Ranking the Most Exciting Weekends in CFB After New Schedule Releases
The start of the 2020 college football season is now less than two weeks away, although it often still feels like a fictitious goal at least four months away—calendar math that could only possibly make sense in 2020.
Despite recent COVID-19 outbreaks at college campuses across the country, fall football is still the plan for the ACC, Big 12, SEC, AAC, Conference USA and Sun Belt. And until we're told otherwise, we will continue to assume that the season will start on time and that the schedule will be played in its entirety.
If that is the case, there are some awesome Saturdays on the horizon, particularly in the mid-October to early-November time frame. So if you had previously given up on the possibility of a football season and agreed to apple picking or pumpkin patch plans for this fall, it might be time to start seeing if you can renege on those in favor of full days of college pigskin.
Even without the Big Ten or Pac-12, there are still some slates that are going to require a multiscreen setup for a many-hour commitment. And it's going to be fantastic.
Week 2 (Sept. 12)
The schedule is mostly awful, because the SEC isn't playing and the Big 12 is just playing home games against Group of Five or FCS opponents. But at least there will be a few ACC battles (Clemson at Wake Forest, Duke at Notre Dame and Georgia Tech at Florida State) to welcome Power Five football back into our lives.
Week 5 (Oct. 3)
Two noteworthy SEC clashes (Auburn at Georgia; Texas A&M at Alabama) and a potential major upset with Oklahoma playing at Iowa State. All three national championship contenders should be favored by at least a touchdown, though, and the rest of the week leaves a lot to be desired if we don't get major fireworks in one of those three games.
Week 11 (Nov. 14)
This week features one of the biggest games of the entire season with Alabama traveling to LSU in a mammoth SEC West contest. But the rest of the schedule is severely lacking. Clemson, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas are all idle, Notre Dame is facing Boston College and the second-best SEC game of the week is probably Texas A&M at Tennessee—which, by SEC standards, isn't that huge.
Week 14 (Dec. 5)
It's tough to forecast which games will be most important in the final week of the regular season, but Clemson at Virginia Tech figures to fit the bill. Florida at Tennessee could also be huge, and perhaps Texas A&M at Auburn will feature at least one team still mathematically in the hunt for first place in the SEC West.
5. Week 13 (Nov. 28)
The Headliner: The Iron Bowl (Auburn at Alabama)
It's going to be supremely weird not having the Iron Bowl in the final week of the regular season. You would think the schedule-makers would have put that one in stone and built everything else out around it, but alas.
Whether it's in the final week or the penultimate week of the season, though, it's the best rivalry in the country. (There's usually a strong argument for Michigan vs. Ohio State as the best rivalry, but that Big Ten showdown ain't happening in 2020.) Auburn has won two of the last three games in this series, but it hasn't won in Tuscaloosa since the 28-27 "Cam-Back" in 2010.
Second-Best: Notre Dame at North Carolina
The ACC's schedule-makers sure did Mack Brown and Co. a lot of favors. The Tar Heels won't face Clemson or Louisville, and they get both Virginia Tech and Notre Dame at home. Those four teams plus UNC are probably the five best in the league, so only playing two of those teams and not needing to play either of those games on the road is a potential recipe for something special.
But even if the Tar Heels win every game on the calendar except for this one, there's still a good chance they get left out of the ACC championship, since both Clemson and Notre Dame should win every game aside from their head-to-head clash.
In other words, expect this game to determine who faces Clemson in the ACC championship.
The Rest of the Slate
In addition to the Iron Bowl, both LSU at Texas A&M and Kentucky at Florida should be entertaining games with potentially massive SEC championship implications.
Not much else brewing in the ACC beyond ND-UNC, but the Big 12 has a pair of moderately good matchups in Oklahoma at West Virginia and Iowa State at Texas. Both the Longhorns and Sooners may well be in "just don't blow it" mode at this point, but either of those opponents could change the projected conference championship with an upset.
4. Week 10 (Nov. 7)
The Headliner: Florida vs. Georgia (in Jacksonville)
It would be hard to overstate the importance of this SEC East clash, particularly considering neither Florida nor Georgia has a particularly daunting game on the calendar over the final four weeks of the season. Upsets can happen anytime, anywhere in the SEC, but it feels like there's at least a 90 percent chance that this Nov. 7 game determines who represents the division in the SEC championship in mid-December.
Georgia is riding a three-game winning streak in this rivalry, but Florida has been closing the gap. The Bulldogs won by 35 in 2017, by 19 in 2018 and by just one touchdown this past fall. Should be another close contest between what figure to be two of the best defenses in the country.
Second-Best: Clemson at Notre Dame
It still feels strange to call this a pivotal ACC game, but it is hands down the biggest test of the season for both of these national championship contenders. Given the respective September and October schedules, it would be rather surprising if either team isn't undefeated at this point in the season.
That said, business picks up in a hurry from here, as Notre Dame will play at North Carolina in late November, while Clemson has road games against both Florida State and Virginia Tech after this trip to South Bend. It's at least feasible the loser of this game acquires another loss down the stretch and denies us a much-anticipated rematch in the ACC championship.
The Rest of the Slate
Those top two options are must-watch affairs, but the schedule is quite bleak beyond that. It's a toss-up between Baylor at Iowa State and Louisville at Virginia for third-best matchup, which isn't saying much. Definitely not a "lay on the couch flipping channels for 12 hours" type of slate.
