1. Clemson Tigers
The kings of the ACC dating back to 2015, the Tigers will return two bonafide Heisman contenders to campus in quarterback Trevor Lawrence and running back Travis Etienne. Add the country’s top recruiting haul and likely no staff turnover to that and Clemson has to be the early favorites.
2. Ohio State Buckeyes
Ryan Day’s ridiculous debut season at Ohio State showed that the program will be just fine without Urban Meyer. They’ll get back their own Heisman finalist in Justin Fields, who will be ready to take the Big Ten by storm again, but they will need to find some answers on the defensive front.
3. Alabama Crimson Tide
I’ll overrate a Nick Saban team any day of the week. I know people aren’t in love with who returns and how the roster is shaping up, but even without Tua Tagovailoa last year, the Crimson Tide finished a three-point loss to Auburn away from a playoff birth. Their only other defeat? LSU.
4. Florida Gators
A manageable 2020 slate overall will likely mean it’s down to Florida and Georgia for who will claim the SEC East crown again. The Gators were one of the country’s most underrated teams last year and they should only be better this time around. Good times are coming to Gainesville.
5. LSU Tigers
The amount of empty offices and lockers at LSU must be haunting as the Tigers barely got to celebrate their title before countless staffers took off and players turned pro. The reigning National Champions have a lot of work to do, yet they must be given some benefit of the doubt as of now.
6. Georgia Bulldogs
The Bulldogs believe they found the right man to kick-start their offense with Wake Forest transfer Jamie Newman coming in to take the reigns at quarterback from Jake Fromm. Georgia’s defense could be one of the most imposing in the land, as always, so the offense needs to carry the load.
7. Oklahoma Sooners
Lincoln Riley is staying in Norman for now and there’s no reason not to, with the perfect storm Oklahoma should have offensively. The Sooners o-line should be elite on a national stage, to compliment new gunslinger Spencer Rattler and some of the country’s deepest skill positions.
8. Auburn Tigers
Outside of a road trip to Georgia, Auburn may be able to take care of the road before them, before late November brings them LSU at Jordan-Hare and then the Iron Bowl in Tuscaloosa. Bo Nix should be a season improved from last time around. It’s all about consistent growth for this group.
9. Texas Longhorns
Ranking the Longhorns this high is placing a lot of trust in quarterback Sam Ehlinger that he can continue to lead this program into a Big 12 contender. Tom Herman brought in two crucial assistants in Mike Yurcich (OC) and Chris Ash (DC) to spark some life into the turbulent program.
10. Oregon Ducks
Life after Justin Herbert begins for the Pac-12 favorites, who need to pinpoint who their best option at now vacant quarterback position is out of a group with a lot to prove. The Ducks will be an angry and swarming group defensively, anchored by one of the best secondaries in the country.
11. Penn State Nittany Lions
There’s some belief that Penn State can be a top-five team with almost their whole offense back in the picture and key personnel like linebacker Micah Parsons still anchoring the defense. James Franklin has averaged 2.75 losses per season over the past four years in State College.
12. Texas A&M Aggies
Jimbo Fisher has eight returners coming back to College Station on both sides of the football, giving him possibly the best unit he’s had at Texas A&M. The Aggies will need more out of Kellen Mond, which will be a lot to ask with some key receiving targets - and his center - gone.
13. Oklahoma State Cowboys
Oklahoma State will once again boast America’s favorite running back in Chuba Hubbard, who should start the 2020 campaign as one of the Heisman favorites. The mullet-man Mike Gundy brings back most of his fellas on both sides of the ball, setting up an exciting season in Stillwater.
14. Wisconsin Badgers
The Badgers two biggest question marks heading into 2020 will be how they can fill holes across their offensive line and who will emerge from a running-back stable to take the lead role. Offensive linemen and running backs are something I never worry about the Badgers having enough of.
15. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
I want to say I’m completely sold on Notre Dame, but there’s something about this group that keeps me a bit tentative to push my chips across the table. The Fighting Irish should be strong offensively, especially when it comes to protecting Ian Book and giving him time to pick his spots.
16. Cincinnati Bearcats
Luke Fickell’s love affair with Cincinnati and the state of Ohio marches on, as the 46-year old head coach opted to stay in town and continue to build the Bearcats program. Nine starters back on the defensive side of things for Cincinnati could spell some serious trouble for the rest of the AAC.
17. USC Trojans
The feeling at USC has to be that if Clay Helton doesn’t turn the tide this season, he won’t get a chance to do the same in 2021. The Trojans have the depth chart to make this their best chance at a Pac-12 title since 2017 and probably need a Rose Bowl birth to ensure Helton returns next year.
18. Minnesota Golden Gophers
Say what you will about PJ Fleck’s flamboyant approach, the fact of the matter is that it worked for him at Western Michigan and it’s shown it can work at Minnesota too. To help with all the motivation, nine offensive starters back on campus will probably play an even more crucial role.
19. Iowa Hawkeyes
The Hawkeyes need to replace Nate Stanley at quarterback and some names across the defense, but it’s business as usual for Kirk Ferentz as he enters his 22nd go-round at Iowa. The kings of the old-school football approach won’t stray from what makes them Big Ten contenders.
20. Appalachian State Mountaineers
Coming off a 12-1 campaign where they beat North Carolina, Appalachian State returns a huge portion of their roster from a team that nearly turned the college football landscape on it’s head. Trips to Wake Forest and Wisconsin in September will test the true moxie of this squad.
21. North Carolina Tar Heels
Mack Brown returns a seriously strong quarterback in Sam Howell and his top two receivers from 2019 in Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome to lead an offense that will return all their starters except massive Charlie Heck. The Tar Heels need to plug holes on the defensive front.
22. Memphis Tigers
The Tigers are one of those really interesting programs that could feast or famine in the first year under new head coach Ryan Silverfield. The Tigers might keep the good vibes rolling with most of their offensive playmakers back, but it’s the defense that Memphis needs to be worried about.
23. UCF Knights
Josh Heupel has posted a 22-4 mark since taking over for Scott Frost at UCF and the Knights are continuing to operate at an elite level nationally. I love that they convinced North Carolina to come to Orlando to kick-off the season and have a bye week before a crucial trip to Memphis.
24. Boise State Broncos
For a program that hasn’t won less than 8 games in a season since 1998, Boise State sure does get forgotten in the big scheme of things a lot. Yes, they have some players who need to fill bigger roles, but quarterback Hank Bachmeier is one of the best players nobody talks about enough.
25. Florida State Seminoles
The weird conundrum with Florida State is that there’s more than enough talent on the Seminoles roster to hold on to Clemson’s coattails in the ACC Coastal. First-year coach Mike Norvell will get to pick his quarterback and more from a talented pool of players anxious to turn this ship around.