Preseason College Football Ranking 2020: B/R's Super Early Top 25

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistJanuary 14, 2020

Preseason College Football Ranking 2020: B/R's Super Early Top 25

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    Well, that's a wrap for the 2019 college football season, and the excitement was too much to contain in one calendar year, as always.

    After LSU Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow showed out in the tussle between the Tigers in the national title game, all that's left is for us to look ahead to next year. And, as you know, it's never too early to do that.

    We'll say goodbye to stars like Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa, Jalen Hurts, Chase Young and Jonathan Taylor, but more stars will emerge in their place. Some things may change, but if next year's B/R super early rankings are any indication, some things will remain the same at the top.

    Several of the teams we saw play deep into the postseason have the firepower to return. So, who will be playing for all the hardware this time next year?

    B/R experts Matt Hayes, David Kenyon, Adam Kramer, Kerry Miller and Brad Shepard evaluated the play and hammered out the results. Each panel member submitted a ballot, with a first-place vote worth 25 points, followed by 24 points for second, 23 for third, etc.   

    B/R's Super Early 2020 Top 25

    1. Clemson
    2. Ohio State
    3. Alabama
    4. LSU
    5. Oklahoma
    6. Florida
    7. Penn State
    8. Notre Dame
    9. Georgia
    10. Oregon
    11. Wisconsin
    12. Auburn
    13. Texas A&M
    14. Michigan
    15. Minnesota
    16. USC
    17. Boise State
    18. Oklahoma State
    19. Arizona State
    20. Texas
    21. Baylor
    22. North Carolina
    23. UCF
    T-24. Iowa State
    T-24. Utah
    T-24. Virginia Tech

    Others receiving votes: Cincinnati, Memphis, Iowa, Tennessee, Louisville, Indiana, Virginia, Washington

The College Football Playoff Favorites

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    1. Clemson Tigers

    At this point, you're thumbing your nose at college football's living, breathing dynasty if you aren't a believer that Clemson will be right back here in the title game next year despite the loss. This team has played for the past two titles and four of the past five.

    It's expected coach Dabo Swinney must replace stars such as running back Travis Etienne, receiver Tee Higgins, safety/outside linebacker Isaiah Simmons and others, but there's so much coming back, too.

    With Trevor Lawrence returning, winning it all is the goal. He'll be flanked by receivers Justyn Ross and Amari Rodgers, plenty of capable runners and a defense that was young and elite in 2019. Oh, and Swinney brought in six 5-star prospects in the nation's top-ranked class to fill out the roster.

    This program is built to last.


    2. Ohio State Buckeyes

    Much like Clemson, coach Ryan Day's program is on firm footing, as well. It could have just as easily been the Buckeyes battling LSU after a narrow 29-23 loss to Clemson in the College Football Playoff semifinal. 

    Replacing defensive end Chase Young, elite runner J.K. Dobbins and several stars on the defense's back end won't be easy. But Heisman Trophy finalist Justin Fields returns as perhaps the award's favorite in his junior season. Master Teague III is capable of keeping the running game on firm footing, and the receiving corps is elite.

    Nobody has recruited defense as well as the Buckeyes, and they have difference-makers all over the field. This team should be playing for a title in 2020.


    3. Alabama Crimson Tide

    No Tua? According to the B/R voters, no problem.

    We aren't buying the crumbling of the Nick Saban dynasty just yet; not by a long shot. The Crimson Tide could get another jolt if running back Najee Harris elects to return for his senior season, joining linebacker Dylan Moses, offensive linemen Alex Leatherwood and Landon Dickerson and receiver DeVonta Smith.

    Yes, Tagovailoa, receivers Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III and safety Xavier McKinney are gone, but Alabama has a lot of firepower thanks to elite recruiting on a consistent basis. 

    Between Mac Jones, Taulia Tagovailoa and incoming elite true freshman dual-threat prospect Bryce Young, the Tide will be able to find a capable quarterback to lead the way, and they're expected to be firmly in the mix again. 


    4. LSU Tigers

    Maybe it's a bit of a wild card to put LSU in this final four since it must replace Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow. You can't just replace a player who had perhaps the greatest single season for a quarterback in college history.

