Thoughts Around The Nation: A Look Back at 2020 college football season

The 2020 college football season was the most unique season in history.

-First and foremost, congratulations to Alabama on yet another National Championship. I went in-depth about their season as well as what the future may hold here.

It’s worth repeating that Alabama’s dominance this year was a great accomplishment. Undefeated in the SEC as well as defeating Notre Dame and Ohio State, combined with three of the top five Heisman finishers and the offensive records, make this Alabama team perhaps the best ever.

-The College Football Playoff system needs to be fixed. The system might not be broken, but it definitely has some significant issues. The rankings were all over the place. Georgia was consistently ranked too high, Florida dropping a spot after losing to an average LSU team was a joke and the lack of respect to schools without the “name brand” is very apparent.

I’m not saying the likes of Alabama and Clemson don’t deserve their shots. I’m saying it’s been proven that name brand trumps on-field accomplishments. It was that way in 2014 when Ohio State jumped both TCU and Baylor. It happened again in 2016 when Ohio State again made it, despite not only not winning the Big 10, but losing to the 11-2 Big 10 champions Penn State.

Think about all the “household names” in college football. Alabama. Notre Dame. Ohio State. Michigan. USC. Clemson as of late. What to they all have in common? Championships.

Teams become “name brands” by being given the chance to win big games. Boise State wouldn’t have the success they’ve had if it wasn’t given the chance against Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl.

Five teams combine for 22 of 28 College Football Playoff appearances. A team will never become a true college football contender if they’re not given the chance.

-That leads to this: expand the College Football Playoff. Whether it’s 6, 8 or 16, one thing that is an absolute must: include the Group of Five.

Think about it: an entire group of schools, making up about half of the FBS, are playing with next to zero shot at the College Football Playoff. The Cotton Bowl is a nice consolation prize, but the label of an entire conference should not keep a quality program out of the Playoff.

The best of the Group of Five has proven they can hang with the best of the Power Five. Cincinnati’s 24-21 loss to Georgia was brutal, but the Bearcats were in the game the whole time. Since Boise State’s win over Oklahoma, Group of Five teams have knocked off the likes of Auburn, Florida State, Arizona and even Alabama in BCS/New Year’s Six bowls.

Who knows, Cincinnati might realize they don’t really want Bama. But they’ve certainly earned it.

On to other things….

-The most personally disappointing team in 2020 was definitely Oklahoma State. I had them in the playoffs, and they limped to the finish line. I went over their struggles here but they finished the season strong with wins over Baylor and Miami.

In reality, the most disappointing team was probably Penn State. Penn State started 0-5 before rallying to win their final four.

The Nittany Lions just couldn’t get out of their own way to start the year. Bad defense, a non existent run game and bad quarterback play really cost the Nittany Lions in what had the potential to be a special season.

Opt outs and the unfortunate health issue of Journey Brown, which forced him into medical retirement, also contributed to the failure.

-On the flip side, the most surprising team has to be the one that opened the season with a thrilling win over those Nittany Lions: Indiana. The Hoosiers had potential to be good, but I don’t think anyone expected them to be great.

Indiana finished 6-2 with wins over Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin. They pushed Ohio State to the limit at the Horseshoe, and had they won that game, Indiana would have played Northwestern in the Big 10 title game. A win there could have sent them to the playoff.

Indiana is going to be good again next year. They’re bringing mostly everyone back and that likely includes star quarterback Michael Penix. If things are back to normal in 2021, the Hoosiers will host a College Gameday quality game against another possible top 10 team, Cincinnati.

-I cannot, for the life of me, understand why Colorado decided to fire Tyson Summers as defensive coordinator. As Bruce Feldman pointed out on Twitter, Summers led the Buffs to the best third down defense Colorado has had in a long time.

Colorado gave up a near-identical 31 points per game as last year, but reduced their passing yards per game by over 50 yards and 20 yards per game while performing better in the red zone in 2020.

This is a classic case of trying to fix something that isn’t broken. The defense was heading in the right direction, but coach Karl Dorrell wanted to hire “his own guy” instead of someone who is proving to be the a solid coach. This is the type of move that backfires and gets a coach fired.

-I absolutely love the hire of Andy Avalos as Boise State head coach. In an earlier edition of Thoughts Around The Nation, I suggested UCLA look to Avalos given his great defenses as well as connections to the west coast.

The strongest connection Avalos has out west is as a former Boise State linebacker. He spent time as a coach under Chris Petersen and Bryan Harsin at Boise prior to taking the defensive coordinator at Oregon.

Avalos is a great hire. While he doesn’t have the head coaching experience, he knows what it takes to win at Boise, has his west coast connections and knows how to recruit to the program. The Broncos shouldn’t miss a beat under Avalos. Expect him to become the next great Boise State head coach that leads the Broncos back to their place as the class of the Group of Five.

-When you talk about knowing how to win in a certain place or conference, there’s no better example of that than the hire of Bret Bielema at Illinois.

As a former Wisconsin head coach, Bielema has recruited big time Midwest players for years. He knows his way around the Big 10 and has the championships to prove it.

Bielema felt like a square peg in a round hole in the SEC, but his return home to the Big 10 is sure to bring success to a program that’s been lacking success.

We already know the style of football Bielema is going to bring to the Illini: a hard-nosed, tough and physical defense combined with a massive offensive line and elite running backs. The question is can anyone stop it.

The running game is the highlight of the Bielema package. At Wisconsin, Bielema produced the some of the best backs in program history behind what was between average height and weight, literally the biggest offensive line in all of football, pro or college.

Look at some of these names: Montee Ball. James White. Melvin Gordon. John Clay. PJ Hill. When John Clay, who ranks 11th in Wisconsin history in rush yards,  is the least productive back you have, you’ve done a good job.

And don’t forget about the other big time Wisconsin product: Russell Wilson. Wilson went from very good college quarterback to a superstar under Bielema. He excelled to the point where he earned his way into the NFL, where he became a perennial MVP contender and Super Bowl champion.

-Stay tuned next week as we look forward to 2021.