Each offseason, dating back to 2014, we here at CBS Sports have compiled some of the biggest names, games and stories in anticipation of the upcoming college football season that commemorate the 100-day countdown to kickoff. We’ve tweaked the format over the years, but the idea has always been the same: Get you, the fans, fired up for football in the fall with a wide-ranging preview of everything the season ahead has in store.
Until the last couple weeks, a concrete start date for the 2020 college football season has been a mystery. At times, whether a college football season would be held at all — much less in the fall — was in question. The idea of a celebratory countdown post doesn’t generate as much buzz when there’s no light at the end of the tunnel, especially seeing as the entire premise is to remind fans that college football is “only” 100 days away.
But as we sit here today, 100 days from the scheduled start of Week 1, momentum has picked up for the 2020 college football season to start either on time or perhaps one week delayed. The NCAA is allowing voluntary activities for players beginning June 1, and schools across the country are beginning to announce their plans for opening campuses in preparation for the fall semester. The 2020 college football season has already been and will continue to be impacted in dramatic ways, but the mere fact that we are trending towards having a season this fall is something worth celebrating.
So we’re back with 100 things for you to peruse as we sit 100 days from the majority of teams taking the field in Week 1. We have storylines that will drive the conversation, teams with national championship hopes, names you know (and ones you need to learn), the games we sincerely hope are able to be played and much more.
1. Angry Alabama: The 2019 season marked the first time that a College Football Playoff was held without Alabama. While the larger history of the sport might view the six-season playoff era as a limited sample size, the regularity of Alabama competing for a national championship is part of the identity surrounding Nick Saban’s program. Because not only did the Tide miss out on the playoff for the first time, but they also suffered narrow defeats to their two biggest rivals: LSU and Auburn. Saban is not one to linger on what might have been if Tua Tagovailoa had played the whole year healthy or if linebacker Dylan Moses were healthy for any of the 2019 season, but he is one to, in his words, “not waste the loss.”
A fiery focus on winning it all in 2020 is part of the context when noticing DeVonta Smith, Alex Leatherwood, Najee Harris and Moses all return to Tuscaloosa when given the opportunity to go pro after last season. Alabama doesn’t have the separation it used to from the rest of college football, but now it has a motivating drive for revenge powering its efforts to reclaim the top spot in the sport.
2. Trevor Lawrence vs. Justin Fields: It’s the most basic, boiled-down launching point for any conversation about college football in 2020, enhanced by the instant-classic Fiesta Bowl semifinal between their two teams in 2019. The “who ya got?” factor extends across several major realms: the Heisman Trophy, the national championship, he No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Fans, media, fantasy draft gurus and anyone else with a six-foot reach to the sport of football is interested to see how these two quarterbacks fare in 2020 and will have an opinion on who has the edge over the other.
3. Will the College Football Playoff club get any new members?: Every year of the CFP era has featured at least one first-timer. How much larger can the list of playoff participants get before we see only returning customers? For now, it’s still pretty top-heavy with Alabama (5), Clemson (5), Oklahoma (4) and Ohio State (3) as the only schools with multiple playoff appearances, but you look at the 2020 outlook for those four and it’s possible this will be the first season without a first-timer.
There are a couple of schools knocking on the door, most notably Florida and Penn State. These two programs have combined for 41 wins and three New Year’s Six bowl wins in the last two seasons, and what unites them in their push for playoff contention is a major hurdle located right outside their door in their own divisions. On Oct. 24, Penn State will host Ohio State in Happy Valley, then on Oct. 31, Florida and Georgia are scheduled for their annual showdown in Jacksonville, Florida. Without those wins in late October it’s going to be difficult to be a part of the playoff discussion come November.
4. No spring for scheme changes: The elimination of a full spring practice period and traditional offseason calendar takes a toll on the efforts for first-year coaches, but also for established ones who saw major changes to their staffs following the 2019 season. LSU coach Ed Orgeron has a new defensive coordinator in Bo Pelini and a shift to a 4-3 scheme along with Scott Linehan taking the place of Joe Brady as the team’s pass game coordinator. At Georgia, Kirby Smart is retooling his offense with Todd Monken in as the new coordinator and Matt Luke taking over for Sam Pittman as the new offensive line coach. There’s notable overhaul at Texas, where Tom Herman fired both coordinators after 2019 while bringing in Mike Yurcich from Ohio State to run the offense and former Rutgers head coach Chris Ash to run the defense.
