10 Teams That Have a Chance to Win the 2020 College Football Playoff

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistFebruary 18, 2019

10 Teams That Have a Chance to Win the 2020 College Football Playoff

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    The 2018 college football season ended yet again with Clemson and Alabama meeting in the national title game.

    They got there by beating Oklahoma and Notre Dame, respectively, in the semifinals.

    Though all four of those teams lose key members of their '18 squads, all are expected to be in the mix to return to the College Football Playoff.

    So, who are going to join them as contenders?

    Honestly, a lot of familiar uniforms. Plus, there may be another couple of potential up-and-comers who could make a little noise and some fringe teams who contended a while this year who could go all the way next season.

    If you're betting against the Crimson Tide and Tigers, you're doing it wrong; they're right there every year. Some of the other teams who could join them if things go just right may surprise you.

    Let's take a look at 10 top contenders who could win it all in 2020 (for the '19 season).

Alabama Crimson Tide

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    Alabama had plenty of defensive issues in 2018, but they were masked by an explosive offense led by quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who sat atop the Heisman Trophy race for much of the year until Kyler Murray swooped in and plucked it from him in the 11th hour.

    Tagovailoa will be back for his junior season in '19, and he'll bring with him much of his core arsenal of weaponry.

    Though the Crimson Tide must replace star runners Josh Jacobs and Damien Harris along with elite tackle Jonah Williams, there's always dynamic talent waiting in the wings. Rising sophomore Najee Harris and incoming freshman Trey Sanders look good enough to keep Alabama's running game rolling.

    Biletnikoff Award-winning receiver Jerry Jeudy and rising sophomore Jaylen Waddle lead a terrific corps of receivers for Tagovailoa to utilize, and there's plenty of other options, too.

    Defensively, the Tide probably won't miss defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi much. He left to go to the Cleveland Browns after a very uneven season at the helm of Bama's D. Whether it's co-defensive coordinator Pete Golding or someone else replacing him, he'll have a lot of talent on that side of the ball.

    Alabama always has great talent, but the linebackers and secondary must improve for UA to win the national title in 2020. A laundry list of 5-star prospects await on that side of the ball, and many of the highlights of a top-ranked 2019 class are game-ready defenders.

    Don't expect coach Nick Saban to take too kindly to finishing second. Alabama should be right back battling for it all next year.

Clemson Tigers

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    This list is in alphabetical order, so it's ironic the two teams at the top were the ones in the national title game in 2019 and the same two who are expected to be left standing next year.

    Clemson has everything you want on the offensive side of the ball. The unit could wind up being one of the best the sport has ever seen.

    Quarterback Trevor Lawrence was one of the top three quarterbacks in the nation at the end of his true freshman season, and he's only going to get better. Receivers Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross are as good as any in the country, and the other targets are an embarrassment of riches.

    Along with Amari Rodgers, incoming freshmen Frank Ladson and Joe Ngata have elite potential.

    Travis Etienne leads a dynamic, deep group of runners, and there are several quality offensive linemen as well.

    The concerns will lie in the defensive front seven where the Tigers lost a stable of stars such as Dexter Lawrence, Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell, Austin Bryant, Albert Huggins and others. Xavier Thomas and K.J. Henry return, though, and there are young, talented players ready.

    Defensive coordinator Brent Venables may see some early growing pains, but the offense will help them along. By the end of the year, expect coach Dabo Swinney to have things clicking again.

Georgia Bulldogs

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    Georgia, like most contenders, must replace a slew of talent. But, then again, the Bulldogs had to account for more than 30 departing players from their national title-losing team a year ago and were within an eyelash of an SEC title.

    Things fell apart against Texas in the Sugar Bowl, but that should make coach Kirby Smart's team even hungrier.

    The Bulldogs' past three recruiting classes ranked third, first and second, so they'll be as talented as any team in the country, and rising junior Jake Fromm is the best quarterback who gets the fewest headlines.

    There is a lot of upside in the backfield when you factor in rising junior runner D'Andre Swift, who is expecting to have a breakout season, and other runners like James Cook, Brian Herrien and Zamir White, who hopes to be back to 100 percent after a pair of knee injuries.

    The receiver corps took some hits with departures, but Demetris Robertson and Miami transfer Lawrence Cager should lead the way and pave the road for some talented youngsters.

    Defensively, there are blossoming stars who were ranked at the top of their positional rankings as high school recruits, and the nation's top-rated player in the 2019 class, Nolan Smith, should find some snaps along with elite interior linebacker Nakobe Dean.

    Georgia is going to be fun to watch grow next year, and the Bulldogs could wind up winning it all.

Ohio State Buckeyes

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    Remember that reloading year? Yeah, forget it.

    The title window for Ohio State remains open in the post-Urban Meyer era. The Buckeyes got some massive news when Georgia transfer Justin Fields was ruled immediately eligible by the NCAA, and he's getting a crash course in new offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich's offense, according to Lettermen Row's Ryan Ginn.

