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Top 20 Tuesdays: Under the Radar Games in 2024

By Sam Jessee | June 27
Drew Allar vs WVU
via Penn State Athletics

Every year, a few games pop up on the schedule that define the season.

Sometimes they’re the obvious matchups: Ohio State vs Michigan, the Iron Bowl, Clemson vs Florida State…but not always.

Sometimes we have to look through the noise to find the games that can truly determine the outcome of the season. With a 12-team playoff on the horizon, there’s no shortage of matchups that will make or break seasons for both the big boys and the small fries of college football.

These are twenty games that are flying under the radar, but you need to mark on your calendar:

20. Tulane @ Oklahoma

Many times football games come down to a matchup between two opposing position groups or schematic elements. The game within the game, you could say. As the new-look Green Wave travel to the “Palace on the Prairie” to play one of college football’s blue bloods, they’ll actually be the ones with a major matchup advantage.

Tulane’s top tier defensive line will go up against a reshaped Oklahoma offensive line that has struggled to find its way under Brent Venables. That’s not a good sign early in the season, especially when Oklahoma will be breaking in a new, young quarterback. 

Oklahoma should be a comfortable 2-0 heading into the game, while Tulane will be coming off a tough, yet interesting, game against Kansas State in New Orleans. 

19. Kansas @ Kansas State 

Kansas and Kansas State may very well be playing for a shot at the BIG12 title game this season. And no, we’re not talking about basketball. 

Kansas has done a great job as a program keeping their best players away from the transfer portal. They feel like they have one of the best combinations of talent + experience in the conference. The Jayhawks will need star QB Jalon Daniels to stay healthy for 12 games this season, something that hasn’t happened in his career in Lawrence. 

The Wildcats have a bit of turnover, but the defense will be their normal stingy selves while QB Avery Johnson is the kind of game breaker that can terrorize a defense. If you want electric QB play, this will be the game to watch.

This game will take place on October 26th. Kansas will have road tests at BYU and Baylor with home games against Iowa State and Colorado, while Kansas State will have road tests at Houston and Iowa State with home games against Arkansas State and Cincinnati. Both teams will expect to go 3-1 at minimum in those games, meaning that the winner of this year’s Sunflower Showdown may have a straight shot to the title game. 

18. South Carolina @ Clemson

Some games have just as big of implications off the field as on the field. 

In the Palmetto State, South Carolina will look to turn up the heat on Dabo Swinney while simultaneously giving some stability to Shane Beamer’s job. By no means should the loser of this game be on the hot seat, but it will get pretty darn warm heading into 2025. This is one of those rivalries that both school’s feel like they need to win consistently. 

It’s also a game that Clemson may need for an at-large playoff spot. A season opener against Georgia doesn't look like a sure-fire win and neither do road trips to Florida State and Virginia Tech. A 10-2 ACC team will be a fringe top 12 team, a 9-3 ACC team won’t be in the discussion. 

Usc vs clemson

17. Georgia @ Kentucky

It seems that no one in America is talking about the Kentucky Wildcats….fair enough. 

They’re 25th in returning production according to S&P+, and are 15-7 at home since 2021. 

Georgia, obviously, has the talent advantage in this game. And under Kirby Smart the Bulldogs have not been susceptible to playing down to their competition. But there have been moments  where Georgia has looked more like just a really good team and less like the Harlem Globetrotters. Road tests at Auburn, at Georgia Tech, and at home against Missouri last season saw the Bulldogs tested for the bulk of 60 minutes. Could Kentucky be one of the teams to take them to the brink in 2024? 

16. Appalachian State @ Clemson

Want a playoff resume builder? How about a road test in Death Valley?

And what about a doomsday scenario? How about a home loss to a Sun Belt team just a few months after not making the ACC title game for the first time since 2014? 

15. Texas - San Antonio @ Texas State

One of the favorites in the Sun Belt, Texas State will need all the resume building they can muster and the conference title to have any hope at the non-power conference playoff spot. 

With a less than stellar schedule, the Bobcats will have one of their better opportunities at home against a Roadrunners team looking to sustain their status as one of the most consistent in non-power football. Texas State has an electric offense that only got better in the offseason with the addition of JMU’s all-conference QB, Jordan McCloud, but their defense needs major improvement. That defense will be tested against QB Owen McCown, son of former NFL QB Josh McCown, and a UTSA offense that always has playmakers. 

