Complete Guide to 2020 College Football Offseason

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistJanuary 15, 2020

Complete Guide to 2020 College Football Offseason

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    With LSU's thorough dismantling of Clemson in the national championship game to cap Joe Burrow's magical, record-setting season and give Ed Orgeron his first title as a head coach, college football bids farewell until fall.

    Sure, we'll have recruiting season and spring practice to give us a few teasers, but it's time to enter the long dark before spring breaks, baseball and the Masters come and we really begin to mark the days off the calendar.

    Saying goodbye to Burrow and Co. will be tough.

    But there are plenty of storylines to whet our appetite, from the next big playmakers to coaches on the hot seat to February's late signing period. There's also one massive transfer who could change the makeup of the team he lands on.

    Who will be the final four teams a year from now? Can others such as Georgia, Florida, Notre Dame or Penn State break through? What are some things you need to know heading into the next few months? 

    Let's take a look at your complete guide to the 2020 college football offseason.

Top Storylines

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    Egg-citement abounds

    There was a time in 2014 when Mississippi State and Ole Miss were both highly ranked, and the focus of the college football world was on the Magnolia State. It doesn't occur often.

    But there are plenty of reasons for it to happen again.

    The Rebels (Matt Luke) and Bulldogs (Joe Moorhead) both fired their coaches after disappointing seasons that were magnified, at least in part, by fallout from Elijah Moore's urinating-dog celebration in the Egg Bowl. Those searches yielded a duo of vocal coaches everybody pays attention to.

    With Lane Kiffin back in the SEC in Oxford and Mike Leach in Starkville via Washington State, we have a number of reasons to pay attention to the men in Mississippi again. Buckle up for the one-liners, entertaining press conferences and social media outbursts. These guys can coach a little football too.


    Washington goes the Ohio State route

    Perhaps it won't create quite as many shock waves as when Urban Meyer stepped down last year, but Pac-12 power Washington has to move on from Chris Petersen, who resigned in early December.

    The Huskies are replacing him with defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake, much the way OSU did with offensive coordinator Ryan Day. They're hoping to replicate the Buckeyes' success too.

    Lake won't have it quite as easy. Quarterback Jacob Eason declared for the NFL draft, leaving some offensive upheaval. But there is a good amount of quality youth on both sides of the ball, and Lake is a strong recruiter. The blueprint may work again.


    Other new regimes begin; a couple of others wait

    After the Willie Taggart era fizzled at Florida State, the Seminoles tabbed Memphis coach Mike Norvell to replace him, and the question is whether his high-powered offense will translate to the ACC. The league is ripe for more competition for Clemson.

    The second Greg Schiano era in Rutgers is about to go down, as is the second Brady Hoke era at San Diego State. Both of those coaches were extremely successful in those spots, but that was years ago. Can they replicate it the way Mack Brown has at North Carolina?

    Jeff Hafley gets the chance to coach his own program at Boston College after his year as Ohio State's co-defensive coordinator, and Jeff Scott does, too, heading to South Florida after his successful tenure as Clemson's co-offensive coordinator. 

    With Baylor's Matt Rhule heading to the NFL to coach the Carolina Panthers and Leach off to the SEC, those two recently successful programs are on the market for new coaches.

    Taggart (Florida Atlantic) and ex-BC head coach Steve Addazio (Colorado State) get second chances at other, smaller locations too.


    Moving on...

    Every year, exceptional players leave for the NFL and others replace them; it's the circle of life. But it won't be easy to replace a lot of the dudes heading off to the league this year. 

    How will LSU reload without Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow? Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert leave massive voids at Alabama and Oregon. Jake Fromm left Georgia with a quarterback hole it's already filled with Wake Forest graduate transfer Jamie Newman.

    Then, you look at megastars such as Wisconsin rushing phenom Jonathan Taylor and Ohio State pass-rushing force Chase Young, who are heading out too. Even Group of Five power Boise State will have to replace Curtis Weaver off the edge.

