Debbie Downer here. You know, the ultimate bearer of bad news. Sorry, but breaking down the Georgia quarterback situation doesn't seem like the most important thing as we approach the 2020 college football season.
If we have a season, it is going to be like no other. Shortened? For sure. Delayed? Maybe. Postponed? At a minimum for two Power Five conferences.
But the clouds do seem to be parting. Three Power Five leagues have decided to give it go (for now). That means we can actually start talking football.
Here are the 20 storylines that will keep you compelled as the 2020 season unfolds over the next few months.
1. The Big Question: Will the SEC, ACC and Big 12 (a) make it to the season and (b) make it through the season? The smart money says "probably" on (a) and "doubtful" on (b). News of a newly approved saliva test for COVID-19 is likely to aid the return to play. If schools can mitigate major spikes as students return to campus -- though we are already seeing concerning clusters -- we should be able to get to Labor Day weekend in two weeks. (That's when Conference USA kicks off.)
But it's a big ask for 76 teams to make it all the way through December without a major interruption. Flu season will be moving in. College players are still college students. If there is even one hospitalization, the optics will likely be much too overcome. College football has already tempted fate getting this far.
One thing for sure. Season No. 151 of college football -- if we get there -- will be memorable.
2. The Asterisk Season: Three conferences are playing in the fall. (Hopefully.) Two are playing next spring. (Maybe.) Anything that happens over the next nine months or so will be stuck with a big hairy asterisk. After all, how do you award a Heisman Trophy with 42% of FBS teams not participating in the fall? How can any championship be "national"? Will we even make it to September?
A shortened season equals increased urgency. It also means the rise of teams no one thought about for most of the preseason. That would be a welcome change from the College Football Playoff era that has produced little bracket diversity.
In a shortened schedule, a 1,000-yard rushing season takes on new meaning. Never mind 60 passing touchdowns. Joe Burrow has that one locked away -- forever.
3. Empowerment of players … From Chuba Hubbard to #WeAreUnited, players everywhere woke up to their long-existing leverage. The combination of social injustice and the coronavirus pandemic allowed players to realize they are the product. From now on, the work force isn't going to do what it is told without asking why.
4. … and parents: The kids may be alright, but the parents are pissed. An uprising among parents at half the Big Ten schools has led to demands for a meeting with commissioner Kevin Warren. The parents want a fall season. It's more likely one of the three Power Five leagues set to play this fall don't see the field than the Big Ten or Pac-12 reverse its decision. But it's going to fascinating to watch the politics of the situation.
The Big Ten has changed after this controversy, especially if can't play for a championship in spring 2021. The Pac-12 already had competitive problems (having not won a national title since 2004). The Big Ten has won one title since 2002.
5. Alabama's rebound? The Crimson Tide start in the top five and be favored (again) to win the SEC. At age 68, Nick Saban might've had his best July ever, landing seven of his current 16 commitments. No surprise, Alabama's Class of 2021 is ranked No. 2 nationally in 247Sports Composite team rankings, meaning the program won't have a hiccup coming out of the pandemic. Mac Jones will begin as the starter at quarterback. Freshman Bryce Young is the long-term prospect. Saban convinced the bulk of his NFL Draft-eligible juniors to stay. In the middle of this mess, Alabama looks to be solidly positioned to be competing for championships again. You should not be surprised.
6. LSU's encore? The guts of that 15-0 Forever Team are gone, but there is plenty of returning talent. Early buzz is that Myles Brennan is going to be more than a capable replacement for Joe Burrow. Writing the words "Ed Orgeron, national coach of the year" wouldn't have been thought of a year ago. Now, Coach O is the standard. He has recruited well enough that the Tigers could win nine (in a 10-game season). Bo Pelini replaces Dave Aranda as defensive coordinator. The Tigers still might have the best set of receivers in the country with a unit led by Ja'Marr Chase. Derek Stingley Jr. at cornerback might be the best defensive player in the country.
7. A playoff like no other: With a smaller field from which to choose -- assuming there is a College Football Playoff with that smaller field -- here's an early educated guess at how it might look come December.
- No. 1 Clemson vs. No. 4 Oklahoma: We've seen this one before. It did not end well either time for OU. The Tigers have boat-raced the Sooners in twice since 2014, once in the 2015 playoff.
- No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 3 Florida: Yes, you're reading that right -- a rematch of the SEC Championship Game. The Gators would simply be the next-best choice even coming off a league title game loss to the Tide. Would-be preseason top 10 teams and CFP contenders like Ohio State, Oregon, Penn State and Wisconsin aren't playing this fall.
8. Year of the Transfer Quarterback: Georgia's Jamie Newman (from Wake Forest) has Heisman buzz before taking a snap, and now JT Daniels (from USC) is there to compete, though he's not yet cleared. Miami's D'Eriq King (from Houston) is the closest thing to Burrow in 2020. Mike Leach has his quarterback at Mississippi State with K.J. Costello (from Stanford). Feleipe Franks (from Florida) gives Sam Pittman a chance in his first season at Arkansas.
