Way-Too-Early Top 25: Draft declarations, coaching carousel shake up the rankings


With spring practice on the horizon, national signing day (both of them) in the rear view, and the FBS coaching carousel finally winding down (apologies to Colorado), it’s a great time to update the 2020 Way-Too-Early Top 25 rankings.

The four College Football Playoff teams — Clemson, LSU, Ohio State and Oklahoma — continued to get even better with top-10 ranked recruiting classes. While LSU won the national championship, Clemson claimed a recruiting national title with the No. 1 class.

LSU was also among the teams losing some ground after losing a boatload of juniors to the upcoming NFL draft, along with the departures of co-offensive coordinator Joe Brady and defensive coordinator Dave Aranda.

Say hello to USC and Appalachian State and goodbye to Tennessee and Memphis, as we unveil the second edition of our rankings: (For reference, here was the first version.)

1. Clemson

2019 record: 14-1, 8-0 ACC
Returning starters: Six offense, five defense, two special teams.
Key losses: WR Tee Higgins, LB/DB Isaiah Simmons, CB A.J. Terrell, G John Simpson, C Sean Pollard, DT Nyles Pinckney, LB Chad Smith, S K’Von Wallace, S Tanner Muse.

Outlook: With the returns of quarterback Trevor Lawrence and tailback Travis Etienne, who surprisingly decided to come back for his senior season, Clemson will be overwhelming favorites to win the ACC and reach the CFP for a sixth straight season. Four starters will have to be replaced on the offensive line, a big focus this spring. Tony Elliott becomes the sole offensive play-caller after former co-coordinator Jeff Scott left to become head coach at South Florida. The Tigers need to get more from their defensive line, and help could be coming from their No. 1-ranked recruiting class, according to ESPN Recruiting.

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: The Buckeyes’ first season under coach Ryan Day couldn’t have gone much better, except for the heartbreaking 29-23 loss to Clemson in a CFP semifinal at the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl. With quarterback Justin Fields returning for his second season as a starter, along with five other starters on offense, Day’s second season might be just as fruitful. Fields will have a new quarterbacks coach, as senior quality control assistant Corey Dennis was promoted and replaces Mike Yurcich, who left to become Texas’ new offensive coordinator. Former OSU assistant Kerry Coombs is back after a two-year stint with the Tennessee Titans; he is the new defensive coordinator, replacing Jeff Hafley, who is Boston College’s new head coach. Coombs will have to replace three of four starters in the secondary. Two potential replacements, Amir Riep and Jahsen Wint, were dismissed from the team last week after they were arrested on rape and kidnapping charges.

3. Alabama

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: Alabama, and especially coach Nick Saban, will be motivated this coming season after missing the CFP for the first time in six years. The Tide lost a boatload of juniors to the NFL draft, but it might have been worse if receiver DeVonta Smith, tailback Najee Harris and offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood had declared, as well. For the first time in three seasons, Alabama’s coaching staff will have stability; defensive line coach Freddie Roach is the lone new hire. Rising junior Mac Jones, who threw for 1,503 yards, 14 touchdowns and three interceptions while compiling a 3-1 record in Tagovailoa’s absence, heads into the spring as the leader to replace him. He’ll have to hold off incoming freshman Bryce Young, the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback, according to ESPN Recruiting. Young enrolled in January and will participate in spring practice.

4. Georgia

2019 record: 12-2, 7-1 SEC
Returning starters: three offense, six defense, one special teams
Key losses: QB Jake Fromm, RB D’Andre Swift, OT Andrew Thomas, OT Isaiah Wilson, G Solomon Kindley, LB Tae Crowder, S J.R. Reed, K Rodrigo Blankenship.

Outlook: The Bulldogs face a complete overhaul on offense, after Kirby Smart hired former Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator Todd Monken to take over the play-calling. Fromm, who was 35-7 as a starter, and seven other offensive starters are gone. Quarterback Jamie Newman, a graduate transfer from Wake Forest, enrolled in January. His mobility might add a new dimension to the offense. New offensive line coach Matt Luke, the former Ole Miss coach, will have his hands full this spring replacing four starters; center Trey Hill is the only starter returning up front. Georgia signed three of the country’s top 11 tackles (including No. 1 Broderick Jones), as well as No. 2 center Sedrick Van Pran. The good news: six starters are back from a defense that was very stingy in 2019.

