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5. Oklahoma Sooners
The Sooners have found their way into College Football Playoff in all three of Lincoln Riley’s seasons as head coach. After this year’s 63-28 loss to LSU, the next step needs to be for them to focus on being competitive.
Losing Jalen Hurts and CeeDee Lamb will hurt, but this offense has plenty of firepower with youngsters waiting in the wings. If Alex Grinch’s defense takes several large leaps forward, OU should still be the class of the Big 12, which will be enough to keep it in the conversation.
6. Florida Gators
In his two seasons in Gainesville, Dan Mullen has gone from 10-3 to 11-2, and he did that this year after losing starting quarterback Feleipe Franks. All Kyle Trask did was steady the ship, and he will return in his third year in the system.
Losing leading rusher Lamical Perine and receivers Van Jefferson and Freddie Swain will be tough, but weapons like Kyle Pitts, Trevon Grimes and Jacob Copeland are back.
The Gators also struck gold in the transfer portal with elite running back Lorenzo Lingard (who transferred from Miami) and Georgia rush end Brenton Cox. The time to beat UGA is now.
7. Penn State Nittany Lions
After whipping Memphis in the Cotton Bowl Classic, James Franklin’s team began an exciting offseason began. Quarterback Sean Clifford is back, as is perhaps the nation’s deepest stable of running backs, led by Journey Brown and Noah Cain.
When you factor in a defense that has a lot of talent and one of the top players in the country in Micah Parsons, there are reasons for excitement. This should be Ohio State’s toughest competition in the Big Ten, and this may be Franklin’s best team. Yes, the Lions have that type of potential.
8. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Tony Jones Jr. threw a bit of a curveball into Notre Dame’s good vibes by declaring for the NFL draft, but the Irish have plenty of running backs. The room will include Jafar Armstrong, Avery Davis, C’Bo Flemister, Kyren Williams and Chris Tyree.
Throw in electrifying incoming freshman Chris Tyree, and there are a lot of exciting options for coach Brian Kelly. Most importantly, quarterback Ian Book is back to lead the way.
A young, exciting defense that improved throughout the year before smothering Brock Purdy and Iowa State in the bowl game should continue to get better, and Notre Dame could find itself right back in the final four.
9. Georgia Bulldogs
There are plenty of questions for coach Kirby Smart’s team, especially after quarterback Jake Fromm decided to bypass his senior season. But UGA got huge news when Wake Forest graduate transfer signal-caller Jamie Newman announced via Twitter he’d be a Bulldog.
Life without running back D’Andre Swift won’t be easy, either, but Zamir White, James Cook and Co. have plenty of talent. The Dawgs struggled in the passing game in ’19, but a young, talented group is back, led by George Pickens. And the defense is going to be special once again.
If Newman lives up to his dual-threat capabilities, UGA’s offense may be able to do some things it hasn’t been able to since Smart took over. Another dimension could make the team difficult to defend.
10. Oregon Ducks
Much like Georgia, the only thing Oregon is missing is a quarterback, but, boy, is that ever a huge void to fill, with Justin Herbert off to the NFL. Newman also was considering Oregon, so it’s a big blow that he’s going to Athens.
The Ducks still should be active on the transfer market, but if that’s fruitless, Tyler Shough and incoming freshman Jay Butterfield will probably battle it out to be the replacement. With all the talent in the offensive backfield, receiving corps and the defense, Mario Cristobal has built a sturdy foundation.
This team is a quarterback away from being right back at the top of the Pac-12 once again.