2020 College Football Preview: Conference Play

College football’s 151st season starts amid more turmoil and uncertainty than perhaps any other time in the history of the sport. Even without the Covid-19 pandemic, college football would have found itself this season at a crossroads, as the player empowerment movement continues to gain steam, with Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) legislation working through Congress and many of college football’s biggest names taking major stands for social justice issues, evidenced most notably by the Pac-12 Player Movement’s #WeAreUnited hashtag and the successful effort to change the Mississippi state flag, boosted by Mississippi State running back Kylin Hill’s refusal to represent the university without the flag changing. Add a global pandemic that has shuttered (at this point) the Big 10, Pac 12, MAC, Mountain West, and much of the FCS – and destroyed athletic department finances – to the seismic changes already happening in the sport, and it’s not hard to see why the 2020 season is shaping up to be the most unique of all time.

It’s safe to assume that there will be massive changes in the structure of college football over the next decade, and this blog will tackle some of the key questions college football is facing in future posts and podcasts:

  1. What will be the eventual outcome of the player empowerment movements and NIL legislation on the structure of the NCAA?
  2. How will the player empowerment movement and NCAA grapple with the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic, which has decimated university finances?
  3. Could we see additional rounds of conference realignment or even the breakaway of the Power 5 and Notre Dame from the NCAA? What impact would this have on other sports and events, most notably the NCAA tournament?

That being said, the turn of the calendar to September, the beginning of some smaller conference games this weekend, and the prospect of the ACC season starting on Saturday, September 12th with the SEC and Big 12 following two weeks later, offers the opportunity to place future worries on the backburner and turn our attention toward whatever small sense of normalcy this 2020 season can provide us in the midst of uncertain times.

Read below for The Common Room’s predictions on the “Power 3” conferences – the ACC, SEC, and Big 12 – and award winners, and check back soon for predictions on CFB playoff and championship game participants, along with the 10 games we’re most excited for, and the most overrated and underrated teams.

Atlantic Coast Conference

The ACC is the first major conference to begin play, with games kicking off on September 12th, and teams playing ten conference and one non-conference game. The ACC is arguably this season’s most intriguing conference, as Notre Dame joins as a full member for 2020 only. For the past few seasons, the ACC has been dominated by Clemson, but the addition of a top-10 Irish team gives the Tigers a worthy challenger. With 15 teams playing this season, the ACC has eliminated divisions and instead will have the two teams with the highest winning percentage meet in the conference title game in Charlotte.

  • Regular Season Prediction:
  1. Notre Dame (11-0)
  2. Clemson (10-1)
  3. North Carolina (9-2)
  4. Louisville (9-2)
  5. Miami (8-3)
  6. Pitt (7-4)
  7. Florida State (6-5)
  8. Virginia Tech (6-5)
  9. Wake Forest (6-5)
  10. Syracuse (5-6)
  11. Boston College (3-8)
  12. Duke (3-8)
  13. NC State (2-9)
  14. Virginia (2-9)
  15. Georgia Tech (1-10)
  • Conference Championship: Clemson 27 Notre Dame 17
  • Offensive Player of the Year: Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina
  • Defensive Player of the Year: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame
  • Newcomer of the Year: D’Eriq King, QB, Miami
  • Coach of the Year: Scott Satterfield, Louisville
  • Summary: Notre Dame wins the regular season title in its first season playing in a conference, taking down Clemson during the Tigers’ trip to South Bend on November 7th, and then at the time undefeated North Carolina on November 27th, but the Tigers get their revenge in the conference championship game in friendlier territory down in Charlotte. Louisville and North Carolina are the surprise teams this year, with the Cardinals only dropping games at Notre Dame and at Pitt, and the Tar Heels starting 9-0 but dropping the final two games to Notre Dame and at Miami.
Notre Dame Implodes In Cotton Bowl Loss To Clemson, 30-3 - One Foot Down
Notre Dame meets Clemson in South Bend on November 7th, and then is predicted to again in the ACC Championship Game on December 12th or 19th

Southeastern Conference

The SEC begins play on September 26th, and will follow a conference-only schedule, with each team playing 10 conference games and the winners of the SEC East and SEC West meeting in the conference championship in Atlanta. The SEC boasts the most ranked teams of any conference, with Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Florida, Auburn, Texas A&M, and Tennessee beginning the season ranked. As has been the case the past three seasons, the SEC West is far stronger than the SEC East, and became even more compelling this offseason with two of the most colorful coaches in the nation, Mike Leach and Lane Kiffin, taking over at Mississippi State and Ole Miss, respectively.

