Looking at the College Football Title Contenders and the Difficulty of Their Paths to the 2020 Playoff

By David Regimbal on May 4, 2020 at 2:50 pm
Ohio State head coach Ryan Day

If life gets back to normal over the summer, the college football season and the race to the 2020 playoff will take off in September.

We're hoping for the best here, which means we're making the assumption that the season starts on schedule, without any alterations. That includes all the high-profile nonconference games we're all looking forward to.

Ohio State and Clemson are heavy favorites to make a return trip to the College Football Playoff. SEC heavyweights LSU and Alabama are expected to make a run as well.

These four contenders have drastically different paths to college football's grandest stage. Let's take a look at the obstacles each team faces ahead of the 2020 season.

Ohio State

We'll start with the most familiar. Ohio State's schedule has been broken down at length, with difficult games in each month of the season. The Buckeyes will cover the length of the country in a trip to Eugene for a showdown with Oregon in Week 2. October looks like Ohio State's toughest month with home games against Iowa and Nebraska and tough road games against Penn State and Michigan State.

The Buckeyes caught a break in November with Indiana, Maryland and Illinois on the schedule before the season-ending matchup against Michigan, which takes place in Ohio Stadium this year.

One of the more crucial stretches of the season will come in August, however, when Ryan Day has to identify new starters to replace J.K. Dobbins, Chase Young, Jeff Okudah and seven other departures.


Depending on which "way-too-early" ranking you look at, you're likely seeing either Ohio State or Clemson at No. 1. The reason for that largely surrounds the quarterbacks, as Justin Fields and Trevor Lawrence are considered the top two signal-callers in the country.

The Tigers will once again benefit from playing in the ACC, and their non-conference schedule will provide even less friction. Dabo Swinney's squad will end their season the way they always do against South Carolina (at home this year), and their other two nonconference games come throughout the year against Akron and the Citadel.

Their only read roadblock will come on the first Saturday of November, when the Tigers travel north to play Notre Dame in South Bend. That could be a frigid environment that Clemson isn't used to, and their opponent is currently projected as a top 10 team.


For all the heat SEC teams get for their questionable nonconference scheduling, Alabama has done its part in taking on some marquee opponents. They've played Florida State (when they were good), Wisconsin, West Virginia, Michigan and Penn State during the Nick Saban era, and they're playing their second matchup against USC to open the season.

That sets them apart, because navigating the SEC West is brutal year in and year out. The Tide have to travel to LSU this year and don't get the cupcake they usually get before hosting Auburn. This November, leading up to the Iron Bowl, Saban's squad will have to take on Texas A&M.

Alabama has some rebuilding to do. They return seven starters on offense but lose a lot of the firepower from last year's explosive squad with the departures of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and wideouts Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs.


LSU's biggest problem isn't their schedule (which is daunting), it's figuring out a way to replace record-setting quarter Joe Burrow, his bevy of weapons and the man who coordinated college football's best offense in Joe Brady.

Burrow rewrote just about every single-season passing record last year, and his accuracy and intangibles are just about impossible to replicate. LSU's best wideout, Justin Jefferson, is off to the NFL, and most people don't realize how important running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire was to that offense. 

Once Ed Orgeron figures out how to replace those superstars, he'll have to conquer a schedule that includes Texas, Florida, Alabama, Auburn and Texas A&M.

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