College Football Down But Not Out: How Players and Coaches Are Fighting Back

As the coronavirus pandemic raged on through the summer – the promised dip in cases with the warm weather never really arriving – a pit began to form in the stomachs of many college football fans around the country. While the NFL has yet to make significant changes, outside cancelling preseason games, college football was always at greater risk. There’s limited ways to institute a bubble system that has allowed for successful restarts in the NHL and NBA. The MLB has allowed limited travel, and even that has not come without its drawbacks, with several teams seeing a multitude of games cancelled as the virus raged through their clubhouse.

Could college football ever survive? The early responses to that question began rolling in over the past couple of weeks, as FCS moved their season to the spring, while UConn became the first FBS team to cancel their fall season. The MAC became the first FBS conference to make the announcement – seemingly making it only a matter of time until the season fell by the wayside. On Monday, major dominoes finally fell, as the Big 10 voted to cancel their season by an overwhelming 12-2 majority. The Mountain West Conference soon followed. The Pac-12 is expected to vote their way into the same course of action today, which would leave the FBS with just 6 of 10 conferences still standings. However, don’t spell doom on the college football season just yet. 

Players Fighting Back

#WeWantToPlay. The hashtag has flooded twitter, after it was posted by itself in a Tweet by Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. The tweet was followed up by a longer explanation from the potential #1 draft pick, stating that the players and community at large would be at least as safe with a football season as without. Coming from Lawrence, who has little to gain in the way of draft stock this season, the statement was extremely important. Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields echoed the sentiment, as did several other prominent players, with Mississippi State running back Kylin Hill being another notable name to join the cause. Several other Buckeyes’ players reacted to the Big 10’s decision, firing out tweets wondering whether they could join the SEC for a year. On Monday, Ian Book and the rest of the Notre Dame captains released a statement, affirming their support for a 2020 season: “As leaders of this team, we can confidently say that the metal and physical health of this team is in a better place with the football season taking place this fall”, the statement read. 

Joe Burrow, although a recent alum of the college football world, sent out an eye-opening tweet, saying that if this had happened last season, he would likely be looking for a job right now. The tweet referenced Burrow’s meteoric rise from a player barely projected to be drafted to a lock for the #1 overall pick, a stunning climb that hinged on his historical Heisman-winning 2019 season. Which players out there could make a similar move in 2020? If the decision to cancel the season is upheld, we may never get to find out. 

Coaches and Celebrities Get Involved

The desperate fight to play has not only involved players, as everal coaches got involved in the movement. Jim Harbaugh cited Michigan’s 0 positive results in their last 353 tests as evidence that the virus could be controlled, a point emphasized in a tweet from Michigan defensive lineman Adam Hutchinson.

Scott Frost said the Nebraska program was prepared to explore opportunities outside the Big 10 for a season, while Ohio State’s Ryan Day and Penn State’s James Franklin both expressed sentiments about hoping to reverse the decision. Lane Kiffin of Ole Miss also tweeted out the #WeWantToPlay hashtag in support of the movement to have the 2020 season. Nick Saban released a statement saying that the notion that college players could only get the virus from playing football was incredibly false, citing Alabama’s 2% positive test ratio since the 4th of July. 

Basketball legend Shaq and President Trump were also among the big names that advocated for the players via social media yesterday, however not everyone wants the season to be played. Stephen A. Smith said the season should be cancelled today, and evidently, there’s concern among some players as well, with 31 opt-outs to this point. Rashod Bateman (Minnesota), Rondale Moore (Purdue), and Micah Parsons (Penn State) highlighted the opt-out movement, as all three highly-ranked prospects elected to not play in 2020. However, a growing sentiment in the college football world was that the option to play should be as readily available as the option to opt-out. The virus has proved containable, and with effective measures in place and conference-only play, a season with an abbreviated slate of games seems attainable. 

Realignment and other ideas

The Pac-12 will likely announce their cancellation on Tuesday, and the Big 10 should make their decision official as well, officially bringing the number of conferences down to 6. The most updated reports have said that they may only delay their season, waiting before announcing an official cancellation. But if the season isn’t officially cancelled, and those 6 conferences want to play, we could see some weird things happening that would shake up the football world. The SEC has already reportedly begun courting several teams to join their conference for a season, including Texas and Oklahoma out of the Big 12. Could an SEC/Big 12 superconference be a possible solution. Such a deal would leave the ACC on the outside looking in, maybe hoping to secure some Big 10  and AAC teams to join their conference on a temporary basis. Nebraska and Iowa voted against the cancellation officially, and with several coaches speaking out against the decision, it would be foolish to declare the season dead just yet. Meanwhile, there could also be traction for an SEC/ACC alignment, while the Big 12 welcomes in teams from the Big 10 and Pac-12 that still want to play. Could some teams from the cancelled Mountain West (Boise State being the most prominent) link up with some hodgepodge conference in 2020? Conference USA intends to play as of this moment, despite Old Dominion’s announcement that they would not play in the fall. C-USA could also be a factor in regrouping teams into a realigned conference set-up. The logistics of any of these set-ups would be a nightmare to figure out, with playoff formats and schedules having to be reconfigured, but the possibility remains in play. 

