The 2020 college football season will be played as of now amid the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States.
A total of 76 FBS schools are still participating in the season. That includes six conferences — the ACC, American Athletic Conference, Big 12, Conference-USA, SEC and Sun Belt — along with a few independents. A total of 54 FBS schools have canceled their fall football season.
That had an obvious impact on Sporting News Preseason Top 25. A total of 10 teams on that original list are not playing in 2020, so we had to make a revised edition for the upcoming season.
Here is a look at Sporting News latest preseason top 25 ranking. As this offseason has shown, it is subject to change:
College football rankings 2020
The Panthers get the edge over defending ACC Coastal champion Virginia for the last spot on this list. Pitt has picked eight wins three of the last five seasons, and whether this team can compete for a division title hinges on quarterback Kenny Pickett's development. Star defensive tackle Jaylen Twyman, a SN preseason All-American, opted out. Safety Paris Ford, however, has breakout potential.
TCU is 12-13 the last two seasons, but there are signs that Gary Patterson could get this team back in the Big 12 mix this season. Sophomore quarterback Max Duggan returns, and the arrival of five-star running Zachary Evans should boost an offense that averaged 30.3 points per game in 2019. The Horned Frogs lost six games by seven points or less last season. They can turn that around.
23. Appalachian State
The Mountaineers have their third coach in three years with Shawn Clark, but the program remains on solid footing in the Sun Belt. Appalachian State is coming off a 13-win season. Quarterback Zac Thomas has most of his top targets back, and cornerback Shaun Jolly is a second-team SN Preseason All-American. The Mountaineers are 54-12 the last five seasons; the fifth-best record among FBS schools in that stretch. There is every reason to trust this program with Clark.
The Bears pushed back into the national picture with a Big 12 championship appearance in 2019. Matt Rhule is gone, but Baylor hired longtime LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda to take his place. Senior quarterback Charlie Brewer returns, and that should help ease the transition. The Bears were 4-2 in one-score Big 12 games last season, and the two losses were a pair of heartbreakers to Oklahoma.
Memphis returns after reaching the Cotton Bowl last season, and first-year coach Ryan Silverfield takes over for Mike Norvell. The Tigers return senior quarterback Brady White, and FWAA Freshman of the Year Kenneth Gainwell is one of the best multi-purpose backs in the country. Memphis beat Cincinnati twice last season to win the AAC championship, and the Bearcats will be their toughest competition again.
20. Iowa State
Fifth-year coach Matt Campbell returns a talented team. The Cyclones are one the hot sleeper teams heading into 2020, and that's because of the emergence of Brock Purdy at quarterback. He led the Big 12 with 306.3 passing yards per game last season, and top targets Tarique Milton and tight end Charlie Kolar return along with leading rusher Breece Hall. The defense will need to improve. Oklahoma visits Iowa State on Oct. 3.
19. Virginia Tech
The Hokies are in the wide-open shuffle that is the ACC Coastal Division, but they will be without second-team All-American cornerback Caleb Farley, who opted out this season. That will be the first challenge for new defensive coordinator Justin Hamilton. Virginia Tech still has enough talent on that side of the ball coming back, and there is a quarterback derby to sort out on offense. Justin Fuente enters his fifth year with the same expectations, and a Week 2 matchup against Virginia will set the tone for the season.
The Knights are 35-3 the last three seasons and are established as one of the best Group of 5 programs in the FBS. Josh Heupel keeps that moving in the right direction, and Dillon Gabriel returns at quarterback, and there is intrigue at the position with the potential return of McKenzie Milton – who suffered a gruesome leg injury in 2018. UCF will challenge for the AAC championship with the other conference contenders, and there is a window for that elusive playoff opportunity if they are perfect.
A 14-0 loss to Louisiana Tech in last year's Independence Bowl was the shakeup this program needed. The 6-7 season is in the rear-view mirror for second-year coach Manny Diaz. The Hurricanes hired offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee from SMU, and Houston transfer quarterback D'Eriq King should be productive in that scheme. Star defensive end Gregory Rousseau opted out, but the Hurricanes picked up Temple transfer Quincy Roche. The Hurricanes have one of the tougher schedules in the conference, with road trips to Clemson, Louisville and Virginia Tech.
