Being selected to host College GameDay is a seal of approval for college football teams—proof that they are not only good, but also of national importance. COVID-19 robbed the 2020 season of many nonconference, decades-old rivalries that return in 2021.
ESPN has already announced the locations the GameDay crew will be traveling to for Week 0—Atlanta for NC Central vs. Alcorn State—and Week 1—Charlotte for Clemson vs. Georgia. After that? Who knows. Below is a projected GameDay lineup for Weeks 2–13 based on how we think the season will go. It’s full of top-25 teams and juicy matchups, many of which we didn’t get to see last fall.
Week 2, Sept. 11: Iowa at Iowa State
This in-state, nonconference rivalry resumes this fall with what projects to be a top-10 showdown. The Cyclones and Hawkeyes did not play in 2020 due to the pandemic and both teams finished the season in the AP Top 25. Iowa is the winner of five in a row over Iowa State, but the Cyclones hold the advantage in ‘21 with running back Breece Hall, a Heisman candidate. Iowa State will take care of Northern Iowa in Week 1. If the Hawkeyes beat Indiana in their opener, the winner of this game will catapult into the top five early on.
Week 3, Sept. 18: Alabama at Florida
The last three meetings between the Gators and the Crimson Tide came in the SEC championship game, most recently a December battle in which Florida nearly unseated the eventual national champions. Alabama will hold a No. 2 ranking at worst following wins over a ranked Miami team and Mercer. UF has two warm-ups against FAU and USF to figure things out after its offensive exodus via the draft, turnover the Tide is more accustomed to dealing with. College GameDay returns to Gainesville for an early check in to see if Bama still runs the conference.
Week 4, Sept. 25: Notre Dame at Wisconsin
Jack Coan gets a shot at his old team after he transferred to Notre Dame in the spring. Beyond this being some sort of revenge game for Coan, it’s the first time the Badgers and Fighting Irish will play in 57 years. The two schools get a historic backdrop in Chicago’s Soldier Field to resume their series, which began in 1900. Notre Dame, once again competing as an independent, will be 3–0 heading into its first true test of the season. And Wisconsin, led by quarterback Graham Mertz, Coan’s replacement, will be 2–0 and rested coming off a bye week.
Week 5, Oct. 2: Ole Miss at Alabama
An SEC matchup between two undefeated teams quarterbacked by Heisman candidates is the picturesque backdrop for College GameDay. The Rebels’ Matt Corral and the Crimson Tide’s Bryce Young will have asserted themselves as two of the best players in the country by this point, and now they get to duel. Ole Miss has a soft schedule leading into SEC play. Alabama will have already been battle tested with a neutral-site meeting with Miami and a road game against Florida. This is the only appealing matchup to draw the GameDay crew to Tuscaloosa in 2021, and they’ll jump at the opportunity.
Week 6, Oct. 9: Oklahoma vs. Texas
The Red River Rivalry last had GameDay in 2018. The Sooners have five easy games to begin the season and their latest Heisman candidate quarterback, Spencer Rattler, will have set the nation on fire with gaudy stats reminiscent of Jalen Hurts, Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield. Texas will be coming off a win over TCU with its eyes on the winner of the last six Big 12 titles and its biggest conference rival, Oklahoma. New head coach Steve Sarkisian will get his first shot at beating Lincoln Riley and the Sooners, something his predecessor, Tom Herman, did once in five tries.
Week 7, Oct. 16: Miami at North Carolina
GameDay hasn’t been to Chapel Hill for football since 1997. Sam Howell and this Tar Heels team will put an end to that streak this season. Besides the opener versus Virginia Tech, UNC has a favorable schedule to begin the season before back-to-back games against Miami and Notre Dame. The Hurricanes similarly have a tough Week 1 opponent in Alabama but should coast until meeting UNC. North Carolina went down to Coral Gables in December and obliterated No. 10 Miami, 62–26. That game will be on both teams’ minds in this high-profile game that could decide the ACC Coastal.
Week 8, Oct. 23: USC at Notre Dame
One of college football’s most legendary series resumes this season in South Bend. The Trojans and Fighting Irish played every season since 1945 until the pandemic put an end to that in 2020. The rivalry is renewed this fall and Heisman candidate quarterback Kedon Slovis gets another shot at beating Notre Dame. As a true freshman, Slovis nearly led a comeback to topple the No. 9 Fighting Irish on the road. That was with a middling USC team in 2019. The Trojans are much improved and should challenge ND once again.
Week 9, Oct. 30: Penn State at Ohio State
GameDay has been at the last four meetings between the Buckeyes and the Nittany Lions, and for good reason. Ohio State typically lays waste to its Big Ten foes, but Penn State always makes it interesting. OSU has taken the last four games, but by a winning margin of just 6.5. Even when PSU started off last season 0–5, it kept its game with the Buckeyes within two scores. The Nittany Lions are much improved from their down year and get a shot at their divisional foe on the eve of Halloween.
Week 10, Nov. 6: Oregon at Washington
The pandemic derailed the Pac-12 more than any other Power 5 conference in 2020. But the usual powers out west are back this year for a full season and Washington has an opportunity to exact revenge when it hosts Oregon. A COVID-19 outbreak for the Huskies saw the Ducks take their place in the conference championship and beat USC for the title. This game should decide the Pac-12 North and UW won’t let a cancellation keep it out of the conference title game again.
Week 11, Nov. 13: Texas A&M at Ole Miss
In what should be a down year for LSU and Auburn, this is the battle for second place in the SEC West behind Alabama. Both the Aggies and Rebels will have already fallen to the Crimson Tide at this point, and The Grove is a beautiful backdrop for a consolation prize. Jimbo Fisher has not lost to Ole Miss in three years at the helm of A&M, but he’s also never played Ole Miss without Kellen Mond at quarterback. The Rebels have Corral, but Lane Kiffin has to figure everything else out when the Aggies come to Oxford.
Week 12, Nov. 20: Louisiana at Liberty
Liberty was supposed to get its first-ever College GameDay last December against Coastal Carolina. A COVID-19 outbreak for the Flames prevented that and BYU took their place. Liberty has another chance to get GameDay this fall when the Ragin’ Cajuns travel to Virginia. Louisiana is a preseason top-25 team in most polls and has a chance to win out after its season opener against Texas. Liberty has three tough road games before its bout with the Ragin’ Cajuns (Troy, UAB, Ole Miss). As long as the Flames can hang around until Thanksgiving, they could be in the national spotlight on a weekend full of weak games.
Week 13, Nov. 27: Oklahoma at Oklahoma State
The GameDay crew was at Bedlam in 2020, and it was a colossal disappointment. The Cowboys lost by 28 points on the road, their worst loss of the season. Now, the series shifts back to Stillwater and there’s bad blood for OSU. Oklahoma State felt betrayed by its sister school after the Sooners’ surprise announcement to jump to the SEC. The Cowboys can play spoiler in the regular-season finale or Oklahoma can put the final stamp on its résumé with another quality win before the conference championship on its way back to the College Football Playoff.
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