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
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).
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.
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.
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What I got wrong
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.
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.