Way Too Early Top 25 College Football rankings for 2020

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Joe Broback

Contributor at Champion Insiders
Joe is a writer covering the NFL, NBA, NHL and college football. He also currently writes for SB Nation’s Underdog Dynasty, covering the American Athletic Conference since 2016. Joe enjoys collecting shoes, playing sports, and anything fitness related.
Joe Broback
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How does college football always go by so fast? It seems like Week 0 shows up and the next thing we know, the season’s over. While we still have one more game to play between LSU and Clemson, the reality of no more college football until August sets in now. To cure that, it’s time to look ahead to the 2020 season. If you like debating, then a Way Too Early Top 25 rankings is the perfect thing for you.

Top 10 Locks

Clemson Tigers

Key players: QB Trevor Lawrence, WR Justyn Ross, DE Xavier Thomas

Move over, Alabama. There’s a new king in college football. Regardless of what happens Monday night, Clemson returns as one of the top teams in the country. The Tigers are 79-4 over the past five seasons, and that level of success figures to continue next season. Trevor Lawrence comes back for another year, and will be one of the top potential Heisman candidates. Running back Travis Etienne and wide receiver Tee Higgins still might go pro after the national championship, but Lyn-J Dixon and Justyn Ross return to fill those potential voids.

Ohio State Buckeyes

Key players: CB Shaun Wade, QB Justin Fields, WR Chris Olave

Thirteen seniors must be replaced, but key pieces return to put Ohio State back in the driver’s seat in the Big Ten. Justin Fields leads that charge with Master Teague in the backfield, and Shaun Wade’s return to Columbus makes him a leader of the defense with linebackers Tuf Borland and Pete Werner. Throw in a little motivation in the form of the Fiesta Bowl loss to Clemson, and the Buckeyes become an even more dangerous team in 2020.

Alabama Crimson Tide

Key players: WR Jaylen Waddle, WR DeVonta Smith, CB Patrick Surtain

Losing Tua Tagovailoa hurt, but Mac Jones handled the pressure nicely. In the four games he started, he threw for 1,172 yards with 13 touchdowns and two interceptions. He’ll compete with Tua’s brother, Taulia, for the starting spot, and the winner gets to utilize receiver DeVonta Smith and explosive receiver/returner Jaylen Waddle. A two-loss season might be great for some programs, but it’s a disappointment in Tuscaloosa. Nick Saban’s got some work to do, but the Tide should be the favorite again in the SEC West.

Florida Gators

Key players: DB Kaiir Elam, CB Marco Wilson, QB Kyle Trask

Dan Mullen faces a big test of replacing a good amount of talent on both sides of the football. Luckily, he’s still got plenty on the roster. His secondary is loaded to put things lightly, and they’ll carry the defense while new starters emerge in the front seven. Quarterback Kyle Trask returns after throwing for 2,941 yards and 25 touchdowns, providing stability at the position with Feleipe Franks leaving the program. If the Gators are going to make a run at the SEC East divisional crown, 2020 appears to be the year.

Prove-it teams

Texas Longhorns

Key players: QB Sam Ehlinger, RB Keoantay Ingram, LB Joseph Ossai

Once again, the Longhorns find themselves in a good position to win the Big 12. Now, they just have to produce. Sam Ehlinger announced his return to join six other offensive starters, and can mold himself into an NFL prospect if he continues to develop as a passer. The defense must find an identity under new leadership, and Texas must show they can not only beat Oklahoma, but win the conference. Until then, Tom Herman’s in hot water.

Michigan Wolverines

Key players: DE Kwity Paye, QB Dylan McCaffrey, WR Ronnie Bell

This is it for Jim Harbaugh. Michigan fans are tired of waiting for him to take the next step, so 2020 could be the final year for their coach. He must do it with a new quarterback and a handful of fresh faces at key positions. The defense gets a face lift, but returns ends Kwity Paye and Aidan Hutchinson, who combined for 119 tackles, 22.5 for loss, and 10 sacks in 2019. The offense needs a new signal caller and for their experienced playmakers to step up.

Texas A&M Aggies

Key players: QB Kellen Mond, S Demani Richardson, OT Carson Green

Don’t look now, but the Aggies are set up nicely to become a contender in the SEC West. Kellen Mond returns for his fourth season as a starter on an offense that returns nearly every starter. The same can be said on defense. Linebacker Budy Johnson, cornerback Myles Jones, and safety Demani Richardson return to lead a defense with plenty of experience. Time to see Jimbo’s massive contract pay off.

Ole Miss Rebels

Key players: QB John Rhys Plumlee, WR Elijah Moore, RB Jerrion Ealy

To be clear, no one’s expecting the Rebels to be a contender, but hiring the coach they did comes with high expectations. Lane Kiffin inherits a team that’s looking for stability. John Rhys Plumlee and Matt Corral will battle for the starting quarterback job, and running back Jerrion Ealy and receiver Elijah Moore give Kiffin tools for an explosive offense.

