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College Football Preview
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AP Top 25 1. Clemson
20. Virginia Tech
15. Oklahoma St. 1-0
10. Texas A&M
11. North Carolina 1-0
6. LSU (1)
7. Notre Dame
19. Louisiana-Lafayette 2-0
2019 Record: 14-1 | Coach: Dabo Swinney Key Departures: WR Tee Higgins, LB Isaiah Simmons, CB AJ Terrell Key Returners: QB Trevor Lawrence, RB Travis Etienne, LB James Skalski, DT Tyler Davis, CB Derion Kendrick Jr., DE Justin Foster, OT Jackson Carman The 2020 preseason top-ranked Tigers look to continue their college football prominence, and it all starts with the guy under center. Junior Trevor Lawrence, a Cartersville, Ga. native, has had a very productive first two seasons at Clemson, but his College Football Playoff Championship game performance last January is still fresh in everyone’s minds. Lawrence was just 18-of-37 passing, and while he did not throw any interceptions to the LSU defense, he didn’t toss any touchdowns either in a game Clemson lost 42-25. The talented Lawrence is back for what will likely be his final collegiate
season and looking for a little redemption. The presumed top NFL Draft pick for 2021 will have his eye on several national college football awards, as will his backfield mate Travis Etienne. Etienne shocked some by deciding to return to Clemson for his senior season after having posted a second-straight 1,600-yard season in 2019 along with 19 rushing touchdowns. The QB Lawrence will be without his top two receiving targets from last season as Tee Higgins was drafted and Justyn Ross was lost in the offseason to injury. Head coach Dabo Swinney, thanks to his recruiting acumen, has the bodies to step up into those roles though. Amari Rodgers, Joseph Ngata and Frank Ladson Jr. are some names to watch at wideout. Defensively Clemson will be without its best player from last year. Linebacker Isaiah Simmons was the first Tiger ever to earn the Butkus Award, given annually to the top player at the position. James Skalski, the team’s second-leading tackler behind Simmons in 2019, will look to lead the unit this year as a senior.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney talks with players after a defensive stop against Wake Forest during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020, in Winston-Salem, N.C. (Walt Unks/The Winston-Salem Journal via AP)
2019 Record: 11-2 | Coach: Nick Saban Key Departures: QB Tua Tagovailoa, WR Jerry Jeudy, WR Henry Ruggs III, OL Jedrick Willis Jr., DL Raekwon Davis, OLB Anfernee Jennings, OLB Terrell Lewis, CB Trevon Diggs, S Xavier McKinney Key Returners: LB Joshua McMillon, OT Alex Leatherwood, LB Dylan Moses, WR DeVonta Smith, RB Najee Harris, WR Jaylen Waddle
In this Sept. 21, 2019, file photo, Alabama defensive back Patrick Surtain II (2) waits for a play during the team’s NCAA college football game against Southern Miss in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Two of the Alabama defense’s big names-- Surtain and linebacker Dylan Moses--are back, along with potential stars like Ray and linebacker Christian Harris. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt, File)
Similar to Georgia, the Alabama Crimson Tide have questions about their quarterback, though their projected starter has at least seen game action at his current school. Junior Mac Jones is expected to step into the starting role after the early departure of the often electric, sometimes injured Tua Tagovailoa. Jones was given the job after Tagovailoa’s hip injury late last
season, and definitely has some factors working in his favor heading into 2020. A veteran offensive line headed up by pro prospect Alex Leatherwood is one and the playmakers in place at the skill positions are the other. Running back Najee Harris returns for his senior season after having run for 1,224 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2019. Although the Tide took some huge hits at wide receiver by losing Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III to the draft, Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith have a lot of experience on the outside. Smith was the team’s leading receiver in most major categories a season ago, totaling 1,256 yards and 14 scores at an 18.5 yards-per-reception average. There’s more good news for head coach Nick Saban on the Alabama defense. Projected 2019 inside linebacker starters Dylan Moses and Joshua McMillon both suffered season-ending injuries early last year, leaving a huge hole at what is traditionally a position of strength for the Tide. But both are back in 2020. Moses was an All-American in 2018 before his injury, and this will be McMillon’s sixth year in Tuscaloosa, so he knows the ropes well. All-Americans Trevon Diggs and Xavier McKinney are gone from the Alabama secondary, but Saban is well-known for his ability to coach up and build prospects among that unit. The Crimson Tide enter 2020 ranked preseason No. 3 behind Clemson and Ohio State, though the Big Ten schools have opted out of the season.
