25 Names You Need to Know for 2020 College Football Season
If and when the 2020 college football season kicks off, there will be no shortage of storylines. But as the narratives shift one direction or another, many discussions will still directly or indirectly involve a select group of players and coaches.
Whether it's individual success, team performance, NFL draft perception or a combination of those factors, the college football world can expect to hear these names throughout the year.
Yes, many variables can affect the sport at any moment, such as the MAC deciding not to play in the fall. Additionally, top talents Micah Parsons, Rashod Bateman, Rondale Moore, Gregory Rousseau and Caleb Farley have opted out. Several of them would've been featured on this list, but they're instead focusing on their health and respective NFL futures.
In such a volatile year, consider this a "subject to be changed" list created with the best possible intentions.
25-21. Purdy, Harbaugh, King, Howell, Mond
25. Brock Purdy, QB, Iowa State
Not only is Iowa State a second-tier contender in the Big 12, but the Cyclones also have a noteworthy NFL prospect in Brock Purdy. Last season, he threw for 3,982 yards and 27 touchdowns to nine interceptions. Purdy isn't a high-volume runner but has good mobility with 13 career rushing scores, as well.
24. Jim Harbaugh, Head Coach, Michigan
One major criticism of Jim Harbaugh's tenure is the team's struggles in the toughest games—especially against Ohio State. The reworked slate includes Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan State, so the Wolverines have several big games. Harbaugh isn't and should not be on the proverbial hot seat, but Ann Arbor is growing tired of marquee losses.
23. D'Eriq King, QB, Miami
Two years ago, D'Eriq King threw for 2,982 yards, rushed for 674 yards and totaled 50 touchdowns at Houston. He took a redshirt in 2019 after four appearances and transferred to Miami, which has finally committed to a spread offense with new coordinator Rhett Lashlee. On paper, this is a terrific match. How about in reality?
22. Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina
UNC is a popular breakout team because of an experienced offense led by Sam Howell. As a freshman, he racked up 3,641 passing yards and 38 touchdowns with only seven interceptions. Howell's key targets are Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome, who both tallied at least 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns last year.
21. Kellen Mond, QB, Texas A&M
During the past two years combined, Kellen Mond has collected nearly 7,000 yards of total offense with 59 total touchdowns. However, the Aggies are 2-7 against teams that ended the season in the Top 25. Will he finally produce at a high level in marquee games as a senior?
20-16. Smith, Wallace, Chase, Etienne, Hubbard
20. DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
With a deserving nod to Jaylen Waddle, DeVonta Smith is Alabama's top receiver in 2020. While he's best remembered for catching the game-winning touchdown in the national title against Georgia a few years ago, Smith had a breakout year in 2019. He caught 68 passes for 1,256 yards and 14 scores, earning second-team All-SEC.
19. Tylan Wallace, WR, Oklahoma State
As a sophomore, Tylan Wallace torched defenses for 1,491 yards and 12 touchdowns on 86 catches. Even in an injury-shortened 2019, he reeled in 53 passes for 903 yards and eight scores. Wallace is a potential first-round NFL draft pick.
18. Ja'Marr Chase, WR, LSU
Ja'Marr Chase should hear his name called early in the draft, too. Presumably, that will happen in 2021 after the junior shreds secondaries for a final year. Last season, Chase had 84 receptions and led the FBS with 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns. He won the Biletnikoff Award, which is given to the nation's top receiver.
17. Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson
The lightning bolt of a running back surprised many when he decided to return for his senior season. Travis Etienne is a two-time ACC Player of the Year, running for 1,600 yards in consecutive years. Plus, in 2019, he caught 37 passes for 432 yards. Expect a heavy dose of Etienne in a retooling Clemson offense.
16. Chuba Hubbard, RB, Oklahoma State
Chuba Hubbard posted 1,479 all-purpose yards and nine touchdowns as a freshman. He followed up that superb campaign with 2,094 yards and 21 scores as a rusher alone, hitting the 100-yard mark in 12 of Oklahoma State's 13 games last season. Hubbard is a worthy All-American candidate and a respected NFL prospect.
15-11. Helton, Nix, Shough, Trask, Book
15. Clay Helton, Head Coach, USC
There isn't a more scrutinized FBS coach than Clay Helton. Over the last two seasons, the Trojans have mustered 5-7 and 8-5 records. That's simply not good enough at a program with championship expectations every year. USC's progress—or lack thereof—and Helton's job security might be a weekly story.
14. Bo Nix, QB, Auburn
As a freshman, Bo Nix led Auburn to a 9-4 record while accounting for 23 total touchdowns to six interceptions. But against Alabama, Florida, Georgia and LSU, he averaged 5.1 yards per attempt and completed only 50.0 percent of his throws. Auburn has the talent to compete for an SEC crown, but Nix must be significantly more effective against the best teams on the schedule.
13. Tyler Shough, QB, Oregon
Oregon must replace Justin Herbert but has a clear front-runner in Tyler Shough. Last season, he made a few garbage-time appearances and completed 12 of 15 passes for 144 yards and three scores. While the Ducks should have a terrific defense, their chances of winning another Pac-12 title hinge on Shough.
12. Kyle Trask, QB, Florida
Florida is hoping to knock Georgia from its perch atop the SEC East. And if Kyle Trask can regain his late-season form, that might just become a reality. Trask finished 2019 with 2,941 yards and 25 touchdowns to seven interceptions.