The Wildcats are 18-8 the last two seasons and have achieved stability under Mark Stoops, who continues to build depth through recruiting. Kentucky has most of its starters on both sides coming back, but the loss of All-American talent Lynn Bowden needs addressed. Quarterback Terry Wilson is coming off a season-ending knee injury, and the key will be establishing a consistent running game behind him. That's led to more success in the SEC East. Can the Wildcats hold their spot in the pecking order when they arrive at a two-week November stretch that features road games at Florida and Alabama?
The Vols have been itching to get back on the national stage, and Jeremy Pruitt lead the program to an eight-win season and bowl victory in 2019. Senior quarterback Jarrett Gaurantano returns behind a big offensive line that features future NFL picks Trey Smith and Cade Mays, and the defense should continue to take strides with improved talent through recruiting. Tennessee still needs to prove it against Georgia, Florida and Alabama, and Auburn and Texas A&M are on the schedule, too.
Scott Satterfield led the Cardinals to eight wins in an impressive turnaround in 2019, and that program growth should continue this season. Satterfield has a dynamic trio at the key skill positions. Malik Cunningham settled in at quarterback with 22 TDs and five interceptions in 2019. Running back Javian Hawkins and receiver Tutu Atwell made SN's Top 40 players for 2020. Hassan Hall also has breakout potential. The Cardinals need more depth up front on both sides. At least Clemson isn't on the reformatted schedule.
The Bearcats are the highest-ranked Group of 5 team on the board, and that is a nod to the job Luke Fickell has done since taking over. Cincinnati won 11 games each of the last two seasons, and three-year starter Desmond Ridder returns at quarterback. The offensive line will revolve around Michigan transfer James Hudson, and Elijah Ponder and Michael Pitts lead the best defense in the AAC. Cincinnati lost the nonconference game against Nebraska, and they will have little margin for error in conference play to make the New Year's Day Six. That said, the opportunity for a special season is there.
12. North Carolina
The Tar Heels are emerging as an offseason darling based on the recruiting momentum built by Mack Brown, which helped land five-star cornerback Tony Grimes. North Carolina has big-time playmakers on both sides in quarterback Sam Howell, who set the FBS record for TD passes by a true freshman. Chazz Surratt is one of the best linebackers in the FBS, and the defense should improve around defensive coordinator Jay Bateman. The Tar Heels must show they are for real with road tests at Miami and Florida State, but the marquee matchup is a visit from Notre Dame on Nov. 27. North Carolina is built to make a run to the ACC championship game.
11. Oklahoma State
The offseason controversy involving Mike Gundy needs to be put to rest for this team to realize its potential. Running back Chuba Hubbard leads a dynamic offense capable of leading the Big 12 in scoring. Spencer Sanders proved to be a dynamic playmaker at quarterback, and the return of receiver Tylan Wallace is a bonus. The Cowboys are 8-10 in Big 12 play the last two seasons, so that urgency will be felt in Stillwater. Can the Cowboys break a five-game losing streak to rival Oklahoma?
10. Texas A&M
The Aggies have consecutive top-10 recruiting classes to build their team in 2020, meaning more difference-makers to help Kellen Mond enjoy his senior season. Isaiah Spiller is back too, and this offense should be much better after a year of experience. Look for improved play from the receivers with the new additions. The defense is mostly together. For third-year coach Jimbo Fisher, it comes down to making that jump against top-10 teams. The Aggies are 1-7 in that situation the last two seasons, and they will not go anywhere in the SEC West grinder until that record improves. Early-season tests against Florida and Alabama will be a good barometer.
SN picked Texas to make the College Football Playoff last year; a too-soon-pick that did not work out after early-season losses to LSU and Oklahoma. The good news? It could happen this year. Sam Ehlinger is back for his senior season, and the Longhorns have young talent that should evolve with increased roles. Receivers Brennan Eagles and Jake Smith have breakout potential. Linebacker Joseph Ossai, who had 13.5 tackles for loss in 2019, is back. The Longhorns have six losses of seven points or fewer the last two seasons. Can Tom Herman get some wins in the close ones?
We're going to talk about Gus Malzhan's job security all offseason again, but the Tigers bought some time by winning the Iron Bowl. Sophomore quarterback Bo Nix returns and should improve his consistency as a sophomore. JaTarvious Whitlow transferred, so Tank Bigsby is among the young running backs with a chance to shine. The offensive line lost six key contributors. The defensive line loses Marlon Davidson, Derrick Brown and Nick Coe, but at least returns Big Kat Bryant and Tyrone Truesdell. Auburn needs to revisit the SEC West grinder, but that's just part of the job description. Can Malzahn handle it again?
