU against Oregon for the first time since 1977, a match-up that featured numerous NFL prospects, including nine that were drafted last April. These non-conference games provide a unique look between traditional powers and some other rising programs, both showcasing NFL prospects on both sides of the ball.

Below is a look at 10 intriguing non-conference contests, including a look at the NFL Draft match-ups within the game.

10. Michigan at Notre Dame – September 22 (South Bend, Ind.)
If this year's annual contest between the Irish and Wolverines is anything like last season, then this game will be a must-see. Despite a 24-7 advantage in the fourth quarter last year, Notre Dame allowed Michigan and Denard Robinson to storm back and score the go-ahead touchdown in the final seconds for the victory. Michigan has won five of the last six meetings and will likely be favored in this year's game, but the Golden Domers have home field advantage and Notre Dame Stadium is the last place they beat Michigan (2008).

QB Denard Robinson (Michigan) vs. Manti Te'o (Notre Dame)
A Heisman Trophy favorite, Robinson has been a one-man wrecking crew against the Irish over his career, accumulating 948 total yards over the last two seasons. Last year he threw for a career-best 338 passing yards (one of only three 300+ yard passing performances) and four touchdowns, adding another score on the ground. Te'o, who returned for his senior year in South Bend for games like this, will be tasked with stopping the Robinson and the Wolverines' daunting ground attack, which also includes running back Fitzgerald Toussaint. Robinson is an exciting athlete, but Te'o can really help his draft stock if he's able to limit Michigan's dual-threat quarterback.

9. Texas A&M at SMU – September 15 (Dallas, Texas)
The Aggies first road game in Texas as a member of the SEC, Texas A&M crushed SMU in College Station last season, 46-14, and hasn't lost to the Mustangs since the glory days of the Pony Express (1984). With their inaugural SEC contest the week prior (against Florida), the Aggies might be a tad beat up and SMU should be able to keep the game close. Mustangs projected starting quarterback Garrett Gilbert, a Texas transfer, struggled against Texas A&M in 2010, the last time he faced the Aggies, finishing with 219 yards and two interceptions.

OT Luke Joeckel (Texas A&M) vs. DE Margus Hunt (SMU)
This game matches arguably the best left tackle in college football against one of the most intriguing defensive linemen in the nation. Still just a junior, Joeckel has manned the left tackle spot each of the past two seasons, starting all 26 games of his young college career. He will have his hands full with Hunt, the 6-8, 295-pound Estonian who began playing football just three years ago. He has 14 career blocked kicks on special teams, but is still developing as an every-down player and will need to be more productive on defense in order to earn the first round grades some have already given him.

8. Boise State at Michigan State – August 31 (East Lansing, Mich)
Although this game would have been more interesting last season, don't count out this year's match-up as both teams look to replace productive quarterbacks. Boise State begins the post-Kellen Moore era with a tough first test at Michigan State, the first-ever meeting between the two programs. The Broncos have been tested in season openers over the last three years, facing tough BCS opponents (Oregon, Virginia Tech and Georgia) and passing each with flying colors. However, Boise State returns only seven starters from a year ago and the Spartans, who haven't lost a season opener since 1998, have the more talented roster.

RB D.J. Harper (Boise State) vs. SLB Denicos Allen (Michigan State)
After productive freshman and sophomore seasons for the Broncos, Harper suffered back-to-back serious knee injuries, keeping him on the sidelines for most of the 2009 and 2010 seasons. He returned last year, but was stuck behind NFL first round pick Doug Martin on the depth chart and received a sixth-year of eligibility in order to return to Boise in 2012. Allen had a breakout season last year, ranking among the conference leaders in both tackles for loss (18.5) and sacks (11.0). His lack of size (5-11, 225) shows up in a crowd, but he is a competitive player with a nose for the ball, flashing natural explosion to blow up plays at the line of scrimmage.

7. Washington at LSU – September 8 (Seattle, Wash.)
Their second meeting in the past four years, LSU will be favored in this contest, especially in the Bayou where they've won the past 17 home games. But the Huskies, led by head coach Steve Sarkisian, are a team on the rise and could make this game interesting. The Tigers are coming off a near-perfect season, finishing 13-1 with their lone loss coming in the National Champions Game. LSU should be in the National Title hunt again in 2012 and a convincing victory over Washington will help their resume.

