Even with questions remaining about how the 2020 college football season will look amidst the coronavirus pandemic, it’s never too early to start looking at the top teams in the country.
Traditional powerhouses like Clemson, Ohio State and Alabama aren’t going anywhere. However, there are plenty of other teams worth mentioning that will be intriguing to watch in 2020.
In fact, last year was the first time in five seasons that a team other than Alabama or Clemson won the National Championship, giving teams hope that there’s about to be a changing of the guard. With that in mind, we’ve decided to share our prediction of the 25 best college football teams ahead of the kickoff of the 2020 season.
25. Utah Utes
The Utes are losing a lot, but South Carolina grad transfer Jake Bentley coming to Salt Lake City could save the day. In fairness, there’s a lot to replace, especially on defense. But the Utes were painfully close to the College Football Playoff last season, and Bentley’s arrival should be enough to make them a contender in the Pac-12 South.
24. Iowa Hawkeyes
The Hawkeyes are often overlooked in the Big Ten, but Kirk Ferentz has made Iowa a legitimate top 25 program. Iowa will have a new quarterback in Spencer Petras, but the supporting cast around him should make for a quick transition. Iowa also returns a good chunk of the defense that was one of the best in the Big Ten last season.
23. Virginia Tech Hokies
The Hokies finished strong in 2019, and with 19 starters coming back this year, they will be a team to watch closely. Hendon Hooker provided a solution to Tech’s quarterback quandary, and given the supporting cast around him, he has a chance to take things to another level this year.
On defense, longtime coordinator Bud Foster retired, but the Hokies bring back 10 starters from a team that shutout two opponents last year.
22. North Carolina Tar Heels
Mack Brown shocked everyone by getting North Carolina to a bowl game last year, and the Tar Heels could be poised to make a huge leap in 2020. Quarterback Sam Howell was sensational as a true freshman in 2019. He also has a good backfield to help keep the pressure off him. However, the Tar Heels could have a little too much hype too soon, even if they have a chance to be the second-best team in the ACC.
21. Central Florida Knights
This isn’t the same UCF team that won a fake National Championship a few years ago, but they still have one of the most explosive offenses in the country. Quarterback Dillon Gabriel was great as a freshman in 2019 and he now has some experience under his belt.
The Knights also have one of the best secondaries in the country on a defense that returns eight starters. If UCF can be at least average defensively, they’ll be a serious threat to win what is becoming a competitive and compelling AAC.
20. Cincinnati Bearcats
As long as Luke Fickell stays in Cincinnati, the Bearcats will be one of the best non-power conference teams in the country. Fickell’s defense was strong last season and they return 10 starters back for the 2020 campaign.
The offense at Cincinnati can be a mixed bag, but they have good running backs and a quarterback in Desmond Ridder who has enough experience to help the Bearcats push to be the best Group of Five teams in the country.
19. USC Trojans
Youth and injuries in the backfield hindered the Trojans in 2019, but Clay Helton has a chance to get USC one step closer to being a national power again in 2020. Quarterback Kedon Slovis did enough last season to prove that he can be the guy, especially with so many talented wide receivers around him.
On defense, USC brings back all 11 starters, albeit from a defense that had plenty of ups and downs. If Todd Orlando can help that defense take a step forward, the Trojans could push for double-digit wins.
18. Michigan Wolverines
As usual, Jim Harbaugh’s team has a lot to prove after falling short of their goals and losing another bowl game last season. Key parts of the defense and most of the offensive line have to be replaced, not to mention quarterback Shea Patterson.
Fortunately, the Wolverines have good candidates at quarterback and plenty of talent on both sides of the ball. However, they appear to be a level beneath the top teams in the Big Ten.
17. Auburn Tigers
There’s no shortage of talent on the plains, but the Tigers return just seven starters from last year, so they could have their work cut out for them in 2020. The defensive line, in particular, took some hits, and if the Tigers can’t hold their own in the trenches, they won’t survive in the SEC West.
The X-factor is quarterback Bo Nix, who showed plenty of promise and moxie as a true freshman last year. However, Auburn needs Nix to elevate his game if they’re going to be relevant in the SEC.
16. Iowa State Cyclones
The stars could be aligned for Iowa State to have another special season, as Matt Campbell continues to take the program to new heights. Brock Purdy deserves to be in the conversation for the best quarterback in the Big 12. He has the arm, mobility, and experience to become a Heisman dark horse if the Cyclones can make some noise.
Perhaps more importantly, ISU is always strong defensively, and with nine starters back on that side of the ball, the Cyclones have a chance to win games on both sides of the ball.
15. Minnesota Golden Gophers
Minnesota’s success in 2019 wasn’t a fluke. P.J. Fleck is in the process of turning the Golden Gophers into a perennial contender in the Big Ten. Everyone should know about quarterback Tanner Morgan by now. Minnesota is also returning all five starters on the offensive line, which should give Morgan plenty of time in the pocket to pick apart defenses.
Defensively, the Golden Gophers have a few questions. But Morgan is good enough to carry them a long way.
