Sporting News released its revised 2020 College Football Playoff predictions, and those picks offer no surprises.
Clemson, Alabama, Oklahoma and Georgia have a combined 15 playoff appearances in the past six years. The Tigers and Crimson Tide have met in the CFP four times — including three times in the championship game. That’s our pick again this year.
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Boring, right? That’s been the nature of a top-heavy sport, and not having playoff contenders such as Ohio State, Oregon and Penn State in the mix this season thins out the possibilities.
Could there be some college football chaos in 2020? Here are some factors that could alter that otherwise vanilla playoff outlook.
ND or UNC wins ACC
The easiest team to pencil into the College Football Playoff is Clemson. The Tigers have made five straight CFP appearances and have a 43-2 record in the ACC (including conference title games) in that stretch.
Dabo Swinney returns another loaded team led by quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who is 25-1 as a starter heading into his junior year.
Who can stand up to that?
Would it be one-year ACC rental Notre Dame, which is eligible to compete in conference play for the first time in school history? The Irish host Clemson on Nov. 7 and could get another swing in the ACC championship game. It’s one of the season’s most interesting developments.
Could it be North Carolina? Mack Brown’s rebuild in Chapel Hill is way ahead of schedule, and the Tar Heels took Clemson to the limit in a 21-20 loss. Quarterback Sam Howell is one of the top players in college football, and North Carolina does not play the Tigers in the regular season.
‘Texas is back!’
We know. We know.
For the final time, Sporting News had the Longhorns in the Playoff last season — a pick that didn’t materialize after early-season losses to LSU and Oklahoma. Texas lost five games, and now the heat is on fourth-year coach Tom Herman to push through.
The Longhorns do have senior quarterback Sam Ehlinger, and the depth from three consecutive top-10 recruiting classes is bound to show up at some point. Texas is the team most equipped to challenge Oklahoma in the Big 12.
It’s a matter of getting it done, once — maybe twice — on the field.
A B1G reversal
The Big Ten’s absence from the 2020 college football season will continue to be a storyline that dominates the headlines. The conference is reportedly considering options ranging from starts on Thanksgiving to after the new year, but those options are non-starters.
You can’t count on a spring national championship. Be a part of the season that exists instead.
If the Big Ten wants to play, it needs to start on Oct. 3. Condense the bye weeks and play a conference championship game on Dec. 19. At that point, yeah, Ohio State likely makes the College Football Playoff.
Of course, this will require a lot of mea culpas that just don’t seem to be in the cards.
AAC gets in
If ever there were a year for the American Athletic Conference to shine, this is it. No. 20 Cincinnati and No. 21 UCF are ranked, and Memphis is the top team in the receiving votes section of the AP Top 25.
If an AAC team makes it through unbeaten, then it would have to at least be considered for that final playoff spot. Just keep in mind that UCF had back-to-back unbeaten regular seasons in 2017 and 2018. The Knights finished No. 12 in the final CFP rankings in ’17 and No. 8 in ’18.
Will an undefeated season carry that much more weight with fewer teams in the pool? We’re about to find out.
Conference title reversals
Look at the projected matchups Sporting News has for the Power 5 conference championship games.
Notre Dame vs. Clemson. Oklahoma vs. Texas. Alabama vs. Georgia. All three are rematches from the regular season, and our playoff picks assume Clemson, Alabama and Oklahoma win.
The conference championship games in the CFP era have been chalky affairs. The favored team in Power 5 conference title games is 22-5 since 2014, and those games have been decided by an average margin of 19.9 points per game.
What if that gets flipped and those teams split their regular- and postseason matchups? It could lead to serious confusion for the College Football Playoff committee.
Two-loss team? Three SEC teams?
A two-loss team has never made the Playoff. Three teams from one conference seems impossible, too. You know where we’re going with this.
The SEC has the most legitimate playoff contenders in College Football. Six of the top nine teams in the AP Poll that are still playing this season (Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Florida, Auburn, Texas A&M) play in the SEC.
MORE: 2020 SEC predictions
That means most of the big games will play out in the conference, and there is a ton of crossover with those teams now. Among that group of contenders, here is who each team does not play in 2020:
Florida: Auburn, Alabama
Georgia: LSU, Texas A&M
Texas A&M: Georgia
Knowing that, it’s entirely possible that a two-loss SEC team makes the College Football Playoff; with that most likely being the loser of the SEC championship game.
Where it gets interesting is what if LSU, Auburn and Alabama all finish 9-1 and beat each other in round-robin fashion. Which team goes to Atlanta? Would the CFP committee consider all three?
It’s 2020, so anything really is possible. Although that might not be the spice everybody outside the South would be looking for.