QB Zach Mettenberger (LSU) vs. CB Desmond Trufant (Washington)
The Tigers return several starters on both sides of the ball, but will be breaking in a new quarterback, which might actually be a good thing. Although he is a different style of quarterback, Mettenberger will look to do his best Cam Newton impression this season: lead a SEC team to a National Title after transferring from the JUCO ranks (and originally starting his college career at a different SEC institution). He will have his hands full against Desmond Trufant, one of the top cornerbacks in the Pac 12. The younger brother of former first round pick Marcus Trufant, he needs a productive senior season to establish himself as a top-100 pick and a strong showing in Baton Rouge will definitely help.

6. Notre Dame at Southern Cal – November 24 (Los Angeles, Calif.)
A heated, long-standing rivalry, Notre Dame and Southern Cal have played every season since 1946, but the Trojans have gotten the best of the Irish over the last decade, winning this match-up nine of the past 10 years. Often recruiting the same prep players, this annual game is for more than just bragging rights. And that will be especially true this season as the meeting is the regular season finale and one of the final chances for both teams to boost their resume for postseason play.

C Khaled Holmes (Southern Cal) vs. DT Louis Nix
Although it doesn't appear to be a strong crop of centers among the senior class, Holmes enters the 2012 season as a borderline top-50 pick. Entering his third year as the Trojans' starting pivot, he looks the part with natural power and strength to clear run lanes while also showing quick feet and burst off the snap. But he will have a tough time moving Nix, who lines up at nose guard in Notre Dame's three-man front. A redshirt sophomore, Nix has had a rocky career thus far in South Bend, struggling to handle the pressure of the big stage, but there is little doubt that his potential is off-the-charts and NFL evaluators will key-in on this match-up to see how he handles a seasoned vet like Holmes.

5. Tennessee vs. NC State – August 31 (Atlanta, Ga.)
A neutral-site game, Tennessee and NC State will meet in Atlanta this Friday to help kick off the season. It will be the first meeting between the schools on the football field since 1939 and will feature two programs that desperately need to start the season with a win. In his third season at the helm in Knoxville, Volunteers' head coach Derek Dooley has one of the warmest seats in college football, but NC State's Tom O'Brien isn't exactly comfortable where he sits with three losing seasons in his five years in Raleigh.

WR Justin Hunter (Tennessee) vs. CB David Amerson (NC State)
Although both of these prospects have a few question marks, it wouldn't be shocking if both were top-10 picks and the top players drafted at their respective position next April. Although he played in only a few games last season before his ACL injury, Hunter flashed big-play potential with smooth athleticism and excellent length, reminding some of former SEC wideout A.J. Green. Amerson doesn't have elite suddenness or speed for the position, but has impressive size, instincts and ballskills to blanket receivers and shut down bigger targets (like Hunter). Both players will be tested in this game and with many NFL teams watching, the Hunter-Amerson match-up alone will be worth the price of admission.

4. Notre Dame at Oklahoma – October 27 (Norman, Okl.)
This much anticipated meeting between the two traditional powers will mark the 10th Irish-Sooner match-up of all time. Notre Dame currently holds the edge with eight wins in the series and Bob Stoops is 0-1 against the Irish, but that loss came in 1999, his first season as Sooners head coach. Almost a decade-and-a-half later, the two teams meet again, but under different circumstances. Stoops and Oklahoma are thinking National Title this year while Brian Kelly and Notre Dame are searching for a signature win against a ranked opponent.

TE Tyler Eifert (Notre Dame) vs. FS Tony Jefferson (Oklahoma)
With wideout Michael Floyd now in the NFL and Everett Golson taking over the reins at quarterback, Eifert will be the focal point of the Irish offense, providing a dependable target for the first-year signal caller. A First Team All-American last year, Eifert is the top draft-eligible player at his position for the 2013 NFL Draft, but needs to improve upon his production, especially in the red zone (seven career touchdowns). Meanwhile, Jefferson will be patrolling the middle of the field, using his loose hips and natural instincts to close on the play in a flash. But he lacks elite strength and bulk for the position and needs to prove he has the chops to bring down physical tight ends, like Eifert.

3. Florida at Florida State – November 24 (Tallahassee, Fla.)
The Gators and Seminoles have played each of the past 55 years with Florida State getting the best of Florida the past two seasons. Although both programs are coming off somewhat disappointing years (combined 16-10 record), both teams will be improved in 2012 and are expected to challenge for their respective conference's crown.

OT Xavier Nixon (Florida) vs. DE Brandon Jenkins (Florida State)
A former top high school recruit, Xavier Nixon has flashed truly special ability at left tackle over his career, but he has also struggled with inconsistency, lacking a mental toughness to bounce back against some SEC pass rushers. Defensive end Brandon Jenkins didn't match his production last year from his sophomore season, but he is a quick, flexible rusher who works hard to get to the pocket.

