The college football season ended with LSU celebrating a 15-0 season and a College Football Playoff national championship, at home, in New Orleans.
And while Clemson was denied back-to-back national titles, it is still No. 1 in the first edition of the 2020 Way-Too-Early Top 25. With quarterback Trevor Lawrence coming back, the Tigers will be armed for a third consecutive unbeaten regular season.
Ohio State, which lost to Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl CFP semifinal, is No. 2, followed by Alabama, LSU, Oregon and Georgia, each of which will start next season with a different quarterback than the one who started the 2019 opener.
Last year, the first edition of the 2019 Way-Too-Early list correctly predicted two of the top four, six of the top 10 and 14 of the top 25 teams in the final College Football Playoff selection committee rankings. Among the teams ranked too high: Notre Dame (who would have guessed?), Texas (you don't say?) and Texas A&M (a year too soon?). Among those ranked too low or not ranked at all: Baylor (never saw it coming), Iowa (overlooked every season, right, Hawkeyes?), Memphis, Minnesota, Boise State (no respect) and Cincinnati.
Let's take a look at the complete list:
[Note: Personnel losses below include seniors and underclassmen who have publicly declared for the NFL draft. Third-year players from LSU and Clemson have yet to announce their decisions, but both teams could lose a handful of third-year sophomores and juniors to the pros.]
2019 record: 14-1, 8-0 ACC
Returning starters: seven offense, seven defense, two special teams
Key losses: WR Tee Higgins, G John Simpson, C Sean Pollard, G Gage Cervenka, OT Tremayne Anchrum, DT Nyles Pinckney, LB Chad Smith, S K'Von Wallace, S Tanner Muse
Outlook: Even after it fell to LSU, its first defeat in the past 30 games, Clemson is the team to beat in 2020. The Tigers bring back Lawrence for a third season, along with receiver Justyn Ross and potentially Amari Rodgers. A handful of juniors could follow Higgins and leave early, including linebacker Isaiah Simmons, who is also projected to be a first-round pick. Tailback Travis Etienne, Rodgers and cornerback A.J. Terrell also are considered potential early departures. Clemson will have to replace four starting offensive linemen and both its starting safeties. Despite the anticipated losses, Clemson is still far more talented than any other team in the ACC, especially with a potential No. 1 recruiting class coming. A Nov. 7 trip to Notre Dame is the most difficult game on the Tigers' schedule.
2. Ohio State
2019 record: 13-1, 9-0 Big Ten
Returning starters: six offense, five defense, two special teams
Key losses: DE Chase Young, CB Jeff Okudah, RB J.K. Dobbins, LB Malik Harrison, G Jonah Jackson, FS Jordan Fuller
Outlook: Quarterback Justin Fields, a Georgia transfer, was very good in his first season as a starter. He might have to be even better in Year 2, without Dobbins and the bulk of a much-improved defense. In coach Ryan Day's first campaign, the Buckeyes went unbeaten during the regular season and came up just short in a 29-23 loss against Clemson in a CFP semifinal at the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl. The Buckeyes should again be potent on offense, even without Dobbins, a 2,000-yard rusher in 2019. Ohio State will have to rebuild its defense, however, with Young and Okudah leaving for the NFL draft. There will be changes on Day's coaching staff as well after Boston College hired co-defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley as head coach and co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Mike Yurcich left to become Texas' offensive coordinator. The Buckeyes will play a challenging nonconference game at Oregon on Sept. 12.
2019 record: 11-2, 6-2 SEC
Returning starters: seven offense, five defense, two special teams
Key losses: QB Tua Tagovailoa, WR Jerry Jeudy, WR Henry Ruggs III, S Xavier McKinney, LB Terrell Lewis, LB Anfernee Jennings, SS Jared Mayden, CB Trevon Diggs, DE Raekwon Davis
Outlook: The Crimson Tide's 2019 season was derailed by injuries before the games even started, and things got worse when star quarterback Tagovailoa suffered a hip injury late. The Tide still won at least 11 games for the ninth straight season and beat Michigan 35-16 in the VRBO Citrus Bowl. Tagovailoa was one of six juniors to leave for the NFL draft. The good news is rising junior Mac Jones had extensive playing time in Tagovailoa's absence, throwing for 1,503 yards, 14 touchdowns and three interceptions. He'll be the favorite to start in 2020, if he can hold off Tagovailoa's younger brother, Taulia, and incoming freshman Bryce Young, the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback, according to ESPN Recruiting. There are also extensive holes to fill on defense, but linebackers Dylan Moses and Joshua McMillon are coming back after missing 2019 with torn ACLs. Defensive lineman LaBryan Ray is also returning from a foot injury.
