2020 College Football Playoff predictions: Will LSU return, Clemson recover?

Will LSU return to the College Football Playoff in 2020 to protect their crown or will it be four new teams with a shot at the National Championship?

The LSU Tigers, led by Heisman Trophy-winner Joe Burrow and an all-time great season from the quarterback, ran through the 2019-20 College Football Playoff to capture Ed Orgeron his first National Championship. But there’s no time to bask in the glory in the bayou — it’s already time to look ahead.

After winning the Natty, Orgeron and the Tigers will face the big question of if they can return to the College Football Playoff without Burrow and a laundry list of high-end starters. Though LSU is a talent factory, the door is seemingly open for more teams to come up in 2020 and take the crown.

Who will those four teams in the College Football Playoff be at the end of the 2020 season though? Let’s make some early predictions about which programs earn the nod.

4. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (11-2 in 2019)

Ian Book returning to Notre Dame for another season is a coup for the Fighting Irish. Though the quarterback was imperfect, particularly in big games, his improvement should continue and put him in position to carry a high-quality offense, despite the departures of Chase Claypool and Cole Kmet. Furthermore, the Irish should be one of the best trench teams in the country once again.

While Brian Kelly’s club has a trip to Ireland, a home date with Clemson and road trips to play Wisconsin (in Green Bay) and USC on the schedule, they’re equipped to weather the storm with veteran experience and a strong talent pool. If they can notch a handful of signature wins over that run, they’ll find their way into the final four.

3. Alabama Crimson Tide (11-2 in 2019)

Things did not go as planned for Nick Saban and Alabama in the 2019 season and they’ll face a tough task in dealing with the departures of Tua Tagovailoa, Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III, Xavier McKinney and Trevon Diggs, among others. Yet, this is the Crimson Tide, a talent factory that returns Dylan Moses off his ACL injury to captain the defense and wide receiver DeVonta Smith and tackle Alex Leatherwood to help lead on the other side of the ball.

The big question for Bama will be whether Mac Jones or five-star freshman phenom Bryce Young can step up and adequately fill the shoes of Tua. My bet is that Saban will know quickly whether they can and, as he has so many times, adjust accordingly to the talent and strengths on his team, thus leading them to a finish atop the SEC and a College Football Playoff berth.

2. Ohio State Buckeyes (13-1 in 2019)

While losing Chase Young, J.K. Dobbins and Jeffrey Okudah is nothing to forget, the Ohio State Buckeyes appear primed for just as much success as they enjoyed in 2019. Quarterback Justin Fields and head coach Ryan Day more than proved their merit in their first seasons in Columbus and the offense should remain potent with Master Teague and Chris Olave ready to lead the way.

Coupling Day’s proficiency as a schemer and play-caller with the elite talent on offense and players such as Shaun Wade and other veterans returning for another year with the Buckeyes, Ohio State should comfortably be able to cruise through the Big Ten once again and get another crack at making it back to the National Championship Game for the first time since the CFP’s inaugural year.

1. Clemson Tigers (14-1 in 2019)

As if it could be anyone else. Trevor Lawrence may not have been the elite, otherworldly star he’s often billed as in the Natty against LSU but he will come into the 2020 season as the Heisman favorite and with plenty of help still around him. Not only will Justyn Ross and Amari Rodgers be back but some young pieces on the offensive line and on defense will surely take a step up after garnering experience in the 2019 season, helping to replace the loss of a playmaker like Isaiah Simmons.

Just as critical, Dabo Swinney continues to prove he’s created a dynasty at Clemson as he’s secured the top recruiting class for the 2020 season. With Lawrence, a bevy of highly talented newcomers and some now-seasoned contributors in the fold, the Tigers should be back in the National Championship Game for the third-straight year.

Next: Way-too-early 2020 rankings: 1-130

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