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Football

Observer Roundtable 2020 college football preview: Top 25

, , , , , , and | Wednesday, August 12, 2020

The Observer Roundtable is back with part one of our college football preview. Now, evidently, the season is completely up in the air at the moment. The Big Ten and Pac-12 announced Tuesday they will not be playing this fall, and it is unclear if the remaining Power Five conferences will follow their lead and, if so, whether or not they will be able to conduct a spring season. However, regardless of whether these teams play in the fall, spring or not at all, we hope that our work might play some part in speaking a college football season into existence and, if nothing else, provide college football fans with some enjoyable content. So, without further ado, here’s the Roundtable’s preview of the college football season — starting today with our top 25, voted on by eight writers.
1. Clemson (Five first-place votes)
2. Ohio State (Three first-place votes)
3. Alabama
4. Georgia
5. Oklahoma
6. LSU
7. Florida
T-8. Penn State
T-8. Notre Dame
10. Oregon
11. Wisconsin
12. Auburn
13. Texas
14. Minnesota
15. Texas A&M
16. Michigan
17. USC
18. North Carolina
19. Oklahoma State
T-20. Iowa
T-20. Utah
22. UCF
23. Washington
T-24. Baylor
T-24. Memphis
Also receiving votes: Arizona State, Cincinnati, Kentucky, Virginia Tech, Boise State, Appalachian State, Tennessee, Air Force, Navy, Maryland, Cal Berkley, TCU, SMU and Miami

Aidan Thomas

Looking over our top 25, I felt pretty good about our initial top three teams in consensus playoff favorites Ohio State, Clemson and Alabama. Georgia’s lethal defense is justification enough for their slot at No. 4, but I’m a little surprised at the hype the Sooners are getting at No. 5. 

There’s the obvious criticism that always comes with Oklahoma — they’ve lost four straight CFP games and can’t compete with the SEC. After four straight first-round exits, do they merit a top five ranking simply for being the cream of the crop in a weak Big 12? I’m not so sure, particularly as they break in their fourth quarterback in as many years in the completely unproven Spencer Rattler. 

Outside the top five, I’m not convinced yet that LSU will be a top 10 team, but it seemed that slipping them much further than No. 6 would be criminal for the defending champions. I would move up Oregon from their spot at No. 10, potentially closer to seven or eight, while dropping Oklahoma towards the back end of the top 10. 

Moving into the rest of our rankings, I believe we dreadfully overhype both Texas and Minnesota at No. 13 and No. 14. I’m partially responsible for this, having initially voted Minnesota into my top 10. I have all the confidence in Tanner Morgan, but very little in the Gophers’ defense, and with the recent opt-out of Rashod Bateman, I’m not sure P.J. Fleck’s squad holds up. Texas, meanwhile, benefits from yet another year of hype — their 2019 Sugar Bowl win faded into irrelevance after a poor follow-up season, and I don’t see the justification for them at No. 13. 

As the list goes on, it’s hard to point out specific problems, as the back end of the top 25 will fluctuate regardless of who is placed there. USC deserves to be higher than No. 17; as much as it pains me to say it, I think the Trojans have playoff-caliber talent on their roster and could make a run at the postseason, or at least a New Year’s Six bowl appearance. My other major complaint is the inclusion of Utah. 

Including the Utes, who lost their quarterback and star running back after an underwhelming finish to the season, seems to horribly overrate a squad that will likely struggle to challenge for a spot in their conference championship. I’d much prefer to see UCF, Memphis and Boise State rise up the ranks as intriguing contenders for the Group of 5 bid into the New Year’s 6 bowl this season, then push Utah into the rankings for seemingly no reason beyond a decent season in 2019. 

Hayden Adams

Obviously you can’t go wrong with OSU, Clemson and ‘Bama in your top 3, and I actually think the Buckeyes deserve the No. 1 spot considering the way they pushed Clemson to the brink in the playoff last season and everything the Tigers lose (including their top-two pass catchers from last season). 

From there, Georgia and Oklahoma seem pretty straightforward, even with Lincoln Riley finally having to rely on a non-transfer quarterback. I don’t know much about Spencer Rattler, but integrating a new starting quarterback each of the last two seasons hasn’t seemed to slow the Sooners down, so I don’t think this year’s an exception.

After the top 5, however, things are unclear. LSU at six is fine, but they lose so much from last season that I wouldn’t blame you for placing them lower despite their reigning champ status. I honestly think Penn State deserves to be ahead of Florida considering the way the Nittany Lions have been rapping on the door of the Big Ten East Division, and the Gators still haven’t gotten by Georgia in the SEC East.

Oregon is clearly the most consistent Pac-12 team, but I could see USC rising up and dethroning the Ducks this year. That said, Clay Helton’s track record means I can’t see them being higher than the 20s on this list.

