College Football Preseason Top 25 Rankings Post-2019 Early Signing Period

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystDecember 21, 2019

College Football Preseason Top 25 Rankings Post-2019 Early Signing Period

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    Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney
    Clemson head coach Dabo SwinneyChris Seward/Associated Press

    Clemson, LSU, Ohio State and Oklahoma haven't even played for this year's national championship, but the College Football Playoff participants already look they will be like top-five teams next year.

    The early signing period forced us to start thinking about 2020 well before 2019 has finished. It's a weeklong glimpse into the future before we dive back into obsessively watching bowl games.

    Inspired by all those soon-to-be freshmen, we've put together a projected top 25.

    Draft declarations, transfer portal decisions, injuries and other factors will alter our perception of these teams over the course of the next eight months, but based on current knowledge of rosters, here's an early look at the top 25 teams for the 2020 college football season.

Nos. 25-21

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    UCF QB Dillon Gabriel
    UCF QB Dillon GabrielJohn Raoux/Associated Press

    25. Tennessee Volunteers

    After all the "sinking Titanic" comments early in the season, Tennessee won its final five games to become the unofficial "Watch out for those guys next year" team. Don't forget, the Volunteers picked up former Maryland quarterback Kasim Hill from the transfer portal, which might finally solve the dilemma that has plagued Tennessee since Josh Dobbs graduated in 2016. If not, at least Jeremy Pruitt still has a good-looking defense.

             

    24. Indiana Hoosiers

    Indiana won at least eight games for the first time since 1993, but it might just be the beginning. The Hoosiers don't lose much aside from two offensive linemen, two starters on defense and their fourth- and fifth-leading receivers. Life in the Big Ten East will likely saddle them with at least three losses once again, but Tom Allen has a sleeper brewing.

              

    23. Oregon Ducks

    Oregon won the Pac-12 and finished at No. 6 in the CFP rankings, but there are few things more frightening in way-too-early rankings than a new, unproven quarterback behind an offensive line that graduates four starters and a key reserve. That said, if the Ducks don't lose any early entrants to the NFL, the defense should remain in great shape, and the unproven QB will have two solid running backs and a pair of wide receivers who made at least 50 catches this year.

              

    22. Iowa Hawkeyes

    Someone other than Nate Stanley will be the starting quarterback at Iowa for the first time since 2016. Assuming A.J. Epenesa declares for the NFL draft, the Hawkeyes have some question marks along the defensive line too. But the majority of starters will be back for what should be the second-best team in the Big Ten West.

         

    21. UCF Knights

    Will McKenzie Milton return? It might be a while before we know, but sticking with Dillon Gabriel at quarterback would be fine. The freshman threw for 3,393 yards and 27 touchdowns, even though we spent the summer thinking either Brandon Wimbush or Darriel Mack Jr. would hold down the job. Losing receiver Gabriel Davis and running back Adrian Killins will hurt, but try not to be surprised when the Knights get back to flirting with perfection.

Nos. 20-16

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    Auburn RB JaTarvious Whitlow
    Auburn RB JaTarvious WhitlowButch Dill/Associated Press

    20. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

    True freshmen rarely play key roles for Notre Dame, but might 2020 be an exception to that rule? The Fighting Irish are losing two of their best offensive weapons in receivers Chase Claypool and Chris Finke, but top-50 recruits Chris Tyree (RB), Jordan Johnson (WR) and Michael Mayer (TE) could make an immediate impact. If they do, Notre Dame will be in business.

              

    19. Texas Longhorns

    The Longhorns will lose wide receiver duo Devin Duvernay and Collin Johnson, but that talent pool isn't running dry. They should get one more year of Sam Ehlinger at quarterback, and incoming freshman Bijan Robinson could be a big help in the run game. However, they need to get better on defense if they're going to avoid another disappointing season.

