Undoubtedly, the 2020 college football season was unlike any other we have seen before. And like most fans, coaches, players and media, I hope it truly will be a season like no other. From the “will they, won’t they” tug of war concerning even starting the season to the non-traditional schedules and the less-than-half-capacity stadiums, it was a season to remember. Despite everything that felt new or out of the ordinary for the 2020 season, the ending felt all too familiar: the Alabama Crimson Tide claiming yet another national title.
Paws Up: Player Leadership
Spurred on by the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, many players across the country organized marches and protests demanding justice and accountability. Players at Missouri marched to the state capitol and had 61 of their teammates register to vote. Clemson running back Darien Rencher gained notoriety for helping to lead and organize the peaceful demonstration at Clemson University.
Players across the country donned shirts calling for justice during pregame warmups. Many teams adorned patches on their jerseys or stickers to their helmets in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Messages were broadcast to the limited in-person spectators calling on them to use their voices to speak out against injustice.
Meanwhile, the 2020 season was put into jeopardy by the COVID-19 pandemic. There were calls to cancel the season or move the season to the spring. The “We Want to Play” movement was spearheaded by Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence when he tweeted, “I don’t know about y’all, but we want to play,” on Aug. 8. Players across the country retweeted or shared similar messages urging the NCAA and conferences to move forward with a season. Trevor Lawrence first shared a statement by players from each of the Power Five conferences on Aug. 10. More so than any other year, players publicly took ownership of their influence on the state of the game.
Paws Down: Out of Conference Play and the Cancellation of Rivalry Games
Despite the calls for unity and joint statements from players around the country, the 2020 season exposed the lack of cohesion in college football. Each of the Power Five conferences implemented at least a slightly different schedule. The SEC infamously opted for a 10-game, all-conference schedule in a 13-1 vote, resulting in the cancellation of several inter-conference rivalries between the SEC East and the ACC, including: Louisville-Kentucky, Florida-Florida State, Georgia-Georgia Tech and Clemson-South Carolina. The Gamecocks were the only SEC institution to vote to allow an out-of-conference game. 2020 was the first season in which the Tigers and Gamecocks did not play since 1908.
The Big Ten and Pac-12 both announced on Aug. 11 that they would be canceling their fall 2020 football seasons with the intention of playing in the spring. It is speculated that the conferences expected the other three Power Five conferences to follow their example and then the Group of Five in turn. Exactly one day later, the Big 12 announced its intention to play and released its 2020 football schedule, probably the most similar to any “normal” year of the Power Five conferences. The ACC released its schedule in late July, which included the information that non-football member Notre Dame would be joining the conference in football for the 2020 season, including being eligible for the 2020 ACC Championship. The SEC followed the Big 12 and released its schedule in mid-August.
More than anything, this season proved the lack of cohesion in Division I football. Aside from the entire FCS, several Group of Five conferences opted to play in the spring, mostly following the lead of the closest Power Five conference. However, many of these conferences, FBS and FCS, allowed their teams to compete in the fall in non-conference games. The Citadel completed a four-game winless fall schedule and expects to play an eight-game Southern Conference schedule beginning in February.
Paws Up: The Football
Despite the few out-of-conference games played, there were several great games played this season. Clemson’s double overtime matchup at Notre Dame lived up to the pregame hype. Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei showed why he is hailed as the future of college football, throwing for 439 yards against the Irish, the most ever for any quarterback against Notre Dame.
Then, undefeated Coastal Carolina and BYU organized a game in four days, after Coastal’s original opponent, Liberty, canceled due to COVID-19 cases within the program. Coastal Carolina stopped the BYU offense on the 1-yard line as time expired to seal the game.
There was a high level of parity during the 2020 season. Even the eventually undefeated national champion, Alabama, was tested early in the season by Ole Miss and then again in the SEC Championship Game by the Florida Gators. National runner-up Ohio State faced two challenges in Indiana and Northwestern. Overall, the on-field product was one of the best in recent college football history.
Paws Down: The College Football Playoff
It feels like we see the same teams in the College Football Playoff every single year. Alabama and Clemson have each reached six of the seven CFPs and now account for a combined five CFP titles. Oklahoma and Ohio State each account for four appearances in the CFP. Year in and year out, the Playoff feels the exact same: Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and/or Oklahoma, with really only the final slot truly up for grabs.
The 2020 playoff was, frankly, quite uninteresting to watch. Both semifinal games were blowouts, with the feeling that Alabama and Ohio State had won by halftime. Alabama then returned this favor to Ohio State, with many fans online saying they turned the game off after the second quarter. For three years, the National Championship Game has been settled by more than two scores. Prior to this stretch of three blowout title games, the CFP yielded three all-time classics for championships: Alabama over Clemson in 2016 (45-40), Clemson over Alabama in 2017 (35-31) and the overtime thriller of Alabama over Georgia in 2018 (26-23). Maybe the time has come for the CFP Selection Committee to include some brand-new teams in the Playoff.