Heisman Tracker: The SEC Makes Its Entrance

We are back with this week’s Heisman Tracker, and the SEC has jumped into the picture! For those new to our Heisman Tracker, this list is exclusively based on 2020 performances to date. No preseason hype factors in, meaning that Justin Fields won’t appear until at least after October 24, and the ACC has a slight advantage right now do their early start in conference play. Because of this, the SEC’s top players will need another week or two to challenge the top of our list, but that doesn’t mean the conference is unrepresented in this version of the tracker. Let’s get into it:

The Finalists 

  1. Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson,
    Lawrence remains atop the rankings after an idle week. Last week’s #2, Spencer Rattler, had a chance to overtake him, but a 3-interception performance and second-half collapse doomed both the Oklahoma Sooners, and potentially Rattler’s Heisman hype. Lawrence has been a very efficient 30-37 for 519 yards, 4 touchdowns, and no interceptions on the season. He’s also run for three scores as well, giving him as many all-purpose touchdowns as incompletions. 
  2. De’Eriq King, QB, Miami
    Miami finished last year ranked 90th in the country in points per game, notching barely over 25 a contest. This year, albeit only three games in, the Hurricanes are averaging over 43 points per game, ranking 12th in the country. They looked strong in a road victory against a ranked Louisville squad in their second game, and they followed it up with a 52-10 bludgeoning of Florida State. King has been a huge reason, as the Houston transfer is completing passes at a 66.7% rate, throwing for 733 yards and 6 touchdowns. On the ground, King has added 157 yards and a TD on 5.6 yards per carry. He’s got a clear path to being #1 on this list…beat Trevor Lawrence and the Clemson Tigers in two weeks. 
  3. Sam Ehlinger, QB, Texas
    Texas may have underwhelmed in their overtime victory against Texas Tech, but it sure wasn’t because of Ehlinger. The Longhorns’ signal-caller directed his offense to 63 points, including a miraculous 15-point comeback in the final four minutes. He’s tossed 10 touchdowns (plus a score on the ground) to just one interception, while completing passes at a 71% clip. He’s back up into finalist territory, and with Oklahoma’s loss, he and the Longhorns have a clear path towards a Big 12 championship and possible CFP berth. 
  4. Kyren Williams, RB, Notre Dame
    This is almost certainly Williams’ last week as a finalist. He’s been the best player on a top-5 team with multiple victories, which allows him to keep his spot. Averaging 8.4 yards per touch, Williams has been very impressive for the Irish, rushing for 174 and adding 103 receiving yards, notching a pair of touchdowns. That also comes with limited minutes in Notre Dame’s second game, a 52-0 blowout of USF that saw most of the first-string pulled a series or two into the second half. 

Heisman Hopefuls

  1. Kyle Trask, QB, Florida
    Trask immediately threw his hat into the Heisman ring on Saturday, throwing for six touchdowns and no interceptions in his season debut. A grain of salt has to be given, due to Ole Miss’s pretty abysmal defense, but Trask picked apart the Rebels’ secondary to the tune of 416 yards on 30-42 passing. Another strong performance against South Carolina this weekend could very well vault Trask another couple spots on this list. 
  2. Najee Harris, RB, Alabama
    Harris is one of the top RBs in the country, and he immediately made his presence felt, despite only accumulating 17 touches in Alabama’s blowout season-opening win against Missouri. Harris posted 106 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns, as the Crimson Tide won by 19, ahead of their home clash with #13 Texas A&M. 
  3. Richard Lecounte III, S, Georgia
    Let’s give out some love to defensive stalwarts on our list. Lecounte was the best player on the field for Georgia in a generally underwhelming season opener against Arkansas. The Bulldogs only put up five points in the first half, two of them coming via a defensive safety. Lecounte meanwhile, helped keep Georgia in the game, snaring a pair of interceptions, defending another pass, and recording another three tackles in a strong all-around performance. 
  4. Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson
    Etienne was surpassed by Harris, at least in the early going, but he remains on our top 10 list, as Clemson’s second player on the tracker. Clemson was off this past weekend, but Etienne is averaging 7.9 yards per touch, with 228 all-purpose yards and one touchdown through two games. 
  5. Dillon Gabriel, QB, UCF
    UCF is averaging 50 points per game, ranking fourth in the nation, and quarterback Dillon Gabriel has been front and center in their offensive onslaught. He’s tossed eight touchdowns in two games to just one pick, throwing for 825 yards on 59 of 88 passing. He’s unlikely to gain any real Heisman hype, particularly with no Power-5 games on the docket for UCF, but Gabriel has been dominant to start his campaign. 
  6. Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida
    Pitts solidified his status as the best tight end in the country with an outrageous 4-touchdown, 170-yard performance against Ole Miss, as he quickly became a favorite target for Trask to hit. Without Pitts’ presence, it may have been a lot tougher to pull away from the Rebels on Saturday. It’s tough for receivers or tight ends to get Heisman hype, as the quarterback usually receives twice the attention, but Pitts’ efforts this past weekend deserve the attention. 

Others Considered

  • Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
  • Cam’Ron Harris, RB, Miami
  • Joshua Moore, WR, Texas

Heisman Tracker: Miami, Clemson lead the way with 2 Top-10 players

We’re back with the second edition of the Heisman Tracker. It will be the final edition with no SEC players, as the best conference in college football kicks off their season next weekend. After another weekend of games concluded, highlighted by #17 Miami’s big win over #18 Louisville on Saturday night, let’s see who made moves on our Heisman tracker.

