Way-too-early predictions for 7 SEC games that will host College GameDay in 2021
Yes, it’s Alabama-heavy.
If we’re predicting where College GameDay is going to be in 2021 when it (hopefully) gets back to normal crowds, why wouldn’t we have more of the reigning national champions who are tied with Ohio State for the most GameDay contests appeared in? At the root of this is trying to figure out the quality matchups we have to look forward to in 2021. During the Nick Saban era, Alabama has been part of 28 such regular-season contests. That’s an average of 2 per year.
And even last year, when sites were getting moved and nothing was set in stone, SEC teams were involved in 3 regular-season College GameDay contests … and 2 of them featured Alabama.
So yeah, this list is Alabama-heavy.
This is predicting the most likely SEC games that’ll host College GameDay, and not necessarily which games we’d most want to see get that honor. There’s a lot to consider with that. Is it likely to be a matchup of ranked teams? Is one likely to be coming off a loss? Is there history? Is there some tough competition nationally that week? Is it more likely that a specific team hosts one game and not another because of the timing? All of these factors are part of why 1 game is more likely to host than another.
For my money, the games earlier in the year feel like better bets. It’s hard to predict what a team will look like in late-November. It’s much easier to predict the anticipation for a season-opener.
Here are the 7 SEC games who are most likely to host College GameDay in 2021:
(Note that the Pac-12’s official schedule hasn’t come out yet, and the 2 best non-conference games are Oregon vs. Ohio State and USC at Notre Dame, neither of which fall on any of the weekends of the games listed.)
7. Ole Miss at Alabama
When — Oct. 2
Best competition — Cincinnati at Notre Dame, Michigan at Wisconsin, Auburn at LSU
Why it could happen — After what we saw in Lane Kiffin’s first year against Alabama, everyone and their mother should sign up for weekly doses of that. The game itself was an offensive blitzkrieg of epic proportions. With what Ole Miss returns on offense this year compared to Alabama, which ranks No. 126 of 127 teams in percentage of returning offensive production, maybe it’ll be an even better battle. Ole Miss should start in the Top 25, and a neutral-site game against Louisville is the only thing really standing in the way of a 3-0 start going into Kiffin’s return to Tuscaloosa.
This would be higher on the list if not for what it’s sandwiched between on Alabama’s schedule. There’s a strong possibility that GameDay would consider going to Alabama-Florida 2 weeks before the Ole Miss game. And the week after the Ole Miss game is Alabama going to Texas A&M, which could easily be a matchup of top-10 teams.
There’s also the fact that the competition is excellent. If Cincinnati beats Indiana a couple of weeks earlier, that matchup against Notre Dame is going to have massive implications for whether a Group of 5 team can finally break through and make the Playoff. Those 2 other conference games are also potential top-15 matchups, though they would be a distant ways behind Ole Miss-Alabama and Cincinnati-Notre Dame for those storylines.
If we’re being honest, Cincinnati-Notre Dame should be the betting favorite, especially if GameDay wants to avoid potential Bama fatigue.
6. Florida vs. Georgia (in Jacksonville)
When — Oct. 30
Best competition — Penn State at Ohio State, UNC at Notre Dame
Why it could happen — I mean, where do I begin? Three consecutive years of top-10 matchups seems like a good place to start. What about the fact that the winner claimed the SEC East each of the last 6 seasons? How about the fact that in the last 50 years, Florida leads 26-24 and 40 of those matchups featured at least 1 top-15 team (13 of which featured 2 top-15 teams). In other words, odds are that both teams will be fighting for the East.
Oddly enough, though, GameDay only hosted the Cocktail Party once in the post-Tim Tebow era. Three times in that stretch, GameDay didn’t go to Jacksonville to see a matchup of top-15 teams. Could part of that be related to the CBS connection? Perhaps, though that never really deters GameDay from Alabama-LSU. Perhaps it’s just a luck thing based on the other games and with Alabama-LSU usually the week after that, perhaps they’ll avoid Jacksonville to avoid stacking SEC games.
Whatever the case, we could see those 2 other games pose a legitimate threat. That’ll depend largely on whether Penn State can have a bounce-back year and if the Irish can get through a tricky first 2 months. Sam Howell would need to still be in the Heisman hunt, and Notre Dame would probably need to get through this slate at 6-1, which will be easier said than done:
- at Florida State
- vs. Toledo
- vs. Purdue
- vs. Wisconsin (in Chicago)
- vs. Cincinnati
- at Virginia Tech
- vs. USC
If the Irish get through that stretch unscathed and Howell’s Heels await, that might be another instance in which a quality Cocktail Party matchup gets a raw deal. And, well, Florida splitting with Alabama and LSU would help.
5. Florida at LSU
When — Oct. 16
Best competition — UCF at Cincinnati, Miami at UNC, Oklahoma State at Texas
Why it could happen — I mean, after ShoeGate? How can GameDay not sign up for this one? If this matchup also had the Arik Gilbert angle, we’d really be talking about storyline-filled shoedown. Er, showdown. Shoot, it still is. Both could start as top-15 teams and find themselves holding on to their Playoff lives. That’s the key when we get to mid-October. More times than not, GameDay favors the matchup with not 1, but 2 teams searching for a Playoff berth.
The reason this game isn’t higher is because both Florida and LSU have potential land mines that can blow up their seasons (don’t sleep on that 3-game stretch LSU has in the 3 weeks leading up to this). It also has some rock-solid competition.
