CFB Prognosis for Fall 2020
Beginning August 20th, I will be writing a 2020 prognosis, by conference, for each of the 76 teams (6 conferences plus Independents), who are scheduled to play Football in the Fall of 2020.
ACC – ATLANTIC DIV
Clearly the best team in the ACC once again. To their benefit, they had 9 spring practices. In addition, they had an early outbreak of COVID giving them the experience of how to handle that situation. Behind QB Lawrence, it appears they are headed toward a 3rd consecutive undefeated Conference season and are one of the favorites should there be a Playoff post season. Their excellence is virtually unsurpassed in recent CFB history. Under 13th year HC Swinney, they have recorded 9 consecutive double digit winning seasons recording a record of 69-5 SU in the past 5 years. Not even injury to QB Lawrence could slow them down as there are highly rated backups as signal caller. After getting blasted 42-25 in last year’s Playoffs, they should be very hungry to again dominate this year’s schedule in their attempt to surpass the fact that, in the last two seasons, they outscored the opposition by an average of 45-12. Note that Dabo was an incredible 6-0 ATS when favored by 30 or more points last year.
FLORIDA STATE Seminoles
Former Memphis HC Mike Norvell takes over a team who reached the nadir of their discontent in the previous 3 seasons with a record of 18-20 SU and 11-24 ATS. The previous 2 losing seasons followed 42 consecutive winning campaigns for Florida State. Former HC Taggart, whom Florida State owes $18 million dollars to dump, was at the root of the team’s issues. The question is whether Norvell can make the turnaround in his first season in the face of declining recruiting efforts under Taggart. The rebuild all starts with 17 returning starters, including 7 on an offense led by returning QB Blackman. After the Sems averaged just 25 PPG combined in the last two seasons, look for their attack to more resemble Norvell’s Memphis teams who, in the previous 3 seasons, averaged 40 or more points in each campaign. More encouragement comes from a defense who returns virtually intact, including one of the top defensive lines in the country. All Florida State fans will be missing this year is the “tomahawk chop” in the stands.
For those of you who didn’t figure it out yet, this guy is good! I’m talking about 2nd year Louisville HC Satterfield. His excellence at App. State gave us a clue. From 2015 to 2018, App. State recorded a record of 41-11, dominating the Sun Belt Conference. Last year’s question was whether he could translate that coaching excellence to a Louisville team who, after winning 57 games the previous 6 years, could rebound from a disastrous 2-10 SU, 1-11 ATS 2018 season. The answer is a resounding “YES!”. Under Satterfield, the Cards offense improved by 13 points and 95 yards. The defense improved by 11 points and 43 yards. The end result was an 8-5 SU season including a Bowl win, 38-28, vs. Miss. State. This year, 8 starters return to each side of the ball giving them a team with Top 10 experience who is stronger on each side of the ball. Balanced offense is the calling card for Satterfield attacks. With QB Cunningham returning, expect the Cards to once again author a “200 Club” offensive season.
NORTH CAROLINA STATE Wolfpack
Somebody had to take the fall. If it isn’t the head coach, then it’s usually the assistant. Such is the case in Raleigh this season where HC Doeren axed numerous assistants and added 5 new coaches to the staff. Under Doeren, the Wolfpack had gone bowling 5 consecutive seasons, following his maiden campaign where the team went just 3-9 SU. Last year however, the bottom fell out. After a 4-2 SU start, NC State finished the campaign on a 0-6 SU, ATS run losing those games by more than 24 PPG. For the season, the offense put up a meager 22 PPG resulting in an overall mark of 4-8 SU, 2-9 ATS. Expect a vast improvement on that side of the ball as 10 returning starters led by the QB tandem of Leary and Hawkman lead the resurgence. Look for the Wolfpack to howl this year, in a bounce back big campaign.
WAKE FOREST Demon Deacons
Rigorous academic standards place athletic success on a lower rung than, say for example, Clemson in the ACC. Thus, kudos must be given to HC Clawson who now enters his 7th year in Winston-Salem. It is almost magical that he has led the Deacons to 4 consecutive winning seasons and Bowl games, 3 of which they won. A repeat of a winning season would be yet another testament to the coaching expertise of Clawson. They lost an outstanding signal caller in Jamie Newman when he entered the transfer portal. That leaves the signal caller spot to an experienced Sam Hartman, who started 9 games in 2018 as a true Frosh. Still, with only 3 returning starters on the attack unit, they will be hard pressed to match the offensive output that has averaged at least 32 PPG in each of the previous 3 seasons. It is also a negative that this team finished just 1-4 SU, ATS to end the season last year. It appears to this bureau that Wake Forest will see their 4 year winning streak come to a conclusion. Caveat emptor however, as Clawson has continued to outperform expectations and has a solid 4 year record of 12-5 ATS as road dog.
