Lapoint: Five 2020 Rivalries Left That Are Worth Paying Attention To

Obviously, Corona has vastly changed the landscape of college football and particularly the rivalry scene. This season we will miss rivalries such as Michigan and Ohio State, Georgia and Georgia Tech, Harvard and Yale, USC and Notre Dame, among many others. But don’t worry; there are five great rivalry games you won’t want to miss this CFB season.

  1. The Iron Bowl

If you don’t watch the Iron Bowl every year, I’m sorry to break it to you, but it’s time someone told you that you’re not a real college football fan. Auburn and Alabama have become the staple rivalry in college football every year. Played the Saturday after thanksgiving, the Iron Bowl in the past couple of years has given us the Kick Six, dominant performances from the likes of Cam Newton and Mark Ingram, and the SEC West title seems to always be on the line when these two teams meet. The Iron Bowl is everything a college football fan should want. This season is no different. Bo Nix is back under center for Auburn, and after beating Mac Jones and the Tide in his first Iron Bowl, he is looking to send Jones to 0-2 as a starting QB in the infamous rivalry clash. This year, the teams meet in Tuscaloosa on November 28.

2. The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry

Georgia Tech is no longer Georgia’s big rivalry game – that honor belongs to Auburn, and until things change in Atlanta, this trend will continue. Auburn is the perfect rival for Georgia as both teams have emerged as powerhouse SEC programs. The yearly clash between the SEC West and East’s storied programs is why this is The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry. Usually, the SEC East and West crossover games are on rotation, but this game has earned the right to be played every year as it is and will continue to be. With moments like the Miracle at Jordan Hare and the Hall of Fame caliber players such as Herschalle Walker and Bo Jackson, who once flashed their talent in this game, The Deep South’s oldest rivalry has become a staple of football below the Mason Dixon. This year’s matchup will be an exciting defensive battle in Athens on October 3. 

3. Red River Rivalry 

Played at the Texas State Fair every year in the Cotton Bowl, the Sooner and Longhorns have created one of the best rivalries in college football. This game gives off so many thanksgiving high school football game rivalry vibes, it’s crazy, and that’s what makes it so good. The Sooners hate the horns and will do whatever it takes to let the Longhorns know what’s up. This game in the past three years has featured two Heisman trophy winners and a runner up. Of course, all those guys played for Oklahoma. Still, Sam Ehlinger is looking to make his mark on the Red River Rivalry, winning the Golden Cowboy hat and becoming the third Heisman Trophy winner to play in this game in the last four years. The two teams square off at the Cotton Bowl on October 10 this season.

4. Bedlam

The name says it all. The rivalry between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State is absolutely absurd every year, and we are so here for it. These teams don’t like each other whatsoever, and this year is no different. Two Heisman hopefuls will take their campaigns into Bedlam this season, hoping to have a signature Heisman moment in one of CFB’s most entertaining rivalry games. Chubba Hubbard had a great year last year, and after a fascinating offseason, he is back in Stillwater, ready to make his case for the Heisman. On the other hand, Spencer Rattler will be under center as the Sooners starting QB for the first time. This will be a pivotal game in the Big 12 and the College Football Playoff picture.  

5. The Commander-In-Chiefs Trophy

I’m aware the Commander-In-Chiefs trophy isn’t a one-game ordeal. The trophy is given to the service academy who has the best record against the other service academies that season. This season is no different, but at the same time, it is a little different for the service academy out west. The Air Force Academy is playing just two games this fall, and they are against Army and Navy. The Air Force’s entire season this fall is playing for The Commander-In-Chiefs trophy. The big rivalry game amongst the service academies is the Army-Navy game, and it will be essential again this year. Still, this season’s battle for the Commander and Chiefs trophy should provide three extremely entertaining games this year. Air Force hosts Navy on October 3, Army plays Air Force at home on November 7, and the Army-Navy game will be held in Philadelphia on December 12.