2019 record: 15-0, 9-0 SEC
Returning starters: eight offense, nine defense, two special teams
Key losses: QB Joe Burrow, G Damien Lewis, G Adrian MaGee, DE Rashard Lawrence, CB Kristian Fulton, S Grant Delpit
Outlook: The Tigers' dream season ended with a national championship, and they might be right back in the CFP mix next season. Burrow, the most prolific passer in SEC history, is leaving after breaking nearly every school record. Will the Tigers go with backup Myles Brennan, or bring in a graduate transfer (maybe Houston's D'Eriq King) to replace him? Junior receiver Justin Jefferson and safety Grant Delpit are projected as top-15 picks in the NFL draft; junior tight end Thaddeus Moss and tailback Clyde Edwards-Helaire also have big decisions to make. Much of LSU's defense is coming back, and Ed Orgeron was fortunate to hang on to coordinator Dave Aranda for at least one more season. However, passing game coordinator Joe Brady is leaving to join the Carolina Panthers. Next season, LSU plays Texas at home in a big nonconference matchup, hosts Alabama and goes to Florida, Auburn and Texas A&M during SEC play.
2019 record: 12-2, 8-1 Pac-12
Returning starters: five offense, nine defense, one special teams
Key losses: QB Justin Herbert, G Shane Lemieux, C Jake Hanson, G Dallas Warmack, OT Calvin Throckmorton, LB Troy Dye, LB Bryson Young, WR Juwan Johnson
Outlook: The Herbert era ended with a Pac-12 championship and thrilling 28-27 victory over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual. There will be plenty of work to do on offense heading into the 2020 season, but coach Mario Cristobal has built one of the best defenses in the FBS. Along with Herbert, four starting offensive linemen -- with 177 combined starts -- are leaving. At least the Ducks are bringing back Penei Sewell, the best offensive tackle in the sport. Redshirt freshman Tyler Shough, who threw for 144 yards with three touchdowns in five games this past season, will battle freshman Cale Millen and incoming four-star signee Jay Butterfield for the starting quarterback job. Cristobal will also have to hire a new offensive coordinator after UNLV hired Marcus Arroyo as its new coach. In addition to a big nonconference game against Ohio State at Autzen Stadium, the Ducks will play Pac-12 foes Arizona State, Stanford, USC and Washington at home next season.
2019 record: 12-2, 7-1 SEC
Returning starters: two offense, six defense, one special teams
Key losses: QB Jake Fromm, RB D'Andre Swift, OT Andrew Thomas, OT Isaiah Wilson, OL Cade Mays, G Solomon Kindley, K Rodrigo Blankenship, S J.R. Reed, WR Lawrence Cager
Outlook: Georgia fans who weren't happy with the team's offense in 2019 will get their wish with a complete face-lift. Fromm, a three-year starter and most accurate passer in school history, is off to the NFL draft, along with three starting offensive linemen. Sophomore Cade Mays decided to transfer to Tennessee. Georgia scoured the graduate transfer market for a starting quarterback, and Wake Forest's Jamie Newman has enrolled in classes at Georgia and will participate in spring practice. Changes are expected on Kirby Smart's offensive staff as well. Keep an eye on former Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator Todd Monken. Georgia's defense carried the load in 2019 and should be stout again, especially with safety Richard LeCounte, linebacker Monty Rice and cornerback Eric Stokes electing to return. The Bulldogs open the season against Virginia in Atlanta and play at Alabama on Sept. 19 and against Florida in Jacksonville, Florida, on Oct. 31.
