2020 College Football Preview: Biggest Games

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent decision of the Big 10 and Pac 12 to cancel their seasons, and remaining “Power 3” to play at most a single non-conference game, we lost many marquee matchups that add spice to the September slate and give an annual chance for regional bragging rights. Ohio State and Michigan will not be making trips to the West Coast to play Oregon and Washington, respectively, we won’t get to see Notre Dame play Wisconsin under the lights of Lambeau Field, USC and Alabama will not face off in the annual College Football Kickoff in Dallas, and we’ll miss out on seeing an encore of the wild LSU win over Texas. That being said, conference play still offers a number of big-time matchups, and with teams playing a shortened season, even a two loss season will be disappointing for top teams. Let’s face it, a 10-2 or 9-3 season is viewed much more favorably than 8-2 or 7-3.

With that, let’s break down and predict the ten biggest games of the 2020 college football season. These games are listed in chronological order and were selected due to their projected impact on conference races, fan interest, and the playoff. If you haven’t already checked out Part 1 and Part 2 of The Common Room’s 2020 College Football Preview analyzing conference races and playoff predictions, make sure to do that for additional context.

Team rankings reflect the current AP Top 25 poll, which does not factor in the decision of the Big 10, Pac 12, Mountain West, and MAC to postpone the fall 2020 season

