Well, the college football season is officially underway, proving many wrong who believed that no games would be played this fall. While there’s still a lot of uncertainty – what happens when games are almost inevitably postponed? SMU and TCU have already called off their September 11th contest due to COVID testing results, and if conference games begin to be afflicted, it could be very difficult to stay on course with a tight window to play the season.
But that’s the pessimistic view. The optimist in me is thrilled we have college football and ready to start taking a look at the conference championship race. In each of the Power-5 conferences, lets take a look at which games will shape the title races.
- Texas @ Oklahoma State, October 31
- Iowa State @ Oklahoma State, October 24
- Iowa State @ Texas, November 28
There’s a clear pattern in the three games listed above, as these three squads – Texas, Oklahoma State, and Iowa State – are generally considered the three contenders to face Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship. The Sooners should be in it, even as they break in their third quarterback in three years, so none of their games make the list. The separation from #2-4 in the conference is slim-to-none, so these three games will be absolutely crucial in deciding who gets to challenge the Sooners in the Big 12 championship. In a season with just three Power-5 conferences in play, a 1-loss Big 12 champion is virtually guaranteed a Playoff berth, so if one of these teams can go 2-0 in these games, they give themselves a probable win-and-in situation in the title game.
Just from an early outlook, Oklahoma State is probably the favorite to emerge from this group. Chuba Hubbard is just an absolute monster in the backfield, and the Cowboys return a whopping 19 starters. They host both the Longhorns and the Cyclones, and although home field advantage is diluted this season, it still means something, and if the Cowboys can hold up in back-to-back weeks, with Oklahoma looming just two weeks after the Texas clash, then they could emerge. However, one slip from Oklahoma State, and Texas and Iowa State will be chomping at the bit to take advantage.
A worst-case scenario for the Big 12, is each of these teams knocking each other off and losing to Oklahoma, bringing into play a 2-loss Big 12 champion that may be left out of the CFP, a disastrous look for the conference. \
1. Notre Dame at UNC, November 27
2. Clemson at Notre Dame, November 7
3. Clemson at Virginia Tech, December 5
Notre Dame is a major factor in these games, as the Irish were a consensus pick to finish 2nd in the conference, but we will see if they can match the hype. They’ve got a November 7th showdown with Clemson that they hope to enter unbeaten. An October 24 road trip to Pitt, who always seem to play Notre Dame tough, may be their toughest obstacle to achieving that goal, and if they get to that point, beating Clemson in South Bend seems like a real possibility. But if they don’t, that will leave the margin for error absolutely razor-thin for Notre Dame, who will be forced to potentially play for a berth in the ACC championship with a late-season road trip to Chapel Hill to take on Sam Howell and the UNC Tar Heels. Can the Fighting Irish pull it off? That game may decide if they have a shot at bringing home their first ever conference championship.
I’m listing the Clemson-ND game as the 2nd game, because it leaves the loser with a series of must-win games. This may seem more perilous for Notre Dame, but Clemson has some tricky games as well. The winner of this game is a virtual lock to be one of the two teams in the ACC Championship. Not to mention, it’s arguably the biggest regular season game of the year.
And finally, I’m listing the season-ending contest between Clemson and Virginia Tech. Blacksburg is not an easy place to play, and the Hokies might look forward to a Senior Day clash with the Tigers. If Clemson has lost a road game to Notre Dame and is caught looking ahead to a rematch with the Irish, Virginia Tech may do more than just step on Clemson’s toes in the season finale. Clemson is definitely the favorite in the ACC, but don’t write their name in the championship game in sharpie just yet.
- Georgia at Florida, November 7
- Alabama at LSU, November 14
- Georgia at Alabama, October 17
The SEC has the best chance of putting two teams in the College Football Playoff, so making the SEC championship could be a ticket to the postseason. Georgia faces Florida in what is listed as a home game, but it is being played in Jacksonville. The pressure is on Dan Mullen to break through and win the SEC after back-to-back New Year’s 6 bowl victories. Can he make it happen against Kirby Smart and Co? This game, barring any surprises, should decide the SEC East.
Alabama at LSU could very well decide the SEC West. Alabama is hosting the Iron Bowl, which makes this their biggest obstacle to an undefeated season. LSU has been hit hard by opt-outs, but the defending national champs won’t go down without a fight at their home stadium against the Tide. Texas A&M and Auburn are also interesting picks in the division, but ultimately, I believe the West comes down to this battle.
That being said, Alabama has to escape an early-season battle with the Georgia Bulldogs. A loss there puts the Tide on the edge, well before they get to Death Valley. By the same vein, it puts Georgia behind the 8-ball in the SEC East race, so that game will serve as a critical clash en route to deciding who makes it to Atlanta in December.