2019 record: 11-2, 6-2 SEC
Returning starters: seven offense, five defense, one special teams
Key losses: RB Lamical Perine, DE Jabari Zuniga, DE Jonathan Greenard, LB David Reese II, CB CJ Henderson, DT Adam Shuler, WR Van Jefferson
Outlook: There's no question that Dan Mullen has stabilized Florida's football program with a 21-5 record in two seasons. The next step is toppling Georgia in the SEC East, and the talent gap between the programs narrowed after the Bulldogs' mass exodus of underclassmen. At least the Gators have found a consistent quarterback in Kyle Trask, who completed 66.9% of his attempts, with 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions this past season. The Gators will have to replace leading rusher Perine and top receiver Jefferson. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham is going to have to rebuild his front seven, especially along the line with Zuniga, Greenard and Shuler leaving. Top cornerback Henderson also turned pro. Florida's 2020 nonconference schedule is embarrassingly soft (FCS foe Eastern Washington, South Alabama and New Mexico State at home and Florida State on the road), and it plays only three games (at Tennessee, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt) outside the Sunshine State.
2019 record: 12-2, 8-1 Big 12
Returning starters: eight offense, eight defense, two special teams
Key losses: QB Jalen Hurts, WR CeeDee Lamb, LB Kenneth Murray, WR Lee Morris, NG Neville Gallimore, CB Parnell Motley
Outlook: The Sooners are 36-6 and have reached the CFP in three straight seasons under coach Lincoln Riley, but their 63-28 loss to LSU in a CFP semifinal at the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl was a humbling reminder of how far they still have to go on defense to compete with the sport's elite. There's no question that OU's defense made improvements under first-year coordinator Alex Grinch in 2019 and that injuries and suspensions hampered their efforts against LSU. However, there's still a talent gap that must be addressed in recruiting, especially after Murray left early for the NFL. Incoming JUCO defensive tackles Perrion Winfrey and Josh Ellison and five-star linebacker Reggie Grimes might provide immediate help in 2020. With Hurts leaving after only one season, Spencer Rattler (the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the Class of 2019) and Tanner Mordecai will battle for the starting job. Jadon Haselwood and Theo Wease, two of the top three receivers in the '19 class, will have to assume bigger roles because Lamb also departed early. The Sooners will host Tennessee and play at Army during nonconference play in 2020.
9. Penn State
2019 record: 11-2, 6-2 Big Ten
Returning starters: nine offense, five defense, one special teams
Key losses: DE Yetur Gross-Matos, WR KJ Hamler, S Garrett Taylor, OLB Cam Brown, MLB Jan Johnson, DT Robert Windsor
Outlook: The Nittany Lions have won 11 games and played in a New Year's Six bowl game in three of the past four seasons under James Franklin. Obviously, the next step for them is reaching the College Football Playoff, which won't be easy with Ohio State sitting atop the Big Ten East. Franklin hired Minnesota's Kirk Ciarrocca as offensive coordinator to replace Ricky Rhane, who was hired as Old Dominion's coach. Ciarrocca will try to get more out of quarterback Sean Clifford, who struggled down the stretch while battling an undisclosed injury. New offensive line coach Phil Trautwein will try to shore up a unit that allowed a whopping 32 sacks in 2019. PSU also loses Hamler, its top pass-catcher and most explosive offensive weapon. Defensively, the Nittany Lions lose top edge rusher Gross-Matos, who had 9.5 sacks. That said, All-American linebacker Micah Parsons and four other starters are expected back.
10. Notre Dame
2019 record: 11-2
Returning starters: seven offense, five defense, two special teams
Key losses: WR Chase Claypool, TE Cole Kmet, RB Tony Jones Jr., WR Chris Finke, LB Asmar Bilal, S Alohi Gilman, S Jalen Elliott, DL Khalid Kareem, CB Troy Pride Jr.