2019 Record: 12-2 | Coach: Lincoln Riley Key Departures: QB Jalen Hurts, WR CeeDee Lamb, LB Kenneth Murray, RB Kennedy Brooks Key Returners: C Creed Humphrey, DL Ronnie Perkins, S Delarrin Turner-Yell, WR Jadon Haselwood, K Gabe Brkic, WR Charleston Rambo
back Kennedy Brooks opted out of the season. Brooks was second on the team in rushing last year behind Hurts with just over 1,000 yards at a 6.5 yards-per-carry clip. Trey Sermon likely would have taken over the starting RB role had he not transferred to Ohio State in June, so the question of who will carry the load remains. One thing Oklahoma fans can breathe a sigh of relief about is the fact that Coach Riley has not had any trouble replacing production in years past. The question with his teams has been whether or not they will play any defense when it counts and also whether or not they can get past an SEC team in the College Football Playoff. The Sooners gave up 48 points in their regular season loss to Kansas State last year then were demolished in the CFP semifinals by eventual champion LSU, 63-28. The Bayou Bengals were the third different SEC team to knock Oklahoma out of the playoffs, keeping the Sooners from a championship berth. Second-year OU defensive coordinator Alex Grinch will try to get the troubled unit up to snuff in a season where the Sooners are yet again the favorite to win their conference.
Lincoln Riley’s streak of turning transfer quarterbacks into top threats comes to an end this season, but that doesn’t mean Oklahoma will be lacking at QB. Norman is buzzing with talk of new starting trigger man Spencer Rattler, a redshirt freshman from Phoenix, Arizona. Rattler saw some action as a true freshman last season, but not enough to take away his redshirt status. The job is his this year as he looks to follow in the footsteps of Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts who are all now in the NFL. The Sooner offense did take a lick about a month before opening weekend when redshirt junior running
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney talks with players after a defensive stop against Wake Forest during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020, in Winston-Salem, N.C. (Walt Unks/The Winston-Salem Journal via AP)
2019 Record: 12-2 | Coach: Kirby Smart
In this Sept. 21, 2019, file photo, Alabama defensive back Patrick Surtain II (2) waits for a play during the team’s NCAA college football game against Southern Miss in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Two of the Alabama defense’s big names-- Surtain and linebacker Dylan Moses--are back, along with potential stars like Ray and linebacker Christian Harris. See the full 2020 UGA football preview inside.
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Georgia defensive back Richard LeCounte (2) prepares to recover a second-half fumble by Kentucky quarterback Lynn Bowden Jr. (1) during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019, in Athens, Ga. (Bob Andres/Atlanta Journal Constitution via AP)
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2019 Record: 11-2 | Coach: Kirby Smart
No. 4 Georgia to lean on tough defense while finding new QB
Key Departures: QB Jake Fromm, RB D’Andre Swift, K Rodrigo Blankenship, OL Andrew Thomas, OL Isaiah Wilson, OL Cade Mays, OL Solomon Kindley, LB Tae Crowder, S JR Reed Key Returners: RB Zamir White, WR George Pickens, C Trey Hill, OL Ben Cleveland, NG Jordan Davis, DE Malik Herring, OLB Azeez Ojulari, LB Monty Rice, CB Eric Stokes, S Richard LeCounte Key Additions: QB JT Daniels, TE Tre’ McKitty By CHARLES ODUM AP Sports Writer Kirby Smart’s concerns about No. 4 Georgia being behind schedule are easy to understand. The Georgia coach is working to rebuild his offense after the coronavirus pandemic wiped out spring practice. Smart is trying to find a new quarterback and lead running back. He is putting together an almost all-new offensive line. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs are adjusting to first-year offensive coordinator Todd Monken. Smart’s first two words to reporters following a preseason scrimmage were “We’re behind.” “We have a long way to go,” Smart said. “We looked like a team that didn’t go through spring practice. We looked like a team that is young at a lot of positions. We were really sloppy, to be honest with you.” There’s also reason for much confidence. The Bulldogs return most of the nation’s top scoring defense in 2019. The stout defense is expected to carry the team while the offense gains steam. “Guys are more comfortable, playing faster,” said senior safety Richard LeCounte. “Guys are just out there flying
around making plays. That’s something you have to be pleased with as an older player to know that everyone you’re playing with on defense knows the system ... and are able to play at a high level.” Wake Forest transfer Jamie Newman was the favorite to start at quarterback, though he opted out of the season in early September to prepare for the 2021 NFL Draft. “I don’t have a timetable for that,” Smart said of naming a starter. “It’s got to happen.” Another transfer, former Southern Cal starter JT Daniels, has not received full medical clearance in his recovery from a knee injury which ended his 2019 season with the Trojans. Freshman Carson Beck, D’Wan Mathis and Stetson Bennett are the other contenders. Smart tried to give most of the quarterbacks work with the first-team offense. He acknowledged it’s difficult to find first-team snaps for five quarterbacks. “I don’t think we’re ready to say where the quarterbacks are in terms of the development and which guys step it up,” Smart said. “The biggest issue with the quarterbacks is the number of reps. You can’t prepare four, five or even three quarterbacks, so that makes it tough.” TAILBACK WHO? Georgia lost its two leading rushers, D’Andre Swift and Brian Herrien from last year’s team that finished 12-2. Zamir White and James Cook are the leading returning rushers. Each had long runs in a preseason scrimmage. NO STATUES LOWED
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When asked what characteristics he is looking for in his quarterback, Monken said “Accuracy is number one.” He listed mental toughness next before adding “athleticism, the ability to move and extend plays” also is crucial. “It’s hard to be a statue anymore and be consistently explosive and be able to move the football,” Monken said. VIRUS UPDATE Georgia is not releasing any details of its coronavirus testing, including the number of positive tests. No player has opted out. Smart said he believes his players are safer while on campus than at their homes. Jeremy Klawsky, Georgia’s video coordinator, spent almost six weeks in an Athens hospital after becoming critically ill from the coronavirus. Klawsky was released on April 16. SCHEDULE SCRAMBLE The Bulldogs open their season at Arkansas on Sept. 26. The Southeastern Conference’s decision to play conference-only, 10-game schedules means the Bulldogs won’t play state rival Georgia Tech. Highlights in the schedule include a visit from Auburn on Oct. 3 and a game at Alabama on Oct. 17. EARLY INJURY Georgia lost one of its top wide receivers, Dominick Blaylock, to a season-ending knee injury early in practice. Blaylock also suffered a serious knee injury in last season’s SEC championship game loss to LSU. George Pickens, Demetris Robertson and Kearis Jackson are expected to be the top threats at receiver.
2019 Record: 3-9 | Coach: Geoff Collins
Ga Tech faces familiar question: Who’s going to play QB?