    Guys like Burrow, Tua, Young and Taylor don't grow on trees. It's college football's loss, but the NFL awaits.

National Signing Day: What to Watch For

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    How will the Zachary Evans saga end?

    Zachary Evans is the only unsigned 5-star prospect. The running back signed with Georgia in the early period, but the Bulldogs are letting him out of his national letter of intent, according to Rivals' Mike Farrell and Adam Gorney.

    Now, a winding road of a recruitment seems likely to end up with the Houston native remaining in state and playing for the nearby Texas A&M Aggies, though LSU, Texas and others remain possibilities.

    The Aggies had a difficult time replicating Trayveon Williams' backfield production last season after he left for the NFL, and Evans could be a difference-maker if he can stay focused. 


    Any flippable 5-stars?

    Though in-state prospect Jordan Burch made national headlines by committing to South Carolina instead of Clemson, he hasn't signed. Still, there hasn't been any buzz about other visits for the athletic defensive lineman.

    You'd better believe other schools will try to land him, though.

    Georgia 5-star offensive line commit Broderick Jones has been a little more public about looking around. He is expected to visit Auburn, Arkansas and perhaps Tennessee, so it's not a slam dunk the Bulldogs wind up with him.

    Sam Pittman moved to Fayetteville as the new head coach, and he originally helped the Bulldogs land him. Auburn could be a threat too. He's one to watch leading up to the February 5 signing date.


    Movers and shakers

    Nobody is knocking Clemson from the top of the recruiting rankings, and Alabama and Georgia appear firm. But some teams will take impressive leaps.

    If the Aggies land Evans, they could move up a couple of spots, and several Lone Star State prospects could outfit Jimbo Fisher's Texas A&M group or perhaps even Tom Herman's roster at Texas. Florida has its eye on a couple of elite prospects, safety Avantae Williams among them.

    Kiffin wants to close a disappointing Ole Miss class with a bang, too, and guys such as former LSU commit Demon Clowney could go a long way in doing that. There are several rankings-swinging prospects out there.

Transfer Portal Mania in Full Effect

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    The biggest item Monday night was the national championship tilt between LSU and Clemson. But there was other huge news during the game.

    Houston quarterback D'Eriq King announced he was entering the transfer portal, kicking off what should be this offseason's biggest free-agent free-for-all. This will be like the Jalen Hurts decision of a year ago.

    Oklahoma won that one, and the Sooners may be in the market for King's services too. Other possible destinations include LSU, which must replace Burrow, Arkansas (where former Cougars offensive coordinator Kendal Briles serves in the same capacity) and Oregon.

    Any one of those teams would love King. He can compete for a national title with the Sooners, Tigers or Ducks. But King isn't the only big-name transfer.

    Georgia already lost one starter to transfer and replaced Fromm with the biggest free agent (so far) in the transfer portal.

    Welcome to the new college football, where players move from school to school unlike at any other time in the sport's past.

    Newman announced he'd finish his career in Athens, which is massive news for coach Kirby Smart since the Bulldogs didn't have any proven options to replace Fromm.

    The 6'4", 230-pound dual-threat signal-caller can be special if he can cut down on turnovers, but the competition will ramp up in the SEC. If Newman can continue his upward trajectory, it will improve his NFL stock, and UGA could return to the College Football Playoff.

    The Bulldogs lost 2018 5-star offensive lineman and starter Cade Mays to Tennessee, where his father, Kevin, played; his younger brother, Cooper, signed; and where Cade himself was committed for nearly two years before he signed with the Bulldogs. He will have two seasons to play in Knoxville.

    Temple graduate transfer and pass-rusher Quincy Roche would be another massive pickup for teams. He has the burst to be one of the best edge players in college football next year.

    Other big-ticket transfers such as Michigan receiver Tarik Black, Penn State receiver Justin Shorter and Stanford quarterback K.J. Costello could change the makeup of a contending team too. 