Of course, the most likely situation may still be a spring season, which would at least recoup some of the brutal financial losses that programs across the country will suffer from the cancellation of the fall schedule. If a spring season can’t be played, it would be expected that dozens of athletic teams will be forced to shut down, due to the financial strain. We’ve already seen a bevy of programs cut due to this, and the reality of missing a year of football, easily the greatest money maker for nearly every school, would cause the program cancellations to increase greatly. The outlook is bleak right now, but don’t close the coffin just yet. College football is down but not out – #WeWantToPlay.

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Heisman Watchlist: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson

Since bursting onto the scene as a true freshman, Trevor Lawrence has been considered a Heisman favorite while manning the quarterback position for the Clemson Tigers. Although he wasn’t a finalist last season, in what is almost certainly his final collegiate season, Lawrence is again among the biggest favorites to bring home the hardware. Last year, Lawrence was done in by factors both in and out of his control; he was off to a slow start as Clemson muddled through the opening stages of their schedule, and a lack of high profile games in the ACC gave Lawrence few chances to impress against elite competition. Meanwhile, Joe Burrow put up one of the best seasons in college football history, and Justin Fields and Jalen Hurts also posted huge numbers. Throw in Chase Young’s monster campaign on the defensive side of the ball, and Lawrence was shut out of New York. He finished 7th in voting, also trailing a pair of Big 10 running backs in Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor and Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins.

However, entering 2020, five of the six players that garnered more votes than Lawrence last season are off to the NFL, leaving the Clemson signal-caller, with another complete season under his belt, as a natural favorite to contend for the Heisman.

What he needs to improve

To be a legitimate Heisman contender in 2020, Lawrence cannot afford to sleepwalk through an ACC schedule that is loaded with mediocrity that is extremely conducive to sleepwalking. Lawrence is obviously more focused on winning a national title than the Heisman, but even if Clemson doesn’t need him at full strength to run through their conference schedule, Lawrence will need to be locked in to put up stats that keep him on the radar of Heisman voters. Last year, Lawrence posted QB ratings of 63.7 (vs. Georgia Tech), 67.2 (@ UNC), and 58.0 (@ Louisville). Clemson dominated two of those games and escaped the Tar Heels, but Lawrence didn’t throw for more than 233 yards in any of those games against middle-of-the road competition, so despite the unblemished record, Lawrence was quickly discounted from Heisman consideration.

The last two Heisman winners – Joe Burrow and Kyler Murray – were noted for both their outstanding numbers and remarkable consistency. Burrow had one QBR of 73.8, and no other performances that checked in below 85.0. Murray’s worst performance featured a 78.2 rating, and only one other effort under 90.0. If Lawrence is to beat out Justin Fields and other elite competitors for the award, he will need to cut down on his lackluster efforts and simply dominate the inferior competition in the ACC, week in and week out.

Best “Heisman Moment” Opportunity

@ Notre Dame, November 7

This is the only correct answer to this question. Last year, Clemson’s regular season slate did not include a single team that finished the year in the Top 25. This year, barring a collapse beyond even normal Notre Dame standards, that will change, as Clemson’s road trip to South Bend serves as their most difficult game of the year by far. A big performance here combined with a solid showing in ACC play will go a long way towards earning Lawrence a spot in New York in December. If Lawrence posts anything less than great numbers against the Irish, it will be difficult to rebound given the lack of quality opponents on their schedule. Beating Notre Dame on their home field, where the Irish haven’t lost since Week 2 of 2017, would be massive, both for Clemson and for Lawrence’s Heisman hopes.

Game Most Likely To Ruin Heisman Chances

@ Florida State, October 10

If I could simply say “The ACC”, I would. While Fields will get multiple shots at Heisman moments against a loaded Big 10 slate, Lawrence gets his one chance at Notre Dame, and then a bevy of games where he will be tasked with putting up big numbers on bad teams. Florida State is not a legitimate threat for the ACC Championship this year. They’ve really struggled recently, and most projections have them topping out third in their division, behind Clemson and Louisville. Florida State is unlikely to be a ranked team, which makes Clemson’s road trip to Doak Campbell Stadium a real trap game. Clemson is just 5-12 in true road games against FSU in program history, despite winning in their last two trips. Clemson has won the last three clashes between these squads by at least 17 points, but, beyond their trip to Notre Dame, this is Clemson’s toughest road game of the year, and a bad performance, or a loss, here will destroy Lawrence’s chances.

Top 5 CFP QuarterBack Performances

The College Football Playoff has been one of the best things to happen to college sports, giving fans extra postseason football of the highest quality each year. Such contests give way to some legendary performances, and so, today, we are ranking the top 5 performances by signal-callers in the six-year era of the Playoff.