2. South Carolina at Clemson – November 24 (Clemson, S.C.)
Although this match-up happens every year (since 1909, to be exact), the Gamecocks-Tigers rivalry should be extra juicy in 2012. South Carolina has defeated their in-state rivals the past three seasons and might be favored to make it four in the final game of the regular season, but Clemson will be competing for an ACC title and won't make it easy for Steve Spurrier and his squad.

RB Andre Ellington (Clemson) vs. SPUR DeVonte Holloman (South Carolina)
The distinction as top senior running back for the 2013 NFL Draft isn't a slam dunk for Wisconsin's Montee Ball with other talents like Christine Michael (Texas A&M) and Ray Graham (Pittsburgh) also in the mix. But not to be lost in that group is Ellington who could vault into the top-60 discussion with a strong (and healthy) senior season and a productive outing against South Carolina's defense would really help. Holloman started at strong safety as a sophomore and junior but is expected to move to the “SPUR” position (hybrid LB/SS) as a senior, replacing Antonio Allen.

1. Alabama vs. Michigan – September 1 (Arlington, Texas)
This season opening marquee marks the fourth match-up of the two prestigious college football powers, but just the first in the regular season as the previous three came in bowl games. Last season, the Crimson Tide rolled over a ranked Penn State squad to push their record to 15-9 (.625) against Big Ten teams. The Wolverines are coming off their first 11-win season since 2006 and return a lot of their main weapons, including quarterback Denard Robinson, but Alabama will be tough to beat, even at a neutral site like Cowboys Stadium.

DE Craig Roh (Michigan) vs. OT DJ Fluker (Alabama)
Roh is one of the more underrated talents for next year's draft and will face a tough battle lined up against 335-pound right tackle Fluker. After starting at linebacker in former coach Rich Rodriguez's 3-3-5 scheme, Roh (pronounced “row”) moved to weakside end last season under defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, but will move again for 2012, transitioning to strongside defensive end. Fluker started 22 games over his first two seasons and will return to the right side as a junior in 2012 as one of the conferences' top linemen. He is particularly powerful in the run game, giving Roh a very tough match-up in his debut at the new position. In order for Alabama and RB Eddie Lacy to establish the run game, Fluker will need to eliminate the nonstop motor of Roh.

Auburn vs. Clemson (September 1)
Miami (Ohio) at Ohio State (September 1)
Nevada at California (September 1)
Arkansas State at Oregon (September 1)
Hawai'i at USC (September 1)
Marshall at West Virginia (September 1)
Northwestern at Syracuse (September 1)
Kentucky at Louisville (September 2)
Colorado vs. Colorado State (September 2)
Nebraska at UCLA (September 8)
Oklahoma State at Arizona (September 8)
Duke at Stanford (September 8)
Syracuse vs. USC (September 8)
Miami at Kansas State (September 8)
Penn State at Virginia (September 8)
Wisconsin at Oregon State (September 8)
Iowa State at Iowa (September 8)
Vanderbilt at Northwestern (September 8)
Fresno State at Oregon (September 8)
Illinois at Arizona State (September 8)
UCF at Ohio State (September 8)
Air Force at Michigan (September 8)
Virginia Tech at Pittsburgh (September 15)
Notre Dame at Michigan State (September 15)
Boston College at Northwestern (September 15)
Houston at UCLA (September 15)
FIU at UCF (September 15)
Utah at BYU (September 15)
Texas at Mississippi (September 15)
California at Ohio State (September 15)
Arizona State at Missouri (September 15)
North Carolina at Louisville (September 15)
Connecticut at Maryland (September 15)
Mississippi State at Troy (September 15)
BYU at Boise State (September 20)
Rutgers at Arkansas (September 22)
Syracuse at Minnesota (September 22)
Temple at Penn State (September 22)
Virginia at TCU (September 22)
Maryland at West Virginia (September 22)
Florida State at South Florida (September 29)
Missouri at UCF (September 29)
Cincinnati vs. Virginia Tech (September 29)
Miami vs. Notre Dame (October 6)
Boise State at Southern Miss (October 6)
Texas A&M at Louisiana Tech (October 13)
Stanford at Notre Dame (October 13)
Syracuse at Missouri (November 17)
South Florida at Miami (November 17)
Georgia Tech at Georgia (November 24)

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