Who are the early playoff contenders?

A 2020 college football season we weren’t sure would take place is just a few weeks old and there are four College Football Playoff contenders that appear to have already begun to separate themselves from the rest of the pack. We thought Oklahoma might find itself in this echelon of teams, but, well, things have not gone well for the Sooners.


Alabama missed the CFP for the first time in the format’s existence in 2019. It’s hard to envision a scenario where that happens again in 2020. 

Alabama, now 2-0, has the best collection of offensive weapons in the country. In Saturday’s 52-24 win over Texas A&M, those weapons were on full display. Mac Jones carved up the Aggies defense for 435 passing yards and one of the Alabama receivers that isn’t a household name led the way. Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith had strong games, too, but when your defense has to account for those two, it leaves an emerging redshirt freshman like John Metchie III room to thrive. Metchie caught five passes for 181 yards and touchdowns of 78 and 63 yards. 

Not to mention, Alabama didn’t even get much from its ground attack. Once that part of the offense gets rolling, it’s hard to envision anybody stopping the Tide. 


Clemson has won 32 consecutive regular-season games, and that streak does not appear to be on the verge of ending any time soon. The Tigers improved to 3-0 with a ho-hum 41-23 win over Virginia on Saturday night. Clemson probably wasn’t as sharp as Dabo Swinney would like, but when your roster is that much more talented than the opposition it’s easy to cruise to comfortable wins. 

Trevor Lawrence is the future No. 1 pick in the NFL draft, and put his ridiculous skill set on display yet again. Lawrence threw for 329 yards and three touchdowns, including this beauty to Amari Rodgers. 

The ACC switching to a non-divisional format for 2020 — one that includes the addition of Notre Dame — could make things more difficult for Clemson. No. 8 Miami, with a revitalized offense led by Houston transfer D’Eriq King at quarterback, comes to town next week. A trip to Notre Dame, now ranked No. 5, also looms on Nov. 7. 

But for now, Clemson is in a league of its own in the ACC. 


Georgia could have the best defense in the country. That unit was on display against Auburn on Saturday night and was absolutely dominant in a 27-6 win. The Bulldogs overwhelmed Auburn’s offensive line all night and made things extremely difficult for Bo Nix. In the end, Auburn was held out of the end zone and barely gained more than 200 yards. 

With Stetson Bennett’s performance over the last six quarters, the quarterback position is less of a concern than it was a week ago for Georgia. It may be understating the work Bennett did on Saturday to label him a game manager, but when you have that much talent around you, you don’t need to be spectacular. Make the throws that need to be made and avoid turnovers. As long as he does that, Georgia will contend for a College Football Playoff berth. 


The SEC East has been the afterthought to its divisional counterpart for years, but its top two teams may rival the competition Alabama will encounter in the West in 2020. 

That second team in the East, of course, is Florida. How could you watch the work of Kyle Trask, Kyle Pitts and company over the last two weeks and not think the Gators are among the nation’s elite? Trask has thrown for 684 yards and 10 touchdowns through two games, and Pitts, the nation’s top tight end, has accounted for six of those scores. In all, the 6-foot-6, 240-pound Pitts has 12 catches for 227 yards and those six touchdowns.

Sure, UF’s first two opponents — Ole Miss and South Carolina — have not been the SEC’s elite, but the Gators are going to duke it out for that division crown until squaring off on Nov. 7.

Other contenders

Miami (3-0): The hire of Rhett Lashlee has helped Miami transform from a laughingstock late in 2019 to one of the ACC’s top teams. The Hurricanes are off to a sizzling start, including a 52-10 win over rival Florida State. But FSU is way down, and Louisville has been rather unimpressive. With the program’s recent track record, it’s hard to totally buy in on Miami just yet.

Notre Dame (2-0): Notre Dame’s position in the ACC could end up giving it a better chance for CFP contention than its status as an independent. The games against Clemson and North Carolina will especially be important. For now, though, the Irish need to worry about their COVID-19 issues. 

Oklahoma State (3-0): Oklahoma State is in the pole position in the Big 12. Oklahoma has two losses. Texas lost to TCU. Oklahoma State hasn’t been all that impressive, but it is 3-0 despite losing its starting quarterback, Spencer Sanders, to an injury early in its first game. Once Sanders comes back, look out. 

Don’t forget

This picture will surely change as more unexpected upsets take place. Oh, and when the Big Ten comes back later this month too. Ohio State was the preseason No. 2 team for a reason. Penn State will also make some noise. The Pac-12 doesn’t start until early November, but Oregon is one of the nation’s most talented teams. The Ducks, however, have lost a bunch of their top players to opt outs.