    But with passing game coordinator Joe Brady expected to return, he could turn Myles Brennan into a quality quarterback. Freshman Max Johnson is an option, too, as is a potential graduate-transfer signal-caller like Stanford's K.J. Costello or perhaps even Houston's D'Eriq King (who entered the portal during the championship game).

    There's no shortage of talent on Ed Orgeron's roster. The nation's top young defender will be back in Derek Stingley Jr., teaming with 5-star incoming cornerback Elias Ricks. Biletnikoff Award-winning receiver Ja'Marr Chase, dynamic pass-catcher Terrace Marshall Jr. and perhaps tight end Thaddeus Moss are back, too.

    If running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire comes back for his senior season, that is a lot of elite parts with which Orgeron can work. Burrow is a huge missing piece, but the cupboard is far from bare.

The Rest of the Top 10

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    5. Oklahoma Sooners

    The Sooners have found their way into College Football Playoff in all three of Lincoln Riley's seasons as head coach. After this year's 63-28 loss to LSU, the next step needs to be for them to focus on being competitive.

    Losing Jalen Hurts and CeeDee Lamb will hurt, but this offense has plenty of firepower with youngsters waiting in the wings. If Alex Grinch's defense takes several large leaps forward, OU should still be the class of the Big 12, which will be enough to keep it in the conversation.


    6. Florida Gators

    In his two seasons in Gainesville, Dan Mullen has gone from 10-3 to 11-2, and he did that this year after losing starting quarterback Feleipe Franks. All Kyle Trask did was steady the ship, and he will return in his third year in the system.

    Losing leading rusher Lamical Perine and receivers Van Jefferson and Freddie Swain will be tough, but weapons like Kyle Pitts, Trevon Grimes and Jacob Copeland are back.

    The Gators also struck gold in the transfer portal with elite running back Lorenzo Lingard (who transferred from Miami) and Georgia rush end Brenton Cox. The time to beat UGA is now.


    7. Penn State Nittany Lions

    After whipping Memphis in the Cotton Bowl Classic, James Franklin's team began an exciting offseason began. Quarterback Sean Clifford is back, as is perhaps the nation's deepest stable of running backs, led by Journey Brown and Noah Cain.

    When you factor in a defense that has a lot of talent and one of the top players in the country in Micah Parsons, there are reasons for excitement. This should be Ohio State's toughest competition in the Big Ten, and this may be Franklin's best team. Yes, the Lions have that type of potential.


    8. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

    Tony Jones Jr. threw a bit of a curveball into Notre Dame's good vibes by declaring for the NFL draft, but the Irish have plenty of running backs. The room will include Jafar Armstrong, Avery Davis, C'Bo Flemister, Kyren Williams and Chris Tyree.

    Throw in electrifying incoming freshman Chris Tyree, and there are a lot of exciting options for coach Brian Kelly. Most importantly, quarterback Ian Book is back to lead the way.

    A young, exciting defense that improved throughout the year before smothering Brock Purdy and Iowa State in the bowl game should continue to get better, and Notre Dame could find itself right back in the final four. 


    9. Georgia Bulldogs

    There are plenty of questions for coach Kirby Smart's team, especially after quarterback Jake Fromm decided to bypass his senior season. But UGA got huge news when Wake Forest graduate transfer signal-caller Jamie Newman announced via Twitter he'd be a Bulldog.

    Life without running back D'Andre Swift won't be easy, either, but Zamir White, James Cook and Co. have plenty of talent. The Dawgs struggled in the passing game in '19, but a young, talented group is back, led by George Pickens. And the defense is going to be special once again.

    If Newman lives up to his dual-threat capabilities, UGA's offense may be able to do some things it hasn't been able to since Smart took over. Another dimension could make the team difficult to defend.


    10. Oregon Ducks

    Much like Georgia, the only thing Oregon is missing is a quarterback, but, boy, is that ever a huge void to fill, with Justin Herbert off to the NFL. Newman also was considering Oregon, so it's a big blow that he's going to Athens.

    The Ducks still should be active on the transfer market, but if that's fruitless, Tyler Shough and incoming freshman Jay Butterfield will probably battle it out to be the replacement. With all the talent in the offensive backfield, receiving corps and the defense, Mario Cristobal has built a sturdy foundation.

