Early Ranking of the 10 Best Games of Week 1 of the 2020 College Football Season

After a rough end to this past season, Jim Harbaugh and Michigan will open 2020 in Seattle against Washington

Yes, yes, I know. It's too early to talk about college football again. I mean, if the reputation of the city of New Orleans lives up to its billing, the post-game party following LSU's national championship victory last Monday night is probably still going on. Tigers fans might let the good times roll till June after beating Clemson in the Superdome to wrap up their historic 15-0 season. But yet, here we are already looking forward to the 2020 season.

 

It may be freezing in your corner of the world but you know us college football fanatics, we can't keep the hashmarks off our minds. If the season started tomorrow, we'd be fine with that because this XFL thing likely isn't going to hold our collective passion for football. So even though we all know it is quite a while till the pigskin gets teed up again in late August, these are the 10 best Week 1 games of the 2020 college football season.

 

10. Virginia vs. Georgia

Mon., Sept. 7 (Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta)
 

It's a tale of two quarterbacks here as this season's runners-up from the ACC and SEC, respectively, will be introducing new signal-callers. Jake Fromm, the three-year starter for the Bulldogs, is NFL-bound and he joins seven other offensive starters from the SEC Championship Game to be moving on. It will be a whole new ball game in Athens. Wake Forest graduate transfer Jamie Newman figures to make his debut for Georgia after going 220-of-361 for 2,868 yards with 26 touchdowns and 11 interceptions for the Demon Deacons. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers continue their steady climb under Bronco Mendenhall, going 2-10, 6-7, 8-5 and 9-5 in his four years. Team leader Bryce Perkins has moved on, making way for the Brennan Armstrong era at quarterback. Mendenhall says Armstrong is more of a Taysom Hill-type of QB, a Swiss Army Knife, if you will. This will be an interesting opening day test for both teams.

 

9. Missouri State at Oklahoma

Sat., Sept. 5 (Norman, Okla.)
 

At first blush, this obviously looks like a rather un-sexy matchup, an FCS school vs. an FBS power. But this will be interesting for a couple of reasons. First, the Sooners will have their fourth new starting quarterback in the last four years, with the exodus of Jalen Hurts. The expected starter looks to be former five-star prepster Spencer Rattler. He'll have a slew of five-star receivers at his disposal, including Jadon Haselwood, Theo Wease and Trejan Bridges. And secondly, have you heard who the new Bears coach is? Remember Bobby Petrino? Yep, he's back and is now setting up shop in Springfield, Missouri. He's been a controversial head honcho at Arkansas, Louisville and Western Kentucky at the FBS level. He inherits a program that hasn't had a winning record since 2007, the year that he was on a short 13-game stint as head coach of the Atlanta Falcons.

 

8. Ole Miss vs. Baylor

Sat., Sept. 5 (NRG Stadium in Houston)

 

"Transition" is the key word here in this rare SEC-Big 12 showdown. Both programs will be breaking in new head coaches as the oft-traveled and oft-undeserved Lane Kiffin returns to the SEC and takes the reigns in Oxford and former LSU assistant Dave Aranda is the new boss in Waco. Kiffin hired Rich Rodriguez to be his offensive coordinator and they will have a two-headed monster to work with at quarterback with the thrower Matt Corral (105-of-178 for 1,362 yards) and the sprinter John Rhys Plumlee (154 carries, 1,023 yards). Aranda steps into a program that will have Charlie Brewer back at the controls on offense, but a defense that loses eight starters, including sack master James Lynch. Aranda was the defensive coordinator at LSU, so that expertise will come in handy as he rebuilds the Bears' stop troops.

 

7. TCU at California

Sat. Sept. 5 (Berkeley, Calif.)
 

This will be a rematch of the unfortunately-named Cheez-It Bowl from 2018 where the Horned Frogs won 10-7 in overtime. The Frogs could've been a much better team than the 5-7 mark they ended 2019 with, especially when you consider that six of those seven losses were one-score games. Freshman QB Max Duggan was a real find and with all of his big targets back for 2020, this offense should be much more proficient. But the defense is still the biggest question, which is odd for a Gary Patterson-coached team. Speaking of defense, Cal was supposed to have one of the better units in the country, especially in the defensive backfield. But the Golden Bears finished 112th nationally, giving up 262 yards per game through the air. QB Chase Garbers, RB Christopher Brown, and WR Nikko Remigio will all be juniors and ready to make a bigger splash. Oh, and advantage Bears here as they'll have already played a game in "Week Zero" against UNLV.