Honorable Mentions

Kyler Murray vs. Alabama, 2018-19 semifinals: 19-37, 308 yds, 17 carries, 109 yds, 3 Total TD

Deshaun Watson vs. Alabama, 2016-17 national championship: 36-56, 420 yds, 21 carries, 43 yds, 4 Total TD

Trevor Lawrence vs. Ohio State, 2019-20 semifinals: 18-33, 259 yds, 16 carries, 107 yds, 3 Total TD

#5 – Deshaun Watson vs. Alabama, 2015-2016 National Championship

The top five kicks off with Watson’s national championship debut, as I believe he actually played slightly better in their defeat to the Crimson Tide. Watson fueled Clemson all game long, tossing for 405 yards and running for 73, accounting for the majority of Clemson’s 550 yards of offense. He tossed a pair of first-quarter touchdowns to Hunter Renfrow, and he kept the Tigers charging after the Tide all night, firing another couple of TDs in the final 5 minutes, before a last-ditch onside kick doomed Clemson. Easily the most impressive performance by a QB in a losing effort in CFP history.

#4 – Tua Tagovailoa vs. Oklahoma: 2018-2019 CFP Semifinals

This was possibly the most well-quarterbacked game from both sides in any CFP game ever, as we already saw Kyler Murray’s effort slotted into our Honorable Mentions. However, unfortunately for the Heisman winner and eventual #1 pick, he was outdueled by Alabama’s Tagovailoa. Although not much of a dual-threat, the Heisman runner-up was lethally precise, completing 24 of 27 passes for 318 yards and 4 touchdowns. He helped Alabama out to a 28-0 lead before the Tide held off a Kyler Murray charge, with Tua staving off the Sooners by hitting DeVonta Smith and Jerry Jeudy for fourth-quarter scores.

#3 – Joe Burrow vs. Clemson: 2019-20 National Championship

You already knew Burrow would be on this list (spoiler: more than once), and he slots in at #3 for his performance in the national championship this past season. Clemson was a stiff defense, and they largely shut down Ohio State after a tough start, yet Burrow made it seem effortless in slapping 42 points on the Tigers, including the last 14 points after Clemson drew within three. Burrow capped off one of the greatest seasons ever by a college quarterback with five touchdowns through the air and another on the ground. He was 31-49 for 463 yards and churned out another 54 with his legs. For the LSU fans – here’s 2:42 of Burreaux dicing the Clemson defense.

#2 – Trevor Lawrence vs. Alabama, 2018-19 National Championship

The last two seasons have culminated in legendary QB performances, so we can only imagine what 2021 will bring. In 2019, Lawrence capped off the first 15-0 season in college football history. After his strong semifinal performance versus Notre Dame that was largely chalked up to an overrated Irish defense, Lawrence came out on a mission in the title game, feasting on the Crimson Tide defense to the tune of 347 yards and three touchdowns. The difference between Burrow at #3 and Lawrence at #2 was razor-thin at most, with the deciding factor being that Clemson largely put away the Tide in the first half, meaning Lawrence wasn’t really in a situation to put up more gaudy statistics as the Tigers closed out Alabama in their 44-16 victory. Also, Lawrence was in his first year of collegiate football, while Burrow was in his fifth. After the run game and defense got Clemson going, Lawrence iced the contest in the second and third quarters. His TD pass with under five minutes to play in the half extended the Clemson lead to 28-16, and his two scoring tosses in the third quarter sent the Tide packing. Incredible peformance from a true freshman with the lights shining brightest.

#1 – Joe Burrow vs. Oklahoma, 2019-2020 CFP Semifinals

Coming into this game, Burrow had to answer a few questions, largely about his health after he suffered from a well-publicized case of the flu in the week leading up to the Oklahoma game. Could the Heisman winner do what he had done all season long? The answer was a resounding yes, as Burrow began smashing CFP records in the first half alone, throwing an astounding 7 touchdown passes. Literally no words can actually describe this performance – far and away the greatest in CFP history. Watching Burrow this game felt like he was being controlled by someone playing Madden (or NCAA Football 2014) on Rookie mode. He made it look that easy.

We Simulated Clemson’s 2019 Season, but with LSU’s Schedule

Clemson got a lot of grief for their quality of competition last season, going 12-0 in the ACC en route to a College Football Playoff berth – Clemson dominated the ACC, but they wouldn’t have stood a chance in the SEC – or so the rabid fans down south would like you to believe. Yes, Clemson has dominated the ACC, but last year, only one other team put up a nine-win season, and that was Virginia, who lost by 45 points to Clemson in the ACC title game – not exactly elite by any stretch. However, there’s no question Dabo Swinney runs an excellent program, and you only have to go back two years to recall Trevor Lawrence and the Tigers dismantling Alabama by 28 points in the title game. Was last year’s championship loss another mere reflection of LSU’s dominance, or did it symbolize that Clemson simply wouldn’t be as good as they are in a different conference. To answer this question, we simulated Clemson’s 2019 season, except we stacked them up against LSU’s schedule, to see how the Tigers may have fared. Granted, this is only one simulation, but it’s curious to see if LSU, and the SEC as a whole, has some merit in their constant berating of Dabo’s team. Let’s see if Clemson can shut them up. 

Week 1 vs. Georgia Southern
Win 38-6 (LSU Result: Win 55-3)
Maybe LSU had a little more dominance, but this one wasn’t ever close. No questions are answered after this game. 