– Sam Cooper

Here are this week’s winners and losers:


Oklahoma State: Early-season losses from Oklahoma and Texas and everyone else in the conference have left Oklahoma State as the only undefeated team remaining in the Big 12. Yes, after just three weeks.

OSU improved to 3-0 with a blowout 47-7 win over Kansas on Saturday. The Cowboys were again without Sanders, but it wouldn’t matter. Freshman Shane Illingworth filled in admirably once again, throwing for 265 and three touchdowns. Tylan Wallace was his favorite target with nine catches for 148 yards and two scores while Chuba Hubbard pitched in 145 yards and two TDs on the ground. Once Sanders returns, OSU could find itself in a really strong position. 

Florida QB Kyle Trask: Trask threw four TDs in the Gators’ 38-24 win over South Carolina. Trask now has 10 TD passes through the first two games of the season and is just the third QB in SEC to accomplish that feat. The other two are Florida QB Terry Dean (1994) and Kentucky QB Tim Couch (1998).

Trask’s first two TD passes went to TE Kyle Pitts. After catching four TDs from Trask against Ole Miss, Pitts now has six touchdown catches through two games. And since his two TDs came in the first half, he entered halftime against South Carolina with a crazy six touchdowns in six quarters. 

Tennessee offensive line: The Volunteers’ offensive line just mauled Missouri up front in the first game for tackle Cade Mays. The Georgia transfer was cleared to play this week by the SEC and helped pave the way for 232 Tennessee rushing yards in a 35-12 win. Running backs Ty Chandler and Eric Gray combined for 34 carries for 195 yards and two touchdowns and Jarrett Guarantano also scored twice on QB sneaks. The UT offensive line is going to have to do this again next week when the Vols play Georgia in their first big test of the year. 

SMU: SMU was the victor in the early game of the year in the American Athletic Conference. The Mustangs jumped out to a big lead against Memphis on Saturday but needed a field goal in the final minute to pull out a 30-27 win.

The Mustangs led 24-3 in the second quarter thanks to two long touchdown catches by Reggie Roberson. But Memphis would fight back and eventually tied the score at 27-27 apiece late in the third. A 43-yard Chris Naggar field goal won the game for SMU. The kick was his third of the day and now the Mustangs are 4-0 on the year and a clear contender for the AAC title.

BYU: Say what you will about the level of competition, but it’s hard not to be impressed by what BYU has done so far this season. The Cougars improved to 3-0 with a 45-14 win over Louisiana Tech on Friday night and have now outscored their three opponents by a combined margin of 148-24.

QB Zach Wilson had another excellent performance against the Bulldogs, completing 24-of-26 passes for 325 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 43 yards and three scores in the win. Before the return of the Mountain West, BYU’s best remaining game was a trip to Houston. Now Boise State and San Diego State are officially on the schedule for the Cougars. 

Kansas State RB Deuce Vaughn: Kansas State found a gem on the recruiting trail with Deuce Vaughn. Listed at just 5-foot-5 and 168 pounds, the true freshman has made an immediate impact for the Wildcats. Vaughn had a rushing touchdown in his college debut against Arkansas State, had 118 receiving yards and a 38-yard touchdown run in the upset win over Oklahoma and had his best game yet Saturday against Texas Tech. Vaughn rushed for 113 yards and a touchdown and added three catches for 81 yards and another score in a 31-21 win. It’s going to be hard not to make Darren Sproles comparisons over the next few seasons. 

Air Force: Before last week when the Mountain West announced its return to play, Air Force had just two games scheduled for the 2020 season: Navy and Army. On Saturday, the Falcons looked like a team that spent months preparing to face Navy. Air Force absolutely dominated the Midshipmen in a 40-7 win. While the Air Force offense rushed for 369 yards, its defense limited Navy to just 90 yards on 36 carries. It was the first time Navy was held under 100 yards rushing since 2016. Air Force was also the opponent in that one. The Falcons return to action on Oct. 24 when Mountain West play begins against San Jose State. 


Big 12: It’s not even a month into the season and the Big 12’s College Football Playoff hopes feel like they’re hanging by a thread. Oklahoma, the five-time Big 12 champions, lost to Iowa State Saturday after losing to Kansas State last week. It marked the first back-to-back Big 12 losses for the Sooners since 1999. Texas, meanwhile, lost to TCU after avoiding a disaster against Texas Tech last week. Iowa State has wins over Oklahoma and TCU but has a loss to Louisiana, a Sun Belt team. The Big 12 cannot get out of its own way.