             

    18. Memphis Tigers

    Quarterback Brady White and receiver Damonte Coxie each have a year of eligibility remaining. If both return to Memphis, this might be the Group of Five team to beat, even though it already lost head coach Mike Norvell to Florida State. Kenneth Gainwell just had one of the best seasons by a freshman running back in FBS history, and he'll return as the brightest star of a roster that doesn't lose much.

              

    17. Penn State Nittany Lions

    This might be too low for a Penn State team that has made it into the AP Top 10 for four straight seasons, but this defense is about to be stripped and sold for parts. Defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos has already declared for the draft, meaning the Nittany Lions lose seven starters. If and when receiver KJ Hamler also declares for the draft, the offense will take a big hit as well. This is where losing all those transfers last yearand losing wideout Justin Shorter to the portal this yearstarts to hurt.

                  

    16. Auburn Tigers

    Bo Nix got a ton of valuable experience this year and should be a better quarterback in 2020 for it. His top three targets and his lead running back should return as well. What else will Auburn bring to the table, though, after losing four starting offensive linemen and a bunch of key defenders, most notably defensive tackle Derrick Brown? After four consecutive years ranking in the top 15 in points allowed per game, that D may take a step backward in 2020.

Nos. 15-11

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    Baylor QB Charlie Brewer
    Baylor QB Charlie BrewerJeffrey McWhorter/Associated Press

    15. Baylor Bears

    The Bears are losing their leading receiver, half of their running back tandem and six of their seven leading tacklersand it wouldn't surprise anyone if defensive tackle James Lynch declares a year early after leading the Big 12 in sacks by a country mile. Baylor's incoming recruiting class also ranks outside the top 50. But this is a vote of confidence in head coach Matt Rhule and nationally underappreciated quarterback Charlie Brewer. This should still be a top-three squad in the Big 12.

            

    14. Virginia Tech Hokies

    There were only five seniors on Virginia Tech's roster this season, and defensive back Reggie Floyd is the only one the Hokies are going to miss. Once Hendon Hooker replaced Ryan Willis at quarterback, not only did the Hokies improve on offense, but it also meant they won't need to replace a single offensive starter this summer. It should be a fun eight months as national media types try to talk ourselves out of, into and back out of the Hokies as a dark horse for the national championship.

                

    13. Boise State Broncos

    This would be the highest preseason AP ranking for a Group of Five team since Boise State debuted at No. 5 back in 2011, but the Broncos will deserve it if linebacker Curtis Weaver comes back for a fourth season. They have some serious holes to plug in the trenches on both sides of the ball, but they thrived this year despite replacing way more than that this past offseason.

           

    12. Iowa State Cyclones

    Brock Purdy will be back at quarterback, along with two of his four favorite targets and freshman running back Breece Hall, who averaged 138 yards from scrimmage over the Cyclones' final seven games. They're also getting seven of their nine leading tacklers back, plus star defensive end JaQuan Bailey, who missed the majority of this season with an ankle injury. The Big 12 still runs through Oklahoma, but Iowa State should be a viable challenger.

                 

    11. USC Trojans

    The Trojans were the laughingstock of the early signing period, doing nothing to improve a class that currently ranks 79th in the nation. That might hurt them dearly in the long run, but they didn't need to add much this year with 18 starters projected to return to an eight-win team. USC may well immediately crash and burn in the season opener against Alabama, but Clay Helton should at least be on the hot seat for a preseason top-15 team.

10. Florida Gators

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    Florida QB Kyle Trask
    Florida QB Kyle TraskJeff Roberson/Associated Press

    2019 Record: 10-2

    Key Departures (Offense): RB Lamical Perine, WR Van Jefferson, WR Tyrie Cleveland, WR Josh Hammond, WR Freddie Swain, C Nick Buchanan, QB Feleipe Franks (transfer)

    Key Departures (Defense): EDGE Jonathan Greenard, LB David Reese, DE Jabari Zuniga, DB C.J. Henderson (declared early), DL Adam Shuler, S Jeawon Taylor

    2020 Recruiting Ranking: No. 8 (zero 5-stars, 16 4-stars)

    Make no mistake about it: Florida is losing a lot.

