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The 42 best nonconference college football games in 2020

The last time Oregon and Ohio State met, the first College Football Playoff national championship was on the line.
The last time Oregon and Ohio State met, the first College Football Playoff national championship was on the line. (Kevin C. Cox, Getty Images)

The college football season is over, and the longest offseason in sports begins again.

But it’s not too early to look ahead to what 2020 will bring. Here are the best nonconference games next season:

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Note: Traditional nonconference rivalry games (Florida vs. Florida State, Georgia vs. Georgia Tech, etc.) are not included.

Best neutral site games

Navy vs. Notre Dame, Aug. 29 in Dublin, Ireland: You can’t get much better than the Fighting Irish in Dublin, and the Midshipmen make for a worthy opponent as a traditional rival. A military school playing overseas against one of college football’s biggest brands to kick off the season is a treat, though Navy will be replacing record-setting quarterback Malcolm Perry.

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Baylor vs. Ole Miss, Sept. 5 in Houston: Lane Kiffin’s first game as Ole Miss coach comes against a team that fell just short of the College Football Playoff. Nothing would be better than the Rebels knocking off a ranked opponent to begin Kiffin’s tenure.

West Virginia vs. Florida State, Sept. 5 in Atlanta: Both programs are coming off disappointing seasons, but might be headed for bigger and better things in 2020. New Seminoles coach Mike Norvell gets an early opportunity to make a statement.

USC vs. Alabama, Sept. 5 in Arlington, Texas: Clay Helton will be back on the sideline for the Trojans, and his reward is preparing to face a Crimson Tide program determined to put a disappointing season behind it. These blue bloods have only met eight times and just once since 1985, with Alabama earning a 52-6 win in the 2016 season opener in Arlington, Texas. This is also an intriguing quarterback matchup, with Mac Jones aiming to fill Tua Tagovailoa’s big shoes and Kedon Slovis looking to build off a promising freshman season.

Virginia vs. Georgia, Sept. 7, in Atlanta: We’ll see just how real Virginia’s resurgence under Bronco Mendenhall is. The Bulldogs, with Wake Forest graduate transfer Jamie Newman at quarterback, might enter 2020 as the SEC favorites.

Auburn vs. North Carolina, Sept. 12 in Atlanta: Two of the best young quarterbacks in the country in Bo Nix and Sam Howell will square off after showing flashes of brilliance as freshmen. This will be an interesting early litmus tests for two programs with high expectations.

Wisconsin vs. Notre Dame, Oct. 3 at Green Bay’s Lambeau Field: From the uniforms to the venue, this game is going to look and sound amazing. The last time the Badgers played in Green Bay, they upset No. 5 LSU, 16-14, in 2016. Wisconsin might be the favorite this time around.

Wisconsin vs. Northwestern, Nov. 7 at Chicago’s Wrigley Field: Baseball stadiums just look great with a football field crammed inside, and even more so when there’s ivy hanging from the outfield wall. If Northwestern can find a way to turn itself around after a brutal 2019, this game might just live up to its venue.

Notre Dame at Georgia Tech, Nov. 14 in Atlanta: The Yellow Jackets will be entering just the second year of a major overhaul under new coach Geoff Collins, but there were signs of life in 2019. A matchup against the Irish in an NFL stadium will at least attract local recruits interested in how much progress Georgia Tech is making.

Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence scrambles out of the pocket against Notre Dame during a College Football Playoff semifinal on Dec. 29 in Arlington, Texas.
Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence scrambles out of the pocket against Notre Dame during a College Football Playoff semifinal on Dec. 29 in Arlington, Texas. (Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press)

Best on-campus games

Clemson at Notre Dame, Nov. 7: This could be a playoff elimination game in early November. It’s just the fifth matchup all time between the schools and a rematch of the 2018 playoff semifinal that the Tigers dominated, 30-3.

Penn State at Virginia Tech, Sept. 12: Despite being two of the best programs on the East Coast, these teams have never met. Virginia is a fertile recruiting area for Penn State, but the Hokies can make a statement with a home victory. The Nittany Lions host the rematch in 2021.