BOSTON COLLEGE Eagles
Former HC Addazio did a good job here in the previous 6 seasons taking the Eagles to a Bowl in the 4 previous seasons. He is replaced by Jeff Hafley who was a DC at Ohio State last year, prior to spending 7 years as a defensive coach in the NFL. Hafley proved he was serious about the job when he lured former Notre Dame QB Jurkovec to Chestnut Hill. He is expected to rejuvenate an offense whose yardage output has declined in each of the previous 3 seasons. In the earlier part of this decade, the Eagles were known for their defense. Much like the offense however, that unit has taken a major hit, going from 314 to 478 yards allowed in 2019, when they gave up 32 PPG. With an experienced OL, do not be surprised if the offense improves as will a defense under the tutelage of Hafley with 9 returning starters. Big question for us is whether Hafley will continue the Addazio tradition, which has seen the Eagles record a mark of 18-5 ATS in conference play the last three seasons.
With just 60% of their lettermen returning, and only 11 of their returning starters, it appears the downward trend may continue for the Orange this season. That would mean the seat could get very hot for 5th year HC Babers who has sandwiched a 3 year record of 13-23 SU around a 10-3 SU record of 2018 when they averaged 40 PPG. The overall issue is a defense who, under Babers, best known for his offensive prowess, has allowed 32/459. With just 4 returning starters to that side of the ball and a new DC in Tony White, who spent a decade under the tutelage of Rocky Long, the Orange fate may well be decided on that side of the ball. A now veteran signal caller QB DeVito, returns to lead a unit with 7 returning starters. First year OC Sterlin Gilbert, recently at McNeese State and South Florida, has been hired to guide the attack unit. With only 3 spring practices, there hardly seems enough time to assimilate the methods of each new coordinator. Until proven wrong, I’m not buying the bounce back and neither should you.
ACC- COASTAL DIVISION
NORTH CAROLINA Tar Heels
North Carolina has dealt with an outbreak of COVID on their campus and returned to online learning. I personally feel that the football teams of the schools who return to online learning have an advantage. They are sequestered in more of a bubble type atmosphere. If that works as a positive for the Tar Heels, they will be the favorite to win this division. Mack Brown did an amazing job last year in his 1st season. Inheriting a team who went 5-18 SU in the final two years under previous HC Fedora, he returned the Tar Heels to the winning side of the ledger, highlighted by a 3-0 SU conclusion to the season when they outscored the opposition 152-30. That included a 41-10 rivalry victory at NC State and a 55-13 Bowl win vs. Temple. That is great momentum for a team who returns 17 starters. Even in their 6 defeats of last season, none was by more than 7 points. With both offensive and defensive numbers improving across the board last season, there is little doubt that this team has great momentum and experience. It should be a breakout campaign for Soph QB Howell, and more defensive improvement under DC Jay Bateman whose opponents have still not figured out his unique philosophy. Good times ahead in Chapel Hill.
This will be one of the most improved teams in the country who will surprise many. Following a turbulent off season prior to 2019, 2nd year HC Manny Diaz returned to Miami where he spent 3 years as DC, inventing the now famous “turnover chain” . A 6-7 SU mark and 0-14 Bowl loss to LA Tech belies the fact that the Canes outscored their opponents 26-20 and outgained them 368-310 (yes, I realize those numbers are skewed by a 63-0 win vs. Beth. Cook!). Though some may believe the 0-3 SU, ATS finish bodes poorly for a team with 13 returning starters, that is far from the whole story. It all starts with Houston transfer QB King who will make an immediate improvement on a stodgy 26/368 offense. Meanwhile, the defense should respond with a far better performance under both the influence of Diaz and the addition of DC Blake Baker, the 4 year DC at LA Tech whose unit authored the 14-0 Bowl shutout of the Hurricanes. It’s back to the glory days in South Florida for a team who is just 13-13 SU, 9-15 ATS in the previous 2 seasons.