Key Departures: TE Tyler Davis, OL Jared Southers, DL Brentavious Glanton, DB Christian Campbell Key Returners: QB James Graham, WR Tobias Oliver, RB Jordan Mason, WR Ahmarean Brown, WR Jack DeFoor, DL T.K. Chimedza, DL Kelton Dawson, LB David Curry, LB Charlie Thomas, DB Juanyeh Thomas, P Pressley Harvin
ATLANTA — Georgia Tech begins its second season under coach Geoff Collins with the same big question that was hanging over the Yellow Jackets in Year 1. Who’s the starting quarterback? Collins faced an enormous challenge in 2019, switching to a conventional offense at a school that used the run-oriented triple option for more than a decade. Not surprisingly, it didn’t go very well. Georgia Tech finished 3-9 (2-6 Atlantic Coach Conference) and ranked last in the league in scoring, total yards and passing yards. Collins grew a bit testy with the constant barrage of questions about the four-man battle for the starting job. “We don’t worry about who the starter is,” said Collins, whose team opened the season Sept. 12 at Florida State. “We just worry about who’s going to contribute and how we can package things for their success and our team’s success.” The Yellow Jackets started three quarterbacks in 2019, finally settling on James Graham. But, after completing just 45 percent of his passes, there’s no guarantee he’ll keep the job. Graham is being challenged by Jordan Yates, who played three games last year, and a pair of touted freshmen, Tucker Gleason and Jeff Sims. No matter the starter, the Yellow Jackets must get more production out of a passing game that averaged only 145.8 yards per game in 2019 — roughly half the number put up by conference champion Clemson. “I’m trying to learn from all my mistakes,” Graham said. “I think my biggest downfall was my footwork. I’ve been working on that all summer.” Other things to watch for from the Yellow Jackets in 2020: WHO’S GOING TO CATCH THE BALL? While much of the attention is on developing the quarterback position, the Yellow Jackets must come up with more options on the receiving end as well. Ahmarean Brown showed big-play potential as a freshman, averaging 18.9 yards on a team-high 21 receptions with seven touchdowns. No one else had more than 19 catches. The recruiting class was heavy on receivers. They’ve
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been thrown right into the mix. to ensure players maintained social distancing at “The more competition we practice, extra locker rooms to give everyone room have, the better off we’ll be,” to spread out, and two-a-day sessions to reduce the receivers coach Kerry Dixon number of players on the field. said. Collins even got an electronic whistle to make sure BULKING UP he got his point across while wearing a mask. Collins talks constantly about SCHEDULE SCRAMBLE getting bigger, stronger and Under the ACC’s revamped schedule, Georgia Tech faster, both through an improved conditioning pro- picked up Florida State, Louisville, Boston College gram and by landing higher-ranked recruits. and N.C. State as new conference opponents, while That effort appears to be paying off. North Carolina, Virginia and Virginia Tech were “It definitely shows,” athletic director Todd Stans- dropped. bury said after watching practice. “Some of these Central Florida is now the lone non-conference young men do not look like freshmen, which is a game. The Oct. 31 contest against Notre Dame will good thing for us.” count in the league standings. Keep an eye on running back Jahmyr Gibbs, one But the biggest news concerning Georgia Tech’s of the highest-ranked signees in school history. He schedule is who’s not on it because of the pandemic. should get plenty of carries, even though Jordan For the first time since 1924, the Yellow Jackets will Mason is locked in as the No. 1 back after rushing not face rival Georgia. The traditional regular-seafor 899 yards and seven touchdowns. son finale had to be scrapped when the SEC went “Jahmyr is an animal,” running back coach Tashard to a conference-only schedule, which really stung at Choice said. “He’s going to play.” Georgia Tech after last year’s 52-7 loss to the BullLEAKY DEFENSE dogs. While the putrid offense was somewhat understand- “It was upsetting not being able to play your rival,” able given the drastic system change, the Yellow senior linebacker David Curry said. “I wanted to get Jackets also had major issues on the defensive side. one last shot at ‘em.” After surrendering 420 yards and 32 points per game, Georgia Tech must put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks (the Jackets ranked last in the 2585 North Columbia Street ACC with 18 sacks) and get more turnovers out of Milledgeville the secondary. (478) 452-1003 Defensive end Antonwww.pamlicopools.com neous Clayton, a former Florida recruit who didn’t Let Us Create the Pool of Your Dreams! make much of an impact in two-plus seasons with the Gators, should give a boost to the pass rush. He sat out last season after transferring and is eager to go out with a bang in his final college season. VIRUS UPDATE Georgia Tech got through the preseason without any reports of lost practices or positive tests during the coronavirus pandemic. Collins and his staff imand plemented several changes to cut down on the rick BRING HOME THE WIN!!! of infection, including circles drawn on the sideline
2019 Record: 11-2 | Coach: Dan Mullen Key Departures: WR Van Jefferson, RB La’Mical Perine, WR Freddie Swain, LB David Reese, DE Jonathan Greenard, CB CJ Henderson Key Returners: QB Kyle Trask, TE Kyle Pitts, WR Trevon Grimes, C Brett Hagge, LB Brenton Cox Jr.
