Saturday Football: Best of 2020
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Good morning and happy Wednesday! This is the last edition of the newsletter in 2020! On Friday, we’ll flip our calendars to 2021 and, with that, we’ll hit the ground running with a newsletter dedicated entirely to the College Football Playoff semifinals.
But, before we exit the crazy year that was 2020, we’ll take a look back at some of the best stories we read and some of the best things to happen in the sport of college football. We’ll also sprinkle in some trivia and some lines for the big bowl games today and tomorrow. Enjoy your New Year’s Eve and we’ll catch you again in 2021. Let’s get started with today’s newsletter!
IT JUST MEANS MORE
There were plenty of big happenings in the SEC in 2020. What stood out above the rest?
The SEC never wavered in its determination to play the 2020 season. Commissioner Greg Sankey was patient, listening to all the information. He didn’t jump the gun by canceling the season or postponing anything until he had to. Then, the SEC decided to start the 2020 football season on Sept. 26 and never looked back.
The league ended up playing all but a couple of its scheduled games, setting the example for the rest of the country. Yes, there were some concerning months between March and September where we had to get creative as writers. But, get creative we did. Saturday Down South produced some incredible stories over the past 12 months. Here’s a look at our 10 favorite stories from 2020:
- Connor O’Gara: ‘I don’t feel like any progress has been made.’ On the past, present and future of Black coaches in positions of power in the SEC
- Adam Spencer: SEC ‘What-Ifs?’ No. 1: What if Feleipe Franks stuck with his LSU commitment?
- Connor O’Gara: Boiled eggs, 5:30 a.m. film sessions and the full RichRod experience: How Matt Corral became the ideal Lane Kiffin quarterback
- Al Blanton: Joe Burrow and the Fight for Forgotten Ohio
- Connor O’Gara: Meet J.J. Pegues, AKA Auburn’s new hurdling, spinning, bulldozing 300-pound spark plug
- Chris Marler: An SEC fan guide to the Masters
- Al Blanton: Where Rainbows Never Dye: Reflecting on the life of an SEC legend
- Connor O’Gara: By now he’s seen it all, but there’s no way Terry Wilson (or anyone) could have predicted his college career playing out like it has
- SDS Staff: SDS Roundtable: If and when the SEC expands again, which 2 schools should it realistically add?
- SDS Staff: SDS Roundtable: Who is your favorite SEC football player of all-time?
Hopefully this coming offseason is a little less tumultuous. And, hopefully for us folks at Saturday Down South, the SEC has another champion to write about this offseason (and perhaps another Heisman winner, too)! We can only imagine what 2021 will bring for the SEC.
Bowl season is in full swing, as we are rapidly approaching Friday’s College Football Playoff semifinals between Alabama and Notre Dame in the Rose Bowl and Clemson and Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl. But, before we get to those matchups, there are some other important bowls.
There are currently six bowl games scheduled to be played over the next two days, including the Cotton Bowl Classic between Oklahoma and Florida. Here are the teams favored to win these big bowl games:
Wednesday, Dec. 30
- Duke’s Mayo Bowl: Wisconsin (-7.5) vs. Wake Forest
- Cotton Bowl: Oklahoma (-3.5) vs. Florida
Thursday, Dec. 31
- Armed Forces Bowl: Tulsa (-2.5) vs. Mississippi State
- Arizona Bowl: San Jose State (-9.5) vs. Ball State
- Liberty Bowl: West Virginia (-6.5) vs. Army
- Texas Bowl: TCU (-4.5) vs. Arkansas
Not a bad couple of days of appetizers prior to a huge day of games on Friday! Will we see any epic finishes or big surprises? We’ll find out over the next two days.
B1G YEAR IN THE BIG TEN
2020 will go down as one of the wildest years in the B1G’s history. What were some of the top stories from the year?
