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April 16, 2008

Buckeyes, Trojans headline early slate

MORE: Dirty Dozen: Worst 12 games

Tuesday, we spotlighted the 12 most embarrassing non-conference games of the 2008 season. Today, we're looking at the 12 best non-conference games of the season (this does not include non-conference games that are played annually). In other words, we've gone from must-flee TV to must-see TV.

Here are the dandy dozen for 2008:

12. Oregon State at Penn State, Sept. 6: This is one of four Big Ten/Pac-10 matchups this season. Questions abound for each team, most notably who will be the feature back for Oregon State and who will start at linebacker for the Nittany Lions. While neither is going to win its league, both should have some say in who does.

11. Fresno State at Rutgers, Sept. 1/Wisconsin at Fresno State, Sept. 13/Fresno State at UCLA, Sept. 27: The Bulldogs again play the toughest non-conference schedule in the WAC, and this trio of games against Big Six-league opponents is daunting. A sweep of these games seems like a long shot, but if the Bulldogs can get it done, a BCS bowl beckons.

10. Oregon at Purdue, Sept. 13: Another of those Big Ten/Pac-10 matchups, three of which are on this list. This will be the first road game of the season for the Ducks, which means a rebuilt offense will be facing a hostile crowd for the first time. Purdue's high-powered offense will be going against what should be a solid Ducks defense, especially in the secondary.

9. UCLA at BYU, Sept. 13: BYU is a trendy early pick to be the BCS "interloper" this season, and this will be the Cougars' second (and last) game against a "Big Six" foe this season; they play at Washington on Sept. 6. Come away with victories in both those games, and the Cougars can start thinking about which BCS game will invite them.

8. Cincinnati at Oklahoma, Sept. 6: This is one of five Big East-Big 12 matchups this season, and each has some intrigue. If Bearcats QB Ben Mauk is given a sixth season of eligibility, the game becomes even more interesting. The Sooners' rebuilt defense will get a test from a diversified Cincy offense, and Sooners QB Sam Bradford will be throwing against the best pair of corners he'll see all season. But will the Bearcats be able to run on the Sooners?

7. Tennessee at UCLA, Sept. 1: This is one of two(!) Pac-10/SEC games this season (both are on this list). A lot of questions surround both teams. This will be the first game for new Bruins coach Rick Neuheisel and new offensive coordinator Norm Chow. The Vols also will be breaking in a new offensive coordinator in Dave Clawson, who had been coach at I-AA Richmond, and a new quarterback in Jonathan Crompton.

6. Alabama vs. Clemson in Atlanta, Aug. 30: Two teams with rabid fan bases meet up in the Georgia Dome. A lot is expected from Clemson this season, while Alabama remains somewhat of a mystery as Nick Saban enters his second year.

5. Virginia Tech at Nebraska, Sept. 27: This is one of four ACC-Big 12 matchups this season, and by far the one with the most intrigue. This should be the first real test for the Huskers under new coach Bo Pelini. The Hokies' offense has some issues, but the defense should be OK. For the Huskers, it's the offense that should be OK and the defense that has issues.

4. Kansas at South Florida, Sept. 12: This is another one of those five Big East-Big 12 matchups. A few seasons ago, this would have been met with a shrug of the shoulders. Not now. Both teams spent time in the top 10 last season KU finished there, after its Orange Bowl victory over Virginia Tech and both could be in the top 25 when they meet this season. Coaches Jim Leavitt of USF and Mark Mangino of Kansas were on the same K-State staff in the early 1990s.

3. Auburn at West Virginia, Oct. 23: This is a Thursday night game on ESPN, and both teams should be in the top 20 - at least - when they meet. An interesting aside: Auburn's new defensive coordinator is Paul Rhoads, who was at Pitt last season when the Panthers held the Mountaineers to nine points.

2. Georgia at Arizona State, Sept. 20: This is Georgia's first regular-season game outside of the Southeast since 1967, when the Bulldogs played at Houston. It's their first game on the West Coast since 1960, when they played USC. The Bulldogs are a trendy pick to open the season at No. 1, but this is part two of a difficult road schedule for them (Georgia also will be away from home when it plays South Carolina, LSU, Florida and Auburn). Arizona State will look to throw against a Georgia secondary that returns three starters.

1. Ohio State at USC: Sept. 13: A case a strong one, at that can be made that this one matches two of the nation's top three or four programs. These programs have combined for 11 BCS appearances in the past six seasons. A victory in this one would provide a huge leg up in a quest for an appearance in the national title game. By the way, USC is the only team in the nation playing a schedule totally made up of "Big Six" schools.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.

MORE: Dirty Dozen: Worst 12 games

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