Throw in USC and its revamped defensive staff under the leadership of former Texas coordinator Todd Orlando, and you’ve got a full hand of conference championship and College Football Playoff hopefuls attempting to install new schemes and systems over Zoom calls. This is a time when college football coaches’ ability to teach is going to be paramount, and the staffs that can accomplish their goals in limited time will be the ones seeing success on the field in 2020.
5. Will transfer quarterbacks rule the playoff race again? Last year, three out of the four College Football Playoff teams had transfer quarterbacks under center. Fields’ mere presence counts for potential continuation of this trend, even if he has far exceeded his experience and production from Georgia in Columbus, Ohio. But who might join him at the top of college football among transfer quarterbacks? Former Wake Forest quarterback Jamie Newman is an obvious option as he takes over at Georgia. D’Eriq King has a chance to make waves at Miami and former USC quarterback J.T. Daniels’s future is yet to be determined as he remains idle in the transfer portal.
Anthony Brown could end up as the man under center for a playoff contender at Oregon and, as we mentioned, Fields does count as a transfer signal-caller. In a sense, this could be his Joe Burrow year, with 2019 laying the ground work for a transformative 2020. Jake Bentley also has big-time expectations at Utah, where the Utes are annually competitive for the Pac-12 championship and K.J. Costello could be one of the most prolific passers in the country if he can stay healthy running Mike Leach’s Air Raid at Mississippi State. We might not see three transfer quarterbacks starting in the College Football Playoff again, but that group remains a point of intrigue as the sport continues to embrace and allow further player movement across the national landscape.
Five bold predictions
6. LSU will finish second in the SEC West: Myles Brennan might not prove to be as prolific a quarterback as Joe Burrow, but the talent of the roster and the championship identity that Orgeron has helped establish keeps the floor high for LSU. It’s hard to pick the Tigers to win every game on the schedule again after losing more than a dozen players to the NFL, but it’s still a 10-win team.
7. Travis Etienne will be the Doak Walker Award winner: Top running back conversations too often ignore the efforts of Etienne because he doesn’t rank high when writers sort stat sheets by yards and yards per game. The two-time ACC Player of the Year Award winner averaged 7.8 yards per carry in 2019 and 8.1 yards per carry in 2018 for Clemson, shattering ACC career touchdown and scoring records along the way. Lawrence might finally end up getting that ACC Player of the Year Award from the league, but Etienne will deserve national recognition as the top running back in the game.
8. Texas will win the Big 12 Championship Game: Here’s to betting on some better injury luck for Texas, who has yet to take the next step to “back” with a Big 12 title. I’m all in on Sam Ehlinger as a top-five quarterback in college football this season, and it’s worth remembering how close the Longhorns came to winning in Cowboys Stadium back in 2018 — tied 27-27 heading into the fourth quarter — before scoffing at their chances to finish the job with an iconic senior quarterback leading the way.
9. Oregon will have one of the best defenses in the country: There might be some cognitive dissonance here for fans too familiar with Oregon as the home of Chip Kelly, Marcus Mariota and Justin Herbert. But with just two starters gone from last year’s group and five-star freshman Justin Flowe and Noah Sewell joining a group of young stars led by Kayvon Thibodeaux, I think the Ducks are going to be dominant and defense-forward in their Pac-12 title push.
10. Florida State will win 10 games: These aren’t called soft predictions, so here’s to stepping out on a limb for first-year coach Mike Norvell and a Florida State team that I think was better than its record in 2019. The Seminoles held fourth-quarter leads in losses to Boise State, Wake Forest and Virginia — all teams that won eight or more games and were ranked in the top 25 at some point in the season. While the inability to close out wins contributed to the decision to fire Willie Taggart, the narrow margins suggest FSU was closer to 9-3 than 6-6. Norvell has the disadvantage of limited work before things got shut down, but I’m calling for a four-win turnaround in 2020.
New faces, new places
Every coach in the country has been pressed by the elimination of workouts and practices that had been so carefully planned for their offseason programs. First-year coaches in the 2020 class are going to feel that inconvenience exponentially more, and the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic is going to be the context for any instant analysis of these hires. That’s not to say that everyone listed below gets “Year 0” treatment, because some of these coaches come with expectations that exceed the average new hire.
