I have to be honest here, other than a few of the Big 10 games on this list, I had no clue there were so many intriguing and relevant non-conference games scheduled this season! It sucks that there likely won’t be electric atmospheres at most of those games, but these 10 I have chosen should all be fantastic football to enjoy this upcoming fall. I should preface that I tried to keep the list to games that are not played on a regular basis (I’m looking at you ND-USC). So, I’m going to be ranking these ten games on their pre-season intrigue and potential relevancy in both conference championship and CFP races. Let’s get started!
10: Penn State vs. Virginia Tech (9/12/2020)
I struggled to find a 10th game to put on this list, but I think this is a fairly reasonable one to include. Penn State has shown little ability to win big games, and an even lesser ability to do so away from their cheat code white out. Frank Beamer may be gone but V-Tech put together a respectable 8-5 record last season, with close losses to Boston College, Notre Dame (by 1 point), and Kentucky in their bowl. No game time has been announced but for a week two matchup on the road, could PSU be on upset alert in week 2???
9: Navy vs Notre Dame (8/29/2020)
One of the inaugural games for the sport, this game should be a good one. Notre Dame lost a lot of production last season, and while South Bend is a great environment to host, service academies usually seem to weather the storm relatively well in hostile environments. This game should give us a better idea of how good Notre Dame actually is, and should show us how well prepared their defense is for the greatest offensive test that they will face later this year (which we will cover later).
8: Tennessee vs Oklahoma (9/15/2020)
Another fantastic early season game that should be a lot of fun to watch. Oklahoma has a ton of potential coming into this season, and Spencer Rattler should be just as if not more proficient than Jalen Hurts was at the helm of the offense. Tennessee is one of the most promising programs on the rise in all of college football right now. Jeremy Pruitt has them trending in the right direction, and they are killing it in all phases right now (check their 2021 recruiting if you don’t believe me). This team started off on the wrong foot last year, but won their last 6 of the season including a bowl win over Indiana. Watch out for the Vols to keep this one close and give Oklahoma’s offense some problems.
7: Oklahoma vs Army (9/26/2020)
Oklahoma gets a much-needed bye week after playing Tennessee on the 12th, and travels to West Point the following Saturday for a matchup with the Black Knights. I’m gonna call this one right now, I could easily see Army hanging 400+ yards on OK’s defense. Army’s versatile playing style is going to throw OK for a loop, and they’ve proven in 2018 they can shut down Oklahoma’s fast offense. Army went into Memorial Stadium and almost pulled off the huge upset in overtime against Kyler Murray and company, so who’s to say they can’t do it this year at home?
6: Michigan vs Washington (9/5/2020)
As a Michigan slappy, I probably have this game too high up. Both teams don’t have any real expectation to win their conference this season, but I still see this as an intriguing game to watch. As a season opening game, there’s a lot of moving elements that could play a factor. Washington’s head coach Chris Petersen stepped down this past offseason, and was replaced by first time head coach Jimmy Lake, who previously served on staff on the defensive side of the ball. Both teams will have brand new quarterbacks starting, so it could be a low scoring affair. Jim Harbaugh has shown no ability to beat relevant teams on the road since arriving so hopefully he can get this season started off on the right foot. I’m excited to see Michigan get thrown straight into the thick of things. If they can pull this one off, they’ll have a few weeks to prep before Wiscy comes to town for what should be a great matchup.
5: USC vs Alabama (9/5/2020)
The last time these two teams met, Jalen Hurts was starting for Alabama and Tua Tagovailoa was a nobody. That was 2016 when these teams met at Jerryworld in week 1, where Alabama blew out SC 52-6. This game should be a little more competitive. There’s a lot of question marks surrounding Alabama, as they lost 9 players to the NFL this past draft including their quarterback. Losing Tua is a huge blow and while Mac Jones seems to be a respectable option, he is no Heisman contender. USC had a mediocre 8-5 record last season, but brings in a lot of promise with Kedon Slovis at the helm of the offense (he’s apparently a Heisman dark horse?!). It should be a fun game to watch to open up the season, and with a neutral site game, the disadvantaged SC might be able to keep things close?!
4: Notre Dame vs Wisconsin (10/3/2020)
Speaking of that Wisconsin Michigan matchup, the following Saturday the Badgers will host the Fighting Irish for a 7:30 nighttime spectacular at Camp Randall. Both teams will have been tested before they meet on this date, but I expect a close game regardless of their records heading in. Both teams have a great opportunity to still be undefeated and have all of their goals in front of them still, so the stakes should be high. This is arguably Wisconsin’s most difficult game this season and securing a win here would almost undoubtedly secure their spot in the Big 10 Championship game barring an epic collapse. For ND, they still have bigger fish to fry later on (we’re almost there), so their margin for error is slim if they have any hopes of making the CFB. For early October, this should be some fantastic football that should remind everyone watching that ND should just suck it up and join the Big 10 so we get games like this every year!
3: Texas vs LSU (9/12/2020)
The encore to the masterpiece that was last year’s game in Austin. That game was awesome to watch, and while I doubt this year’s game will be much better, it should be a good one. We get an early look at LSU against better competition (I’m refusing to call any Big 12 defense “stiff”), and we should get a good understanding on how LSU’s path to repeating is possible if at all. There’s a lot of hype surrounding Texas as there always is, but for me personally I need to see it to believe it. They’ve got the leader in Ehlinger, and could easily come into Death Valley and pull off the upset. Should be a great one to watch that gives us insight about those two teams and their destiny’s this upcoming season.
2: Clemson vs Notre Dame (11/7/2020)
I’ve eluded to it twice now, and rightfully so. It would be hard to suck as bad as the CFB semifinal in 2018, and I don’t expect it to be like that this season. That Clemson team was on another level of insane, and ND was woefully overrated as usual (Michigan almost beat them in week 1!). Notre Dame doesn’t need to win this game to make the CFB in my opinion, but getting blown out would hinder their chances significantly. Notre Dame’s margin for error is already small, and if Clemson comes into South Bend and puts on a show, ND might be on the outside looking in at 11-1. As for Clemson, this is one of the 2 games out of the year that they have to play with their eyes open to win, so I expect them to come prepared and ready to fight. 7:30 kickoff has already been announced so if South Bend is there in full force, it will be rocking. I can’t wait to watch this game late in the season and see what happens!
1: Ohio State vs Oregon (9/12/2020)
This might be one of the regular season games of the year! I cannot WAIT to watch this one. Oregon is my dark horse to slip into the playoff this season, and beating OSU would make it virtually impossible for them to miss out barring a complete collapse. Oregon brings in one of the best defenses in America, and keeps a lot of offensive production outside of Herbert, with some promising options as his replacement. OSU is OSU so while they did lose a lot to the NFL (10), I know they’ll reload. Justin Fields and the offense should roll right along and keep this team afloat until the defense gets their footing. This game has huge playoff implications, but I still see both of these teams making the top 4 regardless of who comes out of this one alive. This is arguably the biggest and most important game of the season for both programs, so the intensity and pressure should be cranked up to an 11. Now all we need is a 10:30 ET kickoff (make it happen UO).