It’s been almost two months since the Joe Burrow-led juggernaut of LSU rolled to a national championship victory, and I already can sense the perennial postseason despondency creeping up on me. Now that Super Bowl LIV has been cemented in the history books (salute to the legendary young gunslinger -- and Texan -- Pat Mahomes), the dreaded seven month stretch is upon all football fans, NFL and college alike. It’s inevitable, so inevitably one must find ways to cope with it. The Hunter S. Thompson approach is obviously off the table, so mock drafts and the NBA will have to suffice per usual. In an attempt to fill the hole in my heart, I’m going to delve into some way-too-early 2020 college football predictions based on my opinions of the current landscape. This is just a random variety of predictions/takes/opinions that I felt the need to put in writing. Who knows? Maybe a few of them will hit.
Storylines already are developing early in the postseason, as talent surges into the transfer portal and star players unexpectedly reject the NFL draft. The annoying hype around the annual underperformers -- I’m looking at you, Miami and Michigan -- is amping up too, and it’ll pick up steam like it does every off-season until the fated L to a Pitt or an Indiana buries it. These programs that I refer to (hell, throw in Texas, TAMU, USC, and Wisconsin and you have the usual suspects) have a plethora of money and talent, yet they still find ways to finish with three or four embarrassing losses yearly. I do think that some of these squads have bright futures, but at some point you actually have to buck up and get over the hump. I’ve compiled a short list of teams that I think will underperform relative to expectations, so without further ado…
LSU: I’ll open with the champs. Though the Bayou Bengals just enjoyed one of the most dominant seasons in history, it’s starting to feel more and more like they’ll go down as another one-hit-wonder in college football lore. I’m fairly convinced that they sold the program’s soul to the devil in exchange for this lone year of dominance, as their roster and coaching staff were absolutely torn to shreds mere weeks after their natty W. I can’t help but feel that they’ll return to 9-3 form. Joe Burrow, Justin Jefferson, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, K’Lavon Chaisson, Patrick Queen, Thaddeus Moss, and Grant Delpit were all bonafide stars and are massive losses. Burrow, especially: it’s tough to replace a guy who throws for sixty tuddies in a single year. Sixty. DC Dave Aranda was also a very tough, partly-understated loss. The one that stung the worst, however, might’ve been the departure of Joe Brady, the wizard behind their air-raid machine. Ed Orgeron will attempt to keep some semblance of Brady’s system in place, but without the latter’s presence on the staff, I doubt it’ll be replicated to perfection. Sophomore RB and former 5-star John Emery Jr. is an exciting guy to watch on this team. This will be an adjustment year for LSU. I see a close loss to a resurgent Texas team in Baton Rouge, a handy loss to Bama (because unless you’re a man by the name of Swag Kelly, you aren’t beating Nick Saban twice in a row), and another loss or two courtesy of an A&M, Auburn, or possibly even Mississippi State. The fact that LSU’s championship odds are currently fourth in the country at +700 is absurd. Maybe fourth in the SEC, if we’re being real here. To be fair, they’ll probably cap the season with the annihilation of a ridiculously-overmatched Big 12 team in the esteemed Meineke Car Care Bowl. And hey, LSU fans will still get to watch their boy Joe Burreaux sling it every Sunday to the likes of… um… [checks notes]... John Ross and Tyler Eifert!
Miami: This isn’t too bold of a take, considering Miami enters the same cycle of undeserved hype followed by mediocrity every year. I was hoping that this year, finally, bums nationwide would quit wallowing in their own stupidity and wake the hell up with regard to the Canes. Thanks to D’Eriq King venturing down to Coral Gables, though, the unbearable noise and buffoonery have begun again. Way to betray H-Town, D’Eriq. To put it simply, Miami has a major culture problem. For some odd reason, the entire fanbase and program have been sickened with wild delusions of grandeur ever since their glory days of the late ‘80s and early ‘00s. It looks like they’re more interested in clowning around -- remember the turnover chain? -- than winning football games, and Manny Diaz encourages this mindset. The defense was shredded by ACC opponents with far-inferior athleticism throughout the season, and the offense couldn’t figure out how to consistently move the ball down the field. Horrible play from Jarren Williams didn’t help matters at all, and the desperate move to thrust Tate Martell into the lineup late-season was shut down with ease. The hiring of new OC Rhett Lashlee could definitely improve the development of the offense, especially now that there’s a legitimate weapon at QB. Who knows? D’Eriq could single-handedly will them to greatness. The addition of Temple transfer and stud DE Quincy Roche is also a huge score. I gotta give this to Manny: he owns the transfer portal. Still, I see the Canes losing around five games. They’ll lose straight-up to UNC, VT, and Michigan State, and realistically they’ll slip up against some inferior ACC competition like Pitt, UVA, or (sadly) FSU. If Miami were to somehow stumble into the ACC championship game, they’d face an embarrassing mutilation at the hands of Clemson. Thankfully, they won’t have the honor of being the ACC’s sacrificial lamb for the year.