The Next Big Things

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    David Bell, Purdue WR

    With injuries causing Rondale Moore to miss much of the season, freshman David Bell jumped right into Jeff Brohm's high-octane offense and tied for the Big Ten lead with 86 catches for 1,035 yards (third). With Moore back in 2020, the Boilermakers should have a duo of explosive playmakers who will be the envy of everyone.

    Bell is the kind of consistent playmaker Brohm needs to make his offense tick.


    Jayden Daniels, Arizona State QB

    The true freshman showed poise beyond his years in 2019, throwing for nearly 2,943 yards, running for 355 more, accounting for 20 total touchdowns and leading the Sun Devils to a Nov. 23 upset of Oregon to highlight an 8-5 season.

    He'll only get better with a year in the weight room and more time in the system. Daniels has one of the highest ceilings of any youngster in college football.


    Sam Howell, North Carolina QB

    There were a lot of reasons for head coach Mack Brown's turnaround in North Carolina, but Howell had to be the most significant. He threw for 3,641 yards, 38 touchdowns and seven interceptions and got better as the game progressed.

    With yet another strong recruiting class heading to Chapel Hill, Howell will have plenty of help next year. He has All-American potential, and it will be fun to watch the passing of the torch from Trevor Lawrence to the next great ACC signal-caller.


    Spencer Rattler, Oklahoma QB

    It's Lincoln Riley's M.O. to get a transfer quarterback the way he did with Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts. But the Sooners may have a youngster who's good enough for the coach to buck that trend.

    Rattler will be a redshirt freshman and was a 5-star prospect. Though he is a bit undersized at 6'0", 191 pounds, the Arizona product can make all the throws and has a quality young stable of receivers to help him. Unless OU can get King, this may be Rattler's team next year.


    Kedon Slovis, USC QB

    When JT Daniels went down with a knee injury in the season opener, USC's campaign was on the brink. Slovis made sure it didn't tumble into oblivion. Much like Daniels, the first-year Trojans quarterback appeared unflappable, throwing for 3,502 yards and 30 touchdowns.

    He meshed well with offensive coordinator Graham Harrell, and with so many offensive weapons returning to USC, it will be fun to watch Slovis develop.


    Derek Stingley Jr., LSU CB

    The nation's best freshman played in the Bayou Bengals secondary, looking every bit the 5-star talent he was coming out of high school.

    Stingley only got better as the season progressed, grabbing 38 tackles and six interceptions to go with 15 pass deflections. Teams had to throw his way for some of the year with Kristian Fulton in the same backfield, but that quickly stopped as it became apparent Stingley is a shutdown corner.


    Eric Gray, Tennessee RB

    Once Tennessee let Gray take the reins as the primary running back in late November, the freshman torched Vanderbilt for 246 rushing yards and a trio of touchdowns in the regular-season finale. Then, with UT in need of a spark in the Gator Bowl, he had 120 total yards and a touchdown, and recovered a game-changing onside kick.

    The Vols have a lot of young playmakers, led by rising sophomore middle linebacker Henry To'oto'o, but Gray can do big things next year, especially with Trey Smith returning for his senior season and Mays transferring to Knoxville.


    Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon EDGE

    There was a reason Thibodeaux was one of the biggest recruiting prizes in the 2019 class, which became more apparent with each rep he got for the Ducks. 

    The freshman dominated Utah in the Pac-12 Championship Game and finished the season with 24 tackles, nine sacks and a forced fumble. It's just a glimpse of the big things to come.

Coaches on the Hot Seat

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    Mark Dantonio, Michigan State

    In late December, Michigan State President Samuel Stanley Jr. said Dantonio was the "right person" to lead the program, according to The Spun's Chris Rosvoglou, and the coach has built enough goodwill while leading Michigan State to a 114-57 record since 2007 that he could go out on his own terms.

    But back-to-back 7-6 seasons aren't cutting it, and the Spartans must replace starting quarterback Brian Lewerke. If Dantonio can't turn it around, he likely won't be in East Lansing in 2021.


    Clay Helton, USC

    The uncertainty surrounding Helton's future is impacting more than the on-field results. The Trojans are ranked 56th in the 247Sports recruiting rankings, which is uncharacteristic.

