Examining the Potential Flaws and Biggest Obstacles for Each of College Football's Top Playoff Contenders

By Andrew Ellis on June 23, 2020 at 10:10 am
Chris Olave will be one of the country's top wideouts in 2020.
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

We're all still waiting to find out exactly what the world of sports will look like come this fall. Players are working out and some coaches have returned to their offices, but there are still plenty of questions that need to be addressed in the coming weeks and months.

One thing that isn't much of a question right now is who will be the top contenders for the 2020 college football crown. Vegas usually knows what it's doing, but it's worth noting that heading into last season the oddsmakers barely had LSU inside the top-10. Hardly anyone expected that kind of explosion from Joe Burrow and Joe Brady. 

This time around, it's once again the familiar names at the top. Ohio State, Clemson, Alabama, and Georgia are listed as the top contenders with teams like Florida, LSU, Notre Dame, and Oklahoma in the next tier. Sadly, the Wolverines find themselves at No. 16 after somehow having the fifth-best odds a season ago. 

Today, we're looking at the biggest issues facing the top contenders in the playoff race. It's something Lincoln Riley is all too familiar with as the Sooners' have made three straight CFP appearances only to watch its defense get completely picked apart. During that span, the opposition has put up 162 points for an average of 54 per contest. Yikes.

*All odds obtained from VegasInsider.com

Ohio State • Championship Odds: 5/2 (+250)

We've spent a lot of time talking about Ryan Day and the Buckeyes' greatest 2020 strengths. Justin Fields is a Heisman favorite who will be playing behind one of the country's best offensive lines and with a plethora of weapons (albeit young) at his disposal. Injuries have made the running game a bit of a question mark, but the Trey Sermon addition and continued rehab of Master Teague should make things just fine in the backfield. 

When looking for the biggest area of concern, I think we can draw some parallels to what Urban Meyer was faced with just a few years back. The 2016 team saw three defensive backs drafted in the first round of the following year's NFL Draft. The loss of Marshon Lattimore, Malik Hooker, and Gareon Conley saw the pass defense go from No. 7 in 2016 down to No. 30 the following season. While 30th-best is respectable after that sort of talent loss, the young secondary did take some lumps in 2017. 

No one is doubting Shaun Wade's ability even with his move to the outside corner spot. Sevyn Banks and Cam Brown have both seen plenty of action but will have to prove that they're ready for more significant roles. We'll have to wait and see which one sees most of his action on the outside and who's used more so in the slot role like Wade in 2019. 

The biggest storyline could be the safety spot where Josh Proctor is an entirely different type of player than Jordan Fuller. Expected to be more in the Malik Hooker mold than the conservative but consistent Fuller, Proctor's development will be pivotal in 2020 and he may very well be the most important player on defense

Josh Proctor steps into a key role in 2020.
Josh Proctor's development is one of Ohio State's top storylines for 2020. Via Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Clemson • Championship Odds: 5/2 (+250)

Heisman contender at quarterback? Check. One of the country's elite tailbacks? Check.

Trevor Lawrence will look to avoid a slow start like in 2019, but the junior is back to lead Dabo Swinney's offense yet again. He threw five interceptions in the first three games as a sophomore and many were expecting a full-on second-year slump. He was much better during the second half of the season tossing 22 touchdowns and zero picks in the final eight games. A backfield running mate like Travis Etienne certainly doesn't hurt; even if it is behind a new-look offensive line. 

The passing game could be a serious question mark in 2020. Tee Higgins is now enjoying Skyline Chili in Cincinnati and Justyn Ross has already been ruled out for the season. Ross was expected to be one of the best in the country, so that's a serious blow to Lawrence and the passing attack. Etienne is now the team's top returning receiver and Amari Rogers will need to up his play at wideout. The COVID-19 situation may prove to be problematic as some of the young receivers won't have as much time to mesh with Lawrence. 

Alabama • Championship Odds: 4/1 (+400)

Nick Saban's defense took a slight step back last year but still managed to finish No. 21 in the country. Joe Burrow and Clyde Edwards-Helaire dropping 46 points and nearly 600 yards in Tuscaloosa certainly didn't help things. But Dylan Moses is back and Patrick Surtain II will be one of the country's top corners. Offensively, Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith are stars and Najee Harris returns as the backfield bell cow. 

For the Crimson Tide, I think the biggest storyline and possibly the biggest question mark is the quarterback position. Mac Jones completed 69 percent of his passes and threw 14 touchdowns and just three interceptions while replacing Tua Tagovailoa in the second half of the season. It's worth noting that the production came with first-rounders like Henry Ruggs and Jerry Jeudy at his disposal.

Jones's athleticism and pro potential are both a bit limited, and no one seems to be completely sold on him being the guy in 2020. 

The biggest problem facing the position may very well be time; or lack thereof. Heralded true freshman Bryce Young enrolled early at Alabama and was expected to battle Jones throughout the spring and summer. Here again, the COVID-19 pandemic took away any chance of that happening, and that may do wonders for Jones as he looks to keep his job under center. Young was the country's No. 2 overall prospect for the 2020 class and the upside is off the charts. 

Georgia • Championship Odds: 12/2 (+1200)

Kirby Smart should have one of the country's top defenses and the Bulldogs always have a potent ground game with an impressive stable of backs. There's been some shakeup on the staff, however, with 2019 offensive coordinator James Coley heading to Aggieland and offensive line coach Sam Pittman taking over at Arkansas. Georgia's offense was ranked just 61st in the country a season ago, so the changes may have been necessary. 

Perhaps some change under center was also needed after Jake Fromm seemed to regress during his time in Athens. The quarterback spot may very well tell the tale for the Bulldogs in 2019 as a pair of talented transfers arrive. We already know that former Wake Forest quarterback Jamie Newman is eligible as a grad transfer in 2020. That remains to be seen for former Trojan quarterback JT Daniels. 

Newman is the presumptive favorite due to the Daniels uncertainty, but going from the ACC to the SEC is sure to present some challenges. Much like the Bryce Young situation for the Tide, Newman's inability to work with his wideouts and learn the system this spring was far from ideal. Can he get up to speed by the time the Dawgs head to Tuscaloosa on Sept. 19?

View 21 Comments