Outlook: After suffering early losses at Georgia and Michigan, the Irish were never serious contenders for a CFP spot this past season. They still won 11 games and blasted Iowa State 33-9 in the Camping World Bowl. With quarterback Ian Book and all five starting offensive linemen returning, the Irish have a good nucleus coming back on offense. But they must replace leading receivers Claypool and Finke, leading rusher Jones and Kmet, who was a matchup nightmare. Northwestern graduate transfer Bennett Skowronek and incoming four-star receiver Jordan Johnson might be able to help right away. Brian Kelly is also looking for a new offensive coordinator after Chip Long was pushed out. It might be former quarterback Tom Rees, who called plays in the bowl game. The Irish will also have to replace all four starters in the secondary after Gilman decided to bypass his fourth season. Notre Dame plays Wisconsin at Lambeau Field and hosts Clemson, but it might be favored in its 10 other regular-season games.
11. Texas A&M
2019 record: 8-5, 4-4 SEC
Returning starters: eight offense, nine defense, one special teams
Key losses: P Braden Mann, DT Justin Madubuike, DB Charles Oliver, C Colton Prater, CB Debione Renfro, WR Quartney Davis, WR Kendrick Rogers
Outlook: After two seasons, the Aggies have 17 wins and two bowl victories to show for their $75 million investment in coach Jimbo Fisher. They have only one win over the SEC West's top three teams: Alabama, Auburn and LSU. Of course, the schedule has been difficult. This past season, Texas A&M was the first team in FBS history to play three teams that were ranked No. 1. Year 3 might bring better results, with the Aggies expected to bring back 18 starters on offense and defense. Fisher took his lumps playing 19 true freshmen this past season, and that decision might pay dividends in the near future. The Aggies need to do a better job protecting quarterback Kellen Mond after allowing an SEC-high 34 sacks this past season. Mond needs to do a better job throwing the ball down the field and not turning it over. With nonconference games against FCS opponent Abilene Christian, North Texas, Colorado and Fresno State, the Aggies might be 6-0 going into an Oct. 17 road game at Auburn. They close the regular season with back-to-back games against Alabama (road) and LSU (home).
2019 record: 9-4, 5-3 SEC
Returning starters: four offense, five defense, one special teams
Key losses: DT Derrick Brown, DE Marlon Davidson, S Jeremiah Dinson, S Daniel Thomas, CB Noah Igbinoghene, OT Prince Tega Wanogho, G Marquel Harrell
Outlook: Given Auburn's difficult schedule -- and the fact that it played true freshman Bo Nix at quarterback -- its 9-4 record wasn't much of a surprise. The Tigers lost at LSU and Florida and fell to Georgia at home. A 48-45 victory over Alabama in the Iron Bowl will be long remembered, as will a deflating 31-24 loss to Minnesota in the Outback Bowl. The Tigers are going to have to overcome heavy losses on both lines of scrimmage. Brown and Davidson were two of the best in the FBS, and four starting offensive linemen are departing. Four starters are also gone from the secondary. Nix should be better in his second season, after completing 57.5% of his attempts for 2,542 yards, 16 touchdowns and six interceptions. The top three pass-catchers are expected back, along with leading rusher JaTarvious Whitlow. Will coach Gus Malzahn loosen his reins on the offense after bringing in Chad Morris as his new coordinator?
13. Oklahoma State
Outlook: After winning 10 games in three straight seasons (2015-17), the Pokes are a combined 15-10 over the past two campaigns. That might change in 2020, however, with star tailback Chuba Hubbard returning after running for 2,094 yards with 21 touchdowns this past season. Receiver Tylan Wallace, who caught 53 passes for 903 yards with eight scores before suffering a knee injury in practice in November, is also returning. Quarterback Spencer Sanders, who missed the last three games (thumb injury), should improve as a sophomore. Coach Mike Gundy promoted receivers coach Kasey Dunn to offensive coordinator after Sean Gleeson left for Rutgers. OSU's defense was better down the stretch, and 10 starters are expected to return.
