College football 2020: Answering 20 questions about Heisman contenders, breakout players and more

Justin-Fields-122919-GETTY-FTR.jpg
Getty Images

The 2020 college football season doesn't begin until Aug. 29, when Notre Dame and Navy play the first game of the season in Dublin, Ireland. 

That's a long time from now, and we still have a ways to go to get through the abyss that is the offseason. That doesn't mean we can't think about all the great games, coaches and players who will dominate college football headlines in 2020. We've already looked at 20 questions about the schedule and the coaches. Today, we look at the players:  

MORE: All the FBS coaching changes for 2020

Sporting News is willing to talk about those storylines anytime. Today, we answer 20 questions about the best players heading into 2020:  

1. Which Heisman favorite would you bet on: Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields?  

Fields, who is the 7-2 favorite to win the whole thing. Lawrence had the 4,228-3,757 edge in total yards with the extra game last season, but Fields led 51-45 in total TDs. This might come down to which quarterback tacks on more statistics in the second half, meaning they must play in more four-quarter games. Fields is the better bet to do that, but not by much.  

2. How much pressure is on Lawrence to win the Heisman Trophy?  

The overreactions to Lawrence last season — from the early-season interceptions to the uneven performance against LSU in the championship game — are just that: overreactions. He’s 25-1 as a starter with two national championship appearances, and he likely will be the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft and be expected to win the Super Bowl at the next level. It's difficult to accomplish all those things. Look at the list of our top 10 all-time QBs last year for more proof.  

3. Which player would you like to see be a Heisman finalist?  

Lawrence’s teammate Travis Etienne. It's not often that a running back makes the decision to return to school. He is one of the most efficient playmaking running backs of all time when you consider he averages 7.8 yards per carry and scores a rushing TD once every 9.3 carries.  

4. Which running back has the best chance to win the Heisman?  

Oklahoma State’s Chuba Hubbard and Etienne have better odds, but we might go with Najee Harris — who had 1,528 total yards and 20 TDs last season. Remember, the past two running backs to win the Heisman — Mark Ingram (2009) and Derrick Henry (2015) — played at Alabama.  

5. Can any other position win the Heisman?  

Considering the last defensive player to do it was Michigan’s Charles Woodson in 1997 and the last receiver to do it was Michigan’s Desmond Howard in 1991, we’re going to say no.  

6. Speaking of Michigan, is that the most interesting QB battle?  

Jim Harbaugh scoffed at questions about the talent gap after a 56-27 loss to Ohio State last season, but after back-to-back beatdowns courtesy of Heisman finalists in Fields and Dwayne Haskins, it’s clear that’s the biggest difference between the teams. The Wolverines need a game-changing quarterback like Harbaugh was, and that puts the battle between Dylan McCaffrey and Joe Milton into focus. The last Michigan quarterback to win at Ohio Stadium was Drew Henson in 2000.  

7. Who will start at quarterback for Alabama?  

Mac Jones played well in place of Tua Tagovailoa, but all eyes are on incoming freshman Bryce Young — a five-star talent who will get every chance to compete to be the starter against USC in the opener at Jerry World. Remember, that’s the game where Jalen Hurts took over the starting job as a true freshman. Taulia Tagovailoa also will be in the mix, but we have the feeling Young is going to make a concerted push for the job.  

8. Which freshman are you most excited about in 2020?  

Justin Flowe was a five-star beast in Upland, Calif., and he steps into an Oregon defense that already features Kayvon Thibodeaux. Mario Cristobal has done well on that side of the ball, and that is a pair of difference-makers that will be flying on the field.  

9. Who is the best pass rusher in the country?  

Thibodeaux is in that discussion. Miami’s Gregory Rousseau had 15.5 sacks last season, including a two-week stretch against Florida State and Pitt where he had seven of those sacks. He will be in that discussion throughout the year. Pitt’s Jalen Twyman, who had 10.5 sacks from the interior last season, is another name to watch.  

10. Who is the best defensive player in the country?  

It’s impossible to pick one, but three names stand out above the rest. LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. could probably play in the NFL now, and that’s saying something given his position. Penn State’s Micah Parsons has a chance to elevate the Nittany Lions back to Big Ten championship heights, and we are looking forward to the return of Alabama’s Dylan Moses, who missed last season with a knee injury.  

11. Which transfer quarterback intrigues you most?  

The easy answer would be Georgia’s Jamie Newman, who has 10-1 Heisman odds and faces the task of replacing Jake Fromm, but after watching Miami’s horrible offensive performance in the Independence Bowl we would go with D’Eriq King’s transfer to Miami paired with the hire of new offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee. The Hurricanes averaged 25.7 points per game last season, which ranked 90th in the FBS.  