Wisconsin seems overrated to me considering they lost their All-American tailback, All-American center and stud wide receiver. Jack Coan can’t carry this team by himself based on what he’s produced to this point. Likewise, Minnesota seems overhyped based on one year, and they lose a bread-and-butter guy in Rashod Bateman.

Texas is probably too high as usual, and the same with Texas A&M. That said, I like the Aggies’ chances more than the Longhorns’ given that the former actually has a defense and a national championship-winning coach. 

North Carolina was competitive all of last season, including a one-point loss to Clemson, and Sam Howell is a star in the making in Chapel Hill. That said, like USC, I don’t know if they’ve proven enough to have them within the top 20 at this stage. Oklahoma State would probably slip in and out of the rankings all year, but it’ll be interesting regardless to see how Chuba Hubbard and Mike Gundy mesh after their little spat this offseason.

From there, it’s really anyone’s guess who rounds out the top 25. I’m probably biased, but I’m high on Kentucky knowing what they bring back this year on both sides of the ball, and having seen their offensive line’s dominance. I’m also high on Boise State to snatch the Group of Five’s New Year’s Six bid, and I think Virginia Tech could turn heads after seeing how Hendon Hooker looked at quarterback to finish last season.

Iñigo Yturralde

This top 25 is stellar. It is hard to argue against the playoff contenders for this upcoming college football season. While Oklahoma is consistently ranked in the top five, they are yet to prove themselves as a true playoff contender. Clemson, Ohio State, Alabama and Georgia are non-competitors for the top four. With that, I would look out for Notre Dame’s matchup against Clemson as a possible statement game for the Irish.

There are not many questions about why LSU is not in the top four, even though they just won the national championship. After losing quarterback Joe Burrow, a number of receivers and other key position players, Coach O has a challenging season ahead of him.

Looking past the top six, college football presents an exciting landscape. There really is no telling which teams are going to rise up and take over a conference, Notre Dame included as they move to the ACC for a year.

With that, the Big Ten was an exciting conference last year. Personally, I would expect Penn State and Minnesota’s current form to continue. Should they play, this season could be a turning point for both programs, earning them permanent spots in the top sphere of college football. 

Don’t sleep on Oregon. Even with Justin Herbert making his pro debut, the Ducks are here to stay. I peg them with their Big Ten counterparts, Penn State and Minnesota, to continue to rise. They have a number of high profile recruits and a number of returning players. I would personally be very excited to watch the Ducks have a successful season in the Pac-12.

College football is in store for a historic season, for more reasons than one. Let’s strap in and enjoy the ride. With teams from Power Five and Group of Five conferences all competing, there are a lot of good games to come. The college football landscape is as exciting as it has ever been. 

David Kramer 

While the Roundtable still feels far from set for this season, the courses are out and it’s time to eat. My reservations with this list hinge on the status of the Big Ten, not only in its chances of participating but also in the absurdly competitive schedules that await the conference frontrunners. 

Ohio State finishes its season with matchups against Michigan, Penn State and Iowa in the last four weeks of play. Our pal Michigan fares no better, facing four top 25 powerhouses of its own. As much as it pains me to say it, I’m anticipating the sheer depth of the conference to distribute losses more widely than I initially thought. Regrets. 

At first glance, the Big 12 seems vastly underrepresented, but the clash of massive offenses should leave no one but Oklahoma with a chance at Hard Rock Stadium. 

And all eyes turn to our Irish as they push for their first ACC title. Expect a top-six finish, regardless of the outcome in the home Clemson match. 

Patrick Gallagher

Upon first glance, our picks for the top 10 line up reasonably well with the national consensus. Clemson, Ohio State and Alabama are almost always a sure bet to be in playoff contention, and I believe most fans and experts would agree that they are the most talented teams in the country. 

After these three programs, there seems to be a decent gap in talent, and it would have been interesting to see who could have separated themselves from the pack and contended for a playoff spot. In the SEC, LSU and Georgia are starting new quarterbacks, and this development should allow Florida to have the advantage with veteran Kyle Trask at the helm. Looking at the ACC, I believe that UNC is a little overhyped because of their amazing recent recruiting classes. Most of these prospects still have much growing to do, and the Tar Heels might still be a few years away from being real contenders. 

Personally, I think that the Pac-12 would have been the biggest surprise of the year as Oregon and USC are criminally underrated. Mario Cristobal has become one of the best coaches in the country, and he has transformed the Ducks back into a recruiting powerhouse over the past couple seasons. Despite the fact that most fans were clamoring to see Clay Helton gone after a disappointing 2019 campaign, the Trojans seem to be primed for a big year. Kedon Slovis looked like a bonafide star at times last season, and I believe that he may be the most talented young quarterback in the NCAA. Slovis will also have no shortage of help on offense, as USC is stacked with top-tier wide receivers like Tyler Vaughns, Amon Ra-St. Brown and Drake London.