    Five of its eight leading receiversincluding its top running backare out of eligibility. So are its leading tackler (Reese) and the Louisville transfer who was the team's best pass-rusher by far (Greenard). And its best defensive back (Henderson) isn't even going to be playing in the Orange Bowl as he prepares for the NFL draft.

    Even punter Tommy Townsend is moving on with his career.

    And yet, this might be the team to beat in the SEC East.

    The Gators still have QB Kyle Trask, who was mighty impressive after taking over for the injured Franks, posting a passer efficiency rating of 146 or better in every game. A lot of his top targets are leaving, but his favoritetight end Kyle Pitts—will return. And losing Perine from the backfield shouldn't hurt much. Over his final three games, he had just 12 carries for 47 yards.

    While there are significant losses on defense too, the Gators are more than equipped to handle them. Former 5-star recruit and Georgia transfer Brenton Cox should become a team leader in short order, and the combination of Zachary Carter and redshirt freshman Khris Bogle might be enough to make up for the loss of Greenard. And Dan Mullen certainly added some options to the secondary, signing seven defensive backs in this year's class.

    The Gators might not be quite as good as they were this season, but a slight step down from beating Auburn and hanging with both LSU and Georgia away from home is still worthy of a spot in the top 10.

9. Michigan Wolverines

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    Michigan WR Ronnie Bell
    Michigan WR Ronnie BellPaul Sancya/Associated Press

    2019 Record: 9-3

    Key Departures (Offense): QB Shea Patterson, WR Tarik Black (in transfer portal), TE Sean McKeon, RB Tru Wilson, OT Jon Runyan, OG Ben Bredeson, OG Michael Onwenu

    Key Departures (Defense): LB Khaleke Hudson, LB Jordan Glasgow, LB Josh Uche, S Josh Metellus, CB Lavert Hill, DL Michael Danna

    2020 Recruiting Ranking: No. 12 (zero 5-stars, 13 4-stars)

    It's a shame it took 22 games for Michigan to finally figure out how to turn Shea Patterson loose, only doing so for his final three regular-season games in the maize and blue.

    But maybejust maybe—the Wolverines can keep that pass-heavy offense rolling while transitioning to either Dylan McCaffrey or Joe Milton at quarterback.

    They still have the necessary skill-position players around that TBD QB. McKeon wasn't even the primary tight end; Nick Eubanks was. Before his decision to enter the portal, Black had clearly fallen to fourth or fifth in the pecking order for targets. Wilson was also an afterthought in the run game behind the younger Zach Charbonnet and Hassan Haskins.

    Frankly, it might be addition by subtraction with the offensive line. Many thought in the preseason that the healthy, experienced group would finally be a strength for Michigan, but it wasn't. The Wolverines still couldn't run the ball, and Patterson spent a lot of time running for his life. The O-line might go from Swiss cheese to younger Swiss cheese, or it might improve with some new blood.

    Attrition on defense would appear to be the more significant concern, losing three of the top four linebackers and arguably the two best players from the secondary. However, Jim Harbaugh always finds a way on that side of the ball. They lost multiple key players from all three levels from the 2018 rosterincluding No. 10 and No. 12 overall draft picks Devin Bush and Rashan Gary—and they merely went from 19.4 points allowed per game to 19.5.

    It probably still won't be enough to beat Ohio State, especially since that game will be in the Horseshoe in 2020, but Michigan should be a factor in the playoff race up until that annual disappointment.

8. Wisconsin Badgers

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    Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst
    Wisconsin head coach Paul ChrystMorry Gash/Associated Press

    2019 Record: 10-3

    Key Departures (Offense): WR A.J. Taylor, OG David Moorman, OG Jason Erdmann

    Key Departures (Defense): LB Zack Baun, LB Chris Orr

    2020 Recruiting Ranking: No. 26 (zero 5-stars, four 4-stars)

    If borderline projected first-round draft picks Jonathan Taylor and Tyler Biadasz both leave for the NFL, Wisconsin's 2020 stock takes a major hit. It would probably drop the Badgers down into the Nos. 14-18 range.

