2020 Preseason College Football Rankings: Predicting Post-Championship Poll

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistJanuary 14, 2020

Clemson wide receiver Justyn Ross (8) during the first half of the Fiesta Bowl NCAA college football game against Ohio State, Saturday, Dec. 28, 2019, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri).
Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

The Clemson Tigers are expected to be back in the hunt for the national championship in 12 months. 

Dabo Swinney's side is once again projected to take advantage of an easy ACC schedule with Trevor Lawrence at the helm for his junior season. 

Lawrence, who should be in the mix for the Heisman Trophy next season after finishing seventh last year, has wide receiver Justyn Ross returning as his top target and an influx of the nation's best prospects coming in as replacements for those who depart for the NFL. 

The Ohio State Buckeyes could be Clemson's top threat to reclaiming the College Football Playoff throne, as quarterback Justin Fields will be back for his junior campaign. He finished third in Heisman voting last year.

While Lawrence and Fields are returning, a handful of the top SEC programs have to replace their top signal-callers in order to mount a title challenge in 2020.

                            

2020 Preseason Rankings Prediction

1. Clemson

2. Ohio State

3. Alabama

4. LSU 

5. Georgia

6. Florida

7. Oregon 

8. Penn State

9. Oklahoma

10. Notre Dame

11. Texas A&M 

12. Wisconsin 

13. Auburn 

14. Michigan 

15. Minnesota

16. Oklahoma State

17. Baylor

18. Cincinnati 

19. Boise State

20. Iowa State

21. North Carolina

22. Iowa

23. Memphis

24. Texas

25. Tennessee 

          

The Fiesta Bowl showdown between Clemson and Ohio State may have been the first chapter to their College Football Playoff story in Lawrence/Fields era. With the quarterbacks returning, both offenses have a good chance to produce at a high rate, like they did in 2019.

Lawrence will have a retooled selection of offensive weapons to work with, as Travis Etienne and Tee Higgins are expected to be off to the NFL, but he should still have Ross at his disposal. 

Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

Ross has 1,865 receiving yards in his two seasons at Clemson, and he is expected to put up large totals as Lawrence's main target. 

The Tigers will lose a handful of key players on defense as well, including safeties K'Von Wallace and Tanner Muse and linebacker Isaiah Simmons. 

Clemson's secondary will go through a transformation similar to its defensive line after the 2019 campaign. Lost were four dominant defensive linemen to the NFL, and in their place, five linemen recorded 2.0 or more sacks but none more than 5.5. 

Clemson could be more dominant on the interior with the additions of No. 1 overall recruit Bryan Bresee and No. 3 overall recruit Myles Murphy. 

Since the ACC should not drastically improve in terms of quality, and Clemson does not have the North Carolina Tar Heels on its schedule, it could breeze through conference play again.

The Tigers' top test will come November 7, when they visit the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, who added Clemson and the Wisconsin Badgers for their 2020 slate. 

Ohio State will have a more difficult road to get back to the playoff because it has to play the Penn State Nittany Lions and Michigan Wolverines in Big Ten East play. 

Ryan Day's side also has a tricky road trip to Oregon on September 12 in what could serve as a massive game for the Ducks' playoff hopes. 

The Buckeyes will have to revamp parts of their roster, with Chase Young and Jeff Okudah leaving the defense and J.K. Dobbins no longer in the backfield. 

But Fields does have his leading receiver, Chris Olave, coming back for his junior season, and Master Teague III gained experience at running back this season with 789 rushing yards behind Dobbins. 

Penn State could be Ohio State's biggest threat to getting back to the playoff, but the Buckeyes have won three straight games over the Nittany Lions and seven of the last eight. 

The hierarchy of the SEC may be in flux, with the Florida Gators and Texas A&M Aggies looking to break into the top three created by the LSU Tigers, Alabama Crimson Tide and Georgia Bulldogs. Those three have to replace Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa and Jake Fromm, respectively. 

Georgia answered its quarterback question by bringing in Jamie Newman as a transfer from Wake Forest. He recorded 2,868 passing yards and 574 rushing yards in his junior season with the Demon Deacons, and his dual-threat ability could keep the Bulldogs atop the SEC East. 

Dan Mullen put Florida on the cusp of contending in the SEC by going 11-2 with losses to LSU and Georgia. The Gators play LSU at home and face Georgia in Jacksonville again in 2020.

Texas A&M will be a team to watch since Kellen Mond is coming back for his senior season and Jimbo Fisher is bringing in a top-five recruiting class. 

The Aggies went 8-5 with defeats to Clemson, LSU, Alabama, Georgia and Auburn. They still have to play Auburn, Alabama and LSU, but the first half of their schedule should lead the Aggies to a high spot in the rankings. If they win one or two of those SEC West clashes, they could be in the national conversation come November. 

                              

Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.

Statistics obtained from ESPN.com.

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