The Finalists

  1. Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
    Lawrence remains at #1 after a solid showing against a completely overmatched Citadel squad this past weekend. The projected #1 pick has had to do very little this year, but he’s been brutally efficient when called upon, going 30-37 for 519 yards and 4 touchdowns, with no picks. He’s a top performer on the #1 team in the nation, so that makes him the current frontrunner, particularly with four of the top six teams in the AP Poll yet to have played a game.
  2. Spencer Rattler, QB, Oklahoma
    Rattler was inactive this past weekend, and his first power-5 opponent lies in wait this coming Saturday, against Kansas State, a team that tripped up the Sooners last season. A big performance there will cement his early-season spot in our Top 4.
  3. D’Eriq King, QB, Miami
    King wasn’t even on the radar last season, but big early-season performances can cause huge swings in our Heisman tracker, and King shoots up into the top three this week. King went 18-30 for three touchdowns in Miami’s 47-34 win over Louisville, bringing his season stats to 33-53 for 466 yards and four passing touchdowns, while tacking on 92 yards and a rushing score on the ground. He replaces the inactive Sam Ehlinger in our Top 4.
  4. Kyren Williams, RB, Notre Dame
    Williams put up another solid performance in limited minutes as Notre Dame’s lead back. The Irish didn’t ask too much of Williams in their 52-0 blowout of South Florida, but their sophomore star is up to 277 yards on 33 touches this year, adding his second touchdown of the year this past weekend.

The Heisman Hopefuls (#5-10)

5. Sam Ehlinger, QB, Texas
Season Stats: 25-33, 426 yards, 5 TD

6. Cam’Ron Harris, RB, Miami
Season Stats: 26 carries, 268 yards, 3 touchdowns

7. Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson
Season Stats: 25 carries, 170 yards, 1 touchdown
4 receptions, 58 yards

8. Brady White, QB, Memphis
Season Stats: 26-36, 295 yards, 4 TD, 1 INT

9. Elijah Mitchell, RB, Louisiana
Season Stats: 24 carries, 210 yards, 2 TD

10. Joshua Moore, WR, Texas
Season Stats: 6 catches, 127 yards, 1 TD

Others Considered

  • Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh
  • Grant Wells, QB, Marshall
  • Tyler Allegier, RB, BYU

Offensive X-Factors For Top ACC Contenders

The X-Factor is one of my favorite discussion points in sports. Every year, contenders in college football enter the year with positions or players they have few question marks about – proven players who they trust to produce. However, teams that win or compete for championships are generally boosted by that surprise breakout performance, an excellent contribution from a player that wasn’t expected to do so. Without that player, that X-Factor, a championship team simply becomes a really good team, and a really good team can beocme borderline average. So with a game in the books for many teams who we consider to be contenders to qualify for the ACC Championship,. let’s take a look at who the X-Factors are for those squads, on the offensive side of the ball. For the purposes of this piece, we narrowed our list to the four teams with the best current odds to win the ACC.

Clemson Tigers – Braden Galloway, TE

Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne headline a lethal Clemson offense, but their wide receiver corps did have some question marks, as the season-ending injury to Justyn Ross forced Amari Rodgers to become WR #1 for the Tigers. This left an opportunity for someone to step up as Lawrence’s second option in the passing game, and Galloway played the part in the season opener. He tied with Rodgers for the team lead with five catches for 60 yards. After not playing in 2019 and having just five total receptions in 2018, Galloway looks primed for a breakout season that could add another layer to this dynamic Clemson offense.

UNC Tar Heels – Michael Carter, RB

Carter maybe doesn’t fit the traditional ‘X-Factor’ definition, as he is a proven player who has produced for the Tar Heels. However, he is so critical in both facets of the UNC offense that, with a lack of unproven breakout prsoepcts, makes Carter my choice for the X-Factor here. The biggest key for Carter will be an increased role in the passing game. Taking too much from one game is dangerous, but Carter collected six passes for 60 yards in their opening clash with Syracuse. He had more than 2 receptions in a game just once in 2019. Combine that with his seven carries for 78 yards, and Carter averaged nearly 11 yards per touch in his first outing of 2020. He’s explosive, and he looks like he might have added more versatility to his toolkit in 2020.

Miami Hurricanes – Jaylan Knighton, RB

The addition of a freshman playmaker is always exciting, and Knighton looks like he could add another dimension to this Miami offense in 2020. The hype regarding the Hurricanes has largely revolved around the arrival of transfer quarterback D’Eriq King. King is a great dual-threat quarterback, and Miami complements his skills with Cam’Ron Harris, a proven running back. However, Knighton played a significant part in the gameplan during Miami’s season-opening victory against UAB. The true freshman notched nine carries for 59 yards, over 6.5 yards per pop. With the sturdy Harris taking the bulk of the rushing load, Knighton, weighing in 20 pounds lighter than Harris, provides a great change of pace. His arrival in Miami hints at dynamic potential and creativity to the Hurricanes’ playcalling.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish – Michael Mayer, TE

Mayer is currently listed as the 3rd-string tight end for the Irish, but he flashed some of the playmaking ability that enticed the Irish to seek him out as their top target of the 2020 class. He caught three passes for 38 yards, continually racking up yards after the catch and proving very difficult to take down. At 6’5, 235, Mayer is an absolute monster on the field, and Notre Dame offensive coordinator showed an inclination to use tight ends in the passing game, targeting starter Tommy Tremble (5 receptions, 38 yards) frequently. Notre Dame lacks proven playmakers in their receiving corps, and quarterback Ian Book has lost his safety net that was Chase Claypool last season. If Mayer can emerge as a dependable threat, that will be a huge boost for the Irish.

Thomas: My COVID-Altered Gameday Experience

My freshman year, I woke up on September 14th at 7am to the sound of “Shipping Up to Boston” blaring through the hallways of my dorm. Notre Dame’s home-opener kicked off in 7 ½ hours, yet the atmosphere was already through the roof. Tailgates started as early as 8am, and the despite the fact that the Irish were taking on a massive underdog New Mexico State, it was an ecstatic sell-out crowd of students who packed Notre Dame Stadium for the lopsided clash, which Notre Dame won 66-14.

