On August 10th, the Big Ten and Pac-12 cancelled their college football seasons citing fears from a European study on a COVID-19 related heart condition called Myocarditis. Since the decision was made, several doctors have come out and called the study deeply flawed.
Additionally, a massive player movement dubbed #WeWantToPlay showed that nobody is “asking the players to play.” Rather, they want to play. The movement is headlined by the country’s two best quarterbacks and ones that need to play for an NFL draft stock least of all, Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields.
Nonetheless, we have seen no change in those conferences’ plans yet and so the college football landscape shifts. Assuming it holds up, how does this impact the National Championship and Heisman races?
Coming into the year, Clemson, Ohio State, Alabama, Georgia, and Oklahoma were widely considered the five most likely championship contenders. With Ohio State now removed from that mix, shortened schedules with reduced non-conference games no longer present the concern of five undefeated Power 5 teams. That certainly makes the playoff committee’s job easier. Champions of the SEC, ACC, and Big 12 will be near locks for the playoff. The interesting question will be who gets that fourth slot.
With two Power Five conferences removing themselves, the American Athletic Conference (AAC) is ready to declare themselves a Power Four conference. Could the AAC champ get in? It’s likely we see something new in the playoff this year, either the AAC crack the playoff or a strong two-loss team grab a spot. Of course, Alabama and Georgia or Clemson and Notre Dame could split regular season and conference championship games and a 1-loss non-champion would likely receive and invitation.
In recent years, Clemson has been lambasted for a weak conference schedule and had to go a perfect 13-0 to earn a playoff invitation. With fewer competitors, a perfect season may not be needed to earn that invite this season. That’s fortunate because perfection will be difficult in a wonky season that may see games postponed and players held out due to COVID-19 protocol.
Overall, the biggest losers are Ohio State and potential College Football Playoff dark horses Penn State and Oregon. The biggest winners are the favorites in the ACC (Clemson), SEC (Alabama/Georgia), and Big 12 (Oklahoma) as their path to the playoff got a bit wider and one of the most dangerous teams in the country – the Buckeyes – no longer stands in the way.
As for the Heisman Trophy, my pick and the Sports Betting Dime favorite, Justin Fields is out. The next 10 most likely players to win the Heisman trophy play in the ACC, SEC, or Big 12, so they’re not impacted.
Trevor Lawrence’s odds are listed at 4-1 according to Sports Betting Dime to win the Heisman Trophy this season. He is the new favorite with Fields presumably out, however he’ll be without star wide receivers Tee Higgins who was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals and Justyn Ross who had spinal surgery to repair a congenital defect. Additionally, the Tigers return a loaded backfield headlined by Travis Etienne. The Tigers may pound the ball on the ground to get the ball to their plethora of play making running backs.
Another challenge for Trevor will be the weak start to Clemson’s schedule. In the first eight weeks, the only matchup that may get national respect is the Tigers’ home tilt against Miami. While he’ll play two games before the SEC and Big 12 Heisman Contenders take the field, they’ll be against Wake Forest and The Citadel. By the time Clemson gets into the meat of their schedule in November with Notre Dame and Florida State, the Heisman narrative may already be written.
Spencer Rattler, the new Oklahoma Sooners QB may be my new pick now that Justin Fields is off the table. Lincoln Riley’s offense loses some key pieces, but like Brent Venables coaching Clemson’s defense, Riley always finds a way to make his offense run at peak efficiency. Rattler was a highly-touted recruit and could be the big name to emerge from this college football season. Sam Ehlinger (QB – Texas) and Chuba Hubbard (RB – Ok State) are others to keep an eye on. Travis Etienne, Clemson’s star running back, has a chance to put himself in the race as he chases the record for most rushing career TDs by a running back (77), however with Clemson’s depth at the position, they may limit his careers and share the handoffs.
No matter how it shakes out, we’re thankful it is in fact shaking out and the new Power Four are going to do everything they can to play and play safely.