Best Neutral-Site Games in 2021 College Football Season
Especially early in the regular season, neutral-site games are an important part of the college football calendar.
In 2021, the September clash between national title front-runners Clemson and Georgia is the biggest game in this category. Several other top-ranked teams—Alabama, Texas, Notre Dame and Wisconsin—have marquee neutral-site games, too.
As always, there are also traditional rivalry games: Oklahoma/Texas, Florida/Georgia and Army/Navy. Additionally, the 2021 season has a couple of interesting locations.
The following list highlights the best neutral-site matchups based on the teams involved and the uniqueness of the location.
Sept. 4: Alabama vs. Miami
Where: Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia
This one requires an asterisk. If quarterback D'Eriq King isn't fully recovered from an ACL injury, it's difficult to project Miami as a legitimate threat to even a rebuilt Alabama.
King's mobility helped the offense atone for inconsistent blocking in 2020, and Alabama undoubtedly has the defense to make life miserable for Miami's front. Still, the Hurricanes return a strong majority of their production from an 8-3 team.
To be clear, Alabama will be the favorite—perhaps a heavy one. But between King's health and the starting debut of Alabama quarterback Bryce Young, this contest is squarely on the radar.
Sept. 4: Clemson vs. Georgia
Where: Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina
In hindsight, we might remember this showdown as the biggest game of the 2021 season. Clemson and Georgia are both expected to land top-five preseason rankings.
After seeing the much-anticipated Florida State/Alabama clash in 2017 end with a disastrous injury, it's wise to delay the "best opening game ever" talks. Given the preseason expectations, though, emphasizing the potential importance is totally justified.
Behind new full-time quarterback JT Daniels, Georgia has championship aspirations. Clemson will be aiming for a seventh straight ACC title and a trip back to the College Football Playoff.
Sep. 11: Texas A&M vs. Colorado
Where: Empower Field at Mile High in Denver, Colorado
The 2021 schedule offers a bit of Big 12 nostalgia. Nebraska's trip to Oklahoma includes far more historical meaning, but Texas A&M heads to a semi-neutral site to play Colorado.
When the programs shared a conference in the 1990s and 2000s, Colorado earned a 6-3 advantage in the series. They haven't squared off since CU left for the Pac-12 after the 2010 season, last playing in 2009—a 35-34 Colorado win.
Relative to 2021, the game is notable because of Texas A&M's national championship hopes. This will be the Aggies' first contest against a power-conference opponent.
Sept. 25: Wisconsin vs. Notre Dame
Where: Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois
Ladies and gentlemen, begin to mentally prepare yourself for the Jack Coan Revenge Game. The former Wisconsin quarterback headed to Notre Dame this offseason and is likely to replace Ian Book as the starter for the Irish.
But in all seriousness, that storyline is a bonus to this rare matchup.
Despite only 240 miles separating Madison and South Bend, this is the first regular-season game between the programs since 1964. The hiatus would've ended in 2020 with a matchup at Lambeau Field, but the coronavirus pandemic altered those plans.
Instead, the Badgers and Irish will invade Soldier Field—home of the NFL's Chicago Bears—for the first meeting in 57 years.
TBD: Oklahoma vs. Texas
Where: Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas
Though the date isn't certain, the Red River Rivalry is historically played on the first or second weekend of October. The game coincides with the State Fair of Texas in Dallas.
And in 2021, the matchup welcomes a new face.
Texas fired head coach Tom Herman and hired Steve Sarkisian, who coordinated the Alabama offense and won a national title last season. His challenge is taking down an Oklahoma program that boasts nine wins in the last 12 games of the Red River series—oh, and six straight Big 12 championships.
Led by quarterback Spencer Rattler, Oklahoma heads into the fall as one of the five biggest national title contenders alongside Alabama, Clemson, Georgia and Ohio State.
Oct. 30: Florida vs. Georgia
Where: TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Florida
During the last decade, the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party has separated the pretender from the contender. The winner has eventually secured the SEC East crown eight times in the last 10 years—including each of the last six seasons.
Based on current perceptions, that trend should continue.
As noted earlier, Georgia is a national title hopeful. Florida can loosely be considered the same, though a new quarterback, an overhauled group of receivers, a defense in desperate need of improvements and a regular-season clash with Alabama are big obstacles.
Nov. 20: Purdue vs. Northwestern
Where: Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois
In 2010, Illinois and Northwestern played an uncommon game at Wrigley Field. Due to the tight dimensions at the historic ballpark, which always had a slim field for NFL games in decades past, the offenses only headed toward the west end zone.
Fortunately, the 2017-18 renovation at Wrigley included a plan for removable seats on the third-base side. The 120-yard football field will fit comfortably.
If the season goes as hoped for Northwestern, the Wildcats may have an opportunity against Purdue to seal their third West Division title in the last four years.
Dec. 11: Army vs. Navy
Where: MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey
The 2020 clash featured an extreme rarity in Army-Navy Game history: It wasn't a neutral-site contest.
Not since 1943 had West Point hosted the contest, and 2020 marked only the fourth time Army ever did. That matchup tied West Point with East Rutherford, New Jersey, on the series' all-time location leaderboard—briefly, that is.
Army and Navy haven't met at this version of MetLife Stadium, which opened in 2010. Navy holds a 3-1 edge in the previous showdowns in East Rutherford.