New Year's Resolutions for Every Top 25 College Football Team
With the exception of Alabama and Ohio State, each college football program has already shifted its focus to the 2021 season in hopes of figuring out how it can be one of the last teams standing next year.
For Cincinnati, Coastal Carolina and the other Group of Five teams who finished the season ranked in the College Football Playoff Top 25, national championship dreams are unrealistic. The selection committee has repeatedly shown it has no interest in letting those teams into the playoff. But they also have New Year's resolutions for their aspirations of undefeated seasons.
Mandatory disclaimer: This is the weirdest early offseason in college football history with literally everyone eligible to return in 2021. Up until the deadline to declare for the NFL draft—which isn't even set in stone yet, but is expected to be Jan. 18, provided the national championship doesn't get delayed—any projections for next season are just wild conjecture.
But let's have some fun anyway in an attempt to pinpoint the biggest point of emphasis for every Top 25 team moving forward.
CFP Nos. 25-21
No. 25 Oregon Ducks: Get Travis Dye More Touches
This also should have been Oregon's resolution in the Fiesta Bowl. Including his performance in that loss, Dye averaged 6.9 yards per carry this season. Factor in his nine receptions and that number spikes to 9.3 yards per touch. But he only averaged 10.4 touches per game for...reasons?
Dye also averaged 6.2 yards per carry while getting just 7.6 carries per game last year, so Oregon has made a habit of underutilizing one of its top assets. Might want to reconsider that approach over the next few months.
No. 24 Tulsa Golden Hurricane: Retain Joseph Gillespie as Defensive Coordinator
As recently as 2017, Tulsa had one of the worst defenses in the entire country. But now in Gillespie's second season as the DC, the Golden Hurricane had easily the second-best defense in the AAC and one of the stingier units at a national level.
All-American linebacker Zaven Collins had a whole lot to do with that, and replacing his impact will be a significant challenge. But it will be even tougher if they also lose their DC to a Power Five program.
No. 23 NC State Wolfpack: Figure Out the Quarterback Situation
A big reason NC State went 4-8 in 2019 was that it bounced from Matt McKay to Bailey Hockman to Devin Leary at quarterback and never got going on offense. This year, the Wolfpack went 8-4 in spite of similar turmoil at the position. Hockman started the year, then Leary came in until he suffered a broken leg. And in the first game sans Leary, true freshman Ben Finley got into the mix for a few series.
Would be nice if they could get some consistency there.
No. 22 San Jose State Spartans: Find a Way to Maintain This Momentum
San Jose State went 11-2 back in 2012, and it took this long for the Spartans to finally put together another winning season.
Can they avoid a similar collapse this time? Eight key members of the offense are seniors or graduate students, including quarterback Nick Starkel and four of the five team leaders in total yards from scrimmage. But everyone is eligible to return this year, so now we wait to see how many of them do.
No. 21 Oklahoma State Cowboys: Somehow Replace Tylan Wallace
When Oklahoma State lost Justin Blackmon after the 2011 season, it went from a 12-1 title contender to an 8-5 mediocre Big 12 team. Similar story when it lost James Washington in 2017.
The difference this time around is the Cowboys at least get to keep their starting quarterback. With Spencer Sanders still in tow, maybe they can find a way to move on without Tylan Wallace, who was responsible for at least 30 percent of the team's receiving yards in each of the past three seasons.
CFP Nos. 20-16
No. 20 Texas Longhorns: Let Bijan Robinson Cook
Between the final three games of the regular season and the Alamo Bowl, the Texas true freshman running back had 47 carries for 522 yards and eight receptions for 129 yards. That's 162.8 yards per game and 11.8 yards per touch.
He got banged up in the first game of the season and didn't get fully implemented into the offense until late October. Once he got the chance to shine, though, he lived up to the billing as the No. 1 RB in the 2020 class. The Longhorns didn't have anything close to a go-to running back under Tom Herman. Given what new head coach Steve Sarkisian was able to do with Najee Harris for the past two years, though, it's feasible that Robinson puts up numbers similar to what D'Onta Foreman (2,028 rushing yards, 15 touchdowns) did with Texas in 2016.