2019 record: 10-4, 7-2 Big Ten
Returning starters: six offense, nine defense, one special teams
Key losses: RB Jonathan Taylor, C Tyler Biadasz, WR Quintez Cephus, LB Zack Baun, LB Chris Orr, G David Moorman, G Jason Erdmann
Outlook: Wisconsin's season ended with consecutive losses, including a deflating one-point decision against Oregon in the Rose Bowl, and it seemed like 2019 could have been so much more. The Badgers will have to replace a lot of star power next season, including Taylor, a two-time Doak Walker Award winner, who ran for 6,174 yards in three seasons. Look for Wisconsin to use a committee, including Nakia Watson and Garrett Groshek, to replace Taylor's production next season. Wisconsin will also lose both starting guards and center Biadasz, the Rimington Trophy winner. Linebackers Baun and Orr combined for 154 tackles and 24 sacks last season and won't be easy to replace. The Badgers will play two difficult nonconference games against Appalachian State and Notre Dame (at Lambeau Field), but they avoid Ohio State and Penn State during the regular season.
2019 record: 9-4, 6-3 Big Ten
Returning starters: five offense, six defense, one special teams
Key losses: QB Shea Patterson, WR Donovan Peoples-Jones, OT Jon Runyan, G Ben Bredeson, G Michael Onwenu, LB Jordan Glasgow, S Lavert Hill, LB Josh Uche, LB Khaleke Hudson
Outlook: The now-or-never narrative surrounding the Michigan program almost seems inconsequential going into Jim Harbaugh's sixth season coaching his alma mater. The Wolverines are 48-17 under Harbaugh, but they still haven't beaten Ohio State and are coming off a fourth straight bowl loss. Despite Michigan's problems in big games, the Wolverines don't seem ready to part ways with Harbaugh unless he reaches a point where he feels like it's not working. After losing four starting offensive linemen and many of the key pieces on defense, it won't be much easier for the Wolverines to catch the Buckeyes in 2020. Dylan McCaffrey and Joe Milton will battle to replace Patterson, who had an up-and-down career. The Michigan offense did make some strides in the latter part of coordinator Josh Gattis' first season. With receivers Ronnie Bell and Nico Collins and tailbacks Zach Charbonnet and Hassan Haskins expected back, there are some productive playmakers returning on offense. The Wolverines open the season at Washington and play at Michigan State, Minnesota and Ohio State during Big Ten play.
16. Iowa State
2019 record: 7-6, 5-4 Big 12
Returning starters: five offense, seven defense, two special teams
Key losses: WR Deshaunte Jones, WR La'Michael Pettway, OT Julian Good-Jones, G Josh Knipfel, NG Ray Lima, LB Marcel Spears Jr., SS Braxton Lewis
Outlook: After winning eight games in consecutive seasons, the Cyclones seemed to take a small step back this past season. Until closing the season with a 10-point loss at Kansas State and a 24-point defeat to Notre Dame in the Camping World Bowl, they seemed close to getting over the hump (their first four losses were by a combined 11 points). The good news: Iowa State somehow kept coach Matt Campbell for another season. There's plenty of firepower coming back on offense, with quarterback Brock Purdy, tailback Breece Hall, receiver Tarique Milton and tight ends Charlie Kolar and Chase Allen. Four starters will have to be replaced on the offensive line. Two interior defensive linemen and leading tackler Spears are also leaving.
2019 record: 11-3, 7-1 AAC
Returning starters: six offense, nine defense, one special teams
Key losses: G Chris Ferguson, G Morgan James, TE Josiah Deguara, WR Rashad Medaris, LB Perry Young, LB Bryan Wright, K Sam Crosa, RB Michael Warren II
Outlook: The Bearcats won 11 games for the second straight season but fell just short of an AAC championship and New Year's Six bowl with consecutive losses to Memphis. The good news going into 2020: Tigers coach Mike Norvell left for Florida State, and Cincinnati will host Memphis during the regular season. With quarterback Desmond Ridder returning for a third season as a starter, along with most of his offensive targets besides Warren II, the Bearcats might be the best Group of 5 team in 2020. Michigan transfer James Hudson, who sat out the 2019 season before playing in the bowl game, will be a welcome addition on the offensive line. Safety James Wiggins is returning from a torn ACL and joins a veteran defense. The Bearcats' most pressing concern is replacing linebackers Young and Wright, who combined for 181 tackles and 4.5 sacks. Cincinnati will have a chance to make an early statement at Nebraska on Sept. 26.