Mike Leach: The Air Raid giveth, and the Air Raid taketh away. Last week, Mississippi State upset LSU in Mike Leach’s triumphant SEC head-coaching debut. A week later, the Bulldogs lost to Arkansas — a program that hadn’t won an SEC game since 2017. MSU was plagued by self-inflicted mistakes in Saturday night’s loss, including four turnovers. K.J. Costello, fresh off setting an SEC single-game record for passing yards, threw three interceptions in the 21-14 loss.

Mississippi State coach Mike Leach talks to an official during the first half of the team’s NCAA college football game against Arkansas in Starkville, Miss., Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Thomas Graning)

South Carolina: There’s a reason why Will Muschamp has been mentioned as one of the likeliest SEC coaches to get fired during or after the 2020 season. The Gamecocks lost 38-24 to Muschamp’s old employer Florida on Saturday to fall to 0-2. South Carolina got the game tied 14-14 in the second quarter but Florida then unleashed 24-straight points. This TD by Kadarius Toney made the lead 38-14. Look at how many South Carolina players he ran through.

The offense did its part in playing poorly in the fourth quarter. USC got the ball with over eight minutes left trailing by 14 and somehow took over seven minutes to get inside the Florida 10 before a fourth and goal pass went incomplete. Yes, South Carolina needed two touchdowns in eight minutes to tie the Gators and somehow spent over seven minutes trying (and failing) to get one. While USC has a chance to get its first win of the season next week against Vanderbilt, things are really tough after that. South Carolina faces Auburn, LSU and Texas A&M in the next three weeks. A 1-5 start looks really, really likely. 

Kentucky: Kentucky dropped to 0-2 with a loss to Ole Miss on Saturday, and did so in crushing fashion. The game went into overtime, and the Wildcats quickly reached the end zone to open the extra frame. And then disaster struck. Matt Ruffolo was 6-for-6 on extra points so far this season, but this time he missed. That opened the door for the Rebels to win with a touchdown and extra point of their own. They did just that, giving Lane Kiffin his first win at Ole Miss. Another gaffe earlier in the game cost Kentucky, too. A.J. Rose broke off a long run in the first quarter and started celebrating, only to be tackled from behind. Two plays later, he fumbled. Those lost points would cost Kentucky in the end. UK finished the day with 408 rushing yards and still lost.

Pittsburgh: The Panthers are not starting 4-0 for the first time in 20 years. NC State’s Emeka Emezie caught a TD pass from Devin Leary with 23 seconds left to give the Wolfpack a 30-29 win over the No. 24 Panthers.

Pitt struggled rushing the football, going for just 92 yards on 37 carries against an NC State defense that was gashed for 314 rushing yards by Virginia Tech. Those running struggles were plainly evident in the red zone as the Panthers were stuffed on four straight plays from the 1-yard line early in the second half. Pitt has a really good defense, but it needs a competent offense if it wants to move up the ranks in the ACC.

Baylor: The Baylor vs. West Virginia game was a slog that was full of mistakes. And in the end, Baylor made more mistakes in a 27-21 2OT loss. Baylor allowed six sacks and 11 tackles for loss, committed 12 penalties, missed three field goals, threw two interceptions and mustered only 27 rushing yards in the loss. Baylor QB Charlie Brewer opened the second overtime with an interception, opening the door for WVU to win the game. 

Florida State: Florida State beat Jacksonville State 41-24 on Saturday, but the final score is deceiving. JSU, an FCS program playing its first of four games this fall, jumped out to a 21-7 lead and led 24-21 late in the third quarter. The Seminoles would rally to get their first victory of the season, but the fact that that rally had to occur shows how much work needs to be done for Mike Norvell in Tallahassee. One positive for FSU? Perhaps Jordan Travis showed he should be the starter. The Louisville transfer was 12-of-17 for 210 yards and a touchdown. He also added 48 yards and a score on the ground. 

Louisiana-Monroe: If you thought getting blown out by UTEP last week was bad, check out how UL Monroe lost this week. The Warhawks trailed Georgia Southern 35-30 in the game’s final minute and were driving. ULM drove all the way to the Southern 8-yard line with 12 seconds remaining. On a second-down play, ULM QB Colby Suits took off running and was stopped just short of the goal line. ULM had no timeouts remaining, so the time expired as the Redhawks scrambled to try to spike the ball and stop the clock. What a brutal way to fall to 0-4.

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