Tennessee at Oklahoma, Sept. 12: This is another matchup of teams from the same region that have rarely faced off. Oklahoma leads the series 3-1, with the last meeting coming in 2015. For some, memories of the 1968 Orange Bowl are sure to come flooding back.

Texas at LSU, Sept. 12: The first meeting in this home-and-home series was a barn burner that kicked off LSU quarterback Joe Burrow’s Heisman Trophy campaign. If the rematch is anything close, with Myles Brennan taking over as the starting quarterback for the Tigers against Heisman favorite Sam Ehlinger, we’re in for a treat.

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Michigan at Washington, Sept. 5: Chris Petersen’s sudden retirement at the end of the season adds a layer of intrigue, since this will be Jimmy Lake’s first game as coach after serving as Petersen’s assistant for five years. Plus, you can bet the pressure will be on Jim Harbaugh to deliver a signature victory.

Ohio State at Oregon, Sept. 12: A game worthy of the playoff comes early in the season. The last time these teams met, the first CFP national championship was on the line. Much has changed since, but you can bet the atmosphere in Eugene will be electric.

Miami quarterback Jarren Williams (15) scrambles late in the second quarter as running back Cam'Ron Harris (23) looks to block against Louisiana Tech in the Walk On's Independence Bowl at Independence Stadium, Shreveport, La., on Thursday, Dec. 26, 2019.
Miami quarterback Jarren Williams (15) scrambles late in the second quarter as running back Cam'Ron Harris (23) looks to block against Louisiana Tech in the Walk On's Independence Bowl at Independence Stadium, Shreveport, La., on Thursday, Dec. 26, 2019. (Al Diaz/Miami Herald/TNS)

Intriguing Power 5 matchups

Miami at Michigan State, Sept. 26: There’s a lot of anxiety packed into this one after disappointing 2019 seasons. That alone is worth tuning in for.

BYU at Minnesota, Sept. 26: The first meeting between these schools comes at an interesting time. The Golden Gophers have suddenly turned into a Big Ten West power, while the Cougars are struggling to get back to their winning ways.

Louisville at Notre Dame, Nov. 21: Scott Satterfield won ACC Coach of the Year for making the Cardinals a competitive 7-5 after a 2-10 season. He still has plenty of work to do, but the Irish offer a measuring stick for Satterfield’s progress midway through Year 2.

Colorado at Texas A&M, Sept. 19: The Buffaloes have missed a bowl for three straight seasons after Mike McIntyre took them to the Pac-12 championship game in 2016. Unless Colorado rebounds in 2020, this game won’t be that enticing, but it’s a P5-vs.-P5 matchup nonetheless.

TCU at California, Sept. 5: It’s a rematch of the glorious 2018 Cheez-It Bowl, which featured 15 punts in a defensive slog won by TCU, 10-7. Let’s set the over/under now at 25.

Appalachian State quarterback Zac Thomas (12) hands the ball off to running back Darrynton Evans (3) during the first half of the New Orleans Bowl NCAA college football game against UAB in New Orleans, Saturday, Dec. 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Brett Duke)
Appalachian State quarterback Zac Thomas (12) hands the ball off to running back Darrynton Evans (3) during the first half of the New Orleans Bowl NCAA college football game against UAB in New Orleans, Saturday, Dec. 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Brett Duke) (Brett Duke/AP)

Best Power 5 vs. Group of 5 games

North Carolina at UCF, Sept. 3 or 4: Sam Howell and Dillon Gabriel were among the best true freshman quarterbacks in the country in 2019. There’s a good chance both teams enter this matchup ranked, too.

Temple at Miami, Sept. 5: Manny Diaz was introduced as Temple coach in late 2018 before jumping to take the Miami job. Diaz’s first season with the Hurricanes was a disaster, and if he loses this game, he might not last long in 2020.

Houston at Washington State, Sept. 12: Dana Holgorsen’s first season in Houston was one to forget, but expectations will be much higher in 2020. Winning what is sure to be a shootout in Pullman would be a big step forward.