Week 2 @ Texas
Loss 20-17 (LSU Result: Win 45-38)
Ouch. A Week 2 loss already in the books for Clemson. They had much better defensive success against Sam Ehlinger, but a 32-yard touchdown pass with four seconds left dooms them. This game wasn’t a cakewalk for LSU either though, and a three-point non-conference loss hardly dooms Clemson’s playoff hopes (if they run the table in the SEC). 

Week 3 vs. Northwestern State
COULD NOT SIM
Our simulator does not allow us to clash with FCS opponents, but we know this one would have been a blowout win for Clemson either way. It was never going to tell us anything we didn’t already know. 

Week 4 @ Vanderbilt
Win 44-19 (LSU Result: Win 66-38)
In their first SEC clash, Clemson answers the bell with ease, dominating the hapless Commodores. Travis Etienne – he’s dominant in any conference – puts up over 250 yards of offense as Clemson opens up a 34-6 halftime lead. LSU’s margin of victory is slightly bigger, but nothing jaw-dropping here. 

Week 5 vs. Utah State
Win 62-13 (LSU Result: Win 42-3)
The only thing we learned from this one is that Jordan Love can’t do anything against LSU or Clemson – wouldn’t be too confident if I’m a Packers fan right now. Clemson wins by 10 more than LSU did, with Trevor Lawrence tossing six touchdowns, but both teams cruise.

Week 6 vs. Florida
Win 31-26 (LSU Result: Win 42-28)
What a game! People forget that Kyle Trask and the Gators were the only team all season to lead LSU in the second half. They never actually lead Clemson in this one, but they’re very close all game, and Clemson can’t breathe easy until Trask tosses an interception at the Clemson 38 with under a minute to play. Still a very solid SEC win for the Tigers, however. 

Week 7 @ Mississippi State
Win 42-21 (LSU Result: Win 36-13)
Nothing much to see here – Clemson cruises on the road against an inferior team that was barely bowl-eligible. It wasn’t even as close as the score indicated, as the Bulldogs scored in the final minutes to pull within 21. The next few weeks have some bigger tests in store.

Week 8 vs. Auburn
Win 58-10 (LSU Result: Win 23-20)
Wow, absolute dominance by Clemson. Auburn rarely struggles like this on defense, but Clemson was simply all over them from the start. A rare time that the Clemson offense did far more than LSU did, as Trevor Lawrence (389 yards, four touchdowns) and Travis Ettienne (213 all-purpose yards) were simply finding gaping holes in the defense. Is this a testament to who has the real Death Valley as well? Bo Nix looked horrific here, but he almost led the Tigers to a big upset at LSU..

Week 9 @ Alabama
Loss 47-7 (LSU Result: Win 46-41)

That’s a tough look right there. Clemson went into Tuscaloosa, but unlike Joe Burrow, they didn’t pull the upset. Not only that, but the Crimson Tide laughed Clemson out of town, as the Tigers failed to score until 1:37 left in the third quarter. Alabama had the offense to go toe-to-toe with anyone, and Clemson’s offense was simply not up to the task. Since the rest of the SEC results will hold, this means Alabama finishes the season 7-1 in SEC play, and thus Clemson will not play in the SEC title game. The Playoff  is a distant memory at this point, and they can only hope to play for a potential New Years’ 6 Bowl Game. (Apologies, there were some issues with the boxscore link on this game).

Week 10 @ Ole Miss
Win 28-18 (LSU Result: Win 58-37)
It’s been a pretty consistent trend (sans the Alabama debacle) – Clemson fared much better defensively against the Rebels than LSU, while their offense suffered considerably more struggles. Ole Miss led for much of the first half, but Clemson seizes control late in the second quarter and pulls away.
Week 11 vs Arkansas
Win 54-17 (LSU Result: Win 56-20)
Arkansas is exactly the same thing to Clemson that they were to LSU: SEC punching bags. The Razorbacks never had a chance. Clemson unleashes some of their frustration from their horrific loss and frustratingly close win against Ole Miss. 

Week 12 vs. Texas A&M
Win 33-3 (LSU Result: Win 50-7)
The Aggies are a good, not great, SEC team. It’s a useful measuring stick to see how Clemson sizes up against a team that is certainly in the upper half of the conference. They proved clear superiority in this one, much like they did in their actual game against Texas A&M this past season (albeit much earlier in the season). The Aggies are held to three points, as they were on the actual gridiron, and Clemson tacks on a few more field goals in this virtual contest, wrapping up their regular season. At 10-2, with ranked victories over Florida and Auburn, Clemson has a decent chance at swinging a New Years’ 6 game, but nothing more than that, as Alabama takes on Georgia in the SEC championship. 

The Verdict
Clearly, Clemson was not the power that LSU was, but we already knew that from their championship game clash. The Tigers went 10-2, with a 7-1 SEC mark, proving that they would be right there with the best of them in the conference. The biggest bragging right the SEC can hold over Clemson is much tougher road atmospheres. Clemson went 3-1 in SEC road games, struggling to do much against Ole Miss and getting absolutely blown out by Alabama. Throw in their Texas loss, and the Tigers went 3-2 in true road games, with a point differential of just +13. Maybe Clemson is in for a bit more trouble than people think when they visit Notre Dame, who hasn’t lost at home since 2017, in the upcoming season. The ACC doesn’t provide intimidating road environments – not exactly surprising for a basketball-dominated conference – and Clemson clearly struggled in hostile environments in this simulation. However, nobody, regardless of conference, touches Clemson at Death Valley (real or not).

