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The biggest changes heading into the 2020 college football season

The 2020 college football season is just around the corner. Or maybe it isn't. In the current landscape of the sports world, nothing is simple. The worldwide pandemic has impacted all parts of life and has halted American sports in ways we have really never witnessed. 

With the fluidity of COVID-19's and its impact, on the sports side of things, nothing is set in stone. Games and tournaments have been canceled and seasons paused, and leagues are struggling to figure out how to navigate through it all. College football is certainly no different and in fact has a special set of circumstances that makes it even tougher to plan out. With procedures differing from state to state and from university to university, it is unknown how the 2020 college football season will ultimately play out.

For the purpose of having a silver lining through all of this, let's assume the college football season happens as close to normal as we could possibly have. Aside from the impact of COVID-19, there will be a lot of interesting changes that should make for a great season.  

 
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COVID-19's impact

COVID-19's impact
Photo illustration by Alicia Devine/Tallahassee Democrat via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Let's start again with the biggest story: COVID-19's impact on college football. We've already had some games canceled and some conferences choosing to play only conference games. Clemson, the presumptive national championship favorite, has seen the virus spread throughout the team. Will the season move to the spring? Will certain programs not even field a team this season? What happens if a school or a team has an outbreak? There are so many variables as we head into the college football season that it is nearly impossible to predict what will happen. Just as other sports have learned, the season will be tentative at best and we should expect the unexpected.

 
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No spring ball means a hard start to season

No spring ball means a hard start to season
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One of the biggest impacts already has been the cancellation of spring ball. The lack of those practices has hurt the ability to set up for the upcoming season and to evaluate the talent on the team. Spring ball is also an opportunity for new head coaches and new coordinators to begin to implement their styles and schemes. It is also a pep rally of sorts for the football program (as Midnight Madness is for college hoops) that gets the fan base excited for the fall. Combine that with the lack of a usual training camp, and it could lead to a sloppy beginning to the season. Experienced players and coaches will have a decided advantage early on. 

 
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Tua and Burrow are gone

Tua and Burrow are gone
Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Burrow had one of the greatest individual seasons in college football history last year. Tua Tagovailoa captured the nation like few quarterbacks have in recent memory. Together they created one of the most fascinating narratives in college football and gave us one of the best games of 2019. Both are gone to the NFL, leaving LSU and Alabama to find new signal-callers. The Crimson Tide will pick between Mac Jones, who started for Alabama when Tagovailoa went down with a leg injury, and freshman stud Bryce Young. LSU will likely start junior Myles Brennan who appeared in mop-up duty last season. Jones and Brennan will rely on their experience to lead their respective teams, but we shouldn't expect the kind of offensive production that the outgoing quarterbacks gave us. 

 
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UConn becomes an independent

UConn becomes an independent
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After seven years in the AAC, UConn will rejoin the Big East this season. In football, that doesn't mean much since the Big East no longer sponsors the sport, so it puts the Huskies as an independent for the time being. This isn't new to the program, which spent 2000 to 2003 as an independent as it transitioned from FCS to FBS. As a member of the AAC, UConn went 20-65 and won just three games over the past two seasons. The independent route could be tough for a program that has fallen on hard times.

 
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American Athletic Conference loses divisions, keeps title game

American Athletic Conference loses divisions, keeps title game
Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

UConn's departure lowers the AAC's football membership to 11 schools. Instead of adding a replacement, the league will eliminate divisions and instead have a nine-game conference season with the top two teams facing off in the conference championship game. The AAC will join the Big 12 as the only two leagues that won't have two division champions facing off in a league title game. 

 
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Changes in Mississippi

Changes in Mississippi
News Sentinel Archive, Knoxville News Sentinel via Imagn Content Services, LLC

The 2019 college football season didn't end well for the two big Mississippi football programs, Ole Miss and Mississippi State. The Egg Bowl culminated in a crude TD celebration , a penalty and a missed extra point that cost Ole Miss the game, and soon afterward both head coaches their jobs. The two schools would make headline-grabbing hires with Ole Miss bringing on Lane Kiffin, while Mississippi State lured Mike Leach away from Washington State. Kiffin and Leach not only bring to the programs successful resumes, but they also are among the most outspoken and controversial coaches in football. Putting those two in the SEC West with Nick Saban, Ed Orgeron Gus Malzahn and Jimbo Fisher will make for some fantastic matchups. Kiffin's first game against Nick Saban will be interesting...but not as much as when he takes his Rebels into Knoxville to take on Tennessee in 2021.