9. Most likely to break through: Oklahoma State. While Mike Gundy did his best to make news for all the wrong reasons in the offseason, the actual product on the field should be excellent. The Cowboys have 10 starters back on defense, and that's not even the strength of the team. Gundy will see the national rushing champion (Hubbard) and a future NFL talent in receiver Tylan Wallace both return. In six of the last 10 seasons, Oklahoma State has posted double-digit wins. In this convoluted campaign, the Pokes could be the dark horse no one is talking about.
10. Transfer issue: One of the features of this split season is the real possibility that teams playing in the fall could raid those postponed to the spring for players. The elite players won't transfer. We're talking the fourth-to-seven rounders and projected undrafted free agents. Then comes the question about whether the NCAA should grant immediate eligibility. Easy: The 54 teams from which those transfers would originate aren't playing football in the fall.
11. Opt outs may keep coming: Nearly 40 Power Five players have chosen not to play this season amid COVID-19. The talent drain is becoming noticeable. Among other big names, the list includes Penn State star Michah Parsons, the Big Ten's leading returning receiver in Minnesota's Rashod Bateman and Purdue All-America selection Rondale Moore. Most have chosen to skip the season to stay healthy and get ready for the draft, rather than risk infection playing as amateurs.
12. Fans (not) in the stands: The question remains unanswered: Will fans be allowed to watch college football in person this season? While schools continue to announce different models, no one really knows. Local health restrictions can change overnight. Texas is making the bold attempt to fill 50% of Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium (per Gov. Greg Abbott's restrictions). That would be about 50,000 fans. Elsewhere, the projections are much more conservative. Frankly, it's hard to see much science allowing any fans in stands.
13. Trevor and the Tigers: The dynasty continues despite Clemson falling to LSU in the CFP National Championship. Clemson was done in by perhaps the best player ever in a single season (Burrow) guiding the best team ever in a single season (2019 LSU). Etienne returns. Star QB Trevor Lawrence isn't going anywhere. The preseason No. 1 team attempts to win its third championship in the last five seasons. It would be a damn shame if we've seen the last of Lawrence. That would most likely be the case if the season was canceled. Lawrence would have to make the decision between risking injury in 2021 and getting ready for a $30 million NFL Draft payday.
14. SEC West has never been better: The coaches in the SEC West are responsible for seven of the last 11 national championships. Four of its teams will be ranked in the top 10 of the Preseason CBS Sports 130 (released Tuesday). That doesn't include a couple of guys named Lane Kiffin and Mike Leach. Speaking of which …
15. The State of Mississippi: Mississippi State's Kylin Hill changed history when he changed the state flag. By threatening to withhold services unless the flag was changed, the SEC's leading rushing leader lent some definition and purpose to a painful offseason. Meanwhile, it's never been more entertaining in the Magnolia State. Two colorful coaches (Kiffin, Leach) who can coach liven up a rivalry that was last seen ending in a faux end zone urination.
16. Notre Dame's historic season: The Fighting Irish didn't have much of a choice. They had to join the ACC full-on for 2020 to have a season. They are eligible for the ACC title and the Orange Bowl berth that goes along with it. Is this a look at Notre Dame's future? Athletic director Jack Swarbrick says no. This is merely a one-year marriage of convenience. But as we've seen, the landscape can change fast in in this season of COVID. What if Notre Dame beats Clemson twice in a month to win the ACC and gets into the CFP? That might be too much of a tease for even the staunchest fan of the Irish.
17. Heisman chatter: With Fields out (for now), Lawrence is the overwhelming favorite. But it's weird that Newman has the third-best chance on some betting sites. He has yet to throw a pass at Georgia. Another favorite, Oklahoma's Spencer Rattler, has thrown seven in his career.
18. Coach of the year candidates: We're calling it right now -- Mack Brown. The ultimate CEO coach is the ultimate comeback coach. Following up on a seven-win in his second debut at North Carolina, Brown developed a Heisman contender (Sam Howell), recruited like a madman and (re)endeared himself to Tar Heels everywhere. Don't forget the Heels were the last ACC team to give Clemson a game.
19. All-name team: In alphabetical order…
- Tutu Atwell, WR, Louisville
- Markaviest "Big Kat" Bryant, DL, Auburn
- Linwood Crump, DB, Temple
- Nakobe Dean, LB, Georgia
- Divine Deablo, DB, Virginia Tech
- Storm Duck, DB, North Carolina
- O'Bryan Goodson, DL, Memphis
- Jacobian Guillory, DL, LSU
- Brodarious Hamm, OL, Auburn
- Sincere Haynesworth, C, Tulane
- Shocky Jacques-Louis, WR, Pittsburgh
- Gi'Narious Johnson, DL, South Alabama
- Smoke Monday, DB, Auburn
- Bumper Pool, LB, Arkansas
- Kavosiey Smoke, RB, Kentucky
- Jhi'Shawn Taylor, LB, Georgia State
- O'Cyrus Torrence, OL, Louisiana-Lafayette
- Tommy Tremble, TE, Notre Dame
- Shai Werts, QB, Georgia Southern
- Quazzel White, OL, TCU
20. Not Seat Coaches: Suspend whatever level of fervor you have to fire the local underachiever. He may be around longer than you think. How are you going to evaluate a guy in a shortened season or no season? Two of the coaches with the least job security don't play until next year -- USC's Clay Helton and Arizona's Kevin Sumlin. Yes, haters, your under-fire coach may have just gotten a mulligan from COVID-19.