It’s completely unfair to say Clemson is not a great team that benefits from a bad conference. Yes, their ACC schedule is easy, but Clemson would be extremely competitive and near the top of the SEC, even if they weren’t a near-lock for 12-0 every season. Their mauling in Tuscaloosa does raise some questions abut their physicality, and emphasizes the difference in a full-season grind in the SEC versus the ACC – however don’t mistake that for mediocrity. Clemson is a premier program and would still compete for a Playoff spot against a much tougher schedule.

Cimino: Ranking College Football’s Best 15 Quarterbacks

A lot goes into the ranking of quarterbacks in college football. These rankings are based off of talent, experience, winning, and some gut feelings. Here we go.

T-15. Charlie Brewer (Baylor)

T-15. Spencer Sanders (Oklahoma State)

14. Mac Jones (Alabama)

13. Bo Nix (Auburn)

12. Kyle Trask (Florida)

11. Kellen Mond (Texas A&M)

10. Sam Elingher (Texas)

9. Kedon Slovis (Southern California)

8. Brock Purdy (Iowa State)

7. KJ Costello (Mississippi State)

6. Sam Howell (North Carolina)

5. Tanner Morgan (Minnesota)

If I saw this name in a top 5 at the beginning of last season, I would’ve thought it was a joke. PJ Fleck gets a lot of credit for the Gophers recent success, but Morgan has been a key component. He put up big numbers in a conference that is built on defense. Morgan is just a junior, and he will be back in full force this season.

4. Ian Book (Notre Dame)

Ian Book catches a lot of heat, but really only because he plays for Notre Dame. The Irish are a very hated team, and that comes with major scrutiny for the quarterback. Book led the Irish to the playoff in his sophomore season and he threw for over 3000 yards, 34 TDs, and 6 picks last year. Book is a very good quarterback, and it is about time he gets some respect.

3. Jayden Daniels (Arizona State)

I might be a year early on Daniels in some people’s minds, but this kid is a stud. I don’t like to make long term predictions, but I’ll take Daniels as the next Russell Wilson at the next level. This kid has a big arm, he is quick, and he is CLUTCH. Daniels is only a sophomore, and at some point in the next couple years, he could have a Heisman in his trophy case.

2. Justin Fields (Ohio State)

I was a little hesitant before the beginning of last year when it came to Fields. I wanted to see more of his arm in action before buying in. After a year at Ohio State, Fields proved everyone wrong. He has tremendous arm talent and showed he knows how to win big games. The only reason he is behind Lawrence? Lawrence outplayed him when they faced off, but the gap is slim.

1. Trevor Lawrence (Clemson)

This seems like a no-brainer to me. Lawrence is a proven winner, has tremendous arm talent, and knows how to run his system. Lawrence continues to prove why he is one of the best QB prospects ever. He will be nothing short of spectacular this season.

Thomas: Top 10 College Football Quarterbacks for 2020

A few days ago, I analyzed ESPN’s top 10 quarterbacks, offering a few of my own criticisms, and hinted at my own rankings, which I will now share. Without ado, here are my Top 10 (and a few extra) college football quarterbacks for the 2020 season. 

Just Missed the Cut

13. Ian Book, Notre Dame 

12. Levi Lewis, Louisiana 

11. Jayden Daniels, Arizona State

The Top 10

10. Kyle Trask, Florida

Trask made headlines last season when he took over as the Florida starter, becoming his team’s starting signal-caller for the first time since early in his high school career. Kyle Trask boasted a few notable accomplishments, including being the only quarterback in the country to lead Joe Burrow in the second half. The Gators lost just twice, with the other defeat coming at the hands of Georgia, and Trask put up solid numbers, throwing for 25 touchdowns. He will be Florida’s rock in 2020, as the Gators hope to break through in the SEC, and maybe even take their shot at the College Football Playoff picture. 

9. Dillon Gabriel, UCF

We’re staying in the state of Florida for #9 as well. Gabriel was one of the most underrated QBs in the country, as there was quite literally nothing he would have been able to do that could have lived up to McKenzie Milton, the best signal-caller in UCF program history. Gabriel took over the starting job in the middle of Week 1, and he tossed for 3,653 yards, 29 touchdowns and just seven picks. He led the Knights to another double-digit win season, and Gabriel will be back in 2020.

8. Sam Howell, North Carolina

Cal Christoforo, when ranking the ACC quarterbacks for the upcoming season, put it pretty simply and accurately: Howell put up one of the best true freshman seasons in college football history. With 38 touchdowns to just seven interceptions and 3,641 passing yards, Howell has been pronounced the savior of the Tar Heels. UNC has been killing it on the recruiting front, and with two more years of Howell, they could be a prominent team, not just in the ACC, but on the national scale pretty soon. 

7. Dustin Crum, Kent State

ESPN had Crum ranked 8th, and I loved it. Kent State is a small program, and it could be easy for the Golden Flashes’ signal-caller to go unnoticed, but Crum is a great talent, and he could find himself playing on Sundays. (Remember a certain Kent State quarterback that became an elite slot receiver). 

