With the tiger fight in New Orleans over, LSU winning its fourth national title and Ed Orgeron's deep bayou voice careening off televisions, it is certainly time to look ahead to 2020-2021. All four College Football Playoff teams should be in the mix to get back into title contention, but there are several other schools that could be the next LSU. Repeating as champion is tough (ask Clemson), especially when the guy who led the team and won a Heisman Trophy by throwing 60 touchdowns is off to the NFL.
There is a lot to be sorted out over the next few weeks, as players make draft decisions and the transfer portal becomes an even more integral part of college athletics. But that doesn't stop us from taking a way-too-early look at the top 25 for next season.
As long as Trevor Lawrence doesn't transfer, (and there's no indication he would), you can expect the Tigers to be among the favorites to get to Miami and to their fifth College Football Playoff championship game in six years. Expect Clemson to lose a lot to the NFL this spring, but the program reloads as well as any in the country. The taste of losing in the championship game should fuel the Tigers in 2020.
Like Clemson, the Buckeyes will be bringing their star quarterback back and Justin Fields will be chomping at the bit to return to the College Football Playoff. J.K. Dobbins will be gone, but Ohio State has a more than capable stable of backs who can keep one of the nation's best offenses rolling. The defense will have a lot of turnover, but the Buckeyes seem to find plenty of guys ready to step in.
There will be some huge questions for Alabama as it is coming off a season that saw the Tide miss the College Football Playoff for the first time in five years. Tua Tagovailoa is leaving for the NFL, so the focus will be on his replacement. Will Mac Jones keep the job he took over late last year, or will it be the highly rated prospect Bryce Young? DeVonta Smith's return is huge for the offense and the development of the player who gets the starting QB job. The defense will get back a lot of the guys it lost to injury, and the young players who stepped in will only be better.
Georgia made a major move by bringing in Wake Forest transfer Jamie Newman to replace Jake Fromm at quarterback. The defense will continue to be one of the toughest in the SEC, but how this offense transforms from the departing Fromm and D'Andre Swift will determine just how far the Dawgs can go. The offense struggled a bit in 2019 and will need to be retooled if Georgia has plans to get back to the Playoff. Newman is a great start to that transition.
It would seem as if a team whose priority is finding a quarterback to replace Justin Herbert wouldn't be in the top five, but the Ducks are so solid everywhere else that they can deal with a few growing pains behind center. Oregon boasts arguably the best offensive lineman in the country in Penei Sewell and several backs (led by CJ Verdell) who can grind out. The defense was underrated last year. Ohio State goes to the Pacific Northwest early on for an outstanding opportunity for the Ducks.
Another year, another quarterback. This time it seems that the Sooners will look in-house for the starter (Spencer Rattler? Tanner Mordecai?) and possible Heisman contender. What is known is the Sooners will bring back their backfield committee, led by Kennedy Brooks, and the receiving corps will still be good despite CeeDee Lamb heading to the NFL. The offensive line will be one of the most cohesive in the nation, and the defense will continue to improve. Look for Oklahoma to win its sixth straight Big 12 title and possibly make a third straight College Football Playoff appearance.
Was this season's success more about what Joe Burrow did or about where LSU is as a program? We will find out in 2020, as the Tigers will break in a new quarterback (likely Myles Brennan) and new starting running back. There are a lot of questions over the next few weeks, as there is a lot of talent on both sides of the ball who will be making NFL decisions. There will be a drop with Burrow graduating, but it remains to be seen how far the Tigers fall. Still, basking in a championship season is always fun.
Ian Book will be back in South Bend to try to get the Irish back to the College Football Playoff. The offense was superb last year, averaging nearly 37 points per game, but will need to replace a lot of its playmakers as well as the offensive coordinator, after Chip Long was dismissed from the position. The offensive line and defense will have a lot of continuity to lead the way as the new guys get acclimated to their roles. The Irish get Clemson and Wisconsin to go along with their typical rivals.
Will 2020 be the year Florida gets back to elite status as a serious national title contender? Dan Mullen's teams are always physical and prepared, and the defense was among the best in the SEC. Kyle Trask excelled when thrust into duty this year and should hold on to the QB job next year. If he continues his progress, this could be Florida's year to win the SEC East.
Penn State tends to be the forgotten team in the Big Ten but could be primed to make a big move next year. Sean Clifford did a great job taking over the program from Trace McSorley. This continues to be a great rushing team — expect Journey Brown to be the next great Nittany Lion back — and the defense remains one of the toughest in the Big Ten. Oh, and they get Ohio State in Happy Valley.