In this Nov. 2, 2019, file photo, Florida quarterback Kyle Trask throws a pass against Georgia during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Jacksonville, Fla. Isolated from coaches, teammates and friends during the coronavirus pandemic, Kyle Trask found plenty of extra free time this offseason.
One year after taking the job from Feleipe Franks, junior Kyle Trask is ready to begin the 2020 season as the Florida Gators’ starting quarterback. Trask completed 67 percent of his passes as a sophomore and threw for 25 touchdowns against seven interceptions. He took hold of what had been a balanced offense in terms of yardage and turned it into a throw-first attack as the Gators totaled nearly 4,000 yards
through the air versus 1,700 on the ground. While those numbers aren’t as close as you’ll often see in college football, the rushing and passing attempts are much closer at 398 and 467 respectively, maintaining some sense of balance. Trask threw to a lot of different receivers in 2019. Nine different guys had double-digit receptions and they all had about 200 yards or more receiving apiece. The biggest outside threats are gone in Van Jefferson (657 yards, six touchdowns) and Freddie Swain (517 yards, seven touchdowns), but All-SEC sophomore tight end Kyle Pitts does bring his 649 yards and five touchdowns back for head coach Dan Mullen. Florida lost only two games all last season, and they came against the
2019 Record: 15-0 | Coach: Ed Orgeron laire, WR Justin Jefferson, WR Ja’Marr Chase, TE Thaddeus Moss, LT Saahdiq Charles, S Grant Delpit, LB Patrick Queen, OLB K’Lavon Chaisson Key Returners: CB Derek Stingley Jr., WR Terrace Marshall Jr., G Ed Ingram, RT Austin Deculus, NT Tyler Shelvin
In this Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019 file photo, LSU head coach Ed Orgeron reacts after a LSU touchdown in the first half of an NCAA football game against Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala. This is the rare SEC team whose schedule might have gotten a tad easier by playing a conference-only slate. Key Departures: QB Joe Burrow, RB Clyde Edwards-He-
finalists for the SEC Championship. The Gators played eventual SEC and national champion LSU close for a half before the Tigers pulled away then dropped their annual Jacksonville meet-up versus Georgia. They will have the opportunity for payback against both of those opponents in this year’s 10-game, conference-only slate set to begin Sept. 26 at Ole Miss. Florida defensive coordinator Todd Grantham has to replace his sack leader, top tackler and best corner from a season ago. Georgia transfer Brenton Cox Jr. is expected to step up at linebacker while Marco Wilson and Kaiir Elam boast a lot of talent out at corner.
Very few recognizable names that helped LSU to last season’s national championship are back in 2020. The Tigers were wiped out either by the draft or players opting out of the season due to COVID-19 concerns. Star quarterback Joe Burrow traded his purple and yellow tiger stripes for the orange and black ones worn by the Cincinnati Bengals after being drafted first overall. Running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire took his 1,414 yards and 16 touchdowns to the Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs. Ja’Marr Chase, last season’s Biletnikoff Award winner at wide receiver, opted out only about three weeks before the start of LSU’s 2020 season. The losses don’t stop with the players. Joe Brady, who was credited with a lot of the Tigers’
offensive success as passing game coordinator, leapt to the NFL as well to work as the Carolina Panthers’ offensive coordinator. Hoping to fill the sizable shoes left by Burrow is junior quarterback Myles Brennan who completed 24 of 40 passes attempted last season. He’ll be missing what was an expected top target in Chase, but does have some alternatives. Terrace Marshall Jr., a junior, brings back his 671 yards and 13 touchdowns, and big time recruit Arik Gilbert of Marietta, Ga. is expected to step right into the starting tight end role as a true freshman. The LSU offensive line though welcomes back only one starter in right tackle Austin Deculus. There’s some shakeup on the defensive side of the ball as well. Bo Pelini has taken over the defensive coordinator reins after Dave Aranda accepted the head coaching job at Baylor. Pelini, formerly a head coach at Nebraska, was also LSU’s defensive coordinator back in the days of former Tiger great defensive lineman Glenn Dorsey. The new DC is switching the team’s scheme from a 3-4 to a 4-3, and he does get back one of the best corners in the country in sophomore Derek Stingley Jr. who led LSU in interceptions last season with six.