If Gus Malzahn has UCF in the Top 25, that matchup at possible preseason top-10 Cincinnati is fantastic. And if D’Eriq King can return from his torn ACL, a showdown with Howell will sell itself. Oklahoma State and Texas would both probably need to be unbeaten for that matchup to have the best case (GameDay has only been to Austin once in the last decade).
Consider this a prime example of why sometimes those midseason showdowns can have so many moving parts that determine just how big of a headliner matchup they are.
4. Alabama at Texas A&M
When — Oct. 9
Best competition — Oklahoma at Texas, Georgia at Auburn
Why it could happen — My thinking on this is pretty simple. A&M figures to start somewhere near or inside the top 10. Here’s what the schedule starts off with:
- vs. Kent State
- at Colorado
- vs. New Mexico
- vs. Arkansas (in Arlington, TX)
- vs. MSU
A&M will be favored in all 5 games. If that’s how things play out and the Aggies start off 5-0 after last year’s best AP Top 25 finish in 81 years, yeah, there will be some momentum for the Alabama rematch. It’s Alabama that prevented A&M from reaching the Playoff. Depending on what happens the previous week with Ole Miss-Alabama, it could be billed as the best opportunity for a Saban disciple to finally beat the master.
Oklahoma-Texas should be all sorts of intriguing, though. If Steve Sarkisian’s offense is taking flight a month in, look out. That’s an obvious candidate to host GameDay, but Texas has a super tricky start with likely a ranked Louisiana squad to kick off the season and a road game against Sam Pittman and veteran-laden Arkansas the following week.
Georgia-Auburn is obviously another intriguing rivalry, though if Auburn already has a loss or 2 under its belt after either a trip to Penn State or a trip to LSU, those odds take a significant hit.
It’s hard to envision a scenario in which unbeaten Alabama and unbeaten A&M don’t host GameDay.
3. Alabama at LSU
When — Nov. 6
Best competition — Texas at Iowa State, Liberty at Ole Miss
Why it could happen — Well, let’s start with the obvious. It happened 8 times during the Saban era. That includes 7 of the last 10 years. What happened in those 3 years that GameDay wasn’t there for Alabama-LSU? There was last year, when the Tigers were an unranked disaster for most of the season. There was 2017 when LSU had the MSU and Troy losses earlier in the year, which prompted a bump outside the top 15. There was also 2010, Alabama lost once and it had already taken part in 2 regular-season GameDay contests. LSU was also a week removed from watching Cam Newton run over the Tiger defense at Jordan-Hare.
Why do I bring that up? Because if all things go as expected, GameDay doesn’t miss Alabama-LSU. It’s when weird, unpredictable things happen before it — like Alabama losing to South Carolina or LSU losing to Troy — that prompt an alternative plan. Sure, there’s a scenario in which that plays out. But is it one we should bet on? Probably not.
The wild card here is if Iowa State is in the middle of a Playoff push and Texas is a better-than-frisky in Year 1 with Sarkisian. If that’s a chance for GameDay to make its second-ever trip to Ames, that could be enticing. But that scenario would involve Iowa State living up to the hype and Texas doing its part.
If GameDay bypasses both of those, well, we can only hope it’ll be to head to Oxford for Hugh Freeze’s Ole Miss reunion.
2. Alabama at Florida
When — Sept. 18
Best competition — Auburn at Penn State, Cincinnati at Indiana, Nebraska at Oklahoma
Why it could happen — The SEC schedule is so strange. Alabama and Florida might’ve seen each other in the SEC Championship more than any 2 teams, but when was the last time they played in the regular season? You’d have to go back to 2014. When was the last time Alabama traveled to Gainesville? That’d be Oct. 1, 2010. In other words, the last time Nick Saban made the trip to Florida, it was for a showdown against Urban Meyer. Consider that all the more likely that this game gets top billing, especially in the likely event that both teams are undefeated and in the top 15 (Florida’s first 2 games are against FAU and USF).
As for the competition, it’s actually pretty decent. Go figure that the most likely matchup of top-15 teams among those 3 other games is … Cincinnati at Indiana? Yeah, what a world we’re living in. That would be a sneaky place to host GameDay, especially if there’s any thought about this being Lee Corso’s last go-around on the show. Going to Indiana, which is the place where he coached and was beloved, could be a sentimental angle.
Auburn-Penn State could be interesting because it’s a spicy home-and-home with a rare instance of an SEC team traveling north of the Mason-Dixon Line for a true road game. But there are a lot of unknowns in Year 1 of the Bryan Harsin era, and Penn State is coming off a messy losing season.
The odds favor Alabama-Florida in what could be the defending champs’ toughest regular-season road game.
1. Clemson vs. Georgia (in Charlotte)
When — Sept. 4
Best competition — Alabama vs. Miami in Atlanta, Boise State at UCF
Why it could happen — It will. And if it doesn’t, I’ll be stunned. Both are likely to start in the top 4. This is a rivalry renewed, and it’s one that we haven’t seen since the very first weekend of the Playoff era. It’s a matchup that’ll feature more 5-star talent than probably any regular-season game in 2021. It’s a pair of 5-star quarterbacks who will be Heisman Trophy favorites. Yeah, it’s a neutral-site game. That’s not quite as enticing as a home-and-home. But that’s about the only knock on this showdown, which should be the most anticipated of any in 2021.
Even if D’Eriq King makes a speedy recovery after tearing his ACL in the bowl game, the odds of Alabama-Miami beating out Clemson-Georgia still feel minimal. It would take a program-wide meltdown either from Clemson or Georgia in order for College GameDay to even consider passing on this one.
Mark it down.