Flash forward a year (almost) and it’s September 12, 2020, and I woke up at 9:45 to almost complete silence. Notre Dame would kick off their season in just 4 hours and 45 minutes, against the Duke Blue Devils, yet there was no blaring music, no massive crowds filling up the quads, nothing to signify that gameday was here. With a multitude of restrictions in place due to Covid, the opportunity to get properly hyped for the first game of the season was noticeably lacking. Walking through my dorm, the sound of a few speakers could be heard playing in rooms, but with nobody outside your section allowed in your room, there were no raucous pre-game celebrations occurring behind the doors. I walked through campus to pick up a morning breakfast sandwich, startled by the eery lack of noise on campus. Accustomed to the hundred thousand people that flooded my campus on game days, the lack of noise and activity was off-putting. 

However, despite the delayed start, slowly the vibes around campus began to pick up. My roommate and I pumped up our own speakers and starting blasting the Irish gameday classics – Thunderstruck by AC/DC, “Shipping Up to Boston” and “The Boys are Back” by the Dropkick Murphys were a few of our selections. By 11am, we were down on the quad, where the atmosphere was becoming noticeably more active. Rather than the standard view of parking lots packed with cars, tents, grills, food, and beverages, the ‘tailgate’ scene was far more casual. Cornhole, KanJam, and Spikeball games littered the quad, while large Chik-Fil-A orders were brought to various groups. Maybe Notre Dame could ban official tailgaiting, but they damn well were not going to takeaway our gameday chicken nuggets – such an offense would have been close to unforgivable. A “No open containers” policy was only loosely enforced, as ambassadors largely watched to ensure that students were wearing masks and staying in small groups. As gametime got nearer, the excitement was finally becoming palpable. Notre Dame Football was back, and we were getting a chance to watch in person,  a possibility that seemed virtually impossible when Notre Dame switched to online learning from August 19 until September 2nd. 

Entering the stadium was business as usual, and, quite honestly, a lot less chaotic than under normal circumstances. The seating arrangement was obviously different, and for myself, it was very strange. Assigned seats were granted by ‘household’ or rooming assignment, and these seats were spaced around the stadium. I ended up on the south side of the stadium, almost directly across from the standard sophomore student section, giving me a new view of the action. There was ample evidence of fans leaving their assigned seats to sit in small groups, but largely, the crowd was at least fairly distanced. The environment was unique, but not altogether bad. I entered the stadium with very low expectations, and I was pleasantly surprised with the results. The band still led our chants from the bleachers, the best game-day songs still blasted throughout the stadium, and many traditions remained as similar to their old form as possible. The atmosphere did quiet down in the second half, although I attribute that largely to Notre Dame’s struggles to pull away from an inferior Duke team. The game was strange because it never felt like Notre Dame was going to lose, but with zero interceptions on defense and very few explosive offensive plays, the game lacked the standard sizzle to fire up the crowd. 

Despite the ho-hum 27-13 result, the corona gameday experience far exceeded my expectations as a student. The social aspect of the football games was slightly depleted, but still readily available. The general buzz, the willingness to do “touchdown push ups” or sing loudly and off-key to the kickoff song with people you’d never met before that day, still existed, and the camaraderie that has always been an enticing aspect of the Notre Dame football experience for myself, was evident, as we banded together to make the best of a wildly unique gameday situation. Even more promisingly, there has been no massive spike in COVID cases among the team or student body. Notre Dame had two positive cases among over 400 conducted in the days before and after the Duke game. The student body, which made up most of the 15,000+ attendance, has had just 14 positive cases diagnosed of the 1,441 tests conducted since gameday. College football is possible, and it’s happening 

I wasn’t even sure whether I wanted tickets to the Notre Dame games this year – that’s how hesitant I was about how corona would alter the experience. But having tasted Irish football once more, I’m now more than ready for another dose of gameday action. Two days until South Florida comes to town, and Notre Dame’s new gameday normal is put on display once more.

Heisman Tracker: 3 QBs, 1 RB highlight initial Top 4

Each week of the college football season, we will track the ‘leaderboard’ for the Heisman trophy, which will display – in my eyes – the current front runner to win it all, finalist favorites, and a follow-up 6 players who are knocking on the door (semifinalists). For the first few weeks, this board will be a little wacky, as we will not be including players who haven’t played. For instance, although you may love the Kyle Trask Heisman hype, he is 0-0 for 0 yards on the season, and so he has not earned a spot on this leaderboard yet. Undoubtedly, there will be some surprising names in the early weeks, but as the season (hopefully) rolls on, our Heisman tracker should begin to narrow in on the group of favorites.

That being said, here’s the Heisman tracker after the ACC completed its first week of play.

The Finalists

  1. Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
    This is fair enough. Clemson is ranked #1, and Lawrence threw for 351 yards and 3 touchdowns on an efficient 22/28 effort under center. He projected to be the #1 NFL Draft pick in the 2021 draft, and he’s an insant Heisman contender by being on a team with clear national championship potential.
  2. Spencer Rattler, QB, Oklahoma
    I’m not all-in on Rattler, personally, but his debut was about as good as you could want if you are an Oklahoma fan. Yes, the competition was not stiff, and there are far greater tests ahead. But Rattler looked poised and ready to compete at the collegiate level with 290 yards and four touchdowns while playing just one half of the Sooners’ opener.
  3. Sam Ehlinger, QB, Texas
    Again, I’m not going to go all-in and say “Texas is back” or buy the Ehlinger hype being shoved down my throat by pained yet overconfident Longhorn fans. However, Ehlinger was lights-out against an admittedly horrible UTEP squad in the Texas opener. The Heisman hopeful threw for 426 yards and 5 touchdowns on 25-33 passing.
  4. Kyren Williams, RB, Notre Dame
    As the top performer on one of four top-10 teams to be 1-0, Williams gets the nod as the only non-QB to crack our initial list of Finalists. Williams was all over the field for the Fighting Irish in a 27-1`3 win over Duke. He averaged 5.9 per rush behind a shoddy offensive line performance, notching 112 rushing yards and an additional 93 yards in the passing game. He had two touchdowns and was far and away the best performer for Notre Dame on Saturday.