Florida: Don’t get me wrong, Florida has a future with Dan Mullen. They finally escaped the Feleipe Franks circus-from-hell and at last have a solid QB in Kyle Trask, who will be surrounded with offensive weapons like Miami transfer RB Lorenzo Lingard and joystick WR Kadarius Toney. Oh, and the defense is still nasty, led by a stacked secondary that’ll feature Marco Wilson and Kaiir Elam, two future early round picks. But come on! Pump the brakes with the “Florida to the playoff” talk, and the even more-insulting “Kyle Trask is the next Joe Burrow” prattle. If you’ve ever made one of these statements aloud with full confidence, odds are that you’re A) a UF student/alum, or B) a bonafide clown. It seems like a lot of people have these sort of high hopes for Florida this year, but I really don’t see it. The SEC (yes, even the East) is a grindhouse, and to make it through the likes of Georgia, underrated Kentucky, and a Tennessee team that is trending up will be tough task. The Bama monster also looms in the SEC Championship, hungry for revenge. I could see Florida making the SECCG out of the East, but they’d be dismantled by Saban. That’s if they’re able to escape “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” against Georgia, which looks shaky with UGA’s addition of Jamie Newman. Florida will finish 10-2 in the regular season with a decisive loss to UGA and a shocking upset at the hands of Tennessee in Knoxville.
USC: USC, captained by the all-freshman first team QB, Kedon Slovis, is the most optimistic it’s been since Darnold and Co. narrowly survived a shootout with the Penn State Fighting Saquons. They certainly return some talent, with names like Slovis, Amon-Ra St. Brown, and Tyler Vaughns headlining the roster. Hell, I know a kid who plays for USC, so I have to throw an endorsement their way. Let’s get real, though -- when’s the last time the Trojans lived up to their preseason expectations? A subpar 2020 recruiting class certainly won’t help, neither will a trip to Texas in week one to face Alabama (chock that up as an L). Throw in the fact that USC plays Utah and Oregon on the road, plus Notre Dame in the Coliseum, and it begins to look more and more like a 9-3 or 8-4 season. Maybe Graham Harrell’s air raid attack will truly blossom in his second year as OC. We’ll see.
Preseason Heisman rankings are generally never to be trusted, as players with high expectations seem to disappoint every year while superstars randomly crawl out of the woodwork. Joe Burrow, Johnny Manziel, Jameis Winston, and Kyler Murray are excellent recent examples of this phenomenon. However, being touted as a potential Heisman finalist before the season begins counts for something, because it means that the player did some dope stuff on the field the season prior. Regardless of its potential to be wildly inaccurate, I’m going to list my prediction for the top five Heisman finalists in 2020. It might contain a sleeper or two.
Top 5 Heisman Finisher Predictions:
5. Chuba Hubbard, RB, Oklahoma State: Chuba returning to Ok State was massive for the Cowboys’ playoff hopes, and you best believe that Mike Gundy will utilize the two-thousand yard rusher as a workhorse to keep those hopes alive. People might claim that Hubbard’s 2019 campaign was already Heisman-worthy, and an eighth place finish is disheartening for his 2020 chances. These people forget that Oklahoma State is a playoff contender (albeit a darkhorse) this year with a legitimate chance to knock off Oklahoma and/or Texas. If Chuba repeats as a two-thousand yard rusher (seems like a solid chance) and Ok State loses one game, or even two, then his Heisman odds would be high -- especially since he’s already receiving some early buzz. I don’t think the Chuba train will roll long enough to actualize a Heisman victory, but he’ll finish top five. Gundy knows how to utilize his stars.