Liam Coolican 

The top two teams in college football are clear, but beyond that, there is no consensus. The SEC, in particular, is wide open. LSU will take a step back after losing Joe Burrow, Clyde Edwards-Helaire and numerous starters on defense, and despite coach Orgeron’s track record, I think they should be outside the top 10. Alabama should be the conference favorite, and Georgia and Florida will certainly field competitive teams, but the team I’m looking at is Texas A&M. Kellen Mond is a Heisman contender, the Aggies return most of their production, and Jimbo Fisher has plenty of big game experience. 

The Big 12 will be an interesting conference to watch. Spencer Rattler has high expectations in Norman, but appears to be ready to step into the spotlight for Oklahoma. Texas should challenge them for the conference title, but we say that every season. 

While Ohio State should run away with the Big Ten — if they play, of course — Penn State has as good a chance as anybody to make the playoffs. The Nittany Lions’ offense is dynamic, the defense is tough to score against and they have a relatively easy conference schedule. 

In the ACC, our poll severely undervalues UNC. Sam Howell is one of the top quarterbacks in the country and the Tarheels have plenty of talent on both sides of the ball. Notre Dame will certainly challenge them for second place in the ACC, and the late season game in Chapel Hill will be vital for the Irish. 

Nate Moller

Overall, I agree with the majority of the rankings in our poll. In fact, my top 6 is exactly the same as the rankings above. The top two in college football is clear, and at the moment it has to be Clemson at No. 1. They have proven themselves time and time again in the playoffs, and Ohio State has yet to do that as of late.

One team who I think this poll slightly undervalues is Wisconsin. The Badgers would avoid Ohio State and Penn State in crossover games and are the clear favorites in the Big Ten West. Iowa would likely be down a bit this year with a first-year starter quarterback, and the Badgers are also scheduled to play Minnesota at Camp Randall. If the season happened this year, I think the Badgers would have a great shot at running the table.

Two teams that I think are overvalued in the poll are Penn State and Florida. While I think both teams will be respectable, I am not completely sold on them being in the top 10. The Nittany Lions would definitely be big underdogs against the Buckeyes, and they were also supposed to play Michigan at the Big House this year. I couldn’t see the Nittany Lions having less than two losses.

Florida will definitely have a respectable defense, but I don’t know if their offense is ready to take the next step. Kyle Trask should be a good option at quarterback in his second year starting, but I don’t think he will propel Florida onto the national stage. The Gators play LSU in a conference crossover game, and I don’t see them being able to beat Georgia and win the SEC East at this point.

Dominic Gibson

Reviewing our top 25 picks, I have to say they are pretty solid and well rounded. Clemson and Ohio State were obvious favorites at the top. However, I would have to argue that Ohio State is the more talented team of the two, nearly edging out the Tigers if not for a few bad breaks in their playoff game. From there, it is also hard to argue that Alabama and Georgia are well-deserving of the three and four spots.

Outside of our top four, it seems like there could be a lot of shuffling around as the season progresses. LSU will not be the team that it was last year after losing a good chunk of its core. Penn State is also a big toss up as the loss of Micah Parsons, who opted out of the 2020 season to prepare for the NFL Draft, will shake up the roster and the outlook for their season. 

The Big 12 will be an interesting conference to watch with Oklahoma being a potential unknown as Spencer Rattler will need to prove himself in order to keep the wagon rolling for the Sooners. Furthermore, Texas and Sam Ehlinger are in a prove-it year after having a letdown season, going a disappointing 8-5 with the only redeeming win being their bowl game against Utah. This is the year for them to win the Big 12. If not, I have a feeling that Tom Herman’s stint at Texas will be over and the Longhorns will be in the hunt for a new head coach after just four years. 

The ACC will have some new blood and stout competition with Notre Dame joining in as well as D’Eriq King transferring to Miami, not to mention the work Mack Brown has done for UNC. While the strength of schedule for some may have gotten a bit tougher, I don’t think anyone will be able to challenge Clemson. 

The Big Ten would be more of a contest of who plays Ohio State in the championship game. I believe Wisconsin would be the most likely to play the Buckeyes as their hardest game will be against Minnesota in the conference’s West Division. The rest should be business as usual for the Badgers en route to the Big Ten Championship game where I think the Buckeyes take the win.

The SEC will be the usual suspects with Alabama and Georgia in contention. My only slight is with Texas A&M and their ranking at No. 15. The Aggies have yet to prove they are worth their hype at the beginning of the year, every single season. In fact, when making the top 25 to start the season, A&M has not finished the season ranked higher than their preseason ranking this millennium. While their defense may be solid, Kellen Mond seems to lack what it takes to win big games, which are plentiful in the SEC.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Hayden Adams

Hayden is a senior double majoring in Physics and Film, Television & Theatre with a minor in Journalism, Ethics & Democracy. He is a proud son of the state of Kentucky and member of Zahm House. Feel free to provide him procrastination material in the form of lively discussion about college football and basketball or the genius of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

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