VIRGINIA TECH Hokies
Hokies are one of only 3 ACC teams (North Carolina and Virginia the others) who had no spring practices. Fortunately for VA Tech, they returned 76% of their lettermen, have 18 returning starters, including a vast amount of experience on their O line. 5th year HC Fuente has taken the Hokies to 4 consecutive Bowl games with an overall record of 33-20. The only negatives are a bit of a downer on the recruiting trail, and ending 2018 with consecutive losses to rival Virginia and to Kentucky in the Belk Bowl. In fact, the expectations in Blacksburg are so high that it is rumored that Fuente turned down a lucrative offer from Baylor in the off season. The addition of Oregon transfer QB Burmeister makes it an embarrassment of riches at the signal caller position. In short, this will be Fuente’s best team. I expect them to challenge Carolina and Miami for Division superiority. Lone question remains whether new DC Hamilton, a former Hokie player and defensive coach, can fill the shoes of the departed, legendary DC Bud Foster.
Pitt 6th year HC Narduzzi has done just enough to get his Panthers a Bowl bid in 4 of his 5 previous seasons. This year, with 15 returning starters including QB Pickett, and 70% returning lettermen, his Panthers are again in solid position to get a post season Bowl bid, if there are any. The attack unit should easily surpass the 21 PPG of last year with 8 returning starters. The defense however, is where the Panthers really shine. Though they lost DL Twyman from their defensive front, they still figure to have one of the top DLs in the country. Little surprise to this bureau if the Panthers author a major upset, as they have in the past under Narduzzi.
With no spring practices, one may believe the Cavs will be challenged to compete in the early going this season. However, with the return of 73% of their lettermen and 15 starters, which includes a veteran OL, it looks like yet another winning season for 5th year HC Mendenhall who has guided the Cavs from 2 to 6 to 8 to 9 wins in his 4 previous years in C’Ville. Over that time, the offensive output has increased from 22 to 32 PPG. Though they lose a veteran signal caller in QB Perkins, and his vast experience, the trio of Armstrong, Stone and Thompson, all with divergent abilities, figure to keep the offense rolling. The continuation of coordinators from his BYU days in OC Anae and DC Howell ensures the continuity of success. History has shown that Mendenhall teams are never to be counted out in a season.
DUKE Blue Devils
It’s the 13th season in Durham for HC Cutcliffe, a proven QB whisperer. The ACC slate is rigorous, a reason why Duke has recorded just a total of 10 wins in league play the past 4 seasons. Main reason for last year’s dip to the losing side of the ledger at 5-7 SU, was a forlorn offense that averaged just 25/329. With a veteran OL and 7 returning starters, expect that all to change with the arrival of Clemson transfer QB Chase Bryce. This could well be a sleeper in the ACC as a -11 net turnover ratio from last season could bode well for the turnaround.
GEORGIA TECH Yellow Jackets
The decline to 3-9 SU, 3-8 ATS was of little surprise to most pundits. It was indeed a transition year from the triple option attack of former HC Johnson, to the spread offense being installed by new HC Collins and OC Patenaude, who followed Collins from Temple (as did 2nd year DC Andrew Thacker). Now in the 2nd year of this dramatic scheme change, this Yellow Jacket team, who is bigger, stronger and faster than last year’s counterpart, will far surpass the quality of last year’s team. They return a whopping 84% of their lettermen, 19 returning starters, all of whom gets a major jump on the competition with 6 spring practices (only 7 of the 76 teams this season had more). Major improvement this year in Atlanta may not transfer in the win column as much as the ATS column.
NOTRE DAME Nittany Lions
For the 2020 Season, Notre Dame, who normally participates as an Independent, will be joining the ACC. The Irish come off an outstanding 3 year run in which they have gone 33-6 SU while averaging 34 PPG and giving up only 18 PPG each of the last two seasons. This season, coming off a year in which their only two defeats were to Georgia and Michigan, they return 7 offensive starters including QB Book. The challenge will be to match their 18/322 defensive season of last against a top slate of ACC foes. There has already been an outbreak of COVID on the Notre Dame campus meaning the players will be effectively sequestered in near bubble like conditions. That is a situation which I previously hypothesized to be a positive. As always, each opponent will make their game against the Irish a major priority. Nonetheless, I expect Notre Dame, under 11th year HC Kelly, to continue their record of excellence in the previous three seasons.