Lapoint: Navy Debacle Unveiled New Safety Concern

It feels so good to have college football games to look forward to again. College football Saturdays feel like Christmas day for me, except once a week for five months straight instead of once a year. In week one, I had one of those Christmas day like games circled on my calendar: BYU visiting Navy. To say I was excited about this game would be a vast understatement. Hell, I got excited for Austin Peay to play Central Arkansas in week zero, so you can only imagine how excited I was for a week one matchup featuring two historically excellent college football programs. After all the country has been through with the Coronavirus and not having college sports since early march, we had earned a great labor day primetime college football game on opening weekend. Come to find out 5 minutes into the broadcast before kickoff, the Naval Academy hadn’t gone live since last January’s bowl win over Kansas State.

For those who listen to the College Kids Talking College Sports Podcast, you know I was all in on Navy when picking this game. The Midshipmen had been practicing for a while and are on one of the safest campuses in the country when it comes to the Coronavirus. I thought they would play Navy football and squeeze out a great opening victory, running the triple option to perfection. Oh, how wrong I was. BYU forced Navy to go 3-and-out on their first drive, giving up three yards to the Midshipmen and forcing a punt. The Cougars proceeded to go 74 yards in 7 plays taking a whopping 2:49 seconds to go up on the Midshipmen 7-0, and the rest of the game followed suit. 

Final score: BYU 55, Navy 3. Everyone who knows me knows how much I love the Naval Academy, and I have great pride in the Midshipmen, but words can hardly describe how disappointing I found the performance they turned in on Monday night. Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo decided going into preseason he would limit player interaction as much as possible. This included zoom position meetings, no live tackling or scrimmaging, and many other safety precautions to protect against the Coronavirus spread. I absolutely love that coach Niumatalolo is looking out for his players’ health and well-being, but if you aren’t going to give your players the best chance to compete on the field and win games, you should have opted out of the season.

I respect all people taking precautions to keep their players safe and away from the virus, but you can’t let your players go against grown men in a Division One football game underprepared. Thankfully none of the Midshipmen got hurt, but that was a severe concern of mine going into this game. Players who go into games underprepared get hurt. This team is not fit to continue to play college football at the rate they are going, and I think they need to change their mindset on practice or opt-out of the rest of the college football season to look out for their players’ best interest. These players and coaches are some of the best and the brightest in college football, and I have nothing but respect for each and every Midshipman, but I can’t go through a season of watching an underprepared Navy football team get waxed, hoping someone doesn’t get hurt.

SEC West QB Rankings

They may have lost two quarterbacks in the top five picks of the draft, but the SEC West will be the nation’s best passing conference this upcoming season. Due to Tua Taugovailoa’s injury, six of seven teams have their starting QB making a return to the field – only LSU Myles Brennan has yet to take a snap under center as a teams starting QB. Mac Jones should thrive in the Alabama system, and Bo Nix showcased his potential last year. Is this finally Kellen Mond’s breakout season, and who does LSU really have in Brennan as their signal-caller? Unlike years past, there may not be a clear star to watch, and this will be the year of the entire SEC West.
 

  1. Bo Nix- Auburn 

The best QB Auburn has seen since Cam Newton has the Tigers excited for this upcoming season. Bo Nix had a promising freshman year leading Auburn to a 9-4 record with an Outback Bowl loss to Minnesota. Although Nix didn’t blow up the stat sheet he proved he can show up in big games, like the Iron Bowl against Alabama, and do whatever it takes to win. Bo Nix reminds me a lot of Justin Herbert – his numbers may not dazzle, but with he’s a physical prototype at quarterback, and he’s a winner. Look for Nix to lead the Tigers to Atlanta next December.

  1. Mac Jones- Alabama 

Mac Jones had it rough in Tuscaloosa last season, as he was pretty much the ‘guy that wasn’t Tua’. Alabama fans now cannot complain about Mac Jones since their savior has up and gone to the NFL, and they will come to realize that it is a good thing. A perfectly run Nick Saban offense has defenses preparing for the ground game and still runs it down everyone’s throat. With Tua under center, the Tide got away from their ground and pound style on offense and they paid the price for it, missing the Playoff for the first time in program history last season. Putting Jones under center allows the Tide to return to their gritty style of offense and return to glory.

