College football rankings: Clemson leads Ohio State in way-too-early top 25 ahead of 2020 season
Will the Tigers run through the ACC again on their way to another College Football Playoff appearance?
Win or lose Monday, Clemson was going to win as the Tigers have enough returning talent from a 14-1 runner-up national title team to start 2020 where they started 2019: No. 1. Don't act like you're surprised. Clemson is still a budding dynasty with 29 wins in the last seasons and 69 and in the last five.
Welcome to the Way-Too-Early Power Rankings for the 151st season of college football.
We choose to remember that, prior to Monday, Clemson had outscored its opponents by more points (473) than 109 teams had scored, period. The NFL mandates quarterback Trevor Lawrence has another year of eligibility remaining, which automatically means the Tigers will be a factor.
There have been six College Football Playoffs. Clemson has been a part of five of them. Get ready for another orange, paw-printed playoff run.
As far as how the rest will fall in line, let's take a look at the early preseason top 25.
| Well, that was a heck of a way to kick off 2020, wasn't it? The Tigers will go for a third national championship in five years with the return of Lawrence and receiver Justyn Ross, for starters. Coach Dabo Swinney said more than once there were 80 freshmen and sophomores on the roster. There are also 15 early entries in the recruiting class. Let's just say the Tigers aren't going away. With 29 wins in the last 30 games, a sixth straight ACC title is almost guaranteed. |
| Year 2 of Ryan Day will dawn with the same expectations: win the Big Ten and challenge for a national championship. Most of the pieces are there. Heisman Trophy finalist Justin Fields returns. Watch Master Teague at tailback. He's sneaky good. The offensive line will be loaded with the return of All-America guard Wyatt Davis. There won't be a Chase Young on defense. That defense needs a new coordinator now that Jeff Hafley has departed. |
| The Crimson Tide should be OK at quarterback. Of course, they could have been great. Tua Tagovailoa's decision to declare for the NFL Draft makes for one of the offseason's juiciest storylines. Returning at the top of the depth chart is Mac Jones, followed by Tua's brother Taulia and incoming freshman Bryce Young with battle for the starting job. Dylan Moses' return at linebacker is huge. There is enough receiving talent to keep the spread offense cooking. The next draft decision is by tailback Najee Harris.|
| The Tigers lose 20 seniors from 2019's forever team. That includes Joe Burrow. However, Ed Orgeron is recruiting a high level after a second straight top-five class. Biletnikoff Award winner Ja'Marr Chase returns. But it's fair to say the offense will take a hit because the 2019 was record setting. Get used to LSU in the top 10, though, as the Myles Brennan era begins. |
| After three straight transfer quarterbacks, Oklahoma enters a new quarterback era. Traditional recruits Spencer Rattler and Tanner Mordecai will battle for the starting spot. Neither has much experience. The biggest loss on defense is All-Big 12 linebacker Kenneth Murray going to the NFL. The Sooners will be favored to win a sixth straight Big 12 title after a crushing Peach Bowl loss to end the season. |
| Dan Mullen's reputation as one of the nation's best program builders has been burnished. He lost his starting quarterback and still assembled a second consecutive double-digit win season. The Gators seemed to get better with Kyle Trask settling in at QB. Five of their first games in 2020 are at home, including LSU. It looks like the SEC East is Georgia-Florida dominated. |
| The Ducks are back where they were under Chip Kelly after a Rose Bowl win. That's right -- at the top of the Pac-12 and competing for a national championship or, in this case, a College Football Playoff spot. Mario Cristobal has to find a replacement for Justin Herbert, but the philosophy is clear: beat up the opposition. These Ducks could compete favorably in the SEC. Cristobal has landed another top-10 recruiting class. |
| Another win over Alabama lasts only so long. Gus Malzahn loses his entire secondary and Outland Trophy winner Derek Brown off the defensive line. There is plenty to like about the Tigers going into 2020. Auburn already has its quarterback (SEC Freshman of the Year Bo Nix). |
| Kirby Smart faces a bit of a rebuilding job. He also faces the task of becoming a playoff team again. Both tasks will be daunting in 2020. Smart must replace tailback D'Andre Swift and offensive lineman Andrew Thomas, at least. The Dawgs will find out where they stand early. They travel to Alabama in Week 3. The addition of Wake Forest QB Jamie Newman begs the question: Will Smart go 100 percent to the spread? |
| Ian Book's return looms large. If anything, Brian Kelly has become underrated. He very quietly has won more games (33) in a three-year period than any ND coach in history. Clemson and Wisconsin jump onto the 2020 schedule. |