Stanford Cardinal

Key players: OT Foster Sarell, OT Walker Little, DE Thomas Booker

What was the 2019 season? Is David Shaw’s squad headed for a rebuild? They’ll need a new quarterback with the transfer of K.J. Costello, and they’ll need to reestablish their identity on offense and defense. Tackles Foster Sarell and Walker Little should help with that. Four starters on defense are gone, including all three linebackers, but end Thomas Booker eases that transition.

Potentially elite Top 25 teams

Minnesota Golden Gophers

Key players: WR Rashod Bateman, DE Boye Mafe, QB Tanner Morgan

All Minnesota needs to do is win the Big Ten West, and this team appears ready for that next step. Wins against Penn State and Auburn prove they can win big games, and the youth lead the charge for next season. Rashod Bateman eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving in his second season, and even garnered All-American honors from some media members. Quarterback Tanner Morgan provides the poise they need at the position, and the defense returns a handful of starters too. P.J. Fleck has the Gophers on their way to competing with the blue bloods, and 2020 could be the year they take that next step.

Oregon Ducks

Key players: OT Penei Sewell, RB CJ Verdell, S Jevon Holland

Four starters on the offensive line and a quarterback must be replaced on offense, but the defense returns nine starters. If a College Football Playoff run is in the cards, the defense leads the charge. Only two starters leave the defense, and young players like defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux made an impact frequently this year. Justin Herbert’s replacement becomes a focal point, but only Penei Sewell (an All-American) returns on the line. Playmakers like CJ Verdell, Travis Dye, Jaylon Redd, and Johnny Johnson III should help ease the transition for the new starter.

Auburn Tigers

Key players: QB Bo Nix, WR Seth Williams, LB K.J. Britt

Similar to Oregon, Auburn’s looking for starters on the offensive line at both guard and tackle positions. Quarterback Bo Nix needs protection, but he can manage escaping pressure while new players emerge. Receiver Seth Williams remains one of the most underrated players in the country, and Anthony Schwartz has track speed. The defense must replace NFL talent up front, but the back end has potential.

Penn State Nittany Lions

Key players: RB Journey Brown, S Tariq Castro-Fields, QB Sean Clifford

A Cotton Bowl win gave Nittany Lions fans something to get excited about for next season, and new stars showed what they could do. Running back Journey Brown (204 yards in the Cotton Bowl) might be the next great Big Ten running back, and he’ll join Sean Clifford in the backfield. Six defensive starters depart, including defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos.

Baylor Bears

Key players: QB Charlie Brewer, DT James Lynch, S Grayland Arnold

Baylor needs a new head coach after the departure of Matt Rhule, but the new leader inherits a plethora of talent. Charlie Brewer’s health remains a concern, but he’s one of the best quarterbacks in college football. All-American tackle James Lynch (19.5 TFL, 13.5 sacks) returns, and doesn’t get enough love for his play. Linebacker Terrel Bernard (112 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks) and safety Grayland Arnold (six interceptions) give the Bears a playmaker at the other two levels. With Oklahoma rebuilding and Texas figuring things out as well, the Bears are just as much a contender as anyone in the Big 12.

Dark Horse teams

Virginia Tech Hokies

Key players: LB Rayshard Ashby, QB Hendon Hooker, CB Caleb Farley

Justin Fuente leaned on his team’s inexperience at a critical time this year, and it paid off. Hendon Hooker (1,911 total yards, 18 total touchdowns) showed flashes of being Fuente’s next great quarterback, and a plethora of freshman and sophomores surround him. The defense features potential All-Americans in Rayshard Ashby (119 tackles, 17 TFL) and Caleb Farley (first team All-ACC).

North Carolina Tar Heels

Key players: LB Chazz Surratt, WR Dyami Brown, QB Sam Howell

They won’t surprise anyone in 2020, but they’re still an overlooked team. Mack Brown already made his mark on the Tar Heels (for the second time), and he’s ready for them to make another run. Sam Howell shined as a freshman, passing for over 3,600 yards and 38 touchdowns. Dyami Brown averaged over 20 yards per catch, and Dazz Newsome joined Brown in eclipsing 1,000 yards receiving.

Tennessee Volunteers

Key players: OT Cade Mays, QB Jarrett Guarantano, RB Ty Chandler

Tennessee used to be the butt of most jokes, but suddenly they’re looking like a solid team. An 8-5 season and a bowl win boosts their confidence, and Jeremy Pruitt has this program headed in the right direction. The Volunteers are getting Georgia offensive lineman Cade Mays as a transfer to shore up the line, and Pruitt’s defense should be solid.

