• Zach Pratt

Zach's Draft Corner: Early Preview of the Biggest Games in the 2020 College Football Season


Image Credit: Amal Saeed

Welcome to Zach’s Draft Corner, where it’s always amateur hour.

One of the best things about college football is the uniqueness of every matchup. When players only star for their teams for two to three years, tops, every matchup is going to bring something new. Add in the fact that non-conference games allow literal once-in-a-generation matchups, and every year brings its own set of treats.

These games are also very important for scouting purposes. Conferences develop identities, and it can be difficult to gauge how well-rounded a prospect can be until you see them in a situation that can test new aspects of their game. It’s one thing when a high-flying offense faces a porous defense, but it’s another when they face a team full of high-level pro prospects.

Then you have the classic rivalries. Each year brings a new chapter to some of the most storied rivalries in the nation, and these games can be the most intense of them all. The history, the stakes, the level of competition. It all reaches its peak during these matchups.

In other words, there is no single recipe that makes a particular game great. Instead, it is the whole story that defines a game. This week, I’m going to give you my top ten stories for the season, in the form of the ten games I will 100 percent be tuning into live.

10) Utah State University at Louisiana State University (Week 6, October 5, Time/TV TBD)

Okay, please don’t exit out of this article. It’s not a troll job here. I am very serious about putting this game in my top 10, and it is because of a single player: Jordan Love, the quarterback for Utah State. Being Utah State, there won’t be much of an opportunity to face high-level competition, but Love has the size, arm strength, and mechanics that show up against every opponent. What isn’t on display in those games is how he can process defenses and how he performs under pressure. He will face plenty of pressure against the Tigers. He may not have a receiver open all game, and may not have more than three seconds to make a throw before the LSU defensive line is in his grill. Can he still work through his progressions? Can he throw receivers open? Or will he fold under the pressure and make mistakes? Jordan Love has the potential to work his way into the upper echelon of quarterbacks in this year’s class, and this game will be a big reason why he does or does not do that.

9) Ohio State University at University of Nebraska (Week 5, September 28, Time/TV TBD)

Ohio State is a perennial powerhouse. A coaching change to Ryan Day is likely not going to change that, but it’s still something to monitor nonetheless. On the other side, we have Nebraska, a team looking to regain their former glory under second-year coach Scott Frost. This will be Day’s first true road game, and this will easily be the toughest opponent visiting Lincoln under Frost’s tenure. The Cornhuskers are the pre-season darling to win the Big Ten West. Seeing how Day handles tough opponent on the road, and seeing how Nebraska handles a talented coming into their stadium, will say a lot about the future of the Big Ten.

8) University of Miami vs University of Florida (Week 0, August 24, 7:00 PM Eastern Time, ESPN)

Week 0? That’s right, Week 0. Every year, we usually get a couple of games that occur the Saturday before the first true week of college football games, but these games usually only include teams like Wyoming or Hawaii. This year, we get a Week 0 game that is actually good! Both teams have a ton of talent on defense, with some intriguing talent on offense. More than that, we get a non-conference, in-state rivalry as the first college football game of the season. In most years, we dip our toes in the water during Week 0 before wading in to Week 1. This year, it’s going to be a cannonball into the deep end.

7) University of Oregon at Stanford University (Week 4, September 21, Time/TV TBD)

It’s been a while since a Pac-12 team has made the Playoff, so it can be easy to forget how much talent resides in the conference. The most talent happens to be on Oregon and Stanford, and this matchup could decide the winner of the Pac-12 North. Stanford’s K.J. Costello has earned a spot in preseason top 10 rankings for quarterbacks, while Justin Herbert is QB1 for many prognosticators. Will Stanford’s powerful, smash-mouth offense prevail, or will Oregon’s finesse be too much for the Cardinal? It’s early in the season, but the answer to this question could be the Pac-12’s best chance at a Playoff berth.