The Heisman Hopefuls (#5-10)

5. Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson
Stats: 17 carries, 102 yards, 1 TD
3 receptions, 47 yards

6. Brady White, QB, Memphis
Stats: 26-36, 295 yards, 4 TD, 1 INT

7. Joshua Moore, WR, Texas
Stats: 6 catches, 127 yards, 1 TD

8. Cam’Ron Harris, RB, Miami
Stats: 17 carries, 134 yards, 2 TD
4 catches, 10 yards

9. Tyler Allegeier, RB, BYU
Stats: 14 carries, 132 yards, 2 TD

10. Marcus Williams, RB, Appalachian State
Stats: 14 carries, 117 yards, 1 TD

Others Considered

  • Javonte Williams, RB, UNC
  • Malik Cunningham, QB, Louisville
  • Myles Murphy, DE, Clemson

The Rundown With Lapoint: Big 12, FSU Humiliated, Sun Belt on the Come Up

Nathaniel Lapoint: The Rundown with the kid who never played a down

The Humiliation of the Big 12

What an amazing week for everyone in college football except for the Big 12. The Big 12 got absolutely bullied this weekend by the Sun Belt Conference. The losses started in Des Moines, where the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns absolutely took it to the 23rd-ranked Cyclones and Brock Purdy. Let’s keep in mind that a lot of college football analysts had picked Iowa State as a potential opponent for the Oklahoma Sooners in the conference title game. The Cajuns’ special teams made sure all those analysts ate their words on Saturday, beating the Cyclones 31-14 with a pair of long touchdowns coming on kickoff and punt returns. Louisiana special teams alone would have tied former Heisman hopeful Brock Purdy on Saturday. 

The Cyclones weren’t the only Big 12 team to get stomped out by teams in the Sun Belt. Coastal Carolina for the second time in two years rolled the Mad Hatter and the Jayhawks in Lawrence. The Chanticleers put up 28 unanswered points to take a 28-0 lead into the half and went on autopilot in the second half on their way to a very comfortable 38-23 win. 

Luckily not everyone in Big 12 scheduled Sun Belt teams but one more unlucky member of the conference did schedule a game with a Sun Belt opponent and that was Kansas State. The best team in Arkansas – no that’s not a typo – went into the Little Apple, and showed the rebuilding Wildcats how to play football. Final score Arkansas State 35, K State 31. Arkansas State had a dominant performance from wide Receiver Jonathan Adams Junior, who caught 8 passes for 98 yards and three TDs. They also saw four different players complete passes en route to victory. 

Florida State Suffers Embarrassing Loss To Hapless Yellow Jackets

For anyone who stuck around through all of the lightning delays in the FSU GT game, you were in for a treat. In the first half, the Yellow Jackets threw two picks inside the red zone and had two field goals blocked. The exact same team that couldn’t do anything right especially in the kicking game came back from a 10-0 deficit at half time to beat the Seminoles in Tallahassee 16-13. Georgia Tech was picked to be the worst team in the ACC this season and turned in one of the worst performances I’ve ever seen by a Power-5 team in the first half and still won. The world of college football needs to apologize to Georgia Tech for talking that trash because this team went on the road in Week 1 of conference play – in the weird world of corona college football – and handed FSU one of the most embarrassing losses I’ve seen in years. This GT team left 21 points on the field ( 2 INT inside the 20, 2 missed FG, 1 missed PAT) and still won.

Florida State – you are quickly becoming a basketball school…

Duke is in business, and Notre Dame looks ordinary

Don’t look too much into the Duke Notre Dame game because both teams have a lot of potential this season. However, there are a few takeaways from the season opener in South Bend: Duke’s O-line isn’t that bad. In the first half particularly, they looked very competent at opening up running lanes against Notre Dame’s vaunted defense. They also only gave up three sacks in the game, which is not bad considering the overall expecations of this unit. This is a good sign for the Blue Devils because quarterback Chase Brice won’t be able to do anything with a terrible line. Chase Brice is going to be a good QB in Durham – he just needs time to settle in and become comfortable with his new team. This season is not geared towards transfer quarterbacks having success especially early in the season. If you’re a Duke football fan, if they come out of hiding before basketball season, don’t worry: you’re in good hands. 

Now for Notre Dame. The defense looks solid, but Jay Bramblett was arguably their best player and he’s the punter and Ian Book needs receivers… badly. Having lost his top three receivers from last year, Book turned in the 2nd worst performance of his starting career by quarterback rating. These Fighting Irish are solid and in a year without the Pac=12 and no Big 10 (as of now), they could have some success, but this team is not special in my eyes. 

Texas State Makes Me Sad

The Texas State Bobcats have made me so sad this season. I’m not disappointed in them – they just make me sad because they play well and are so close to snaring a result, but they can’t get out of their own way. In Week 1, the Bobcats almost took down SMU in Dallas but came up just short. As if last week’s loss to SMU wasn’t bad enough, this weekend, after battling back from being down 31-14, to UTSA midway through the third quarter. They tied it up on a 91-yard punt return with 1:16 left in the 4th, with an opportunity to take the lead with the extra-point, 42-41. Things were looking good for the Bobcats until kicker Alan Orona hooked the PAT to send the game to OT. Both teams scored in the first OT but in the second OT, Orona missed the game-tying 20-yard field goal, and UT San Antonio won 51-48. I’m not even a Texas State fan, but this team tears at my heartstrings and makes me sad every week.

The Sunbelt is making moves this season

The Sun Belt is on the up and up and if anyone tells you otherwise its because they don’t watch college football. Not only did they win three games against Big 12 opponents this past weekend, Appalachian State looked great in their opener featuring their third head coach in three years, and the South Alabama Jaguars also looked very good this weekend suffering a tight and controversial loss in Mobile on Saturday night against Tulane, as some questionable calls did not help their case. With the American conference struggling early this season look for Sun Belt to make a move at that Power 6 spot if this trend of great Sun Belt football continues.

