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Top 30 Must-See College Football Games of 2020

Top 30 Must-See College Football Games of 2020

Top 30 Must-See College Football Games of 2020

A historical anomalous college football season is already underway, easing into the COVID-19-era slate with an uninspired Week 1 giving way to an improved and more exciting Week 2. While the Big Ten (for now), Pac-12, MAC and Mountain West Conferences have opted to postpone, enough teams remain in action to make for some exciting matchups in what will be, no way or another, an unforgettable season.

30. BYU at Houston, Oct. 16

The wave of cancellations around college football, particularly those in the Mountain West and Pac-12, completely shook up BYU's schedule. One of the more marquee opponents BYU added in place of the lost games was Houston, entering its second year under Dana Holgorsen. The Cougars — Houston variety — underachieved badly in 2019. They need a rebound in this unusual campaign. A Friday night home game might be the ideal opportunity score a signature win.

29. FAU at FIU, Nov. 13

The Shula Bowl ranks among college football's newer rivalries, and in recent years, one of the best among the Group of Five. With both programs nestled in the recruiting-rich land of South Florida, they have cultivated talented rosters. At FIU, Butch Davis has leveraged the same formula that restored Miami to a national juggernaut. At FAU, Willie Taggart is beginning at a new program that's already built to win immediately for the first time in a career marked with several rebuilding projects.

28. FAU at Georgia Southern, Oct. 7

A rare gem of a non-conference game in a season largely bereft of such matchups, defending Conference USA champion FAU and first-year head coach Willie Taggert must find a way to slow the exciting Georgia Southern trio fo Shai Werts, Wesley Kennedy III, and J.D. King.

27. Mississippi State at Ole Miss, Nov. 28

The moment Mississippi State hired Mike Leach, roughly a month after Ole Miss introduced Lane Kiffin, this was a matchup plenty of college football fans nationwide circled on their calendars — or saved on iCalendar, if you prefer a less archaic cliche. While it's tough to get any weirder than a game lost as a result of a player pretending to urinate like a dog, as the 2019 Egg Bowl ended, Leach and Kiffin's eccentricity and propensity for offense could make for an especially unusual rivalry matchup.

And because this one should keep us guessing, it's worth noting that the last time these two met, Leach's team won a 10-7 slog.

26. North Carolina at Miami, Dec. 5

Another of North Carolina's arduous road games, the Tar Heels draw Miami in a potential divisional title game one week after a prototypical let-down game. Carolina hosts Notre Dame a week earlier, and the emotional impact of that one could, win or lose, carry into Miami.

25. Cincinnati at SMU, Oct. 24

Cincinnati's enjoyed a resurgence behind the hard-nosed, defensive philosophy of coach Luke Fickell. SMU raced to its best season since the program's glory days of the early 1980s behind Sonny Dykes' Air Raid-inspired, high-octane offense. The contrast of styles in this American Athletic showdown will force one of the two sides out of their comfort zone.

24. Notre Dame at Pittsburgh, Oct. 24

Pitt has staked its reputation in recent years on major upsets and wild finishes, like the 2016 stunner against Clemson or ending UCF's two-year regular-season winning streak in 2019. With Notre Dame coming to town a week before Halloween, the stage is set for another edition of the patented Pitt shocker.

23. Louisiana at Appalachian State, Oct. 7

The rematch of last season's Sun Belt Conference Championship Game also kicks off Fun Belt Wednesday, a midweek tradition not even a pandemic can sideline. Appalachian State is in its first season under alumnus Shawn Clark, an assistant on the outstanding, conference title teams of recent years. Billy Napier's exciting offense figures to have the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns back in the hunt. Keep an eye on explosive quarterback Levi Lewis.

22. Alabama at Ole Miss, Oct. 10

Since leaving his post as offensive coordinator at Alabama to take the head-coaching position at FAU, Lane Kiffin's had some fun over social media — sometimes at Nick Saban's expense. If nothing else, the first meeting between these two coaches since Kiffin's departure has an air of intrigue as a result. Alabama has a considerably better squad on paper, but perhaps Ole Miss has a secret weapon.