    Until either of those decisions is confirmed, though, let's operate under the assumption that the reigning Big Ten West champions still have an ace in the middle of their O-line and a running back who would demolish career FBS rushing records with a fourth season. Combine that with the return of a substantially more experienced Jack Coan at quarterback* as well as Quintez Cephus at wide receiver, and you've got a doggone good offense.

    *It's also very possible Graham Mertz wins the QB job this spring. Either way, that position is nowhere near the cause for concern that it was four months ago.

    The picture on defense is much less cloudy. The Badgers will only lose two noteworthy players, but they are colossal losses.

    Baun and Orr combined for 24 sacks this season. Among Big Ten players, only Ohio State's Chase Young was better at bringing down opposing quarterbacks. That tandem of backfield penetration was a big reason why Wisconsin was so tough against the run.

    It's little wonder that five of Wisconsin's top eight incoming freshmen are linebackers. Paul Chryst is desperately trying to stockpile viable options for replacing two of his most important players. If it works, the Badgers should win their division with little resistance. Win at Michigan in late September and the "Undefeated Watch" will officially begin.

7. Texas A&M Aggies

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    Texas A&M QB Kellen Mond
    Texas A&M QB Kellen MondGerald Herbert/Associated Press

    2019 Record: 7-5

    Key Departures (Offense): C Colton Prater

    Key Departures (Defense): DT Justin Madubuike (early entrant), DB Charles Oliver, P/KO Braden Mann

    2020 Recruiting Ranking: No. 6 (one 5-star, 12 4-stars)

    Several wild cards look like they could make the leap from eight or fewer wins to the fringe of next year's playoff. Baylor, Minnesota and Wisconsin all did it this year, and Texas A&M, USC, Iowa State and Virginia Tech are all candidates for 2020.

    Texas A&M seems most likely to pull it off.

    That leap might go up in flames when they finish the regular season with back-to-back games against Alabama (road) and LSU (home), but the Aggies have the talent pool to make a run at it. They didn't back the Brink's truck up to Jimbo Fisher's house to keep settling for fourth-place finishes in the SEC West.

    Aside from one offensive lineman, the entire Aggies offense should be back next year. In light of that, it's a little ridiculous that QB Kellen Mond isn't being mentioned in the way-too-early Heisman conversation. That might be largely due to his atrocious outing in the season finale against LSU, but cut the guy some slack. It was the end of a long year full of tough defenses and disappointing losses, and that game unraveled in a hurry. The addition of 6'3" 5-star WR Demond Demas might be just the spark he needs.

    The defense is taking a couple of big blows with the departures of the top pass-rusher and the best defensive back, but there is no shortage of capable options for replacements after back-to-back years with excellent recruiting classes.

    It bears mentioning that the overall schedule is nowhere near as arduous as it was this season. The Aggies still need to deal with division rivals Alabama, Auburn and LSU, of course. But instead of playing at Georgia in the rotating game against an SEC East opponent, they get to host Vanderbilt. And instead of playing at Clemson in Week 2, the nonconference schedule consists of home games against Abilene Christian, North Texas, Colorado and Fresno State.

    An 11-1 record isn't likely, but it's a whole heck of a lot more feasible than it would have been in 2019.

6. Georgia Bulldogs

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    Georgia QB Jake Fromm
    Georgia QB Jake FrommJohn Amis/Associated Press

    2019 Record: 11-2

    Key Departures (Offense): OT Andrew Thomas (early entrant), OT Isaiah Wilson (early entrant), RB Brian Herrien, WR Lawrence Cager, WR Tyler Simmons, TE Eli Wolf, TE Charlie Woerner, K Rodrigo Blankenship

    Key Departures (Defense): LB Tae Crowder, DB J.R. Reed, DL Tyler Clark, DL Michael Barnett, DL David Marshall

    2020 Recruiting Ranking: No. 4 (two 5-stars, 14 4-stars)

    Two critical non-senior Bulldogs have already declared for the NFL draft, and three similar announcements might be forthcoming. Running back D'Andre Swift, quarterback Jake Fromm and safety Richard LeCounte III all have first-round potential and are expected by most to leave a year early.