2019 Record: 11-2 | Coach: Brian Kelly
Key Departures: TE Cole Kmet, WR Chase Claypool Key Returners: QB Ian Book, DL Adetokunbo Ogundeji, LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB Drew White, DT Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa
FILE - Notre Dame Jahmir Smith runs during an NCAA football game on Monday, Sept. 2 , 2019, in Louisville, Ky. With all the success Notre Dame has enjoyed its last three seasons, amassing a 33-6 record under coach Brian Kelly, it has been the inability to run the football successfully in big games that has curtailed the championship hopes of the Fighting Irish. No. 10 Notre Dame hopes to change that starting Saturday when Duke visits for the 2020 season opener. (AP Photo/ Tony Tribble, File)
The 2020 college football season at-large was already going to be unlike any other, but that’s even more the case for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. After losing multiple scheduled games due to schools canceling their seasons, Notre Dame opted to join the ACC for this year only since half their games were against teams from that conference anyway. Similar to last season’s
trip to Athens to face Georgia, many college football pundits have circled Notre Dame’s Nov. 7 game against preseason No. 1 Clemson as one of the biggest of this regular season. Other than that, it looks like the Irish will have their toughest test against preseason No. 18 North Carolina after Thanksgiving. Notre Dame is a full ACC member this season, meaning head coach Brian Kelly’s team will be eligible for the conference championship, which could be a resumé builder for the College Football Playoff committee. Quarterback Ian Book is back for his senior season after a 3,000-yard passing output as a junior. He produced a fantastic 34-6 touchdown to interception ratio throwing to targets like wide receiver Chase Claypool and tight end Cole Kmet, both gone in 2020. Coach Kelly has a new offensive coordinator in former Irish quarterback and QB coach Tommy Rees, 28. The Irish suffered a couple of key losses on defense, but welcome back plenty of playmakers that helped the team finish 18th last season in yards allowed per game.
2019 Record: 9-4| Coach: Gus Malzahn Key Departures: DT Derrick Brown, DT Marlon Davidson, RB JaTarvious Whitlow Key Returners: QB Bo Nix, WR Seth Williams, DB Christian Tutt, C Nick Brahms, RB DJ Williams A tough schedule bit the inconsistent Auburn Tigers in 2019. They beat their first two ranked opponents in tight ballgames, but lost their next three, keeping them out of the SEC Championship picture. A win over arch rival Alabama is usually enough to get the team to Atlanta, but previous losses to Florida, LSU and Georgia were too much to overcome. Then-freshman quarterback Bo Nix played like it at times, finishing with just 16 touchdowns to go with only six interceptions. He’s back with a year under his belt now though along with last season’s top target in junior Seth Williams. Williams totaled 830 yards and eight touchdowns and brings a lot of confidence with him into the 2020 season.
Nix has lost the player who often stood next to him in the Auburn backfield in JaTarvious Whitlow who led the program in rushing each of the last two seasons. That doesn’t mean as much as it used to since the Tigers’ 10-year streak of having a 1,000yard rusher was ended Whitlow’s freshman season. Whitlow left Auburn this past offseason and recently transferred to an FCS school. Sophomore DJ Williams might get the load at running back this season after totaling 400 yards as a freshman, but five-star recruit Cartavious “Tank” Bigsby is expected to get a lot of carries as well. Coach Malzahn reached just across the Georgia-Alabama border to get Bigsby from Callaway High School in LaGrange. Auburn has some big holes along its defensive after defensive tackles Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson were both taken in the 2020 NFL Draft. Brown went seventh overall to Carolina, and was fourth on Auburn’s team in total tackles last season, something extremely rare for a position mostly meant to eat up blockers. Christian Tutt, the team’s top interceptor last season and Thomson, Ga. native, is back for his junior season in the secondary.