No. 19 Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns: Wine and Dine Billy Napier to Keep Him Around
Louisiana has had two 10-win seasons in program history: 11-3 last year; 10-1 this year. Billy Napier isn't going to stay in Lafayette forever, but getting even one more season out of him could be the difference between a two-year flash in the pan and the beginning of a Boise State type of Group of Five dynasty.
Convincing Levi Lewis to come back for a fifth season would be nice, too. He didn't have a particularly efficient senior year, but the Ragin' Cajuns quarterback was an indispensable leader of a 10-1 squad.
No. 18 Miami Hurricanes: Get D'Eriq King Back to Full Strength
King tore his ACL in the first half of Miami's Cheez-It Bowl loss to Oklahoma State, but the hope is that the fifth-year senior quarterback—who already declared before the game that he'll be returning next year—will make a full recovery in time for fall camp.
If he does, he'll be one of the top candidates for the Heisman and Miami should be the top challenger to Clemson in the ACC. If not, well, at least N'Kosi Perry looked better in the second half against the Cowboys than he did at just about any other point in his Miami career.
No. 17 USC Trojans: Find a Featured Running Back for a Change
Early in Clay Helton's tenure as USC's head coach, Ronald Jones II was the star of a potent rushing attack. From 2015-17, he single-handedly rushed for 3,619 yards and 39 touchdowns. In the three seasons since, the entire Trojans offense has managed just 3,723 rushing yards and 43 touchdowns—and they had one of the most anemic run games in the nation this year at 97.3 yards per game.
Five-star RB Stephen Carr never lived up to the hype, and USC never figured out a backup plan. Fortunately, Kedon Slovis is a great quarterback and the Trojans nearly went undefeated because of him. But some semblance of a rushing threat would go a long way for this offense.
No. 16 BYU Cougars: Pummel the Pac-12
Before the Pac-12 postponed its season, BYU was scheduled to play road games against Utah, Arizona State and Stanford. And after the Pac-12's mid-November decision to allow some games to be scheduled outside the conference, there were rumors/wishes of BYU—which had a lot of open Saturdays late in the year—facing Utah or Washington. In the end, the Cougars played no Pac-12 teams and got no love from the selection committee.
They're currently scheduled to face five Pac-12 teams next year: Arizona, Utah, Arizona State, Washington State and USC. Flirt with perfection against that schedule and BYU could put itself in the mix for a playoff spot while also pretty much eliminating the Pac-12 from that conversation.
CFP Nos. 15-11
No. 15 Iowa Hawkeyes: Continue Dominating the Turnover Battle
During its season-ending six-game winning streak, Iowa forced 13 turnovers while committing only four. In turn, the Hawkeyes won those games by 21.8 points, despite never producing a substantial edge in total yards. If they hadn't committed five turnovers in the first two games—which they lost by a combined five points—they probably would've gone 8-0.
They don't have game-changers on offense, but they have a stingy defense and should win a ton of games if they can maintain that much of an edge in the turnover department.
No. 14 Northwestern Wildcats: Keep Throwing the Ball
Two years ago, Northwestern's passing game was an abject disaster. The Wildcats didn't have a single game with 200 yards and ended the year with six passing touchdowns against 15 interceptions. This year was much better, and it ended quite well with 291 yards and three touchdowns in the Citrus Bowl win over Auburn.
If Peyton Ramsey comes back for a fifth year, let him sling it. If he doesn't, the transfer portal is already full of guys like Jack Coan, Ryan Hilinski, Jarrett Guarantano, Jake Bentley or Hendon Hooker who could make a real difference in Evanston.
No. 13 North Carolina Tar Heels: Also Keep Throwing the Ball
The supporting cast is going to look a lot different with Javonte Williams, Michael Carter, Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome each either already in the draft pool or likely to declare soon. But Sam Howell will be back at quarterback with a career TD-INT ratio of 68-14 in two seasons.