    Helton needs a huge year in 2020 to salvage his job, and he has plenty of offensive weapons to help him achieve that. The schedule is difficult, however, and it doesn't get tougher than a season opener in Arlington, Texas, against Alabama.

    The Trojans need to turn things around in a hurry, or they'll be looking for another coach.


    Tom Herman, Texas

    Another place where losing isn't tolerated is in Texas, where everything (including the contracts) is bigger. It's not like Texas A&M's Jimbo Fisher is tearing it up in College Station, but just when it looked like Herman may be turning it around with a 10-4 record a season ago, the Longhorns took a step back.

    This season's 8-5 record caused Herman to relieve both coordinators of their duties, and he may be next if his program doesn't take a major leap. The Horns dealt with a ton of injuries in 2019, and they'll get much of the talent back, including star quarterback Sam Ehlinger.

    If things go south in 2020, Herman may not make it.


    Chip Kelly, UCLA

    Kelly's second stint in the Pac-12 hasn't gone the way anybody planned. The UCLA Bruins just finished a 4-8 season after going 3-9 in Kelly's first year in Brentwood, and the teams he's trotting out there are a far cry from his heyday at Oregon.

    There are instances when it looks like things may be clicking for quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson and crew, but how much time will Kelly get to build the program in his image? Another awful season, and the proud UCLA program may cut bait with its high-profile hire.


    Derek Mason, Vanderbilt

    The former Stanford defensive coordinator's era at Vanderbilt has been a far cry from James Franklin's, and after the season-ending loss to Tennessee, Mason doesn't even have success against the Commodores' hated rival to pin on his resume anymore.

    Vanderbilt was barely competitive for much of 2019 and was awful on both sides of the ball after seeing quarterback Kyle Shurmur head to the NFL. Mason needs to get back to a bowl to salvage his future.


    Will Muschamp, South Carolina

    Nobody had a tougher schedule this year than South Carolina, but there's no excuse for a 4-8 record in a year with such high expectations. Now, the Gamecocks enter a season of uncertainty as Muschamp tries to prove he's more than just a middling SEC coach.

    After Muschamp's 6-7, 9-4, 7-6, 4-8 start to his career in Columbia, his wins on the field have to meet his recruiting successes, or somebody else will get to play with the talent he's stockpiled.


    Kevin Sumlin, Arizona

    Sumlin's career was once surging after his time at Houston and a quality first couple of seasons at Texas A&M, but things spiraled in College Station, leading to his ouster. 

    Sumlin hasn't capitalized on having a talented quarterback in Khalil Tate and a lot of young defensive talent in two years at Arizona. Instead, the defense was one of the worst in the nation a year ago, and Tate's final two seasons with the Wildcats were spent moving between starting and the bench.

    Sumlin has two years of his classes in there, but what can he do with them? The leash is short, especially with all the success Herm Edwards is having in Arizona State.

New Noisemakers

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    Arizona State Sun Devils

    With Daniels at the helm and entering year three of the Edwards era, the Sun Devils could contend for the Pac-12 South.

    It will be difficult to replace running back Eno Benjamin and receiver Brandon Aiyuk, who both left for the NFL draft. But Edwards is doing a great job of convincing quality prospects to go to the desert, and the program is on firm footing.

    Defensively, this team continues to get better, and even though Arizona State still may be a year away, it's on the upswing.


    North Carolina Tar Heels

    Brown is turning things around in a big way on Chapel Hill, and he will bring back the nation's most exciting young quarterback in Howell, two 1,000-yard receivers and a 1,000-yard rusher.

    Factor in all the elite defensive players Brown is luring in this year's class, such as Desmond Evans, Myles Murphy, Kedrick Bingley-Jones, Ja'Qurious Conley and Cameron Roseman-Sinclair, and the Heels' future is looking stout on both sides of the ball.

    UNC is poised for a quick turnaround, and the ACC needs a second strong team.