4. Sam Ehlinger, QB, Texas: Ehlinger, Texas’s chosen one and the guy many believe can finally get the Horns over the hump, has totaled 80 TDs over his last 27 starts. The only problem: Texas has been less than stellar in that span, going 18-9 the previous two seasons. If Texas gets it done this season (which would have to include tough wins over Oklahoma, OSU, and LSU in Baton Rouge) led by Ehlinger, then he’ll be in the Heisman talk come December. He has a brilliant mind for the game, strong leadership qualities, and the rare ability to run like a fullback, utilizing his 6’3” 230 pound frame to punish helpless defenders. If Herman and Co. help him out enough this season, Sam has a legitimate shot to take the trophy.
3. Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson: T-Law is the chosen one. Most consider him the greatest QB prospect since Andrew Luck, and he’ll very likely be the first player chosen in the 2021 NFL Draft. However, he hasn’t finished top three in Heisman voting for the past two years, mainly due to the fact that Clemson steamrolls opponents in the first half and takes him out in the early third quarter. Regardless, the man still stuffs the box score with incredibly-efficient numbers each week, utilizing his catapult of an arm and slept-on wheels to the tune of 45 touchdowns in 2019. Expect him to put up similarly-impressive stats this year, but with a higher finish in the Heisman voting. His limited playing time (because Dabo doesn’t run Heisman campaigns) will probably cause him to come up short yet again, but I see him getting a top three nod out of respect. It definitely helps that Clemson will surely be in the national championship discussion at around the same time. The man deserves some sort of recognition for his career thus far.
2. Bryce Young, QB, Alabama: This is definitely a hot take, as the Alabama QB competition hasn’t technically been decided yet. Some fans believe that Mac Jones will reclaim his position after taking over for the injured Tua Tagovailoa in 2019, but Young will have something to say about that. The incoming freshman threw for over 100 more TDs than the aforementioned Tagovailoa in high school, and he did so against tougher competition. Saban will ensure that this QB competition will be wide open during the off-season, and I think Young will shock many and claim the job himself. He’s vastly talented and would slide right into Tua’s place thanks to the plethora of weapons that the Crimson Tide possess. Jaylen Waddle, Devonta Smith and Co. will make the transition easy -- so easy that I see Young finishing with eye-popping stats and a top-three Heisman finish en route to the playoffs.
Heisman Winner: Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State: If Trevor Lawrence is the 2021 NFL draft’s Andrew Luck, Justin Fields is its Robert Griffin III. Fields is uber-talented and has already shown the capability to dominate his conference and lead his team to the CFB Playoff, and with another stacked roster around him, it looks like he’ll probably do it again. The Kennesaw, GA, native accounted for a whopping 51 touchdowns last season, and he barely slowed down against a nasty Brent Venables defense in the Fiesta Bowl. If Fields is able to come close to his 2019 season stats (which were overshadowed by Joe Burrow’s mind-boggling numbers) and Ohio State is once again in the playoff mix (they surely will be), then I see Fields taking home the Heisman Trophy. He’ll be able to play the majority of most games, allowing him to rack up numbers and enjoy an abundance of endzone trips.
Let’s face it: parity is dying a slow, gut-wrenching death in the sport of college football. The playoff has more or less been composed of a similar group of teams each year of its existence, with the likes of Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, and Oklahoma regularly in attendance and I’m gonna be honest - I don’t think much will change in 2020. The hope of a Cinderella story grows dimmer by the day as the most talented teams in the country stack up more and more talent on top of itself, building powerhouse programs. No matter how you cut it, it’s difficult as hell for two and three star guys to compete every play with five-star athletes. Either way, I’m going to get into my playoff predictions. This is how I think the final rankings will look after the bloodbath of the regular season.
CFB Playoff Predictions:
1. Alabama Crimson Tide: The Tide will get back on track this season and dominate the SEC West, going undefeated in conference play and winning the SEC Championship. I expect them to have a gritty match with Auburn per usual, but other than that the Tide will roll relatively easily into the SECCG where they’ll handle Florida or UGA. Saban certainly loses a solid amount of talent to the NFL draft (Jeudy, Tua, Ruggs, Diggs, and Terrell Lewis), but he’s also returning eligible stars in Najee Harris, Devonta Smith, and Alex Leatherwood, plus a 2020 recruiting haul that ranked fourth in the nation. As I mentioned earlier, I expect Bryce Young to take over the QB job and become a freshman phenom. An offensive attack featuring Young, Harris, Devonta Smith, and Jaylen Waddle is terrifying for opposing defenses, and you best believe Saban will make sure that Pete Golding has the defense up to par this season. It certainly helps that ten of Alabama’s highest-rated recruits are defensive players -- expect the young guys to make a large impact on the Tide this year. I think Alabama will slowly creep to number one in the playoff poll, building impressive SEC wins until they earn the spot late-season. With no more Joe Burrow and, subsequently, a wide-open SEC West, who else would you bet on to take control if not the mastermind himself, Saban?