    Swift is a sensational running back, but his decision is probably of least concern to Georgia. The Bulldogs also have Zamir White and James Cook on the roster, two of the top five running backs in the 2018 class. They also signed a good runner in this year's crop of recruits, Kendall Milton.

    Similarly, losing LeCounte would sting, but they've got options. Mark Webb, Eric Stokes and DJ Daniel should all be back, and more playing time for former top-50 recruits Tyrique Stevenson and Tyson Campbell wouldn't figure to be a bad thing.

    Fromm is the big one and possibly the biggest draft-decision X-factor in the playoff picture.

    If your quarterback is coming back for a fourth season as the starter, it's easier to stomach losing a 1,200-yard rusher, three of your top four receivers, both of your all-world offensive tackles and three of your four leading tacklers. But if you've got to deal with all that while also breaking in a quarterback who has never taken a meaningful snap, things could get a little hairy.

    However, this is going to be Georgia's fourth consecutive year with a top-four recruiting class, so there is untapped potential all over this roster. If Stetson Bennett IV, D'Wan Mathis or true freshman Carson Beck can just do a bit of game managing at quarterback, Georgia should be more than fine. And if one of those guys emerges as a game-changeror if Fromm comes back for a senior yearthis team should once again find itself in a do-or-die SEC Championship Game.

5. LSU Tigers

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    LSU RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire
    LSU RB Clyde Edwards-HelaireThomas Graning/Associated Press

    2019 Record: 13-0

    Key Departures (Offense): QB Joe Burrow, OG Adrian Magee, OG Damien Lewis, WR Derrick Dillon, WR Stephen Sullivan

    Key Departures (Defense): CB Kristian Fulton, DL Rashard Lawrence, DL Breiden Fehoko

    2020 Recruiting Ranking: No. 5 (two 5-stars, 13 4-stars)

    Georgia was the start of the "Who stays and who goes?" guessing game, but that really kicks into gear for our projected top five.

    Will running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire bless the Bayou with his presence for one more year? What about wide receiver Justin Jefferson? If that duo leaves, it takes nearly 3,000 yards from scrimmage and 31 touchdowns with it. Center Lloyd Cushenberry III also has more than a little draft potential worth exploring.

    On defense, safety Grant Delpit will almost certainly head to the NFL. Fellow safety JaCoby Stevens might join him. Linebacker K'Lavon Chaisson probably will too.

    Though there are only a few seniors here, there may be something of a mass exodusespecially if LSU wins the national championship.

    Even if all those guys leave, though, LSU will surely be a top-10 team. Wide receivers Ja'Marr Chase and Terrace Marshall Jr. will be back—same goes for cornerback phenom Derek Stingley Jr. And with back-to-back recruiting classes ranked in the top five, there are plenty of young guys talented enough to plug those holes.

    The bigger question than draft declarations will be at quarterback.

    Was Burrow the start of a new trend in which LSU consistently has one of the best passing attacks in the nation, or was this a one-hit wonder before a return to the more traditional ground-and-pound approach? That depends on what rising redshirt junior Myles Brennan and true freshman Max Johnson are able to bring to the table.

    But when you go undefeated with five wins over AP Top 10 opponents, you get some benefit of the doubt.

4. Ohio State Buckeyes

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    Ohio State QB Justin Fields
    Ohio State QB Justin FieldsMichael Conroy/Associated Press

    2019 Record: 13-0

    Key Departures (Offense): OG Jonah Jackson, OT Branden Bowen, WR K.J. Hill, WR Binjimen Victor, WR Austin Mack

    Key Departures (Defense): LB Malik Harrison, S Jordan Fuller, CB Damon Arnette, DT Davon Hamilton, DL Jashon Cornell, DL Robert Landers

    2020 Recruiting Ranking: No. 3 (two 5-stars, 14 4-stars)

    The good news: Justin Fields will be back at quarterback, likely to open the 2020 season as the favorite to win the Heisman. Also, both Michigan and Penn State are losing a ton this offseason, so no team seems likely to make a strong push for the Big Ten East crown.