5. Penn State

2019 record: 11-2, 7-2 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 in three of the previous four seasons under coach James Franklin, but they’ve struggled to pass Ohio State in the Big Ten East. With nine starters coming back on offense, Penn State’s chances might be better than ever in 2020. Franklin hired four new coaches, including offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca (formerly at Minnesota), offensive line coach Phil Trautwein (Boston College), receivers coach Taylor Stubblefield (Miami) and defensive line coach John Scott Jr. (South Carolina). All-American linebacker Micah Parsons and four other starters are expected back on defense. The Nittany Lions host Ohio State on Oct. 24 and don’t play Wisconsin or Minnesota during the regular season.

6. Oregon

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: After winning a Pac-12 title and the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual, Oregon’s to-do list this spring is pretty clear: find a quarterback to replace Herbert and replace four starting offensive linemen who combined for 177 career starts. At least the Ducks have a key building block returning in All-American offensive tackle Penei Sewell. Redshirt freshman Tyler Shough, who threw for 144 yards with three touchdowns in five games in 2019, will battle freshman Cale Millen and incoming four-star signees Robby Ashford and Jay Butterfield for the starting job. Ducks coach Mario Cristobal hired former Mississippi State coach Joe Moorhead as his new offensive coordinator. He had great success calling plays at Penn State. The Ducks will get an early test at home against Ohio State on Sept. 12.

7. Florida

2019 record: 11-2, 6-2 SEC
Returning starters: six 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: After losing to SEC East rival Georgia in three straight seasons, the Gators believe they’re closing the talent gap, especially after the Bulldogs lost a handful of juniors to the NFL draft. The Gators will have stability at quarterback with Kyle Trask returning. Tight end Kyle Pitts and receiver Trevon Grimes are also back. The Gators hope Miami transfer Lorenzo Lingard, a former five-star prospect, can help replace leading rusher Perine. Lingard is coming off a knee injury and will need an NCAA waiver to be eligible in 2020. Graduate transfer Jordan Pouncey (Texas) and Justin Shorter (Penn State) might help at receiver; Shorter will also need a waiver. Former Georgia linebacker Brenton Cox, a five-star recruit, will be eligible after sitting out the 2019 season.

8. LSU

2019 record: 15-0, 8-0 SEC
Returning starters: three offense, five defense, two special teams
Key losses: QB Joe Burrow, RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire, WR Justin Jefferson, TE Thaddeus Moss, C Lloyd Cushenberry III, LB K’Lavon Chaisson, LB Jacob Phillips, LB Patrick Queen, S Grant Delpit.

Outlook: The paint was barely dry on LSU’s dream season before a mass exodus began. A whopping nine underclassmen, including leading rusher Edward-Helaire, top pass catcher Jefferson and leading tackler Phillips, left early for the NFL draft. Passing game coordinator Joe Brady, who helped Burrow win the Heisman Trophy, left to become the Carolina Panthers’ offensive coordinator. Baylor hired defensive coordinator Dave Aranda as its new head coach. There’s no question coach Ed Orgeron faces a monumental rebuilding job, but the Tigers are hardly a one-hit wonder. Orgeron lured Youngstown State coach Bo Pelini back to LSU as defensive coordinator, and longtime NFL coach Scott Linehan will help Steve Ensminger run the offense in 2020. Myles Brennan, who attempted 40 passes in 2019, is the favorite to replace Burrow. At least he’ll have Biletnikoff Award winner Ja’Marr Chase and Terrace Marshall Jr. to throw to.

9. Oklahoma

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: After being embarrassed by LSU 63-28 in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley and defensive coordinator Alex Grinch started to address the dearth of talent on that side of the ball. The Sooners’ top-rated signee was outside linebacker Reggie Grimes, and they added three junior-college transfers: defensive tackles Perrion Winfrey and Josh Ellison and cornerback Justin Harrington. At least 15 OU defensive players have entered the NCAA transfer portal since January 2019, so the Sooners are going to have razor-thin depth until their roster is rebuilt. 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. The Sooners added grad transfer receivers Obi Obialo (Marshall) and Theo Howard (UCLA). Howard reportedly suffered an Achilles tendon injury last month.

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: Despite a lopsided loss to Clemson in the CFP two seasons ago, it might be argued the Irish are as close as ever to returning to the sport’s elite. They’re 33-6 since 2017, matching the most victories in a three-year stretch in the program’s history (the Irish also won 33 from 1988-90). After early losses at Georgia and Michigan, Notre Dame won its final six games in 2019, including a 33-9 rout of Iowa State in the Camping World Bowl. With quarterback Ian Book and all five starting offensive linemen returning, there’s good continuity on that side of the ball for 2020. Kevin Austin, who was suspended for the 2019 season, and Northwestern grad transfer Bennett Skowronek are two receivers to watch this spring. Coach Brian Kelly promoted former quarterback Tom Rees to offensive coordinator; he called plays in the bowl game after Chip Long was pushed out. There’s much work to do on defense, especially in the secondary.

