I'm not breaking ground here by saying the 2020 college football season is a bit different. Non-conference games are nearly non-existent, the Pac 12 (as of now) isn't playing this fall, the Big Ten wasn't playing but now is and there are several top players who have opted out of playing this season.
Making sense of it has been difficult but we do have college football being played and goals to be reached. There are plenty of great players set to have big seasons and become keys to championship seasons. With so much uncertainty out there, we can be certain that these 25 players will be important in determining who our next champion will be.
Bateman represents the weirdness of the 2020 season. He opted out and declared for the draft once the Big Ten decided it wouldn't have a fall football season. Once the conference reversed course, Bateman re-enrolled in school and is attempting to come back and play. If he's reinstated, that brings one of the nation's top receivers (60 catches, 1,219 yds, 11 TDs in 2019) and puts the Golden Gophers back in the thick of the Big Ten title race.
Book is one of the more underappreciated quarterbacks in the country. He has a 20-3 record entering the season and should finish this season ranked second in Notre Dame history in passing yards, passing touchdowns, total touchdowns and total offense.
Buechele struggled to stay healthy during his two seasons at Texas and would transfer to SMU once he lost his starting job to Sam Ehlinger. In his first season at SMU, he threw for 3,929 yards and 34 touchdowns and first team All-AAC. He is a great leader who is accurate and can lure you into giving up a deep ball when you don't expect it and led the Mustangs to their first 10-win season since 1984.
Daniels was supposed to be the next big thing at USC after taking the starting job as a freshman in 2018. In the Trojans opener last year, he tore his ACL and lost his job to Kedon Slovis which opened the door for a transfer. Daniels is in line to be the next starter at Georgia if his knee feels up to it. The Dawgs have national championship aspirations even as they are replacing Jake Fromm. A lot is riding on Daniels.
Davis originally opted out when the Big Ten decided to postpone the fall season but is attempting to opt back in with the conference's decision to start in October. Davis anchors one of the best offensive lines in the nation and has made several preseason All-American teams.
Ehlinger shows up in big games, like his 401 yards and 4 TDs against LSU last season or 349 yards and three total touchdowns in the 2018 Big 12 championship game. The issue is that Texas lost those games and loses more of those big games than they win. Ehlinger has been fantastic during his Texas career and with the conference a bit more open than usual, he has a chance to leave on top.
Etienne stunned many by coming back to school instead of declaring for the 2020 NFL Draft. Etienne is a threat everywhere on the field and can turn a small gain into a long touchdown run (he's scored a TD every 9.3 carries for his career). He could end the season as the ACC's all-time leading rusher.
With Ohio State's season back on, Fields is set to have a monster season. He had a monster first season with the Buckeyes, throwing for 41 touchdowns and just 3 interceptions (he also rushed for 10 TDs). The Buckeyes have a lot of weapons at Fields' disposal and as one of the more vocal people about the Big Ten's decision to postpone the season. Ohio State is stacked and Fields wants to get the bad taste of their College Football Playoff game loss to Clemson out of his mouth.
Quarterback Dillon Gabriel is back after throwing for 3,653 yards and 29 touchdowns as a freshman in 2019 ... which was considered a disappointing season by UCF standards. Gabriel took over the starting spot due to Darriel Mack Jr's injury and the ineffectiveness of Notre Dame transfer Brandon Wimbush and hasn't let go. He hopes to clean up the mistakes he made as a freshman and get the Knights back among the nation's elite.
Expect Nick Saban to go a bit back to his old ways of pounding the football a little more on offense. With Tua Tagovailoa, Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs gone, the offense may center on the back of Najee Harris. He rushed for over 1,200 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2019 and started to become a factor in the passing game as the season went along.
Hill had a monster season for the Bulldogs last season, rushing for 1,350 yards and 10 touchdowns and leading the SEC in rushing attempts. During the offseason, he was very vocal about the Confederate flag and the state's flag while also dealing with learning where he will fit in new head coach Mike Leach's pass-happy offense. If he wasn't assured he'd still fill a big role then he wouldn't have come back for his senior season. One of the more interesting stories of the season will be how Hill will be used.
