Conference Champions Most Likely to Repeat in 2020

by Mike Ferguson
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Photo courtesy of Clemson football on Instagram

If everything goes as planned, the start of college football season is roughly four months away.

A number of programs will have national championship aspirations while others hope to get the bad taste of 2019 out of their mouths. With 10 conferences and each one having a title game, there are no more shared titles.

In this piece, we’ll visit the five reigning conference champions most likely to repeat as such this coming season:

5. Oregon (Pac-12)

2019 Record: 12-2 (8-1 Pac-12), beat Wisconsin in Rose Bowl, 28-27
Key Returnees: CJ Verdell, RB; Johnny Johnson III, WR; Jevon Holland, S
Key Departures: Justin Herbert, QB; Shane Lemieux, G; Troy Dye, LB
Overview: Replacing Justin Herbert won’t be easy for Oregon, but Tyler Shough is a kid that Mario Cristobal and company have a lot of confidence in. Oregon has a veteran defense that should be very good again in 2020. Oregon also plays in a Pac-12 North where no other team had a winning record in conference play last season. Two of its bigger division challengers, Washington and Washington State, are losing quarterbacks and head coaches. The Ducks get Washington and Pac-12 South crossover opponents, Arizona State and USC, at home.

4. Boise State (Mountain West)

2019 Record: 12-2 (8-0 Mountain West), lost to Washington in Las Vegas Bowl, 38-7
Key Returnees: George Holani, RB; Khalil Shakir, WR; Riley Whimpey, LB
Key Departures: John Hightower, WR; Ezra Cleveland, T; Curtis Weaver, LB
Overview: Although it did play a pair of contests decided by a touchdown or less, Boise State didn’t lose a single Mountain West contest last season. The Broncos played musical quarterbacks last season, but Hank Bachmeier and Chase Cord both return after each passed for nine touchdowns. George Holani was also a 1,000-yard back as a freshman. Defensively, pass rusher Curtis Weaver will leave a huge void, but leading tackler Riley Whimpey does return. The schedule is a bit tougher as the Broncos will have to travel to face Air Force, Hawaii and Wyoming.

3. Ohio State (Big Ten)

2019 Record: 13-1 (9-0 Big Ten), lost to Clemson in Fiesta Bowl (College Football Playoff), 29-23
Key Returnees: Justin Fields, QB; Chris Olave, WR; Pete Werner, LB
Key Departures: J.K. Dobbins, RB; Chase Young, DE; Jeffrey Okudah, CB
Overview: Ohio State will have to replace a 2,000-yard rusher and the top two defensive players selected in the NFL Draft. Still, the outlook for the Buckeyes is promising with Justin Fields under center and Chris Olave out wide. The gap between Ohio State and the rest of the Big Ten last season was large. Ohio State didn’t play a game decided by fewer than 11 points until the College Football Playoff loss to Clemson. Ohio State has to travel to face Penn State, but gets Iowa and Michigan at home.

2. Appalachian State (Sun Belt)

2019 Record: 13-1 (7-1 Sun Belt), beat UAB in New Orleans Bowl, 31-17
Key Returnees: Zac Thomas, QB; Demetrius Taylor, DT; Shaun Jolly, CB
Key Departures: Darrynton Evans, RB; Jordan Fehr, LB; Akeem Davis-Gaither, LB
Overview: A member of the Sun Belt since 2014, Appalachian State has at least shared the conference title in four straight seasons and has won it outright in the last two. The Mountaineers will lose an explosive running back and its top two tacklers, but returns an experienced quarterback in Zac Thomas, his leading receiver and the team leaders in sacks and interceptions. Appalachian State has lost to Georgia Southern in each of the last two seasons and was played tough by Louisiana twice in 2019. Still, the Mountaineers remain the overwhelming favorites in the Sun Belt until further notice.

1. Clemson (ACC)

2019 Record: 14-1 (8-0 ACC), lost to LSU in National Championship, 42-25
Key Returnees: Trevor Lawrence, QB; Travis Etienne, RB; Tyler Davis, DT
Key Departures: Tee Higgins, WR; Isaiah Simmons, LB; A.J. Terrell, CB
Overview: Clemson has won the last five ACC titles and has suffered just two ACC losses over that stretch. With a projected top-10 overall pick at quarterback in Trevor Lawrence, the rest of the conference seems pretty far behind the Tigers. Clemson will have to replace its leading receiver as well as a top-10 pick in linebacker Isaiah Simmons. In what many consider the weakest Power 5 league, Clemson seems head and shoulders above the rest of the ACC. The Tigers get what is thought by many to be their toughest ACC opponent, Louisville, at home.

Mike Ferguson is the associate editor for Fifth Quarter. Be sure to follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeWFerguson. Follow all of Mike’s work by liking his Facebook page.

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