College football position battles to look forward to when 2020 preseason camps resume

College football will return. It’s not clear when it will see a comeback, but it will eventually. How soon? Ask 10 different influential figures in the game and you’ll likely get 10 different answers, so it’s probably best to avoid specifics for the time being. But too much rides on college football being played for it to be gone for too long. 

The rapid spread of COVID-19, however, resulted in the cancellation of practically all spring practice and the annual spring games. As such, many of the key position battles that were set to get underway will have to wait, but that doesn’t mean those battles no longer exist. Many of the top programs around college football still have big shoes to fill for players who have either graduated or declared for the NFL Draft early. 

When preseason camp does return, in whatever form that takes, here are the top position battles that still have to be hashed out. Given the expedited timeline they may set, don’t be surprised if some, if not most, of these battles continue into the season. 

Alabama: Quarterback

Names to know: Bryce Young, Mac Jones, Taulia Tagovailoa   

Who will succeed Tua Tagovailoa? There are three interesting names with a serious shot. Jones filled in for Tagovailoa during his injury-plagued season in 2019 and performed well, throwing for 1,500 yards and 14 touchdowns to just three interceptions. However, fans are excited about Young, the No. 1 quarterback prospect from 2020 who fits the mold of a do-it-all blue-chip prospect. Tua’s little brother, Taulia, is also in the hunt. Young is probably the most purely talented of the three, but given the uncertain timeline, Jones performed well enough last season to be the guy to beat. 

Baylor: Defensive line

Names to know: Chidi Ogbonnaya, TJ Franklin, Brayden Utley, James Sylvester 

The Bears had a monster defensive front that helped them reach the Big 12 Championship Game last season, but gone are James Lynch, James Lockhart and Bravvion Roy, who accounted for more than half of the team’s 46 sacks. Lining up to replace them are Ogbonnaya, Franklin and Utley, who all saw more rotational action a season ago. Still, they’ll have to fend off more young talent coming in like Sylvester, the top recruit for Baylor’s 2020 class. 

Clemson: Offensive line

Names to know: Matt Bockhorst, Cade Stewart, Will Putnam, Jackson Carmen, Jordan McFadden

The Tigers have a Heisman-caliber quarterback in Trevor Lawrence … now they need an O-line to block for him. With only one returning starter from a year ago, there’s a lot of chemistry that needs to be built. Offensive line position battles are a little different in that regard; the sum of the parts is what is most important. Carmen and McFadden will jockey for one of the tackle spots, while the interior of the line seems to be a bit more clear-cut with Stewart possibly stepping into the center spot. There are a lot of young players filling out the depth chart, though, including six freshmen who were part of the 2020 class. 

Florida: Linebacker

Names to know: Brenton Cox, Jeremiah Moon, Ventrell Miller, Lacedrick Brunson, Khris Bogle

The Gators actually have a lot to replace on defense, but we’ll focus on the linebacker group since there really are spots for the taking across the board with lots of talent available. Cox, a Georgia transfer, will likely slide into a starting or rotational role in the defensive end/outside linebacker spot, but Moon and Bogle could also see lots of reps there as well. At inside linebacker, Miller and Brunson are among the top picks to battle it out to start opposite other linebacker James Houston. 

Georgia: Running back

Names to know: James Cook, Kenny McIntosh and Kendall Milton

You’ll notice Zamir White’s name isn’t listed. That’s because he’s penciled in as a starter. The question is who will complement him as the second rushing option. For the last four years, the Bulldogs have had two running backs eclipse 100 carries on the season. Cook and McIntosh would be the top two options for that second spot after they basically split a handful of carries per game last year, but don’t overlook Milton. The early enrollee is built like a feature back and is already one of the most physically-gifted runners in the room. 

LSU: Running back 

Names to know: Tyrion Davis-Price, John Emery, Jr., Chris Curry

Losing Heisman-winning quarterback Joe Burrow is massive, but Myles Brennan appears to be a clear successor. The fight to replace stud running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire is a little trickier. Davis-Price is a big-bodied back who was Edwards-Helaire’s primary backup a season ago, and he projects to be the top rushing option next season. However, Emery has legit wheels and Curry was solid in the Sugar Bowl against Oklahoma (16 carries for 90 yards). Expect this competition for carries to bleed over into the season. 

Michigan: Quarterback

Names to know:  Dylan McCaffrey, Joe Milton, Cade McNamara

With Shea Patterson gone, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh is looking for his next quarterback. McCaffrey is more of the fan favorite and has seen the most game action as the No. 2 behind Patterson. As a bonus, he’s shown more capabilities as a runner that could give Michigan’s offense some extra dynamics. However, Milton is in the thick of the race as well and the battle for the Week 1 starting job likely comes down to those two. 

