With the 2020 season quickly approaching here are my Top 25 teams going into the 2020 season. Also, be on the lookout for my complete 2020 College Football Preview.
Trevor Lawrence. Do I need to write anything else? Ok, I will. Travis Etienne. Clemson is poised to have the most dangerous offense in the country, even with Justyn Ross injured. They may not score the most points, because they will take it easy on their ACC opponents, but they will be feared by many. On defense, the Tigers return a number of stars as well, even though they are not the household names of their offensive teammates. Players like Xavier Thomas and Derion Kendrick will make a name for themselves this fall. Putting Clemson in prime position to compete for ANOTHER National Championship run.
2. Ohio State
Coach Ryan Day was tasked with making sure Ohio State did not fall off after Urban Meyer left. Mission complete! Ohio State comes in as the number two team in the nation after a very good 2019. The big question is how will they replace guys like JK Dobbins, Chase Young and Jeff Okudah? The answer is that Ohio State reloads better than almost anyone in the country! Master Teague, and OU transfer Trey Sermon, at running back should be able to give the Buckeyes enough production behind stud guard Wyatt Davis. The defense brings back a tough (Tuf) linebacker group, veteran corner Shuan Wade, who could have been a first round pick, and sophomore edge rusher Zach Harrison. Harrison looks like the next in line of amazing edge rusher at Ohio State. Also, Justin Fields had 51 touchdowns in 2019 and is a Heisman Trophy favorite in 2020.
Bama is used to reloading and they will do it again in 2020. Quarterback is the obvious need but the Tide are in good position with fourth year quarterback Mac Jones and five-star recruit Bryce Young both competing for the job. Running back Najee Harris will help ease the new quarterback in. The top running back on my 2021 draft board, Harris is a do it all back that will probably take Derrick Henry like carries in 2020. The Alabama defense might be the best it has been in years. With Dylan Moses and Patrick Surtain leading this defense, we could be looking at an old school Nick Saban team. Run the ball and play amazing defense. Much of the defense’s success will rely on the health of its young players. If they can stay healthy, they have been hit hard by the injury bug the last two years, the Tide will have a top D in the SEC.
In 2019 the Sooners had to replace four starters on their offensive line and let me tell you they did a damn good job. In 2020, they return five starters from their offensive line. A group that was considered for the Joe Moore Award for best offensive line in the country. In the fall Lincoln Riley will have to replace his quarterback, again, but this time with a guy already on roster. Spencer Rattler came to OU as a very highly regarded recruit and already has a year under his belt working in the offense. The only thing holding OU back will be its defense, as is the case every year. But the Sooners seem to be the favorite in the Big 12, with or without a good defense.
Number five in the nation might seem a little high for a Bulldogs team replacing its starting QB, RB, and four offensive linemen. But what they have returning on offenes is still going to be very good. Zamir White and James Cook will get their chance to the next Georgia running backs and both backs showed great promise in 2019. Add in QB Jamie Newman, the Wake Forest transfer, throwing to George Pickens and the offense should be just fine. On the defensive side of the ball Georgia brings back most of their starters and a lot of young guys that contributed last season. Nolan Smith at linebacker will be a name to remember.
No team in the country lost as much talent as LSU. But no team in the country has Ja’Marr Chase either. Replacing 10 starters and an offensive guru will not be easy but if the Tigahs can get half the production they had in 2019 they should be ok. The defense will once again be led by its secondary with safety JaCoby Stevens and all-world corner Derrick Stingley Jr looking to keep the DBU title in Baton Rouge, along with the most important title, National Champions.
7. Penn State
The Nittany Lions surprised a lot of people last year with their ability to score points. Much of their success was because of receiver KJ Hamler, who left Happy Valley for the NFL, but Penn State does bring back Sean Clifford at QB and a stable of running backs led by Journey brown. LaVar Arrington, Paul Posluszny and Jack Ham helped give Penn State the LBU title and Micah Parsons will for sure keep LBU going at Penn State. The top defensive player in the 2021 draft will be compared to guys like Isaiah Simmons, Devin White and Dylan Moses. Parsons is one of the most complete linebackers I’ve ever seen. He might not have the versatility of an Isaiah Simmons, but Simmons doesn’t stop the run like Parsons does.
