With the PAC-12 and BIG 10 not playing in the Spring as of right now, it could open up some opportunities for other schools to make it to the College Football Playoff. The BIG 10 has been a normal customer in the playoff whereas the PAC-12 has had a few teams in. With the season kicking into high gear this weekend, let’s see who could be in the playoff this season.
Outside Looking In
North Carolina Tar Heels
The Tar Heels come into this season led by sophomore, Heisman hopeful, quarterback Sam Howell. Also, they have legendary coach, Mack Brown, leading them again this year. Brown seemed to light a spark with the program when he arrived last season. They return 10 of their 11 starters, including receivers Dazz Newsome and Dyani Brown. Newsome and Brown both put up over 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. The Tar Heels have never been an elite football program, but if Howell and the offense start off hot, then watch out. They play in the ACC and only Notre Dame and Clemson are legitimate contenders to win the conference.
The Longhorns have been disappointing recently, with season after season of high hopes and disappointment. It feels like an obligation to stick Texas here, given their normal preseason hype and drastic failure. In order for the Longhorns to be in the conversation, they need quarterback Sam Ehlinger. The senior has been a four-year starter and he has been solid during his time. He has thrown 68 touchdowns and 22 interceptions in four years, but his team’s performance has been shaky. But with three consecutive bowl wins, the Longhorns are looking for a bigger prize.
Texas gets playmaking duo Brennan Eagles and Jake Smith back on the outside. Also, they have a 6’6” receiver Marcus Epps who should be a problem given his size. With the Big 12 being all offense, the Longhorns could have enough horses to outscore some teams, but can their defense stop teams like Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. They gave up 431 yards a game last season, but head coach Tom Herman shook the defensive coaching staff up after last season.
“The U” has had its fair share of struggles recently. They went 10-3 in 2017 and got as high as number 2 in the AP Poll, but they have gone 13-13 in the past two seasons. They also fired head coach Mark Richt after a disappointing 2018 season. They promoted Manny Diaz and Miami is starting to look like The U of the turn of the century. The swagger has started to somewhat come back, but the play isn’t there yet at all.
But bringing in transfer QB D’eriq King from Houston is a perfect start for their rebuild. King scored 50 total TDs in 2018 but didn’t play too much in 2019. He is a great college QB and if he can get on a run, the ACC only has two top contenders.
The defense also has two absolute studs on defense. Quincy Roche, a graduate transfer from Temple, had 13 sacks last season for the Owls and comes in with a lot of attention in Miami. Then they have one of the top defensive linemen in this year’s draft class. Gregory Rousseau led the country in sacks with 15.5 sacks last season and also forced two fumbles. The 6’7” 265-pound defensive end causes fits for the offensive line with his power and speed off the edge.
Miami will need good play from quarterback D’Eriq King and the defense should be good enough to help them win plenty of games. If the Canes get on a run, they could be fun to watch.
Oklahoma State Cowboys
The Cowboys finished 8-5 last season with a freshman QB Spencer Sanders. Now that Sanders has a shot at taking a leap this season, OK State could be a sneaky good team this year. Chuba Hubbard ran for 2,000 yards last season and returns with Heisman hopes. They also have an extremely skilled wide receiver in Tylan Wallace. The senior had 53 receptions for 903 yards and eight touchdowns last season. The Cowboys get those three back and three out of five offensive linemen back. They have an outside shot at the Big 12 with Oklahoma and Texas leading the way, but if they can get good, consistent play out of Spencer Sanders, they are a team to keep an eye on.
They also get 10 out of 11 of their starters returning on the other side of the ball. Star corner A.J. Green made the jump to the NFL but converted cornerback Tanner McCalister is slotted in to replace Green. He played safety in a few games last season, but he will be thrown into the fire this season at corner. Having 10 out of 11 starters return is a massive help and the defense should definitely better this season, look for the Cowboys to make a jump this season. But does that jump mean a College Football Playoff appearance?
Texas A&M Aggies
The Aggies have been alright since joining the SEC in 2012, but they seem to be building something in College Station. Jimbo Fisher has brought in two top-10 recruiting classes since arriving in 2018. TAMU also gets star quarterback Kellen Mond back for one more year. Mond has started in all four years and he is bound for a breakout year. In the past two seasons, Mond has thrown for 44 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. They have 20 total starters coming back for this season, if they were to break through and win the SEC or make the playoff, it looks like this could be the year.
On The Bubble
Let’s not beat around the bush, the Sooners got absolutely embarrassed in the College Football Playoff last season. But it is a new year and another opportunity for Lincoln Riley to put another quarterback in the Heisman race. Redshirt freshman Spencer Rattler is starting this season and has a ton of hype. Given Riley’s track record of finding and building elite quarterback talent, he is in a perfect position to succeed.
In addition to Rattler coming into the fold, they also kept receiver Charleston Rambo and 2019 2nd team All-American center Creed Humphrey. The Sooners are the best team in the Big 12, but it will just be about avoiding an upset. If Rattler can be anything like Hurts, Murray, and Mayfield they will be fine and will probably be in.
