Top 25 for 2020: Our early forecast
Check out our way-too-early look at the 2020 college football top-25 rankings.
Trevor Lawrence returns for what most likely will be his final season at Clemson. The junior quarterback will surely open 2020 as one of the favorites to win the Heisman Trophy, and his return is crucial for an offense that may have to deal with the departure of tailback Travis Etienne and receiver Tee Higgins. The offensive line will need to be rebuilt, but there is plenty of depth at the position. The defense may lose some playmakers to the NFL, including linebacker Isaiah Simmons and defensive back A.J. Terrell, but another strong recruiting class should bolster the group.
There’s no doubt losing Tua Tagovailoa to the NFL will have an impact on the offense, but whether he is replaced by Mac Jones or Bryce Young, the starting quarterback will be surrounded by skilled playmakers. The defense is young, with less than a handful of seniors on the roster, but many of those players, including linebacker Dylan Moses, have crucial experience that will come in handy during earlyseason showdowns against USC (Sept. 5) and Georgia (Sept. 19).
Ohio State loses a pair of dynamic playmakers in running back J.K. Dobbins (2,003 yards) and defensive end Chase Young (16.5 sacks), but the Buckeyes return quarterback Justin Fields, who led the Big Ten in total offense while scoring 51 total touchdowns with just three interceptions. The offense features plenty of talent, highlighted by running back Master Teague, while the defense will need some time to grow. The big test comes during an early road contest at Oregon on Sept. 12.
Despite losing Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow, LSU finds itself right back in the mix in 2020. Myles Brennan takes over for Burrow at quarterback and will get help from receivers Ja’Marr Chase (1,559 yards) and Terrace Marshall Jr. (625 yards). Tailback Clyde Edwards-Helaire could leave early for the NFL, but if he returns, he would bolster an already explosive offense. Defensive back Derek Stingley Jr. and linebacker K’Lavon Chaisson could be the perfect pair to anchor the defense.
The Gators have won 21 games, including back-to-back New Year’s Six bowl games, during the past two seasons under coach Dan Mullen. Kyle Trask grew by leaps and bounds as a starter in 2019, making him one of the top returning quarterbacks in the SEC. Florida featured a top-10 defense and the return of cornerback Marco Wilson could provide the experience needed to get past Georgia and win the SEC East.
The biggest uncertainty facing Oklahoma this offseason is at quarterback, where the Sooners will have a new starter for the fourth consecutive season. Tanner Mordecai and Spencer Rattler could begin an interesting quarterback competition in the spring or Lincoln Riley could once again work his magic and land an experienced signal caller via the transfer portal.
The addition of Wake Forest transfer Jamie Newman provides Georgia with an experienced quarterback to replace three-year starter Jake Fromm. Newman will bolster a Bulldogs offense that only returns about 20% of its production from 2019. The early challenge will be a schedule that features Virginia (Sept. 7) and Alabama (Sept. 19).
Oregon was nine seconds away from a potential spot in the College Football Playoff semifinals if the Ducks could have held off Auburn in the opener. Mario Cristobal’s team went on to win 12 of its last 13 games, including the Pac-12 championship and Rose Bowl. The team must find a replacement for quarterback Justin Herbert, but it otherwise features a solid offensive line, and a 1,000-yard rusher in CJ Verdell.
Penn State has 42 wins during the past four seasons, with the Nittany Lions finishing no worse than third in the Big Ten East. The program returns most of its offensive production, including quarterback Sean Clifford and running back Journey Brown. All-American linebacker Micah Parsons is back to lead a defense that allowed just 16 points per game in 2019.
Notre Dame is coming off its third consecutive double-digit win season for the first time since 1991-93. If the Fighting Irish hope to make it four straight years, they’ll have to quickly adapt to a new offensive coordinator. The team parted ways with Chip Long, who helped guide the offense to a top-13 finish in total offense. His replacement will have the luxury of working with experienced quarterback Ian Book.
Auburn is one of just two SEC teams ranked in the top 15 in the College Football Playoff rankings that will return its starting quarterback. Freshman Bo Nix stepped in and guided the team to a nine-win season and it’s up to new offensive coordinator Chad Morris to get the most out of a Tigers offense that at times seemed to get stuck in neutral.
Minnesota is coming off the best season in school history, during which the Golden Gophers finished second in the Big Ten West behind Wisconsin. P.J. Fleck’s team returns a 3,000-yard passer in Tanner Morgan and a 1,000-yard receiver in Rashod Bateman along with virtually the entire offensive line from 2019. The defense must account for the loss of All-American safety Antoine Winfield Jr., but the group features a good mix of youth and experience to make this team dangerous in 2020.