12. What is one bold awards prediction you would like to make?  

Ohio State sophomore Garrett Wilson will be an All-American and will have the chance to be the first Big Ten player since Braylon Edwards (2004) to win the Biletnikoff Award.  

13. Are you trying to talk down about 2019 Biletnikoff Award winner LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase?  

Absolutely not. Chase, who had 84 catches for 1,780 yards and 20 TDs on 21.2 yards per catch, could be considered the most unstoppable player in college football. Joe Burrow and passing game coordinator Joe Brady are gone, however, and it is almost impossible to expect Chase to replicate those numbers. Remember, Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy was a lock for the award coming into 2019.  

14. What is one bold statistical prediction you would like to make?  

Louisville’s Javian Hawkins, who had 460 yards in the Cardinals’ last three games, will rush for at least 2,000 yards this season.  

15. Why haven’t you talked about Oklahoma State’s offense yet?  

The Cowboys have one of the best trios in quarterback Spencer Sanders, Hubbard and receiver Tylan Wallace, and that should put up big points in Stillwater if all three can stay healthy. Oklahoma State averaged 32.5 points per game last season. They could push that up into the 40 range with ease. Keep in mind the Cowboys are 50-15 in seasons where they hit the 40-ppg mark for the year.  

16. Who is a better bet: Sam Ehlinger or Spencer Rattler?  

Lincoln Riley has proven for three straight seasons what he can do with a transfer quarterback, but Rattler offers a chance to show what he’s learned after one year in the system. Ehlinger, meanwhile, has one last chance to bring Texas back to a Big 12 championship. Both quarterbacks should put up monster numbers, and it means the Red River Showdown will carry the same-as-usual high-scoring stakes. There is more pressure on Ehlinger in this spot.  

17. How will Ian Book finish at Notre Dame?  

Book is 20-3 as a starter with the Irish and owns a 57:17 TD:INT ratio, and he returns for his senior season despite losing top pass catchers such as Chase Claypool, Cole Kmet and Chris Finke. It is going to be on Book to lead the Irish to the College Football Playoff, and the schedule is set up for Notre Dame to get to the Nov. 7 matchup with Clemson with one loss or fewer. Book has to be even better than last season for that to happen.  

18. Can you name some dark-horse Heisman candidates at QB?  

Here are five to keep an eye on, but the season must align right for it to happen: North Carolina’s Sam Howell set the true freshman record with 38 TDs last season. Arizona State’s Jayden Daniels and USC’s Kedon Slovis can make that run by winning the Pac-12, but Auburn’s Bo Nix and Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond have the most light in the SEC West. Of those five names, we like Howell the best if the Tar Heels can make the ACC championship game and he throws 40-plus TDs.  

19. Who is a gem to watch from the Group of 5?  

Buffalo’s Jarret Patterson has 2,777 rushing yards and 33 TDs the past two seasons with the Bulls, and he will continue to be a prolific rusher in Lance Leipold’s offense. The Bulls play at Ohio State on Sept. 19. The last time they were there in 2013, Khalil Mack became a household name. Patterson will get his biggest chance to shine against the Buckeyes.  

20. Stop stalling: Who wins the Heisman?  

We would stick with Fields based on the offense, the numbers and the talent around him. Lawrence is right there in the mix, but we make this pick with the understanding that Joe Burrow was 200-1 last season and the Heisman changes with each week. It’s still about the best player on the best team in the regular season most of the time. Fields and Lawrence might do that en route to a Playoff rematch, too.  

Latest News

Dabo Swinney-Nick Saban-123018-GETTY-FTR
With Texas, Oklahoma on board, SEC should target these schools next
Bender: Why SEC should entertain more expansion
Quinn-ewers-0729-rivals-FTR.jpg
Who is Quinn Ewers? Five-star QB could change NIL, Ohio State and more with decision
Bender: How Quinn Ewers could change Ohio State, NIL and more
sam-ehlinger-0729-getty-FTR.jpg
SEC is about to welcome one superpower from the Big 12, not two
SEC is about to welcome one superpower, not two
Big-Ten-032218-FTR-Getty
Exploring Big Ten's best expansion plans for building a superconference
Bender: How Big Ten can build best superconference
Bowlsby-Rattler-2020-72821-Getty-FTR.jpg
Bob Bowlsby's signature in cease-and-desist letter to ESPN gets Twitter's attention
Bob Bowlsby's signature in cease-and-desist letter to ESPN gets Twitter's attention