I was asked for my top three games to watch in 2011 as part of the non-AQ spring wrap. If you did not see my video, I chose:
Boise State vs. Georgia; BYU at Texas; TCU at Boise State.
As you can imagine, it was quite difficult to pare the list to three. So here are some of my other top out-of-conference non-AQ games to watch for 2011. I will list some of my top conference games to watch in another post.
TCU at Baylor, Sept. 2.
Buzz: Why would this game make my list, when TCU whooped up on the Bears 45-10 last season? Well, it is the debut of quarterback Casey Pachall. Coincidentally, Andy Dalton made his first career start against Baylor and won 27-0. But that game was at home. TCU will be a much younger team than it has the last two seasons, and Baylor is expected to be better.
BYU at Ole Miss, Sept. 3
Buzz: The long-anticipated debut of the independent BYU Cougars against a middle-of-the-road SEC team (maybe not so middle of the road last season). There are high expectations for the Cougars this season, and starting on the road against an SEC opponent will be a good test, before they travel to Texas the following week.
UCLA at Houston, Sept. 3
Buzz: Case Keenum returns for his sixth season against the team that ended his season in 2010. How will Keenum move around on his surgically repaired knee? Will there be any hesitation? Will he be able to break the NCAA career passing record?
Fresno State vs. California, Sept. 3, Candlestick Park
Buzz: The Bulldogs go into the season with Derek Carr, brother of former No. 1 overall pick David Carr, behind center. Coach Pat Hill has high expectations for the younger Carr, who will have plenty of skill players in Robbie Rouse, Devon Wylie and Rashad Evans with him. California was embarrassed in a loss to another WAC team in Nevada last season. This one is winnable for the Bulldogs.
Nevada at Oregon, Sept. 10
Buzz: This is one of the most difficult opponents Nevada could start the season against -- on the road against a team that played for a national championship last season. The Wolf Pack lose Colin Kaepernick and Vai Taua from its Pistol offense, and now the big question is whether Tyler Lantrip can build on a 13-1 season.
Oklahoma State at Tulsa, Sept. 17
Buzz: On paper, the Golden Hurricane have plenty of returning talent, including C-USA Offensive Player of the Year G.J. Kinne. But their schedule to open the year is brutal. They start at Oklahoma and also play the Cowboys, who are expected to be a Top 15 team. But this one is at home, potentially giving them a shot at the upset.
Utah at BYU, Sept. 17
Buzz: Strange to see this game in September, but conference shifts necessitated the move. Will the rivalry game be as intense with no conference implications on the line? How will the teams treat the game in September, as opposed to ending the final game of the season?
San Diego State at Michigan, Sept. 24
Buzz: New Michigan coach Brady Hoke faces his former team in the Big House in a game that got a whole lot more interesting after Hoke left. Hoke is revamping his team, which had one of the worst defenses in college football last year. Ronnie Hillman could have a big day -- Michigan ranked No. 95 against the run last season.
Tulsa at Boise State, Sept. 24
Buzz: As you probably have guessed, I have pretty high expectations for Tulsa this season. If the Golden Hurricane want to make some noise, they are going to have to go on the road and take down one of the top non-AQ teams in the nation.
Nevada at Boise State, Oct. 1
Buzz: I can see the headlines now leading up to the game: The Broncos want revenge after last season's upset in Reno. This is not a conference game now that Boise State is going into the Mountain West, but you can bet the players want to win this one as badly as any other game on the schedule.
Air Force at Navy, Oct. 1
Buzz: The Falcons won the Commander-In-Chief Trophy last season, breaking Navy's seven-year streak. Now they are expected to be a contender in the Mountain West. On paper, they appear to be the favorite to win the trophy again, but never underestimate a Ken Niumatalolo-coached team.
BYU vs. TCU, Oct. 28, Cowboys Stadium
Buzz: The former Mountain West rivals meet in this "neutral site" game. I think this one has the potential to be a great game because I think BYU is going to be much better this season. This has turned into a nice rivalry game, and I am eager to see how Jake Heaps handles the TCU defense as a sophomore.
Army vs. Navy, Dec. 10
Buzz: This game has a permanent spot on the list.