11. Ian Book, QB, Notre Dame
Notre Dame enjoyed an 11-2 record last season but fell off the national radar because of a 45-14 smackdown at Michigan. Still, Ian Book racked up 3,580 yards of offense and 38 total touchdowns to only six interceptions and now leads the Irish into a unique year. They're temporarily a member of the ACC for football and are expected to compete with Clemson for the conference crown.
10-6. Ehlinger, Rattler, Brennan, Newman/Daniels, Stingley
10. Sam Ehlinger, QB, Texas
Texas has undergone some major changes since the 2019 regular season ended. Head coach Tom Herman hired new coordinators on both sides of the ball, including Mike Yurcich for the offense. Amid the transitions, the Longhorns will look to longtime starter Sam Ehlinger for stability. He had 4,326 yards of total offense and 39 touchdowns last year.
9. Spencer Rattler, QB, Oklahoma
Ehlinger and the Longhorns are chasing the rival Sooners, who are breaking in a new quarterback this season. Spencer Rattler needs to beat out Tanner Mordecai, but he's the anticipated starter for the five-time defending Big 12 champions. That alone is reason enough to watch him carefully, yet he also earned a 5-star billing as a recruit and is headed for his first significant playing time.
8. Myles Brennan, QB, LSU
All right, Myles, you need to follow a record-setting Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback who carried the program to a national title. Joe Burrow threw 60 touchdowns last year; Myles Brennan has 70 career pass attempts. There's huge responsibility for Brennan in 2020, but there's plenty of talent around him in Baton Rouge with Ja'Marr Chase and Terrace Marshall Jr., among others.
7. Jamie Newman/JT Daniels, QB, Georgia
This is a bit of cheating, but this position is undecided at UGA. No spring practice meant Wake Forest transfer Jamie Newman couldn't emerge as the clear starter and distance himself from any talk of competition in fall camp. Now, USC transfer JT Daniels has immediate eligibility, too. Either way, Georgia is considered a top-five team. That preseason billing naturally leads to expectations of competing for a national championship, which falls on the quarterback.
6. Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU
Wherever you rate him on the nation's "best player" list, Derek Stingley Jr. is at least the first name in consideration for "best defender." As a freshman, he snatched six interceptions and broke up 15 passes. He added 38 total tackles in his first-team AP All-American season.
5. Penei Sewell, LT, Oregon
No player in college football dominates his position like Oregon left tackle Penei Sewell.
"Sewell allowed all of seven pressures on 491 pass-blocking snaps last season, and he never allowed more than two in any single game," according to Pro Football Focus' Michael Renner.
In 2019, he earned unanimous All-American honors while winning the Outland Trophy. The 6'6", 330-pounder is considered the No. 2 prospect for the 2021 NFL draft, per B/R's Matt Miller.
4. Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
Perhaps you're aware of the Bryce Young hype train. It's an understandable movement given his 5-star talent and enormous dual-threat production in high school.
Mac Jones, though, deserves more respect.
Last year, he completed 68.8 percent of his 141 passes for 1,503 yards and 14 touchdowns to three interceptions. While in a relatively small sample, Jones averaged 10.7 yards per attempt. That would be a top-five mark nationally in any season.
Young is probably the future of the Alabama program. And yes, it's possible he's the "now," too. But at least entering the fall, this is Jones' job to lose.
3. Kedon Slovis, QB, USC
As hot-seat discussions follow Helton everywhere he breathes, Kedon Slovis has the indirect responsibility of making sure those conversations are positive for USC's coach.
Considered a 3-star prospect in the 2019 class, Slovis became a national name in his breakout freshman year. He thrived in Graham Harrell's offense, posting a 71.9 completion percentage with 3,502 yards, 30 touchdowns and only nine interceptions.
Slovis has a terrific group of receivers surrounding him, including Amon-Ra St. Brown, Tyler Vaughns and Drake London.
USC's offense should be extremely fun to watch.
2. Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
After a frustrating year at Georgia, Justin Fields wasted no time showing his 5-star talent in the starting role he desperately wanted.
Fields hit 67.2 percent of his passes, ending the season with 3,273 yards, 41 touchdowns and just three interceptions. He also scampered for 484 yards and 10 scores while leading Ohio State to a Big Ten title and appearance in the College Football Playoff.
Along with winning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, Fields was a finalist for both the Davey O'Brien Award—given to the nation's top quarterback—and Heisman Trophy.
Largely thanks to Fields, the Buckeyes are again the favorite in the Big Ten and a premier CFP contender. He's eligible for the 2021 NFL draft and will likely be an early first-round pick.
1. Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
In 2018, Trevor Lawrence helped Clemson win a national title. Last year, he guided the Tigers back to the championship stage. And if a season is played, anything less than a College Football Playoff appearance for Lawrence and Clemson would be stunning.
Through two years, he boasts a 65.5 completion clip with 6,495 yards, 66 scores and only 12 interceptions. Plus, Lawrence showcased his mobility in 2019 with 563 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground.
According to Miller, the 6'6", 220-pound Lawrence is the best draft-eligible prospect for the 2021 cycle. He passes the eye test in physical size, arm talent and athleticism.
And after one more season of elite production, Lawrence should hear his name called No. 1 overall in the 2021 NFL draft.