  • Regular Season Prediction: SEC East
  1. Georgia (9-1, 6-0)
  2. Florida (8-2, 5-1)
  3. Kentucky (5-5, 3-3)
  4. Tennessee (4-6, 3-3)
  5. South Carolina (2-8, 2-4)
  6. Missouri (2-8, 1-5)
  7. Vanderbilt (1-9, 1-5)
  • Regular Season Prediction: SEC West
  1. Alabama (10-0, 6-0)
  2. Texas A&M (9-1, 5-1)
  3. LSU (7-3, 4-2)
  4. Auburn (6-4, 3-3)
  5. Mississippi State (4-6, 2-4)
  6. Ole Miss (3-7, 2-4)
  7. Arkansas (0-10, 0-6)
  • Conference Championship: Alabama 31 Georgia 27
  • Offensive Player of the Year: Kellen Mond, QB, Texas A&M
  • Defensive Player of the Year: Dylan Moses, LB, Alabama
  • Newcomer of the Year: JT Daniels, QB, Georgia
  • Coach of the Year: Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M
  • Summary: Though the SEC lost a significant amount of star power, with Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa, and Jake Fromm, among others, moving on to the NFL, the top teams have consistently shown an ability to reload, rather than rebuild, and this year should be no different. Alabama is predicted to retake the championship around Najee Harris at RB and a powerful offensive line. They should meet Georgia in the SEC Championship, though the Bulldogs suffered a blow this week when QB Jamie Newman, a transfer from Wake Forest, decided to opt out due to Covid-19. If JT Daniels, a talented USC transfer, is medically cleared to play, the Dawgs will be fine (if not even better off given Daniels’ skill as a passer), but if not, the door will be open for a somewhat under-the-radar Florida team to win the SEC East. The surprise team of the year will be Texas A&M, which returns a three-year starter at QB in Kellen Mond and arguably the top defense in the SEC. The Aggies will only drop a game at Alabama, beating Florida and LSU at home and winning the season finale at Auburn. The biggest offseason storyline will take place in Knoxville, as the Volunteer fan base will be calling for Jeremy Pruitt’s job after another disappointing season.
National title game halftime notes: Alabama vs. Georgia
Alabama and Georgia have played some classics in recent years, and should meet again in the SEC Championship in Atlanta on December 19th

Big 12 Conference:

The Big 12 also begins plays with each team (except TCU) playing a single non-conference matchup on September 12th, before beginning a nine game, round robin conference schedule on September 26th. Despite losing Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma is again the favorite behind redshirt freshman QB Spencer Rattler, the heir apparent to a string of talented quarterbacks under Lincoln Riley. On paper, the most logical team to challenge the Sooners should be Texas, but don’t sleep on the Iowa State Cyclones, who return arguably the most talented quarterback in the conference, Brock Purdy, and a deep group of receivers. The Cyclones ended 2019 with a 7-6 record, but until the bowl loss against Notre Dame, had only dropped their 5 regular season contests by a total of 22 points. If Matt Campbell’s team can learn to finish games, they will be dangerous opponent. Also giving Oklahoma a run for their money is their in-state rival, the Oklahoma State Cowboys, led by the nation’s leading rusher in 2019, running back Chuba Hubbard.

  • Regular Season Prediction:
  1. Iowa State (9-1)
  2. Oklahoma (9-1)
  3. Oklahoma State (8-2)
  4. Kansas State (7-3)
  5. Texas (6-4)
  6. TCU (5-4) – note, TCU’s non-conference game vs. SMU is postponed
  7. West Virginia (4-6)
  8. Baylor (4-6)
  9. Texas Tech (3-7)
  10. Kansas (1-9)
  • Conference Championship: Oklahoma 42 Iowa State 27
  • Offensive Player of the Year: Chuba Hubbard, RB, Oklahoma State
  • Defensive Player of the Year: Joseph Ossai, LB, Texas
  • Newcomer of the Year: Spencer Rattler, QB, Oklahoma
  • Coach of the Year: Matt Campbell, Iowa State
  • Summary: Like the ACC prediction with Clemson avenging a regular season loss at Notre Dame to win in the ACC Championship Game, Oklahoma will avenge a regular season loss at Iowa State in the Big 12 Championship to take home another Big 12 title. Bedlam is once again the game of the year in the conference, as both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are predicted to enter that game with 7-1 records, with the winner gaining a place in the conference title against Iowa State. Speaking of Iowa State, the Cyclones become the story of the year, taking the regular season crown by beating Oklahoma in Ames and making a statement by beating the Longhorns in Austin. Texas qualifies as the biggest disappointment in the conference despite Sam Ehlinger being preseason first team all-Big 12, finishing with a lackluster 6-4 record and losses to Iowa State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Kansas State.
Quenton Bundrage - Football - Iowa State University Athletics
Iowa State will face Texas in Austin on November 28th, a game they are predicted to win, catapulting them into the Big 12 Championship in Dallas on December 12th or 19th

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