  1. Kellan Mond- Texas A&M 

How is Kellan Mond still in college and at what point do we all stop expecting him to be great? Kellan Mond is a good QB. He isn’t great and will never bring A&M to the playoff, but you can consistently count on A&M ending the season 9-4 ,winning every game they are favored in and losing every game they are an underdog in. Kellan Mond will have a good season and the Aggies should sit top 4 in the West and ranked in the Top 25 when the season is over.

  1. KJ Costello- Mississippi 

The Pac12 is coming to the SEC… kind of. This past offseason was big for Mississippi State, bringing in Head Coach Mike Leach from Washinton State and poaching Stanford’s starting quarterback in KJ Costello. Although Costello struggled his junior year, he threw for over 3,000 yards and 29 touchdowns his sophomore year. I expect big things from Costello in Mike Leache’s air raid offense so look for another 3,000-yard season, around 35 passing TD, and a 7-5 record this upcoming season in Starkville. 

  1. John Rhys Plumlee- Ole Miss

Lane Kiffen is back in the SEC, and his starting QB is expected to be John Rhys Plumlee. Last season as a true freshman Plumlee split time under center with Matt Coral but made the most of his time when on the field. Plumlee threw for 900 yards and 4 TD’s while running for 1,000 yards and 12 TDs. With Plumlee being the guy this season in Oxford, I expect a 2,000 yard passing and rushing season from Plumlee, along with 30 all-purpose touchdowns. The man is athletic and one of the fastest QB’s in the SEC – I expect some offensive fireworks this season in Oxford. Expect a 6-6 season from the Rebels for Kiffen and Plumlee’s first season together.

  1. Feleipe Franks- Arkansas 

Feleipe Franks just screams .500. The quarterback is mediocre in everything he does. His career completion percentage is just around .500 his team was always slightly over with a career winning percentage of .642 which, for Florida,won’t cut it in the SEC East. Franks getting hurt may end up being the best thing to happen to Florida football since Tim Tebow. I expect Franks to go .500 at Arkansas and to struggle mightily in his new environment of the SEC West. 

  1. Myles Brennan- LSU

Myles Brennan is the one QB in the SEC who has yet to start a game. Freshman year Brennan backed up for Danny Etling, and sophomore and junior year, he backed up for the great Joe Burrow. After patiently waiting his turn Brennan is set to be the guy in Death Valley this fall with huge shoes to fill. I wouldn’t expect him to have a Joe Burrow-type season, but I expect him to be decent. People may read these rankings and believe I’m saying he sucks, but Brennan is 7th purely from the fact that he is in the best passing conference in the country, and he is the only one who hasn’t proven himself. I anticipate a solid if not spectacular 8-4 season for Brennan and the Tigers.

AL DIAZ ADIAZ@MIAMIHERALD.CO

Ranking the 2020 SEC East Starting QB’s

The SEC East is a wide-open race next year, as there are a few teams hoping to end Georgia’s three-year reign atop the division. Kentucky and Florida are the Bulldogs’ most likely challenger, but another interesting discussion is the quarterback room. Georgia is getting a new signal-caller, while Kentucky returns their star from injury. Here are my rankings of the seven quarterbacks in the SEC East, based on how they can impact their team in 2020.

  1. Jamie Newman- Georgia 

Newman has the most potential, and he is one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in college football, playing for a team that wins. It would be hard to not put Newman as the top QB in the SEC East.

  1. Kyle Trask- Florida

Florida under Felipe Franks was the definition of mediocre. It wasn’t that Franks was bad, he just wasn’t much better than average. Trask led the Gators to an 8 and 2 record while under center, throwing for almost 3,000 yards and 25 touchdowns. Trask has a lot of potential but will be under a lot of pressure to produce in the swamp in a three-way race for the top of the SEC East.

  1. Terry Wilson- Kentucky 

Terry Wilson is a straight-up winner, having gone 12-3 during his tenure at Kentucky leading them to a Citrus Bowl win over Penn State in 2019. Coming off a torn ACL that he suffered last season, it will be interesting to see how he rebounds; however, if he comes back the same or better than before he got hurt, and with the ‘Cats returning 19 starters, look for Kentucky to make a serious run at getting to Atlanta in December. 