Texas state
via Texas State Athletics

14. Virginia Tech @ Miami

It seems like every few years the Hokies and the Hurricanes have a monumental matchup.

This year, the two teams will enter with high expectations. Miami has one of the more talented rosters in the country, but hasn’t shown the ability to play at a high level since Mario Cristobal took over as head coach. Virginia Tech has a boat load of returning production and feels like this is their best chance at an ACC championship appearance since 2016. A weeknight showdown in South Florida will act as a massive separator in the ACC standings, which look to be the most crowded in the country. 

It also needs to be said how badly the ACC needs these two programs to get back to their vintage selves. Since 2012, neither program has sustained a high level of success, something the conference was banking on when they expanded in the early 2000’s. If the ACC is to survive, Miami and Virginia Tech will need to get back to being nationally relevant teams both off and on the field. 

13. Oklahoma @ Missouri

Former BIG12 rivals will square off in a late season showdown in the “Show-Me State”.

Mizzou has one of the more favorable schedules in the ACC and should be in the mix for an SEC title game spot. Oklahoma will have a much tougher road. But that’s not to say the Sooners won’t be a good team in 2024. In a twist of fate, the Sooners could be the ones playing spoiler this year. If Mizzou can get past this game late, they should fancy themselves an at-large big in the playoffs. 

12. Miami (OH) @ Notre Dame

MAC favorites Miami will travel to South Bend as massive underdogs, but don’t let that fool you. The Redhawks are a veteran, tough as nails group that returns the bulk of their production from last season. They’d need an undefeated season to make it to the playoffs, but teams have run through the MAC before. 

The last (and only time) we saw a non-power conference team have a shot at a natty was Cincinnati in 2021. They ran the table that year in the American, but got in with an impressive road non-conference win….in South Bend.

11. Oregon @ Wisconsin

There’s a real chance that the Oregon Ducks will be playing for a national title this season. There’s also a real chance that they need a win in Madison to make it to the BIG10 title game. That’s not a spot I would love to be in.

The Badgers are still adapting to their new life as a modern college offensive team, but Luke Fickell isn’t a guy to bet against. New transfer QB Tyler van Dyke from Miami should fit in well to the system. But questions remain on whether the Badgers have the dudes to compete at the top of the conference. Oregon hasn’t been quite as dominant on the road as they have been in the Autzen Zoo. If there’s a place for the Ducks to get shot down, Madison is it. 

10. Iowa State @ Iowa

The Cy-Hawk Series is one of the more interesting early season rivalries in the sport, and this season it may prove to be one of the more important.

The Cyclones started poorly last season after their offseason player-gambling scandal, but finished strong are a fringe top 25 team to start the season. In a wide open BIG12, Iowa State has just as good of a shot as anyone else to find themselves playing for a conference title. 

The Hawkeyes joked their way to a 10-win season last year, and the schedule isn’t as brutal as it could be in the new-look BIG10. Some better injury luck and just a little bit of ingenuity on offense could see the Hawkeyes as a dark horse contender to play in Indy for the BIG10 title.

So why is this non-conference game so important? Well, resume building is going to come into play with the new playoff system, and this is a top 25 caliber game for both teams. A bullet point like that in the non conference slate could be the difference between getting in and being left out for, say, a 9-3 SEC team. One of those 12 teams is going to come out of nowhere…could they come out of Iowa?

9. Penn State @ Southern Cal

A major topic of offseason conversation has been how west coast teams will adapt to their new cross-country lifestyles. Not as many are talking about the east coast teams going out west. 

Penn State has BIG10 title aspirations, and got a win in the schedule with hosting Ohio State and avoiding Michigan. But in early October, a trip to Los Angeles may sneak up on them. The Lions should be 5-0, but the Trojans certainly will not be expected to be undefeated. USC plays LSU in Vegas, followed by road trips to Ann Arbor and Minneapolis, with a game against the Badgers sandwiched in between. 

