As we continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic that is impacting almost every walk of life here in the United States, college football players in a number of conferences are being given a choice: play or opt out. Either way, scholarships will be honored and, either way, this year won’t count as a year of eligibility.

Several notable stars have chosen to opt out. Will there be more big-name opt-outs before the 2020 season begins? We’ll find out over the next couple of weeks.

Let’s take a look at the best players at each position who have decided not to play this fall. We’ll see how many of them return to college next year and how many decide to pursue NFL careers.

(Note: I included Big Ten players who opted out before the conference postponed its season. Those players are marked with an asterisk.)


QB: Jamie Newman, Georgia

Newman, a graduate transfer from Wake Forest, was projected by many to be the Bulldogs Week 1 starter, especially since fellow transfer QB JT Daniels (from USC) still hasn’t been fully cleared for contact after suffering a knee injury last year.

Now, the Bulldogs will have to see if Daniels is healthy enough to start by Sept. 26. If not, they’ll have to turn to D’Wan Mathis or Carson Beck.

RB: Kennedy Brooks, Oklahoma

The Sooners lost Trey Sermon this offseason, as he transferred to Ohio State. That left Kennedy Brooks as the clear No. 1 option in the Sooners’ backfield, but now the back-to-back 1,000-yard rusher has opted out. That leaves Rhamondre Stevenson as the guy who will likely get the most work for Lincoln Riley’s rushing attack this fall.

RB: Kenneth Gainwell, Memphis

Since we won’t have a tight end on this team, we’ll go with a 3-receiver, 2-running back formation. Gainwell was an absolute beast as a redshirt freshman for Memphis last season, rushing for 1,459 yards and 13 touchdowns and adding 610 yards and 3 scores as a receiver. He’ll be eligible for the 2021 draft, but we’ll see if he turns pro or returns to the Tigers for one more season.

WR: Ja’Marr Chase, LSU

Chase had a historic season in 2019, catching 20 touchdowns and racking up 1,780 receiving yards. He won the Biletnikoff Award and was projected to have another huge year in 2020. Now that he’s opted out, it’s off to the 2021 NFL Draft, where he’s expected to be a top-10 pick.

WR: Rashod Bateman, Minnesota*

Bateman was one of the first big-name players to opt out, doing so before the Big Ten postponed its fall season. He had 1,219 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns in 2019 and his absence would have been a huge hole for the Gophers in 2020. Like Chase, he’s another likely Round 1 pick in 2021.

WR: Rondale Moore, Purdue*

Moore was one of the most electric receivers in college football in 2018. Who can forget the way he torched Ohio State for 170 yards and 2 touchdowns in Purdue’s upset win that season? Sadly, he was injured after only 4 games last year and now, it seems his college career likely would have been over even if he hadn’t opted out, as the B1G won’t play this fall.

OL: Jordan Reid, Michigan State*

Reid played 950 snaps in 2019. According to his Michigan State bio, that was more than any other Spartan on offense. He has played in all 39 games since arriving in East Lansing. He’s an ironman who would have been a huge boost for the Spartans this year.

OL: Jonathan Stewart, Vanderbilt

At 6-7 and 325 pounds, Stewart is a beast of an offensive lineman. He played in 10 games in 2019 and started 3. He would have had an even bigger role this fall for the Commodores.

OL: Johnny Jordan, Maryland*

Jordan started 6 games at center for the Terps last season. He was a key part of the offensive line that led the Terps to 79 points in the season-opener against Howard and 63 points against Syracuse.

OL: Cole Clemens, Vanderbilt

Before an injury cost him the last 3 games of the 2019 season, Clemens had appeared in all 9 contests for the Commodores. He’s a versatile blocker who can play at tackle or guard.

OL: Austin Fontaine, Maryland*

As a redshirt freshman in 2019, Fontaine made 6 starts and played in all 12 games for the Terrapins. Based on how well Maryland RBs Javion Leake and Anthony McFarland Jr. performed last year, Fontaine and his fellow linemen did a solid job.