There was a plan to play football in August. Then, suddenly, there wasn’t. A month-long on-again, off-again drama series that eventually led to the reinstatement of a B1G football season was undoubtedly the biggest storyline for the conference in 2020 — and it won’t be remembered fondly, to say the least. But all the chaos that occurred in the months before the season is hardly the only story to remember about the B1G this year. Here’s a look at some of our favorite stories from Saturday Tradition over the past 12 months:
- Phil Ervin: Faith, family then football: How Tanner Morgan has stayed humble during rise to sport’s ‘elite’
- Connor O’Gara: A canceled football season hurts us all, but it’ll hurt even more in Nebraska
- Phil Ervin: On the straight and narrow: Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald embodies perfect mix of discipline, joy
- Ryan O’Gara: The Top 50 moments from the 2020 B1G football season
- Adam Biggers: Michigan football: 1-on-1 interview with incoming 5-star QB J.J. McCarthy
- Dustin Schutte: Forever waving: The inspiration behind one Hawkeye fan’s unique Iowa Wave tattoo
- Dustin Schutte: 409 Tailgate Club: The story of how two Penn State fans turned tradition into business
- Ryan O’Gara: The 10 best B1G players of the 2020 season
- Connor O’Gara: Take a bow, Nebraska. Against the odds, you led the fight to bring back B1G football
- Ryan O’Gara: End of discussion: Ohio State is in the College Football Playoff
See? There were plenty of feel-good stories in the B1G in 2020, despite the tumultuous year the conference had. Whether it was individual performances, stories about fans, conversations or recruits or a recap of a fun B1G football season, there’s been something for everyone this year.
JUST FOR FUN
Since 2015, eight different FBS quarterbacks have thrown for 40 or more touchdowns in a season and then gone on to be selected in the first round of a later NFL Draft. For today’s quiz, can you name those talented quarterbacks? Bonus point if you can name the only guy to throw for 40+ touchdowns in a season twice before becoming a first-round pick.
Scroll down for the answers to today’s quiz.
SATURDAY FOOTBALL SUPERLATIVES
There were plenty of standout performances in college football in 2020. Who were the best of the best?
The 2020 calendar year was a strange one in college football. Since LSU hoisted the College Football Playoff trophy in January, we’ve faced a nationwide pandemic, uncertainty about whether a season would be played at all, flip-flopping from the Pac-12 and Big Ten, cancellations, postponements, opt-outs and more. It truly was an unprecedented year.
But, there were still plenty of performances worth noting. So, as we prepare to move on to 2021, here’s a look at our Saturday Football superlatives:
Adam Spencer, Newsletter Editor
- Player of the Year: DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
- As fun as it was to watch guys like Mac Jones, Najee Harris, Kyle Trask and Kyle Pitts, no one is more electric with the ball in his hands than Smith. This one-handed grab against LSU is only part of what he can do on the field.
- Coach of the Year: Nick Saban, Alabama
- Is it possible for a coach with six national championships to be underrated? I honestly don’t think we appreciate what Saban does on a yearly basis enough. Global pandemic? Opt-outs? Scheduling issues? Doesn’t matter, Saban just keeps chugging along. Oh, and he landed the nation’s No. 1 2021 recruiting class, too.
- Team of the Year: Coastal Carolina Chanticleers
- Yes, Coastal Carolina lost to Liberty via a blocked field goal in overtime in the Cure Bowl, but this was the year the college football world fell in love with the Chanticleers and their teal field. Setting up a game against BYU in a matter of days after Liberty had to back out of its regular-season matchup with the Chanticleers set the tone for the rest of college football. And, it proved to be a heck of a game between the Cougars and Chanticleers. But, more on that in a second.
- Play of the Year: Matt Corral to Elijah Moore for a 91-yard touchdown
- This play will stick with me for a long time because of Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin’s reaction on the sideline. He knew it was going to be a touchdown before it was even thrown and celebrated by launching his play sheet into the air and sprinting to the end zone.
- Game of the Year: Coastal Carolina vs. BYU
- This game had it all. Mullets vs. Mormons. A last-second goal-line tackle to preserve the victory. We need more of this, please and thank you!
- Beef/Feud of the Year: Dabo Swinney vs. Ohio State
- I’ll leave the door open for Dustin to pick the Nebraska-Big Ten beef or whatever he wants, but I find it hilarious that Dabo ranked Ohio State No. 11 in his final Coaches Poll. I can’t wait for that game on Friday!
- Heisman Prediction: DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
- It’ll be tough for him to break the streak of quarterbacks, especially with three worthy candidates in Jones, Trask and Trevor Lawrence. But Smith’s stats speak for themselves. That’s a good thing, because Smith is too humble to lobby for the award himself.
Dustin Schutte, Saturday Tradition Managing Editor
- Player of the Year: DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
- You read everything Adam wrote, correct? Smith seemed to step up and take on an even bigger role in Alabama’s offense in the absence of Jaylen Waddle. He earned his spot as a Heisman finalist, that’s for sure.
- Coach of the Year: Tom Allen, Indiana
- Go ahead and just look at the Wikipedia page of Indiana’s football history. It’s not pretty. Yet, somehow, Allen, the B1G Coach of the Year, found a way to lead the Hoosiers to a 6-1 season, with the only blemish being a 42-35 loss to No. 3 Ohio State. Indiana snapped several ugly droughts this year, including a losing streak to Michigan that stretched more than 30 years.
