With the expansion of the BCS from four to five games this season, a number of schools in the non-BCS conferences are hoping to take advantage by becoming only the second team in history not from one of the "big six" conferences to make its way into the championship series. The march to that goal begins with the start of the season in less than six weeks, and a number of the biggest matchups pitting non-BCS teams against each other will take place throughout the first month of the 2006 campaign. Getting an early-season quality win over a fellow non-BCS foe could go a long way in deciding if one of these squads makes history in the coming months.
With that in mind, below is a list of the top ten non-BCS matchups of September, in the order they appear on this fall's schedule.
UTEP at San Diego State - August 31
The Miners have many of their offensive weapons returning and are one of our favorites to win the CUSA West this fall. However, before they can play any league games, they'll open the season a couple days earlier than most out in San Diego. The Aztecs, led by star RB Lynell Hamilton, have not been bowling in nearly ten years but hope to make a run at the postseason in 2006.
Nevada at Fresno State - September 1
The Wolf Pack shared the WAC championship last fall, and with fourteen starters back, they are again a favorite to make a run at the league title. One of the teams standing in their way, though, is fellow conference-mate Fresno State. The Bulldogs hope to rebound from a second-place finish in 2005 and make a run of their own this fall. The winner of this Friday night battle in the Valley gets the early-season advantage out west.
Tulsa at BYU - September 9
The Hurricane welcomed themselves into CUSA last year, winning the league's West division in their first season as a member. Star QB Paul Smith had a fabulous sophomore season and looks to be one of the best non-BCS signal-callers in the country. While Tulsa opens up with what should be an easy win, the Cougars - and a star QB of their own in John Beck - will be fresh off a trip to Arizona in week one. A 2-0 start for either would keep them in the early BCS talk.
Ohio at Northern Illinois - September 9
Though the Bobcats aren't likely to make a run at the BCS, and probably not even a league championship, they are expected to be much-improved this fall under second-year head coach Frank Solich. This early-season trip to MAC favorite Northern Illinois will be an early gauge for just how far the program has come. NIU star RB Garrett Wolfe will be able to compare his performance against the 'Cats to his numbers the week before against Big Ten power Ohio State.
UCF at South Florida - September 16
These two in-state rivals meet in mid-September, and though the Bulls have little hope of winning the Big East and making a run at the BCS, the same cannot be said for UCF. The Knights and second-year head coach George O'Leary are looking to improve upon a 2005 season that saw them win eight games and CUSA's East division title. It will be interesting to see how the Knights fare on the road at Florida the week before.
Tulsa at Navy - September 23
The Hurricane continues a brutal first five weeks of the season with a trip to Annapolis, and the Midshpmen will be coming off a tough road trip of their own the week before at Stanford. Though Notre Dame gets as much as pub as all the other Independents combined, Navy has gone bowling each of the past three seasons and looks like a solid bet to do so again this fall. How prestigous of a game that postseason trip is to is still to be determined.
Hawaii at Boise State - September 23
If you like offense, don't dare miss this WAC showdown. The Warriors and Broncos combined to average 66 points per game in 2005, and with both returning their stars under center, much of the same should be expected in 2006. This will be Hawaii's second tough test away from home, the first coming in week one at Alabama. Boise State, meanwhile, has a date with Oregon State earlier in the year, though at least that game is also at home.
Southern Miss at UCF - September 26
The Eagles and Knights are easily the top two favorites in the CUSA East race this fall. The two combined to win a dozen league games last season, and matching that number again this fall is very likely. This matchup caps off a tough opening month for both. Each will have already played Florida, while USM has a scheduled date with NC State the week before as well. It will be the Knights' first game at home since the opening weekend of the season.
BYU at TCU - September 28
Both of these Mountain West rivals have serious hopes of coming away with a conference title this season. This Thursday night battle will be the first league contest for either team and certainly set the tone early on. However, it won't be the first tough game for either. The Cougars will have already played Arizona, Tulsa, Boston College, and in-state rival Utah State, while the Frogs will have already taken on in-state Big XII rivals Baylor and Texas Tech.
Boise State at Utah - September 30
These are two of the best non-BCS programs in the country, and they'll get together as part of the Utes' homecoming festivities on the last day of September. It will only be Utah's second home game of the season, while the Broncos will find themselves away from home for just the second time this year. Though it has no effect on the conference races, picking up a win like this would go a long way in helping either of these teams' BCS rating.