    The bad news: Three of Fields' five favorite targets are graduating, stud running back J.K. Dobbins is a strong candidate to declare for the draft and, worst of all, the defense is going to be gutted.

    In addition to the five departing seniors listed above, both Chase Young and Jeff Okudah should be top-five picks if and when they declare for the draft. Shaun Wade has first-round potential too. And it's hardly a guarantee Tuf Borland will be back in Columbus next year.

    The Buckeyes might need to replace four defensive backs, three defensive linemen, two linebackers and the best edge-rusher in the nation. Yet of their eight top-100 signees, only onesafety Lathan Ransom—plays defense. Zach Harrison was the only top-100 defender in last year's class too, so the Buckeyes aren't burgeoning with 5-star replacements for a defense that may lose nine of its top 11 tacklers.

    They went through a similar rebuild on defense after the 2017 season and were just plain bad on defense in 2018. We don't expect things to get that bad again in 2020, but it is a legitimate concern when trying to put together a way-too-early playoff picture. However, LSU allowed more than 21 points per game and still ran the table against a tough schedule thanks to a Heisman-winning quarterback. Fields and the Buckeyes are more than capable of repeating that feat.

3. Oklahoma Sooners

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    Oklahoma WR Charleston Rambo
    Oklahoma WR Charleston RamboSue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    2019 Record: 12-1

    Key Departures (Offense): QB Jalen Hurts, WR Lee Morris, WR Nick Basquine

    Key Departures (Defense): CB Parnell Motley, DT Neville Gallimore, DL Marquise Overton

    2020 Recruiting Ranking: No. 10 (zero 5-stars, 14 4-stars)

    Three big draft decisions loom for the Sooners. Wide receiver CeeDee Lamb, linebacker Kenneth Murray and running back Kennedy Brooks led Oklahoma in a bunch of categories this year, and the odds that this team gets back to the playoff a year from now will drop if all three head to the NFL.

    The Sooners should have the talent to replace Lamb (58 receptions, 1,208 yards, 14 TDs) and Brooks (976 rushing yards) on offense, if necessary.

    Charleston Rambo (42 receptions, 734 yards, five TDs) should be back for an offense that just keeps churning out star receivers year after year. Their top five recruits in last year's class were No. 1 quarterback Spencer Rattler, three highly touted wide receivers (Jadon Haselwood, Theo Wease and Trejan Bridges) and tight end Austin Stogner. And in the backfield, both Rhamondre Stevenson (7.9 YPC) and Trey Sermon (7.1 YPC) have big-play potential.

    Let's not forget that Lincoln Rileyunless he gets an NFL offer he can't refusewill be back as the offensive mastermind. Oklahoma has averaged at least 43 points per game in each of the past five seasons.

    Replacing Murray on defense would be much tougher, and improvement on defensefrom 33.3 PPG in 2018 to 24.5 PPG in 2019was a huge reason the Sooners were so successful. They're already going to be losing their best defensive back as well as one of their best assets in the trenches. Losing the top tackler might be a bridge too far for defensive coordinator Alex Grinch.

    Still, Oklahoma has been to three out of four College Football Playoffs and remains clearly at the head of the class in the Big 12. Defense may be a minor question mark, but nowhere near what it is for Ohio State and LSU. And if Rattler can live up to the hypeor if Riley can snag another star quarterback from the transfer portal—Oklahoma should be the best team outside of college football's two usual overlords.

2. Alabama Crimson Tide

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    Alabama WR Jaylen Waddle
    Alabama WR Jaylen WaddleButch Dill/Associated Press

    2019 Record: 10-2

    Key Departures (Offense): OL Matt Womack

    Key Departures (Defense): DL Raekwon Davis, LB Anfernee Jennings, DB Trevon Diggs, DB Jared Mayden, DB Shyheim Carter

    2020 Recruiting Ranking: No. 2 (three 5-stars, 19 4-stars)

    Actual seniors? Only a few, and primarily on the defensive side of the equation. With Dylan Moses and LaBryan Ray set to return from injuries, those losses don't seem so bad.