    While everybody should try to temper expectations since this will be Fields' first year of having a team all to himself after backing up Fromm and getting very few reps a season ago, his talent is limitless.

    With so many potential stars around him—including a lethal receiving corps and runners J.K. Dobbins, Master Teague, DeMario McCall and others who could benefit from a coordinator change—there is excitement on offense, especially from Yurcich coming over from Oklahoma State.

    Defensively, the Buckeyes hired Greg Mattison from Michigan to replace ousted Greg Schiano, and Alex Grinch left Ohio State for Oklahoma, too, so there's a lot of new blood in the coaching staff on that side of the ball.

    They need it. The Buckeyes finished tied for 71st overall in total defense a season ago.

    Sure, there are a ton of question marks on both sides of the ball for Ohio State, but first-year head coach Ryan Day has a lot of promise as a program leader, and his team has lots of upside.

    If you have any questions about Ohio State's talent level, you likely aren't following recruiting closely. The Buckeyes are banking on the new faces on the coaching staff and the Fields era helping them transition smoothly from the Meyer era and Dwayne Haskins' pass-happy 2018 season.

    Don't sleep on the Buckeyes.

Oklahoma Sooners

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    Just when you thought maybe Oklahoma was going to have a one-year lull after Kyler Murray headed to the NFL, coach Lincoln Riley landed college football's biggest free agent.

    That, of course, was Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts, who left Tuscaloosa to play his final season in Norman and is banking on Riley and Co. helping him contend for a Heisman Trophy and national title. 

    The Sooners, of course, featured the past two Heisman winners in quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Murray, and if Hurts can improve as much between last year and this year as he did under Dan Enos from the time he was a sophomore until his junior year at UA, watch out.

    Marquise "Hollywood" Brown is gone, but OU returns tons of receiving talent, led by CeeDee Lamb. The freshman trio of Jadon Haselwood, Theo Wease and Trejan Bridges are dynamic talents capable of playing immediately. Quarterback Spencer Rattler will be waiting in the wings to take over for Hurts, too.

    Running backs Kennedy Brooks and Trey Sermon are terrific Big 12 talents, and OU's offensive line is sturdy, too.

    The defense is another story.

    The Sooners were 114th nationally in a season that saw Mike Stoops fired and Ruffin McNeill not do much better. They're banking on Alex Grinch improving that side of the ball, and OU is trying to develop playmakers on that side of the ball.

    It's a fresh start defensively, but if they can improve just enough on that side of the ball, the offense will be good enough to take them to the playoff yet again.

Michigan Wolverines

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    For most of the 2018 season, the Michigan Wolverines were right in the thick of the College Football Playoff conversation.

    Entering the season-ending grudge match with Ohio State, they had just one loss, which was a season-opening setback to national semifinalist Notre Dame. After a stunning 62-39 demoralization in which the strong Wolverines defense was dominated, the playoff talk abruptly ended.

    Florida whipped Michigan 41-15 in the Peach Bowl, and coach Jim Harbaugh went from quieting his critics to hearing the same old whispers about whether he's worth the money he's making in Ann Arbor.

    He'll keep hearing them until he wins the big games, and he has the team in 2019 to do it.

    The Wolverines must replace a ton of talent on defense with guys like Devin Bush, Rashan Gary, Chase Winovich, Noah Furbush and others gone, but veteran coordinator Don Brown has a lot of exciting young players who can outfit the roster on that side of the ball.

    Offensively, Michigan should be better in '19. Quarterback Shea Patterson needs to take the next step from being a good quarterback to a great one, and though Karan Higdon is gone, Michigan has a lot of good, young runners like incoming freshman Zach Charbonnet and Christian Turner.

    Donovan Peoples-Jones, Nico Collins, Tarik Black and others must improve the offense, and new coordinator Josh Gattis has to find the perfect formula for success.

    Like their hated rival Buckeyes, there are holes for the Wolverines, but the pieces of the puzzle are there if they can just make them fit.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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    Notre Dame had a magical season in 2018, but the hard questions about the ease of the Fighting Irish's schedule were found to be true once they got to the College Football Playoff and were dominated by Clemson, right?

    Well, pretty much nobody was beating the Tigers the way they were playing at the end of the season.

    The only footnote that needs to be by Notre Dame's 2018 resume is how exceptional the season was; it just wasn't as good as Clemson's. The secondary, especially, got exposed against Dabo Swinney's team.

    With coach Brian Kelly getting to trot quarterback Ian Book out again for his senior season, the Irish have an opportunity to be right back in the thick of things in 2019.

    Tony Jones Jr. and Jafar Armstrong will be among a committee of players who'll try to replace Dexter Williams' 2018 production. Incoming freshman Kyren Williams is a perfect combination of Jones' power and Armstrong's flash and could see a big role, and Avery Davis has upside, too.

    The receiver corps needs some playmakers to emerge to replace Myles Boykin's and Chris Finke's production. Chase Claypool can't do it by himself, and he'll get some help from underclassmen.