Indiana Hoosiers

Key players: TE Peyton Hendershot, CB Tiawan Mullen, RB Stevie Scott

The Hoosiers have yet to prove they can win a big game, but they’ll be fun to watch next year. Quarterback Peyton Ramsey, running back Stevie Scott (1,056 total yards), receiver Whop Philyor (1,002 yards receiving), and tight end Peyton Hendershot return, and that’s just the beginning of the fun. Cornerback Tiawan Mullen (13 passes defended) is a potential star on defense.

USC Trojans

Key players: WR Amon-Ra St. Brown, QB Kedon Slovis, QB JT Daniels

Kedon Slovis, Tyler Vaughns, and Amon-Ra St. Brown make the Trojans a potential Pac-12 champion. Slovis will compete with JT Daniels for the starting quarterback spot when Daniels returns from injury, but both are capable options. Tackle Jay Tufele and end Drake Jackson give USC a solid front four, and the back end only loses one starter. Clay Helton needs a good season to get the doubters off his back, and he’s set his team up nicely for a Pac-12 title run.

NY6 Contenders

Cincinnati Bearcats

Key players: S Darrick Forrest, RB Michael Warren II, QB Desmond Ridder

The Bearcats won’t get enough respect in the offseason, so they’ll have to prove their worth once again. Michael Warren II (14 rushing touchdowns) gives Cincinnati one of the best running backs in the country, and he’s joined by Desmond Ridder for his third year as a starter. The defense returns one of the best secondaries in the country, and the best in the AAC.

Memphis Tigers

Key players: RB Kenneth Gainwell, WR Damonte Coxie, DE Joseph Dorceus

Once again, the Tigers reload for another run at the AAC title, this time as the defending champs. Brady White, Kenneth Gainwell, and Damonte Coxie all return to lead the offense, but the defense needs new leaders. Ryan Silverfield takes over for Mike Norvell (who left for Florida State), and expectations are as high as they’ve ever been in Memphis.

Boise State Broncos

Key players: QB Hank Bachmeier, RB George Holani, WR CT Thomas

Until further notice, doubting the Broncos isn’t a good idea. Boise State’s won double digit games 17 times since 1998, including last year’s 12-win season. The Broncos defensive line took a hit, but the back end features Kekaula Kaniho and Avery Williams. Quarterback Hank Bachmeier and George Holani are two potential stars after just one year of college football. Bachemeier just needs to stay healthy to give the Broncos consistency at quarterback.

Appalachian State Mountaineers

Key players: QB Zac Thomas, CB Shaun Jolly, DE Demetrius Taylor

Zac Thomas (3,158 yards, 35 touchdowns) returns to lead a 13-win team that returns a number of experienced upperclassmen. Only two starters on either side of the ball were underclassmen, and first team All-Sun Belt cornerback Shaun Jolly was one of them.

Miami (OH) Redhawks

Key players: QB Brett Gabbert, S Mike Brown, S Sterling Weatherford

An interesting year in the MAC produced a conference championship for the Redhawks, and they will be in the running again in 2020. Led by Brett Gabbert, brother of former Missouri Tigers quarterback Blaine, Miami must only replace four starters from the championship team.

Underdogs

Buffalo Bulls

Key players: RB Jaret Patterson, RB Kevin Marks, S Tyrone Hill

If you haven’t watched Bulls running back Jaret Patterson (1,799 yards, 19 touchdowns), you’re missing out. The sophomore exploded towards the end of the season, and returns for another year. Head coach Lance Leipold knows how to build winners, and the 2020 Buffalo team could be his best.

Houston Cougars

Key players: QB D’Eriq King, CB Damarrion Williams, OT Jarrid Williams

Dana Holgorsen’s relying on transfers to improve his team right now, and plenty of them will see their first collegiate action this year. D’Eriq King (3,656 yards and 50 touchdowns in 2018), after sitting out after four games this year, returns to give the Cougars one of the best quarterbacks in college football. The talent level is there, but can it produce on the field?

UCF Knights

Key players: WR Tre Nixon, S Richie Grant, RB Otis Anderson

UCF also fits the NY6 contender category. It wasn’t the year they wanted, but the Knights still won 10 games. With McKenzie Milton returning after a season ending injury, the quarterback competition is one to watch. Otis Anderson, Greg McCrae and Tre Nixon just scratch the surface of potential talent offensively, and the defense has all-conference talent everywhere.

My Top 25

  1. Clemson
  2. Alabama
  3. Ohio State
  4. Florida
  5. Minnesota
  6. Texas A&M
  7. LSU
  8. Baylor
  9. Auburn
  10. Penn State
  11. Texas
  12. Michigan
  13. USC
  14. Oklahoma
  15. Oregon
  16. Notre Dame
  17. Georgia
  18. Iowa State
  19. Cincinnati
  20. Oklahoma State
  21. Boise State
  22. Virginia Tech
  23. Memphis
  24. Tennessee
  25. North Carolina
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