Ranking the Best College Football Games of the 2020 Regular Season
With the 2020 college football regular season wrapping up this past weekend with conference title games, it's time to put a bow on one of the strangest years in the history of the sport.
Despite a weekly barrage of cancellations and rescheduling and an unbalanced schedule across conferences in an abridged season for everyone, there was still no shortage of memorable games.
Ahead we'll count down the 10 best games of the 2020 college football regular season.
These 10 games were selected based on a combination of memorable individual moments, the impact they had on the college football landscape at the time they were played and in the grand scheme of things, and for sheer entertainment value.
Here's hoping bowl season adds a few more instant classics to this list.
10. Kent State vs. Buffalo (Nov. 28, 2020)
Final Score: Buffalo 70, Kent State 41
A 29-point blowout earns a spot among the best games of the year?
It certainly does.
This matchup of 3-0 MAC teams vaulted Buffalo into the AP Top 25 and essentially punched the Buffaloes' ticket to the conference championship game.
However, it was the otherworldly performance of Buffalo running back Jaret Patterson that made this stand out as one of the most memorable games of the year.
The stat line speaks for itself: 36 carries, 409 yards, 8 TD.
His eight rushing touchdowns tied the FBS single-game record, and his 409 yards were the second-most ever behind the 427-yard day that Oklahoma star Samaje Perine posted against Kansas in 2014, according to Mark Schlabach of ESPN.
Decades from now, Patterson's performance will be one of the enduring markers of the 2020 season.
9. Kansas State at Oklahoma (Sept. 26, 2020)
Final Score: Kansas State 38, Oklahoma 35
Fresh off a 48-0 victory over FCS opponent Missouri State to begin the year, Oklahoma opened its conference slate as the favorites in the Big 12 and the No. 3 team in the AP poll.
On the flip side, Kansas State had just lost by four points to Arkansas State after being picked to finish seventh in the conference in the preseason media poll.
When Sooners quarterback Spencer Rattler connected with Jeremiah Hall for a 21-yard touchdown strike with 6:35 remaining in the third quarter, it gave Oklahoma a commanding 28-7 lead, and everything seemed to be going as expected.
However, by the end of the third quarter, the Wildcats had narrowed the deficit to 35-21, and they were just getting started.
Skylar Thompson cut the lead to seven points with his third rushing touchdown of the game shortly after the start of the fourth quarter, and Deuce Vaughn snapped off a 38-yard rushing touchdown four minutes later to tie the game.
A 50-yard field goal from Blake Lynch with 4:32 remaining was the final blow, and the victory was sealed when Rattler was picked off for the third time in the closing seconds.
8. Indiana vs. Ohio State (Nov. 21, 2020)
Final Score: Ohio State 42, Indiana 35
At the start of the season, Ohio State fans no doubt had the Oct. 31 matchup with Penn State circled as the game that would likely decide whether the Buckeyes would run the table in the Big Ten.
However, it quickly became clear that Indiana would be their biggest hurdle.
Both teams were undefeated and ranked inside the Top 10 in the AP poll when they took the field on Nov. 21 in Columbus, but things quickly went south for the Hoosiers.
After the teams traded touchdowns to start the game, Ohio State ripped off 28 unanswered points to build a 35-7 lead early in the third quarter.
The Hoosiers could have rolled over, but instead they fought back in impressive fashion.
Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. threw four second-half touchdown passes, including three to Ty Fryfogle, who finished with 218 receiving yards. Their third connection trimmed the Ohio State lead to 42-35 with 10:26 left on the clock, and the Buckeyes turned it over on downs after draining 5:47 off the clock during an 11-play drive.
The Buckeyes defense held strong down the stretch, and the Hoosiers were unable to move the ball on their final drive, but their comeback proved they were the real deal in a surprise season.
7. Alabama vs. Ole Miss (Oct. 10, 2020)
Final Score: Alabama 63, Ole Miss 48
Prior to Saturday's victory over Florida in the SEC title game, Alabama had allowed more than 24 points just once all season.
The culprit wasn't Texas A&M or Georgia or even archrival Auburn in the Iron Bowl.
It was Ole Miss.
The Rebels remain a work-in-progress, finishing the regular season with a 4-5 record, but the offense came to life in 2020 under new offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby.
For the better part of 60 minutes, the Rebels matched the best team in the country blow for blow.