21. Clemson at Florida State, Nov. 21

Although this budding rivalry lost some of its luster the last few years, Mike Norvell debuts in Tallahassee with an impressive track record as an offensive coach and a wildly successful tenure at Memphis to his credit. Two of the ACC's most history-rich programs meeting late in the season, even an odd one like this, has the potential to exceed all expectations.

20. Texas A&M at Alabama, Oct. 3

Is this finally the year Texas A&M breaks through into SEC West contention? The Aggies get an early opportunity to prove their championship bonafides against the conference's benchmark for greatness. Jimbo Fisher is also aiming to undo the curse former Nick Saban assistant coaches have when matched up with their former colleague.

19. North Carolina at Virginia, Oct. 31

Virginia shocked the world in 2019 with its run to the ACC Championship Game and Orange Bowl. Bronco Mendenhall is building something in Charlottesville, but the foundation will be tested from the preseason favorite to take the Cavaliers' spot atop the Coastal division.

18. Tennessee at Georgia, Oct. 10

After a dismal start that included a loss to Georgia State, Tennessee rolled off a winning streak to cap the program's most promising season under Jeremy Pruitt. Expectations have shifted, with the Vols getting some buzz as potential dark-horse challengers to Georgia and Florida in the East. For the last 12 years, however, Tennessee has not done well with high expectations. An early-season date against rival Georgia will calibrate just how high the ceiling is for these Vols.

17. Baylor at Texas, Oct. 24

Dave Aranda inherits a Baylor team that came an overtime shy of winning the Big 12. While the defense replaces several key pieces, Aranda — coordinator of LSU's championship-winning defense a season — has enough playmakers to keep the Bears in the mix in the Big 12. Baylor's defensive tenacity clashes with the potentially explosive offense at Texas with Sam Ehlinger behind center.

16. UCF at Memphis, Oct. 16

When UCF built the nation's longest winning streak during the 2017 and '18 seasons, the Knights' closest competitor was Memphis. The 2017 American Athletic Conference Championship Game was a wild shootout, and the redux in 2018 saw UCF complete a raucous comeback. Memphis was able to breakthrough in 2019, albeit in a season of regression for UCF. This regular-season meeting could shape the overall complexion of the American's title race in 2020, if not serve as a championship preview.

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15. Oklahoma State at Oklahoma, Nov. 21

Oklahoma State has endured some gut-wrenching losses in Bedlam, especially in recent years. In 2020, the in-state rivalry game could determine a berth in the Big 12 Championship. Oklahoma State's roster is among the most experienced in the nation, but while Oklahoma replaces key pieces, Lincoln Riley's proved adept at handling turnover: Just look at his run of three straight starting quarterbacks who either won or were finalists for the Heisman Trophy.

14. LSU at Florida, Oct. 17

A cross-divisional rivalry in the SEC, LSU and Florida have delivered some of the most thrilling moments from college football's leading conference in the last 20 years. Pitting the defending national champions and a program back on the rise promises fireworks once again. LSU will still be early into a rebuild at this juncture, but Ed Orgeron's squad is not without talent. This is a high-profile spot for Dan Mullen's Gators to make a statement.

13. Texas at Oklahoma State, Oct. 31

A wild, high-scoring back-and-forth made this matchup among the most exciting in the Big 12 a season ago. The possible stakes at this midway juncture of the season add to the intrigue. So, too, does the presence of two of the nation's top players, Chuba Hubbard and Sam Ehlinger.

12. LSU at Auburn, Oct. 31

Little ever slowed the LSU offense in 2019, but Auburn's stepped up to the challenge more than any other the Bayou Bengals saw on their way to the championship. While there's some rebuilding on that side of the ball for coordinator Kevin Steele, it's not nearly the undertaking new LSU offensive coordinator Scott Linehan has ahead of him taking over for Joe Brady.