The 10 Biggest Games of the 2020 College Football Season

  • #5 Oklahoma at #23 Iowa State
    • Location: Ames, IA
    • Date: October 3rd
    • Oklahoma heads to Iowa State in the second game of the Big 12 schedule. Last season, the Sooners withstood a furious fourth quarter Cyclone rally to hold on for a 42-41 win as ISU’s two point conversion attempt to win the game was knocked away. Though the Sooners will get revenge on Iowa State when these teams meet later in the conference title, this game belongs to the Cyclones. In only his second start, Okahoma QB Spencer Rattler will be outplayed by Iowa State’s Brock Purdy as he goes up against the Big 12’s top defense. Jack Trice Stadium, even without fans, again proves to be a graveyard for the Big 12’s best.
    • Preseason Prediction: Iowa State 27 Oklahoma 23
  • #8 Florida at #13 Texas A&M
    • Location: College Station, TX
    • Date: October 10th
    • Texas A&M is flying under the radar in 2020 as they come off a disappointing 8-5 season. What is missing from that analysis is an understanding that their 2019 schedule included games against LSU, Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, and Auburn, all teams who finished in the top 15 last season. Basically, the Aggies beat the teams they were better than, and lost to the teams they weren’t. Look for Texas A&M to take a step forward behind talented QB Kellen Mond and the SEC’s best defense led by first team all-SEC defensive tackle Bobby Brown.
    • Preseason Prediction: Texas A&M 24 Florida 20
  • #4 Georgia at #3 Alabama
    • Location: Tuscaloosa, AL
    • Date: October 17th
    • JT Daniels and Georgia head to Alabama in one of the most anticipated games of the 2020 season. Though a loss for either team won’t derail the path to the SEC Championship game, this opportunity presents Georgia a chance to take a claim for the SEC East. It won’t happen though, as a steady diet of RB Najee Harris and the stifling Tide defense led by LB Dylan Moses holds the Dawgs in check.
    • Preseason Prediction: Alabama 31 Georgia 20
  • #23 Iowa State at #15 Oklahoma State
    • Location: Stillwater, OK
    • Date: October 24th
    • This game is projected to pit two undefeated teams against each other, with a to-this-point untested Oklahoma State team facing Iowa State, coming off a program-defining win against Oklahoma in Ames three weeks before. In a back-and-forth game, Oklahoma State will have a little too much skill position talent with RB Chuba Hubbard and WR Tylan Wallace for the Cyclones to pull this one out on the road. This puts Oklahoma State in control of the Big 12 race at the season’s halfway point.
    • Preseason Prediction: Oklahoma State 34 Iowa State 30
  • #8 Florida vs. #4 Georgia
    • Location: Jacksonville, FL
    • Date: November 7th
    • The World’s Largest Cocktail Party will once again be a battle for control of the SEC East, even with both teams coming off of October losses to SEC West opponents. Georgia has the edge on defense and on the offensive line, and quarterback JT Daniels continues to settle in to the SEC, outgunning Kyle Trask in a back-and-forth rivalry game. The Dawgs seize the inside track to a rematch with Alabama in Atlanta.
    • Preseason Prediction: Georgia 20 Florida 16
  • #1 Clemson at #10 Notre Dame
    • Location: South Bend, IN
    • Date: November 7th
    • This game was already one of the most anticipated of the 2020 season, and Notre Dame’s decision to join the ACC for 2020 ratchets up the importance even more, with the Irish now eligible for the ACC Championship. This will be arguably the biggest game in Notre Dame Stadium since the 2005 “Bush Push” game against USC. Irish QB Ian Book has set all kinds of records during his career, but has yet to prove he can win the big one. He does here, though, as the Irish start fast and ride the nation’s best offensive line to victory under the lights, seizing control of the ACC race in their first (and potentially only) season as a member.
    • Preseason Prediction: Notre Dame 27 Clemson 24
  • #3 Alabama at #6 LSU
    • Location: Baton Rouge, LA
    • Date: November 14th
    • Joe Burrow and LSU took down Alabama on the road last season in a wild 46-41 win, which cemented Burrow’s Heisman frontrunner status and made Saban’s Tide dynasty look vulnerable for the first time in years. Both teams have new quarterbacks this year, but only one team returns its top running back. The advantage will go to whichever team can control the line of scrimmage. That will be Alabama, as RB Najee Harris will be the difference in the game.
    • Preseason Prediction: Alabama 23 LSU 9
  • #15 Oklahoma State at #5 Oklahoma
    • Location: Norman, OK
    • Date: November 21st
    • Bedlam will again be the game of the year in the Big 12, as an undefeated Oklahoma State team will head to Norman as the favorites, a unique position for the Cowboys. The Sooners will again assert their dominance over their in-state rivals, with an eighth win in the last ten tries, and a sixth win in a row in the historic series. QB Spencer Rattler and the Sooners will be peaking at the right time, and the OU victory throws the Big 12 race into chaos, with Iowa State, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State all tied at the top with 1 loss.
    • Preseason Prediction: Oklahoma 45 Oklahoma State 31
  • #20 Cincinnati at #21 UCF
    • Location: Orlando, FL
    • Date: November 21st
    • The Bounce House may not be quite as crazy without fans, but there will still be plenty of energy for this game between the top two teams in the American, who will both enter with undefeated records and dreams of the College Football Playoff. UCF’s Dillon Gabriel was forced into action last season after the injury to Mackenzie Milton, performed well early on, but faded down the stretch. He’ll use that experience to solve a talented Bearcats defense and carry the Knights to an AAC championship berth, keeping the CFP hopes alive.
    • Preseason Prediction: UCF 34 Cincinnati 24
  • #10 Notre Dame at #18 North Carolina
    • Location: Chapel Hill, NC
    • Date: November 27th
    • Notre Dame’s win against Clemson sets up what should be a showdown of undefeated teams on Black Friday. The quarterbacks will be the pregame story, with ND’s Ian Book and UNC’s Sam Howell each having great seasons. The difference in the game will come down to the pass rush, and ND’s defensive end tandem of seniors Daelin Hayes and Ade Ogundeiji will harrass Howell into multiple turnovers against an opportunistic Notre Dame defense. Only a home game against Syracuse stands between the Irish and an undefeated regular season.
    • Preseason Prediction: Notre Dame 38 North Carolina 21
Broadcast Info: Florida vs. Georgia - #UFvsUGA - Florida Gators
The annual Florida vs. Georgia slugfest in Jacksonville will decide the SEC East title

The Best of the Rest:

These games aren’t projected to have as big of an impact on conference races and the playoff, but in a year with limited college football, we’ll be tuning in for sure.