NCAA Football: Middle Tennessee at Michigan

Dylan McCaffrey brings the experience to the Michigan QB race. 

Oklahoma: Wide receiver

Names to know: Theo Wease, Mykel Jones, Theo Howard, Jadon Haselwood, Drake Stoops, Charleston Rambo

There are a couple of names who will be penciled in as starters no matter what: Charleston Rambo and Haselwood. Both were nice contributors a year ago even if overshadowed greatly by CeeDee Lamb. The rest is up for grabs. Wease was a major recruiting get a couple of years ago and Howard, the UCLA transfer, can be an impact player if he’s healthy off a torn Achilles; again, any delay of the season may help him.

Ohio State: Cornerback

Names to know: Sevyn Banks, Cameron Brown, Marcus Williamson, Tyreke Johnson

Ohio State replaces first-round cornerback with first-round cornerback, but there are two corner spots to fill opposite Shaun Wade. Banks is likely to take one of those spots, leaving the third corner position a little more up for grabs. Brown, Johnson and Williamson saw some playing time a year ago, and the former two are the type of rangy defensive backs Ohio State covets. There’s tons of potential in this group, someone just has to break out. 

Oregon: Quarterback

Names to know: Anthony Brown, Tyler Shough

The battle to succeed Justin Herbert is more than two people, but barring injuries or an unforeseen turn, these are the two you need to know. Shough was Herbert’s No. 2 last year, but appeared in just five games and attempted only 15 passes (though did have three touchdown passes). Brown, the transfer from Boston College, is a three-year starter. While no one is explicitly handing Brown the job, the general M.O. is that if an upgrade is coming in as a grad transfer, he’s going to start. Now, how the lack of practice impacts that race is what will be fascinating to watch unfold. 

Penn State: Defensive end

Names to know: Jayson Oweh, Adisa Isaac, Shane Simmons

Yetur Gross-Matos is gone, meaning Penn State will have to find someone to line up along the edge across from Shaka Toney. The list of candidates is lengthy, which is a good thing for the Nittany Lions. Oweh was impressive as a redshirt freshman in 2019 and will at least continue to be a rotational player if he’s not named a starter. Isaac is another player who, depending on how the two-deep shakes out at the edge spot, could either start or see significant time. Simmons is a veteran who probably won’t start but will push for some playing time. 

Texas: Defensive end

Names to know: Joseph Ossai, Marquez Bimage, Byron Vaughns, Jacoby Jones, Ta’Quon Graham 

The Longhorns will move between a three and four-man front, so guys like Ossai could be considered a linebacker in some packages. For all intents and purposes, though, there are two edge spots that are seeing a lot of new faces. Ossai seems like the shoe-in and Graham figures to either play defensive end or defensive tackle. If it’s the later, Bimage seems like the natural fit since he’s the most experienced with 19 game appearances. 

UCF: Quarterback

Names to know: McKenzie Milton, Dillon Gabriel,, Darriel Mack Jr. 

Obviously, the outcome of UCF’s quarterback competition depends a lot on Milton’s health status. After sustaining a brutal and nearly career-ending knee injury in late 2018, Milton’s goal has been to get back on the football field in 2020. He’s moved to a lighter knee brace and was throwing the ball before everyone canceled spring practices. If the college football season is delayed, that might give him more time to recover. If he’s not available, Gabriel and Mack saw lots of playing time last year, though Gabriel was the starter for much of the season after Mack suffered an ankle injury last summer. 

USC: Offensive tackle

Names to know: Jalen McKenzie, Jason Rodriguez, Jonah Monheim, Frank Martin II, Liam Jimmons Bernard Schirmer 

The Trojans return a ton of personnel from last year’s team and — don’t look now — will be a trendy make-or-break team for coach Clay Helton. USC just needs to get its tackle situation shored up. You could see some interior guys like McKenzie or Jimmons get a short at the outside. Monheim is a young talent that probably won’t start right away, but may make his way on to the field later in the season. There truly are a handful of guys who could start at tackle for the Trojans in Week 1. 

Wisconsin: Running back

Names to know: Nakia Watson, Garret Groshek, Isaac Guerendo, Jalen Berger  

Jonathan Taylor left Wisconsin as one of college football’s most under-appreciated players in recent memory. He rushed for more than 6,000 yards and 50 touchdowns in his three years and somehow never even became a Heisman finalist. Digressing, who will be the next bell cow Badgers running back? Groshek and Watson split some carries a year ago, though people around Madison seem to think Watson could be a breakout star if he can even out some consistency issues. For the first time in several years, it may take a while before Wisconsin settles on a go-to guy to carry the rock. 

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