College Football Teams with Best Shot to Go Undefeated in 2020

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistApril 2, 2020

College Football Teams with Best Shot to Go Undefeated in 2020

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Going undefeated in college football is hard.

    Now, for my next pointer, I'll tell you water is wet.

    Not only do you have to field an elite team and make very few mistakes, but you also have to throw in a lot of luck most of the time.

    Last year, only one Division I Football Bowl Subdivision team accomplished that: the national champion LSU Tigers. Clemson did have a spotless record until it ran into the Bayou Buzzsaw and the Tiger King Joe Burrow. 

    There weren't any mythical national champions like Central Florida and no additional banners hung other than the one that mattered. Coach Ed Orgeron's Tigers were one of the most dominant teams in recent memory.

    So, who has a chance to follow suit in 2020?

    There aren't that many, and even out of the few who do, a handful of them are long shots. Really, though, aren't they all? Out of those few, a handful are in smaller conferences and, therefore, have a remote chance to play in the College Football Playoff.

    Using difficulty of schedule, recent resumes and, most importantly, the talent level of the team returning in 2020, let's take a look at the college football teams that have the best shot at going undefeated.

Alabama Crimson Tide

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    Before you scoff at the notion that Alabama could go unbeaten in 2020 after a disappointing season last year, you should remember two things.

    First of all, the Tide went toe-to-toe with a generational LSU team, and that was with a ton of defensive issues and an unbalanced offense. You should also consider Nick Saban is still the head coach in Tuscaloosa.

    If you're betting against him, you'll often lose.

    The Tide have several question marks; most notably, who is going to replace Tua Tagovailoa at quarterback? But between incumbent Mac Jones, who played the last quarter of the season there in '19, elite incoming freshman Bryce Young and others, an answer is on campus.

    Alabama recruits better traditionally than anybody nationally, and Saban brought in another loaded class with a ton of defensive talent to outfit a unit that needs it, led by Will Anderson and Drew Sanders.

    The Tide also return linebackers Dylan Moses and Joshua McMillon after injuries robbed them of last year. The same goes for defensive lineman LaBryan Ray.

    Throw in guys coming back, like running back Najee Harris, receiver DeVonta Smith and offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood, and there are more than enough pieces in place for a major rebound. Oh yeah, and that "disappointing" season had a whopping two losses last year.

    Alabama must navigate a rugged SEC schedule that adds Georgia this year, and it opens the season against USC. But the Tide reload as well as any.

Boise State Broncos

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    A gut-punch loss to BYU a season ago was the only thing that stood between Boise State and a spotless regular season until the Broncos got a reality check in a lopsided bowl loss to Washington.

    Still, coach Bryan Harsin's team ran roughshod through the Mountain West Conference, and that was while using three quarterbacks thanks to a porous offensive line. In the process, they realized they could count on signal-callers Hank Bachmeier and Chase Cord.

    They also found an able-bodied running back in rising sophomore George Holani.

    The Broncos must find more defensive weapons, and replacing NFL draft pick Curtis Weaver won't be easy. The conference's Defensive Player of the Year was a terror off the edge who everybody had difficulty preparing for.

    Still, there are a lot of things to like about what Boise State has coming back.

    Georgia Southern, Florida State, Marshall and BYU make up a navigable out-of-conference schedule, especially when you consider the Broncos beat the Seminoles in Tallahassee last year, and they have to make the return trip.

    Boise owes BYU some payback, and the season opener against the Eagles is tricky, but they should be favored. Other than that, the MWC will have a target on Boise's back, but that's the case every year. The Broncos will be ready.

Clemson Tigers

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    Clemson and Alabama are the toast of college football these days, and you can pencil the Tigers into the College Football Playoff pretty much every year.

    You can even use ink until the ACC gets a little better from top to bottom.

    Though the Tigers up the ante a little out of conference by playing Notre Dame, this isn't coach Dabo Swinney's team's first venture to a hostile environment. Notre Dame Stadium will be rocking for that game, and the Irish have plenty of bullets to fire. Still, it's difficult to see Clemson losing that game or any other one.

    Rival South Carolina is down, though coach Will Muschamp's team should have a better season than it did a year ago. But are the Gamecocks or anybody on that schedule really going to be as good as Clemson?

    The Tigers added one of the nation's top recruiting classes yet again to a roster that returns studs like two-time Conference Player of the Year running back Travis Etienne, Heisman Trophy candidate Trevor Lawrence, receivers Justyn Ross and Amari Rodgers, and talent at every position.

    Defensive coordinator Brent Venables' unit is going to be very good again too.

    The Tigers are a yearly staple in the Final Four, and there's nothing indicating they won't be again. Last year's bid for back-to-back titles fell short in a loss to LSU, but they're going to be back with a vengeance this year in what is sure to be the final season for all those guys mentioned above.

Georgia Bulldogs

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    Talent is not going to be an issue in Athens, where coach Kirby Smart is infusing the nation's top-ranked recruiting class into a roster that lost just two games a season ago and fielded an elite defense.

