The SDS Top 25: Ranking the best games for 2019
Editor’s note: SDS Top 25 Week concludes with a ranking of the 25 best games in 2019. Missed an article? You can find the entire SDS Top 25 series here.
It’s subjective y’all.
My list of the top 25 games in college football is different than yours, and that’s OK. Ranking games in the preseason is based on a few things. But mainly, it comes down to this: If you didn’t have a rooting interest, which games are the most likely that you’d want to watch?
It can be because there are high stakes — an obvious theme throughout this list — or because it’s a traditional rivalry that usually delivers regardless of the year.
And yeah, storylines help. If teams have a bit of recent history, that’s great, too.
So here are my Top 25 games for 2019:
25. Army vs. Navy
Date — Dec. 14
Let’s start with what some would argue is the coolest event in the sport. And hey, there’s even a chance that Army could be playing for a New Year’s 6 slot in this game! The Black Knights are coming off an 11-win season and they return a ton of the key pieces from that triple-option offense. Even though on paper Army figures to be a significant favorite coming off 3 consecutive wins, it’s still a game that’s been decided by 1 score every year of the Playoff ea.
24. Stanford at UCF
Date — Sept. 14
You want it, you got it, UCF. It’ll be the first regular-season game against a respected Power 5 opponent since the Knights became nationally relevant. There’s a chance that College GameDay could make its way to Orlando for this one if it doesn’t head to Syracuse for its showdown against Clemson. Either way, this one will be watched by many, especially if UCF starts off undefeated again.
23. Alabama at Mississippi State
Date — Nov. 16
Maybe I’m just thinking back to a couple years ago when Jalen Hurts delivered arguably his most clutch regular season performance of his career.
Jalen Hurts only completed 10 passes vs. MSU Saturday night. None bigger than this one to DeVonte Smith with 25 seconds to go, helping Alabama remain unblemished. pic.twitter.com/wYvJpTUag8
— Josh Jackson (@JoshuaJacksonTV) November 12, 2017
With the cowbells rockin’, this one will be interesting for Alabama. I thought last year’s game was closer than the final score indicated. While MSU won’t have Jeffery Simmons and Montez Sweat getting pressure on Tua Tagovailoa, but I think the Bulldogs will have a better chance offensively, especially at home. Don’t overlook this matchup.
22. Florida at Kentucky
Date — Sept. 14
If the past 2 years were any indication, we’re in for an entertaining night in Lexington. Kentucky outplayed Florida each of the past 2 years in this matchup, but was a couple of uncovered receivers from owning a multi-year winning streak. In a year full of fun headliner matchups for Florida, this might not get a lot of the preseason buzz, but it’s absolutely worthy. Lexington will have quite the atmosphere come mid-September.
21. Miami vs. Florida (in Orlando)
Date — Aug. 24
Tate Martell vs. Feleipe Franks? Manny Diaz vs. Dan Mullen? Florida fans vs. Miami fans? Yes, yes and yes. This one will feel like the kickoff game of the season. Why is it not higher on this list? Both teams have a good chance of being better all-around teams, but I’m not convinced either will be competing for a Playoff spot throughout 2019.
20. Texas A&M at Clemson
Date — Sept. 7
On the surface, yes, this is a great matchup. It was a thrilling game last year in College Station, and with both teams predicted to be in the top 15 to start the season, it has the makings for one of the top few nonconference games of 2019. I didn’t give it more love because Clemson opened as a 3-touchdown favorite. While that number has since come down, Clemson will still go into this one as the significant favorite against an SEC team that might still be a year away from truly contending.
19. Wisconsin at Ohio State
Date — Oct. 26
A Big Ten Championship preview? We’ve seen this movie before. But oddly enough, we haven’t seen it in Columbus during the Playoff era. This could be quite the matchup between a pair of potential Heisman Trophy contenders in Justin Fields and Jonathan Taylor. This is the type of game that Wisconsin almost never wins, so there’s a chance Ohio State could still be a double-digit favorite.
18. Michigan at Wisconsin
Date — Sept. 21
For whatever reason, this is the fourth consecutive year in which these non-division foes will face off. Both could be undefeated with hopes of boosting potential Playoff résumés. This will be a much closer game than last year, when Michigan blew the doors off a banged up Wisconsin defense. If the Wolverines are going to have this “we’re back” year, this is exactly the type of tough road atmosphere that they need to finally win in.
17. Ohio State at Nebraska
Date — Sept. 28
Too high? Consider this. Last year, 4-win Nebraska was 5 points from beating Ohio State in Columbus. The Huskers actually led at the half that day.