It's super duper early to be thinking 2022 NFL draft, but he might be the No. 1 overall pick in that class. Ride that cannon arm before it rides off into the sunset.
No. 12 Coastal Carolina Chanticleers: Do It Again
Maybe some of the fifth-year seniors will move on to the post-playing-career portions of their lives, but most of this core should be back in 2021. And it's not like Coastal Carolina's nonconference schedule (vs. The Citadel, vs. Kansas, at Buffalo, vs. Massachusetts) is anything close to a murderers' row.
If QB Grayson McCall can avoid a sophomore slump, why couldn't the Chanticleers run the table for a second straight year?
No. 11 Indiana Hoosiers: Improve the Run Game
Indiana was one of the biggest surprises of the 2020 season, but the Hoosiers were a success story in spite of a nonexistent rushing attack. Prior to a slightly better than usual performance in the Outback Bowl against a slightly terrible Ole Miss defense, they were averaging just 103.7 rushing yards per game and 3.1 yards per carry. Even including the game against the Rebels, Indiana's longest rushing play of the entire season only went for 26 yards.
The Hoosiers could be right back in the national conversation again next year if they give quarterback Michael Penix Jr. some help in the backfield.
CFP Nos. 10-6
No. 10 Iowa State Cyclones: Start the "Breece Hall 4 Heisman" Campaign Immediately
Hall had a sensational sophomore season, rushing for 1,572 yards and 21 touchdowns in 12 games. Alabama's Najee Harris rushed for 1,387 yards and 24 touchdowns in 12 games this year and ended up with about 50 times as much national publicity as Hall.
Obviously that's an Alabama vs. Iowa State sort of issue, but that's why the Cyclones should resolve to hype up Hall as much as they possibly can for the next eight months. And then let him carry the ball 50 times in the season opener against Northern Iowa to really pad those already remarkable stats.
No. 9 Georgia Bulldogs: Avoid the Defensive Disasters
On the whole, Georgia was a very good team this year, particularly over its final four games with JT Daniels at quarterback. And for the most part, the defense was rock solid, limiting the opposition to 14.4 points and 259.4 total yards in its eight victories.
But between last year's loss to LSU in the SEC championship and the two losses to Alabama and Florida this year, there has been a bit of a disturbing trend of Georgia's defense completely imploding against top-tier offenses. The Bulldogs need to figure out how to keep things from snowballing in those games, because even with Daniels throwing the ball, they are not really built for shootouts.
No. 8 Cincinnati Bearcats: Turn Jerome Ford Loose
After two seasons of scarcely seeing the field at Alabama, Jerome Ford transferred to Cincinnati and averaged 6.6 yards per carry for a team that almost went a perfect 10-0. He wasn't utilized a ton, though. He played in all 10 games but only averaged 7.3 carries.
That should change next year, as leading rusher Gerrid Doaks has already declared for the 2021 draft. As the presumed featured back, Ford could put up numbers similar to Michael Warren II, who had a combined 2,594 yards and 33 touchdowns for the Bearcats in 2018 and 2019.
No. 7 Florida Gators: Get a Lot Better on Defense
Aside from a Cotton Bowl played without all four of its leading receivers, Florida's offense was excellent. The Gators scored at least 31 points in each of their non-bowl games and averaged north of 500 yards per game. But the defense was dreadful, allowing at least 35 points in 50 percent of games played.
They still managed to play for the SEC championship, but you have to assume the offense is going to take a big step backward with Kyle Pitts, Kyle Trask, Kadarius Toney and Trevon Grimes likely all on their way out of town. So if the defense doesn't improve substantially, Florida could drop off a cliff much like LSU did from 2019 to 2020.
No. 6 Oklahoma Sooners: Stay Healthy/Eligible
Oklahoma had the talent to compete for a national championship this year. But Jadon Haselwood suffered a knee injury in April and missed most of the year. Kennedy Brooks and Jalen Redmond opted out of the season. Rhamondre Stevenson, Ronnie Perkins and Trejan Bridges were each suspended for at least the first five games.
