The spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in the United States wiped out spring football and left serious logistical questions about the 2020 season.
Those ongoing concerns prompted ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit to say he would be “shocked” if college football is played this season. Whether that spread slows in the next few months will determine whether that grim prediction holds.
We’re hoping for the best. That said, the absence of spring football left some of the top teams in the FBS with unanswered questions on the field.
Sporting News looks at 10 of those questions and what we didn’t get to see in the spring:
How will LSU look without its ‘Joes?’
LSU won the national championship last season with a historic season from Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow — who passed for 5,671 yards and 60 touchdowns last season. Burrow is gone, and so is passing game coordinator Joe Brady, who helped install an offense that was for the most part unstoppable in 2019.
Offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger is back, and Ed Orgeron brought in longtime NFL offensive coordinator Scott Linehan to keep the good times rolling. Myles Brennan — a redshirt junior and highly touted recruit — has thrown 70 passes in his career. Can he have the same one-year breakout as Burrow? LSU will be counting on it, and it didn’t have the spring evaluation to see if it’s worth looking in the transfer portal again.
Will Bryce Young have a shot to start at Bama?
With Tua Tagovailoa’s exit to the NFL, Mac Jones seemingly has the edge for the starting position at Alabama after passing for 1,172 yards, 13 touchdowns and two interceptions in four starts in place of Tagovailoa last season.
Yet Bryce Young, a five-star freshman from Mater Dei High School with big-time talent, will have a chance to win that job in fall camp. That competition didn’t get to materialize in spring practice; Alabama postponed theirs on the day it was supposed to start.
Jalen Hurts took over the starting job as a freshman after one game — which also was against USC — in 2016. Young will have a chance to contribute, too, but we won’t know the starter until the first snap against the Trojans on Sept. 5 to find out.
What will Georgia’s offensive renovation look like?
LSU and Alabama have undergone philosophical shifts, moving away from the methodical ground-and-pound to more wide-open offenses.
Now, it’s Georgia’s turn under Kirby Smart. The Bulldogs lost Jake Fromm to the NFL and replaced him with Wake Forest graduate transfer Jamie Newton. Todd Monken is the new offensive coordinator. Georgia has talented skill position players such as Zamir White, George Pickens and Dominick Blaylock with which to work, but also lost several key cogs along the offensive front. Moreover, offensive shifts like that take time.
Georgia opens with Virginia on Sept. 7 and travels to Alabama 12 days later.
Who are Ohio State’s new offensive studs?
Ohio State returns Justin Fields at quarterback, but the Buckeyes have some questions among skill-position players.
J.K. Dobbins is gone to the NFL, and Master Teague suffered a leg injury in spring practice that put his season in doubt. Oklahoma transfer Trey Sermon will help, but Marcus Crawley and Steele Chambers will have their chances.
The Buckeyes also lost three of their top five receivers, although Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson return. Wilson has All-American potential, and the addition of five-star freshman Julian Fleming means Fields will have more than enough talent to throw to.
Ohio State is a good bet to lead the nation in scoring in 2020.
Who is the right QB for Michigan?
Who will Michigan put under center to try to break the Buckeyes’ stranglehold in “The Game”? That’s the question for Jim Harbaugh, and he has two talented-but-inexperienced quarterbacks in Dylan McCaffrey and Joe Milton.
McCaffrey has been used in packages the last two seasons, and Milton has been used in mop-up work. McCaffrey would seemingly have the edge based on experience, but Harbaugh might be willing to take a chance on Milton if he’s better in fall camp. The spring was important for this competition.
Jake Rudock, Wilton Speight and Shea Patterson had their moments under Harbaugh the last five seasons, but the next quarterback needs to be more of a game-changer if Michigan wants to break that drought against the Buckeyes.
Can Miami or FSU get back on track?
Miami and Florida State will have new looks in 2020 after both teams had losing seasons in 2019.
The Hurricanes’ last appearance was an embarrassing 14-0 loss to Louisiana Tech in the Independence Bowl. To Miami coach Manny Diaz’s credit, he addressed the problem. The Hurricanes hired Rhett Lashlee as their new offensive coordinator, and Houston transfer quarterback D’Eriq King is eligible to play right away.
Florida State, meanwhile, has a new coach in Mike Norvell, who did a great job of sending skill-position talent to the NFL at Memphis.
That really is the talking point for both schools. The Seminoles ranked 73rd in the FBS with 27.9 points per game. The Hurricanes ranked 90th with 25.7 points per game.
Clemson ranked fourth with 43.9 ppg. That’s how far behind Miami and Florida State are.
Is Spencer Rattler the next big thing for Oklahoma?
Fans who tuned out of LSU’s 63-28 blowout win against Oklahoma in the College Football Playoff semifinals last year might have missed a cameo by Spencer Rattler.
Rattler still has to beat out Tanner Mordecai for the starting job, but do the Sooners have enough skill-position talent returning to be the same dynamic offense in the Big 12? Rattler has the advantage of sitting behind Jalen Hurts and learning for a year, and that could lead to the same high-yield production under center for the Sooners.
Rattler, however, faces a little more pressure than Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Hurts from the standpoint that the Sooners are 0-4 in the College Football Playoff. Is Rattler the quarterback who can get the Big 12 favorites to the championship game?
Will Joe Moorhead’s offense catch on at Oregon?
Oregon lost Justin Herbert, but the addition of offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead could work wonders for the new quarterback in 2020.
Redshirt sophomore Tyler Shough is the favorite to win the job, but Jay Butterfield and Cale Millen will get their chances. Robby Ashford also arrives, but he comes with the added wrinkle of being a star baseball player who could get picked in the 2020 MLB Draft.
Moorhead’s intricate offense is quarterback-friendly, and was at its best with Trace McSorley at Penn State. That took a half-season to materialize, but the Ducks are expected to compete for the Playoff now after an impressive Rose Bowl win. Oregon has the defense under coach Mario Cristobal, too.
The new quarterback also has the task of facing FCS powerhouse North Dakota State and Ohio State in the first two weeks. A full spring would have helped get ready for that.
Is USC a Pac-12 contender?
USC is in a pivotal season under Clay Helton in his fifth full season, but the good news is that Graham Harrell is back as offensive coordinator.
That should lead to another big season for quarterback Kedon Slovis, who had 3,502 passing yards, 30 touchdowns and nine interceptions last season. Michael Pittman is gone, but Amon-Ra St. Brown and Tyler Vaughn form one of the best receiving tandems in the FBS. USC must replace both starting tackles, too, and a more-consistent running game is needed.
The Trojans are all over the board in preseason top 25 lists, and the opener against Alabama is the ultimate test. Remember, the Crimson Tide destroyed the Trojans 52-6 the last time they met in Jerry World.
Where is Zachary Evans going?
The spread of the coronavirus also has an impact on recruiting, and five-star running back Zachary Evans comes into focus now.
He had a bizarre recruitment that led to him being released from his letter-of-intent from Georgia. Evans can’t sign another LOI, but he can play for another school in 2020 without sitting out a year.
The trick is finding a school when campus visits are no longer permitted. There are a handful of SEC schools still in the mix for Evans, and it will be interesting to see where he lands.
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