Three Quarterbacks who had great opening weekend games that I could care less about:

Spencer Rattler: We have heard for a long time now that Spencer Rattler is a good QB and let’s be honest Lincoln Riley is one of the best QB coaches in the country. I very much expected Spencer Rattler to have a great debut against Missouri State which he did throwing for 290 yards and 4 TD in his one half of play. Sooner won 48-0

Sam Ehlinger: The Heisman hopeful from Texas opened his 2020 campaign against the always impressive UTEP (lol not). Ehlinger hung 426 yards and 5 Touchdowns on the Minors in his one half of play. Horns won 59-3. 

Trevor Lawrence: The likely 2021 first overall pick in the NFL draft also started his season on the road Saturday against the Demon Deacons. Lawrence threw for 351 yards and 1 TD and ran in 2 TD against Wake en route to a 37-13 win. Lawrence and the Tigers looked like they never came off of autopilot and cruised to an easy opening win over Wake Forest.

College Kids Talking COllege Sports Official Preseason Power Rankings

It’s that time of year. Miami toppled UAB 31-14 Thursday night, bringing the first power-5 team into action in the 2020 college football season. And with most of the rest of the ACC getting into the action tomorrow, we’ve gotten together to vote on our first set of power rankings. Here’s the top 10 (and a few extra).

Honorable Mention

  • Iowa State
  • Memphis
  • UNC

The Rankings

#10 – Oklahoma State Cowboys

The Cowboys are an intriguing CFP pick due to competing in a watered-down Big 12. They are considered to be in a 3-team race to challenge Okahoma for the Big 12 title with Texas and Iowa State. Oklahoma State hosts both those teams, so picking up a couple wins is certainly a possibility. They also return 19 starters and one of the best running backs in the nation in Chuba Hubbard. This team could put forth a very good campaign.

#9 – Texas Longhorns

A couple of Big 12 teams kick off our power rankings, as Sam Ehlinger and the Longhorns slot in at #9. Say what you want about Ehlinger, but he had a pretty solid statistical year last season and was often let down by other parts of the Texas team, including a porous defense. That defense is expected to be improved in 2020, and Ehlinger returns with a chip on his shoulder and eyeing the Big 12 title. They’re an obvious CFP darkhorse and could make headlines this fall.

#8 – LSU Tigers

The placement of the LSU Tigers was a source of controversy in our individual sets of rankings as high as #6 and as low as #9. To be quite frank, this is a huge year for LSU. They saw the beautiful results of an epic combination of generational talent last year, going 15-0 in a historically dominant season. This year, they lost their top two wide receivers, their quarterback, their running back, and both high end talent and depth up and down the roster. The draft and opt-outs have murdered the LSU roster, and if Ed Orgeron can keep this team in SEC title contention, he should receive Coach of the Year.

#7 – Auburn Tigers

Ranking the Tigers was another controversial part of our rankings, as some of our voters are very high on what Bo Nix can do in his sophomore season, listing Auburn as the preseason SEC favorites, while others excluded the Tigers from the Top 10. Auburn is ranked 11th in the preseason AP Poll, and they haven’t been ranked that high and at least matched their preseason ranking since 1994. Bo Nix is a good quarterback, but a sophomore slump could doom the Tigers’ hopes in 2020.

#6 – Florida Gators

A third consecutive SEC team in our Top 10, but this one comes from the SEC East. Florida is given the third-best odds to win the conference this year, as they likely just have Georgia standing in their way of a title game appearance. They have to navigate a tricky crossover schedule, hosting LSU and travelling to Texas A&M and a potential dangerous underdog in Ole Miss, but Florida returns a solid squad. Their defense should remain solid, and if they get production from playmakers around Kyle Trask, the top returning SEC quarterback in passing efficiency, the Gators could be tough to take down.

#5 – Georgia Bulldogs

Georgia would have very likely challenged from a top-3 ranking, but the recent opt-out of Jamie Newman definitely hurts their chances. J.T. Daniels is not a bad consolation prize but it’s been a while since we’ve seen him in action, and whether he can work with a Georgia offense that lost their top two running backs remains to be seen. Georgia sticks around in the top 5 due to the fact that their defense will likely be the best in the country, or at least one of the top units. They had the best defense in the SEC last season and return about 80% of their production, so expect an absolutely lethal defense in Athens.

#4 – Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Notre Dame likely benefited from Georgia’s slip. They’ve been listed anywhere from 5-8 by most preseason rankings, but the Fighting Irish are definitely eyeing a CFP berth in 2020. With third-year starter Ian Book returning under center, an offensive line that returns all their starters, and an intriguing yet somewhat unproven group of skill position players, Notre Dame figures to have a strong offense to complement their traditionally solid defense. Their ACC schedule is filled with potential trap games and a looming showdown against Clemson, but this may be the best Notre Dame team in the Brian Kelly era if they play to their potential.

#3 – Oklahoma Sooners

Yes, Oklahoma has struggled to win on the big stage. But exactly who should go above them? They’ve got Spencer Rattler, who looks like a transcendent talent under center, and they have never had an issue reloading their dynamic offense. Their defense is at least good by Big 12 standards, and it took some big jumps last season. While they got smacked by LSU in the semifinals, it’s hard to attribute that defensive meltdown strictly to the Sooners without giving credit to LSU’s historic offense. This team is the clear favorite to reach the CFP once more, where they will finally try to land a playoff victory.

#2- Alabama Crimson Tide (1 first place vote)

Alabama got one first place vote, with all of our voters placing the Tide in the top 3. Nick Saban has gotten every single one of his recruits since 2008 a national championship ring, but that streak is in danger if he fails to claim a title for a third straight season. Coming off their first-ever CFP miss, the Tide are out for blood, and they’ve got the roster to win it all. Mac Jones is a solid quarterback, Najee Harris may be the best running back in the country, their receivers are deep and talented, and their defense figures to be stellar once more. They’ll have to survive a road trip to Death Valley and host Georgia, but if they can beat those tests, the Tide should be back in the Playoff.