6. Brady White, Memphis

I was stunned that White didn’t make it on ESPN’s list, as the Memphis quarterback led one of the most explosive offenses in the country. After squeaking out an ugly 15-10 victory over Ole Miss in the season opener, Memphis scored at least 28 points in every game. Most impressively, White and the Tigers rolled all over Penn State’s illustrious defense for 39 points in the Cotton Bowl. Despite the team loss, it was a very impressive performance from a quarterback who impressed all year long, tossing for over 4,000 yards and 33 touchdowns. Look out for Brady White and Memphis in 2020. 

5. Layne Hatcher, Arkansas State

The former Alabama quarterback transferred to Arkansas State after redshirting his freshman year, and in his first season as a starter, Hatcher was very efficient and led the Red Wolves to 28 points or more in all but two contests, with one of those being a road game at Georgia. Hatcher’s numbers may not be jawdropping, but he finished sixth last season in pass efficiency, and he was a very capable leader of the Arkansas State offense. I’m really high on this young QB, so keep an eye on him in the next season or two. 

4. Kedon Slovis, USC

I mean, you know it’s legit because this is coming from a Notre Dame fan. Slovis is the real deal, and as a freshman Slovis threw for a little more than 3500 yards, thirty touchdowns, and nine interceptions, leading USC to a three-win improvement in 2019. One of Slovis’s most impressive performances came in a road night game at Notre Dame. In a hostile environment, Slovis put up 27 points on a very strong Irish defense, nearly leading the Trojans to victory. He also put up 30 points on a top-10 Utah team that challenged for a Playoff berth until the Pac-12 championship game. Slovis is legit, and you heard it here…from an Irish fan…don’t make me say it again. 

3. Trevor Lawrence, Clemson

Not second?? I’ll be brief in my explanation as I’m sure you want to see who is second, and you may have already scrolled to that point. Anyways, Lawrence is obviously one of the top quarterbacks in the nation, but I’m ranking him third. He showed a little sloppiness last year early in ACC play, but he’s still dynamic. One of the best, but I wouldn’t say he’s 1 or 2. 

2.Tanner Morgan, Minnesota

Over Trevor Lawrence? Yes sir. Tanner Morgan simply did more with far less than Lawrence. All respect to Minnesota, but they are not Clemson, and they don’t have Clemson’s skill. Morgan led the Gophers, who most thought to be a middling Big 10 team, to the bring of the Big 10 championship and into the top 10. Morgan averaged more yards per game, had better pass efficiency, and competed in a much tougher conference. Clemson is an elite team who also has Trevor Lawrence. Minnesota is a great team because of Tanner Morgan.

1. Justin Fields, Ohio State
If you want proof of how good Fields is, look to the year before, when the Buckeyes were led by first round draft pick Dwayne Haskins under center. Under Haskins, the Buckeyes put together a solid campaign, winning the Rose Bowl, but they had several close calls, and they lost by 29 points to Purdue. Under Fields, the Buckeyes won six games by 40+ points, and only one opponent came within 20 points in the regular season. Fields is a dynamic dual-threat QB, and he simply elevates his team to an entirely new level.

Dream League Playoffs: Justin Jefferson is automatic

Justin Jefferson shows UP in big games. In LSU’s dominant two-game College Football Playoff romp, Jefferson collected 23 passes for 336 yards and four touchdowns. And, apparently, virtual Justin Jefferson also performs in big games, as in an elimination playoff game, Jefferson caught three touchdown passes from Trevor Lawrence to help Cal eliminate Andrew, 37-27. Andrew’s miserable Dream League campaign ended with a dismal 1 win and 8 losses. Cal improves to 5-4 and will have a chance to take down Nathaniel’s 7-1 squad in a best-of-three championship series held this weekend. 

Cal 37 Andrew 27

Jefferson’s dominance allowed Cal to jump out to a 34-14 halftime advantage. Lawrence scrambled for another touchdown, and Jonathan Taylor, who pounded his way to 106 rushing yards, ran in Cal’s fifth and final touchdown of the half. Andrew’s ground-and-pound approach kept him close for a while, but despite 105 rushing yards from Travis Etienne, and 86 from J.K. Dobbins, he simply could not keep up with Cal’s red-hot offense. Late in the fourth quarter, Jalen Hurts hit Jamar Chase for a 25-yard touchdown pass to pull Andrew within ten points, but the two-point conversion failed. Cal ran most of the remaining four minutes off the clock, extinguishing any potential rally. 

Cal will visit NDL in the championship series opener on Friday night – stay tuned for updates.

ESPN’s Top 10 Quarterbacks left a lot to be desired

ESPN released their top ten quarterbacks for the 2020 season, and, as with a lot of ESPN’s preseason rankings, there’s plenty of controversy to be discussed. Much like when ESPN released Northwestern as a top-5 defense, there’s some rankings here that just don’t make sense. So, let’s take a look at who’s too high, too low, and the biggest snubs of this list.

