While we don't really know what the 2020 college football season will look like, at the moment, we have a pretty good idea about who some of the top players in the country will be. Whether talking offense, defense or special teams, there are many standouts to highlight.
Here's a look at 25 players to keep an eye on when the 2020 college football season kicks off.
Listed in alphabetical order.
It was somewhat of a surprise that Adebo did not declare for the NFL Draft following his 2019 sophomore season. Adebo was limited to nine games because of injuries last season. Still, he matched his freshman total with four interceptions and led the team with 10 passes defended. Hoping to stay healthy, expect Adebo to be on a mission to prove he's worthy of being a first-round draft selection in 2021.
The nation's top returning receiver in terms of yardage (1,780) and touchdowns (20), Chase is an Associated Press All-American and should be one of the top offensive players at any position come the start of the 2020 season. The Biletnikoff Award winner also ranked among the national leaders averaging 21.2 yards per catch. However, it will be interesting to see how productive he will be with a new quarterback throwing his way.
Ehlinger, who has done his part to help out during the coronavirus pandemic, will be back for one last collegiate hurrah. During his previous three seasons at Texas, the Austin native has thrown for 8,870 yards with 68 touchdowns and also rushed for 25 TDs. He will begin the 2020 season in the Heisman Trophy conversation, so that offers some extra incentive for Ehlinger — and the Longhorns — to shine and possibly claim a Big 12 title.
Another 2020 Heisman candidate, Etienne has rushed for 4,038 yards and 56 touchdowns in three seasons for the Tigers. With another stellar year, Etienne could possibly top Montee Ball's record of 77 rushing TDs. (Of course, we don't know what the college football landscape for next season will look like.) His 3,272 rushing yards over the past two seasons are the most among active collegiate players, as are his 43 rushing scores.
As of Easter weekend, Fields was the preseason Heisman betting favorite. That's far from surprising, considering Fields threw for 3,273 yards with 41 touchdowns and just three interceptions last season...not to mention, he rushed for 484 yards with 10 TDs. As usual, expectations are high for Fields and the Buckeyes in 2020, and all associated with the program should be ready for the challenge.
Fields' Ohio State teammate Harrison appears to be ready to step into the shoes left by dynamic pass rusher Chase Young, As a freshman, Harrison recorded 3.5 sacks and five tackles for loss. Many around the Buckeyes program believe Harrison is a star in the making and that a 2020 breakout is certainly possible for the talented defensive end who should feel more comfortable in his surroundings.
There are some who want to compare Howell to reigning Heisman winner Joe Burrow. We'll see how that pans out, but Howell is certainly worth watching in 2020. He made a strong first impression as a freshman while throwing for 3,641 yards with 38 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Is it possible he can top that despite not having an elite supporting cast again this season?
Welcome back last season's national rushing leader. Hubbard, who topped the country with 2,094 yards on the ground, toyed with the idea of heading to the NFL after two seasons. However, he probably made the right choice by coming back — maybe because the Cowboys believe there are good times ahead for the program in 2020, and Hubbard has a real shot in the Heisman race this coming season.
One of the more intriguing transfers this season, King will leave Houston and take his act to Miami. With the Cougars in 2018, King threw for nearly 3,000 yards with 36 touchdowns and ran for 674 with 14 TDs before suffering a knee injury late in the year. However, after four games with the Dana Holgorsen's Cougars last season, he announced he would transfer. Now King will try to give the Hurricanes the quarterback stability it needs — at least for one season.
Lawrence joins Justin Fields as the true Heisman Trophy front-runners. Through two seasons at Clemson, Lawrence has not disappointed while throwing for 6,945 yards and completing 65.5 percent of passes with 66 touchdowns against just 12 interceptions. Oh yeah, and his only loss in 30 games with the Tigers came in last season's national championship game vs. LSU — the only time during the 2019 campaign that he did not throw a TD pass.
The Boilermakers can't wait to get their versatile All-American superstar back on the field. Moore's follow-up to a stellar 2018 freshman season (114 receptions, 1,258 yards, 12 TDs and 744 return yards) lasted just four games due to a hamstring injury. Without Moore for most of the season, Purdue struggled offensively and failed to a make a bowl. There should be a sense of urgency for Moore and his teammates this season.
There might not be a player in the country who wants to get back on the field more than Moses. After missing all last season with a knee injury, Moses opted to return to Alabama for a chance to prove he's still one of the top linebackers in the country. That was the case for Moses as a sophomore in 2018 when he led the Crimson Tide with 86 tackles and also recorded 3.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss.
