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.
SEC – WEST
ALABAMA Crimson Time
This figures to be one pissed off Elephant as the Tide would appear to be highly motivated after finishing #8 in the country last year. A 48-45 loss to Auburn meant the Tide missed the Playoffs for the first time. Not bad for most, but a clear notch below the fact that Saban has 5 National Titles. QB Jones and his backup, Freshman QB Young, could easily replace Tua who missed the final month of the season with injuries. Though 9 players were drafted by the NFL in the first 3 rounds, and they only have 12 returning starters, the biggest loss may be highly praised strength coach, Scott Cochran who defected to Georgia. All units appear to be among the best in the Nation. Last year’s finish a major motivator. Remember, this is a team who outscored the opposition 47-18 over the last two years.
TEXAS A&M Aggies
To say 3rd year HC Jimbo Fisher has underachieved for his $80 million dollar contract would be an understatement. He has gone 17-9 SU in 2 seasons, with the Aggies allowing 24 PPG. As is the case however, with many 3rd year coaches, the best is dead ahead. A rigorous schedule with relatively little experience may have been the reason why the Aggies underachieved last season. Year 3 of the Fisher regime is predicted by this bureau to be a breakout season. With 17 returning starters, a more manageable schedule, and plenty of experience, built from two outstanding recruiting classes, the pieces are in place for the Aggies to surprise many. Led by QB Mond and a veteran defense, this highly motivated team is prepared to at last ascend to their predicted potential.
LSU Bengal Tigers
Nowhere to go but down! That is the story for most teams who win a National Title. But the loss of QB whisperer Joe Brady, #1 draft pick Joe Burrow (among 14 players taken in the NFL Draft), are the major reasons for the inevitable decline. QB Brennan will take over an offense that returns just 3 starters. And with only 4 returning to the defensive side of the ball, now that Kary Vincent has opted out, they have many pieces to replace. With just 3 spring practices under their belt, HC Ed Orgeron will be hard pressed to improve upon his 32-14 ATS mark.
8th year HC Malzahn not duplicate the numbers which, in each of the previous 4 seasons, have seen the Tigers score 31 or more points and allow 20 or less points. The return of QB Nicks is a positive. But only 5 starters on each side of the ball negatively impacts their returning experience. With no spring practices, this could be a major issue, especially on the defensive side of the ball. After defeating Alabama 48-45 in late November, there may be hell to pay in this year’s Iron Bowl. Can new OC Chad Morris work his magic with the offense?
Plenty of questions about this year’s Rebels who cut the cord with Matt Luke after 3 years. Maybe it was the lure of the availability of HC Lane Kiffin that skewed the decision. As we have seen in the past however, the peripatetic Kiffin can often be an enigma. One thing that is projected by this bureau is that new head coaches with new coordinators and no spring practices figure to have a tough go of it especially early on. Working against that theory may be the fact that when Kiffin took over FAU he guided a team that was 3-9 SU the previous year to an 11-3 SU season in his maiden voyage. Can new OC Jeff Lebby, who guided the explosive offenses at UCF the L2Y, work his magic with a veteran offense that includes 8 returning starters led by QB Plumlee and RB Ealy? Main issue may be only 5 returning defensive starters. In the HC Luke years, the stop troops allowed an average of 33 PPG.
MISSISSIPPI STATE Bulldogs
The Bulldogs may face even a greater challenge than their in-state rivals, Ole Miss. Much like the Rebels, they have a new HC in Mike Leach. Leach will bring his run and shoot offense to the Deep South. Good news for the future is that he hired Zach Arnett as his DC, former defensive coach at San Diego State. And we all know how good the Aztec defense has been in recent seasons. Nonetheless, the run and shoot ways are a vast departure for a Bulldog offense who has averaged at least 221 RYPG on at least 5.2 YPR in recent seasons. With no spring practices, the challenge will be considerable. In that vein, remember that Leach was just 12-25 SU in his first 3 years at Wazzau before turning the tide with 43 wins in the last 5 seasons. The offensive turnaround this season is expected to be aided by Stanford transfer QB KJ Costello. Even with a 3rd consecutive Top 27 recruiting class, this figures to be a challenge, especially in the early months, which will be difficult to overcome.
More problems for the bottom of the SEC –WEST where 1st year HC Pittman and a pair of highly respected coordinators, OC Kendal Briles and DC Barry Odom will be taking over a Hog team who had no spring practices. Florida grad transfer, QB Feleipe Frank, is expected to help revive an offense that averaged just 21 PPG and 338 YPG in the L2Y. Combined with a defense that allowed 36 PPG in the same time-frame, is it little wonder that the Razorbacks are coming off a pair of 2-10 SU seasons. Veteran HC Pittman has coached at 7 different Power 5 schools in 32 years, most recently the previous 4 at Georgia where he handled the duties as OL coach. Much like SEC-WEST rivals, Ole Miss and Miss State above, it figures to be a rebuilding year in Fayetteville.
Few have done it better than Georgia HC Smart who, since coming to Athens from Tuscaloosa, has taken his Bulldogs to 3 consecutive SEC Title games and one National Title games. This season, it figures to be the defense which will carry this team, at least early on. The offense loses QB Fromm, their top 2 RBs, and 60% of their OL. Many of their offensive hopes will rely on QB transfers JT Daniels of USC and Jamie Newman of Wake Forest. True enough the attack unit will have trouble matching the 3 year average of 35 PPG by the Bulldogs. But the defense, which returns 8, who allowed just 13 PPG last season, is among the top units in the country. Bottom line is they should again capture the SEC-EAST Crown.