11. Texas A&M

2019 record: 8-5, 4-4 SEC
Returning starters: eight offense, eight defense, one special teams
Key losses: P Braden Mann, DT Justin Madubuike, DB Charles Oliver, C Colton Prather, CB Debione Renfro, WR Quartney Davis, WR Kendrick Rogers.

Outlook: With Auburn and LSU having to reload, and Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Arkansas each undergoing head-coaching changes, is this upcoming season when Texas A&M makes its move in the SEC West? It’s Year 3 for coach Jimbo Fisher, and the Aggies should start seeing better on-field results. The Aggies played 19 true freshmen last year, and Fisher signed another top-10 recruiting class. If Texas A&M is going to climb the pecking order, it will have to get more from quarterback Kellen Mond (especially on the road), find Isaiah Spiller help in the running game, and get stronger performances from its offensive line. Fisher added three new assistants: defensive backs coach TJ Rushing (Memphis), tight ends coach James Coley (Georgia) and linebackers coach Tyler Santucci (Wake Forest).

12. Oklahoma State

2019 record: 8-5, 5-4 Big 12
Returning starters: eight offense, 10 defense, one special teams
Key losses: G Marcus Keyes, C Johnny Wilson, WR Jordan McCray, CB A.J. Green, K Matt Ammendola.

Outlook: Is 2020 going to be the year of the Mullet in the Big 12? The Cowboys have been a little down the past couple of seasons, but OSU coach Mike Gundy is bringing back FBS rushing leader Chuba Hubbard (2,094 yards with 21 touchdowns in 2019) and 2018 Biletnikoff finalist Tylan Wallace, who caught 53 passes for 903 yards with eight scores before suffering a knee injury in practice in November. Quarterback Spencer Sanders was pretty good as a freshman before a thumb injury sidelined him for the season’s final three games. Gundy promoted receivers coach Kasey Dunn to offensive coordinator after Sean Gleeson left for Rutgers. With 10 starters expected to return on defense, the team should continue to improve in 2020, especially if it gets more from the front four. OSU added Missouri grad transfer Christian Holmes, who started 12 games at cornerback for the Tigers.

13. Wisconsin

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: The Badgers will have a difficult time replacing Taylor, who ran for 6,174 yards in three seasons and was a two-time Doak Walker Award winner. They might have just as much trouble replacing Cephus, who had 59 catches for 901 yards with seven touchdowns in 2019. He was a big reason why quarterback Jack Coan was so successful in his first season as a starter. It doesn’t help that dynamic kick returner/receiver Aron Cruickshank transferred to Rutgers. Wisconsin might go with a tailback by committee this coming season, and Nakia Watson and Garrett Groshek will get early looks. Replacing the interior offensive line will be another priority this spring.

14. Auburn

2019 record: 9-4, 5-3 SEC
Returning starters: three 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, RB JaTarvious Whitlow.

Outlook: For whatever reason, the Tigers are historically among the most difficult teams to project, but their 2019 results were pretty predictable, given the strength of their schedule. With road games at Georgia and Alabama, the slate isn’t much easier in 2020, and Auburn has to replace many of its starters on both lines of scrimmage. Quarterback Bo Nix should be better in Year 2 as a starter, especially with former Arkansas coach Chad Morris joining the staff as offensive coordinator. The Tigers might need highly regarded freshman tailback Tank Bigsby to help right away, after leading rusher Whitlow left the team earlier this month. Auburn’s best offseason move was signing Kevin Steele to a new three-year contract that will pay him $2.5 million annually, making him the highest-paid defensive coordinator in the FBS.

15. Michigan

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: Who’s got it better than us? Well, Ohio State for starters, and maybe Penn State and Wisconsin in the Big Ten. Michigan is 47-18 under coach Jim Harbaugh, including some unsightly records — 0-5 against the Buckeyes, 1-4 in bowl games and 2-11 against AP top 10 opponents. Is there any reason to believe the Wolverines’ fortunes in big games will change in Year 6? It seems like Michigan and Harbaugh have reached a crossroads. His contract is set to expire after the 2021 season, and there’s been little movement to extend it. On the field, the Wolverines will go into spring practice looking for a new quarterback — Dylan McCaffrey, Christian’s younger brother, is the favorite to replace Patterson. Either McCaffrey or Joe Milton will have a plethora of playmakers around him, including receivers Ronnie Bell and Nico Collins, tight end Nick Eubanks and tailbacks Zach Charbonnet and Hassan Haskins.

