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What we got right (and wrong) with our 2020 college football predictions

Matt Baker was wrong before he was right about the Gators and Georgia, and he overestimated UCF and FSU.
Dan Mullen beat Georgia but did not make it to the College Football Playoff.
Dan Mullen beat Georgia but did not make it to the College Football Playoff. [ JOHN RAOUX | AP ]
Published Jan. 20

Before we finally, officially turn our attention to the 2021 college football season, let’s take one more look back at 2020.

Specifically, here’s what I got right, what I got partially right and what I missed from the most unpredictable season since World War II. I didn’t make as many predictions as I usually do because I spent most of the offseason wondering if there would even be a season. But I believe in accountability, so I’m continuing my annual tradition:

What I got right

We didn't exactly see a BYU-Coastal Carolina game coming, but we did predict scheduling craziness.
We didn't exactly see a BYU-Coastal Carolina game coming, but we did predict scheduling craziness. [ RICHARD SHIRO | AP ]

All five of the teams in my preseason top five (Ohio State, Clemson, Alabama, Georgia and Oklahoma) finished in the top seven. I don’t deserve much credit for boldly predicting that Alabama would be good at football, but at least I got something right.

The top five teams in the Power Five conferences, according to my preseason rankings: Ohio State, Clemson, Alabama, Oklahoma and Oregon. They all ended up winning their leagues (although Oregon only gets partial credit for that).

Related: AP top 25: Where Florida, Miami fell on Matt Baker’s final ballot

Some of the historical parallels I dug up in May looked prescient. Like this one: “Schedules could change quickly, in weird ways.” I did not exactly envision BYU playing Coastal Carolina on a few days’ notice, but the general idea worked out.

Partial credit

The Gators didn't get to the College Football Playoff, but they did beat Georgia.
The Gators didn't get to the College Football Playoff, but they did beat Georgia. [ JOHN RAOUX | AP ]

Immediately after the Gators beat Virginia in the Orange Bowl, I bought into the idea that Florida could be a championship contender. As I wrote in March, before the coronavirus shut everything down: “Florida should start 2020 on the short list of playoff contenders, along with the usual suspects of Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State and Georgia.” Was UF a playoff contender? Yes. The Gators were in the conversation in the final weekend of the regular season and had the ball with a chance to beat Alabama for the SEC title. But I’m not going to give myself too much credit for saying that about an 8-4 team.

I was also mixed on the Florida-Georgia game. I ranked Georgia two spots ahead of the Gators in the preseason. My reasoning: The Bulldogs’ greater depth would be more important than ever because of potential coronavirus outbreaks. I doubled down, sort of, in October after UF shut the program down because of an outbreak.

But when circumstances changed and game week arrived, I correctly picked the Gators to beat Georgia.

What I got wrong

Alabama probably should have been higher than No. 3 on Matt Baker's preseason ballot.
Alabama probably should have been higher than No. 3 on Matt Baker's preseason ballot. [ CHRIS O'MEARA | AP ]

I flip-flopped between Ohio State and Clemson as my preseason No. 1 team. I was clearly wrong not to give a stronger look to the team I had third on my ballot: Alabama.

I don’t think I ever made a formal prediction involving Florida State, but I agreed with what ACC Network analyst EJ Manuel said in the preseason — a winning record was a nice goal for Mike Norvell’s first season. FSU went 3-6. Although some of the injuries and opt-outs that piled up were unpredictable, I expected more progress than what I saw.

Related: McKenzie Milton wants to lead UCF-like turnaround at Florida State

I also overestimated UCF. The Knights were No. 19 on my preseason poll but finished 6-4.

I figured LSU (seventh in my preseason rankings) would be in for a regression, but I did not envision 5-5. I was also a little lower on Penn State than other voters; I had the Nittany Lions ninth to start, while the preseason poll had them seventh. My gut had serious doubts about Penn State, and I didn’t listen enough. The Nittany Lions went 4-5.

I ranked Tennessee 25th on my preseason ballot. There’s no defense for that one.