11. Notre Dame at North Carolina, Nov. 27

Preseason darling North Carolina has a potential Heisman Trophy finalist in quarterback Sam Howell. If he is indeed to go from Chapel Hill to New York, a late-season matchup with Notre Dame would be crucial to his candidacy — and to the realistic hopes of North Carolina landing in the ACC Championship mix.

10. Iowa State at Oklahoma State, Oct. 24

Two of the leading contenders for the Heisman Trophy heading into the season, Chuba Hubbard and Brock Purdy, lead explosive offenses into this matchup of potential Big 12 contenders. Points should be plentiful in Stillwater.

9. Florida vs. Georgia, Nov. 7 (Jacksonville, Fla.)

COVID-19 has put a moratorium on most social gatherings, thus the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party likely takes on a whole new look. The drinks may or may not flow, but the football should excellent between two fierce rivals and the favorites to contend for the SEC East title in 2020.

8. Auburn at Georgia, Oct. 3

The historic Auburn-Georgia rivalry has added some memorable installments in recent years, like the miracle that powered the Tigers to victory in 2013 and the Playoff-altering encounters to cap the 2017 season. Both programs have realistic SEC championship aspirations in the season to come but could have them ruined almost immediately out of the gate.

7. Cincinnati at UCF, Nov. 21

Cincinnati handed UCF its first conference loss since 2016 last season, then the Bearcats social media team tossed some salt in the wound.

Do we have a budding rivalry on our hands? At the very least, this battle for American Athletic East division supremacy is more organic than the Civil ConFLiCT.

6. Oklahoma at Iowa State, Oct. 3

Big 12 dark-horse contender Iowa State planted the flag of the Matt Campbell era with a marquee win at Oklahoma. This time around, the Cyclones get the Sooners in Ames in what could be a trap game for Oklahoma — and has Heisman Trophy implications for Iowa State's Brock Purdy.

5. Alabama at LSU, Nov. 14

LSU's high-scoring win in Tuscaloosa last November served as a springboard for the Tigers into one of the most impressive and dominant stretches in modern college football history. The defending SEC champions made a resounding statement against the conference's standard-bearer, and must now protect their house with the Crimson Tide coming for payback.

4. Oklahoma vs. Texas (Dallas), Oct. 10

Bitter Big 12 rivals Texas and Oklahoma will not have the backdrop of the Texas State Fair at the Cotton Bowl, but the Red River Shootout remains a key game in the Big 12 Conference championship chase.

3. Auburn at Alabama, Nov. 28

Gus Malzahn's gamesmanship's in last year's Tigers win has stuck with Alabama fans for almost 10 months now. Believe it will be on Nick Saban's mind as the one-year anniversary approaches, and the 2020 edition of the Iron Bowl readies for kickoff. In this, the penultimate matchup for both teams ahead of the SEC Championship — a sentence that feels exceedingly weird to write — the SEC West may hang in the balance.

2. Clemson at Notre Dame, Nov. 7

Few facets of this season speak to just how unprecedented it is quite like Notre Dame: ACC Member. The Fighting Irish have a team capable of making the College Football Playoff, but must get through an opponent that holidays in the national semifinal basically every year. The last time the teams met was one such occasion, and Trevor Lawrence led a pasting of the overmatched Irish. Might things be different in the shadow of the Golden Dome?

1. Georgia at Alabama, Oct. 17

Some of the very best college football teams in recent seasons pit Alabama and Georgia head-to-head: the 2017 College Football Playoff Championship Game and the 2018 SEC Championship. This has become one of the best rivalries of this era, even if the programs meet all-too-sparingly in the regular season. A 14-team conference playing just eight league games in normal times leaves a lot of intriguing matchups on the table, but that's beside the point.

Rejoice in getting this meeting in 2020. Nick Saban's former defensive coordinator Kirby Smart has a championship-caliber lineup visiting Tuscaloosa.

— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.