USC could have a tough start to the season, but this team still has a ton of talent. And they completely overhauled the defensive side of the ball both in terms of players and coaching staff. That all may take a few weeks to get up to speed, just in time for a top 10 Penn State to come to town in a rematch of both the 2009 and 2017 Rose Bowl games.

2009 Rose Bowl WO4 T6019 11x16 XL
via Mark Holtzman

8. Alabama @ Wisconsin

Not too long ago, this would’ve been the most talked about non-conference game of the offseason. 

Alabama and new head coach Kaelen DeBoer will travel to a crazy Madison early in the season, certainly not an easy task. Alabama didn’t get the benefit of an “easy” SEC schedule, and with so much turnover in the defensive secondary and WR room a loss or two is bound to happen somewhere. A loss to a Wisconsin team that is projected to finish just inside the top 10 of the BIG10 would be…not great. DeBoer doesn’t want to feel the pressure early, and the good folks in Tuscaloosa will not be patient. 

For the Badgers, it’s a rare opportunity to play the Tide in your own house. Alabama has not played many non-conference true road games over the past decade, and getting them early could be a factor. A win for Wisconsin would certainly be the biggest in the young Luke Fickell era.

7. Memphis @ Tulane

For the second consecutive season, the AAC will see two of their preseason favorites matchup in the last week of the season. 

This season, Tulane will host Memphis in a game that could decide who goes to the AAC Championship game. The top 4 of the AAC, Memphis, Tulane, UT - San Antonio, and South Florida, are in some danger of cannibalizing themselves out of playoff contention. But if one of those schools can squeak through unscathed, there will certainly be enough on the resume to finish ranked ahead of a one-loss Mountain West champ or maybe even an undefeated Liberty. 

Memphis has the offensive talent to run away with games, but defensively struggled mightily last season. Tulane will be replacing the bulk of their skill position players, but are set up well in the trenches. It’s a clash of styles in the final week of the season, with a shot at a potential playoff spot on the line. 

Tulane vs mem
via Sports Illustrated

6. Liberty @ Appalachian State

One of the beauties of the new playoff system is the inclusion of at least one non-power conference team. That makes the regular season a de facto playoff for the best of the rest. 

Maybe the biggest matchup of the season for the coveted 12th playoff spot will be in picturesque Boone, NC, where App State will host Liberty. This will be Liberty’s only real test of the season, as the Flames play the easiest schedule in the country for the second consecutive year. For the Mountaineers, a wide open Sun Belt conference is there for the taking, but a non-conference game at Clemson makes every other game on their schedule a virtual must win. 


Must win game for both teams. Boone, North Carolina. 

5. Florida State @ Southern Methodist

No team that has made the jump from mid-major G5 to power conference is better equipped for success in year 1 than SMU. 

The Mustangs are coming off a 10-win season and return a good amount of production, including QB Preston Stone. They’ve done well enough in the transfer portal and high school recruiting to build some depth. Although no one will mistake them for the ‘85 Bears, they do have a stingray defense that will give teams hell, especially when they travel to Dallas. 

That’s exactly what Florida State will doing. It should be a pretty wild environment for the Mustang’s first major game as an ACC team. The energy around that program right now is off the charts. Florida State will come  in tested though, with games against Georgia Tech and Boston College early in the season. That will help iron out the kinks, as a large amount of the guys in Garnett and Gold are new to the program. 

This game has major upset potential and could really shake up the ACC standings. Couple that with SMU’s indoctrination into the conference and it will be a special in Dallas. 

4. Utah @ Oklahoma State

Could this be a preview of the BIG12 title game? Probably. Could this, in turn, be a preview of a winner stays, loser goes home game? Yup! The top two favorites in the BIG12 will square off in what’s sure to be a raucous T. Boone Pickens Stadium. (Please, Lord, make it a night game. The nights are so dark in Stillwater.)

For the visiting Utah Utes, experience and discipline have molded them into a national power. They’ll need all of that this season as they replace a handful of skill position players on both sides of the ball. Utah’s schedule is favorable, one of the easier ones in the Power 4. A win here would almost certainly put them in position for an at-large bid to the playoff. 

Oklahoma State is also experienced, but much more reliant on individual talent. Star running back Ollie Gordon burst on the scene last season and saved the Pokes from despair after a dreadful 2-2 start to the season. Can he lead them again to a BIG12 title game?