18. Boise State
2019 record: 12-2, 8-0 Mountain West
Returning starters: five offense, six defense, one special teams
Key losses: DE/LB Curtis Weaver, QB Jaylon Henderson, WR John Hightower, OT Ezra Cleveland, G John Molchon, C Garrett Larson, DE Chase Hatada, S Kekoa Nawahine, NT Sonatane Lui, DT David Moa
Outlook: The Boise State train continued to chug along with 12 victories, its first unbeaten finish in MWC play and another league title. Only an ugly 38-7 loss to Washington (and former coach Chris Petersen) in the Mitsubishi Motors Las Vegas Bowl sullied a memorable season. The Broncos will have to rebuild both lines of scrimmage heading into 2020, with four starting offensive linemen and four defensive linemen departing. Hatada, Lui, Moa and Weaver combined for 180 tackles and 25 sacks this past season. The Broncos return a strong group of linebackers and defensive backs, but they'll have to find replacements up front. Quarterback Hank Bachmeier won seven of his eight starts as a freshman but was plagued by injuries. Coach Bryan Harsin is also looking for a new offensive coordinator after Zak Hill left for Arizona State. Boise State hosts Florida State on the blue turf on Sept. 19.
2019 record: 11-2, 7-2 Big Ten
Returning starters: nine offense, two defense, one special teams
Key losses: WR Tyler Johnson, RB Rodney Smith, DB Antoine Winfield Jr., LB Kamal Martin, LB Thomas Barber, DB Chris Williamson, DE Carter Coughlin
Outlook: Talk about rowing the boat. In coach P.J. Fleck's third season, the Gophers won their first nine games and finished with more than 10 victories for the first time since 1904. They capped the breakout campaign with a 31-24 victory over Auburn in the Outback Bowl. Now the challenge is sustaining the success, and Minnesota will have to rebuild its defense to do that in 2020. Only two defensive starters are expected back from a unit that allowed 22.5 points per game. The Gophers will lose Smith, a 1,100-yard runner, and Johnson, who had 86 catches for 1,318 yards with 13 scores. Quarterback Tanner Morgan is coming back, along with receivers Rashod Bateman and Chris Autman-Bell and all five starting offensive linemen. After Ciarrocca left for Penn State, Fleck hired Mike Sanford Jr. as offensive coordinator and promoted Matt Simon to co-offensive coordinator.
2019 record: 11-3, 8-1 Big 12
Returning starters: seven offense, two defense, two special teams
Key losses: WR Denzel Mims, RB JaMycal Hasty, LB Jordan Williams, S Chris Miller, LB Blake Lynch, DL, James Lynch, CB Grayland Arnold, NT Bravvion Roy
Outlook: After completing one of the most remarkable turnarounds in FBS history, Baylor lost coach Matt Rhule to the Carolina Panthers. His departure to the NFL was anticipated, but it stings nonetheless. He laid a solid foundation at Baylor, which went from 1-11 in 2017 to 11-3 this past season. Bears associate head coach/defensive ends coach Joey McGuire, who was ultra-successful as a Texas high school coach, is a popular choice among players to replace Rhule. But the Bears could also look outside the program for a successor. The Bears return much of their offense, including quarterback Charlie Brewer. Leading receiver Mims and the versatile Hasty are significant losses. There's even more work to do on defense, where nine starters are leaving. Baylor's nonconference schedule is a little more arduous, with games against Ole Miss (in Houston) and Louisiana Tech, and it will play Oklahoma and Texas on the road in Big 12 play.
2019 record: 12-2, 7-1 AAC
Returning starters: six offense, seven defense, two special teams
Key losses: WR Antonio Gibson, WR Kedarian Jones, TE Joey Magnifico, C Dustin Woodard, OT Scottie Dill, LB Austin Hall, DE Bryce Huff, CB Chris Claybrooks
Outlook: Norvell's departure to a Power 5 job seemed inevitable, but the Tigers kept his system in place by promoting deputy head coach Ryan Silverfield, who coached the team in a 53-39 loss to Penn State in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic. Norvell left Silverfield plenty in the cupboard, especially after quarterback Brady White elected to return for his senior season. The Arizona State transfer threw for 4,014 yards, 33 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 2019. Top returning receiver Damonte Coxie is coming back, along with versatile tailback Kenneth Gainwell, who ran for 1,459 yards and caught 51 passes for 610 yards. Hall was the team's leading tackler, but much of the defense returns intact. Silverfield hired former Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre as his defensive coordinator. The Tigers will play UCF and Temple at home and travel to Cincinnati, Navy, SMU and Tulane in AAC play in 2020.