While D'Eriq King taking the controls of the Miami offense is big news, the larger headline is the talented Newman's transfer from Wake Forest to Georgia. After throwing for 2,868 yards with 26 touchdowns (11 interceptions) and rushing for 574 at Wake Forest in 2019, Newman appears to be the guy to help Georgia's attempt at reaching the College Football Playoff. Plenty of national eyes will be on Athens this coming season.
Many folks inside the Big Ten were quite familiar with Parsons' talent. The rest of the country was made aware when he was named a First Team All-American by The Associated Press following a dynamite sophomore season. In 2019 Parsons recorded 109 tackles, 14 tackles for loss and five sacks. He has the potential to be even better in 2020 and certainly beyond.
The extent of Rattler's collegiate playing experience includes three games, seven completed passes on 11 attempts and a touchdown. Yet he's among the betting favorites for the Heisman Trophy. While Sooners teammate Tanner Mordecai is expected to be in the mix for playing time under center this season, all signs point to Rattler as the next big-time, multi-threat Oklahoma quarterback.
Another transfer to keep an eye on is Roche, who moved from Temple to Miami. The graduate transfer has recorded 26 career sacks over three seasons, half of which came last year with the Owls. Roche also posted 19 tackles for loss in 2019, which should excite Hurricanes fans, who already have one of the top pass rushers in the nation in Gregory Rousseau.
The only offensive lineman to make this list, Sewell is considered to be the premier lineman coming back for the 2020 season. (Alex Leatherwood and Wyatt Davis should get some love, too.) At 6-foot-6, 330 pounds, the All-American is more than a handful for opposing defensive ends to deal with when it comes to rushing the quarterback.
While Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III got plenty of press among Alabama receivers last season, it was Smith who actually led the 2019 team with 1,256 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns. In the past two seasons, Smith has caught 110 passes. He, without a doubt, should be the No. 1 receiving threat for the Crimson Tide in 2020 and a potential top-10 draft pick in 2021.
The only freshman named a First Team All-American by The Associated Press in 2019, Stingley certainly lived up to his billing for the national champion Tigers. From a program that has produced some great defensive backs over the years, many believe Stingley could end up being the best of that crop. His six interceptions ranked among the national leaders, but he also defended 15 passes, forced a fumble and recorded 38 total tackles.
There are some who think Surtain has not lived up to the hype that followed him to Alabama, but he's been highly dependable if nothing else. With two seasons now under his belt, it's possible Surtain, who has 79 tackles and three interceptions for his career, will also be ready to take on more of a leadership role for the Crimson Tide defense going forward.
It was a special freshmen season for Thibodeaux, who recorded nine sacks and 14 tackles for loss (both tops on the team). The All-Pac-12 first-teamer and league freshman Defensive Player of the Year quickly solidified himself as budding star on the national scene. Many believe Thibodeaux can maintain, or even top, that dominance in 2020 for the Ducks.
We touched on DeVonta Smith, but his Crimson Tide teammate Waddle might be the most exciting player in the country. In addition to the 1,408 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns amassed over his first two collegiate seasons, Waddle has three returns for touchdowns. Many won't forget his performance against Auburn in 2019 when he caught three TD passes and returned a kickoff 98 yards for a score.
With Jeff Okudah gone, Wade becomes the new stud in the Ohio State secondary. Wade might not have the superior lockdown coverage ability that Okudah does, but he is not afraid to mix it up. Last season Wade recorded eight pass breakups and forced two fumbles in addition to picking off one pass. Wade, who played in slot coverage in 2019, is slated to line up on the outside next season.
One of the best receivers in the country in 2018 (86 catches, 1,491 yards, 12 TDs), Wallace missed the final five games last season because of a torn ACL. Still, he caught 53 passes for 903 yards with eight touchdowns in eight 2019 contests. There is plenty of excitement in Stillwater for 2020, and it could be a special season, particularly if Wallace can stay healthy and recapture his status among the nation's elite performers.
New Florida State coach Mike Norvell should be thrilled to have Wilson back leading his defense for 2020. Over the past two seasons, the 6-5, 310-pound Wilson has recorded 8.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss. Wilson should be considered one of the nation's best defensive tackles this coming season as the Seminoles aim to return to prominence.
Jeff Mezydlo has written about sports and entertainment online and for print for more than 25 years. He grew up in the far south suburbs of Chicago, 20 minutes from the Mascot Hall of Fame in Whiting, Ind. He’s also the proud father of 11-year-old Matthew, aka “Bobby Bruin,” mascot of St. Robert Bellarmine School in Chicago. You can follow Jeff at @jeffm401.
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