 

6. Notre Dame vs. Navy

Sat., Aug. 29 (Dublin, Ireland)

 

Speaking of "Week Zero," what could be more fun than seeing the Irish play football at the actual homeland of the Irish? This will be the second time this game has been held in Dublin, following the 2012 game which the Irish won 50-10. This matchup could be tighter than last year's 52-20 whitewashing by the Irish as Ian Book returns at the controls, but most of his receiving weapons have moved on. Book captioned his social media post announcing his return for his senior year with "#BeatNavy." The Midshipmen always have a ton of turnover, so seeing record-setting QB Malcolm Perry move on won't be insurmountable. And even though this game technically isn't a part of Week 1 since it serves as the opener for both teams (and it's in Ireland!), we included it in this list.

 

5. BYU at Utah

Thurs., Sept. 3 (Salt Lake City)

 

For the second year in a row, the Holy War will be played on opening weekend. Last year the Utes won a breezy 30-12 game which was a springboard to an 11-win season. Things should be a lot more even this time around as the Utes lose a ton off that defense which was sixth nationally in scoring, holding opponents to 15 points per game, and also losing QB Tyler Huntley and RB Zack Moss. The Cougars will have Zach Wilson back at quarterback and the defense will return nearly their entire front seven. This rivalry has been decidedly one-sided as the Utes have won nine straight, so you know the Cougars will be chomping at the bit to pull off a W.

 

4. North Dakota State at Oregon

Sat., Sept. 5 (Eugene, Ore.)

 

You know how these things go. Beware of good FCS teams playing early in the season against FBS teams. It happens every year, so don't scoff at this one as a potential early-season upset. Oddly, there were only three FCS wins over FBS teams in 2019 (The Citadel over Georgia Tech, Southern Illinois over UMass, and Central Arkansas over Western Kentucky). There was an average of almost nine FCS wins over FBS teams in the previous four seasons. In case you didn't know the Bison won their eighth FCS title in the last nine years this past season, adding to their dynasty. NDSU quarterback Trey Lance won the Walter Payton Award as a redshirt freshman, so he is more than capable of giving the Ducks' defense fits. This also is game one of the post-Justin Herbert era. Let's see what Nike U. has in store for us here. But tread lightly boys, these Bison are prickly.

 

3. Indiana at Wisconsin

Fri., Sept. 4 (Madison, Wis.)
 

This will be as early a start to Big Ten play as ever, and rest assured both teams are edgy to make amends for heartbreaking losses in the Gator Bowl and Rose Bowl respectively. The Hoosiers enjoyed their first winning record since 2007 and have a two-pronged QB situation in Peyton Ramsey (2,454 yards, 13 TDs, 5 INTs) and Michael Penix (1,394, 10, 4) and their top three targets back in Whop Philyor, Peyton Hendershot and Ty Fryfogle, who combined for 167 catches. As expected, UW running back Jonathan Taylor, an All-American and two-time Doak Walker Award recipient, took his considerable talents to the NFL, as did top receiver Quintez Cephus. But quarterback Jack Coan will be back after throwing for 2,727 yards and 18 touchdowns. Should be an interesting B1G opener.

 

2. USC vs. Alabama

Sat., Sept. 5 (AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas)
 

In case you don't remember, these two teams have been through this before. The Trojans and Crimson Tide hooked up in Arlington back in 2016 and things didn't seem to go all that well for the Men of Troy back then either, losing 52-6 against the top-ranked Tide. While a lot of other matchups on this list feature coach-vs-coach, but this one is definitely all about the quarterbacks... or who will be playing quarterback, that is. USC's five-star stud JT Daniels started as a freshman in 2018 and then got hurt in the first game of this past season. Freshman Kedon Slovis spelled Daniels the rest of the way and had an exemplary campaign, completing 72 percent of his passes with 28 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Now, who gets the drop for 2020? Whoever it is will have a rugged first assignment going up against the Tide. As for Bama, Tua Tagovailoa decided to head to the NFL, so junior Mac Jones could be the new permanent leader for the Red Elephants. Or will it be Tua's brother, Taulia?

 

1. Michigan at Washington

Sat., Sept. 5 (Seattle)

 

Put yourself in Jim Harbaugh's shoes. You've been on the job in Ann Arbor for five years and have won 47 games. That's the kind of win total most coaches would kill for. But at Michigan, it's just not good enough, especially since he is 0-and-5 vs. the hated Ohio State Buckeyes, getting outscored 221-126 in the process. So getting a big non-conference W in Seattle to start the 2020 season will be a huge boon to cooling his slightly warm seat. The Huskies will be under new leadership as Chris Petersen surprisingly resigned and top assistant Jimmy Lake was named the new maestro in the purple-clad Pacific Northwest. Lake is a defensive whiz and will be aided by a very experienced defensive setup returning to the two-deep roster. The Wolverines will be rebuilding on the offensive side of things anyway after the departure of quarterback Shea Patterson, who threw 381 of the 410 passes attempted last season. This one is definitely advantage UW.

 

— 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.

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