22. North Carolina
Outlook: So much for 67-year-old Mack Brown being too old and washed up. After a six-year hiatus from the sideline, Brown returned to North Carolina -- 22 years after he left for Texas -- and guided the Tar Heels to a winning record and bowl victory in his first season back. The first campaign might have been a lot better, as UNC lost each of its six games by seven points or fewer, including a 21-20 loss to then-No. 1 Clemson. Even more impressive: North Carolina had 11 freshmen or sophomores start in the 55-13 decision over Temple in the Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman. With what the Tar Heels have coming back, they might be the team to beat in the ACC Coastal Division in 2020. Quarterback Sam Howell was named ACC Rookie of the Year this past season, throwing for 3,641 yards, 38 touchdowns (the most by a true freshman in FBS history) and seven interceptions. The Tar Heels open next season against Auburn in Atlanta and also play at UCF.
2019 record: 10-3, 6-3 Big Ten
Returning starters: seven offense, six defense, one special teams
Key losses: QB Nate Stanley, G Landan Paulsen, LB Kristian Welch, SS Geno Stone, CB Michael Ojemudia, DT Cedrick Lattimore, DT Brady Reiff
Outlook: The Hawkeyes won their last four games (and six of the last seven), including a 49-24 rout of USC in the San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl. They won 10 or more games for the first time since 2015 and did it without getting a lot from their offense in some of the biggest games. If a pair of highly regarded juniors return -- offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs and defensive end A.J. Epenesa are both projected as first-round picks -- the prospects for 2020 will be brighter. Strong safety Stone has already declared for the draft, and leading receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette might do the same. Stanley, a three-year starter, departs after compiling a 27-12 record. Spencer Petras is the heir apparent, and Peyton Mansell might be looking to transfer. Iowa's 2020 schedule includes road games at Minnesota, Ohio State and Penn State.
2019 record: 8-5, 5-4 Big 12
Returning starters: seven offense, nine defense, two special teams
Key losses: WR Devin Duvernay, WR Collin Johnson, G Parker Braun, C Zach Shackelford, DE Malcolm Roach, S Brandon Jones
Outlook: After compiling a 25-15 record in his first three seasons, Year 4 for Tom Herman seems like it's going to be, well, rather important. The Longhorns have two new coordinators: former Ohio State assistant Mike Yurcich was hired as offensive coordinator, and former Rutgers coach Chris Ash is the new defensive coordinator. UT got a boost when quarterback Sam Ehlinger, who has a 19-13 record as a starter, elected to return for his senior season, along with left tackle Sam Cosmi. The Longhorns will miss Duvernay and Johnson, one of the better receiver tandems in the FBS when healthy. There's also quite a bit of talent coming back on defense, so 2020 better be more fruitful, for Herman's sake. The Longhorns play at LSU in their second game and get Baylor, Iowa State, West Virginia and TCU at home.
Outlook: There's no question that the Volunteers are getting better under coach Jeremy Pruitt. The question heading into 2020 is how much have they closed the gap on SEC East rivals Florida and Georgia? Yes, the Vols won their last six games, including a come-from-behind, 23-22 victory over Indiana in the TaxSlayer Bowl. But the Volunteers also lost to the Bulldogs and Gators by an average of 30 points. Pruitt and his staff did a good job of keeping the ship afloat after opening the slate with stunning losses to Georgia State and BYU. UT still doesn't have the overall talent and depth of its biggest rivals, but Pruitt is making up ground. He'll have to decide whether rising sophomore Brian Maurer -- or even early enrollee Harrison Bailey -- is a better option at quarterback than Jarrett Guarantano. UT's biggest deficiency is still in the trenches, but the return of guard Trey Smith and addition of former UGA offensive tackle Cade Mays will help.