Scouting college football’s best: Coaches break down Alabama, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Clemson

  • College football reporter.
  • Joined ESPN.com in 2008.
  • Graduate of Northwestern University.

There are many unique things about the 2020 college football season, but at the very top, almost nothing has changed.

The sport is still dominated by three teams: Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State. Alabama or Clemson has appeared in all six previous CFP fields, while Ohio State is aiming for its fourth appearance and first in back-to-back seasons.

Clemson’s loss Saturday night at Notre Dame shifts the picture a bit. Notre Dame, which rallied late to force overtime and outlasted Clemson in the second extra session, showed it belongs, at least for now, in the upper crust. So does Clemson, though, as the Tigers nearly pulled off the win despite not having starting quarterback Trevor Lawrence or several key defenders. Clemson also emerges from the Notre Dame loss with some positives, none bigger than backup quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei, who passed for 439 yards, the most ever allowed by Notre Dame.

The first CFP rankings come out in 15 days. Barring a major upset, these four teams will lead the rundown.

Here’s a breakdown of the top four, with help from coaches who have scouted or faced each squad.

Alabama Crimson Tide

AP ranking: 1

Up next: LSU (road), Kentucky (home), Auburn (home)

Allstate playoff predictor: 90.5% chance to make CFP, 39% to win national title

Alabama has the strongest profile, when factoring in wins over both Texas A&M and Georgia, by a combined 45 points. The program’s pivot to offense is complete, solidified by Nick Saban’s recent comments to ESPN’s Chris Low that offense is now more important than defense in today’s game.

There’s seemingly no way to stop the Tide offense. Even Georgia, which boasts excellent personnel at all three levels on defense, surrendered 31 points in the final 33:06 of a 41-24 loss to Alabama, which finished with 564 yards and 33 first downs, averaging 7.4 yards per play. Alabama certainly will miss wide receiver Jaylen Waddle (557 yards, 22.3 yards per reception, four touchdowns), but coaches don’t expect the unit’s overall production to slow much.

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