Four things we’ll miss most because of college football’s conference-only schedule

The Big Ten and Pac-12 have moved to a conference-only football schedule for the 2020 season in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in the United States.   

The SEC, ACC and Big 12 will make their decisions later in July, but the conference-only model means we lose some of the more interesting matchups of the season.  

Here are the four biggest storylines that were canceled when the Big Ten and Pac-12 went to a conference-only schedule.   

Bama-USC in Jerry World 

The Crimson Tide and Trojans met in Jerry World in 2016. Alabama won 52-6 in blowout fashion that announced the arrival of Jalen Hurts and a shift in the Crimson Tide’s offensive philosophy under Nick Saban. 

Alabama’s perpetual quarterback intrigue continues this season with Mac Jones — who played well when Tua Tagovailoa was lost for the season with a hip injury in 2019 — and Bryce Young, a highly decorated five-star freshman. The Crimson Tide also is 10-0 in neutral-site openers under Saban — a record that won’t be tested. 

What does that mean for USC? It’s easy to forget that they still reached the Rose Bowl after losing to Alabama that season. There is pressure to win the Pac-12 under coach Clay Helton, and not playing the Crimson Tide might actually work out in his favor. ­­­ 

Trey Lance’s big chance   

North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance is projected to be a first-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Lance passed for 2,786 yards, rushed for 1,100 and totaled 42 total TDs in 2019. He is one of the most exciting FCS talents in recent memory.   

The Bison are 45-1 the past three seasons and have won three consecutive FCS national championships. North Dakota State also had the big stage in the opener against defending Pac-12 champion Oregon at Autzen Stadium on Sept. 5.   

Since 2010, the Bison beat have Kansas, Minnesota, Kansas State, Iowa State and Iowa, which was ranked No. 13 when the teams met in 2016. This game had a bit of that Appalachian State vs. Michigan feel to it.    

Now, North Dakota State — and perhaps their best quarterback yet — will not get that chance.   

Big Ten-Pac-12 blockbusters 

Michigan and Ohio State were supposed to travel to the Pacific Northwest in the first two weeks of the season to face Washington and Oregon, respectively. These were essentially New Year’s Day Six bowls in September. 

The Wolverines had a tricky opener at Washington, which would have been the debut for first-year coach Jimmy Lake. Both teams were supposed to break in new quarterbacks, too, and the pressure would have been squarely on sixth-year coach Jim Harbaugh to get the Wolverines off on the right foot. 

The Ohio State-Oregon matchup likely would have been the first top-10 showdown of the 2020 college football season. The Buckeyes are 16-1 under Ryan Day — a former Oregon assistant — and that high-flying offense led by Heisman favorite Justin Fields will not get to go against an Oregon defense led by future first-round pick Kayvon Thibodeaux. SN preseason All-Americans Penei Sewell, Wyatt Davis and Shaun Wade also would have been on the field. 

Irish lose Lambeau leaps and big rivals 

The Notre Dame-Wisconsin matchup at Lambeau Field on Oct. 3 would have been a showcase for two of the most successful programs in the past decade. 

This would have been a throwback game at its finest. Since 2014, the schools have combined to send 11 offensive linemen to the NFL Draft. The schools have not met since 1964. This was a fun nontraditional matchup for the Irish. 

The Pac-12 rivalries with Stanford (Oct. 10) and USC (Nov. 28) also will be missed. Those are typically the Irish’s most publicized matchups. Brian Kelly is 7-3 against the Trojans and 4-6 against the Cardinal, but Notre Dame swept those matchups the past two seasons. ­­

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