10 Most Anticipated Rematches of the 2021 College Football Season

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistFebruary 18, 2021

10 Most Anticipated Rematches of the 2021 College Football Season

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    Jeffrey McWhorter/Associated Press

    Even with COVID-19 limiting the college football schedule and causing many teams to play abbreviated or conference-only slates, there were memorable matchups in 2020.

    Looking ahead to the '21 season, there are plenty of reasons for some of those games to be intriguing again.

    Factoring in the competitiveness of last year's contests, anticipated conference or national-title implications and just downright excitement from the '20 game or playmakers bursting at the seams on both sides, we've dissected some games you'll want to circle on your calendars.

    Representatives like Indiana (twice!) and UCF add a little variety from the status-quo teams normally featured, and the schedule will bring us unique back-to-back battles too.

    Get ready for some major grudge matches this season, and buckle up for some classics because there are plenty of reasons these rematches could produce must-see TV.   

10. Ole Miss at Alabama, Oct. 2

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    Vasha Hunt/Associated Press

    2020 results: Alabama 63, Ole Miss 48 

    There may have been more competitive matchups in 2020, but there weren't a whole lot of games more thrilling if you love offense. The Crimson Tide were also taking on their former offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin in his first season as head coach in Oxford.

    The Rebels had no business staying with Bama, but they matched them point-for-point for much of the game. Though their glaring defensive woes were ultimately their undoing, their performance set the tone for Kiffin's rebuild. 

    Alabama showed it could outscore anybody in the nation, with head coach Nick Saban's team racking up 723 total yards. But Ole Miss finished with 647 yards, the most ever gained against a Saban-coached Tide team.

    With 11:31 left on the clock after Ole Miss tied the contest at 42, Kiffin called an unsuccessful onside kick, the Tide scored a touchdown and then held the Rebs to a field goal. They scored a touchdown on the next drive to finally put the game out of reach.

    The 2021 edition is going to be interesting. While Kiffin has to replace pass-catchers Elijah Moore and Kenny Yeboah, Ole Miss will have a lot of weapons back and has built the defense through recruiting. Bama lost key players like 2020 Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith, running back Najee Harris and quarterback Mac Jones.

    Will this be another shootout? Could Ole Miss pull off a massive upset? There are a lot of storylines in the rematch.     

9. Ohio State at Indiana, Oct. 23

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    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    2020 results: Ohio State 42, Indiana 35

    Some people may forget just how exciting head coach Tom Allen's Indiana Hoosiers were in '20, especially before electrifying quarterback Michael Penix Jr. went down with a season-ending injury in November.

    They were good enough to take the national runner-up to the brink, and had the Big Ten not adjusted its rules, the Hoosiers would have gone to the conference championship game with the Buckeyes not playing enough games to qualify.

    Even so, Ohio State beat the Hoosiers head-to-head, staving off a comeback attempt by Indiana to survive by a touchdown after leading 35-7 following an early score in the third quarter.

    Penix was a revelation, torching the Buckeyes' porous secondary for 491 yards through the air and five touchdowns. The Hoosiers closed the gap to seven in the fourth quarter and forced a turnover on downs inside the IU 10-yard line before Ohio State thwarted the rally.

    The Buckeyes are going to find life without quarterback Justin Fields tough in 2021, and running back Trey Sermon will be gone too. They must also improve across all three levels of their defense. Meanwhile, Penix will be back and should be healthy.

    The return of Ty Fryfogle and Miles Marshall will help ease the sting of IU wideout Whop Philyor's departure to the NFL, and this may be an ideal season to upend the Buckeyes.        

8. Florida vs. Georgia, Oct. 30

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    2020 results: Florida 44, Georgia 28 

    Georgia's ownership of SEC East rival Florida came to an end when the Gators shredded a banged-up, depleted Dawgs defense for their first win in the rivalry in three years.

    But it's a little bit unfair to handicap this year's game based on that.

    The Gators rode a high-powered offensive attack all the way to the SEC Championship Game, but they will be without quarterback Kyle Trask, tight end Kyle Pitts and wide receivers Trevon Grimes and Kadarius Toney in 2021. Head coach Dan Mullen is going to have to rebuild the offense, likely behind run-first quarterback Emory Jones.

    Georgia was awful offensively in 2020 before it found its future at quarterback when USC transfer JT Daniels finally took the field in late November (after the Florida game). 

    UGA is probably going to be favored to win the East and the game formerly known as the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. 