Gotta love 3rd year HC Mullen. After revitalizing the Miss. State program for much of the previous decade, he returned to “the Swamp” to take over a Florida program that had dipped to 4-7 SU in 2017. The turnaround has been nothing short of spectacular with a 2 year combined record of 21-5 SU and 14-8 ATS marks. With a pair of Top 10 recruiting classes, his Gators will challenge Georgia for SEC-EAST superiority. The Gators have averaged 34 PPG on offense the previous two seasons. But that pales in comparison to a defense that allowed just 15 PPG LY, including just 105/3.3 overland. QB Trask looks to continue the Florida momentum of last season in which they finished (after a 24-17 loss to Georgia) by going 4-0 SU by combined scores of 155-51. With a #6 ranking to close 2019, and 6 starters returning to each side of the ball, the SEC Title game is well within the reach of this Florida team.
More was expected of 3rd year HC Pruitt when he came to Knoxville from Tuscaloosa, where he was DC at Alabama following stints in that same role at Georgia and Florida State. This year, he has continuity with OC Chaney and DC Ansley. After recording a disappointing 5-7 SU record in his 1st year of 2018, the noose appeared to be tightening after a 35-13 loss at ‘Bama dropped the Vols to 2-5 SU (including losses of 31 to Florida and 29 to Georgia). To his credit, albeit against a less challenging schedule, the Vols finished with 6 consecutive victories, culminating with their 23-22 Bowl win over Indiana. Now with a Top10 recruiting class and veteran QB Guarantano, Tennessee looks to continue their momentum. A total of 17 returning starters and veteran experience make this team a must watch in the early going. But before you take off the rubber band, note that Pruitt is just 1-6 ATS as favorite.
What a job done by 8th year HC Mark Stoops. The 8-5 SU, 9-3 ATS record of 2019 may have looked like a downer, compared to the 10-3 SU mark of 2018. Yet, it was quite an achievement considering there were only 8 returning starters. It was good enough for a 4th consecutive Bowl game, after a record of 14-34 SU the previous 4 seasons. Last year’s turnaround came with the insertion of WR Bowden to the signal callers spot. With him at the helm, the Wildcats had an overland season where they averaged 280/6.4. This year’s replacement is Auburn transfer QB Gatewood. He joins QB Wilson who has plenty of experience, to carry on the overland tradition of Wildcat signal callers. Looking for a veteran team with great momentum? Consider 15 returning starters who finished the year 4-0 SU, ATS outscoring the opposition by a combined 170-64, including a Bowl victory against VA Tech. Lots to like about these Wildcats.
SOUTH CAROLINA Gamecocks
The Gamecocks make my list of “Killer Bees” for 2020. Those are the teams who I look to Bounce Back Big after underachieving the previous year, following Bowl trips in the previous 3 seasons. That’s exactly the position in which Gamecock backers find their team as they enter 2020. Led by now 5th year HC Will Muschamp, the Gamecocks had the double whammy in 2019 of facing the Nation’s toughest schedule in the face of multiple injuries. It was consecutive seasons for the injury bug to bite them, occasioning the hire of a new strength coach. Though the returning starter log shows just 7 on offense and 6 on defense, because of the return of injured players, this is a more experienced team than it appears. 1st year OC Mike Bobo, who was HC at Colorado State the previous 5 years (before that 7 years as OC at Georgia) has brought his Colo. State grad transfer QB Hill along with him. With 6 spring practices under their belt (more than any SEC team), the Gamecocks could be a true under-the-radar team in 2020. Note that the previous 3 years under Muschamp, they are 10-3 ATS as road dog.
1st year HC Drinkwitz may enter with some false confidence. He was in the same role as 1st year HC at App State last season. That however, was with a veteran App State team who was a perennial Sun Belt champ. This season, he inherits a Tiger team who features just 11 returning starters and is one of the least experienced teams, on offense, in the SEC. The confidence of Drinkwitz, who is his own Offensive Coordinator, may soon devolve after his successive stints as OC at Boise and NC State prior to his 13-1 SU season with the Mountaineers. Must believe he is in for a major surprise if his up-tempo, no-huddle attack is going to succeed against the Big Boy defenses of the SEC. His hopes are pinned on TCU transfer, QB Robinson, a true dual threat. It will be tougher than Drinkwitz thinks, to restore the confidence of a team who finished 1-5 SU, 0-7 ATS to end 2019.
7th year for HC Derek Mason who could only survive a 27-47 SU record (10-38 SU Conference) by coaching at Vandy where academic expectations are high and athletic success low. Much will be the same this year, especially for an offense that averaged just 17/299 in 2019. Though the defense returns in its entirety, remember this was a unit that allowed 32/437 last year, including 209 yards or more both rushing and passing. The result was a record of 3-9 SU, 2-9 ATS. Issues abound on the attack unit with new OC Fitch (OC at LA Tech L4Y) needing to break in a new signal caller. Loss of OL Clemons a further blow to their moribund offense.