 
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Other coaching changes

Other coaching changes
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Ole Miss and Mississippi State aren't the only schools that will be breaking in new coaches. Fellow SEC member Missouri has brought in fast rising Eliah Drinkwitz from Appalachian State, while Sam Pittman takes over at Arkansas. Baylor replaced Matt Rhule with LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, Michigan State brought in Colorado's Mel Tucker to replace Mark Dantonio, while Washington transitioned Jimmy Lake to replace Chris Petersen. Florida State now has a new head coach in Mike Norvell. Oh, and don't forget Greg Schiano back at Rutgers. There were 24 head coaching changes this offseason. 

 
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Improved ACC

Improved ACC
James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, the ACC was a laughingstock of sorts. Clemson was great, but its success was sometimes attached to the perceived lack of competition in its conference. Aside from Clemson (whose only loss was in the College Football Playoff championship game), every other ACC school lost at least five games last year. Also, aside from Clemson, only three teams even had a winning record in league play. This season looks to be a bit different. North Carolina is a hot sleeper team with a great young quarterback in Sam Howell and Mack Brown's outstanding recruiting class coming in. Louisville will also continue its rise with skill guys like Javian Hawkins and Tutu Atwell creating big plays. Florida State brings in Mike Norvell as its new head coach to turn around a program that still houses some nice talent. Pittsburgh is solid and Virginia Tech and Miami are lurking, while Virginia made a statement last year. The ACC is still all about Clemson, but its romp through ACC play won't be as easy this year. 

 
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Oklahoma will have a homegrown QB

Oklahoma will have a homegrown QB
Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

In 2017, Oklahoma trotted out transfer Baker Mayfield as quarterback and he would go on to win the Heisman Trophy. In 2018, Kyler Murray repeated that feat as a transfer. Last year, Jalen Hurts transferred from Alabama and didn't win the Heisman, but he did get the Sooners back to the playoff. This year's quarterback is... Spencer Rattler. Rattler was Oklahoma's own recruit who threw only 11 passes in his freshman season. Freshman Chandler Morris and redshirt sophomore Tanner Mordecai will be there if Rattler falls, but he has the kind of skill set that Lincoln Riley has loved in Mayfield, Murray and Hurts. 

 
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Transfer quarterbacks are still a thing

Transfer quarterbacks are still a thing
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Last year was the Year of the Transfer QB that was capped off with Joe Burrow (from Ohio State to LSU) winning the Heisman and a national championship. While the star power of the transfers isn't as great in 2020, there are still some high-profile changes that could make or break big-time programs. Jamie Newman leaves Wake Forest to take over for the departed Jake Fromm at Georgia. Also in the ACC, Miami welcomes in Houston transfer D'Eriq King, an All-AAC performer who redshirted his senior season after the Cougars got off to a rough start and now gets his shot at a Power 5 program. K.J. Costello leaves Stanford to lead Mike Leach's high-octane offense at Mississippi State. Feleipe Franks moves from Florida to Arkansas, Peyton Ramsey goes from Indiana to Northwestern, Jake Bentley takes over at Utah after transferring from South Carolina and Chase Brice moves from Clemson to Duke.  

 
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Faster replays

Faster replays
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The NCAA will attempt to make replay calls in a two-minute time frame. The rule is meant to increase the pace of play but isn't all-encompassing. If a play is deemed extremely complicated or is involving plays at the end of the game, then the review officials may take whatever time they need to get the call right. Still this should help eliminate these long delays during certain calls. There is also a rule change in that if a replay shows there is still time on the clock after the game clock runs out at the half, another play can be run if there are at least three seconds left or else the half is over. 