    Think about players like Kelee Ringo, Broderick Jones, Jalen Carter, Darnell Washington and others joining that team. When you throw in Wake Forest transfer Jamie Newman, who should be the top dual-threat quarterback in the league, UGA is dangerous.

    Perhaps the biggest addition to the Dawgs is offensive coordinator Todd Monken, who replaces James Coley after just one season. Though Coley is an elite recruiter, he was a play-calling liability, and quarterback Jake Fromm's decision to leave Athens a year early may be the best thing to happen to UGA.

    When you consider just how much talent the Bulldogs have on defense and project to have on offense, it's not a stretch to think Georgia is a favorite to at least be in the College Football Playoff.

    Opening the season against Virginia won't be easy, and UGA always has to play Florida and Auburn. Tennessee should be much-improved this season, and the biggest obstacle for the Dawgs will come Sept. 19 when they must travel to Tuscaloosa.

    That's a stacked schedule for sure.

    The main reason UGA is on here is because of its loaded roster, but if the Bulldogs go undefeated, they'll certainly deserve whatever accolades they get. This team has a chance to hoist the hardware for the first time since 1980.

LSU Tigers

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    One of the two biggest long shots on this list may be the defending national champions.

    Until somebody knocks the LSU Tigers off, though, they belong here and at No. 1. If they go unbeaten again, they should go ahead and build a statue of Ed Orgeron outside Tiger Stadium.

    Few teams have lost more firepower than LSU did after their magical run. Everybody knows about Heisman Trophy-winning QB and future top NFL draft pick Joe Burrow. But that's just the mouth of the Delta.

    Safety Grant Delpit, receiver Justin Jefferson, cornerback Kristian Fulton, running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, tight end Thaddeus Moss, linebackers Patrick Queen and Jacob Phillips, and offensive linemen Saahdiq Charles and Lloyd Cushenberry are gone. Others are too.

    Dynamic passing game coordinator Joe Brady (Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator) and defensive coordinator Dave Aranda (Baylor head coach) are also gone.

    This is going to be a reloading project for LSU, to say the least.

    Don't feel sorry for the Tigers. They have a top-five recruiting class coming in and filled those coaching gaps with veterans Bo Pelini as DC and Scott Linehan as passing game coordinator. And they still have bucketloads of talent.

    Biletnikoff Award winner Ja'Marr Chase returns at receiver, as does Terrace Marshall. There's a loaded running back room, and quarterback Myles Brennan has shown flashes. The defense should be young but good again too.

    There's still a lot to like about LSU, even if the team is a long shot to repeat and have a spotless record.

Memphis Tigers

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    The Memphis Tigers had an exciting run in 2019, losing only a disappointing game against Temple before ending the season with a closer-than-it-looked 53-39 loss to Penn State in the Cotton Bowl.

    It was the type of season that cemented the American Athletic Conference champions as the best Group of Five team in the nation, and the bowl showing only solidified that, especially after Boise State struggled against Washington.

    Losing head coach Mike Norvell to Florida State is going to be a massive loss, but the Bluff City's Tigers hang their hats on offensive prowess, and the program promoted offensive line coach Ryan Silverfield to the top job. So, things shouldn't change all that much.

    With elite running back Kenneth Gainwell, rising senior quarterback Brady White and receiver Damonte Coxie returning, Memphis should be the top non-Power 5 team in the nation again this year, assuming there's no real drama from the Norvell flip.

    An early-season showdown against Purdue on Sept. 12 should be a high-flying, exciting matchup and set the tone for the rest of the season. The Tigers are going to have plenty of competition in the AAC as well, with UCF, SMU, Cincinnati, Houston, Navy, Temple and others all providing resistance.

    If Memphis winds up with a spotless record, it will cause quite a stir in the standings, but the question is always if that will be enough to sway the College Football Playoff committee. There is a lot of work to be done between now and then.

Ohio State Buckeyes

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    The Ohio State Buckeyes lost some key pieces from coach Ryan Day's brilliant first-year run in 2019 that ended with a controversial College Football Playoff national semifinal loss to Clemson that could have gone either way.

    Replacing guys like defensive end Chase Young, running back JK Dobbins and cornerback Jeffrey Okudah is not going to be easy. but the Buckeyes are still loaded, led by Heisman Trophy favorite Justin Fields at quarterback. He can do it all, and with an elite offensive line protecting him, it's going to be a scary year for the rest of the Big Ten.

    Fields' receiving corps lost a few pieces, but Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson and others are going to be as strong as any unit in the country, especially when you add Julian Fleming, Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Gee Scott Jr.

    Adding Oklahoma transfer Trey Sermon to a backfield that already features Master Teague should also be a boost to the Buckeyes offense.

    The defense may not have a sure thing like Young, but everybody is going to know Zach Harrison's name by the end of the season. Others, such as defensive linemen Tyreke Smith and Taron Vincent, linebacker Baron Browning and cornerback Shaun Wade, should be among the nation's top playmakers.

    Other than Clemson and maybe Alabama and Georgia, there won't be a team that can hang with the Buckeyes talent-wise, but a lot must go right to go undefeated.