In this April 7, 2018, file photo, Auburn linebacker K.J. Britt, left, tackles Auburn tight end Sal Cannella during the first half of a spring NCAA college football game in Auburn, Ala. Auburn is trying to again break through in the competitive SEC Western Division. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File)
2019 Record: 8-5 | Coach: Jimbo Fisher Key Departures: DT Justin Madubuike, WR Quartney Davis, WR Kendrick Rogers Key Returners: QB Kellen Mond, RB Isaiah Spiller, WR Jhamon Ausbon The Aggies’ 2019 campaign may look a little rough based solely the 8-5 record, but they did become the first team to ever lose to three different AP No. 1 teams throughout the season. Texas A&M lost to Clemson, Alabama and LSU when they were all ranked atop the poll, and their other two losses weren’t exactly against cupcakes (No. 4 Georgia and No. 8 Auburn). Looking at 2020, the good news outweighs the bad news in the Aggie offensive backfield. Quarterback Kellen Mond is back for his senior year where he hopes to not have to run for his life so much behind what was a troubled offensive line.
Mond completed better than 60 percent of his passes and threw 20 touchdowns against nine interceptions as a junior. He was also the team’s second-leading rusher behind Isaiah Spiller, who was just one big play shy of breaking 1,000 yards last season. Behind Spiller though lies only question marks as the next three top rushers all transferred out of College Station. Defensively the Aggies need someone to step up and fill the hole left by tackles-for-loss leader Justin Madubuike who was drafted in the third round by the Baltimore Ravens. As of the 2020 AP Preseason Poll, head coach Jimbo Fisher’s team doesn’t have a No. 1 team on the schedule, but there are some Top-10s in the mix. If the Aggies want a shot at having their presence felt in college football’s toughest conference, they will have to win more of those big matchups than they lose in 2020.
Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher watches during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Mississippi in Oxford, Miss., Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019. As Jimbo Fisher enters his third season at Texas A&M he has a luxury afforded to very few coaches: a four-year starter at quarterback in Kellen Mond. (AP Photo/Thomas Graning, File)
2019 Record: 13-1 | Coach: Ryan Day Key Departures: DE Chase Young, RB JK Dobbins, CB Jeff Okudah, CB Damon Arnette, S Jordan Fuller, LG Jonah Jackson, RT Branden Bowen Key Returners: QB Justin Fields, WR Chris Olave, C Josh Meyers, OG Wyatt Davis, LT Thayer Munford, DB Shaun Wade, DE Zach Harrison
In this Dec. 28, 2019, file photo, Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields throws a pass against Clemson during the first half of the Fiesta Bowl NCAA college football playoff semifinal in Glendale, Ariz. When Fields got together with some of his teammates last Saturday to watch college football on TV, the mood was dark. “Distraught,” Fields said. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri, File)
After an offseason of “Will they, won’t they?” the Big Ten formally announced Sept. 16 that its schools would be allowed to take the field for the 2020 season. The conference’s season is set to begin Oct. 23-24 with eight games scheduled in eight weeks. A ninth “crossover” game is scheduled for conference championship weekend as like-seeded teams from the two divisions will face off. The return to play
comes as great news to the Ohio State University Buckeyes, a program that has made it into the College Football Playoff three times since its inception including the title of first ever CFP National Champion. Kennesaw, Ga. native and former University of Georgia Bulldog Justin Fields is back for what will likely be his final collegiate season behind center. All he did in his first season in Columbus was throw for 41 touchdowns against only three interceptions while leading the Buckeyes to the CFP semifinals where they lost to Clemson 2923. Fields also earned a trip to New York as a 2019 Heisman Trophy finalist, and he wasn’t the only Ohio State player to do so last season. Fields was joined by defensive end Chase Young whose 16.5 sacks in 2019 propelled him to the second overall pick in the NFL Draft. Leaving with last year’s Chuck Bednarik Award winner on the Buckeye defense were members of the talented secondary Jeff Okudah, Damon Arnette and Jordan Fuller. Offensively, Fields will no longer share a backfield with running back JK Dobbins who ran for over 2,000 yards and 21 touchdowns a season ago. Like Oklahoma though, Ohio State is a school that has not historically had trouble replacing offensive production thanks to the program’s recruiting pedigree. Speaking of Oklahoma, OSU picked up Sooner running back Trey Sermon via offseason transfer. He’s expected to step in and make an immediate impact.
