In the wild 2020 college football season, we saw a variety of things that were unexpected. Small conference teams making noise throughout the campaign, breakout stars that nobody heard of before this year, and normal powerhouse teams being very bad at football. But to sum it all up, I’m here to give you all four winners and four losers of this season.
Winner: Alabama Crimson Tide
To start things off, congratulations to Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide on winning their 18th national title. They did it in historic fashion, breaking the SEC single season scoring record, averaging 49.5 points per game. They only had one game that was decided within ten points, and that was in the SEC Championship against Florida. They ended up defeating five teams in the top 12 of the final coaches poll, which included Ohio State, Georgia, Notre Dame, Texas A&M, and Florida, three of them finished in the top five. Both of their playoff games were blowouts, neither Ohio State nor Notre Dame could come close to stopping Devonta Smith, Mac Jones and their offense. With a perfect 13-0 record, and playing the way they did all year in an entire SEC schedule, they have a legitimate case for the best college football team ever.
Loser: Traditional Big Ten Powers
In most years, you would see Penn State and Michigan battling with Ohio State for the top spot in the Big 10. Not this year! Both teams were pathetic, with opt outs left and right and just terrible play all around. Michigan was ranked 16th in the preseason AP poll. They lost to Michigan State week two, followed by beatdowns at the hands of Indiana and Wisconsin in consecutive weeks. They barely beat Rutgers in Double OT, and then lost to Penn State by 10. They cancelled their last three games of the season, including what looked like a surrender call to Ohio State (many are skeptical of the legitimacy of the COVID outbreak on their team that “forced” them to cancel against their arch rival). Finishing with a 2-4 record, this is the worst Michigan team we have seen under Jim Harbaugh. Penn State fans, you’re not getting away with your team’s performance this year, either. Penn State was just as woeful, especially since they were ranked seventh in the preseason AP poll. Their best player Micah Parsons opted out of the season, but they still had the talent to be a solid team. They weren’t. They lost a heartbreaker to Michael Penix Jr. and Indiana week one, and then got blown out by Ohio State at home the next week. They started the season 0-5, and their first win was against Michigan. They actually won their last three games following the Michigan game, granted they were against Rutgers, Michigan State and Illinois, which were all bottom of the conference. James Franklin and Jim Harbaugh have both done great jobs at their respective programs, but this year was not good for either team. But hey, they can only go up from here, hopefully.
Winner: Zach Wilson and the BYU Cougars
BYU scheduled a game against ranked Coastal Carolina, flew across the country on two days notice with little game prep, and only lost by a yard on the last play of the game. That was their only blemish on what was an otherwise amazing season for the Cougars. Nobody ever heard of Zach Wilson six months ago, and now he is being talked about as the potential second QB off the board in the upcoming NFL Draft. He had a season for the ages, throwing for 3,692 yards, 33 touchdowns and only three interceptions, with a 73.5% completion percentage. Wilson was also very effective on the ground, rushing for another ten touchdowns. He finished top ten in Heisman voting, and was a household name by the time the season ended. This team also had an elite defense that only allowed 15.3 points per game, which ranked fourth nationally. This team was awesome to watch, and the game against Coastal Carolina was one of the best games I saw all season. Heck, if they had a full week to prepare for them, BYU might have won that game. Either way, an 11-1 record with a 52-17 thumping of UCF in their bowl game caps off a very successful season for Wilson and BYU.
Loser: The ACC
The ACC had two teams in the playoff. Both of them got 20 pieced in the semis (Notre Dame hit a backdoor cover in garbage time to make it a 17 point game, you get the point). Both Clemson and Notre Dame were top four teams, and neither stood a chance against the two out of conference opponents. The rest of the ACC was even worse, with ranked NC State losing to 4-6 Kentucky in their bowl game, and Miami losing to Oklahoma State in the Cheez-it bowl. Overall, the conference went 0-6 in bowl games. That’s really bad. The conference also included Florida State and Syracuse, arguably the two worst teams out of the power five conferences. The gap between Clemson and the rest of the ACC, other than UNC, is widening, and if this year is a sign of things to come, the gap won’t be closing anytime soon.
