The 10 college football games that will define the 2021 national championship race

Spring practices have been canceled, the offseason has become a desert of college football news and the desire for the greatest sport in the world to tee it up has never been higher. So, let’s fill that need by looking ahead to some of the biggest games of the 2020 season.

From Week Zero through conference championship weekend, the upcoming season is going to be filled with compelling games that will define the College Football landscape. What are the most important of those games to pay attention to? Let’s break them down:

10. Texas at LSU, Sept. 12: No, this isn’t a paragraph about Texas being back. Nobody should fall into that trap until Texas proves that is, indeed, back. For LSU, though, it’s a wildly-intriguing game. The Tigers have had massive roster turnover, a shakeup in the coaching staff and the elimination of spring practice because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now they’re going to go into a massive game with a Longhorns team that will have revenge on their minds in Week 2? Sign me up.

9. Wisconsin at Michigan, Sept. 26: Consider this an elimination game. Or, if you prefer a more positive spin on catchy college football monikers, a prove-it game. The Badgers lost running back Jonathan Taylor but have an identity that has stood the test of time. Meanwhile, the Wolverines lost quarterback Shea Patterson, have a vanilla offense that can’t seem to get over the hump and have become desperate in Year 6 of the Jim Harbaugh era. The winner of this game will head into October with a ton of momentum. The loser … well, have a great offseason.

8. Florida vs. Georgia (in Jacksonville), Oct. 31: The Gators and Bulldogs will square off on the First Coast in a game that will likely determine the SEC East champion. That champion has entered the SEC title game with a CFP berth on the line in each of the last three seasons. Of course, it was the Bulldogs in all three of those games. Could Dan Mullen and the Gators flip the script in the division and enter Mercedes-Benz Stadium with the CFP in sight? They’ll have to top their hated rival first.

7. Ohio State at Penn State, Oct. 24: The Buckeyes lost a thriller in the Fiesta Bowl national semifinal last year and will likely have to get through the Nittany Lions in what will be a raucous Beaver Stadium in order to return to the four-team postseason. Nittany Lions quarterback Sean Clifford was up-and-down as a junior, but has a year’s worth of experience under his belt and can put his team in Big Ten East contention with a win over the Buckeyes. 

6. USC at Oregon, Nov. 7: Don’t fall for the offseason negativity directed at USC. Coach Clay Helton returns sophomore sensation Kedon Slovis at quarterback after the rising sophomore entered last season as the fourth-string quarterback for the Trojans. Even though the offseason has been cut short, he undoubtedly will build off last season’s success. The Ducks are loaded up front on both sides of the ball but won’t have the quarterback edge in this one. Consider this one a CFP elimination game.


USC QB Kedon Slovis

5. Texas vs. Oklahoma (in Dallas), Oct. 10: The Sooners have dominated the Big 12 with five straight conference titles, but if there’s any team that has the talent to break that streak, it’s the Longhorns. The problem is that we’ve been waiting for them to be “back” since they lost to Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game following the 2009 season. If Texas can win, things in flyover country will get really interesting. If it can’t, coach Tom Herman’s seat will heat up like a West Texas field in the heart of July.

4. Ohio State at Oregon, Sept. 12: Hello, Week 2 cross-country battle of behemoths. The Buckeyes and Ducks will tee it up in Eugene with early-season bragging rights on the line. The Ducks have the strongest offensive line in the country heading into the season, while the Buckeyes boast a stellar defense that will likely be searching for the next star in the post-Chase Young era. Both teams can probably withstand a loss and still make the CFP, but the margin of error for the loser will be razor thin the rest of the season.

3. Alabama at LSU, Nov. 7: The battle between the Tigers and Crimson Tide has had a major impact on the SEC West and national title races for the last decade. But for the first time since the 2012 BCS National Championship Game, it’ll be the Crimson Tide with revenge on their minds. Both teams have questions across the board heading into the season, but the one that has more of them answered by the time they square off in Death Valley will have the inside track to the SEC Championship Game.

2. Clemson at Notre Dame, Nov. 7: The Tigers and the Fighting Irish in South Bend in a rematch of the Cotton Bowl national semifinal from two seasons ago? Sign me up for a credential for this one. Brian Kelly has led the Fighting Irish to double-digit wins in four of the last five seasons, so save me the “Notre Dame is overrated” quip. They’ll enter this one with playoff hopes behind quarterback Ian Book and can make a huge statement against the mighty Tigers. Meanwhile, this could be Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence’s Heisman Trophy coronation if he shows out on the road in the biggest game in South Bend in a long time.

1. Georgia at Alabama, Sept. 19: The last two meetings between these two heavyweights have been barn-burners: Alabama’s walk-off win in the national title game three seasons ago and the 2018 SEC Championship Game that served as a de facto national quarterfinal. Mac Jones has the inside track to win the starting quarterback job for the Crimson Tide, and Wake Forest transfer Jamie Newman will likely be on the biggest stage of his life in Week 3 for the Bulldogs. Buckle up. This one will have a ripple effect across the entire college football world.

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