2019 Record: 7-6 | Coach: Shawn Elliot
Key Departures: QB Dan Ellington, RB Tra Barnett, LT Hunter Atkinson Key Returners: WR Cornelius McCoy, OG Shamarius Gilmore, TE Aubry Payne, LB Trajan Stephens-McQueen, DE Hardrick Willis, CB Quavian White, DL Dontae Wilson The Panthers out of Atlanta have some questions and some answers heading into 2020. One of those questions lies at quarterback after the departure of Dan Ellington who was a big part of the offense last season. He accounted for more than 3,000 yards throwing and running for the Sun Belt program, which is still very young compared to Georgia State head coach Shawn Elliott, right, and his players re- others even within its own state. Leadact after a play in the second half of an NCAA college football ing rusher Tra Barnett is also gone after game against Louisiana-Lafayette, Saturday, Sept. 19, 2020, in At- having run for 1,453 yards and 12 touchdowns. What Georgia State does have lanta. (Daniel Varnado/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP) working for it offensively is its front
line. Four out of five starters are back, though the loss was the unit’s best player in left tackle Hunter Atkinson. The Panthers’ 2019 leading receiver returns in junior Cornelius McCoy who had 757 yards as a sophomore. Who will be throwing him the football is still up in the air, though the job likely belongs to redshirt freshman Cornelious Brown, a 6-5, 180-pound pro-style QB who won’t run as much as Ellington did. The offense was not GSU head coach Shawn Elliot’s main concern last year. That honor instead belongs to a defense that was 112th in the nation and had trouble against opponents whether they were running or throwing. Returning leading tackler Trajan Stephens-McQueen, honorable mention All-Sun Belt selection Dontae Wilson and others hope to reverse that trend this season and take the team to a conference championship. One game Panther fans certainly have scheduled is their Nov. 28 date against Georgia Southern in their “State Not Southern/Southern Not State” rivalry game as both look to lay claim to the GSU acronym.
Georgia Southern 2019 Record: 7-6 | Coach: Chad Lunsford
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Take a look at the key returners and you’ll see that Georgia Southern has all of its main pieces back in its grind-it-out option attack. Quarterback Shai Werts nearly ran for more yards than he threw for in 2019, and his efforts coupled with Wesley Kennedy and JD King totaled more than 2,300 yards and 24 touchdowns on the ground. Look for more of the same for head coach Chad Lunsford’s team in 2020 as it competes for a Sun Belt Conference title. Defensively the Eagles get back their top four tacklers and seven of the top nine. The unit did suffer one big loss in cornerback Kindle Vildor who was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the fifth round. Vildor wasn’t alone in making the leap to the NFL as kicker Tyler Bass was taken by Buffalo, making 2020 the first time two Georgia Southern players were selected in the same draft since 2014. While Vildor does leave a big hole in the secondary, safety Kenderick Duncan is back to lend a hand as is Louisiana Tech transfer Ephraim Kitchen. Duke transfer Javon Jackson is another who is expected to contribute to his new team immediately. Linebackers Rashad Byrd and Reynard Ellis head up what was a strong group last year, something the Eagle faithful hope will continue in 2020.
DOWNTOWN MACON 486 MLK Jr. Blvd. Mgr. Danny Fowler 478.743.1525
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Key Departures: CB Kindle Vildor, K Tyler Bass Key Returners: QB Shai Werts, RB Wesley Kennedy, RB JD King, OG Lawrence Edwards, LB Rashad Byrd, LB Reynard Ellis, S Kenderick Duncan
Georgia Southern quarterback Shai Werts takes a snap during an NCAA college football game against Georgia State, Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019, in Statesboro, Ga. (Hunter Cone/Savannah Morning News via AP)