While Conference USA didn't send shockwaves throughout the FBS landscape last year due to the lack of a dominant team, a few games on the league's non-conference schedule should pique the interest of college football fans - here are the seven games you need to watch this year:
UTSA vs Arizona (Sept. 4, 8 p.m. EST)
While the opener against Houston might provide a better barometer of where the Roadrunners are heading into the season, an upset over possible Top 25 member Arizona could put the CFB world on notice and establish UTSA as a legitimate title contender in Conference USA, as well as providing the program with the biggest win in their history. While the ‘Runners lost QB Eric Soza to graduation, they return 38 seniors. Home field advantage at the Alamodome could be a huge deciding factor in the Roadrunners' favor.
Florida Atlantic at Nebraska (Aug. 30th, 3:30 pm EST)
This might be a surprise so far up the list, but post-Carl Pelini, the Owls were a much-improved squad, winning their last four games to end the season at .500. While the game against Nebraska might not be the best barometer for how far the young Owls have come, anything less than a 20-point loss would be an encouraging sign before the team starts in Conference USA slate. But don't put your money on the Huskers just yet - Nebraska has been flirting with a non-con upset for the past few years (Wyoming 2013, Fresno State 2011, South Dakota State 2010.)
North Texas vs SMU (Sept. 6, noon EST)
While the North Texas season opener in Austin provides a bit more intrigue for the casual fan (Charlie Strong's first game in Austin, Labor Day weekend, freshmen girls on 6th street) this regional rivalry has far greater implications for the Mean Green. Unlike Texas, SMU is a direct recruiting rival for UNT, and a loss to the Mustangs might stifle some offseason momentum built by Dan McCarney and the coaching staff. This game also kicks off a ten-year series between the schools.
Middle Tennessee at Minnesota (Sept. 6, 3:30 pm EST)
Did you notice how I didn't put any Marshall games on here? The Thundering Herd don't play anyone of note in their non-conference schedule, even though many prognosticators have them projected as a potential College Football Playoff buster. The Blue Raiders on the other hand play a Golden Gopher team coming off their best season since 2003. So while MTSU returns only 11 starters, their run-based style of play is similar to the Gophers, who could be prime for an upset.
Louisiana Tech at Louisiana (Sept. 6, 7:00 pm EST)
The hated rivals square off once again, with all the hype surrounding Louisiana Coach Mark Hudspeth and his Ragin' Cajun squad. Can LaTech show fans that they're ready to rebound from last year's embarrassing 4-8 campaign?
Rice at Notre Dame (Aug. 30, 4:30 pm EST)
Both teams lost a lot, but the Owls are disciplined enough to challenge the turmoiled Irish.
Western Kentucky at Illinois (Sept. 6, noon EST)
New Hilltopper coach Jeff Brohm could make WKU fans quickly forget about Bobby Petrino with a win over the Big 10 (14) cellar-dwelling Illini.