1. Trevor Lawrence – About Right
Trevor Lawrence is undoubtedly one of the best, if not the best, quarterback in college football. He is the frontrunner to be the #1 pick in the NFL Draft next year, with his main competitor being Justin Fields. He’s somewhat interchangeable with Justin Fields in this slot. 

2. Justin Fields – About Right
Fields and Lawrence are the consensus top-2 quarterbacks, so these two rankings seem about right. After that, it gets weird. 

3. Jamie Newman – WAY too high
This is one of my biggest complaints with this list, as there is just nothing about Jamie Newman that makes me think “that’s a top-three quarterback in the country”. Newman is a very solid dual-threat quarterback, and he’s in the upper echelon of collegiate signal-callers. But tearing up the ACC is far easier than tearing up the SEC, and Georgia lost workhorse back D’Andre Swift to the draft, putting even more pressure on Newman. After finishing the season ranked 40th in pass efficiency, I don’t understand this rankings at all.

4. Sam Howell – Too High
Howell would definitely be in my top 10, but I don’t think he’s cracking the top-5. Howell had a spectacular true-freshman campaign, but with so much experience returning, and a few other very talented sophomores, I’m not ready to say Howell is #4 in the country yet. UNC has been getting far too much hype, and that hype extends to Howell. He scrapes into my top 10, maybe around #8, but he should not be 4.
5. Tanner Morgan – Too Low
I am really high on Tanner Morgan, and I would venture to say he’s the third-best quarterback in college football after Fields and Lawrence. Playing in a brutal Big 10, Morgan threw for 3,253 yards and thirty touchdowns to just seven interceptions. He put up extremely impressive numbers in some of their biggest games of the season, including a win over then-unbeaten Penn State and a bowl game victory versus Auburn. Tanner Morgan is a sneaky Heisman pick if Minnesota performs well in 2020. 

6. Sam Ehlinger – Too High? Too Low? I don’t know
This one is a tough call. If you listen to Texas fans, Ehlinger is the second coming of Jesus Christ, and he’s a shoo-in for the Heisman next year. But to everybody who listens to the “Texas is back” mantra every single year, Ehlinger seems like another overhyped Longhorn, and at this point I’m not sure what to believe. Ehlinger has put up solid numbers, if not jaw-dropping. I have him right around #11 in my personal rankings, but Ehlingher’s rank is anybody’s guess. 

7. Brock Purdy – Too High
Brock Purdy is definitely good, but his gaudy numbers – nearly 4000 passing yards – are boosted by the horrendous defenses he faces in the Big 12. Purdy got a chance against a big-time program in Notre Dame in the Camping World Bowl last season, but he failed to deliver, never even delivering the Cyclones to as much as a touchdown. I think Purdy will continue to put up numbers, but he’s not a top 10 quarterback in the country. 

8. Dustin Crum – Perfect
I love giving the mid-majors some love, and I really think ESPN nailed their ranking with Dustin Crum. He plays for Kent State, which is where Julian Edelman played QB before becoming one of the best slot receivers in the NFL, and while he doesn’t wow you with ridiculous numbers, Crum plays efficient, mistake-free football. Last year, Crum tossed twenty touchdowns to just two interceptions, leading the Golden Flashes to their second winning season since 1987 and first ever bowl game victory. 

9. Layne Hatcher – Too Low
I love this kid out of Arkansas State. After redshirting a year at Alabama, Hatcher transferred to Arkansas State and piled up nearly 3000 passing yards in just ten games under center. Interceptions were an issue at times, but mistakes can be expected from a first-year starter. This guy has lots of potential, and he could push to be a top 5 quarterback in the country this season. 

10. Kedon Slovis – Too Low
I saw Slovis play once personally last season, and it was at Notre Dame Stadium. As a freshman quarterback, who started the year as the third-string, Slovis came to South Bend and gave the Irish a great fight, putting up 27 points on a very good Notre Dame defense. Slovis is #4 in my personal rankings, and I think he could definitely put USC on his shoulders and bring the Trojans to the top of the Pac-12. 

Biggest Snubs

Brady White, Memphis
Brady White is most definitely in my top 10 after leading a dynamic Memphis offense to the Cotton Bowl last season. He put his talents on full display against Penn State – coming into the contest, the Nittany Lions had given up no more than 28 points (to Ohio State), but White slapped 39 points on the scoreboard, and he’s back for more in his senior season. Lawrence and Fields are undoubtedly the first two quarterbacks off the draft board next season, but I think White could make a case to be the third or fourth. 

Dillon Gabriel, UCF
Gabriel was put in a really tough situation last year, as virtually nothing he could do was going to meet expectations at UCF. He was taking over for Mackenzie Milton, the best starter in program history who was lost to a horrific knee injury in 2018, and UCF was coming off of back-to-back undefeated regular season. A couple of fairly early losses took Gabriel and the Knights out of the spotlight, but Gabriel continued to perform well, leading UCF to a 10-3 record and bowl game victory. He threw for 3,653 yards and 29 touchdowns, and Gabriel definitely slides into my top 10 quarterbacks heading into 2020. 

