The Top 25 college football games of 2020
Editor’s note: Saturday Down South’s annual Top 25 week concludes with the ranking of the best games in the country.
No, the Big Ten and Pac-12 won’t be joining the ACC, Big 12 and SEC on the football field this fall, as only the latter 3 Power 5 conferences are still moving toward a fall season. (Although, with all the turmoil in the Big Ten lately, anything is possible on that front.)
Still, even without those 2 conferences, there are still plenty of games fans will want to circle on their calendars as we move through the fall. From the Group of 5 to the Power 5, there should be lots of drama.
So, to wrap up our Top 25 week here at Saturday Down South, we’ll take a look at the 25 games you won’t want to miss this season. Here’s how we rank the best games of the year:
25. Louisiana at Appalachian State — Oct. 7
This is a rematch of last year’s Sun Belt Championship Game, which Appalachian State won. Of course, coach Eliah Drinkwitz is now running the Mizzou program, so things will be different. Billy Napier is still at Louisiana, so maybe he gets his revenge on Oct. 7.
24. Navy vs. Army — Dec. 12
No list would be complete without the annual Army-Navy game. No, it might not have much importance in the race for the College Football Playoff, but it is one of the best atmospheres in sports. Hopefully at least a few cadets and midshipmen are able to attend the game. Either way, it’ll be in its usual spot on the second weekend of December. Keep an eye on the uniform battle between the 2 schools, too, as it has really heated up in recent years.
23. Mississippi State at Ole Miss — Nov. 28
Of course the first Egg Bowl between Mike Leach and Lane Kiffin was going to be on this list. After last year’s Egg Bowl theatrics, this year’s heated rivalry game is sure to be another thriller. And the back-and-forth between the 2 coaches in the week leading up to the game should be epic. I’m also glad they kept it on Thanksgiving weekend (even if it’s not on Thanksgiving night as usual).
22. No. 25 Tennessee at No. 11 Auburn — Nov. 21
In 2018, Tennessee went to Jordan-Hare Stadium and pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the SEC season. This year, the Vols will again make the trip, and this time, coach Jeremy Pruitt’s team is on the rise. Auburn will have its work cut out for it to avoid another upset loss.
21. No. 3 Alabama at Ole Miss — Oct. 10
Nick Saban vs. Lane Kiffin. Can Kiffin become the first former Saban assistant to beat his ex-boss? The Rebels’ offense should have plenty of firepower to score against Alabama’s star-studded defense, but can Ole Miss keep the Tide from lighting up the scoreboard even more? We’ll find out on Oct. 10!
20. Virginia at No. 1 Clemson — Oct. 3
This is a rematch of last year’s ACC Championship Game. Yes, Clemson won that game in blowout fashion, 62-17, but hey, there aren’t many challenges on the Tigers’ schedule this year, either. This should be our first halfway decent chance to see how dominant QB Trevor Lawrence and the Tigers are in 2020.
19. No. 21 UCF at Memphis — Oct. 17
This game has developed into one of the best rivalries in the Group of 5. The Tigers and Knights have played some exciting games in recent years. Even though Mike Norvell left Memphis to take the Florida State head coaching job, the Tigers should still be one of the better teams in the AAC. UCF is in the Top 25 and will again look to make some noise with regards to a New Year’s 6 bowl bid.
18. No. 23 Iowa State at No. 15 Oklahoma State — Oct. 24
17. No. 23 Iowa State at No. 14 Texas — Nov. 28
16. No. 14 Texas at No. 15 Oklahoma State — Oct. 31
I think Oklahoma is going to make it to the Big 12 Championship Game. And, I believe the Sooners’ opponent will be 1 of these 3 squads. The best game of the 3, in my opinion, is when the Longhorns head to Stillwater to take on the Cowboys on Halloween. But all 3 of these contests will be fun to watch. If someone can go 2-0 in this round-robin style mini-tournament, that puts them in the driver’s seat for the No. 2 seed in the Big 12 (or even the No. 1 seed if the Sooners aren’t as good as advertised).
15. No. 20 Cincinnati at No. 21 UCF — Nov. 21
This might be the game College GameDay heads to. You know ESPN likes Disney, and UCF is only a stone’s throw from Disney World. Plus, this game could be a huge one in the American Athletic Conference race, which, in turn, could mean the winner of this game has the inside track to being the top team from the Group of 5 this season. That’s reason enough to tune into this contest.
14. No. 10 Notre Dame at No. 18 North Carolina — Nov. 27
Ian Book vs. Sam Howell. Brian Kelly vs. Mack Brown. This game could end up deciding second place in the ACC. Clemson is still widely considered one of the top teams in the country (and is indeed ranked No. 1), but either of these teams could challenge the Tigers for the ACC crown. We’ll see if this game ends up determining a spot in the conference title game.
13. No. 8 Florida at No. 13 Texas A&M — Oct. 10
This is perhaps the most intriguing game that was added to the revised SEC schedule. For the Gators, going to College Station won’t be easy, especially since they have to turn around and host LSU the next weekend. Still, for both teams, this will be a put-up-or-shut-up game. These are the types of matchups elite teams win.
12. No. 3 Alabama at No. 25 Tennessee — Oct. 24
Tennessee fans swear last year’s game at Alabama would have gone differently if QB Jarrett Guarantano hadn’t gone rogue and fumbled at the goal line in the fourth quarter. Yes, the Vols still lost 35-13, but if Guarantano had handed the ball off and they had scored, it would have been a one-score game with 7:21 remaining. Who knows what would have happened?