    This team is a quarterback away from being right back at the top of the Pac-12 once again.

Surprise Risers and Fallers

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    North Carolina Tar Heels

    Without a doubt, the biggest surprise on this list is No. 22 North Carolina, a team that scared the daylights out of Clemson in a 21-20 loss on September 28. The Tar Heels fell short on a go-ahead two-point conversion with 1:17 remaining. 

    The Heels went on to finish 7-6 in Mack Brown's first year back, and they return elite quarterback Sam Howell, 1,000-yard receivers Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome and 1,000-yard rusher Michael Carter. Backup runner Javonte Williams returns, too.

    When you consider all the elite, young defensive talent Brown signed this year, UNC could have a rejuvenation on that side of the ball, and the ACC is up for grabs behind Clemson. 


    Texas A&M Aggies

    Apparently, the disappointing 2019 season didn't do anything to dissuade B/R's voters from thinking Jimbo Fisher is going to turn things around next year.

    Despite going 8-5 and struggling to find consistency on offense, the Aggies had a lot of young talent and return senior quarterback Kellen Mond in 2020. Perhaps the third year of the Fisher regime will be a breakthrough.

    The Aggies continue to recruit at a high level, so that could make a difference, too. They're ranked high at No. 13 on this poll.


    USC Trojans

    After all the ups and downs of the 2019 season and with Clay Helton on perhaps the hottest seat of any coach in the nation, the Trojans are in need of a big season.

    Our voters believe they get it. Finishing ranked 16th would be an improvement from the recent frustrations of this proud program, which spoiled a decent rally this year by getting crushed by Iowa in the Holiday Bowl. 

    Between Kedon Slovis and J.T. Daniels, the Trojans should have a strong quarterback, and they also have a whole lot of offensive weapons. There are defensive question marks, and Helton had the most disappointing season of any coach on the recruiting trail, but USC isn't quite dead yet.


    Baylor Bears

    What coach Matt Rhule did the past three years to turn around Baylor's football program was remarkable, and this team was two close losses to Oklahoma away from going to this year's College Football Playoff.

    Despite returning a lot of talent, the Bears lost Rhule to the Carolina Panthers, and with the uncertainty at the top, they've tumbled to No. 21 in the B/R preseason rankings. Will their next hire be able to sustain major success?


    Utah Utes

    Another team that had a disappointing conclusion to an otherwise-strong season was Utah, who got throttled by Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game. Then, after that loss, the Utes were embarrassed 38-10 by Texas in the Alamo Bowl.

    This team must replace the program's all-time leading rusher in Zack Moss, but the quarterback race will be fun between Tyler Huntley and former South Carolina signal-caller Jake Bentley. Coach Kyle Whittingham's team should still have plenty of weapons yet begins the year tied for 24th in B/R's rankings.

What to Watch For: Grand Games Galore

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    It's not too early to look ahead to some of next year's games that will go a long way in shaping the season, and there are a lot of them.

    Alabama plays a rigorous schedule that includes a season opener against USC at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, where the Crimson Tide will face Kedon Slovis and the high-powered Trojans offense. UA will have to replace Tua Tagovailoa, but the Tide have plenty of talent to do so.

    There's also a huge intra-conference showdown at Bryant-Denny Stadium on September 19 between Alabama and Georgia, who have played each other in a conference title game and a national championship game in the past three years.

    The Bulldogs open their season September 7 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta against ACC runner-up Virginia. North Carolina and Auburn will square off September 12 at the same venue in another huge game that should be a lot of fun. 

    Wisconsin and Notre Dame will meet October 3 at Lambeau Field in what will be a huge spectacle, Tennessee travels to Oklahoma on September 12 to give the Sooners an early-season test, and LSU and Texas meet again that same day at Tiger Stadium.

    Perhaps the biggest game on the 12th will be Ohio State making a cross-country trip to Autzen Stadium to take on Mario Cristobal's Oregon Ducks.

    Of course, there's always the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party between Georgia and Florida, Michigan-Ohio State, the Iron Bowl, the Red River Rivalry and many, many more. 

    There are too many games to mention. Circle the best ones on your calendars and start the offseason countdown.


    Recruiting rankings via 247Sports' composite.