Consistency is key for Texas. Let me remind you that Texas only lost to LSU by a touchdown and beat a very good Utah team in the Alamo Bowl. But they also had some bad losses on the road to TCU and Iowa State. With Sam Ehlinger returning for his senior season, the ‘Horns have the talent to contend in the Big 12, but they will need help from a young receiver room and unproven running backs. Linebacker Joseph Ossai is one of the most talented Longhorn defenders I have seen since…Kenny Vaccro in 2014 or Earl Thomas in 2010. Yeah, it’s been that long. Which is why the ‘Horns have to improve defensively. Ehlinger is good, but Texas will have to try to slow down some very good offenses to stay up in the fat paced Big 12.
The Ducks lose QB Justin Herbert and most of their offensive line, but they still have Penei Sewell and that alone is good enough to get them in the top 10. Not many tackles can make a difference in the win-lose column on their own, I think Sewell can. Add in running backs CJ Verdel and Travis Dye and the Ducks should be able to run the ball and break in a new QB before their schedule gets too tough. The Ducks will also be able to lean more on their defense in 2020. With stars like Kayvon Thibodeaux and Jevon Holland, Pac 12 schools will have a difficult time throwing the football.
It did not take Dan Mullen long to turn around the Florida program and I think 2020 could be their best year yet under Mullen. Even though the gators lose talent at WR and RB, QB Kyle Trask looks like a good fit in the offense and can limit the turnovers we saw with Feleipe Franks as starter. The defense will need the secondary to step up and be the guys we all thought they were, but sophomore corner Kaiir Elam could be the next great Gator corner.
11. Notre Dame
How is Ian Book still at Notre Dame? It feels like he has been there for forever now. The Irish will need his veteran leadership as they lose their top three receivers and leading rusher. The surprise return of Liam Eichenberg and Tommy Kraemer on the offensive line with definitely help ease the new starters into their roles. The name to watch, and learn how to say, on defense is linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. He plays a similar role to what we saw from Isaiah Simmons at Clemson and shows a similar athletic ability. Sophomore safety Kyle Hamilton will have his hands full, trying to help replace four starters in the secondary.
12. Oklahoma State
The Cowboys are led by a three headed monster on offense with QB Spencer Sanders, RB Chuba Hubbard and WR Tylan Wallace. Along with three offensive linemen returning, Big 12 defenses will have zero chance at stopping these guys. The only thing stopping the Cowboys is that, well, they can’t stop anyone. Giving up nearly 27 points per game will have to change in 2020.
Coach PJ Fleck had his guys rowing the boat to 11 wins in 2019 and they return a loaded roster. The Golden Gophers only lose TWO players on offense and both of them, Tyler Johnson and Rodney Smith, are replaced with returning starters, Rashod Bateman and Mohamed Ibrahim. I was high on the Gophers last year, even when their own fans told me I was, and I am rolling the dice again in 2020 and betting on PJ Fleck.
Auburn will have to rebuild on the fly in the SEC after losing all five offensive linemen and three out of four defensive linemen. All is not lost for Auburn as the bring back sophomore quarterback Bo Nix to lead the offense with speedy receivers Seth Williams and Anthony Schwartz. Senior linebacker KJ Britt will lead the Auburn defense after an impressive 2019 season.
The big question for Big Blue is who will be quarterback? Coach Jim Harbaugh likes his veteran signal callers, like fourth year quarterback Dylan McCaffrey, but Joe Milton stole some reps from McCaffrey last season and will be competing for the job throughout the fall. We may not know who the quarterback will be, but he will be safely protected by tackle Jalen Mayfield. The defense will once again be led by the defensive line with three returning starters, including the do it all junior Aiden Hutchinson.
16. Iowa State
The Brock Purdy stans are going to hate seeing the Cyclones this low but Coach Matt Campbell is losing two receivers and three offensive linemen. Look for tight ends Chase Allen and Charlie Kolar to see a lot of targets this season. Losing almost every defensive starter is going to hurt but at least senior Greg Eisworth is back to roam the secondary from the STAR position.