- Team of the Year: Cincinnati Bearcats
- It’s tempting to pick Coastal Carolina, but I’d be remiss if neither of us mentioned Cincinnati, probably the best Group of 5 team in the country. Not only did the Bearcats finish the season 9-0, they won 7 of those games by double figures. Should UC have received a College Football Playoff spot? That can be debated. But Luke Fickell’s team gets a huge opportunity to prove itself in the Peach Bowl against Georgia.
- Play of the Year: Michael Penix Jr.’s “reach” to beat Penn State
- I swear I’m not an Indiana homer. And, to be fair, I’m still not completely convinced that the tip of the football hit the pylon before it hit the out-of-bounds line. But there’s no question that Penix’s reach on that 2-point conversion to push the Hoosiers to a 36-35 win over Penn State was the most memorable play of the year.
- Game of the Year: Alabama vs. Ole Miss
- This was kind of the moment we all realized Lane Kiffin was probably going to be successful in the SEC, wasn’t it? And if you love offense, this was a must-watch contest. Despite Ole Miss virtually having no chance on paper, the Rebels were able to trade punches with the best team in the sport for nearly 60 minutes. Plus, a 63-48 shootout is always a lot of fun to watch.
- Beef/Feud of the Year: Kirk Ferentz vs. everybody
- I appreciate Adam allowing me the opportunity to take Nebraska vs. the world, but we’ve discussed that at length. How about Ferentz calling 3 consecutive timeouts in a 35-point game against Minnesota in an attempt to preserve a shutout, then saying “we thought we’d take Floyd [of Rosedale] and leave the timeouts.” Ferentz then mocked Nebraska’s Scott Frost a few weeks later for complaining about clapping during snap counts. To hear a typically quiet head coach get all riled up was really entertaining.
- Heisman Prediction: Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
- To be honest, this has essentially become just a quarterback award with an occasional running back sneaking into the mix every now and then. I agree with Adam that DeVonta Smith is the best player and the most deserving, but this honor is going to go to Jones.
Hopefully, 2021 is a more normal college football season. But, we’ll always remember this strange, beautiful, unpredictable 2020 campaign. We can’t wait to see what the future holds!
The eight quarterbacks to throw for at least 40 touchdowns in a season and then go on to become first-round NFL Draft picks were:
- Jared Goff, Cal — 43 touchdowns in 2015 (No. 1 pick)
- Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech — 41 touchdowns in 2016 (No. 10 pick)
- Deshaun Watson, Clemson — 41 touchdowns in 2016 (No. 12 pick)
- Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma — 40 touchdowns in 2016, 43 touchdowns in 2017 (No. 1 pick)
- Dwayne Haskins, Ohio State — 50 touchdowns in 2018 (No. 15 pick)
- Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama — 43 touchdowns in 2018 (No. 5 pick)
- Kyler Murray, Oklahoma — 42 touchdowns in 2018 (No. 1 pick)
- Joe Burrow, LSU — 60 touchdowns in 2019 (No. 1 pick)
Justin Fields (41 touchdowns in 2019) and Kyle Trask (43 touchdowns in 2020) have a chance to join this list of elite quarterbacks in the 2021 NFL Draft.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“Obviously, I think when you invest as much Coach Saban invests into this program and into football and things like that, when something doesn’t get executed, doesn’t go the way it is supposed to go, you’re frustrated. Like we all are. It’s no different. That’s part of it. That’s in any job, any boss, obviously, when you don’t get the result you’re expecting that you should get, obviously that’s going to come down on whoever is responsible for that. As it should be.
“So, I mean, that ain’t nothing new. Whether it’s my dad growing up, my mom, that’s expected. When something doesn’t go as it should, right, then obviously there’s consequences for it. I think it’s just kind of a motivation speech at that time. Let’s get them going, let’s roll.”
– Alabama DC Pete Golding explains what it is like to be on the receiving end of a Nick Saban sideline rant. He’ll try to avoid receiving another one on Friday during the Rose Bowl.
TWEET OF THE DAY
Iowa kicker Keith Duncan took to Twitter to express his frustrations that today’s Music City Bowl vs. Mizzou had to be canceled due to COVID-19 issues in the Mizzou program. Duncan takes issue with the Tigers being allowed to go home for Christmas, but Mizzou coach Eli Drinkwitz defended the decision here, explaining that the COVID issues trace back to a road game against Mississippi State, not Christmas.