Kyle Trask, Florida
The last of my snubs belongs to Trask. The Florida QB led the Gators to their first 11-win season since 2012, and their highest ranking at #6 since 2009 under Urban Meyer. After cruising to an Orange Bowl victory, Florida might be the SEC East favorites, and they could make a run at the College Football Playoff. If he throws the ball a little more this year, I could easily see Trask being one of the top signal-callers in the nation.

2020 ACC Atlantic Division Quarterback Rankings

The Atlantic Division, and the ACC in general, is run by Clemson. It still may be Trevor Lawrences’s conference, but what other signal-callers are going to shine in the ACC in 2020? Here’s the Atlantic Division QB rankings.

7. Dennis Grosel, Red-shirt Junior, Boston College

After Eagles’ starter Anthony Brown suffered a season-ending leg injury against Louisville in week 6, it was up to Grosel to finish out the 2019 season under center. He finished 3-4 as a starter and was primarily a game manager for the BC offense, which was 8th in the country and 1st in the ACC in rushing offense with 3,291 yards. After Brown transferred to Oregon in April, it seems like it is Grosel’s starting job to lose in 2020. Even with stud running back AJ Dillion off to the NFL,  the Eagles still have an excellent back in David Baily and a rock-solid offensive line that should lead to open passing lanes for Grosel off of play-action. 

6. Devin Leary, Red-shirt Sophomore NC State

Three different players threw for over 500 yards for the Wolfpack in 2019 but Leary was the leader throwing for 1,219 in eight games. Now in his redishirt sophomore season, the former four-star from Sicklerville, New Jersey, has been announced the starter going into camp. He became the first red-shirt freshman to start for NC State since Russell Wilson after starting the last 6 games of the season. However, he definitely has a long way to go. Leary completed just 47.5% of his passes in those 6 starts throwing only 8 touchdowns to go with his 5 interceptions as the Wolfpack lost every one of those starts. Hopefully going into the season as the main man under center will be just what he needs for more success. 

5. Sam Hartman, Red-shirt Sophomore, Wake Forest

After winning the starting job in his true freshman season back in 2018, Hartman lost the quarterback battle to Jamie Newman in 2019. But, with Newman transferring to Georgia, the job is Hartman’s again in 2020. Hartman was just a three-star recruit coming out of high school in  South Carolina, but he really improved when he got to Wake, throwing for nearly two thousand yards as a freshman. He can run into a bit of trouble with turnovers, throwing 10 career interceptions as opposed to his 20 touchdown passes. Hartman was able to get a red-shirt after losing the job last year, so with the team back under his reins in his sophomore season in 2020, Hartman will look to improve off of his 2018 campaign. 

4. Tommy Devito, Red-shirt Junior, Syracuse

The great people of central New York were expecting big things from Devito in his first year as the starter. But the Orange win total regressed from 10 in 2018 to just 5 in 2019. Most of that, however,  was not the fault of Devito who spent most of the season either on his back or running for his life behind one of the worst offensive lines in the conference. Devito was sacked more than any other quarterback in the nation – 44 times in 2019.  The New Jersey native, who was a four-star recruit, completed 63% of his passes for 2,360 yards and 19 touchdowns. Hopefully, with a full year under his belt and a better O-line, Devito and the Orange can get back on track in 2020.

3. James Blackman, Red-shirt, Junior, Florida State

Blackman has had a very interesting career in Tallahassee. He won the starting job as a true freshman back in 2017, throwing for 1,997 yards in 12 starts. In 2018 he lost the QB battle to Deondre Francois and took a redshirt season. Then in 2019, he beat out Wisconsin grad-transfer Alex Hornibrook and threw for ,2339 yards in 10 starts. At 6’5” Blackman was a three-star recruit out of high school and another QB with the misfortune of playing behind a pitiful offensive line. He was sacked 27 times in his 10 starts and Hornibrook who also made starts for FSU was sacked 20 times. Hopefully, with a better line upfront, Blackman can have a breakout season in 2020. 

2. Micale Cunningham Red-shirt Junior, Louisville

Micale Cunningham turned Louisville football around in 2019. After going 2-10 with wins against Indiana State and Western Kentucky in 2018, the Cards had an eight-win season in 2019, including a victory in the Music City Bowl. After leading the Birds by rushing for 497 yards in 2018, the former three-star from Montgomery, Alabama threw for 2,061 yards and ran for 482 more in 2019. Cunningham also set the Louisville record for passing efficiency with a mark of 194.45. The highly talented dual-threat signal-caller will look to continue to improve his numbers as well as the team’s success in 2020.

1. Trevor Lawrence, Junior, Clemson

Not maybe, possibly, or potentially – Lawrence IS and WILL BE the number one selection in the 2021 draft. Coming out of high school in Cartersville, Georgia Lawrence was the number one recruit in the class of 2018 and the sixth-highest recruit since 2000. At Clemson, he has lived up to expectations and then some. As a true freshman, he beat out returning starter Kelly Bryant, who took the Tigers into the college football playoff as the #1 team the year before, and won the national title. As a sophomore, Lawrence went all the way back to the national championship game. He led the ACC in passing in 2019, throwing for 3,665 yards to go along with 36 touchdowns. Lawrence will look to continue his college football dominance in 2020 for a Clemson team who once again is a favorite to win another national championship.