It is my belief that the 2021 college football season will be the best ever. With a historic return of talent combined with unprecedented freedom of movement for players, the product on the field should be better than any in recent memory. That's just my belief, though, and time will ultimately tell what the players and coaches combine to give us.
What is not in dispute, however, is that 2021 will be the most anticipated season in modern college football history. I know I've been anticipating this season since before the last one even started. We knew last spring that the 2020 season would be touch-and-go at best. My May 2020 GameDay preview began like this:
We’re all trying to limit or outright eliminate unnecessary human contact these days, and there’s nothing exactly necessary about a television show that travels the country packing thousands of people as close together as the laws of physics will allow.
So many of those games ended up canceled that I had to hastily write another prediction article in September.
We're getting back to normal in 2021, and by September that will mean unmasked sidelines, full stadiums, tailgates as far as the eye can see and, yes, a TV show that gives us all an excuse to be the nuttiest version of our college football-loving selves. Necessary? In 2021, you're damn right College GameDay is necessary.
Sept. 4: Georgia vs. Clemson at Charlotte. Go ahead and write this one in ink. This is the biggest opening week game since No. 1 Alabama met No. 3 Florida State in 2017 and, given what that FSU team would turn into, probably longer than that. Clemson's 38-35 win over No. 5 Georgia was a major part of the Clemson rivalry's origin story, and now Kirby Smart will look to return the favor.
Sept. 11: Keep in mind this will be the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, so we can't rule out some form of 9/11 tribute here. Assuming ESPN doesn't stray off the beaten path here, the choice is Iowa at Iowa State. GameDay has been to Ames once before, for Iowa's 18-17 win in 2019. Matt Campbell's Cyclones have beaten every important opponent more than once except Iowa. All things considered, I wouldn't be surprised if GameDay breaks its all-time attendance record.
Sept. 18: We'll get Alabama's first visit to the Swamp in 10 years today, which they'll tell us is a big deal but really shouldn't be. We also get a real reunion in Nebraska at Oklahoma -- 50 years after the 1971 Game of the Century and 20 years after Black 41 Flash Reverse. This game won't have the rankings cache of the 2020 SEC Championship rematch, but both former Big 8 rivals should enter undefeated so long as Nebraska can avoid tripping up against Illinois, Buffalo and Fordham. (Should be doable, right?) Whether or not GameDay is in Norman, we can bet Fox's Big Noon Kickoff is there with a certain someone now filling Urban Meyer's seat.
Sept. 25: Covid robbed us of a trip to Lambeau Field for Notre Dame "at" Wisconsin, but this year we'll get the return visit of Wisconsin vs. Notre Dame at Chicago's Soldier Field.
Oct. 2: GameDay has never visited Piscataway in its near three decades on the road, and for good reason. But after Greg Schiano's crew stuns Michigan at the Big House, pushing the Knights to 4-0 (first three games: Temple, at Syracuse, Delaware) and inside the AP Top 25 for the first time since 2012, ESPN can't resist and sends the crew to cover Ohio State at Rutgers.
Oct. 9: GameDay will be in Texas this week, of this we can be reasonably certain. In Dallas we have the Red River Shootout, but in College Station we have what should be the SEC West championship game -- without the possibility of a rematch. Mark us down for Alabama at Texas A&M, the first If Not Now, When? game for the Jimbo Fisher era at A&M.
Oct. 16: North Carolina will start the year in or around the AP Top 10, and Mack Brown's team should only rise from there against an opening slate of Virginia Tech, Georgia State, Virginia, Georgia Tech, Duke and Florida State. Miami at North Carolina will mark GameDay's second trip to Kenan Stadium, the first being way back in 1997.
Oct. 23: If they'd like to move their matchup from Wednesday to Saturday, the choice here may very well be Coastal Carolina at Appalachian State. But since GameDay is unlikely to preview a game that already happened three days prior, the choice here is USC at Notre Dame with a nod toward Ohio State at Indiana.
Oct. 30: The last Saturday in October gives us North Carolina at Notre Dame, Iowa at Wisconsin, Michigan at Michigan State, Florida State at Clemson and Penn State at Ohio State -- each of them a good choice any given year -- but the choice here is Florida vs. Georgia in Jacksonville. Either one or both lost already to Clemson (Georgia) or Alabama (Florida) and are playing for their Playoff lives, or one or both beat those teams, which could make this potentially a 1 vs. 2 battle.
Nov. 6: Let's put it this way, if GameDay is not in Tuscaloosa for LSU at Alabama (tied at 11 with Ohio State-Penn State for the show's most frequent pairing), that's a problem for Ed Orgeron.
Nov. 13: This time last year, GameDay was at Augusta National. Previous mid-November trips off the beaten path include the USS San Diego, Amherst-Williams, Harvard-Yale and Hampton-Florida A&M. If we're up for fun, how about a trip to Baton Rouge for Jackson State at Southern?
Nov. 20: A rematch of the 2020 Big 12 Championship... and a preview of the 2021 Big 12 Championship? Either way, Iowa State at Oklahoma is the choice here.
Nov. 27: The events of 2020 robbed us Ohio State-Michigan for the first time since 1917. Imagine a baseball season where the Yankees and Red Sox don't play once. Because of that, I think we're getting Ohio State at Michigan almost no matter the stakes.
Dec. 4: Another "only in 2020" relic -- GameDay spent what was Championship Saturday in any other year in Conway, S.C., for BYU-Coastal Carolina, a game that didn't even exist two weeks prior. GameDay visited the ACC Championship two weeks later, and it's a lock that the show will attend a championship game with major CFP implications. So what if we go full circle and declare the show will return to Charlotte for Clemson vs. North Carolina with a Playoff berth on the line?