    There are a lot of reasons to look forward to this one. Division supremacy is up for grabs, Florida will have a face-lifted offense and we'll be looking to see if Georgia is (finally) a national title contender or just a title pretender for another year.

    By the point of this game, we should know several answers. This one will tell us the rest.         

7. UCF at Cincinnati, TBD

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    2020 results: Cincinnati 36, UCF 33

    This American Athletic Conference showdown is no longer a cute little game between two Group of Five programs.

    Both Luke Fickell's Bearcats and the Knights—who just hired Gus Malzahn to be their head coach—have proved in recent years that they belong in the national conversation and are on the cusp of the College Football Playoff conversation. Cincy survived last year's matchup led to stay undefeated and on track for a New Year's Six bowl.

    At the time, the Bearcats ranked seventh nationally, and quarterback Desmond Ridder threw for 338 yards and two touchdowns and ran for two more scores in the close win.

    Cincinnati fell behind 14-3 before storming back to take the lead. UCF went ahead once again in the third quarter, but Dillon Gabriel threw an interception early in the fourth to set up a go-ahead touchdown for the Bearcats, who tacked on another late to put it out of reach.

    While most of the playmakers on both sides of the ball will be back in '21, there is one notable missing name. UCF coach Josh Heupel left for Tennessee.

    If Cincinnati wins this game, it likely will reassert itself as worthy of the conference-darling mantle it took from the Knights. The latter wants that claim back.     

6. Indiana at Penn State, Oct. 2

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    2020 results: Indiana 36, Penn State 35 (OT)

    The Nittany Lions and Hoosiers gave us arguably the best, most thrilling game of the college football season in the delayed opening weekend of the Big Ten season.

    It looked like the Hoosiers would lose in regulation, but Penn State running back Devyn Ford scored and left too much time on the clock, allowing IU quarterback Michael Penix Jr. to take his team into the end zone seven plays later. The ensuing two-point conversion forced overtime.

    After the Nittany Lions scored a touchdown to open the extra session, Indiana answered, and head coach Tom Allen gambled by going for two and trying to end it on that play. He did, too. Penix scrambled left and extended his body and arm fully toward the pylon from the 3-yard line.

    Replays determined the ball hit the pylon before touching out of bounds, and Indiana snapped a 41-game losing streak against AP Top 10 teams with a massive victory that set up a memorable season. It also sent head coach James Franklin's Nittany Lions to an eventual 0-5 start.

    Most of the top players on both sides of the ball are back for these two, and it's likely to produce another classic. Penn State won its final four games of the year to corral a bit of momentum going into '21. These are two sneaky-good teams that could contend in the conference this year as OSU looks for a quarterback.

    This early-season showdown could loom large.

5. USC at Arizona State, TBD

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    2020 results: USC 28, Arizona State 27

    In a coronavirus-shortened Pac-12 season, there was no margin for error if you wanted to be in the conference championship game. Heck, Washington earned a spot and couldn't play in the title game because it didn't have enough scholarship players available amid COVID-19 health and safety protocols.

    Arizona and USC started their season Nov. 7 with a pivotal South Division game, and the Trojans—in what would become typical fashion for them—rallied for a comeback victory.

    The Sun Devils held a 27-14 lead with roughly three minutes left, but freshman receiver Bru McCoy caught a deflected pass off teammate Amon-Ra St. Brown for a 26-yard touchdown, and the Trojans recovered the onside kick.

    With 1:20 left, Drake London caught a 21-yard touchdown pass, and the extra point gave USC the final margin. 

    "I don't care how old I get," USC coach Clay Helton told the Associated Press (via the team's official website). "I'll never forget this game."

    These two teams should be the standard-bearers in a rugged South Division. The Sun Devils have loads of offensive weapons and good, young defensive players returning from a disappointing 2-2 team that was much better than the record indicates.

    While St. Brown and Tyler Vaughns are gone, the Trojans are loaded on offense, and Kedon Slovis could be a Heisman Trophy candidate. Coordinator Todd Orlando's defense has shown growth, and a terrific recruiting class (eighth nationally) should add playmakers.

    This could be another really good game.  

4. Oklahoma vs. Texas, Oct. 9

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    2020 results: Oklahoma 53, Texas 45 (four overtimes)

    Nobody talks that much about the 2020 edition of this game, which is wild, but neither team had the type of year expected of them.