DE: Dennis Briggs Jr., Florida State

Briggs had a solid 2019 season as a redshirt freshman, recording 28 tackles (3.5 for a loss), 1 sack, 1 forced fumble and 1 fumble recovery. He was a potential breakout candidate for 2020, as he’d have played alongside likely 2021 first-round pick Marvin Wilson.

DT: Tyler Shelvin, LSU

Shelvin is yet another borderline Round 1 pick. He was a big part of the LSU run defense last season, recording 39 tackles (3 for a loss) and 2 pass breakups. His decision on whether to return in 2021 or come back to LSU will be an interesting one to watch.

DT: Jaylen Twyman, Pitt

Twyman broke out in a big way in 2019, recording 41 tackles (12 for a loss) and an impressive 10.5 sacks. That sack total was good for third in the ACC. We’ll see if he decides to move to the NFL after that breakout season or if he comes back in 2021 to put together some more strong game tape.

DE: Neil Farrell, LSU

Farrell quietly had a strong 2019 season behind a number of bigger-named stars on the LSU defense. He had 46 tackles (7 for a loss) and 3 sacks. With Farrell and Shelvin both opting out, the LSU defensive line will look much different this fall.

Edge: Gregory Rousseau, Miami

We have a glut of defensive linemen and only a couple of linebackers for this hypothetical squad, so we’ll bump Rousseau out to an edge rusher position and let him wreak havoc in opposing backfields. He did, after all, have 15.5 sacks in 2019. He’s one of the best pass rushers in the country, and that’s going to make him a lot of money at the NFL level.

LB: Micah Parsons, Penn State*

Another spot on the defense, another potential first-round pick. Parsons and Alabama’s Dylan Moses are a couple of the best linebackers in the entire draft class. Parsons recorded 109 tackles (14 for a loss), 5 sacks, 5 pass breakups and 4 forced fumbles in 2019. He was poised to put up even bigger numbers for a stout Penn State defense in 2020.

LB: Chandler Wooten, Auburn

Wooten only recorded 25 tackles last season, but he was in line to have a bigger role this fall. Wooten’s absence will be felt in the Auburn linebacking corps in 2020.

DB: Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech

Farley is yet another player on this list who is considered a probable Round 1 2021 draft pick. He only had 20 tackles last season, but he did record 4 interceptions (1 of which he returned for a touchdown) and 12 pass breakups. He’s the kind of lockdown corner NFL teams covet.

DB: Kary Vincent Jr., LSU

Vincent was one of the most versatile defensive backs in the SEC heading into 2020 before he decided to opt out. He had 4 interceptions for LSU last year — the most of anyone not named Derek Stingley Jr. He’ll be missed in the LSU secondary alongside Stingley and JaCoby Stevens this fall.

DB: Kerry Martin Jr., West Virginia

Martin made his presence felt as a true freshman in 2019, recording 50 tackles (2.5 for a loss), 3 pass breakups and a fumble recovery. He won’t be eligible for the 2021 NFL Draft, so he’ll theoretically be back with the Mountaineers in 2021.

DB: Tay Gowan, UCF

Gowan was a talented corner last year, recording 2 interceptions and knocking down 8 others. He also recorded 31 tackles. The Knights have been hit hard by opt-outs, but Gowan is perhaps the biggest on defense.


K/P: Oren Milstein, Vanderbilt

Milstein is going to have to pull double duty here as he’s the only kicker to have opted out thus far. However, he had a successful career at Columbia in the Ivy League before deciding to come to Vanderbilt (pre-pandemic), so I have no doubt he could handle both jobs capably.

Returner: Sage Surratt, Wake Forest

Surratt has only returned 12 punts in his career at Wake Forest, but he’s too talented to leave off this team. He’s the fourth wide receiver and is dangerous with the ball in space, so he gets the returner job.