    While Notre Dame's front seven looks strong, and the 2019 recruiting class was heavy on defensive linemen who look ready to battle for playing time, the secondary needed major upgrades.

    Julian Love's loss is massive in the defensive backfield, but incoming freshmen Kyle Hamilton and Isaiah Rutherford and others can upgrade the athleticism on the back end.

    Will Notre Dame run the table again? It's definitely possible.

Oregon Ducks

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    One of the two longest shots on this list is the Oregon Ducks, but don't sell short what Mario Cristobal is building in Eugene.

    The Ducks went 9-4 in 2018 and didn't sniff the Pac-12 title, but with Washington losing so much on both sides of the ball and Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert returning, there is major hope in '19. 

    It's hard to discount the Huskies or Washington State, and Stanford is capable of doing big things, too. And USC could awaken from its slumber or Arizona State could surge in its second year under Herm Edwards.

    The Pac-12 is down, but Cristobal brought in a top-10 recruiting class, and the Ducks have two stellar, young running backs in CJ Verdell and Travis Dye. They're going to miss dynamic receiver Dillon Mitchell, who could have been a part of something special had he returned for his senior season but bolted for the NFL.

    Defensively, all eyes will be on top prospect Kayvon Thibodeaux, the poster child for the recruiting wars Cristobal is winning for the Ducks. He leads a star group of young defenders who could bolster that side of the ball.

    Are the Ducks a long shot to win it all? Yes. They may not even be the favorite to win the Pac-12 title. But if you're looking for upside, look no further than this team. If Herbert takes the next step forward into superstardom, he could take Oregon a long way.

    In a stunner, 247Sports' Duck Territory's Matt Prehm reported on Wednesday that defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt would not return to the program and that the Ducks are expected to promote assistant Keith Heyward.

    He inherits a bunch of potential and needs to put everything together. If he does, the Ducks' 2019 could be special.

Texas Longhorns

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    Over the past few years, the saying "Texas is back" has become a joke among college football fans trolling the Longhorns, who have won some big games but dropped plenty more clunkers in their attempt to return from the abyss of the Charlie Strong era.

    Well, Texas is back.

    The Horns went 10-4 in 2018, beating the Big 12 champion Oklahoma Sooners in the regular season before dropping the rematch in the conference title game. They then pummeled Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.

    With Sam Ehlinger back as Texas' dual-threat gunslinger and rising sophomore Keaontay Ingram leading a young group of talented runners who can help replace Tre Watson's yardage, the offense looks potent.

    Yes, the departure of receiver Lil'Jordan Humphrey is huge, but with incoming freshmen Jordan Whittington, Jake Smith and Bru McCoy, that position is loaded.

    McCoy was signed with the Trojans for two weeks before entering the transfer portal and heading to Austin. If he can play in '19, that's a huge storyline.

    Defensively, it may seem funny to be excited about a secondary that finished 110th against the pass in 2018, but there are so many young, talented players led by an elite rising sophomore safety duo of Caden Sterns and B.J. Foster.

    When you throw in Jalen Green, Kenyatta Watson II and Tyler Owens, the potential stars for coordinator Todd Orlando look bountiful. Add elite prospect De'Gabriel Floyd at middle linebacker, and the Horns could be much better all over the defense in '19.

    If that happens, they could win the Big 12 and surge toward the playoff.

Texas A&M Aggies

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    Don't sleep on that other Texas team, either.

    Coach Jimbo Fisher's youngsters went toe-to-toe at Kyle Field against Clemson in 2018, and they will travel to take on the Tigers in South Carolina early in '19, as well. If they win that game, it could catapult them to massive things.

    Yes, that's a massive "if," but Clemson will be breaking in a lot of new defenders, and A&M with quarterback Kellen Mond will be a problem for a lot of teams next year. 

    Receivers Kendrick Rogers, Camron Buckley, Jhamon Ausbon, Hezekiah Jones, Jalen Preston, Caleb Chapman, Dylan Wright and Kam Brown all have tons of promise, and while the Aggies will miss star tight end Jace Sternberger, incoming freshman Baylor Cupp has an elite skill set.

    Defensively, coordinator Mike Elko's unit should be much improved, especially after adding elite players like defensive tackle DeMarvin Leal and defensive backs Brian Williams, Demani Richardson and Erick Young, and if that side of the ball is a lot better, watch out.

    Mond showed great development under Fisher as a sophomore in '18, and while one of the hardest players to replace in the whole SEC will be running back Trayveon Williams and his 1,700-plus rushing yards, the Aggies have players at the position who can help overcome it.

    This is a budding program, and while it may not be quite ready to do the biggest of big things in 2019, it's also one that has enough talent to make a run.

    They get the slight nod on this list over LSU, who must break in a lot of young, talented defenders and two fresh (but talented) running backs in John Emery Jr. and Tyrion Davis, and Central Florida, who could go undefeated yet again and still not make the playoff.


    Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of Sports Reference and CFBStats.com. All recruiting information is from 247Sports, and rankings are from the 247Sports composite.

    Brad Shepard covers college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.