Both teams should be 3-0 heading into this matchup. Utah will have both of the Arizona schools coming up after this game, not a great draw to start BIG12 play, but things get easier after that. Oklahoma State will have a pretty tough stretch with a road test at Kansas State and a home game against West Virginia. 

3. Penn State @ West Virginia

If I was trying to get over the hump and make my way to the college football playoff, I really wouldn’t want to go to Morgantown early in the season. 

Penn State has, yet again, a boatload of talent. But a new offensive scheme and a lack of proven pass catchers leaves them vulnerable. WEst Virginia came back from the depths of despair last season with a handful of close wins. There’s energy back in the program for the first time in 8 years, and Morgantown will be rocking. That’s not a place you want to go to when it’s rocking.

James Franklin and Penn State need to make the 12-team playoff this season. If they don’t, Franklin may be in trouble. The BIG10 schedule sets up nicely, and there’s enough talent on defense to be one of the nation’s best yet again. It’s all about winning the big games. Is this a big game in Penn State’s mind? It doesn’t come against Michigan or Ohio State, but it should be. 

For West Virginia, this is a program building game, maybe the biggest they’ve had in a decade. A win here could catapult the Mountaineers to another season of exceeding expectations, and a step closer to their glory days of the mid-2000’s. 

2. NC State vs Tennessee

Two teams with playoff dark horse aspirations, the Wolfpack and the Vols are both       breaking in new QB’s. For the Wolfpack, super-senior Grayson McCall will face maybe his biggest test as a college quarterback. For the Vols, 5-star phenom Nico Iamaleava has Heisman potential, but only one full game of experience. This game will be decided by which offensive staff does that best in fall camp getting their guys ready. 

This game has been talked about a bit, but not nearly enough. The best bet for both of these teams is to get into the playoff with a 10-2 regular season and see if the chips fall in their favor. The Vols will have plenty of opportunities for big wins, but also plenty of chances to slip up. The Wolfpack, on the other hand, have a decently easy schedule. After this matchup, only a road game at Clemson in Week 4 provides a chance for a major resume builder. In short, this is teetering on must win for both teams.

Also a good opportunity to get on my soapbox and scream that college football games should be played on college campuses. Could you imagine this matchup in Raleigh? Or in Neyland?! Cmon, people go to Charlotte to overpay on housing and work in finance, not watch football. 

1. Florida State vs Georgia Tech

College football is such a weird sport that we’re simply okay with two major conference foes kicking off the season on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean for no reason other than it seems kinda fun. And before we even get to September, we could see fireworks.

Last season, Notre Dame beat the crap out of Navy in the inaugural Dublin game. They could have played that game on an aircraft carrier and Navy still would’ve looked out of place. I think due to that game being such a blowout, we are glossing over the impact that a trans-Atlantic trip can have on teams. 

For the ACC, this is a game that could shake things up immediately. Florida State is uber talented, but is putting together a ton of new pieces. Georgia Tech, on the other hand, is returning some key players on offense and has a nasty tendency under head coach Brent Key of pulling some upsets. A Yellow Jacket win in Dublin would not only open up the ACC, it would put the ACC in danger of being a one-bid league to the playoff. All of that in Week 0? 

Florida State is currently only a 3.5 point favorite. Considering that the Seminoles are projected to win the ACC and Georgia Tech will have to fight tooth and claw for a bowl game makes that an interesting line. 

Coastal Chaos, lives on. "What a time to be alive!"

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I'm a born and raised Hokie. My first game in Lane Stadium was in September of 1997 when Tech stomped Big East rival Syracuse 31-3. 

I was born and raised in Richmond, VA, where I developed a passion for local cooking, scenic nature, and everything Orange and Maroon. I graduated from Tech with a degree in Finance in 2019 and received my Master's in Data Analytics in 2021. I'm a certified analytics nerd with a passion for data visualization and modeling, which fuels much of my work.

I joined the Sons team in 2020, and now act as the Website Content Manager overseeing all online content and mentoring our talented tea of writers. I also co-host the Two Deep podcast with Pete B.

I currently work in Virginia Beach, VA, as a data and financial analyst for LifeNet Health, a biotech and organ transplant non-profit.

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