The game was tied at 7, 14, 21, 28, 35 and 42 before Ole Miss was finally held to a pair of field goals in the fourth quarter and Alabama was able to pull away with a trio of touchdowns.
When the dust settled, the game had featured just one turnover and 1,370 total yards of offense, with 69 points scored after halftime.
What more could you ask for in a football game?
6. LSU vs. Florida (Dec. 12, 2020)
Final Score: LSU 37, Florida 34
Since suffering a 41-38 loss to Texas A&M on Oct. 10, the Florida Gators had been absolutely steamrolling people.
In the next six games, they outscored SEC opponents 251-126 and had climbed back up to No. 6 in the AP poll when they hosted LSU on Dec. 12.
Meanwhile, the Tigers were in the midst of a disappointing 3-5 season, and they had just been dominated by Texas A&M and Alabama in consecutive games.
Already locked into a matchup against the Crimson Tide in the SEC title game thanks to a head-to-head win over Georgia, the Gators still needed to take care of business against LSU to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.
Despite a 609-418 advantage in total yards, Florida allowed LSU to hang around thanks to three turnovers, and that was enough to swing the door open for an upset.
LSU kicker Cade York broke a 34-34 tie with 23 seconds remaining when he drilled a 57-yard field goal, and after Kyle Trask moved the Florida offense 42 yards in 15 seconds, kicker Evan McPherson couldn't answer with a 51-yard attempt of his own as time expired.
5. Penn State vs. Indiana (Oct. 24, 2020)
Final Score: Indiana 36, Penn State 35 (OT)
At surface level, this game doesn't look all that significant two months later.
Indiana sits at No. 7 in the most recent AP poll, while Penn State began the season 0-5 before coming to life down the stretch to finish 4-5.
However, it was a decidedly different storyline on Oct. 24.
The Nittany Lions began their season at No. 8 in the AP poll, while the Hoosiers had been picked to finish seventh in the conference in the preseason media poll.
It looked like the game was over when Indiana turned it over on downs trailing by one with less than two minutes to play. However, Penn State running back Devyn Moore unwisely found the end zone on the first play of the subsequent drive, thus handing the ball back to the Hoosiers, who now trailed by eight points.
Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. ripped off a seven-play, 75-yard drive in 1:20, punching it in himself from one yard out and then running it in again for the two-point conversation to tie the game. Penn State missed a 57-yard field-goal attempt at the end of regulation, and it was a brand-new ballgame.
The Nittany Lions scored first, and Indiana coach Tom Allen went for the jugular on their opening possession of overtime, going for two points and the win after Penix hit Whop Philyor for a nine-yard score.
A full-extension dive for the pylon from Penix will be one of the enduring images of the season, and the debate rages on whether he broke the plane before he was down. Regardless, the call on the field was a two-point conversion and an Indiana win.
4. Florida vs. Texas A&M (Oct. 10, 2020)
Final Score: Texas A&M 41, Florida 38
In the end, this game wound up being inconsequential in shaping the College Football Playoff picture.
However, for much of the season it looked like Texas A&M's head-to-head win over Florida would put them in the driver's seat to sneak into the No. 4 spot if one of the projected playoff teams faltered.
It was certainly a well-earned victory.
After a less-than-convincing win over Vanderbilt (17-12) and a blowout at the hands of Alabama (52-24), the Aggies had fallen to No. 21 in the AP poll when they welcomed Florida to College Station on Oct. 10.
In a back-and-forth game, both quarterbacks put together stellar performances:
- Kyle Trask: 23-of-32, 312 yards, 4 TD, 0 INT
- Kellen Mond: 25-of-35, 338 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT
In the end, it was Mond and the Aggies who stepped up in crunch time.
A 51-yard touchdown pass from Mond to Caleb Chapman with 4:30 left on the clock tied the game at 38-38, and the Aggies defense forced a Malik Davis fumble three plays into Florida's subsequent drive.
That led to an eight-play, 40-yard drive that bled the final 3:40 off the clock before Aggies kicker Seth Small hit a 26-yard chip shot as time expired, giving Texas A&M its biggest win of the season.
3. Texas vs. Oklahoma (Oct. 10, 2020)
Final Score: Oklahoma 53, Texas 45 (4OT)
When the third AP poll of the season was released on Sept. 20, both No. 3 Oklahoma and No. 9 Texas looked like legitimate College Football Playoff contenders.