#1 – Clemson Tigers (3 first place votes)

Even with the loss of Justyn Ross, this team remains the most loaded roster returning to college football, at least when it comes to proven talent. Travis Etienne is an absolute stud and likely a first round draft pick next year. Trevor Lawrence is possibly the #1 pick overall and has lost just one game at the collegiate level. Their defense reloads year-in and year-out, and Clemson enters this year with really only one game to think about – their road trip to South Bend in November. Not only that, but they should have two chances to beat the Irish, as even a regular season loss shouldn’t take Clemson out of ACC championship contention, and thus CFP consideration. Clemson vs. Alabama for the title for the fourth time in six years anyone? We’re not saying it’ll happen.

But we’re not saying it won’t either.

Preseason 2020 ACC Power Rankings

  1. Clemson
    The Tigers are the consensus favorite in the ACC. With Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne returning, their offense is loaded. Their defense lost a lot of pieces, but Dabo Swinney’s program usually reloads, rather than rebuild. The arrival of Notre Dame in the ACC gives them a stiffer challenge in-conference, but Clemson is certainly the team to beat here. 
  2. Notre Dame
    Notre Dame should be shooting for a conference championship appearance in what is likely their only year  – for now – in the ACC. They are widely assumed to be Clemson’s top challenger. Ian Book enters this third year as starter and 2nd complete one. They’ll need to rebuild their wide receiver corps, but the freshman playmakers have looked good in practice early for the Irish. 
  3. Florida State
    I’ll give the Seminoles a little of respect here. I think they’re not necessarily a championship contender, but I think FSU will put forth a better team than many expect. Cohesiveness has seemingly been the issue as of late, as they continue to rake in impressive recruiting classes. Next to Clemson, they have the 2nd-best recruiting in the ACC (including Notre Dame) over the past five years. They’ve had on-field struggles recently, but their talent is too tantalizing not to bet on. 
  4. Miami
    Much of what was said for Florida State can be said for Miami as well. The Hurricanes have disappointed on the field, but they continue to rake in pretty elite recruiting classes. With transfer quarterback D’Eriq King under center, the Hurricanes might be able to inject some life into their offense and put together a solid season. Prior to the merging of the divisions and addition of Notre Dame, Miami was my pick to reach the ACC Championship as a token sacrifice to Clemson. 
  5. Virginia Tech
    In my opinion, there’s a pretty decent drop off in talent after the top four teams in these rankings. Virginia Tech is a solid program, but their recruiting just does not compare with that of the aforementioned teams. They return arguably the most production of a defense that was pretty good in 2019. The Hokies looked very good for a 7-game stretch last year, that saw them go 6-1 with a one-point road loss to Notre Dame. I think this is a 7-8 win team if they play to their full potential. 
  6. UNC
    Count me in as a UNC-doubter. This ranking has little to do with Sam Howell. I think he leads an absolutely lethal offense, one I would probably rank 2nd to Clemson in the conference. Their defense should be pretty good, although maybe not the strength of their roster. I don’t think they’ll be bad by any stretch, and if a few bounces go their way, I could see the Tar Heels being a darkhorse challenger for a berth in the ACC Championship. But ultimately, I’m not positive this is UNC’s year just yet…it feels too early. 
  7. Pittsburgh
    Placing the Panthers smack in the middle of the power rankings feels about right. They are always pretty good and rarely terrible, but Pitt will rarely wow you with starpower. That being said, they can generally be counted on to be a feisty underdog, which makes them an undesirable opponent. I see this Pitt as exactly that – a solid roster with a defense I would argue may be a top-3 unit in the conference, and an intriguing offense led by NFL Draft prospect Kenny Pickett. 5-6 wins sound about right for Pitt, but you can be sure nobody will be exactly thrilled at the prospect of matching up with the Panthers. 
  8. Louisville
    This may be a tad low for the Cardinals, but I’m just not seeing Louisville take another big step forward after greatly improving their 2-10 mark in 2018 to 8-5 and a Music City Bowl victory last season. I don’t think they’ll be bad necessarily, but I think the Cards peak at around 6 ACC wins this season. Malik Cunningam is a talented quarterback, but I have questions elsewhere on the roster. The Cardinals avoid Clemson and face Virginia, Syracuse, Boston College, and Wake Forest to end the season, but the first half of their schedule involves a road trip to Notre Dame and clashes with Miami and Florida State. It’ll be tough road, and I’m thinking it’s a 5 or 6-win season in ACC play for Louisville. 
  9. Syracuse
    Some ACC rankings have Cuse as the worst team in the conference, and I don’t see it. They’re a year removed from a 6-2 ACC record, and while that may have been a one-off, I don’t see last year’s 2-6 record as a new normal. They lost two games by one score and one of their wins was an absolute slaughter of Duke in Durham, 49-6. I think Syracuse at least comes close to .500 this year. They’ll need Tommy Devito to play better under center, but the Orange look average, but not horrifically bad on both sides of the ball, so I’m seeing 4 or 5 wins for Syracuse in 2020. 
  10. Duke
    This won’t be a season to remember from the Blue Devils. Last season, they started 4-2 but then dropped five straight conference games last season, winning their Senior Day game over a floundering Miami team. I think it’s another tough road for the Blue Devils, who start with a road trip to Notre Dame on September 12. They have possibly the worst offense in the conference, as they still haven’t found answers in the post-Daniel Jones era, so it’s hard seeing much more than 2 or 3 wins from Duke in 2020. 
  11. Georgia Tech
    Georgia Tech is a team that I think may be sneakily good in a few years. But not this season. The Yellow Jackets are still moving on from the triple option, and they don’t have the playmakers to compete with many of the spread offenses that are taking over college football. Much like Duke, Georgia Tech should be happy if they exceed three wins in 2020, particularly with clashes against Notre Dame, Clemson, Florida State and Miami – three of which come on the road. 
  12. Virginia
    The Cavaliers became the 7th different ACC Coastal Champion is as many seasons last year, finally toppling archrival Virginia Tech en route to a 9-3 regular season. They finished with a ACC title game loss and Orange Bowl loss, but it was still their most wins since 2007, and first appearance in a major bowl game since a 1998 loss in the Peach Bowl. This year, however, with do-it-all quarterback Bryce Perkins off to the NFL, there’s a lot of questions about Virginia’s offense, and I’m not sure their defense has enough pieces returning to make up for it. I could potentially see Virginia stealing 4 wins, but I don’t think they’re better than Tech or Duke –  they just have an easier schedule.  
  13. NC State
    With Wake Forest, Duke, Virginia, and Georgia Tech all on the schedule, it seems unlikely that NC State can’t scratch out a win in 2020 – even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while. But I don’t see the Wolfpack getting much more than that. After five straight winning seasons, NC State regressed to 4-8 last season, and I’m seeing another step back. They have a case for having the worst defense in the ACC, and their offense doesn’t raise any eyebrows. 1, maybe 2 wins for the Wolfpack in 2020. 
  14. Boston College
    I’m a believer in Jeff Hafley and that he can turn around the BC program. But not in Year 1. A team that has been mediocre at best returns a quarterback that had a 48% completion rate in 2019 in Dennis Grosel, and they lost A.J. Dillon to the draft in the 2nd round. Notre Dame transfer Phil Jurkovec may take the starting reigns under center, but I’m reserving judgement as he as only thrown 17 meaningless passes in his career. BC also were a huge loser of the ACC schedule expansion, as Wake Forest was taken off their schedule, taking away a potential victory for the Eagles. Maybe Jurkovec plays better than he ever did in trying to win the QB battle at Notre Dame, but I’m not seeing many Ws on this schedule for the Eagles.
  15. Wake Forest
    Losing Jamie Newman to the transfer portal is a brutal loss for Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons will struggle to replace their star dual-threat quarterback, and much like Boston College, they were disappointed to see their fellow cellar-dweller removed from the schedule. If I had to bet the house on 1 ACC team going winless, it would definitely be the Demon Deacons.