  1. Ryan Hilinski- South Carolina 

Ryan Hilinski is a fighter and a dog but he is not the man to lead South Carolina out of the ashes. To cut him some slack, it isn’t all his fault – his team just fails to perform at a high level. Last season featured a great overtime win over Georgia, but also a terrible loss at home to App State. South Carolina fans should be happy with a top-four finish in the East with Hilinski next season.

  1. Jarrett Guarantano- Tennessee

Don’t you feel every year Tennessee should be way better than they are? Jarrett Guarantano lead the Volunteers to a 6 game win streak to end the last season, and they return decent starters. They also have some good recruits coming in but history has told us that it doesn’t mean they are going to gain relevance anytime soon. Expect a .500 year from the mediocre Volunteers lead by a mediocre QB in the best conference in the country.

Tennessee will struggle to get back to SEC relevance this season. Photo Courtesy of Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

  1. Danny Clark- Vanderbilt

What happens when you can’t start at a traditional power, but you still want to play in the SEC? You go to Vanderbilt. Nothing against Danny Clark, but he is not the guy to turn around Vanderbilt, and he shouldn’t take it personally – Joe Burrow couldn’t turn around Vanderbilt. No quarterback will make a difference for the Commodores, and they will end up around 4-8 this upcoming season.

  1. Shawn Robinson- Missouri 

Most of you have heard of Shawn Robinson before because he started for TCU in 2017. After transferring to Missouri, he is set to take over for Kelly Bryant due to true freshman Connor Bazelak tearing his ACL. The Tigers are another team not to expect much from next season, and expect even less from Shawn Robinson.

Did Georgia come out of the draft better or worse?

Georgia can either come out of the draft as winners or losers. The fate of Georgia lies in the hands of head coach Kirby Smart but not as you may think. It is no secrete the Georgia Bulldogs have dominated the SEC east the last couple seasons but if Kirby Smart doesn’t pull things together this season Kentucky and Florida will be looking for their opportunity to take to the top of the East. 

Georgia can be huge losers coming out of the draft for the obvious reasons – they lost many of their biggest impact players. A three-year starter at quarterback in Jake Fromm left Athens a year early, only to drop into the 5th round to the Bills, where he will sit behind Josh Allen for the foreseeable future. The Bulldogs also lost their one-two punch in the backfield with D’andre Swift going in the 2nd round to the Lions and Brian Herrien signing with the Browns as an undrafted free agent. Now for most teams that would be difficult to rebound from, but that’s not all Georgia lost.

They also lost their top three offensive tackles with Andrew Thomas and Isaiah Wilson going in the first round and Solomon Kindley going in the fourth to the Dolphins. Other notable departures on the offense were tight ends Eli Wolf and Charlie Woerner along with wide receiver Lawrence Cager. On defense, Georgia lost Tae Crowder and JR Reed among others. In total, Georgia lost 15 players to the draft and free agency leaving gaping holes both in their offense and defense. With schools like Kentucky returning quarterback Terry Wilson next season and only losing two starters things are not looking good for the Bulldogs for next season as of right now.

Georgia is unique though in the fact that if Kirby Smart plays things right in Athens this year’s team could be better than last years. Promptly following Jake Fromms’ decision to forego his senior season and declare for the draft Smart upgraded his quarterback groom by signing Wake Forest transfer, Jamie Newman. It will only take one game of watching Newman for Georgia fans to forget the name Jake Fromm. Georgia lost Justin Fields two years ago but they signed the next great dual-threat QB this off-season. Jamie Newman will transform the Georgia offense from the boring ground and pound offense it has been in the past to an explosive dual-threat offense. Another reason for Georgia fans not to worry? They are RBU, and that means you always have great running backs and this season should not be any different. Junior James Cook, brother of Minnesota’s Vikings’ running back Dalvin Cook, will be getting the majority of the carries and, although his carries have been limited with Swift and Harrien taking on the bulk of the workload last season, he is very capable of stepping up in a big way for the Bulldogs this season.