Mack Brown has the Tar Heels back challenging for an ACC title. Sam Howell set the true freshman record with 38 touchdown passes in 2019 and had a knack for stepping up in big moments. He also doesn't make many mistakes -- for a freshman quarterback to throw 422 times and 38 TDs, he only threw seven interceptions.
Hubbard rushed for nearly 2,100 yards last season ... including 11 straight games where he topped 100 yards. Hubbard is a leader on and off the field -- he even checked his own coach for a shirt he was wearing. He may be the most important player to any of the College Football Playoff contenders and will be needing another Heisman type season for the Cowboys to reach their goals.
Humphrey is the Sooners' offensive captain and the most experienced player on the roster. The offense will have a new quarterback, running back and receivers so Humphrey's leadership and ability to understand the offense will be a boost to the young starters.
After a great career at Houston, King found his Cougars 1-3 after a crushing loss to Tulane during his senior season. Head coach Dana Holgorsen came to King with the idea of redshirting the rest of the season and trying his senior year again in 2020. As he sat he realized that the Houston program had been unstable during his four years there and he decided to transfer to Miami. The Hurricanes have gone 13-16 since their 10-0 start in 2017 and need a playmaker at quarterback if they want to get back to championship contenders. The dual-threat King can be that guy with his arm, legs, experience and hunger.
Trevor Lawrence is the man. That isn't just some opinion by me but more of the narrative of the 2020 season. Lawrence enters the season as the preseason front-runner for the Heisman Trophy, the quarterback of one of the favorites to win the national championship and the odds-on favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. It is all sitting there for him to take. He's 25-1 as a starter at Clemson (though he lost his last game), won two ACC championships, gone to two national championship games and winning one.
Leatherwood did not allow a sack last season and rarely allowed any pressure on the quarterback. He spurned the NFL Draft to come back as the leader of one of the best and most experienced offensive lines in the country. He is big (6'6), physical, athletic and versatile.
Hawkins led the ACC in rushing last year with 1,525 yards -- also a school record. Hawkins' rushing allowed the Cardinals to have a breakout season in Scott Satterfield's first season in Louisville and places lofty goals on the program in 2020.
Purdy came out of nowhere to have a breakout freshman season in 2018 and made the Cyclones one of the hottest teams in the nation. Last year, Iowa State averaged 32 points per game as he threw for just under 4,000 yards and 27 TDs. He is a sleeper pick in the Heisman race as well as getting Iowa State to the Big 12 title game.
Smith was Alabama's deep threat last year but, with Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs now in the NFL, will become the Crimson Tide's number one receiver. Last year he caught 68 passes for 1,256 yards and 14 TDs while sharing catches with Jeudy and Ruggs and expects a lot more attention in 2020.
LSU lost a lot from their title team last season, but Stingley is back to continue a promising start to his college career. The sophomore picked off six passes last season and is next in a long tradition of great defensive backs at LSU.
Thomas has had a stellar career at Appalachian State. He's been a winner in Boone -- going 22-3 as a starter -- and won the 2018 Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year Award. Just a two-star prospect out of high school, Thomas has turned into the offensive threat in the Sun Belt and the reason the Mountaineers have dreams of a New Year's Six bowl.
We already mentioned Wyatt Davis' attempt to return to Ohio State after opting out earlier in the summer and Wade is trying to do the same thing. If he is eligible, Wade becomes one of the best defensive backs in the country an the next in a line of great Buckeye cornerbacks. He is a fantastic cover corner that doesn't mind being physical.
Wallace, a 2018 Biletnikoff Award finalist, suffered a season-ending knee injury eight games in to last season and is itching to get back on the field. In those eight games last year, Wallace caught 53 passes for 903 yards and 8 touchdowns and was well on his way to an all-conference season. With him back, it opens up the offense and allows Chuba Hubbard more space to roam.
New head coach Mike Norvell is known for his dynamic offenses but defensive tackle Marvin Wilson's return will make the Seminoles' defense something to fear. He had a banged up hand last year but still had five sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss in nine games.