That was with Dwayne Haskins. Call me crazy, but this has the makings of “trendy upset pick” written all over it. Nebraska is viewed is a program on the rise under Scott Frost, and this will serve as the perfect stage to confirm that narrative. I wouldn’t be surprised to see College GameDay finally make a trip back to Lincoln to see a pair of exciting second-year quarterbacks led by their young, offensive-minded head coaches.
16. Texas A&M at LSU
Date — Nov. 30
Here’s the good news. Last year was epic. Like, so epic that they literally changed the rules so that it couldn’t be that epic again. That’s also the bad news. While the overtime rules got a needed tweak, this game still figures to be one of those “better than advertised” rivalry week games. Is it a real rivalry after A&M finally ended the streak? I’d argue postgame fights on the field is a sign that there’s at least some juice.
15. Auburn at Florida
Date — Oct. 5
You’re going to notice something here. I love the traditional rivalry games, but I also love matchups that feature contending teams that don’t see each other very often. Teams that have met once in the past decade fall into that category. Go figure that the last time Florida won this matchup was in Year 1 of the … Ron Zook era. Is there a chance that this is the final game of the Gus Malzahn era? I wouldn’t predict that just yet, but if he doesn’t win the opener against Oregon, this one will have that storyline gaining a whole lot of steam.
14. Clemson at Syracuse
Date — Sept. 14
Clemson’s toughest test away from home is at Syracuse? Yeah, which in my opinion says more about Syracuse’s rise than Clemson’s strength of schedule. We already know that game is going to be in primetime, and for good reason. These were down-to-the-wire games each of the past 2 years. Syracuse could easily be riding a 2-game winning streak, though perhaps this will be the first time during that run that Clemson’s starting quarterback can not get knocked out of the game.
13. Auburn vs. Oregon (in Dallas)
Date — Aug. 31
The premier opening weekend showdown will have all sorts of angles. Those who can’t stay up for #Pac12AfterDark will get their first look at Justin Herbert and inevitably make all their pre-draft opinions on the top prospect. But besides that, we’re going to get a huge headliner game for Gus Malzahn in what feels like a make-or-break game for his future. Oh, and just to make things more interesting, it looks like he’ll be starting a freshman quarterback. Neutral-site showdowns appear to be fading at the end of this decade, but this one is absolutely worth tuning into.
12. LSU at Alabama
Date — Nov. 9
I’m not quite where Paul Finebaum is with this rivalry. That is, saying it’s not one of the top rivalries in the sport anymore. I get that an 8-game winning streak is convincing and the fact that this game is being played in Tuscaloosa doesn’t help, but we’re still talking about Alabama’s biggest home game of the year, and it’s against a team that could start in the top 5. While the streak definitely bumped this game down a few spots, we can’t take games involving a pair of Playoff-contending teams for granted.
11. Florida at LSU
Date — Oct. 12
I got my first in-person Florida-LSU experience last year in Gainesville, and my goodness, it didn’t disappoint. The atmosphere was electric because of what that day meant for the Gators in their return to the national stage. This year, it’ll have a slightly different feel because both teams will likely start in the top 10. Do we realize that the last time that both teams were coming off a top 10 finish was in 2006? With what these squads return — more of its production than any SEC team outside of Tennessee — this will have major ramifications not only in the SEC but in the Playoff picture.
10. Georgia at Auburn
Date — Nov. 16
The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry might not have delivered a top 10 game last year, but with this one being played at Jordan-Hare, it feels like a major hurdle for Georgia. Each of the past 2 years, the Dawgs’ regular-season hiccup was in a crossover matchup on the road. The talk about the 2017 blowout will be heard loud and clear, as will the talk about the Dawgs’ 2 blowout wins in each of the past 2 matchups against Auburn. Oh, and if we don’t get at least 1 “whipped the dog crap” reference on the broadcast, it’ll be a major disappointment.
— 11Alive Sports (@11AliveSports) December 3, 2017
9. Oregon at Washington
Date — Oct. 19
Can we just declare this game the Pac-12 Championship? Surely that’d be better than having the Pac-12 title decided at 5 p.m. local time on a Friday (something that actually happened last year). But this game checks a lot of the boxes I look for. Both teams have legitimate conference title aspirations, they played in a nail-biter last year and both have highly-touted quarterbacks. Could this be Jacob Eason’s redemption moment of 2019? I’m not sure yet, but I bet that’s not the last time I ask that question.
