The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has this week led the Big Ten conference to announce that all autumn sports will be played in-house. Other college conferences are set to follow in the coming days. The very real threat of the 2020 college football season being cancelled altogether is just too terrible to think about. Instead, let’s look ahead and predict who will top the Power 5 conferences in 2020 should the season go ahead.
1) Southeastern Conference – Alabama Crimson Tide
Reigning champions LSU have simply lost too much talent to the NFL this off-season. In total, 13 Geaux Tigers heard their name called in April. The world and his dog know that record-breaking quarterback Joe Burrow went #1 overall to the Cincinnati Bengals, but the Tigers also lost two starting offensive linemen, running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Justin Jefferson. And that’s just on offence. Ed Orgeron will also be with K’Lavon Chaisson, Kristian Fulton and Grant Delpit on defence, too. 2019 was a year to remember for fans at Baton Rouge, but the price to pay will likely be regression this time out.
The stars aligned for Louisiana in 2019, but the obliteration of the reigning college football champions blows the doors of the SEC wide open. Alabama have appeared at 4 of 6 college football playoffs since its current inception in 2014. Despite the loss of Tua Tagovailoa, Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs to the NFL, the Crimson Tide are better placed to improve on last season’s 11-2 record.
Where Ja’Marr Chase will be expected to carry the LSU offence on his shoulders, ‘Bama has enough talent returning to share the load this time out. Devonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle and Najee Harris should provide enough support to keep the offence ticking under their new quarterback Mac Jones. Standing in during Tagovailoa’s injury, Jones had 14 touchdowns and 3 interceptions, and is expected to take another step up in 2020.
2) Big Ten – Ohio State Buckeyes
It’s easy to see why the Buckeyes are favourites to top the Big Ten this year. His name is Justin Fields. Athletic director Gene Smith expressed concern that there may be no season at all in 2020, which would surely deny Ohio State another year atop the Big Ten East.
Fields had an incredible first season in Columbus after transferring from Georgia. He threw for over 3,000 yards and 41 touchdowns, adding 10 on the ground too. The departure of running back J.K. Dobbins will be felt, but a big year from Master Teague and wide-out Chris Olave should mitigate this loss. Teague’s carries were limited in 2019, but he still put up over 800 yards in his sophomore year. Olave didn’t reach 1,000 yards in the air, but will hoping to smash that barrier this time out.
With Wisconsin reeling from the loss of Jonathan Taylor, Ohio is in pole position to rule the Big Ten once more.
3) Big XII – Oklahoma Sooners
The Sooners will be an exciting team to watch in 2020. Quarterback whisperer Lincoln Riley will have the chance to work his magic on sophomore QB Spencer Rattler. Rattler first rose to fame as a high school quarterback for Netflix’s QB1. He will be known for much more if he can emulate the work of former Sooners Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts. Although it is expected that it will be an open competition for the quarterback spot at OU, Rattler seems the preferred option to Tanner Mordecai. Rattler made limited appearances in cupcake victories over South Dakota and Texas Tech, before completing one pass against LSU in Oklahoma’s Peach Bowl defeat by LSU. He has a huge sophomore college season ahead.
Texas fans will be hoping to beat out their bitter rivals, but questions remain over the ability of Sam Ehlinger, whose interceptions doubled to 10 in 2019. If Ehlinger is indeed right, and the Longhorns are back, he will need to cut down on his turnovers this year. Longhorn Nation has lots of talent returning to assist Ehlinger on offence, and will run Oklahoma close this year. It will be interesting to see whether Tom Herman and his quarterback can topple Riley and his newest protege under centre.
4) ACC – Clemson Tigers
It is a common misconception that the ACC is the least competitive of the Power 5. Clemson aside, there are some exciting teams to watch in the ACC, most notably North Carolina and Louisiana. However, neither will be able to hold up against the powerhouse that is the Clemson Tigers. Trevor Lawrence is the presumptive #1 pick and will be supported by the best running back in the country, Travis Etienne. The Tigers will be without Justyn Ross after he underwent surgery on his spine in the off-season. The Tigers should have enough strength in depth to see off the challenge of Sam Howell and the Tar Heels.
Isaiah Simmons, Tanner Muse and A.J. Terrell entered the NFL in April, but can rely on a conveyor belt of defensive talent his year. Defensive tackle Tyler Davis was the 16th freshman in Clemson history to start the season opener, and was on field for over 250 snaps. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables is one of the most respected minds in the college game. He will ensure that his unit continues to outsmart its opponents.
The Tigers have five consecutive conference championships under Dabo Swinney, losing just five games in the process. Expect more of the same in 2020.
5) Pac-12 – USC Trojans
Oregon are the favourites to win the conference once more, but the loss of Justin Herbert could hit them hard. Down the West Coast, the Trojans have taken big steps forward to improve on their 8-5 record from last year. It is certainly possible that Kedon Slovis can transform USC’s fortunes in 2020.
The Ducks topped the Pac-12 in 2019 with a 12-2 record. The Trojans couldn’t even top the South, finishing second to the 11-3 Utah Utes. Last year’s results are a thing of the past, and the departure of Herbert and Jordan Love for the NFL can only work in USC’s favour. Playing in-conference games only will also boost the Trojans’ chances. A new schedule will see USC avoid out of conference games at Alabama and Notre Dame. This should chalk off two potential losses from their record. A limited 2020 season will work in Head Coach Clay Helton’s favour.
Michael Pittman will no longer be lining up on the outside in Los Angeles, but Amon-Ra St. Brown has the potential to outdo his former teammate’s showing. St Brown had over 1,000 yards and 6 touchdowns in his sophomore year. This should rise as he eats into some of the 101 targets that Pittman enjoyed in 2019.
Tom Scott @downthemannyrd