Memphis at Purdue, Sept. 12: Injuries derailed Jeff Brohm’s third season at Purdue, but the Boilermakers at full strength should be competitive in the Big Ten West. A home game against last season’s top Group of 5 team is an enticing litmus test.

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Florida State at Boise State, Sept. 19: It’ll be a little bit strange to see a blue-blood program such as Florida State playing on the blue turf. The Broncos haven’t been to a New Year’s Six bowl since 2014, but a second straight win over the Seminoles might change that.

Appalachian State at Wisconsin, Sept. 19: Though App State lost coach Eliah Drinkwitz to Missouri, standout quarterback Zac Thomas is back after helping the Mountaineers beat North Carolina and South Carolina in 2019 and nearly topple Penn State in 2018. This is a tricky game for the Badgers.

Hawaii at Oregon, Sept. 19: You might have missed it, but Hawaii won 10 games in 2019, including victories over Pac-12 teams Arizona and Oregon State. The Ducks should take care of business, but it won’t be easy.

TCU at SMU, Sept. 26: The battle for the Iron Skillet is usually entertaining, and even more so in recent seasons as Sonny Dykes has built SMU into an American Athletic Conference contender.

Cincinnati at Nebraska, Sept. 26: Luke Fickell has led the Bearcats to double-digit wins in back-to-back seasons. Huskers coach Scott Frost, meanwhile, is just hoping to get to a bowl game.

In this Sept. 22, 2018, file photo, Army quarterback Kelvin Hopkins Jr. (8) carries the ball past Oklahoma defensive lineman Neville Gallimore (90) in the first of an NCAA college football game in Norman, Okla.
In this Sept. 22, 2018, file photo, Army quarterback Kelvin Hopkins Jr. (8) carries the ball past Oklahoma defensive lineman Neville Gallimore (90) in the first of an NCAA college football game in Norman, Okla. (Sue Ogrocki/AP)

Weird Power 5 road games

Texas Tech at UTEP, Sept. 5: One of the five worst programs in the FBS is hosting a Power 5 school. Sure?

Wake Forest at Old Dominion, Sept. 5: The last Power 5 team to visit Norfolk, Virginia, was No. 13 Virginia Tech, which lost 49-35 in 2018 in one of the biggest upsets in recent memory.

Washington State at Utah State, Sept. 5: This will be the Aggies’ first home game against a P5 team since hosting Wake Forest in 2014. Jordan Love and Anthony Gordon are gone, otherwise this could have been an enticing quarterback matchup.

Pitt at Marshall, Sept. 12: Marshall hosted North Carolina State in 2018 and No. 3 Louisville and Lamar Jackson in 2016, so it’s no stranger to hosting Power 5 teams.

Arizona State at UNLV, Sept. 12: Oregon offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo takes over a program that has big plans now that professional football is coming to Las Vegas. A home game against a Pac-12 team is a good place to start.

NC State at Troy, Sept. 19: The Trojans stumbled to 5-7 in 2019, but that was after three straight seasons with at least 10 wins and the program’s first Associated Press ranking.

Virginia Tech at Middle Tennessee State, Sept. 19: Watching the Hokies play in Murfreesboro will be a strange sight, indeed.

Oklahoma at Army, Sept. 26: Michie Stadium is one of the best environments in college football, and will be even more special with a top-notch program coming to visit.

Syracuse at Western Michigan, Sept. 26: The Broncos had a better season than the Orange in 2019, so maybe it’s not that weird.

Memphis at UTSA, Sept. 26: The Road Runners have only been playing FBS football since 2012, and have appeared in just one bowl game.

Kansas at Coastal Carolina, Sept. 26: In just their fourth season at the FBS level, the Chanticleers will host a Power 5 team for the first time. They already have a P5 win, though, thanks to last season’s victory over the Jayhawks.

BYU at Northern Illinois, Oct. 24: This is the first of many strange trips for the Cougars this decade. They go to Georgia Southern in 2021, Liberty in 2022, UCF in 2023, Wyoming and UNLV in 2024 and Rice in 2025.

Virginia at Old Dominion, Oct. 24: ODU season-ticket holders are definitely getting their money’s worth in 2020.

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