As we anxiously await word on the 2020 college football season, let’s preview the Top 5 non-conference games of the upcoming season.
5. Michigan @ Washington, September 5
This is a thrilling Week 1 battle, as both teams will be debuting new quarterbacks. Washington is trying to get back to the top of the Pac-12, and maybe back to relevancy on the national scale after a disappointing 8-5 record in Jacob Eason’s final season. Michigan is hoping to finally break through under Jim Harbaugh, but as of now, they’re certainly expected to continue playing second fiddle to Ohio State in the Big 10. This will be a statement victory for whoever emerges on top. I’m leaning towards Washington in this one – Michigan has really struggled in big games under Jim Harbaugh, and they’ve won just once as an underdog. Although they may not be an underdog in this one, a trip to the West Coast is a tough way to start the season.
Washington 33 Michigan 23
4. Clemson @ Notre Dame, November 7
If Notre Dame can escape a tough test with Wisconsin earlier in the season, and don’t fall victim to any surprising upsets, this game should be a late-season clash of unbeatens. For Clemson, with a very weak ACC schedule, one loss makes them a long shot to make the Playoff, so they will need this win just as much as the Irish. For Notre Dame, they struggle to win big games under Brian Kelly, but they also rarely lose at home, having not lost in South Bend since Jake Fromm beat them 20-19 in 2017. I don’t think this will be a blowout, as Notre Dame plays with too much pride at home, but I don’t see Clemson dropping this one. With Trevor Lawrence, Travis Etienne, and Justyn Ross back for more, the Tigers are primed for another undefeated season and a run at the national championship. They’ll get off to a hot start and stave off the Irish.
Clemson 35 Notre Dame 30
3. Alabama vs. USC, September 5
This is another great Week 1 game, as Alabama rarely faces a non-conference threat early in the season. USC figures to bounce back this season, coming off an 8-5 season that saw them start three different quarterbacks. With some consistency under center, the Trojans will be Pac-12 contenders, but they face a brutal first game in the Crimson Tide. Alabam’s quarterback situation just got a little clearer with Taulia Tagovailoa entering the transfer portal, and the job figures to go to star recruit Bryce Young, although senior Mac Jones will push to regain his starting job. The Crimson Tide rarely lose, however, and they’ll be hungry after being left out of a New Years 6 Bowl last season. However, I do think USC stays close and their high-powered offense will have the ability to go punch-for-punch with Alabama, who does have question marks with the departure of their quarterback and 1-2 receiver punch in Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs. Give me Bama in a close one in this neutral field battle.
Alabama 42 USC 35 (overtime)
2. Texas @ LSU, September 12
This was thought to be a huge game last year, and it just became the first of many Heisman moments for Joe Burrow, while kick starting Texas’s spiral to a very disappointing season. However, after not feeling it last year, I’m finally jumping on the “Texas is back” train, as I do believe Sam Ehlinger is an elite quarterback who will dominate the Big 12 this season. However, the SEC is a much different animal, and LSU is the defending national champions. Myles Brennan is a very capable replacement at quarterback, the Tigers boast loads of talent at the skill positions, and their defense should still be very solid. That, combined with a significant homefield advantage, should land LSU a marquee home win to start the year. It’s going to be a good year for Texas overall, but this game will be a tough one.
LSU 38 Texas 20
1. Ohio State @ Oregon, September 12
Oregon’s home field advantage may be largely negated in this one if they aren’t allowed to have fans in this early-season contest, but the Ducks will most definitely be motivated for one of the biggest home games in program history. With College Football Playoff favorite Ohio State, led by Heisman candidate Justin Fields, coming into town, the Ducks will face a stiff challenge, especially having to replace Justin Herbert at quarterback. However, thankfully, this is less of an issue for Oregon, whose system is based on first-reads and their rushing attack. It’s easier for them to rebound from the loss of a stud quarterback, and the Ducks will be raring to go from the start. Ohio State may still make the playoff with an undefeated Big 10 campaign, but they’re not escaping Eugene.
Oregon 41 Ohio State 34