Internal promotions of Jimmy Lake at Washington and Ryan Silverfield at Memphis mean we’re going to look for the same kind of championship contention we came to expect under their predecessors. Norvell, gone from Memphis and off to Florida State, has long been considered an upper tier teacher and coach with the potential to win big at a big-time program. Now that Norvell is with the Seminoles, the stage is set for him to showcase that potential.
Some of the most interesting turnover from the 2019-20 cycle comes from the league where it’s hardest to crack the top tier, as four SEC teams are trying to lay foundation with new faces on the sideline. There is plenty of league familiarity for Lane Kiffin and Sam Pittman, while Mike Leach and Eli Drinkwitz are hoping to make a splash in their first year as an SEC coach.
11. Appalachian State: Shawn Clark
12. Arkansas: Sam Pittman
13. Baylor: Dave Aranda
14. Boston College: Jeff Hafley
15. Colorado: Karl Dorrell
16. Colorado State: Steve Addazio
17. FAU: Willie Taggart
18. Florida State: Mike Norvell
19. Fresno State: Kalen DeBoer
20. Memphis: Ryan Silverfield
21. Ole Miss: Lane Kiffin
22. Michigan State: Mel Tucker
23. Mississippi State: Mike Leach
24. Missouri: Eli Drinkwitz
25. New Mexico: Danny Gonzales
26. Old Dominion: Ricky Rahne
27. Rutgers: Greg Schiano
28. San Diego State: Brady Hoke
29. UNLV: Marcus Arroyo
30. USF: Jeff Scott
31. UTSA: Jeff Traylor
32. Washington: Jimmy Lake
33. Washington State: Nick Rolovich
Clemson currently sits as the leader on the odds board at William Hill Sportsbook, but from a power ranking standpoint, I’m taking Alabama as my pick to win the national championship. We’ll be asked for our pick approximately two dozen times between now and the title game kickoff in Hard Rock Stadium, so there’s plenty of wiggle room for changing my mind. But as we sit 100 days away, I’m rolling with the Crimson Tide.
But deciding between Alabama, Ohio State and Clemson doesn’t create much intrigue. They’re all elite and enter nearly every season with a good chance to win it all. The tougher question is where you draw the line for the top shelf in 2020. Georgia has been just a handful of plays short of a national title and a couple more from another playoff appearance and all Oklahoma does under Lincoln Riley is win Big 12 titles and make the playoff. Florida, with the surging momentum heading into Year 3 with Dan Mullen after back-to-back New Year’s Six bowl wins, gets the nod as the third-best SEC option. The Gators’ schedule is a bit more manageable than that of the Bulldogs, but they still have to find a way to win in Jacksonville to live up to this contender status.
34. Alabama (5-1)
35. Ohio State (4-1)
36. Clemson (9/4)
37. Georgia (8-1)
38. Florida (20-1)
39. Oklahoma (18-1)
As you probably noticed from the bold prediction above, I’ve got high expectations for LSU this season, but I think the odds don’t match their chances to repeat as national champions. That’s why I’ve got them down in the second tier where the 10-1 odds suggest a more top-level contender status. Penn State and Texas are top-two teams in their respective conferences, so if you want to file a fade Ohio State or Oklahoma play, that’s going to be your best bet. Just remember that we’re not picking conference title winners here and they would still have to go win two games in the playoff to cash in the ticket.
40. Penn State (40-1)
41. LSU (10-1)
42. Notre Dame (30-1)
43. Oregon (30-1)
44. Texas (40-1)
45. USC (50-1)
Heisman Trophy candidates, sleepers
We know it’s mostly a quarterback award, but we’ve included two running backs among the group as a nod to the three non-quarterbacks (Reggie Bush, Mark Ingram and Derek Henry) to win the award in the last 20 years. First, the headliners:
46. Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State (7/2)
47. Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson (4-1)
48. Jamie Newman, QB, Georgia (10-1)
49. Spencer Rattler, QB, Oklahoma (12-1)
50. Mac Jones, QB, Alabama (20-1)
51. Sam Ehlinger, QB, Texas (20-1)
I think Ehlinger is the most intriguing prospect here because his Heisman odds don’t hang on national championship contention like they do for Fields and Lawrence. Ehlinger carried a huge load in Texas’ offense last season, ranking No. 1 among all returning FBS players in total offense, and if the Longhorns are in the mix for the Big 12 title with him leading the way, he’s going to have some Heisman momentum.