| P.J. Fleck has established himself as a Power Five coach in 2019. The Gophers won 11 games for the first time since 1903. They just might be favored to win the Big Ten West in 2020 with the league's best returning pass-catch combo: quarterback Tanner Morgan and receiver Rashod Bateman.|
| James Franklin parlayed his name being floated at USC into an extension. Not that he didn't deserve it. Penn State is loaded at running back going in 2020. I can't wait to see Micah Parsons again at linebacker. Ohio State comes to Happy Valley. The Nittany Lions could be a darkhorse to win the East. |
| At some point, Aggies everywhere will demand a return on their $75 million investment. That's how much Jimbo Fisher is earning in his guaranteed 10-year contract. Two years into it, Fisher is 17-9. Texas A&M dropped from a second-place tie in the SEC West to fourth place in 2019. After a brutal schedule, the Aggies have loads of veteran talent returning and Kellen Mond has improved as a passer. |
| Michigan has entered a sort of football purgatory. Jim Harbaugh has a ceiling, but it's a high ceiling. He's averaging 9.4 wins per year. However, the Wolverines are 9-6 in their last 15 games. Which way, Jimmy? Another blowout loss to Ohio State. Another bowl loss. Michigan lacks elite playmakers against elite competition. Watch the quarterback battle. Little experience now that Shea Patterson is gone. |
| A return to another Big Ten Championship Game was tempered by a bitter loss to Oregon in the Rose Bowl. The Badgers will have to find another dominant tailback with the loss of Jonathan Taylor. The offensive line will have to be retooled, too. Michigan and Notre Dame jump on the schedule. |
| Scott Satterfield was a turnaround artist in Year 1 at Louisville. The Cardinals went from 2-10 to 8-5. There's plenty to like about 2020. The Cardinals were second in the ACC in rushing. Rising junior Tutu Atwell led the league in receiving. Quarterback Micale Cunningham also returns. |
| This seems like a do or die season for Tom Herman. A rash of injuries doomed the Longhorns in 2019. The defense will have to get better in a conference that rips up the timid. Sam Ehlinger's decision to return makes Texas dangerous but too unreliable at the moment to put in the top 10. |
| It's a surprise Luke Fickell is still at Cincinnati. He has posted back-to-back 11-win seasons and has an Ohio State pedigree to back him up. The Bearcats should be favored to win the AAC with the return of their quarterback and top two runners. Most of the AAC's top defense also comes back. |
| The Tigers aren't going away with the return of Brady White at quarterback. There was further continuity with assistant Ryan Silverfield taking over for Mike Norvell. The Tigers should be explosive offensively. Receiver Damonte Coxie and Kenneth Gainwell are also back. The Group of Five berth could come down to another battle with Cincinnati. |
| If not for Memphis, the Broncos would have been playing in their fourth BCS/CFP bowl since 2007. Red-hot coach Bryan Harsin has 15 returner starters. You know how I know the Broncos will be good? Twenty-one straight senior classes have left with at least one conference title. Little known fact: At the end of the season, Boise very quietly became the current active winningest program (.7305). |
| Spencer Petras has been learning under quarterback Nate Stanley for two seasons. There shouldn't be much of a drop off. The Hawkeyes will win between eight and 10 because they always do. Kirk Ferentz remains the longest-tenured FBS coach at one school. There are trips to Minnesota, Ohio State and Penn State. |
| The Knights haven't gone anywhere after three straight 10-win (at least) seasons. As a true freshman, Dillion Gabriel threw for 29 touchdowns and 3,600 yards. UCF lost three games last seasons by a total of seven points. |
| No coach at the moment but Matt Rhule left a solid foundation behind from an 11-win team. We told you Texas was still a wild card. The Bears could still be the chief challengers to Oklahoma in the Big 12. They controlled their own playoff destiny heading into the Big 12 Championship Game. |
| The Sun Devils should be a challenger for the Pac-12 South. Herm Edwards has done what Todd Graham could not: recruit California. Fourteen starters return, including budding quarterback Jaylen Daniels. Edwards promoted Tony White to replace defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales. Not to gush, but Edwards' emphasis on physicality reminds me of the early USC days of Pete Carroll. |
| The only team in the regular-season to challenge Clemson has plenty to look forward to in Year 2 under Mack Brown. Plenty of momentum supplied by Sam Howell's performance in the Military Bowl (three passing touchdowns). The offense should be loaded with both running backs and the top three receivers returning. |
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