14. Texas Longhorns
Tom Herman’s team has the upside to compete for a Big 12 championship and potentially crash the CFP this season. Not enough people are talking about quarterback Sam Ehlinger as a Heisman candidate, especially with the talented skill players around him.
The Longhorns had problems on defense last season, some of which can be attributed to their youth. If Texas can grow up a little, they have the talent to give Oklahoma a run for their money.
13. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Ian Book will give Notre Dame one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the country. However, his top playmakers from a year ago are all gone. Defensively, the Fighting Irish have a lot to place in the secondary. They also need to restock their contingent of pass rushers. Those are two areas of a defense that need to be solidified; otherwise, it’ll be up to Book to keep the Irish undefeated for as long as possible.
12. Texas A&M Aggies
Kellen Mond is one of the most intriguing quarterbacks in the country. He has the talent to be a Heisman contender, but he needs to show up against quality defenses.
Fortunately, the Aggies should have one of the SEC’s better offensive lines and a defense that’s in great shape, so not everything will be on Mond’s shoulders.
While Alabama and LSU will be the favorites, Texas A&M is a legitimate sleeper in the SEC West.
11. Oklahoma State Cowboys
The Cowboys might be the most intriguing sleeper in the country. They return close to 20 starters, including 2,000-yard rusher Chuba Hubbard and quarterback Spencer Sanders.
Of course, the question is about Oklahoma State’s defense. Nearly every starter is back on that side of the ball, and if the Cowboys can improve defensively, the sky is the limit with the way they can put points on the board.
10. Wisconsin Badgers
The Badgers were amazing defensively for most of 2019, and they’ll return nine starters on that side of the ball in 2020. That alone will make them favorites in the Big Ten West and a potential CFP contender. However, there are plenty of unknowns on offense with the loss of Jonathan Taylor.
There is also a question on whether Jack Coan can be more of a game manager, which could open the door for Graham Mertz to usurp the starting job.
9. Oregon Ducks
Other than replacing Justin Herbert, the Ducks are in great shape. Grad transfer Anthony Brown isn’t a sure thing despite starting at Boston College for three seasons.
On the other side of the ball, the Oregon defense could be among the nation’s best. Pass rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux is a potential superstar while the Ducks have a top-flight secondary.
If Brown proves to be a consistent quarterback, the Ducks will have a chance to crash the CFP.
8. Penn State Nittany Lions
The Nittany Lions will return a top-flight offensive line and a defense that’s been one of the best in the Big Ten in recent years. The only question could be whether quarterback Sean Clifford can become more efficient. He’s got the arm talent and mobility, but he’ll need to be more consistent to get Penn State to the next level.
7. Florida Gators
Kyle Trask quietly became one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC during the second half of last season. Meanwhile, there is hope that the Gators can get a little more out of their running game with three starters back on the offensive line.
With a more balanced offense, the Florida defense should be good enough to make the Gators a contender in the SEC.
6. Oklahoma Sooners
A lot of Oklahoma’s season hinges on the play of new quarterback Spencer Rattler. There’s nothing wrong with Lincoln Riley’s scheme of OU’s playmakers, so it’s all about how Rattler fills in for the three elite quarterbacks who have played for the Sooners the last three seasons.
Surprisingly, the defense could be Oklahoma’s secret weapon this year with a majority of their starters coming back.
5. Georgia Bulldogs
The Georgia defense was something special last season and they’ll be in a position to be just as good in 2020. And the Bulldogs might just need their defense to carry them.
The offensive line and running game may take a step back from last year, putting a lot of pressure on Wake Forest transfer Jamie Newman to get acquainted with his new teammates and raise his game to an SEC level.
4. LSU Tigers
LSU’s hopes of a repeat hinge on how Myles Brennan is able to fill Joe Burrow’s shoes. The Tigers will have good players around Brennan and insane amounts of athleticism on defense.
If Brennan can step up, LSU has a chance to be neck and neck with the other elite programs in the SEC.
3. Alabama Crimson Tide
Nick Saban isn’t going to take not reaching the CFP last year lightly. He’ll have his team motivated, and with perhaps the best offensive line in the country and a deep backfield, look for the Crimson Tide to steamroll their opponents.
Whether it’s Mac Jones or Bryce Young at quarterback, the Alabama offense will be fine. However, it’ll be up to the Crimson Tide defense to kick it up a notch from last season to get Alabama back to a championship level.
2. Ohio State Buckeyes
Right now, OSU quarterback Justin Fields is the Heisman favorite, giving the Buckeyes the best player in the country. Even if J.K. Dobbins and some top playmakers left, Fields will lead a potent offense.
Defensively, Ohio State lost tons of star power with the departures of Chase Young and Jeff Okudah, but there is talent and depth at all three levels. If the OSU defense can improve over the course of the season, Fields should do enough to carry them to November with a chance to reach the CFP.
1. Clemson Tigers
Clemson has one of the best quarterbacks in the country in Trevor Lawrence, an elite running back in Travis Etienne and incredible talent and depth along the defensive line. Those are three important ingredients to have when contending for a title.
The Tigers also have the pedigree of a winning program and a mastermind defensive coordinator. There seems to be no drop-off from year to year no matter how many players they lose to the NFL, making Clemson the team to beat in 2020.
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