52. D’Eriq King, QB, Miami (20-1)
53. Chuba Hubbard, RB, Oklahoma State (25-1)
54. Myles Brennan, RB, LSU (25-1)
55. Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson (25-1)
56. Ian Book, QB, Notre Dame (30-1)
57. Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina (30-1)
The value plays I like further down the list are Kedon Slovis or Kyle Trask, and I would stay away from Martinez or Mond until they get step or two closer to a conference championship. Clifford is the wild card with so much to gain if Penn State can knock off Ohio State and make a run at the playoff, but betting on that run requires betting on a step forward at the quarterback position with a new offensive coordinator and no spring practice to get on the same page.
58. Adrian Martinez, QB, Nebraska (40-1)
59. Kellen Mond, QB, Texas A&M (40-1)
60. Sean Clifford, QB, Penn State (40-1)
61. Kedon Slovis, QB, USC (40-1)
62. Kyle Trask, QB, Florida (50-1)
63. Brock Purdy, QB, Iowa State (60-1)
These players probably won’t win the Heisman (again, mostly a quarterback award these days), but they are worth your attention as some of the best, at any position, in college football next season.
64. Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU: At the 2020 NFL Draft Combine, media members asked the defensive backs to name the best wide receiver they played against in college. With a loaded 2020 class, I’m sure the intention was to use their takes to start sorting the pile. Instead, multiple players replied “Ja’Marr Chase.” He could have been the No. 1 receiver in 2020 draft, and he’s going to be the best receiver in the game again this fall.
65. Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State: Known mostly in Big Ten country and among college football diehards, this is going to be the breakout year for Parsons as one of the top players in the sport. He’s coming off a year that saw him become the first sophomore in Big Ten history to win the Butkus-Fitzgerald Linebacker of the Year award after finishing the season with 10 or more tackles in six of the final seven games.
66. Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon: There’s an argument that Sewell is such a complete player he not only deserves consideration as a top NFL Draft pick with Lawrence and Fields but as the best player, at any position, in college football. According to Oregon, Sewell has allowed just one sack over 1,376 snaps the last two seasons.
67. Kayvon Thibodeaux, DE, Oregon: After a stunning debut leading Oregon’s pass rush efforts, I expect Thibodeaux to be a top-five defensive talent nationally in 2020. I’m setting the over-under at 12.5 sacks after the former five-star recorded nine in 2019, especially since the rest of the defensive front is too good for him to get double-teamed on every snap.
68. Rondale Moore, WR, Purdue: Injuries limited Moore’s ability to follow-up an electrifying freshman debut and the Boilermakers’ struggles — in part due to widespread injury issues that included the dynamic wide receiver — dropped him from the radar a little bit. I think both Moore and Purdue’s offense are back on track in a big way this fall.
69. Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama: There might not be enough touches to go around for all of Alabama’s skill players to overwhelm you with stats or end up collecting hardware, but few players in the country are more dangerous with limited touches than Waddle, who can change a game in an instant if he finds open field.
70. DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama: The decision to return to Alabama comes with the expectation that Smith will be the alpha in the wide receiver room this fall, and whether it’s Jones or Bryce Young under center, I expect Smith is going to get a lot of the first looks.
71. Alex Leatherwood, OL, Alabama: At some point you just tip your cap to acknowledge sustained excellence. Leatherwood has been a really solid offensive lineman playing at a high level in huge games ever since he filled in for the injured Jonah Williams in the third quarter of Alabama’s national championship win against Georgia during his freshman season. Since then, he’s played at both guard and tackle, grading out as one of the best players on the line in 2019 and earning First Team All-SEC honors from the league’s coaches.
72. Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU: We’re used to seeing freshman flash at DBU, and the seemingly never-ending waves of talent coming through Baton Rouge, Louisiana, have trained our eyes look for the next new thing. But rarely does a rookie dominate on the edge like Stingley during a consensus All-American freshman season.