OK...is this the year Texas breaks through? Sam Ehlinger will be back for another year, but the Longhorns will undergo a lot of changes. There will be new offensive and defensive coordinators, and Ehlinger will have to connect with new receivers. The offensive line remains intact, and the defense should improve under Chris Ash.
Jonathan Taylor is gone, so there will be more of the offensive load to be shouldered by Jack Coan. The defense will be experienced and will be relied on to keep games close as the offense develops a new identity. Can Nakia Watson be the next big-time Badgers back?
The last thing Michigan fans want to hear is that their beloved Wolverines aren't likely to contend for the Big Ten title next year. They will be breaking in a new quarterback, which means Chris Evans, who was suspended all of this past season, and fellow backs Zach Charbonnet and Hassan Haskins will need to shine. The defense will be good but needs to show up in key games (namely The Big Game).
Will there be a quarterback controversy in Minneapolis? Tanner Morgan had a breakout season for the Gophers, but 2018 starter Zack Annexstad will be back after missing all of last year with a foot injury. Receiver Tyler Johnson is gone, but Rashod Bateman will be back to gladly reel in more catches. The defense will have to retool, as there will be significant losses.
Bo Nix should continue to develop and the running game will be one of the SEC's best, but there will be a lot of talent to replace on defense. Guys like Derrick Brown and Nick Coe will be playing on Sundays this fall, so Gus Malzahn must get the replacements to step up in a usually brutal SEC West.
You see the Aggies finishing with five losses last year, while I see A&M playing the No. 1 team three separate times plus Georgia and Auburn. Kellen Mond is back for what seems like his 20th season (he'll be a senior), and he'll have weapons Isaiah Spiller and Jhamon Ausbon back with him. The defense will return largely intact.
Iowa State was a tough team to deal with in 2019. Quarterback Brock Purdy...not Jalen Hurts, Sam Ehlinger or Charlie Brewer...led the Big 12 in passing yards last season. He and running back Breece Hall return for an offense that averaged over 32 points per game. Iowa State lost three games by less than three points last year.
Mack Brown has brought a lot of excitement back to Chapel Hill. After winning just five games over the last two years, the Heels went 7-6 with all six losses coming down to the wire. Carolina boasts one of the best young quarterbacks in the nation in Sam Howell, who set several freshman records. Brown brings in an outstanding recruiting class to pair with many returning starters. The schedule is tougher in 2020, but North Carolina is ready to keep the momentum going.
Hank Bachmeier did a nice job coming in and taking over the offense from Brett Rypien, and many of the weapons he had will return in 2020. The loss of Curtis Weaver on defense will be difficult to replace. It will be fun to see Florida State visit Boise and hit that blue turf.
The Bearcats are enjoying their most success since the Brian Kelly era. Running back Michael Warren will be missed, but quarterback Desmond Ridder will be back to lead a revamped offense. The defense has been outstanding under Luke Fickell and should continue to lock down the AAC.
Kedon Slovis was a revelation last season and will be on some preseason Heisman lists. The Trojans are gifted on offense, but it will be the defensive side of the ball that will determine if USC will be a legitimate contender for the Pac-12 crown. The South Division is wide open, and the Trojans are as talented as anyone to win it.
Mike Norvell left for Florida State, but quarterback Brady White, running back Kenneth Gainwell and receiver Damonte Coxie are all slated to return. The Tigers defense was one of the most exciting in the country and should improve next season. Memphis should have a great shot at getting back to a New Year's Six game.
Jeremy Pruitt was a dead man walking in Knoxville after an embarrassing 0-2 start to the season. It turned around in a big way and ended with a thrilling Gator Bowl win. Who knows who will win the starting quarterback job (there are plenty of options), but we do know Ty Chandler and Eric Gray will be there to run the football, and a talented defense is emerging.
Two years ago there were people making fun of the Sun Devils hiring Herm Edwards as their head coach. Well, Edwards has turned the program into a contender to get to a Pac-12 title game. Jayden Daniels threw for nearly 3,000 yards, 17 TDs and just two INTs as a freshman.
The Utes will continue to have one of the sickest defenses in the nation despite losing a few starters. The issue will be on offense where Zack Moss and Tyler Huntley both graduate. The Utes will need to find someone to step up in those roles if they want to defend their division crown. Former South Carolina QB Jake Bentley could be that guy.
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