 
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Jersey numbers game

Jersey numbers game
Cheryl Evans/The Republic, Arizona Republic via Imagn Content Services, LLC

For the first time you will see "0" on jersey numbers this fall. The NCAA has approved the use of the single zero as well as allowing duplicate numbers for teammates. With extended rosters and programs wanting to retire legendary players' numbers, this minor change made sense. The one stipulation for the duplicate numbers (two players on the same team wearing the same number) is that those two players cannot be on the field at the same time or play the same position.

 
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Targeting change

Targeting change
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Another small rule change is that a player ejected for targeting will not have to go to the locker room. Before, a player targeted for ejection was forced to leave the field and the sideline. Now that player will be allowed to stay on the sideline but may not re-enter the game. 

 
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Cheez-It Bowl is now a different bowl

Cheez-It Bowl is now a different bowl
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

So follow this one: The Cheez-It Bowl is no longer played in Phoenix but in Orlando. See, the former Camping World Bowl is now the Cheez-It Bowl in Orlando, Florida, while the old Cheez-It Bowl in Phoenix will now be known as the Cactus Bowl. The current Cheez-It Bowl has had a long history of name changes. It began as the Blockbuster Bowl in 1990 before becoming the Carquest Bowl, MicronPC.com Bowl, Tangerine Bowl, Champs Sports Bowl, Russell Athletic Bowl and the Camping World Bowl. The old Cheez-It Bowl began as the Copper Bowl before becoming the Insight.com Bowl, Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl and the previous Cactus Bowl.

In another bowl name change, the Belk Bowl in Charlotte will now be known as the Duke Mayonnaise Bowl. 

 
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New bowl games

New bowl games
Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

The new season brings in three new bowl games. Welcome the LA Bowl, which will be played at the brand new SoFi Stadium in Inglewood and pit a Pac-12 school against a Mountain West opponent. The Myrtle Beach Bowl will also make its debut in 2020, and it involves the Sun Belt, Conference USA and MAC. The Fenway Bowl will see an ACC vs. AAC matchup in Boston's iconic Fenway Park, which will be similar to the Pinstripe Bowl in The Bronx. 

 
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UNLV moves to Allegiant Stadium

UNLV moves to Allegiant Stadium
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

While most people consider Allegiant Stadium's premier tenant as the NFL's Las Vegas Raiders, the UNLV Rebels will also play there this season. The Rebels will use an artificial turf surface, while the Raiders will have a grass field that will roll over top. Not only will UNLV play their home games in the $1.8 billion stadium, but the Pac-12 also will hold its 2020 and 2021 football championship games there and the Las Vegas Bowl will move in as well. The hope is that the stadium will be a host for future Super Bowls and Final Fours. 

 
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Marshall-East Carolina to honor tragic event

Marshall-East Carolina to honor tragic event
Carmine Galasso/NorthJersey.com

Marshall and East Carolina will face off in Greenville, North Carolina, on Augu. 29, nearly 50 years after the tragic plane crash that killed all 75 people on board, including 45 Marshall players and coaches and 25 boosters. The event has linked the two schools ever since (ECU beat Marshall, 17-14, just hours before the crash), and this year's game, which will be televised by ESPN, will honor those lost. In 2006 a memorial was unveiled at Marshall's Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium prior to a game between the two schools. 

 
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Oregon will be a defensive team

Oregon will be a defensive team
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

When people think about Oregon's program, they tend to focus on the high-flying style of a fast-paced offense — one that was often frightening. The Ducks have had some solid defensive players and teams over the years, but they were overshadowed by names like Chip Kelly, Marcus Mariota and Justin Herbert. Herbert is gone and there is a bit of an overhaul on that side of the ball (though tackle Penei Sewell is an elite talent), so it will be that Ducks defense that will get people talking. Defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux is back and is an outstanding playmaker along the line. The secondary has Jevon Holland, Deommodore Lenoir and Thomas Graham and two of the top incoming freshmen, Justin Flowe and Noah Sewell, will take over at linebacker. With a new quarterback, the physical style of play on defense will likely carry the Ducks for a while.



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