Things had changed drastically when they squared off three weeks later.
Oklahoma suffered consecutive losses to fall out of the Top 25 entirely, while a 33-31 loss to TCU the previous week sent Texas tumbling down to No. 22.
It went from a marquee matchup of playoff hopefuls to a meeting of teams on the brink of disaster.
That added sense of desperation spawned one of the most entertaining games of the 2020 season, a four-overtime thriller at the Cotton Bowl.
The Longhorns trailed 31-17 entering the fourth quarter, but Sam Ehlinger authored a pair of touchdown drives sandwiched around Oklahoma punts, completing an eight-play, 84-yard march with 14 seconds left on the clock to tie things up and send the game to overtime.
The two teams traded touchdowns in the first and second overtimes, and both missed field goals in the third overtime. The Sooners got the ball to start the fourth extra period, and Spencer Rattler found Drake Stoops for a 25-yard touchdown pass, followed by another Rattler-to-Stoops connection for the two-point conversion.
Looking to rebuttal once again, Ehlinger was picked off by Tre Brown on the Longhorns' fifth play of their drive, ending the game and kicking off an impressive reversal of fortune for the Sooners that ended in a Big 12 championship game victory over Iowa State.
2. Clemson vs. Notre Dame 1.0 (Nov. 7, 2020)
Final Score: Notre Dame 47, Clemson 40 (2OT)
With quarterback Trevor Lawrence sidelined following a positive COVID-19 test, the Clemson Tigers were forced to turn to true freshman D.J. Uiagalelei for the biggest game of the regular season.
The 5-star recruit represents the future for the Tigers, and he more than held his own against a stacked Fighting Irish defense with 439 passing yards and a pair of touchdowns on a relatively efficient 29-of-44 passing night.
However, Lawrence's absence still changed the entire complexion of the game.
Clemson running back Travis Etienne was completely stifled, rushing for just 28 yards on 18 carries, and the Tigers dug themselves a hole with three lost fumbles.
Despite all of that, it still took a four-yard touchdown pass from Ian Book to Avery Davis with 22 seconds left for Notre Dame to knot things up at 33-33 and send the game to overtime.
The teams traded rushing touchdowns during the first overtime, and Notre Dame running back Kyren Williams punched it in again to start the second overtime for his third score of the night.
The Fighting Irish defense then sacked Uiagalelei on first and second down, and after an incomplete pass, the Tigers failed to convert on 4th-and-24 to end the game.
Clemson won the rematch last weekend in the ACC title game, and both teams are headed to the College Football Playoff, but this still stands as one of the most compelling games of 2020.
1. BYU vs. Coastal Carolina (Dec. 5, 2020)
Final Score: Coastal Carolina 22, BYU 17
By and large, the constant canceling and rescheduling of games was a huge bummer that hung over the entire 2020 season.
However, it did make this game possible.
After a COVID-19 outbreak at Liberty led to the highly anticipated game against Coastal Carolina being canceled, and with fellow unbeaten BYU looking to strengthen its long shot case for a playoff berth by adding games to a thin schedule, the pieces fell in place for a game that otherwise would not have been played.
It was 9-0 and No. 14 in the nation Coastal Carolina against 9-0 and No. 8 in the nation BYU, with a lot to gain and a lot to lose in the eyes of the bowl selection committee.
The game lived up to the hype, a well-played battle that pitted dark-horse Heisman candidate Zach Wilson and the high-powered BYU passing game against Coastal Carolina's relentless rushing attack.
A 29-yard field goal from Jake Oldroyd coming out of halftime gave BYU a 17-13 lead, but that was the last points they would put on the board.
The Chanticleers built a 22-17 lead with a two-yard touchdown run from CJ Marable early in the fourth quarter, and the defense bent as far as it could without breaking to protect that lead over the final 11:35 of play. Each team punted twice before BYU took over with 55 seconds left and one final shot.
The Cougars would orchestrate a seven-play, 81-yard drive, with Wilson hitting go-to target Dax Milne over the middle for what would be the final play of the game. He gained 17 yards on the reception and fought for every inch he could get, but in the end he was dragged down at the 1-yard line as time expired.
The game of the year, folks.
All stats courtesy of Sports Reference.