    Players likely to leave early, though? All over the place.

    Tua Tagovailoa, Jerry Jeudy, DeVonta Smith, Henry Ruggs III, Najee Harris and Alex Leatherwood are all possibly moving on to the NFL, which would result in a complete overhaul on offense. It also wouldn't be much of a surprise if Xavier McKinney and Terrell Lewis leave from the defense.

    But this is nothing new for the Crimson Tide. They've had at least seven players drafted in eight consecutive years and at least 10 draftees in each of the past three years. Yet they have opened 10 consecutive seasons in the AP Top Three and won five of the last 10 national championships.

    Nick Saban keeps putting together top-five recruiting classes, which means Alabama is always loaded with quality options for every opening.

    Take the 2020 quarterback situation, for example. Mac Jones played well after taking over for Tagovailoa and would appear to be a good candidate to lead this offense. If he doesn't work out, Tua's little brother, Taulia Tagovailoa, will be ready to take over as a redshirt freshman. Just for good measure, Alabama signed Bryce Young, the No. 1 QB recruit in the 2020 class.

    It's a similar story at running back, where Alabama will have the No. 1 RB in last year's class (Trey Sanders) available after he took a medical redshirt this year, should have Brian Robinson Jr., Keilan Robinson and Jerome Ford still in the mix, and added both the ninth-best and 11th-best running backs in this year's class.

    This was a disappointing season by Alabama's standards, but it'll be right back at the forefront of the playoff hunt in 2020.

1. Clemson Tigers

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    Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence
    Clemson QB Trevor LawrenceSean Rayford/Associated Press

    2019 Record: 13-0

    Key Departures (Offense): WR Diondre Overton, OL John Simpson, OL Sean Pollard, OL Tremayne Anchrum, OL Gage Cervenka

    Key Departures (Defense): S K'Von Wallace, S Tanner Muse, LB Chad Smith, DB Denzel Johnson

    2020 Recruiting Ranking: No. 1 (six 5-stars, 11 4-stars)

    In addition to losing four of the five starting offensive linemen and three of the five leading tacklers on defense, it's a safe assumption that RB Travis Etienne, WR Tee Higgins and LB Isaiah Simmons will also declare for the draft.

    But unless the offensive line becomes a crippling point of weakness, the Tigers will still be the heavy favorite to win the ACC and probably the early favorite to win the national championship.

    Sunshine (Trevor Lawrence) will be back in Death Valley, as will WR Justyn Ross and RB Lyn-J Dixon. That's a fine core around which wide receivers Frank Ladson Jr. and Joe Ngata should become more integral pieces as sophomores. Chez Mellusi should also play a fine second fiddle to Dixon, considering the freshman averaged better than six yards per carry. Alternatively, 5-star true freshman Demarkcus Bowman might come in and immediately take Etienne's job. Either way, skill-position players for days.

    Speaking of true freshmen, Dabo Swinney signed three 5-star defensive linemen, as well as CB Fred Davis II and LB Trenton Simpson, who both rank in the top 30 overall. There's also Andrew Booth Jr., the cornerback who barely saw the field this year but was Clemson's top recruit last year. Sheridan Jones should also be a much bigger factor in 2020 given the number of departures in the secondary.

    The Tigers are getting a lot younger on D, but don't expect them to be much worse. Brent Venables runs a finely tuned machine, producing three consecutive seasons of fewer than 14 points allowed per game. Maybe they have a bit of a blip and allow 17 points per game next year, but that's still less than half of what the offense ought to score every Saturday.

    It was postponed by one year, but let the "Alabama-Clemson Pt. V" countdown begin.

              

    Recruiting rankings via 247Sports' composite.

    Kerry Miller covers college football and men's college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @kerrancejames.