    All that starts Sept. 12 when Day's team endures a difficult cross-country trip to Autzen Stadium to take on a quality Oregon Ducks team in a showdown with national title ramifications.

    An Oct. 24 trip to Happy Valley and, of course, the season-ending game against Michigan will be big tests. But the rest of the schedule is navigable. This could be Ohio State's year.

Oregon Ducks

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Speaking of that Sept. 12 showdown, the other side of that coin could do some damage if they pull off the upset and bounce the Buckeyes. Don't count out coach Mario Cristobal's Ducks just because they're having to replace quarterback Justin Herbert.

    That's going to be a massive undertaking, but Tyler Shough is more than capable, and if Cale Millen or either of the incoming 4-star signees (Jay Butterfield or Robby Ashford) can beat him out, they will have earned it.

    Wednesday night, the Oregonian's Andrew Nemec reported former Boston College dual-threat quarterback and graduate transfer Anthony Brown is heading to Oregon, too, and that makes things even more interesting right away.

    Brown has some serious wheels, and he threw for more than 4,700 yards, 40 touchdowns and 20 interceptions during his time with the Eagles. If you're going to be excited about Jamie Newman at Georgia, pay attention to Brown with the Ducks. He could be a difference-maker if developed and used correctly.

    Besides the quarterback conundrum, there really aren't any question marks for the Ducks.

    They return a potentially elite defense with Kayvon Thibodeaux, Brady Breeze, Mase Funa, Jordon Scott, Thomas Graham Jr., Deommodore Lenoir and Jevon Holland. Adding 5-star linebackers Justin Flowe and Noah Sewell and elite cornerback Dontae Manning should help too.

    The Ducks should be deep and good on defense, and their offense can be carried along by a stout running game led by CJ Verdell.

    With all those weapons and one of the nation's top offensive lines, whoever wins the quarterback job will be set up for success. Washington, California, Stanford and USC highlight a Pac-12 schedule that won't be easy, but Oregon looks like the cream of the conference once again.

    Get past Ohio State at home, and the sky is the limit.

Oklahoma Sooners

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    Jeffrey McWhorter/Associated Press

    Every year, Oklahoma has a stellar team that makes a ton of noise. But the Sooners have fizzled out in the playoff the past three years because they can't piece together a defense capable of stopping anybody, much less elite teams.

    This year, they are more of a longshot than normal to make it back to the Final Four. As a matter of fact, they and LSU are probably the teams on this list that are here based on their past body of work and reputation.

    But the talent level coach Lincoln Riley is dealing with in Norman is still stellar.

    Before you blanch at the notion the Sooners can go undefeated, there have been plenty of teams in the past that got better once a star left. How about three stars? OU must replace quarterback Jalen Hurts after his one year in Norman led to a second-place Heisman finish.

    Before him was Kyler Murray. Before that was Baker Mayfield. Now? It's either going to be Spencer Rattler or Tanner Mordecai, but there is still a slew of talent surrounding them, led by Charleston Rambo at receiver and Kennedy Brooks in the backfield.

    Everybody is excited to see Jadon Haselwood, Theo Wease, Trejan Bridges and other young playmakers get their hands on the ball too. But what about that defense? Year two of the Alex Grinch era should continue to see improvements, but it's going to be interesting to see if it's enough to keep the Sooners playing with the elite.

    An early-season trip by an improved Tennessee team to Norman should be a litmus test; then a brutal October that sees the Sooners host Baylor, play Texas, travel to Iowa State, host Oklahoma State and travel to TCU will be a real show-me month.

    All Oklahoma wants is another shot at proving it belongs in the playoff.

UCF Knights

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    Laugh or not, UCF's undefeated 2017 season is being recognized by the NCAA as a national championship campaign and is officially listed in the record book. So, just because the Knights didn't get a shot at the College Football Playoff doesn't mean they won't cherish that banner.

    Can it happen again?

    Don't rule it out.

    The Knights have a young star at quarterback in Dillon Gabriel, and while you may have forgotten about him, it's still a possibility former Heisman Trophy candidate McKenzie Milton could return from his gruesome injury suffered in 2018 this season. He was the maestro of that magical '17 season.

    A balanced rushing attack that saw five players rush for more than 500 yards a season ago returns a lot of pieces, led by Otis Anderson, and the defense should be better too, bolstered by an experienced secondary. It's not out of the question UCF will be right in the thick of the AAC race.

    As a matter of fact, you should expect it. With Memphis having to replace Mike Norvell as head coach, the questions loom around the Tigers, and the Knights should have plenty of firepower of their own.

    If coach Josh Heupel's team racks up a spotless record, it will deserve a shot at the playoff. A season-opening showdown against an upstart North Carolina team should be a huge test. Then the Knights play a much-improved Georgia Tech team two weeks later.

    When the AAC schedule starts, Memphis, Temple and Cincinnati await. So, this is not going to be an easy run. If they navigate those waters, another banner may be coming to Orlando soon. But will a playoff opportunity?