*Side note: Notre Dame has to join the ACC permanently, and the conference can’t have divisions. Seriously, Clemson needs some competition.
Winner: Other Group of Five teams
This season, we saw many underdog stories in college football. I already broke down BYU, but I didn’t forget Costal Carolina and Cincinnati. Coastal came out of nowhere to finish the regular season undefeated, with wins over Louisiana, BYU, and Appalachian State. Their only loss was to Liberty in their bowl game, which went to overtime. Jamey Chadwell led the Chanticleers to national relevance, and capped it off with an AP Coach of the Year award to his name. Hopefully they will stay relevant for a long time, because they were a great story and a great team to watch. A team that has been getting better every year and finally broke out in 2020 was Cincinnati. Led by stud QB Desmond Ridder, they too went undefeated, winning convincingly over most of their opponents in the American Conference. Their stout defense and great offense set them up for a New Years Six bowl game against Georgia in the Peach Bowl. They were leading for most of the game, and then sadly collapsed in the fourth quarter, losing on a last second field goal. While it was a tough way to end a perfect campaign, they get a lot of production back, including Ridder, and they gained the respect of many across the country. Expect this team to make another potential run at the Playoff next season.
Loser: Florida Gators and Dan Mullen
I could realistically just mention Marco Wilson throwing a shoe and costing Florida a chance at a playoff berth, but that wasn’t even the most pathetic thing a member of the Florida Gators did this season. Florida had an elite offense, led by Kyle Pitts and Kyle Trask, two of the best players in the country. They lost to Texas A&M and Alabama, two respectable losses, sure. But they also lost at home to LSU, which goes back to the Marco Wilson statement earlier. If he didn’t fire the LSU player’s shoe 20 yards downfield for no reason, they could have won that game. But instead, Florida gave the tigers a free first down, which set up the game winning field goal for LSU. A disaster of a performance in front of their home crowd, and their playoff hopes were dashed after that game. They lost to Alabama the next week in the SEC championship, where they actually played a pretty competitive game and looked solid. They finished the regular season 8-3, and were slated to play Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl, a New Years Six bowl game. But nah, Florida didn’t care. Every single starting receiver opted out, leaving Kyle Trask by himself. If you didn’t watch the beatdown the Sooners put on the Gators, the game was over after the first two drives. Oklahoma scored first, and then Heisman finalist Trask threw a pick six to make it 14-0 right out of the gates. Trask continued by throwing another two interceptions in the first half alone. It was 31-13 at half. Oh, I almost forgot to mention! Florida player James Houston said pregame “It’s more about what we want to put on film, what we want to put on tape, going out and showing what the Florida Gators can do. Showing that Oklahoma is a good match-up, but they’re not on our level. They’re not SEC. They’re not the Florida Gators. So we should put on a good show.” Yep, Oklahoma ended up winning 55-20, with Florida not standing a chance the entire game. The most pathetic part of Florida’s late season collapse was what Head Coach Dan Mullen had to say after the Cotton Bowl. “The last game the 2020 team played was 11 days ago.” Yes, that’s a quote from a team who was ranked top ten all year. To get killed by a team that your players were saying was not on your level, and then following that by saying you didn’t care about the game at all is a coward move. Don’t get it twisted, Florida only beat Georgia… With Stetson Bennett playing QB for them. Florida was a good team for sure, but to finish 8-4 with that bad of a final month, packaged with all of the noise coming from their players and head coach, it shouldn’t be considered a great season, especially with the talent that was on that roster.
