How many of FBS's 130 schools can have fun making the University Football Playoff in 2020?
That number continues to decline with each passing year in the PCP era. Blame the powers. Blame the lack of parity. The power is to blame 5.
This combination is the reason why Sporting News believes that the number of real candidates for the national championship can be counted on one hand in the current college football scene. This is not perception. It's reality.
This year's College Football Playoff championship game is scheduled for January 11 at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. This year's semifinals are on January 1 at the Rose Bowl Game and Sugar Bowl. The additional scenario of the COVID-19 pandemic generated uncertainty in the 2020 college football season, but if that happens, there are only a few teams selected by Sporting News that can run.
We examined conference by conference to find the national teams worthy of the title, the playoffs and the wildcards that can cause chaos in the season:
National title: Clemson
Playoff competitors: none
Wildcards: North Caroline
Because? The Tigers have won ACC over the past five seasons with a record 38-2 conference game. Clemson has won the last five ACC games with an average of 23.4 points per game. Can anyone seriously deal with this? North Carolina lost 21 to 20 to the Tigers in a thriller in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, last season, Mack Brown returned to recruit at the elite level and the Tar Heels have one of the country's best defenders on Sam Howell . North Carolina would have to beat the ACC Coastal and survive a brutal non-conference schedule to have that chance.
National title: Ohio State
Playoff competitors: Penn State
Wildcards: Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota
Because? The Buckeyes won three consecutive Big Ten championships in a dominant manner and returned another list led by Heisman Trophy finalist Justin Fields. The best of the rest – Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin – are a 1-22 against Ohio State since Urban Meyer took over in 2012. Ryan Day showed no signs of slowing down. The Wolverines, who are a wildcard on that list, rather than a playoff participant, have felt the weight of it more since Jim Harbaugh arrived in 2015.
National title: none
Playoff competitors: Oklahoma
Wildcards: Texas, state of Oklahoma
Because? Oklahoma is a candidate for the national championship? After three consecutive defeats in the SEC playoff for schools – games that Sooners lost an average of 17.3 points per game – it is fair to question the program's national championship credentials. That said, Oklahoma has won five consecutive Big 12 championships and is a regular participant in the Playoff. Texas and Oklahoma State are the best placed schools to prevent conference dominance in 2020, but these schools combined 10 losses last season. They cannot be considered anything but wildcards because of that.
National title: none
Playoff competitors: Oregon
Wildcards: USC, Utah
Because? Oregon is the only Pac-12 team ranked in the top ten. The Ducks were in a position to break the three-year drought in the conference playoffs last year, but the two-game rule and you're out of play remains in effect until someone breaks the trend. Utah also had a chance last season, before losing to Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game. USC is the only team not ranked in the SN Top 25 that made this list as a wildcard, because the Trojans are really the ones under Clay Helton this season. They can also prove the game against Alabama.
National title: Alabama, Georgia, LSU
Playoff competitors: Florida
Wildcards: Auburn, Texas A&M
Because? That is why this is the best college football conference. The SEC has the most legitimate playoff candidates, and that list always starts in Alabama. Georgia and LSU need to make up for large losses in the NFL draft (especially the Tigers), but both programs have competed in national championships over the past three seasons. This keeps them on the list of candidates. Florida, Auburn and Texas A&M have to prove that they can survive this routine in the top 10 matches. These schools matched 1-8 against the top 10 teams without counting games against each in 2019.
Independent / Group of 5
National title: none
Playoff competitors: Notre Dame
Because? Notre Dame can still compete for a playoff spot, and they have a 2020 schedule that includes Wisconsin, Clemson and USC. That and the lack of a conference championship should keep the Irish in the mix. The Group of 5 simply does not have a team that can attract enough attention from the committee in the form of four teams. Cincinnati, Boise State and UCF will be among the teams fighting for the sixth year of the New Year.
The final count
When you add up the numbers, you add up to 20 teams.
On the one hand, candidates for the national title consist of Clemson, Ohio State, Alabama, LSU and Georgia. Oregon is the only school outside the group that competed for a national championship in the age of the PCP.
The Ducks are among the top five candidates outside. Oklahoma and Notre Dame were also at least in the playoffs. Penn State and Florida are our top picks for schools closest to making that first appearance.
The other 10 schools are wildcards where we will believe when they see it. They face one or two major obstacles within their conference that kept them out of the playoff, and if one or two of them break, it will give the season a much-needed flavor.
Otherwise, there may be even fewer teams on that list in 2021.
Do you have a problem with these choices? Tweet @ BillBender92 and let you have it.