Top College Football Playoff Contenders' Biggest Flaws

Tyler Brooke@TylerDBrookeSenior Analyst IIFebruary 10, 2020

Top College Football Playoff Contenders' Biggest Flaws

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    Even the best teams in college football have weaknesses, and those flaws could be what keeps them from playing in the College Football Playoff next season.

    The LSU Tigers might have been the closest team to not having any weaknesses we've seen in quite some time. Led by Joe Burrow and an elite game plan from passing game coordinator Joe Brady, the Tigers offense rolled over elite opponents all season while the defense had a ton of talent across the board. 

    Still, even the Tigers will have some obvious weaknesses they'll need to focus on if they want to repeat next year. If the Alabama Crimson Tide can struggle and miss the playoff, then no one is safe from some season-ruining speed bumps.

    For each of last year's playoff teams, along with a couple of other obvious contenders, let's take a look at the biggest issue that could keep them from coming back next season.

Alabama Crimson Tide: Special Teams

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    Anyone who has watched college football over the past decade knows the Alabama Crimson Tide's biggest weakness has always been special teams. Given the current state of affairs, that's likely to be the case again in 2020.

    From the legendary Kick Six in the 2013 Iron Bowl to a missed field goal this past year that cost the Crimson Tide a chance to beat Auburn in overtime, kicking has been a huge issue in Tuscaloosa since head coach Nick Saban took over.

    Sophomore Will Reichard will likely be the starting kicker again next season, but he only played in five games due to a nagging hip injury as a freshman. He was 4-of-7 on field goals before sitting the rest of the year, and taking some time to recover from his injury could make him even rustier in his second season.

    Punting likely won't be kind to Alabama next year, either. In 2019, the Crimson Tide ranked 118th in net punting, and they used three different punters throughout the season.

    With no notable special teams players committing in this year's recruiting cycle, it looks like it'll be more of the same from the Alabama special teams unit next season.

Ohio State Buckeyes: Running Game

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    Expectations for the Ohio State Buckeyes are sky-high once again in 2020, but the offense will have some big questions to answer this offseason if they're going to take another stab at the College Football Playoff.

    The return of quarterback Justin Fields will help the Buckeyes offense maintain some sense of similarity, but the big question will be how efficient the running game will be without J.K. Dobbins. Now heading to the NFL, Dobbins finished last season with 2,003 yards and 21 touchdowns, making him one of the most explosive backs in the country.

    Losing Dobbins would be difficult enough, but the Buckeyes will also be losing two starting offensive linemen with right tackle Branden Bowen and left guard Jonah Jackson graduating. 

    The running game will be a work in progress for the Buckeyes if they can't find a workhorse back before the season begins. The likely replacement will be soon-to-be redshirt sophomore Master Teague III, who carried the ball 135 times for 789 yards and four touchdowns last season. Unfortunately, his production was less than stellar in the CFP semifinal against Clemson as he carried the ball seven times for just nine yards.

    Ohio State has a lot going for it heading into 2020. But if head coach Ryan Day can't figure out how to create explosive running plays, then it could be difficult for his program to find its way back into the Playoff next season. 

Oklahoma Sooners: Pass Defense

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    As long as Lincoln Riley is the head coach in Norman, the Oklahoma Sooners will continue to have one of the most innovative and explosive offenses in the NFL. However, if the Sooners want to win a national championship any time soon, the real issue will be stopping opposing offenses from airing it out.

    The Sooners defense was absolutely torched in this year's CFP semifinal, giving up 63 points while Joe Burrow threw for 493 yards and seven touchdowns. Earlier in the year, the Sooners gave up another dominant passing performance to Iowa State's Brock Purdy, who nearly pulled off the upset while throwing for 282 yards and five scores.

    The numbers for Oklahoma's pass defense still looked decent for the whole season. It averaged just 222.4 passing yards allowed with 27 touchdowns and seven interceptions. However, a lot of that success was due to a front seven that included talented players like Kenneth Murray and Neville Gallimore.

