2020 Games That Will Have Biggest Impact on the College Football Playoff
The 2020 regular season will have a different look and feel, but the destination is still the same. Every team is hoping its journey ends with a trip to the College Football Playoff.
Since the ACC, Big 12 and SEC announced their respective schedules in August, we've had those key matchups circled on the calendar for a while. Now that the Big Ten has unveiled its plans to return, we can break out the permanent marker and add a few more.
The list is subjective but considers the timing of the game, projected impact on division/conference races and potential to eliminate one team from the CFP race.
Conference championship games are especially impactful but not included. The selected games build toward those matchups, which ultimately decide the CFP representatives.
As of this writing, the Pac-12 is not confirmed to return. For now, the conference is excluded from consideration.
More Games to Know
Oct. 17: UCF at Memphis
Oct. 31: Memphis at Cincinnati
Nov. 21: Cincinnati at UCF
Oct. 10: Miami at Clemson
Nov. 27: Notre Dame at North Carolina
Dec. 5: North Carolina at Miami
Oct. 31: Texas at Oklahoma State
Nov. 21: Oklahoma State at Oklahoma
Nov. 27: Iowa State at Texas
Nov. 14: Wisconsin at Michigan
Nov. 28: Minnesota at Wisconsin
Nov. 28: Penn State at Michigan
Dec. 12: Michigan at Ohio State
Oct. 3: Auburn at Georgia
Oct. 17: LSU at Florida
Nov. 14: Alabama at LSU
Oct. 10: Oklahoma vs. Texas
Through the first two weeks of the Big 12 season, the expected hierarchy is firmly in place.
Oklahoma and Texas both throttled a nonconference foe, but Iowa State lost to Louisiana and Oklahoma State barely escaped Tulsa. While the Cyclones and Cowboys can still compete in the Big 12, Oklahoma and Texas are the Tier 1 teams.
The rivals are slated to meet Oct. 10 at the Cotton Bowl and will likely both be undefeated entering the matchup.
While winning the showdown does not guarantee a Big 12 title, it's an important step toward the championship game. And since Oklahoma's last three years have included a Big 12 crown and CFP trip, the path to the playoff is established.
Oct. 17: Georgia at Alabama
This contest is the simplest way the SEC can send two programs to the CFP in 2020.
Pretend, for a moment, that Alabama edges Georgia in this Oct. 17 tilt. Alabama ends the regular season undefeated, and Georgia doesn't lose another one. But then in the SEC Championship Game, Georgia redeems itself and topples the Tide.
Both 10-1, only losing to each other. Unless the ACC, Big 12 and Big Ten each boast an undefeated conference champion, this would create the biggest dilemma of the 2020 season.
Regardless, Alabama and Georgia are two of the nation's most talented teams. If either side has a loss, this would be a de facto elimination game for that program. But if both teams begin the campaign 3-0, it'll be a battle for front-runner status in the SEC.
Oct. 31: Ohio State at Penn State
During the second week of the Big Ten's season, the conference's best two teams will fight for a critical win.
Ohio State and Penn State both have national championship hopes, but navigating the East division is the first task. Earning this victory at Beaver Stadium—which, unfortunately for Penn State, cannot feature the famous White Out in 2020—will provide a valuable tiebreaker in the race between OSU, PSU and Michigan.
And if Ohio State wins on Halloween, the Buckeyes' remaining slate is extremely friendly. Penn State would need to finish undefeated and hope for two Ohio State losses, and that's unlikely.
Michigan could upend the Buckeyes, yet Ohio State has dominated the rivalry lately and Michigan's schedule is much, much tougher anyway. The Wolverines might be relegated to the spoiler role in "The Game" on Dec. 12 instead of a CFP contender.
This result at Penn State won't undeniably settle the division, but it's unlikely anyone else takes the East if Ohio State wins.
Oct. 31: LSU at Auburn
As the Big Ten East battle takes place on Halloween, the SEC West has a pivotal game between LSU and Auburn the same day.
This may simply be a survive-and-advance win.
Auburn opens the regular season with Kentucky and Georgia but should otherwise win three games to be 5-0 or 4-1. LSU travels to Florida in mid-October but should have a record in the same range.
The problem, though, is a slim margin for error because of Alabama's perceived strength. Dropping this showdown erases any control for the losing team; whichever side falls must defeat Alabama and hope the winner drops two SEC games.
But the winning team will be Alabama's top challenger in the West.
Nov. 7: Clemson at Notre Dame
Clemson always had a trip to South Bend, Indiana, on the schedule, but this contest has extra meaning now that Notre Dame is an ACC team.
In all likelihood, Clemson will be 7-0 at this point. Beginning Oct. 3, Dabo Swinney's team hosts four of its next five matchups, and perhaps only Miami can reasonably stick with the Tigers. (That even feels premature to say despite D'Eriq King's excellent start.)
As a result, this Nov. 7 tilt is Clemson's first road challenge of the season. If the Tigers win at Notre Dame, they'll basically lock up a spot in the ACC Championship Game.
An upset for the Irish, though, will throw a powerful twist into a conference that has lacked drama for several years.
Nov. 7: Florida vs. Georgia
Tennessee is hoping to join the SEC East favorites, and an Oct. 15 affair with Georgia gives the Volunteers an early chance. But after three straight losses of at least 26 points to UGA, Tennessee has a whole lot to prove.
Florida and Georgia, though, have accounted for the last five division titles and are both Top Five teams. The road to the SEC Championship Game runs through Jacksonville on Nov. 7.
Yes, UGA has Auburn, Alabama and Kentucky along with Tennessee before the Cocktail Party. While not our projection, it's plausible the Bulldogs lose twice. Even if that happens, Florida should be 5-0 or 4-1 unless both Texas A&M and LSU defeat the Gators.
Georgia can either continue a championship path or substantially harm Florida's hopes of earning its first CFP berth. Or, Florida could swing the East's balance of power for the first time in four years.
Nov. 28: Auburn at Alabama
From 2008 to 2018, either Auburn or Alabama ranked first or second nationally at the time of the Iron Bowl. Last year, the impressive streak ended when Alabama merely entered at No. 5.
Pretty influential game, wouldn't you say?
Short of LSU's defeating both programs, the Nov. 28 Iron Bowl is likely to determine the SEC West team in the conference title game. Perhaps it's Alabama or Auburn winning the Iron Bowl and the division; maybe a certain result gives LSU the tiebreaker.
Additionally, it could be as simple as one team ruining the other's hopes of making the College Football Playoff—which Auburn did to Alabama with a 48-45 victory last season.
There are any number of possibilities, but a strong majority of them indicate the Iron Bowl will impact the SEC and CFP races.
Follow Bleacher Report writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.