Recent Virus Spikes Should Not Be The Reason To Shut Down College Football

The headlines have been both plentiful and negative this week, as reports of UNC reversing course and shifting to online learning, while Notre Dame did the same, although allowed students to stay on campus – for now. Both situations were caused by significant spikes in COVID-19 cases. UNC reported over 320 cases, with another couple of hundred students quarantined due to contact tracing. Notre Dame’s latest update had 222 confirmed cases as of Wednesday at noon. As with UNC, dozens of other students are currently quarantined. In an email, Notre Dame president Father Jenkins stated that the number of initial cases, just 15 days since freshman arrived on campus, and under two weeks after classes started, exceeded their initial estimates. New campus restrictions were set in place, and the student body is somewhat in limbo regarding their status for the rest of the semester. At UNC, most students are returning home. However, at both schools, sports, notably football, remains largely unhindered.

Notre Dame did not practice Wednesday, and they might not Thursday either. The players received tests for the virus, and it is believed that they will wait for results before continuing with practice. Their last set of test results came on August 10, with just 2 of 117 players and staff testing positive. Those who are against schools returning to in-person learning have been vehemently against a college football season. But quite frankly, recent developments show that these athletes may actually be safer with the season ongoing.

The COVID-19 virus remains a relative unknown, and obviously, player safety should be prioritized. However, can it be confidently said that cancelling the football season would make these players safer? I’m not so sure that the case can be made. Throughout the summer, many college football programs practiced, following strict health protocols and keeping case numbers extremely low and even nonexistent at times. These low numbers have been been a major point in the push from many college football players and coaches to keep their 2020 season alive. When seasons were cancelled, many coaches spoke out, discussing the guidelines they had successfully followed in order to earn the chance to play.

Would the numbers increase once the season started? Again, the virus can be a little unpredictable given how new it is, but it seems that if the testing capacity is there, it would not be the case. Look at the case in the NHL and NBA bubbles right now – no cases are being reported despite heavy contact sports being played with no masks and certainly very little distancing. Yet, with increased testing, there have been no cases in recent weeks. While they’re in a bubble, the MLB is not. And yes, the MLB has had some struggles with cases, but every team that has been shut down has been linked to activity that took place off the field, such as a few Miami Marlins’ players visiting a strip club. These sports aren’t particularly conducive to distancing, players aren’t wearing mask, and many of the other general safety protocols regarding COVID are not really in play in these bubbles. Football may be a new test, but it doesn’t appear at this point, given the success of summer practices, as well as the restart of professional sports, that playing sports dramatically increases the chance of infection.

But what about the bevy of Athletic Directors saying they won’t play football without their students on campus? We can only hope they will see sense. While yes, the college’s job is to educate their students, it would be ignorant to ignore the financial ramifications of losing the football season. Notre Dame, for example, uses the money from their contract with NBC to supplment financial aid packages for students. Football is the biggest moneymaker for many universities around the country. It’s not about prioritizing athletes over regular students – it’s about doing their best to dull the financial crisis that will arise out of this pandemic.

As for the recent spikes in cases? To this point, there is no reason to suggest that will be made better by cancelling football. Initial reports from Notre Dame said that the majority of their cases originated with a couple of large off-campus parties. UNC reported a similar situation. The trend has been pretty clear – off campus students, who have housing secured for the year, and non-athletes, with little to lose beyond in-person classes, have been careless and put their schools in tough positions. Notre Dame’s numbers showed that the majority of their cases came from two sources – senior students and business students. Seniors, and particularly seniors in business, often have jobs locked up, or close to locked up, entering their final academic year. Their housing situation would remain largely unchanged, and their future prospects would hardly be threatened by another virtual semester. Meanwhile, a general sense of outrage has permeated the campus, particularly among on-campus underclassmen, who would feel the brunt of the impact of a virtual semester.