8. Notre Dame at Michigan
Date — Oct. 26
Yes, part of the reason this game is so high on this list is because it’s one the most historic rivalries in college football. Your grandparents probably have memories of watching these teams play. But while both of their seasons flamed out on the national stage, this will mark the first time since 2007 that both teams are coming off seasons with double-digit wins. Both have returning starting quarterbacks who have Heisman Trophy odds, and both have head coaches who are eager for that “quiet the haters” year. Dare I say, this rivalry could be as high stakes as its been since the Brady Quinn-Lloyd Carr days.
7. Alabama at Texas A&M
Date — Oct. 12
You’ve got 100,000 plus fans rooting on a potential top 15 team against Alabama. You better believe that’s got the makings of a top game. I actually thought some of the most promising play we’ve seen from Kellen Mond came in each of his 2 matchups against Alabama (I realize the accuracy numbers weren’t good last year). Does that mean the Aggies are capable of delivering the upset at Kyle Field? I’d at least say this is their best chance in the post-Johnny Manziel era. Both teams will be coming off bye weeks, too, so I like the chances of seeing both at their best. The hype will be through the roof even if A&M doesn’t upset Clemson.
6. Texas vs. Oklahoma (in Dallas)
Date — Oct. 12
I almost, almost, almost had this as my top non-SEC game for 2019. But because I think Texas won’t have quite the year many are predicting, I gave it a slight demotion. But still. Jalen Hurts getting his first and only Red River Showdown will be all sorts of intriguing. Two traditional rivals with up-and-coming coaches who figure to start as top 10 teams always makes for must-see TV. This game will skyrocket up my in-season list if we can get a Sam Ehlinger guarantee.
5. Florida vs. Georgia (in Jacksonville)
Date — Nov. 2
With the way these fan bases have been interacting throughout the offseason, can we play this game … tomorrow? The back-and-forth between these teams doesn’t show any signs of slowing down ahead of the first week of November. It’ll only pick up if both teams are competing at the Playoff-contending levels they aspire to.
Part II of the Dan Mullen-Kirby Smart rivalry should be closer than the first one on paper, but it’s impossible to overlook the fact that each of these past 2 matchups were at least 3-score Georgia wins. That’s probably the only thing holding me back from putting this in the top 2 or 3.
4. Ohio State at Michigan
Date — Nov. 30
Call me a purist, but there’s something about this game kicking off the last week of the regular season that’s always special. And while it’s taken on an LSU-Alabama tone of lopsidedness, that might actually be why this year’s game has more hype. Jim Harbaugh finally not having to face Urban Meyer is basically like in baseball when a team gets shut out by a starting pitcher for 7 innings and suddenly the reliever comes in and he gets lit up like a Christmas tree. Will Ryan Day be the relief pitcher that Michigan has been desperate for? I’m not sure, but I’d give Harbaugh a better chance of winning that battle than another with Meyer.
3. Alabama at Auburn
Date — Nov. 30
Wait … shouldn’t this be at No. 1? Well, the question is what are the best games of 2019. Obviously rivalry history and storylines matter, but the only reason this isn’t in the top spot is because there are some monster nonconference showdowns that have a bigger chance of having Playoff implications for both teams. It’s unfair to point to 2017 as a reason that Auburn would win this game when both teams have completely different quarterbacks running their offenses. If this game is indeed a must-win for Malzahn, that adds to the juice. Either way, the winner of this team played in an SEC Championship with national title hopes each of the past 7 years. High stakes? I’ll say that’s fair.
2. Notre Dame vs. Georgia
Date — Sept. 21
If this is going to be anything like the last time these teams faced off in 2017, we’re in for a treat. Crazy it is to think that game was Jake Fromm’s first career start and that both teams, which were ranked outside the top 10, had legitimate Playoff aspirations deep into the regular season. Each team has a Playoff berth in the past 2 years and each team returns a battle-tested starting quarterback. It’d be impressive to see Notre Dame fans travel to Athens the same way Georgia fans traveled to South Bend, though I wouldn’t bank on that. What’s the only thing preventing me from putting this game even higher on the list? It wouldn’t surprise me if Georgia won by 3 touchdowns.
1. LSU vs. Texas
Date — Sept. 7
When I think about how excited I am for the start of college football, this is the game that keeps popping into my head. Maybe part of that is because it’s in Week 2, and maybe part of that is because I wish Ed Orgeron narrated the voice in my head. Whatever the case, I cannot wait for this one. I love the “Tom Herman turned down LSU” storyline, and I love how both quarterbacks have confidence galore (the over/under on Joe Burrow’s “horns down” signs is 1.5). Oh, and I love how both teams will likely start in the top 10 coming off their New Year’s 6 Bowl victories, too. This game has everything you could ever want from a nonconference showdown.
Sept. 7 cannot get here soon enough.