They are only on the bubble because they lost CeeDee Lamb and Jalen Hurts on offense. They also lost Neville Gallimore on the defensive line. The loss of Lamb will be tough to replace, Rambo is not as good as him and graduate transfer Obi Obialo most likely won’t reach the same level. Rattler is going to need all the help he can get, but do they have enough?
The Gators found their quarterback in Kyle Trask. Trask replaced Felipe Franks and played very well down the stretch for Florida. They went 11-2 last season, ending off with an Orange Bowl win over Virginia. Along with Trask, they also keep standout receiver Kadarius Toney and top tight end prospect Kyle Pitts. The defense will be stable, but not stand out, which could become an issue. They most likely have to beat both Alabama and Georgia to make the playoff, and that is no easy task. In order for that to happen, they need a large jump from Trask and the defense has to play better than projected.
Auburn went 9-4 with a stingy defense and freshman quarterback Bo Nix. The defense carried the offense last season holding LSU and Georgia to under 30. But the offense did their job at times. They put 48 up against Alabama in a win that knocked their rivals out of the playoff and SEC Championship game. They did lose top defensive players Derrick Brown, Noah Igbinoghene, and Marlon Davidson to the NFL. Replacing these three will be very difficult for the Tigers, and Bo Nix needs to make a jump this season. He only threw for more than 200 yards four times. The offense does get star receiver Seth Williams back, but they lost running back JaTarvious Whitlow, who led the team in rushing the past two seasons.
Georgia lost three-year starting quarterback Jake Fromm but gained JT Daniels as he transferred in from USC. Daniels played one year before getting replaced by Kedon Slovis at USC. In his freshman year, he threw for 14 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. But the former five-star prospect has a lot of hype in Athens. Georgia did lose running back Deandre Swift to the NFL, but Zamir White and James Cook both played last season and were solid. They also lost tackles, Andrew Thomas and Isaiah Wilson, to the NFL. Their replacements junior Jamaree Salyer and redshirt freshman Xavier Truss have massive shoes to fill. On defense, they still have safety Richard Lecounte along with 7 other starters on defense. Georgia has been in and around the playoff since 2018, and with them checking into the preseason polls at four, it should be expected the Bulldogs will be sniffing around the playoff again.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
The Irish come into 2020 with very high hopes. They are joining the ACC for this season and their schedule is significantly easier now than it was 8 months ago. They are now not playing Wisconsin at Lambeau Field and rivals USC and Stanford. They still have to play Clemson, but that is in South Bend. Brian Kelly has been building a great team and finally looks to have the speed to keep up with the big boys. Ian Book is due for a breakout season as he finished off last season on a tear. Offensive coordinator Chip Long is gone, which was overdue, and former Irish quarterback Tommy Rees is taking over. His offense looked very good in the Camping World Bowl as the Irish beat Iowa State. They get all their offensive line back and speedster Braden Lenzy on the outside. Running back Tony Jones Jr. left for the NFL, but they have Kyren Williams and speedy freshman Chris Tyree, who have both turned heads in the offseason.
On defense, they lost Julian Okwara, Khalid Kareem, Troy Pride Jr., and Alohi Gilman to the draft. But they have sophomore Kyle Hamilton, who played extremely well as a freshman last season, and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, a hard hitter linebacker who is flying up draft boards.
The Irish are as close as ever right now and were only kept out of the top category because the defense may have some growing pains. This is probably the best team Brian Kelly has put together at Notre Dame, and he made the national championship in 2012. Watch out for the Irish in 2020.
Best Of The Bunch
Alabama Crimson Tide
Well, isn’t this a surprise. A team coached by Nick Saban is once again among the best in the country. They missed out on the playoff last season as LSU was a team of destiny led by Ed Orgeron and Joe Burrow. But LSU is now out of the way as they were hurt badly by the draft. There are very few teams that could lose Henry Ruggs III and Jerry Jeudy, both first-round draft picks, and have two other receivers who might be better in DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle. Mac Jones still has plenty of weapons and even Najee Harris is back, one of the most electric backs in the country.
On defense, they get linebacker Dylan Moses and corners Josh Jobe and Patrick Surtain II back. They also have six preseason all-Americans, the highest in the country.
Clemson fell short to LSU last season in the national championship, but LSU they were unbeatable. They will be right at the top again with Trevor Lawrence at quarterback and Travis Etienne somewhat shockingly coming back to campus for one more year. Clemson has had an easy time in the ACC recently, but they should be worried about Notre Dame coming in. They may have to play them twice, which will be no easy task. The talent is there as it has been for Dabo Swinney, but it is not a cakewalk this year as it has been in years past. Losing Isaiah Simmons was a massive loss as he could play anywhere on the field, and there is nobody like him. They do still have James Skalski, who was their second-leading tackler in 2019. They are the best of the bunch, but not a surefire pick for the playoff.