There’s a reason that the numbers among football teams have been extremely low – these athletes are playing for their team and their future. Take away that season and all you are doing is adding hundreds of players to a careless student body. That doesn’t seem to lower the risk. The trend is clear – people with something to lose have been more careful, follow the guidelines, and keep the case numbers low. If we’re looking at a pros and cons list, the cons of cancelling football seem to outweigh the pros by a heavy margin right now. Fans or not, colleges need this financially, and if anything, recent events have shown that sports are not really the issue at hand – they’re simply becoming another victim in a hunt to end the virus that feels more and more like a chicken running around with its head cut off. Focus on the issue at hand and give the players the chance to play that they deserve.

And if you’re not an athlete – maybe don’t throw a massive party that gets your school shut down.

Effects Of Notre Dame And New Schedule On The ACC

It was a whirlwind ten minutes to be covering the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Waiting on a pending announcement regarding the commitment of the Irish’s top 2021 running back recruit Logan Diggs, news broke that Notre Dame would officially be competing in the ACC, becoming eligible for their first ever conference championship and the ACC’s bid in the Orange Bowl. It is strictly a one-year arrangement for now, as the ACC also dropped a revised schedule that follows a “10 +1” scheduling module involving ten conference clashes and one non-conference game played in an ACC home state. The schedule will be played over 13 weeks, allowing for two bye weeks, which may be arranged to abide by quarantine rules as much as possible. In the midst of that bombshell dropping, the awaited announcement from Diggs came, and the 3-star running back is headed to South Bend, making it a contender for the most exciting 10 minutes in the sports world in the past 5 months. 

But now that everything is official, let’s break it all down, and what it means for both the ACC and Notre Dame. 

Notre Dame to compete for ACC title, Orange Bowl bid

This is one of the biggest parts of the new addition to the existing partnership between Notre Dame and the ACC. Although just for one year, the Irish will have access to both a conference championship and the ACC’s guaranteed Orange Bowl bid, should they qualify. Quite frankly, Notre Dame becomes instant contenders for both. They’ll be given the 2nd best odds to win the ACC behind Clemson and gives the conference a 2nd viable Playoff contender. Given that they won’t be favorites to beat Clemson – and definitely not twice – it does seem likely that the Orange Bowl is a somewhat likely destination if Notre Dame holds serve against the rest of the ACC. In exchange for this, Notre Dame will share their NBC contract revenue with the rest of the conference. 

Season Format

The ACC will – as of now – shoot for a pretty ambitious 11-game schedule in 13 weeks, allotting two open weeks per team. The season is slated to start during the second week of September, and ten conference games will be played. The ACC is allowing one non-conference game, as long as it is played in the home state of the ACC school. This makes logical sense for the natural Clemson-South Carolina, Georgia Tech-Georgia, Louisville-Kentucky, and FSU-Florida rivalry weekend clashes, but it leaves some questions elsewhere. UNC and NC State and Duke will all have to find separate opponents to come to North Carolina, while Virginia and Virginia Tech face the same challenge. Notre Dame has a difficult situation, being so much further west than the rest of the conference, in that their array of opportunities for regional opponents is completely different. If the Big 10 remains strictly conference-only, the Irish are left with just Ball State as a non-conference match-up. Not ideal for strength of schedule, but a potential two games against Clemson should mitigate that concern. As of now, Notre Dame remains committed to their attempts to play Navy this season. It would at this point likely involve switching the venue to Notre Dame Stadium, as Annapolis isn’t an option under the new ACC guidelines. 

ACC Schedule

The ACC schedule looks different for everyone now, with the conference slate expanded by two games. The most notable change in set-up is that there will be no divisions –  no ACC Atlantic and ACC Coastal. Both were merged into one 14-team mosh pit of a conference, much like the 10-team Big 12. Ultimately, this set-up is a nice add-on in that it allows the two best teams to play for the title. Imagine the TV ratings for a Clemson vs. Notre Dame rematch in the ACC championship, rather than last year’s horrific Clemson-Virginia manslaughter. This may have been done to alleviate concerns about arbitrarily placing Notre Dame in one of the conferences. Putting them in the Coastal would have made them an instant favorite in the ACC’s inferior division, while slotting them into the Atlantic would have angered both Clemson and Notre Dame, as the clear two best teams would be competing for one spot in the championship. This avoids any disagreement regarding Notre Dame’s placement, and gives a struggling Power-5 conference the opportunity for their best championship game in years. 

How does this affect Notre Dame and Clemson

For the game schedule, the ACC released everyone’s opponents, although no dates attached to the game. Notre Dame added contests against UNC, Boston College, Syracuse, and Florida State. A notable omission was a clash with the Miami Hurricanes, who many wanted to see come to South Bend after Miami ended Notre Dame’s playoff hopes in beatdown fashion in 2017. There will be no resurrection of the Catholic vs. Convicts rivalry in 2020. Ultimately, Notre Dame’s schedule probably got a touch easier from their original slate. Florida State is a tricky game, as is UNC, but neither match the difficulty that USC or Wisconsin would have posed. Syracuse and BC are expected to be near the bottom of the conference so they add little to nothing to the resume. Ultimately, Notre Dame’s season should still come down to the Clemson game – or games – as, if the Irish play to their capability, they should beat everyone else on the schedule, especially with a tricky rivalry game and brutal road Big 10 clash out of the way. 

Meanwhile, conference favorite Clemson’s schedule – somewhat detabably – got harder, as they dropped a pretty bad NC State team from the schedule, as well as a Louisville team that is good but very unproven. In exchange, they added Pitt, Miami, and Virginia Tech to the docket, all of which have trap-game potential. Notre Dame’s addition to the conference likely gives Clemson some breathing room. Losing in South Bend may not end their season if they rebound with an ACC championship victory over the Irish, but their conference slate added a few more tricky contests to navigate, so things definitely got tougher for Clemson with these announcements. They’ll still be the favorites entering 2020, but in what’s sure to be a unique year, they’re far from a lock to cruise to a title.