Winner: The First Notre Dame-Clemson Matchup
With most big bowl games being blowouts, and a regular season without many surprises, I would say this game was the game of the year for the 2020 college football season. The buildup was tremendous, and the product didn’t disappoint. The #1 Clemson Tigers traveling to South Bend to face off against #4 Notre Dame in prime time. Trevor Lawrence couldn’t play because he caught COVID, so freshman DJ Uiagalelei was starting at QB for the Tigers. Notre Dame very rarely loses at home, so this had the makings of an upset all over it. Notre Dame started off fast, racing to a 10-0 lead early in the first quarter. Then Clemson answered back with a 53 yard touchdown from Cornell Powell to bring them within three. Notre Dame was up 23-13 at half, but the Tigers weren’t planning on going away anytime soon. Clemson scored 10 points in the third, tying the game up at 23 entering the fourth quarter. The two teams traded field goals to start, and then star Running Back Travis Etienne punched a touchdown in from the goal line to give Clemson a seven point lead with 3 minutes to go. Many thought that would be the dagger for the Irish, but Ian Book had other plans. Book led the offense down the field in a perfect two minute drill, and capped it off with a touchdown pass with 22 seconds left on the clock, sending the game to overtime. Clemson scored quick to start OT, but the Irish responded, with Running Back Kyren Williams scoring the tying touchdown to force a second overtime. Notre Dame started with the ball, and Williams scored his third touchdown of the night, this time from three yards out, to finish off his stellar performance (140 yards 3 TDs). Clemson got the ball back, but the Irish were ready, getting to DJ for a sack which forced a fourth and long situation for the Tigers. The Irish stopped the fourth down pass, and the game was finished. A legendary win for the Fighting Irish and Ian Book, who threw for 310 yards and a touchdown. Even though Clemson blew Notre Dame out in the ACC championship game, this was an amazing matchup between two top four teams, and was undoubtably my game of the year.
Loser: The College Football Playoff System, and the Problems it is Causing
The four team playoff system was supposed to let non-powerhouse schools have a chance to compete for a national title. Teams like TCU and Boise State kept coming close to making the championship game in the BCS era, but fell a ranking or two short. This was supposed to be the solution to that problem. Instead, it has done the exact opposite. Group of Five teams have virtually no shot anymore to make the final four, because of the fact that Power Five representatives vote for who is in. It is all eye test, with no basis for how to judge a team. For example, 2017 UCF was undefeated, but was left out of the playoff for an Alabama team who failed to win their conference (Alabama went on to win the championship that year, but still). UCF was left to play Auburn in the Peach Bowl, and ended up winning that game. Other than the four teams who made the playoff that year, I believe UCF would consistently beat every other team out there, and the fact that they were undefeated, won their conference, and still got no recognition is insane to me. Another example of this flawed system is Penn State in 2016. They were a two loss team, however they beat Ohio State and won their conference. They looked like a top four team in America at the time of the playoff selection. Perfect! This is what the committee was established for, to use eye test and simple logic to determine the four best teams, Penn State surely will be put in! No, they put Ohio State in, and left the Nittany Lions out. Why? Penn State beat Ohio State and won their conference, they were better than them, and their losses came within the first three weeks of the season, clearly they are a better team now than they were when the season started? But no, the committee decided to go to the inferior team with a bigger name. Why? It’s a simple answer, TV ratings. The committee has the power to control what matchups they want to see, without using any real guidelines to determine their rankings. Why not throw Ohio State and Alabama in without a conference championship to show for it? Two of the biggest brands in the country playing against each other would bring in boatloads of revenue for the Power Five schools and their conferences. It’s now getting to the point where it is obvious, and it is showing in the recruiting rankings. In the 247 Sports recruiting rankings, the top six teams in the rankings consist of Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson, Georgia, Oregon, and LSU. Out of the seven years that the CFP has been around for, which six teams have won a game in the playoff? The top six schools in the recruiting rankings. And the seventh team on the recruiting list is Oklahoma, who makes it to the playoff frequently but loses every time. What does this show? It is showing that there is no incentive to play for other teams, since they virtually have no chance to make the playoff unless you are a powerhouse program. And this gap between the top of college football and the rest of the teams is only going to get bigger unless there are changes made to the current system. Playoff expansion is inevitable, but I believe the BCS ranking system must be brought back too. I will detail out an alternative expansion idea in a future article, but for now those are my thoughts. Also, it doesn’t help the committee’s case that only 2 of the 14 playoff semifinal games have been close, it shows the selections aren’t right. There needs to be a change, and it has to happen soon.