Assuming it actually takes place, the 2020 college football season promises to be intriguing. With plenty of marquee matchups on the slate throughout the year, it’s impossible to rank every one in terms of strength and playoff implications. With that being said, five matchups clearly stand out from the rest. In no particular order, here are the top five games for diehard and casual fans alike to enjoy this fall.
Sept. 12: Ohio State Buckeyes at Oregon Ducks
Starting with the earliest matchup, the Buckeyes of Ohio State travel west to meet the Oregon Ducks. A matchup of last season’s Pac-12 and Big 10 champions, this has playoff implications for both teams.
Oregon lost their big non-conference game last season to Auburn, and the Pac-12 has missed the College Football Playoff four times in the Playoff’s six-year history. This matchup definitely means a lot to them.
On the other side, Ohio State’s last significant non-conference clash was a 31-16 loss to Baker Mayfield’s Oklahoma Sooners in Ohio. Justin Fields and co. will be looking for a signature non-conference road win, the first of Ryan Day’s tenure.
Sept. 19: Georgia Bulldogs at Alabama Crimson Tide
Last season featured a big Week 3 clash between Georgia and Notre Dame between the hedges in Athens. This year, the Dogs are heading to Tuscaloosa to avenge both the 2018 National Championship and the 2019 SEC Championship.
USC transfer J.T. Daniels figures to be the starter for Georgia this upcoming season, and he’ll be thrust into the heart of the SEC in what is sure to be a prime time game against Alabama. Georgia lost vital offensive lineman to the draft, as well as star running back D’Andre Swift. Kirby Smart is still looking to beat his former boss for the first time, and there is no better environment than Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Speaking of Nick Saban, Alabama has entered a time of uncertainty following the departure of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Saban’s next task is finding the newest signal-caller for the Tide, and he may already have one in redshirt junior Mac Jones. Jones still has Najee Harris and Davonta Smith at his disposal, and the Alabama offense should be able to score points in bunches. The question remains: Will Saban be able to fix a defense that let Alabama down in both of the Tide’s losses last year?
Oct. 24: Ohio State Buckeyes at Penn State Nittany Lions
If there were ever an occasion for a white-out game in Happy Valley this year, this would be it. In what will probably be a Saturday prime time game on ESPN, Justin Fields and co. will take the Buckeyes to Penn State to face the Nittany Lions.
No team has played the Buckeyes tougher over the past couple of years than Penn State. With Michigan unable to beat their archrival, the Nittany Lions are all that stand between Ohio State and a presumptive Big 10 East title. Plus, Penn State fans are eager to beat Justin Fields, who originally committed to Penn State.
As for Ohio State, Fields lost many of his weapons from a year ago, including J.K. Dobbins and K.J. Hill. However, Chris Olave is still around, and graduate transfer Trey Sermon has come up from Oklahoma to join Master Teague III in the backfield. Ohio State has title aspirations despite having few seniors, and the trip to Happy Valley could very well define their season.
Nov. 7: Clemson Tigers at Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Any hope Notre Dame has of making the Playoff can be summarized in two steps–winning out through Nov. 7. and beating Clemson in South Bend.
All that is a lot easier said than done, but Notre Dame’s schedule is manageable up until this Week 10 matchup. Ian Book lost his three biggest weapons in Chris Finke, Cole Kmet, and Chase Claypool, so it will be interesting to see if he can build around Lawrence Keys and the other remaining receivers.
Meanwhile, for Clemson, Justyn Ross is already slated to miss the season. His absence hurts the team even more when coupled with the departure of Tee Higgins. Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne will once again have to pace a dynamic Clemson team with another soft schedule, so this Notre Dame matchup should have a serious impact on their resume.
Nov. 28: Auburn Tigers at Alabama Crimson Tide
Always a signature game of the college football season, the 85th Iron Bowl promises to have major playoff implications. LSU is likely to take a step back this season, and that will open the door for the Bo Nix-led Tigers to make noise in the SEC West. Auburn has a real chance of returning to the SEC Championship game this season, but it will come down to a matchup with their archrival from across the state.
This game will be in Tuscaloosa, where the Tide will be looking to avenge a 48-45 loss to Auburn last season that knocked Alabama out of playoff contention. An x-factor for Alabama will be Jaylen Waddle, who scored four times in last season’s Iron Bowl.
Auburn will return much of the same offense, with Seth Williams and Eli Stove as the primary weapons in the receiving game. JaTarvious “Boobee” Whitlow transferred, so D.J. Williams and Shaun Shivers will look to pick up the slack. The big question marks lie in replacing the big men up front, as Marlon Davidson and Derrick Brown both left for the draft.
Honorable Mention: Oct. 31: Georgia Bulldogs at Florida Gators
Florida has a cakewalk of a schedule this season and the inside track in the SEC East. Standing in their way will be the Bulldogs, who have appeared in three straight SEC title games. The key matchups start with Kyle Trask against returning senior safety Richard LeCounte and the experienced Georgia secondary. The other battle to watch is a Georgia receiving corps headlined by George Pickens that’s set to face a young Florida secondary that lost C.J. Henderson to the NFL.
Florida only has two difficult games on their docket, both at home against LSU and Georgia. If Dan Mullens’ team has any hope of making the Playoff this year, they need to win both. Overall, their tilt with their SEC East rival looms the largest.