3. Week 9 (Oct. 31)
The Headliner: Texas at Oklahoma State
Most projections have Oklahoma penciled into the Big 12 championship against either Texas or Oklahoma State. So, yeah, this is kind of an important game, since the winner will hold a significant advantage over the loser in the presumed race for the No. 2 seed.
Moreover, this should be a great matchup between arguably the best offense in the Big 12 (Oklahoma State) and the best defense in the Big 12 (Texas). The Longhorns did a fine job of containing Chuba Hubbard and Tylan Wallace during last year's 36-30 victory, but true freshman QB Spencer Sanders was still getting his feet wet at the time of that mid-September clash. It will be fun to see what he can do for the Pokes this year.
Second-Best: LSU at Auburn
The above Big 12 clash should decide who places second in the league, but this game will likely determine who pushes Alabama the hardest for the SEC West division crown.
Based on the schedule, both sets of Tigers figure to be 4-1 at the time of this contest. (Auburn's projected loss at Georgia; LSU's projected loss at Florida.) In that scenario, the winner takes a 5-1 record into the four-game home stretch, which includes a game against Alabama and a game against Texas A&M for both sides. It would be especially huge if LSU is able to win on the road, because the Bayou Bengals at least get to host the Crimson Tide.
The Rest of the Slate
What I love about the Week 9 slate is there's a potentially huge game in each of the ACC, Big 12, SEC and AAC.
The ACC game is Virginia Tech at Louisville. Clemson, Notre Dame and North Carolina figure to be the top three challengers for the ACC championship, but Louisville doesn't play Clemson or UNC and Virginia Tech doesn't need to contend with Notre Dame. If the Cardinals win, there's a decent chance they end up going 10-1. If the Hokies win, they just might carry an undefeated record into the season finale at home against Clemson.
And in the AAC, Memphis at Cincinnati looms large. Memphis will have already played against UCF at this point, so it's possible this game either opens the door for the Tigers to go undefeated or paves the way for Cincinnati at UCF (Nov. 21) to be a 7-0 vs. 7-0 affair.
2. Week 6 (Oct. 10)
The Headliner: Oklahoma vs. Texas (in Dallas)
The Red River Rivalry is always a great headliner. In the past 15 meetings dating back to 2006, there have been 10 games in which both the Longhorns and the Sooners were ranked in the AP Top 25, including six games with both sides in the Top 15. Oklahoma holds a slight lead (9-6) in the series during that time, but 10 of those 15 games were decided by 10 points or fewer.
In other words, it's almost always an important game, and it's almost always a good one. And this early in the season—it's Week 6, but it's only Game No. 4 for each side—this one will carry a lot of weight in the annual "Is Texas back?" debate. Can't wait to see what Longhorns QB Sam Ehlinger brings to the table in his fifth career game against Oklahoma.
Second-Best: Florida at Texas A&M
This is a huge matchup between SEC contenders which wasn't originally on the schedule. Part of the reason it felt like this might be Jimbo Fisher's year to really turn Texas A&M into a title contender was the lack of both Florida and Georgia on the Aggies' schedule. But with the expansion to 10 league games, they now need to host the Gators just seven days after a road game against Alabama. The Aggies could go from "Preseason title contender" to a 1-2 record in the blink of an eye.
Similar story for Florida, though. The Gators' schedule initially consisted of a home game against LSU, a neutral-site game against Georgia and six very winnable games against the projected bottom eight teams in the league. This road hurdle could throw a significant wrench into their SEC championship plans.
The Rest of the Slate
The ACC doesn't have many weeks with multiple intriguing games, but Miami at Clemson, Florida State at Notre Dame and Virginia Tech at North Carolina all fit the bill in Week 6. If any of those three home teams fails to hold serve against a borderline preseason Top 25 foe, it would shake up the remaining trajectory of the league.
Elsewhere in the SEC, both Tennessee at Georgia and Mississippi State at Kentucky figure to be good ones, but there's a case to be made that Alabama at Ole Miss—aka Nick Saban vs. Lane Kiffin—should be in the "Second-Best" slot here, even though it's probably going to be a blowout.
1. Week 7 (Oct. 17)
The Headliner: Georgia at Alabama
As far as projected AP rankings are concerned, this is the most noteworthy game of the year. Both Alabama and Georgia will probably open the season ranked in the top three along with Clemson, so this is one heck of a midseason showdown.
In each of the last two meetings—the national championship in January 2018 and the SEC championship 11 months later—Alabama trailed by two touchdowns with less than six minutes remaining in the third quarter, only to rally for a dramatic victory. Similar sparks should fly between these title contenders.
Second-Best: LSU at Florida
Georgia-Alabama should be a top-three clash, but LSU-Florida will almost certainly be a battle between teams ranked in the top six of the preseason poll. In just about any other week, it would be the headliner. As is, it's merely one of the two gigantic games among the SEC's upper tier. And let's not forget how great last year's game was in the bayou. Kyle Trask was impressive against the eventual national champions, leading the Gators to a 28-21 third-quarter lead before the Tigers scored 21 unanswered.
The Rest of the Slate
A lot of fun games on the docket for this weekend, starting with UCF at Memphis on Friday night. If ever there was a year for an AAC team to run the table and crash the College Football Playoff, this is the one, and those are two of the three teams (along with Cincinnati) most likely to pull it off.
In case those first two SEC games weren't enough, this is also the week that Kentucky plays at Tennessee and Mississippi State hosts Texas A&M. Couple of intriguing ACC games, too, in the form of North Carolina at Florida State and Louisville at Notre Dame. Not much going on in the Big 12 this weekend, but Oklahoma State at Baylor should make for a mighty fine eighth-best game of the week.