17. Arizona State
Herm Edwards has the Sun Devils leading the PAC(k) and playing with their hair on fire. When Herm was hired many people, myself included, laughed and thought this was a joke. Well, look who’s laughing now. Quarterback Jayden Daniels won the starting job as a true freshman and led the Sun Devils to eight wins in his 12 starts. With a little help from the defense, Arizona State could be the top team in the PAC-12 South this season.
Senior Brady White was in the same recruiting class as Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen and will once again be the starting quarterback for Memphis. Yes, the two NFL quarterbacks going into their third season as professionals. New coach Ryan Silverfield coached the offensive line in 2019 so the Tigers shouldn’t miss a beat on offense. Redshirt sophomore Kenny Gainwell is back to build on his 2,069 yards from scrimmage in 2019 and prove that he belongs in the RB1 discussion.
Coach Luke Fickell leads an excited Bearcats fan base into his fourth season after two consecutive 11 win seasons. Much of the success is due to quarterback Desmond Ridder. Ridder, entering his third year as starter, will have to lead the offense after losing numerous playmakers on the offensive side. Thankfully, the Bearcats return a number of starters on their defense, including their four defensive linemen and All-AAC tackle Elijah Ponder.
20. North Carolina
Mack Brown may be the best recruiter in college football history. When he was hired at UNC I questioned whether or not it would work, after one year and a loaded group of underclassmen, it appears to be working. Quarterback Sam Howell was easily a top freshman last season and returns with starting experience in 2020. Howell is already being talked about as a 2022 draft prospect. Howell is joined by running back duo Javonte Williams and Michael Carter, who nearly rushed for 2,000 yards in 2019, and senior receiver Dazz Newsome that led the Tar Heels in receiving.
On most teams the offense is led by a returning quarterback, star running back or even an exciting receiver. Not Tennessee. They are led by left guard Trey Smith. Smith spent 2019 learning guard after being a promising left tackle and now looks like one of the best interior linemen in the country. Adding Cade Mays from Georgia and a more experienced Jarrett Guarantano and Tennessee should be able to move the ball with more success in 2020.
JT Daniels or Kedon Slovis? Daniels has put his name into the transfer portal but has not ruled out a return to USC due to uncertainty about his immediate eligibility as a transfer. Building on the success Slovis had in 2019 seems to be the route USC will take in 2020. Despite losing Michael Pittman to the NFL, USC still returns an impressive receiving corp with senior Tyler Vaughns, junior Amon-Ra St. Brown and redshirt freshman Bru McCoy.
Will this finally be the year that Scott Frost gets Nebraska going? I hope so. I love seeing coaches return to programs they were stars at, but sadly it seldomly works. Frost, and the Nebraska fan base, were counting on young quarterback Adrian Martinez running the offense like Mackenzie Milton did at UCF but it hasn’t happened yet. The Huskers even used backup quarterbacks Noah Vedral and freshman Luke McCaffrey (yes he’s from THE McCaffrey family) at times last year. I won’t say Frost’s job is at stake in 2020, but if he can’t get the offense going his seat is going to heat up in Lincoln.
The Knights return starters at quarterback, running back and receiver but will need to find young replacements on the offensive line. If the line can hold up, Otis Anderson and Greg McCrae are two of the most exciting players in the country! The secondary is going to be the strength of this team with two time first team All-AAC safety Richie Grant returning for his senior season in Orlando, along with four other seniors.
25. Virginia Tech
The Hokies have been a roller coaster under coach Justin Fuente since he took over for legendary coach Frank Beamer. So much so that the hot seat is looking pretty red in Blacksburg. After a 2-2 start and an ass kicking from Duke, AT NIGHT IN BLACKSBURG, Fuente made the change at quarterback to sophomore Hendon Hooker. Hooker played well and has sparked a sense of promise in the locker room as well as with the fans. Third year tackle Christian Darrisaw is a promising prospect that will have his hands full against some talented ACC pass rushers in 2020.