College Football's Top 5 Teams on the Rise
Updated: Jun 8
Whether your favorite college football team finished the previous season the way you wanted it to (or not), every year offers a renewed sense of hope and optimism for fans across the nation. I put together a list of five teams below that I believe are poised for greatness in not only 2020, but beyond.
After an awful 2018 season that saw the Cardinals finish a whopping 2-8, new Head coach Scott Satterfield completely flipped the script in 2019, which saw the team bump its win total to eight games along with a Music City Bowl win over Mississippi State. Satterfield's seemingly got the offensive side of the ball figured out going into the 2020 season (second in the ACC with 33.1 PPG in 2019), not to mention up-and-coming quarterback Micale Cunningham is returning to direct said offense (2,065 passing yards, 22 touchdowns; 482 rushing yards, 6 scores) but here's the catch: Louisville must improve their defense in order to seriously crack the Top 25 rankings. This team can put up points no problem - especially in an other-wise weak ACC - but when the Cardinals do battle with powerhouses like Clemson and Notre Dame this year, the defense will need to do a bit better than giving up nearly five touchdowns a game as they did in 2019.
All in all, Louisville is definitely a team to lookout for; they play a favorable schedule in a conference that features just a handful of solid programs, a great cast of offensive skill players are returning, and the right coaching staff is in place to get this team to the next level.
4) Texas A&M
The Aggies have quietly won 17 games over the past two seasons with Jimbo Fisher at the helm. The offense should continue to put up points without any issue, as junior dual-threat quarterback Kellen Mond is returning (2,897 passing yards, 20 TDs; 501 rushing yards, 8 TDs), along with sophomore tailback Isaiah Spiller (1,000+ yards, 10 TDs) and Jalen Wydermeyer - one of the top tight ends in the entire SEC. Like in Louisville's case that I mentioned before, the Aggie's defense will need to improve, especially with clashes with Auburn and Alabama in the second half of the season. It does help thought that Joe Burrow is out of the spotlight and the LSU tigers are looking at a bit of a rebuild offensively in 2020, so be on the lookout for Texas A&M to up their win total and finally stake their claim in the SEC.
3) Oklahoma State
The Big 12 is going to be like open season in 2020. Oklahoma will be a force to be reckoned with as always, even if they are breaking in a brand new quarterback with Spencer Rattler. Texas has new coordinators on both sides of the ball, but the roster has some major talent across the board that will allow them to compete for the conference title. Baylor is a bit of a wild-card due to former head coach Matt Rhule jumping ship for a job with the NFL's Carolina Panthers; the more important fact being that the Bears lose nine defensive starters, along with talented wide receiver Denzel Mims on the offensive side. West Virginia, Texas Tech, Kansas, and TCU should all be pretty competitive as well.
So how does Oklahoma State fit into all of this? Perfectly. The Cowboys offense should be one of the best in the Big 12, with star tailback Chuba Hubbard (2,094 rushing yards, 21 TDs; 198 receiving yards) running the show. Sophomore quarterback Spencer Sanders experienced some growing pains in 2019 (had a three game stretch where he threw a total of 7 INTs) but that doesn't take away from the fact that he is a talented player (2,065 passing yards, 16 TDs; 628 rushing yards, 2 TDs) who's got a nack for extending plays with his legs. In other words, Hubbard and Sanders can lead this offense into shootouts if need be. The defense in 2019 wasn't great...but it wasn't awful either, ranking in the middle of the pack in the conference. The good news is that most of the defensive starters return, and there's enough depth there to at least provide hope for an upgrade. As I mentioned before, the Big 12 is pretty much up for grabs, so look for Oklahoma State to explode onto the scene this upcoming season.
The defense was a bit shaky in 2019 (4th in scoring defense, 7th in rush defense, and 7th in pass defense in the ACC), with injuries and a lack of depth having a big role in that. Plus, it doesn't help that standouts like Jason Strowbridge and Aaron Crawford are gone. The good news though is that because of the injuries and departures, a plethora of young guys got to see the field and gain experience in defensive coordinator Jay Bateman's system, such as cornerback Duck Storm, who nabbed two interceptions in his first season of college football. UNC fans should also be excited for Virginia Tech transfer Bryce Watts and Clemson transfer Kyler McMichael, two talented defensive backs looking to contribute after sitting out the 2019 season due to NCAA transfer rules. So at least on the defensive side of things, the defensive line may have some question marks, but the secondary looks solid and the middle of the field will be locked down by one of the best linebacker corps in the ACC, featuring stars Chazz Surratt and Jeremiah Gemmel.
As for the offense, sophomore quarterback Sam Howell is primed to have another fantastic season after exploding onto the scene last year (3,641 yards, 38 TDs, completed 61.4% of his passes) and he'll have an absolutely stacked group of wide receivers to throw to (Dyami Brown, Dazz Newsome, Toe Groves, and freshman four-star Josh Downs). Let's get one thing straight here though - Clemson owns the ACC until further notice, but that doesn't mean Mack Brown and his North Carolina Tar Heels can't be on the doorstep of greatness in 2020 (and for the next several years for that matter).
1) Arizona State
Head coach Herm Edwards has steadily built the Sun Devils program over the past two seasons, going 7-6 in 2018 and 8-5 in 2019, which ended with a win over Florida State in the Sun Bowl. Coming into this season, the defense should be as stellar as ever, (4th in the nation in takeaways) with a total of eight starters returning on that side of the ball. In particular, the linebacking duo of Merlin Roberson and Darien Butler will probably be one of the best tandems in the Pac-12, and the defensive line will feature two absolute units in
Jermayne Lole at one end, and 313-pound DJ Davidson (51 tackles) solidifying the middle. As for the secondary, it was a bit leaky but it did have a nack for turnovers, so as long as they lock down the opposing receivers just a tad bit better, they should be a pretty special group as well.
Meanwhile on the offensive side of the ball, sophomore quarterback Jayden Daniels was a complete stud in 2019, completing 60% of his passes for 2,943 yards and 17 touchdowns with just two interceptions. He's also a gifted runner, tallying 355 yards and 3 scores on the ground. He'll need help this year though, as standout running back Eno Benjamin and receiver Brandon Aiyuk departed for the NFL. So unlike most of the teams on this list, this Sun Devils team will more than likely be defined by their defense rather than there offense, and that's okay - because the Pac-12 is open for business in 2020. With South Division-winner Utah rebuilding and the conference champion Oregon Ducks trying to find their replacement at quarterback in lieu of star quarterback Justin Herbert being drafted by the NFL's Los Angeles Chargers, Arizona State has the chance to not only make a run at their division, but the conference title game as well.
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