These are strange times ladies and gentlemen. You know that. The 2020 college football season is not going to go down as planned, but luckily for us, it looks like it is going to go down. Yes, it will be mostly conference-only games for just about everybody. Still, it means football for ravenous masses of college fans.
But this also means that this is not exactly a blue-ribbon schedule for the first month of the season. First off, the SEC won't even start playing until the final weekend of the month, and the first three weekends before that has mostly slim pickings for games that will give you goosebumps. So instead of the usual top 20 games of the first month, this list covers 10.
Don't knock it, it's still college football being played. Beggars can't be choosers, right?
10. West Virginia at Oklahoma State, Sept. 26
Speaking of revenge, last year's 20-13 loss to the Cowboys is the game that put the nail in the Mountaineers' postseason hopes, so you know WVU has a chip on its shoulder to open the season. The Pokes return nearly their entire defense, which means the 'Neers and their mostly punchless offense from a year ago (116th nationally) will have a longer row to hoe. Quarterbacks Jarret Doege and Austin Kendall need to maintain some consistency, and the rebuilt O-line will be the key to the WVU season.
9. Louisville at Pittsburgh, Sept. 26
Both teams finished the 2019 season with 8-5 marks and would have had the 10-win plateau in their crosshairs this season if not for this shrinking number of games. And what a great matchup of a high-powered offense (Louisville was second in the ACC scoring 33.1 points per game with eight starters back) against a lock-down defense (Pitt was third in the ACC holding opponents to 22.5 ppg). Quarterback Micale Cunningham, running back Javian Hawkins, and wide receiver Tutu Atwell make for a formidable offensive trio, but they'll face a Pitt defense that was first nationally in sacks (3.92 per game) and ninth in tackles for a loss (7.9), while returning seven starters (standout lineman Jalen Twyman opted out). It makes for a very intriguing matchup.
8. Iowa State at TCU, Sept. 26
This one comes with a disclaimer as TCU quarterback Max Duggan's status is up in the air after he was diagnosed with a heart condition discovered during COVID-19 testing protocols. He has not been ruled out for the season, but there's no timetable for when he will be able to return either. But should he be cleared to play for this game, it offers a matchup between similar quarterbacks who happen to share the same jersey number. ISU's Brock Purdy is a senior while Duggan is just a sophomore. To better describe it, Purdy is vastly underrated (top returning QB in the Big 12 with 3,982 yards last year) and Duggan could be the next Purdy (2,007 yards but 10 picks). The potential quarterback showdown notwithstanding, give the Cyclones the edge since they'll feature a better, more experienced defense.
7. Kansas State at Oklahoma, Sept. 26
Originally this game was supposed to be played on Nov. 14, which would've been better for the Wildcats since they will be replacing nine new starters on offense. But one of those returnees is quarterback Skylar Thompson, the architect of last year's stunning 48-41 upset of the Sooners. Seven starters are back on defense, which will be a good test for new OU quarterback Spencer Rattler and his mostly-new receiving corps. But the biggest thing the Sooners will have going? Revenge. They're champing at the bit to get this one kicked off.
6. Mississippi State at LSU, Sept. 26
It won't take long to see how good of a rebound the defending national champions will have. Not that the Bulldogs will be a serious challenge, but they should be able to put up enough resistance to make it a game for a while and be a barometer to see if LSU is a national title contender once again. I mean, with graduations, early departures, and opt-outs (latest being wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase and defensive lineman Tyler Shelvin), there are only five starters back from last year's squad, so you can see how LSU has become a giant mystery team for 2020. Now, if the inexperienced Dogs, who also have a new coaching staff, happen to give the Tigers a four-quarter tussle? That's a big deal. If they pull an upset? Oh, mercy.
5. Florida at Ole Miss, Sept. 26
This is a great QB-on-QB matchup, with Kyle Trask going up against John Rhys Plumlee. When those two field generals took the job over for their respective programs midway through last season, the offenses blossomed. But with no spring practice and no non-conference games, new head coach Lane Kiffin and the Rebels will have some early bumpy roads. The Gators should take this one, but don't underestimate super-sophs Plumlee and running back Jerrion Ealy, who are both a blur with the ball.
4. Miami at Louisville, Sept. 19
The transfer of Houston QB D'Eriq King to The U makes this game even more intriguing, considering his game-breaking abilities. Miami was terribly inconsistent last season and the hopes here is that King will supply a more steady, yet explosive hand. The Hurricanes' defense was strong last season, finishing second in the ACC in all four major categories, but must replace seven starters from that unit, including Gregory Rousseau, the nation's second-leading sacker in 2019, who opted out. Miami has added Temple transfer Quincy Roche (13 sacks last season), so watching him try to corral Louisville quarterback Micale Cunningham will be great theater.
3. Virginia at Virginia Tech, TBA*
What a bummer. It would have been more fun to see these two rivals getting after each other on the last game of the regular season, as it was originally scheduled. Last November, the Cavaliers finally broke the Hokies' 15-game win streak in this series and also increased their win total for the fourth year in a row. The Cavs replace Georgia and Clemson on their September slate for this game vs. the Hokies, and they'll have to do it without do-it-all QB Bryce Perkins, who was so instrumental to their success in 2019. Tech returns 18 starters, including 10 (but not All-America candidate CB Caleb Farley) on a defense that will forge on without long-time coordinator Bud Foster.
*Game was originally scheduled for Sept. 19 but was postponed due to COVID-19 concerns.
2. Kentucky at Auburn, Sept. 26
This one is probably a little higher on this list that it should be, but I've got a sneaky suspicion that the Wildcats could be a dark horse in the SEC East, especially if they can pull the stunner here. It's not likely, sure. But this could be a page-turner type of non-fiction for UK if quarterback Terry Wilson is back to his old ways before he suffered a season-ending knee injury in the second game of the 2019 campaign. That UK offense was a running sledgehammer, finishing fourth in the country on the ground, and with eight starters returning they could get some traction and make this one could be interesting. But watch Bo Nix show out in a big way and make this a laugher. But just in case it isn't…
1. Florida State at Miami, Sept. 26
Too bad this isn't 1988, right? Unfortunately, these two teams come into this season looking to get back to relevance. Pinch yourself if you have to, but yes these two are very ordinary now after 6-7 seasons. But this could be where the road to redemption gets its kick-start. That's what puts this one over the top in the intrigue department for September games. FSU head coach Mike Norvell had a tumultuous offseason, with players butting heads with the staff on numerous occasions. How will that transfer to the field? Quarterback James Blackman needs to be better protected after getting sacked 48 times last year, so keep an eye on the Hurricane blitzes. Experience will be the huge key, as the Seminoles have 10 starters back on defense, giving them the edge here.
— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.