16. Minnesota

2019 record: 11-2, 7-2 Big Ten
Returning starters: nine offense, four 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: If the Gophers are going to match their success from 2019, when they finished with more than 10 victories for the first time since 1904 and defeated Auburn 31-24 in the Outback Bowl, they’re going to have to rebuild their defense, which brings back only four starters. Defensive coordinator Joe Rossi will have to replace nearly his entire front seven. Coach P.J. Fleck hired former Utah State offensive coordinator Mike Sanford Jr. to replace Kirk Ciarrocca, who left for Penn State. With quarterback Tanner Morgan, receiver Rashod Bateman, running back Mohamed Ibrahim and all five offensive line starters returning, Minnesota should once again be explosive. The Gophers don’t play Ohio State or Penn State during the regular season and get Michigan at home.

17. Cincinnati

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: Talk about an offseason jolt of momentum. The Bearcats had to feel good after coach Luke Fickell reportedly turned down a potential opportunity to replace Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio, who unexpectedly retired from coaching earlier this month. A coach from a Group of Five program doesn’t often turn down a Power Five job that would have paid him more. With all due respect to the Spartans, with the way the Bearcats have performed the past two seasons and with what they have coming back in 2020, Fickell can probably get a better job if he wants one. The Bearcats should be AAC favorites this coming season, especially if quarterback Desmond Ridder stays healthy. Fickell and his staff just signed one of the best recruiting classes in school history, which was ranked ahead of several Power Five teams, including USC. The Bearcats’ most pressing concern is replacing linebackers Young and Wright, who combined for 181 tackles and 4.5 sacks.

18. 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: If the Cyclones are going to get back on track under Matt Campbell, who keeps turning down interviews for good jobs, they’ll have to rebuild their offensive line this spring. Four starters with 147 combined starts are gone. Left guard Trevor Downing and center Colin Newell are the only returning linemen with more than 10 career starts. That said, Iowa State has a lot of nice pieces coming back on that side of the ball, including quarterback Brock Purdy, tailback Breece Hall, receiver Tarique Milton and tight ends Charlie Kolar and Chase Allen. If the Cyclones can rebuild up front and get back to winning close games (they lost four by a combined 11 points this past season), they’ll be in the Big 12 race.

19. 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, DE Chase Hatada, S Kekoa Nawahine, NT Sonatane Lui, DT David Moa.

Outlook: After going unbeaten in MWC play for the first time and claiming another league title in 2019, the Broncos head into spring drills with a couple of big goals: replacing four starting offensive linemen and keeping quarterback Hank Bachmeier upright. Bachmeier won seven of his eight starts as a freshman, but he took far too many hits and was plagued by injuries. Part of the issue was that he held onto the ball for too long, much like a lot of freshmen. The Broncos bring back 1,000-yard rusher George Holani and budding receiver Khalil Shakir, so they’ll have plenty of firepower on offense. On defense, they must replace Weaver, who had 13.5 sacks last season, and starting defensive linemen Hatada, Lui and Moa. The Broncos will have a chance to make an early statement when they host Florida State on the blue turf on Sept. 19.

20. Iowa

2019 record: 10-3, 6-3 Big Ten
Returning starters: six offense, five defense, one special teams
Key losses: QB Nate Stanley, OT Tristan Wirfs, DE A.J. Epenesa, LB Kristian Welch, SS Geno Stone, CB Michael Ojemudia, DT Cedrick Lattimore, DT Brady Reiff.

Outlook: The Hawkeyes have quietly won 47 games over the past five seasons, which is the best five-year mark in program history. They won 10 games in 2019, despite not getting much from their offense at times. Quarterback Spencer Petras, who attempted 10 passes in three games last season, is the heir apparent to replace Stanley, a three-year starter. Three starting offensive linemen are coming back, including left tackle Alaric Jackson, who bypassed leaving early for the NFL draft. The top seven pass-catchers and top two rushers are expected to return, as well. The Hawkeyes will miss Epenesa’s pass-rushing skills, as well as leading tackler Welch. Iowa’s 2020 schedule is daunting with road games at Minnesota, Ohio State and Penn State.

21. USC

2019 record: 8-5, 7-2 Pac-12
Returning starters: 8 offense, 9 defense, 2 special teams
Key losses: WR Michael Pittman Jr., OT Drew Richmond, OT Austin Jackson, DE Christian Rector, LB John Houston Jr.