    Head coach Lincoln Riley's team won the Big 12 championship, of course, but that's nothing new. The Sooners did miss out on the College Football Playoff, however. The Longhorns wound up firing coach Tom Herman after a 7-3 season.

    But the Red River Rivalry was an epic battle that went into quadruple overtime. This game never disappoints, and last year's tilt was the longest of 116 games between the two.

    Longhorns quarterback Sam Ehlinger put the team on his shoulders in a heroic effort. But he threw an interception in overtime to end the affair.

    Now, Ehlinger is gone, and so is Herman. But Casey Thompson showed a glimpse of his exciting potential under center in the second half of the Alamo Bowl against Colorado, and Texas has hired Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian as the team's next head coach.

    Meanwhile, OU looks like a title contender, if not the favorite. The Sooners have an explosive passing game that should be firing on all cylinders with Spencer Rattler, and coordinator Alex Grinch's defense looked better in 2020.

    Expect another classic.        

3. North Carolina at Notre Dame, Oct. 30

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    2020 results: Notre Dame 31, North Carolina 17

    Not many teams could claim they shut down North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell, his dynamic duo of running backs (Michael Carter, Javonte Williams) and the Tar Heels' top-five offense last year.

    But Notre Dame did, and that performance helped the Irish to make the College Football Playoff despite an ACC Championship Game loss to Clemson.

    The Irish shut out Carolina for the final three quarters and turned a halftime tie into a 31-17 win, and quarterback Ian Book (279 passing yards, one touchdown; 48 rushing yards) was brilliant along with the defense.

    A lot is going to change in '21. This time, it will be in an out-of-conference showdown, as the Irish are going back to their Independent football schedule after a one-year fling with conference play thanks to the pandemic.

    The Tar Heels will be without receiver Dyami Brown, Williams and Carter, who are off to the NFL, and the Irish must move on from Book, who is likely to be replaced by Wisconsin transfer Jack Coan.

    But these two teams should start the season in the Top 10 and with title dreams. There will be plenty of intrigue when North Carolina head coach Mack Brown and Irish head coach Brian Kelly face off.     

2. Alabama at Florida, Sept. 18

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    2020 results: Alabama 52, Florida 46 (SEC Championship Game)

    After Florida's late-season collapse at home against LSU, few expected the Gators to be any match for an Alabama team on a collision course with yet another national title.

    But quarterback Kyle Trask had other plans, throwing multiple darts and keeping Florida close enough to make the Tide sweat in a one-score loss.

    Despite Alabama jumping out to a 35-17 halftime lead, the Gators wouldn't quit. They scored four second-half touchdowns, but the Crimson Tide's weaponry was on full display. Najee Harris had five scores, including three receiving, and proved to be the difference in the win. 

    Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith added 15 catches for 184 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

    The intrigue in this year's game is threefold. First, the Tide and Gators don't play every season because they aren't from the same division.

    Secondly, both teams have to replace a ton of talent on both sides of the ball. 

    Third, the winner of this game will have a good chance of making the playoff.         

1. Iowa State at Oklahoma, Nov. 20

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    Jeffrey McWhorter/Associated Press

    2020 results: Iowa State 37, Oklahoma 30 (Big 12 Championship Game: Oklahoma 27, Iowa State 21)

    The only two teams on this list that matched up twice a season ago could be playing for the biggest prize in the Big 12 again in 2021. As a matter of fact, it would be a shock if they aren't.

    In the first game, it looked like the Sooners would win after taking an early 17-6 lead. But the Cyclones stormed back, rattling Spencer Rattler and starting an incredible run that put them in the title game.

    The Sooners got their revenge, winning a sixth consecutive Big 12 title and capping a rally that has them as one of the national favorites in '21. They won seven straight after losing to the Cyclones, and they capped the season with a victory over Florida in the Cotton Bowl.

    This season, it's going to be interesting to see if Oklahoma has any early hiccups, like its back-to-back losses to Kansas State and Iowa State. It's also could be head coach Matt Campbell's year to break Oklahoma's conference championship streak. Key players like quarterback Brock Purdy and linebacker Mike Rose are set to return.

    Both squads worthy of their Top 10 CFP rankings in 2020. The winner of this game will hold the upper hand in the league and be a favorite for the playoff this year. 


    All stats courtesy of CFBStats and Sports Reference. Recruiting rankings via 247Sports' composite rankings unless otherwise noted.

    Follow Brad Shepard on Twitter, @Brad_Shepard.