Georgia did lose three key offensive linemen this season, but this is not a cause for massive concern, due to the fact Kirby Smart brings in new monsters to protect his quarterbacks every year. The wide receiving corp should also be much better this year with new recruits coming in and other young wide receivers will have had another season to develop. My final argument for why Georgia should be absolutely fine next season is Kirby Smart is a defensive coach – after giving up 24 points per game in his first year, Smart’s defenses have given up under 20 points per contest for the past three year, lowering the mark to under 13 points in 2019. Their defense will always be a mainstay so long as Kirby Smart is coaching.

If you are a Georgia fan, wait on hitting the panic button for now. There’s little reason to panic unless you’ve already lost two games, and with the highly talented Jamie Newman taking over under center, that seems unlikely to happen in the diluted SEC East.

Josh Speidel’s Improbable Road To Burlington

For those who have never heard the story of Vermont senior Josh Speidel, it is well worth hearing. Josh, a 6’7 forward out of Columbus, Indiana, was one of John Becker and the Catamounts’ top recruits in 2014. On February 1, 2015, Josh was involved in a severe car accident that left him in a coma for four weeks. Suffering a traumatic brain injury and other bodily injuries, Speidel was told he might never walk again, let alone play basketball. They also told him that most likely, he will never learn above a fourth-grade level. Josh is ready to prove his doctors wrong on both fronts in the upcoming months. For avid college basketball fans, you know the dominance that Vermont has had in the America East for the past decade, rising as one of the best mid-major programs in the country. Many ask how Vermont does so well year in and year out, and the story of Josh Speidel gives us some answers. 

A couple of days after the accident, coach Becker flew out to Indiana in the middle of his conference schedule to visit his top recruit in the hospital. It was known at the time that most likely, Josh was never going to play basketball again, but Becker went out anyway to visit with his parents and check-in. During his visit, Becker made it very clear that Vermont would still honor Josh’s scholarship and would welcome him to Burlington with open arms whenever he was ready. 

Josh spent the next 117 days in the hospital working on his rehab and getting in stable condition to be released. After returning home, he walked- with help- at his high school graduation. Taking a year off before going up to Vermont for his freshman year, Josh spent the year as a classroom assistant at Brown Elementary in Seymour, Indiana, where his mom is the principal. During that year, he continued his rehab, making unbelievable progress. In the fall of 2016, Josh enrolled at the University of Vermont, where he joined coach Becker and the rest of the Catamount basketball team. He has spent the last four seasons as an active participant on the team and an everyday student at the University. After being told that he would never learn at higher than a fourth-grade level, Josh is set to graduate from the University this spring in high standing – Josh entered his senior year with a 3.4 GPA, which is no small feat for a student-athlete, let alone someone who has been through everything Josh has. Not only has Josh worked extremely hard in the classroom, but he has worked unbelievably hard on the court and in the weight room. After being told he would probably never walk again, Josh is now running and shooting. He is set to take the court for the first time on senior night at Patrick Gymnasium in Burlington against Albany. 

There are two things I want people to take away from Josh’s story. The first is never to underestimate the heart of an athlete. When one has a dream and a desire, they can overcome even the worst of odds. What Josh has done is extraordinary. The kid that was told he would never learn at higher than a fourth-grade level is graduating in 4 years from a highly respected university with a double minor. The kid that was told he would never walk again will be taking the court for his senior night in a Division I basketball game for one of the best mid-major teams in the country.

 The second thing I want people to take away from Josh’s story is Vermont is as good as they are because of the culture that John Becker has created at Vermont. It isn’t just a winning culture, it is a family. Unless you are a college athlete, it is very difficult to understand what it means when athletes say it more than sports. John Becker cares about his players, and he cares about developing young men. I can tell you first hand when you have a coach that you know will have your back and look out for you like you’re his son you will do anything for that coach. At Vermont, it is more than basketball, and that’s why parents like Josh’s trust Coach Becker to take care of their kids halfway across the country.