73. Richard LeCounte, DB, Georgia: Four interceptions had him ranked second in the SEC last season, but his role as a stopper with a nose for the ball on the back end of the defense is what makes LeCounte so valuable to one of the best defenses in the country.
74. Dylan Moses, LB, Alabama: Not every opponent was able to exploit the absence of Moses in the middle of Alabama’s defense, but not having his experience, versatility and raw talent on the field significantly downgraded how effective that unit could be against the best up-tempo teams in the country.
75. Marvin Wilson, DT, Florida State: One of the best signs for buy-in from Florida State’s existing roster was to see Wilson, a dominant talent with first round NFL Draft potential, decide to keep the pros at bay for another year so he can help lead the way in 2020.
76. Kenneth Gainwell, RB, Memphis: Even in an offense that shared touches across several effective skill position players, Gainwell was one of 22 players to average 100-plus rushing yards per game and he did it with less attempts per game (16.5) than anyone else in the group.
77. Jaylen Twyman, DT, Pitt: As a sophomore last season, Twyman became the first interior defensive lineman to lead Pitt in sacks since Aaron Donald and ranked in the top 20 nationally with 0.81 sacks per game. Twyman is going to be in the conversation as one of the top interior defensive lineman in the country this fall and a no-brainer preseason All-America candidate.
78. Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota: Tyler Johnson might be gone, but with Tanner Morgan still under center and Bateman at wide receiver, there is no expectation for the Gophers’ passing attack to slow as they pursue the Big Ten West title that slipped away after a strong start in 2019.
79. Pat Freiermuth, TE, Penn State: There hasn’t been a ton of consistency among Penn State’s pass catchers, but Freiermuth is currently riding a 25-game streak with at least one reception and he’s become the best red zone threat with 15 touchdowns in the last two years.
80. Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida: A team-high 54 receptions not only made Pitts one of Trask’s favorite targets but one of the most prolific tight ends in the country. After mostly playing special teams as a freshman in 2018, Pitts is rounding into form from raw high-ceiling talent to NFL-ready skill player and should be a big factor in the Gators’ SEC title push in 2020.
81. Creed Humphrey, OL, Oklahoma: The best center in the country, Humphrey will have a big responsibility helping lead the offense and protect Rattler in his first significant set of college action. The redshirt junior has 26 starts across the last two years and finished as a Rimington Trophy finalist in 2019.
82. Boogie Basham, DE, Wake Forest: The NFL was an option for Basham after First Team All-ACC honors during his redshirt junior season in 2019, but his decision to return sets up for a rounded out argument as one of the five or ten best defensive players in program history. Basham will remain on the NFL’s radar, but his recognition among national college football conversations has been limited compared to the production (11 sacks, 18 tackles for loss in 2019). All-America consideration should be in the mix if he can repeat that kind of stat line in 2020.
Games we really hope to see
This section has been temporarily changed from “games we can’t wait to see” as the scheduling future of the sport remains a question, especially for some of these early neutral-site and nonconference games. But while dates or details could change, the matchup is what we’re focused on today. These are some of the games that will have an impact in the College Football Playoff race.
83. Week 1 (Sept. 5): Alabama vs. USC
84. Week 2 (Sept. 12): Ohio State at Oregon
85. Week 2 (Sept. 12): Texas at LSU
86. Week 3 (Sept. 19): Georgia at Alabama
87. Week 4 (Sept. 26): Florida at Tennessee
88. Week 5 (Oct. 3) Wisconsin vs. Notre Dame
89. Week 5 (Oct. 3): Penn State at Michigan
90. Week 6 (Oct. 10): LSU at Florida
91. Week 6 (Oct. 10): Minnesota at Wisconsin
92. Week 6 (Oct. 10): Oklahoma vs. Texas
93. Week 7 (Oct. 16): UCF at Memphis
94. Week 8 (Oct. 24): Ohio State at Penn State
95. Week 9 (Oct. 31): Florida vs. Georgia
96. Week 10 (Nov. 7): Alabama at LSU
97. Week 10 (Nov. 7): Clemson at Notre Dame
98. Week 10 (Nov. 7): USC at Oregon
99. Week 13 (Nov. 28): Michigan at Ohio State
100. Week 13 (Nov. 28): Auburn at Alabama