Outlook: It was a surprise to many USC fans that coach Clay Helton wasn’t fired after this past season, but there’s reason for optimism heading into 2020. The Trojans bring back 17 starters on offense and defense, perhaps the best receiver corps in the FBS and two very highly regarded quarterbacks. USC was downright awful on defense last season, but youth and injuries were legitimate reasons for some of the struggles. Nine freshmen or sophomores started on that side of the ball in a 49-24 loss to Iowa in the San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl. Former Texas defensive coordinator Todd Orlando was hired after another major shakeup to Helton’s staff. He was able to retain offensive coordinator Graham Harrell, who was contacted by Texas. Quarterback Kedon Slovis ranked third in the FBS in pass-completion percentage (71.9%), 11th in total QBR (76.2) and ninth in yards per game (291.8) as a freshman. JT Daniels, who is coming back from a torn ACL, is sticking around to compete with him this spring.

22. North Carolina

2019 record: 7-6, 4-4 ACC
Returning starters: 10 offense, seven defense, two special teams
Key losses: OT Charlie Heck, NT Aaron Crawford, DT Jason Strowbridge, LB Dominique Ross, S Myles Dorn.

Outlook: After going 7-6 in coach Mack Brown’s first season, in which each of the losses were decided by seven points or less, the Tar Heels might be the team to beat in the ACC Coastal Division. With sophomore Sam Howell returning, the Tar Heels might have a better quarterback situation than any ACC team outside of Clemson. Howell was named the ACC Rookie of the Year in 2019, throwing for 3,641 yards with 38 touchdowns, the most by a true freshman in FBS history. Nine other offensive starters are also expected back, including star receivers Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome. Brown parlayed UNC’s sudden success into a recruiting class that was ranked No. 16 nationally by ESPN Recruiting. The Tar Heels signed two instate prospects — Desmond Evans and Myles Murphy — who were ranked the Nos. 1 and 11 defensive ends in the country.

23. Texas

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: Is Year 4 now-or-never for Longhorns coach Tom Herman? Texas has fallen short of preseason expectations the past two seasons, and Herman made wholesale changes to his coaching staff after an 8-5 campaign in 2019. Herman hired seven new assistants, including offensive coordinator Yurcich (from Ohio State) and defensive coordinator Chris Ash (former Rutgers head coach). Herman also plucked Oklahoma’s Jay Boulware to be his associate head coach for special teams/tight ends. Ash, a former defensive coordinator at Wisconsin, Arkansas and Ohio State, will try to improve a defense that surrendered 431.5 yards per game last season, the third most in school history. Yurcich got the better end of the deal with quarterback Sam Ehlinger (33 career starts) returning. The Longhorns will have to identify new go-to receivers after Duvernay and Johnson exhausted their eligibility.

24. Appalachian State

2019 record: 13-1, 7-1 Sun Belt
Returning starters: eight offense, five defense, one special teams
Key losses: RB Darrynton Evans, OT Victor Johnson, LB Jordan Fehr, LB Akeem Davis-Gaither, LB Noel Cook, S Josh Thomas, S Desmond Franklin.

Outlook: After becoming the first Sun Belt team to win 13 games in a season in 2019, the Mountaineers will begin their first campaign under coach Shawn Clark as overwhelming favorites to win at least a share of a fifth straight conference title. Quarterback Zac Thomas returns after completing 62.7% of his passes for 2,718 yards with 28 touchdowns and six interceptions. Four starting offensive linemen are also returning. The Mountaineers will miss Evans, who ran for 1,480 yards with 18 scores in 2019, but three returning players ran for 300 yards or more (and Camerun Peoples is back after missing 2019 with a ton ACL). Star receiver Corey Sutton is recovering from a torn ACL he suffered against Texas State on Nov. 23. On defense, Appalachian State will have to rebuild its linebacker corps; Fehr, Davis-Gaither and Cook combined for 281 stops and 10 sacks in 2019. Clark lured Louisville’s Dale Jones back to Boone, North Carolina, to coordinate the defense, and former Marshall, Louisiana Tech and East Carolina coordinator Tony Petersen will direct the offense.

25. Baylor

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 losing Matt Rhule to the Carolina Panthers, the Bears hired LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda to replace him. Aranda, 43, has never been a head coach, but he was the architect of nationally ranked defenses at Utah State, Wisconsin and then LSU. The good news for Aranda is Rhule did most of the hard work resurrecting Baylor’s program after it hit rock bottom following a sexual assault scandal. Aranda will have to replace nine starters from last season’s defense, which was the best in the Big 12. Aranda hired Louisiana’s Ron Roberts as defensive coordinator, and was smart to keep associate head coach/outside linebackers coach Joey McGuire on staff. Former North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora is the new offensive coordinator, and he’ll bring his spread background to Waco, Texas. Passing game coordinator Jorge Munoz, who was an analyst at LSU last season, is another nice addition.

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