    Oklahoma State Cowboys

    The Cowboys kept the best running back in the nation when Chuba Hubbard announced he'd return for his redshirt junior season Monday.

    Coach Mike Gundy's team could have one of the nation's most potent offenses. Rising sophomore Spencer Sanders is a dual-threat quarterback poised for big things, and there are capable runners behind Hubbard in Dez Jackson and LD Brown, along with several youngsters.

    With Baylor losing its coach (Rhule) and Oklahoma its quarterback (Hurts), watch out for the Cowboys in the Big 12. 


    Tennessee Volunteers

    Left for dead after a 1-4 start in 2019, the Vols finished 8-5 and reeled off six consecutive victories to close the season. They're losing plenty of receiving playmakers such as Jauan Jennings and Marquez Callaway, as well as some defensive stalwarts in Daniel Bituli and Nigel Warrior.

    But this was a young team that improved significantly on both sides of the ball as the season progressed. The Vols have got blossoming young stars such as running back Eric Gray, linebackers Henry To'oto'o and Quavaris Crouch, and offensive linemen Darnell Wright and Wanya Morris.

    It will be tough in an SEC East where Georgia and Florida are expected to be strong once again, but the Vols could make a leap in year three of Jeremy Pruitt's tenure.

Prime Buy/Sell Candidates

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    Buy: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

    Brian Kelly's team got a major jolt when Ian Book elected to return, and he could be one of college football's top quarterbacks. 

    The defense is young and talented, led by safety Kyle Hamilton, who is a budding star on the back end. Though the offensive backfield will miss Tony Jones Jr., the arrival of Chris Tyree to go in a crowded, talented stable of running backs will be a boost.

    Incoming freshman tight end Michael Mayer has the potential to be special, and there are playmakers all over the field for the Irish. They are a sleeper for the College Football Playoff. 


    Sell: Michigan Wolverines

    The Wolverines won't be on the same level as Ohio State and Penn State, or perhaps even Minnesota and Wisconsin, in 2020. Losing quarterback Shea Patterson will be difficult, though Dylan McCaffrey and Joe Milton should provide a strong duo to battle for the job.

    The running backs will be a team strength, but the defense needs to make strides after 2019, when it was torched in big game after big game. Safety Daxton Hill and linebacker Cameron McGrone are emerging stars, but the unit needs to get much better.

    This feels like a transition year in which Michigan could lose four or five games.


    Buy: Penn State Nittany Lions

    As with Kelly and Notre Dame, Franklin's Penn State is a fringe candidate for the playoffs. 

    The Nittany Lions need a huge year from quarterback Sean Clifford to help an elite stable of runners led by Journey Brown, but the Nittany Lions have many reasons to be excited for 2020. This may be Franklin's best team, and it's huge that tight end Pat Freiermuth is returning.

    The defense is led by linebacker Micah Parsons and defensive back Tariq Castro-Fields, and even though the group is losing some starters, there is a ton of young talent who can maintain a unit that allowed just 16 points per game in '19.

    This program has won at least 11 games in three of the past four years. It's time to take a step forward.


    Sell: Florida State Seminoles

    There's a lot to like about FSU's decision to hire Norvell to take over the program Taggart struggled to maintain. But those looking for a quick fix need to turn from Tallahassee because this is a deeper rebuild.

    Key defensive pieces are missing, and the Seminoles must find a way to replace elite running back Cam Akers. There are still offensive line and quarterback issues, and while Norvell's offensive scheme will mask some of those deficiencies, this program isn't ready to compete for the conference.

    There may be a youth movement in 2020, and it could get worse before things get much better. 


    Buy: USC Trojans

    With Slovis entrenched as one of the nation's most exciting young quarterbacks and a group of playmakers at receiver, led by Amon-Ra St. Brown and others, the Trojans will put up points in 2020.

    Potential stars such as Bru McCoy will only help.

    But the defensive coordinator hire Helton has yet to make is crucial. The Trojans have a lot of talent but simply must be better on that side of the ball. If they make the right hire, they can get back to the Pac-12 Championship Game.