While there are worse problems in the world, please take a millisecond to think of all of the college football fans across the nation right now pacing around in their homes, dreading a football-less fall. The thought of no game-winning field goals, Ohio State marching band half-time performances, Lee Corso mascot headgear predictions and turnover chains, belts, thrones, shoulder pads, etc. is just too much to handle.
If there’s any consolation, it is that games are only a small (albeit important) part of college football. Much of the CFB experience lives in the offseason, during which predictions and trash-talk build excitement heading into September.
In the name of hope, here’s my way-too-early list of the top 10 teams heading into the 2020 season.
Granted, Tigers quarterback Trevor Lawrence got off to a poor start last season. Let’s not forget, however, that he led Clemson to a national title as a true freshman a little over a year ago. Also, star running back Travis Etienne decided to skip the NFL draft to return for his senior year. I just don’t see anyone coming out of Death Valley alive this season.
The Crimson Tide just missed out on the College Football Playoff for the first time in the playoff era last season. Losing Tua Tagovailoa to the draft hurts, but not that badly. Mac Jones and true-freshman phenomenon Bryce Young will star in a stacked QB room. Nick Saban’s team will be out for blood, and as usual, he won’t need to find new talent.
3. Ohio State
OSU lost some important players in Chase Young and Jeffrey Okudah to the NFL draft, but if there’s one thing we have learned in recent years, it’s to never underestimate the Buckeyes. In his first year as head coach, Ryan Day filled Urban Meyer’s massive shoes, leading OSU to the playoff semifinals. Justin Fields, my pick to win the Heisman Trophy, will return. Good luck, Big Ten.
The Bulldogs return six defensive starters from a defense that allowed only 275.7 yards per game last season. On offense, longtime starter Jake Fromm will be replaced by the most highly coveted 2020 graduate transfer, Jamie Newman. I expect the former Wake Forest dual-threat quarterback to hurt some teams with his legs, something Fromm simply did not bring to the table. This might be the season the Bulldogs earn redemption after two years of SEC title game disappointment.
5. Penn State
I don’t see the Nittany Lions competing with the Buckeyes this year, but second fiddle in the Big Ten is nothing to scoff at. Nine offensive starters from last year’s 11-win season return to Happy Valley. Quarterback Sean Clifford now has a whole season under his belt after taking the reigns from Trace McSorley. Smiles should abound in Happy Valley all the way through New Year’s Day in 2021.
Even though the Ducks lose star quarterback Justin Herbert, their offensive line — led by Penei Sewell, arguably the best offensive tackle in the country — will provide plenty of time in the pocket for whoever wins the QB battle this offseason. Coupled with four defensive backs who rank in the top 30 nationally according to Pro Football Focus, Oregon has most of the key components that make up an elite team.
Joe Burrow’s gone, passing game coordinator and offensive mastermind Joe Brady left to become the Carolina Panthers’ offensive coordinator and nine underclassmen left early for the NFL draft. That being said, LSU isn’t dead. Myles Brennan, the expected starting quarterback for next season, will have some outstanding targets in Terrace Marshall Jr. and Biletnikoff Award winner Ja’Marr Chase. Coach Orgeron has some rebuilding to do, but he’s more than up to the task.
Spencer Rattler, the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback prospect in the class of 2019, has some big shoes to fill, but he has the talent to get it done. The Sooners return eight starters on both sides of the ball, but depth may prove to be an issue — Oklahoma has lost 15 players to the transfer portal since early last year. But spurred on by a ridiculously talented running back core of Rhamondre Stevenson, Trey Sermon and Kennedy Brooks, I think the Sooners will continue to reign as kings of the Big 12.
9. Notre Dame
With starting quarterback Ian Book and all five starting offensive linemen returning, the Fighting Irish should punch defenses in the nose consistently. Book will have to start performing well against Power Five schools if the Irish intend on taking advantage of a tough schedule that includes Clemson, Wisconsin and USC. They’re my No. 9 heading in but they have the potential to wildly overperform.
10. Oklahoma State
Experience wins games, and I think it’ll win the Cowboys a lot of them. Oklahoma State returns eight starters on offense (including 2019 FBS rushing leader Chuba Hubbard) and 10 on defense. Quarterback Spencer Sanders returns from a decent freshman year as starter and will only improve. In-state rival Oklahoma needs to stay on its toes lest Mike Gundy’s side catch the Sooners napping.
William Cooke covers women’s basketball. Contact him at