Because of all those key absences, the Sooners suffered two early losses and had no hope of reaching the playoff. Once at full strength, though, they were arguably the fourth-best team in the nation. Let's see what happens if they're able to start the 2021 season with a full deck.
CFP Nos. 5-1
No. 5 Texas A&M Aggies: Find a Replacement for Kellen Mond and Build on This Rare Great Season
Most of Texas A&M's top offensive contributors—Isaiah Spiller, Ainias Smith, Jalen Wydermyer, Chase Lane and Caleb Chapman—were first- or second-year players who aren't even eligible to declare for the draft. Provided they don't transfer, they'll definitely be back next year, and that's one heck of a nucleus to build around.
Most everyone expects that senior quarterback Kellen Mond will declare for the draft, though, which leaves the Aggies with no meaningful experience at quarterback. Maybe redshirt freshman Zach Calzada, true freshman Haynes King or incoming recruit Eli Stowers will thrive this offseason and lead Texas A&M to the College Football Playoff, but the transfer portal could be A&M's best friend here. Should be one of the most intriguing position situations to monitor for the next couple of months.
No. 4 Notre Dame Fighting Irish: Get More Explosive on Offense
Between the not-all-that-competitive losses to Clemson and Alabama to close out the season, Notre Dame didn't have a single play go for more than 30 yards. The Tigers and Crimson Tide combined for seven such gains, all by different players. And in the Fighting Irish's entire 12-game season, they ended up with fewer gains of 30 or more yards (23) than Ohio State managed in just seven games (29).
There's nothing magical about 30-yard plays, but that lack of explosiveness is a testament to how much of a gap there is between "good enough to reach the playoff" and "good enough to win it." Notre Dame had a good enough defense to limit both Clemson and Alabama to 34 or fewer points, but you need big plays and at least five touchdowns to beat the best teams these days.
No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes: Improve in the Secondary
Since the start of the 2017 season, Ohio State has suffered four losses. In those games, the Buckeyes allowed an average of 316.8 passing yards and 3.3 passing touchdowns without a single interception. They also gave up 491 passing yards and five touchdowns in the close call against Indiana this season and just allowed 400 yards to Trevor Lawrence and Clemson. Incredibly, the Buckeyes allowed more passing yards (1,965) than they gained this season (1,906).
In spite of that Achilles' heel, they're so dominant elsewhere that they still might win a national championship. But improving the pass defense could elevate Ohio State from "a contender" to "the favorite" in 2021.
No. 2 Clemson Tigers: Adequately Replace a Ton of Stars
We'll find out in about two weeks how many of Clemson's players will declare for the draft, but it seems like a reasonable assumption that Trevor Lawrence, Travis Etienne, Amari Rodgers, Cornell Powell, Jackson Carman, James Skalski, Derion Kendrick and Nolan Turner will all leave.
There's still a ton of raw talent on this roster, and we did get a chance to see that D.J. Uiagalelei is ready to step in as starting quarterback. All the same, that's a lot of production to replace in a single offseason, particularly considering other teams in the ACC will be bringing back just about their entire rosters. If ever there was a time for the rest of the league to close the gap on Clemson, it's now. And the Tigers need to be ready for that push.
No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide: Reload, Per Usual
Like Clemson, it's a foregone conclusion that Alabama is going to lose a bunch of key contributors. The defense will probably need to replace Patrick Surtain II and Dylan Moses, but most of the starters should be back on that side of the ball. On offense, wide receiver John Metchie III and right tackle Evan Neal might be the only returning starters—provided we're still counting the injured Jaylen Waddle and Landon Dickerson as primary starters.
Not exactly a new problem for Nick Saban, and he has some serious phenoms waiting in the wings in Bryce Young, Jase McClellan, Trey Sanders and others. But replacing two All-American talents at wide receiver for a second consecutive year—while also replacing the offensive coordinator—won't be a simple task.