6) University of Oregon vs. Auburn University (Week 1, August 31, 7:30 PM Eastern Time, ABC)

Wait, didn’t we just get done talking about Justin Herbert? We would have, except for the fact that he is opening his season against a strong SEC defense on a neutral field. This will be our first glimpse into the Justin Herbert-Juwan James connection, and the vaunted Oregon offensive line will start off with an immediate test against one of the strongest and deepest defensive lines in the country. We also get to see how Auburn plans to replace the tandem of Jarrett Stidham and Darius Slayton with an immediate test against an athletic defense.

5) Louisiana State University at University of Texas (Week 2, September 7, 7:30 PM Eastern Time, ABC)

The second best non-conference game of the season, we get to see, yet again, how an offense that won’t face much opposition throughout the season fares when they go against the best secondary in the nation. Sam Ehlinger is a quarterback whose stock is all over the place. Collin Johnson decided against coming out in 2019, instead choosing to go back to school and try to make a name in one of the best receiver classes we have seen in years. This game will also be a good test for LSU. While we tend to focus on how offenses will do when they face a real defense, the same can be said for when a defense faces an offense that puts every defensive player on an island. This game will highlight either Texas’s rebuilt offense or LSU’s terrifying defense.

4) University of Notre Dame at University of Georgia (Week 4, September 21, Time/TV TBD)

Coming in at number four, we get the best non-conference game of the season when the Fighting Irish travel to Athens to take on the Bulldogs. After the conference championship games last year, there was plenty of chatter about wanting Georgia to get their rematch against Alabama and to put Georgia in the Playoff over Notre Dame. The committee rewarded Notre Dame for their undefeated regular season by granting them a Playoff spot, where they proceeded to get crushed by Clemson. This only made the chatter louder. While some of the talent has moved on to the NFL, there are still plenty of players from last year’s teams that will hope to use this game as a platform. Notre Dame will try to prove they deserved their playoff spot, while Georgia will make their case that talent trumps record. Storyline aside, Notre Dame and Georgia are two of the schools that consistently push out loads of talent at just about every position, and 2019 will not be any different.

3) University of Oklahoma vs. University of Texas (Week 7, October 12, 12:00PM Eastern Time, FOX)

The 2019 edition of the Red River Rivalry will be a shootout as always, and will absolutely be the best Big 12 game of the season. Lincoln Riley has produced two quarterbacks who have gone first overall in the past two draft, but Jalen Hurts will be his biggest test to date. Hurts was the quarterback from Alabama until they replaced him with Tua Tagovailoa, a quarterback that actually can throw the ball. If Riley can work his magic with Hurts, then he should just be named “Best Coach Ever” immediately. Regardless, the winner of this game will likely be assured of a spot in the Big 12 Championship game, where they very well may face the loser of this game in a rematch.

2) Ohio State University at University of Michigan (Week 14, November 30, 12:00 PM, FOX)

This is one of the most intense and historic rivalries in college football. This will be Ryan Day’s first foray into this rivalry, and it will be very important that he continue the streak Urban Meyer built. Ohio State has quite the tradition and has had the upper hand on Michigan for 15 of the past 16 years, with Michigan’s sole win coming in the year Ohio State had an interim head coach after Jim Tressel shockingly resigned that summer. Can Jim Harbaugh finally put Michigan over the top of their biggest rival? Or will Ohio State and their football factory continue to pump out victories over their neighbors to the north?

1) Louisiana State University at University of Alabama (Week 11, November 9, Time/TV TBD)

As of right now, this will be the best college football game of the regular season. Alabama, of course, has immense talent at every single position, but maybe none more so than wide receiver with Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs, and many, many more. Tua and crew won’t be tested often, but going against the best secondary in the nation will certainly be quite the test. Alabama certainly has the advantage when the LSU offense is on the field, and that advantage may be too much for the Tigers to overcome on the road. However, LSU is a dark-horse team to knock Alabama off their perch atop the SEC, and they will need that secondary to control the game if they want to pull off the upset. This will be Grant Delpit’s masterpiece. Will he reach Nirvana, or will he just end up as a Limp Bizkit? The answer to that will define LSU’s fate in 2019.

You can follow Zach on Twitter here!

Stay tuned to 49ersHub for more great 49ers and Draft analysis!