    Without Gallimore generating pressure and Murray making plays in coverage, the Sooners defense does not have a lot of playmakers in 2020. Losing starting cornerback Parnell Motley, who just graduated, won't help things, either.

    Pass defense is about more than just a good secondary, and with their biggest defensive contributors leaving, the Sooners could find themselves on the wrong end of an upset next year if they can't contain some of the explosive air-it-out offenses on their schedule.

Clemson Tigers: Schedule

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    The Clemson Tigers are a team with few weaknesses, but a 2020 schedule that features an easier road to dominance than other programs could potentially blow up in the team's face if things aren't perfect next season.

    Head coach Dabo Swinney has the benefit of some of his top playmakers returning next year, including his star quarterback Trevor Lawrence and explosive running back Travis Etienne. Top-tier recruiting classes the past few years should also help the Tigers replace all the standouts either graduating or leaving for the NFL.

    Despite having as much talent as anyone, the biggest flaw for the Tigers could simply be that their schedule doesn't include a lot of elite opponents. Notre Dame and South Carolina stand out as Clemson's top matchups in November, but the schedule also includes games against the likes of Akron and The Citadel.

    If the Tigers go undefeated, they'll have no issue getting into the College Football Playoff. However, if they slip up and allow someone to pull off the major upset, that schedule will be a major talking point for the playoff committee when it selects the final four teams. It'll be an even bigger talking point if other contenders in the Big Ten, SEC and other Power Five conference go undefeated.

    At this point, there's nothing Clemson can do to change its schedule. But the Tigers need to make sure they win out convincingly just to leave no room for doubt that they belong in the playoff at the end of the year.

Georgia Bulldogs: Quarterback

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    The Georgia Bulldogs are losing a handful of key leaders on both sides of the ball heading into the 2020 season, but the biggest loss will easily be quarterback Jake Fromm.

    Fromm was the clear leader of the Bulldogs offense, but he is departing a year early to declare for the NFL draft. Despite playing in a more traditional pro-style offense, he was extremely efficient in his three seasons as the starter, throwing 78 touchdowns and only 18 interceptions.

    Now, head coach Kirby Smart will have to decide who will take over under center in 2020. The two likely candidates are Fromm's backup, Stetson Bennett, and transfer quarterback Jamie Newman, who was the starter last year with the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. 

    Bennett has taken limited snaps at quarterback for the Bulldogs, tossing just 27 passes last season. Meanwhile, Newman was an established starter for Wake Forest, throwing for 2,868 yards, 26 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 2019.

    Production aside, it'll be difficult for either candidate to replace Fromm's poise under pressure, and that was a big reason for Georgia's success the past few seasons. There will be times next campaign when the Bulldogs will need to lean on their quarterback in clutch moments, and they may find themselves missing the playoff again in 2020 if the eventual starter can't step up.

LSU Tigers: Replacing NFL Talent

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    Repeating as national champions in college football can be tough, but it'll be even harder for the LSU Tigers given how many players have left the program.

    Aside from the obvious—the departure of Heisman Trophy winner and likely No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow—the Tigers are losing 13 graduating players and nine more who are leaving early to declare for the NFL draft. That includes significant contributors like Justin Jefferson, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, K'Lavon Chaisson, Grant Delpit and Kristian Fulton.

    Still, some solid players are returning for the 2020 season—most notably wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase, who caught 84 passes for 1,780 yards and an NCAA-leading 20 touchdowns. Talented cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. will also be returning after a phenomenal season as a true freshman.

    Unfortunately, the problem for head coach Ed Orgeron is that there are still far too many holes to fill on both sides of the ball. Replacing that much talent with unproven commodities can make it difficult to win games, especially in the hyper-competitive SEC.

    However, the Tigers will still be in the conversation as potential CFP candidates until they start losing games, which may take a while given their early opponents in 2020.