  • #21 UCF at Georgia Tech – September 19th
    • This is the only non-conference game for UCF and though Georgia Tech is projected to finish last in the ACC, they are a common opponent for the Knights with both Clemson and Notre Dame.
    • Preseason Prediction: UCF 52 Georgia Tech 10
  • Miami at Louisville – September 19th
    • A matchup of two exciting teams with dynamic quarterbacks, as Louisville’s Micale Cunningham faces Miami’s D’Eriq King. Cunningham set the school record for passing efficiency last season (and that school has had some great QBs) while King accounted for 50 touchdowns at Houston in 2018.
    • Preseason Prediction: Louisville 31 Miami 28
  • #11 Auburn at #4 Georgia – October 3rd
    • This game will be the first real test for Georgia’s JT Daniels under center (assuming he is medically cleared to play) and will tell the country whether the Dawgs are for real after losing Jake Fromm and DeAndre Swift to the NFL.
    • Preseason Prediction: Georgia 20 Auburn 13
  • #13 Texas A&M at #3 Alabama – October 3rd
    • Texas A&M is flying under the radar this year in large part due to a disappointing 8-5 record in 2019. However, they return a third-year starting quarterback and arguably the best defense in the SEC. The winner of this game should win the SEC West.
    • Preseason Prediction: Alabama 23 Texas A&M 17
  • Miami at #1 Clemson – October 10th
    • This is Clemson’s toughest test this year outside of their November 7th trip to South Bend to face Notre Dame. Miami’s D’Eriq King is a playmaker, but he never faced a defense like Clemson’s while at Houston.
    • Preseason Prediction: Clemson 38 Miami 21
  • Louisville at #10 Notre Dame – October 17th
    • This is projected to be a matchup of undefeated teams in South Bend, and this Louisville team projects to be even better than the team that hung tough with the Irish last year before losing 35-17. Notre Dame is too strong along the lines though, and pulls away late.
    • Preseason Prediction: Notre Dame 38 Louisville 27
  • #21 UCF at MemphisOctober 17th
    • UCF heads on the road to face a talented Memphis team that has the playmakers to score with the Golden Knights. Can the Knights keep the undefeated season and playoff dream alive?
    • Preseason Prediction: UCF 45 Memphis 32
  • #6 LSU at #8 FloridaOctober 17th
    • This is LSU’s first big test post-Joe Burrow, as Myles Brennan leads the Tigers to face Kyle Trask and the Gators in the Swamp. LSU lost a ton of talent, with 14 players drafted, including a record 5 in the first round, and this game will be too much, too soon.
    • Preseason Prediction: Florida 24 LSU 14
  • Memphis at #20 Cincinnati – October 31st
    • Despite the publicity around UCF, Cincinnati is the American’s highest ranked team. Should they get by Memphis, the Bearcats should be undefeated for their November 21st trip to the Bounce House to decide the American title.
    • Preseason Prediction: Cincinnati 28 Memphis 20
  • #6 LSU at #11 Auburn – October 31st
    • The Tigers continue their SEC gauntlet with a visit to Jordan-Hare Stadium. Look for a young Tigers team to use the experience gained against Florida to pull out a close win on the road.
    • Preseason Prediction LSU 27 Auburn 17
  • #15 Oklahoma State at Kansas State – November 7th
    • The Cowboys figure to be undefeated and leading the Big 12 when they head to the Little Apple, but become the second highly ranked team from Oklahoma to lose to Kansas State on the road in the last two years.
    • Preseason Prediction: Kansas State 41 Oklahoma State 34
  • #11 Auburn at #3 Alabama – November 28th
    • No list would be complete without the annual Iron Bowl, as the Tigers head to Tuscaloosa to face the Crimson Tide. Auburn took down Alabama in one of the craziest games of the season in 2019, and the Tide return the favor this year, though this game always ends up being closer than it should be.
    • Preseason Prediction: Alabama 41 Auburn 38
  • #6 LSU at #13 Texas A&M – November 28th
    • Texas A&M can keep the dream of a SEC title alive with a win, should Alabama stumble, and QB Kellen Mond and the Aggie offense have the firepower to score against a reloading LSU defense while an underrated Texas A&M defense keep Myles Brennan and company in check.
    • Preseason Prediction: Texas A&M 30 LSU 20
  • #23 Iowa State at #14 Texas – November 28th
    • Iowa State can all but assure a spot in the Big 12 Championship game with a win in Austin, which is projected to be against a reeling Longhorns team that will have already suffered 3 losses. Brock Purdy and company lost 5 games by 22 total points last season, and they use that experience to find a way to win a close one.
    • Preseason Prediction: Iowa State 24 Texas 21
  • #18 North Carolina at Miami – December 5th
    • North Carolina heads to South Florida fresh off a loss to Notre Dame the week before, ending their hopes of an undefeated season. An ACC title game berth is still a possibility, but the deflated Tar Heels come up short against a Hurricanes team playing its best football of the season.
    • Preseason Prediction: Miami 33 North Carolina 24
Gabriel Throws 3 TDs in UCF's Bounceback Rout of UConn
Darkhorse Heisman contender Dillon Gabriel looks to continue the recent Hawaiian quarterback tradition and help the Knights crash the College Football Playoff

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