Anyway, this year, the Crimson Tide head up to Rocky Top, where Jeremy Pruitt will be eager to be the first Nick Saban assistant to beat his former boss (assuming Jimbo Fisher, Kiffin or Kirby Smart hasn’t already by that point). Meanwhile, Alabama will want to prove that last year’s somewhat close game was a fluke.
11. No. 15 Oklahoma State at No. 5 Oklahoma — Nov. 21
No, Bedlam won’t be the same without each team’s ravenous fan base out in full force, but there should still be plenty to play for. As mentioned, I think Oklahoma State has a chance to make it to the Big 12 title game. A win in Norman would go a long way toward helping Mike Gundy’s squad reach that goal.
10. No. 13 Texas A&M at No. 3 Alabama — Oct. 3
After opening at Mizzou, the Crimson Tide’s first major test should be this Week 2 matchup against the Aggies. If Texas A&M is going to compete for an SEC title this year, this is a game that would be nice to have on the resume. Bryant-Denny Stadium won’t be at full capacity, either, so the Aggies catch a bit of a break there. This is also the first time this season that a former Nick Saban assistant (Jimbo Fisher) will have a chance to beat him.
9. No. 6 LSU at No. 11 Auburn — Oct. 31
LSU and Auburn typically play one of the most entertaining games of an SEC season. LSU has won the past 3 matchups, but those victories have come by 3, 1 and 4 points. In 2016, Auburn managed an 18-13 victory. So, yeah, these games always provide some drama.
Both teams have to replace a bunch of standout players, so that should only add to the rivalry’s unpredictable nature.
8. No. 11 Auburn at No. 4 Georgia — Oct. 3
This is the earliest in the season this game has been played in a long time, as it is usually a November staple. In fact, the last time the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry was played before November was all the way back in 1936. Now, it’s shockingly a Week 2 matchup. Both teams have new offensive coordinators (Todd Monken at Georgia and Chad Morris at Auburn), so we’ll see who has the more-prepared unit on that side of the ball when this game is played.
7. No. 3 Alabama at No. 6 LSU — Nov. 14
Alabama lost to last year’s historic LSU team 46-41 in Tuscaloosa in one of the most thrilling games of the year. This year’s LSU squad will look almost entirely different on both sides of the ball, but the Tigers still have the talent to keep things interesting. They’ll try to end a couple of streaks against the Crimson Tide. First, LSU hasn’t scored a point against Alabama in Baton Rouge since a 2014 loss at Tiger Stadium. Also, LSU hasn’t beaten Alabama in the state of Louisiana since 2010. We’ll see if either of those things change on Nov. 14.
6. No. 6 LSU at No. 8 Florida — Oct. 17
Much like the LSU-Auburn rivalry, the LSU-Florida game has gotten more intense in recent years. This season, though, the game takes on even more importance. LSU is trying to repeat as champions, so this game is a must-win. Meanwhile, the Gators have Playoff aspirations of their own. Something’s gotta give in Gainesville in mid-October.
5. No. 11 Auburn at No. 3 Alabama — Nov. 28
All signs point toward Alabama getting revenge for last year’s Iron Bowl loss. The Tide have a ton of talent returning on both sides of the ball. Meanwhile, Auburn doesn’t have Derrick Brown and its star-studded defensive line. Oh, and the game is in Tuscaloosa this year, where Auburn hasn’t won since the “Camback.” But, as we all know, something crazy always happens in the Iron Bowl, which makes it must-watch television.
4. No. 14 Texas vs. No. 5 Oklahoma (in Dallas) — Oct. 10
The Red River Rivalry is often a battle between the 2 top teams in the Big 12, and this year should be no different. It will once again be held at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, but this time, the Texas State Fair won’t be taking place due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Even so, this game could end up being a preview for the Big 12 title game in December. Texas QB Sam Ehlinger is one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the country. He’ll want to potentially end his college career with a win or 2 against what could be a rebuilding Oklahoma offense under first-year starter Spencer Rattler.
3. No. 1 Clemson at No. 10 Notre Dame — Nov. 7
This was a matchup that we were already scheduled to have before the pandemic forced some reshuffling. It’s great to see that it remained on the schedule, as it could be the biggest non-SEC game of the year. Will both teams have perfect records by this point? Does the loser still have a path to the College Football Playoff? The stakes will be high in South Bend. However, it might only be the second-most important game on Nov. 7 …
2. No. 8 Florida vs. No. 4 Georgia (in Jacksonville) — Nov. 7
Every year since 2014 (when Mizzou represented the SEC East in Atlanta), the winner of this game has won the SEC East crown. This will be one of the very few neutral-site games in 2020, and it should be one of the best, as well.
Dan Mullen is 0-2 against Kirby Smart since taking over the Florida program. Is this the year he gets his first win over the Dawgs? Many are predicting the Gators to win the SEC East and perhaps make the College Football Playoff, but Florida will need to win this game before any of those goals become attainable.
1. No. 4 Georgia at No. 3 Alabama — Oct. 17
Would it surprise you to learn that this is the only scheduled matchup between top-5 teams in the preseason AP Poll? Well, it surprised me. But, then I thought about it, and I guess it makes sense. Ohio State is at No. 2 and the Buckeyes aren’t even playing this fall. Clemson is No. 1 and Oklahoma is No. 5, and they’re in the ACC and Big 12, respectively. That leaves Alabama and Georgia.
And what a game this should be. Having it in Tuscaloosa will be a boost for the Crimson Tide. Also, having the game in Week 4 is going to make things even more interesting. Will Mac Jones be settled in as Alabama’s quarterback? Will Georgia have its new offense fully installed under OC Todd Monken?
Whatever happens, this game will have wide-ranging impacts on the College Football Playoff race, and I can’t wait to watch it.