Florida is the first of four top-10 teams in the SEC. Dan Mullen led the Gators to back-to-back New Year's Day Six Bowl wins, and he has upgraded the talent with each recruiting cycle. Kyle Trask is established as the starter and has the potential to be a first-team SEC quarterback. The return of cornerback Marco Wilson is a lift for a talented defense that loses CJ Henderson. Florida is close to getting back to the SEC championship game, but Georgia remains the biggest hurdle in the SEC East. That showdown is on Nov. 7, and the rivalry with Tennessee was pushed back to Dec. 5.
6. Notre Dame
Notre Dame is a member of the ACC for the upcoming season, and that alone should create some excitement for Brian Kelly's 11th season in South Bend. Veteran quarterback Ian Book returns for another season, and the tandem of Jafar Armstrong and Jahmir Smith need to step up at running back. Javon McKinley, Braden Lenzy and Tommy Tremble give Book solid options in the receiving game. Liam Eichenberg's return is a plus for the offensive line. The secondary will be a question mark on defense. The ACC schedule creates some fun matchups, but none are bigger than the home game against Clemson on Nov. 7.
The Sooners are facing the backlash of a fourth Playoff loss in six seasons, but Lincoln Riley didn't go to the NFL. Oklahoma is still the favorite to win the Big 12. Spencer Rattler had a year to learn behind Jalen Hurts, and that will pay off. Star running back Kennedy Brooks opted out, which will make that job a little more difficult. Jadon Haselwood is the next breakout star at receiver, and the defense will face the same old questions with defensive coordinator Alex Grinch. The Sooners still have a lot of questions, but that might not be answered unless they get back to the Playoff. In the meantime, the focus should be on making a run at yet another Big 12 championship.
What will LSU and Ed Orgeron do for an encore without Joe Burrow and Joe Brady? Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, left, too. Myles Brennan will finally get his shot at quarterback, and Ja'Marr Chase and Terrace Marshall Jr. are back for another season. Chase has confirmed he intends to play this season. The Tigers lost a ton to the NFL Draft (nine draft-eligible juniors, including running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire), but LSU's defense returns enough pieces to build around sophomore cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. and another loaded recruiting class. Offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger can work with what's left. This team can still compete for a SEC championship.
Jake Fromm is gone, as well as the vast majority of Georgia's offensive line. The Bulldogs have two transfer quarterbacks eligible in Wake Forest grad transfer Jamie Newman and USC's J.T. Daniels, and they will work with new offensive coordinator Todd Monken. Georgia also hired Alabama strength coach Scott Cochran. Kirby Smart has built a string of top-five recruiting classes. Zamir White and James Cook will keep the ground game going, and George Pickens could emerge as the best receiver in the FBS. Rising redshirt-sophomore linebacker Azeez Ojulari could make the jump to All-American. This team has enough to break a national championship drought that extends back to 1980. The new schedule didn't do the Bulldogs any favors with matchups against Auburn, Tennessee and Alabama in the first four weeks.
Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, receivers Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III, offensive tackle Jedrick Wills Jr., safety Xavier McKinney and linebacker Terrell Lewis are gone, and Nick Saban faces the challenge of getting back into the College Football Playoff for the first time. The quarterback battle between Mac Jones and freshman Bryce Young will be the early-season focus, and there likely won't be an answer until the opener against USC. Receivers DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle are back, and the return of running back Najee Harris is huge for an offense that could rely more on its run game in 2020. Dylan Moses' decision to return should help shore up a defense that wasn't up to Alabama's championship standard. The standard remains national title or bust, even at this stage of Saban's tenure.
The beat goes on under Dabo Swinney. The Tigers figure to suffer some attrition to the NFL, but the offense runs around the junior trio of Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne. Justyn Ross is lost for the season, but Clemson has other young receivers to work with. Etienne's decision to return was perhaps the biggest win of the draft deadline. Clemson also has the No. 1 recruiting class coming in, and defensive lineman Bryan Bresee will play right away. Coordinators Tony Elliott and Brent Venables stayed on, and that continuity should lead to a sixth straight ACC championship run. Including conference title games, the Tigers have won 22 straight in the ACC. That is why they are still the No. 1 team in the country.