It turns out Texas wasn’t all the way back, but the Longhorns are sure to make a bigger impression in 2020. Tom Herman rebooted his staff in the offseason, adding a pair of former Ohio State coaches in Chris Ash (defense) and Mike Yurcich (offense). The team returns quarterback Sam Ehlinger (3,663 yards) along with running backs Keaontay Ingram and Roschon Johnson.
This could be a make-or-break season for Jim Harbaugh at Michigan. The Wolverines are coming off a disappointing 9-4 campaign in 2019 that was capped with the program’s fourth consecutive bowl loss. Dylan McCaffrey and Joe Milton are expected to compete for the starting quarterback spot.
After three straight 10-win seasons between 2015-17, the Cowboys have dipped a bit and posted an eight-win season in 2019. But Mike Gundy’s team returns a treasure trove of talent, including quarterback Spencer Sanders (2,065 yards) and receiver Tylan Wallace (903 yards), but the possible return of running back Chuba Hubbard (2,094 yards) could be the biggest gamechanger for Oklahoma State.
The Aggies are 17-9 (65%) during their first two seasons under coach Jimbo Fisher, with turnovers contributing to the team’s struggles. Texas A&M has given up the football 38 times during the past two seasons. The program landed a No. 10 recruiting class and has enough returning talent for another eight- or nine-win season.
Wisconsin isn’t ready to give up its claim on the Big Ten West despite losing its top running back (Jonathan Taylor), top receiver (Quintez Cephus) and top offensive lineman (Tyler Biadasz) early to the NFL draft. Incumbent Jack Coan and sophomore Graham Mertz could be locked in a close quarterback competition this fall.
Scott Satterfield led Louisville to eight wins and a second-place finish in the ACC Atlantic in his first season with the Cardinals. Quarterback Malik Cunningham helped the team finish as one of the top scoring offenses in the league after finishing with 2,547 yards. He’ll be joined by sophomore tailback Javian Hawkins (1,525 yards) and receiver Chatarius Atwell (1,276 yards).
The Knights finished 10-3, with all three losses coming by a combined seven points. Quarterback Dillon Gabriel excelled as a true freshman, passing for 3,653 yards and 29 TDs with seven interceptions and the offense remained one of the most potent in the country. Replacing Gabe Davis, a 1,241yard receiver, will be a priority as will be finding replacements at center (Jordan Johnson), right tackle (Jake Brown) and linebacker (Nate Evans).
Matt Rhule returned Baylor to national relevance during three seasons, with the Bears coming off an appearance in the Big 12 championship. But Rhule’s departure to the NFL earlier this month is sure to have an impact on the program. Much of the team’s success can be attributed to a top 40 defense and while some of the pieces from that group return, the unit is young and will be tested during road contests against Oklahoma, Texas and Iowa State.
The Tar Heels made massive strides in Year 1 under Mack Brown, going from a 2-10 season in 2018 to a 7-6 mark in 2019, with the six losses coming by a combined 26 points. The program returns most of its offensive production from last season, including quarterback Sam Howell (3,641 yards and 38 TDs) and 1,000-yard receivers Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome.
The Bearcats recorded back-toback 11-win seasons for the first time in more than a decade thanks to an opportunistic defense that lead the American Athletic Conference with 26 takeaways. The offense is anchored by quarterback Desmond Ridder, who finished with 2,164 yards and 18 touchdowns, but must find a replacement for Michael Warren II, a hard-nosed tailback who finished with 1,265 yards and 14 touchdowns, and receivers Josiah Deguara (504 yards) and Rashad Medaris (354 yards).
Four of Iowa State’s six losses in 2019 were decided by seven points or less, giving Cyclones fans optimism for the team heading into 2020. Brock Purdy returns for his second season as the program’s starting quarterback after ending with a Big 12-best 3,982 yards, 27 TDs and nine interceptions.
Boise State has won the Mountain West Conference championship during two of the past three seasons and has been ranked in the final College Football Playoff rankings during each of the past three seasons. Quarterback Hank Bachmeier (1,879 yards, nine touchdowns) and tailback George Holani (1,014 yards) highlight an offense that led the league with 35 points per game in 2019.
Mike Norvell’s decision to leave Memphis to coach at Florida State left the program reeling this postseason, but new Tigers coach Ryan Silverfield has plenty of firepower left to make a serious run at another AAC championship. The return of quarterback Brady White (4,014 yards), running back Kenneth Gainwell (1,459 yards) and receiver Damonte Coxie (1,267 yards) will bolster an offense that averaged more than 40 points per game in 2019.
UCF quarterback Dillon Gabriel will help the Knights contend for an American Athletic Conference championship in 2020.