2. Clemson Tigers: It’s a pretty safe bet that Clemson will cruise through its schedule to the ACC Championship, and they’ll still be able to bench the starters in the second half all season (barring the Notre Dame game, I guess). The Tigers return a glut of talent, led of course by The Truth (T-Law) and the best running back in the game, Travis Etienne. Not to mention Justyn Ross, Xavier Thomas, Lyn-J Dixon, James Skalski, and other members of last year’s playoff squad, plus an insane 2020 recruiting class featuring six five stars. Clemson will be absolutely loaded this season. They’ll win the majority of their conference games by scores of 55-14, 63-10, 48-7, etc. and probably won’t slow down when they travel to South Bend in November to face Notre Dame. Clemson usually tunes up around midseason, so I expect them to be in full playoff form come that game. Notre Dame simply doesn’t have the athletes to keep up with T-Law and friends. Neither will UVA - er, wait, Pitt? Miami? - in the ACC Championship game. It seems I’ve forgotten the most obvious reason why Clemson will head back to the playoff this season: coaching. With Dabo and Brent Venables, the Tigers arguably have the preeminent coaching staff in the country, and it’s demonstrated time and time again through Clemson’s consistently-dominant offensive/defensive numbers each year no matter the personnel. Clemson will go undefeated with ease and sit at number two when the playoff rankings are finalized.
3. Oklahoma State Cowboys: This is an insanely bold prediction, but hear me out. Oklahoma State is bringing back two legitimate NFL players in Tylan Wallace and Chuba Hubbard, and they didn’t lose much talent to the NFL Draft otherwise. QB Spencer Sanders proved last year that he can be a legitimate playmaker in the Big 12, forming a strong rapport with Tylan Wallace until the latter went down with an ACL injury. The Chuba train is self-explanatory - he’s one of the premier workhorses in the nation who’ll probably be selected day one of next year’s draft. The trio of Sanders, Hubbard, and Wallace could very well make up the best offense in the conference next season. The defense, which was top three in the conference, is also intact. And don’t forget about Mike Gundy, one of the most underrated coaches in the nation. He works with much less talent than some of his Big 12 counterparts and still produces wins every single year, which is more than a lot can say. Imagine what he’ll do this year with true NFL talent? Remember 2011? Just saying. Plus, Oklahoma State could slip up once and still realistically make the conference championship, given the inconsistency of the Big 12. I think the Cowboys will shock the world and light up the conference, their only regular season loss coming to Oklahoma, a team they’ll defeat in their Big 12 Championship rematch. The CFB Playoff isn’t ready for The Mullet.
4. Ohio State Buckeyes: Ohio State already has lofty expectations for its 2020 campaign because the Justin Fields window has one year left and the roster is still top-of-the-line. Guys like Master Teague, Chris Olave, and the freaky Garrett Wilson will help Fields rack up eye-popping numbers once again, and the defense will stifle less-athletic Big 10 opponents. However, I see the Buckeyes receiving another controversial playoff bid this year, similar to 2014. I actually believe they’ll slip up and suffer a close upset at some point, probably to the likes of Oregon, but they’ll still make the playoff due to the “eye test” and the relatively-worse records of their playoff competitors. Don’t get me wrong, this team is going to be nasty -- I just think they’ll limp into the playoff. Towering expectations combined with a second year HC will lead to some close games, but the Bucks will handle business against their rivaling Wolverines and Nittany Lions. Fields is just as dynamic as Trevor Lawrence, and he’ll will the team to victory when it counts. Hopefully the Ohio State team isn’t still butthurt about the L that Dabo Swinney served to them on a platter in January, because they’ll need to be ready for a tough Big 10 slate this fall.
1 Alabama vs 4 Ohio State Prediction: 36-27 Alabama
2 Clemson vs 3 Oklahoma State Prediction: 48-30 Clemson
National Championship (Clemson vs. Alabama Part V) Prediction: 42-38 Clemson