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How Alabama could miss College Football Playoff again in 2020

Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

The Alabama Crimson Tide missed the College Football Playoff for the first time ever during the 2019 season, but there’s a realistic chance it can happen again in 2020.

The skinny: With key 2019 players departing, the Crimson Tide will not only have their work cut out replacing all that talent, but they’re going to look completely different as well. On top of that, there are some other extremely talented programs that may have an easier path to the College Football Playoff.

The big departures: The big one, of course, is Tua Tagovailoa. But the dynamic lefty isn’t the only impact player moving on from college football to the NFL this spring. Here’s a look at the other key underclassmen who are leaving the program.

  • Tua Tagovailoa, quarterback: A potential top-3 pick this coming April, Tagovailoa transformed the Alabama program the past two seasons from a run-oriented, defensive-minded powerhouse into an offensive juggernaut.
  • Terrell Lewis, EDGE: An impact defender, Lewis has outstanding pro potential.
  • Xavier McKinney, safety: A versatile defender who racked up six sacks, five interceptions and two touchdowns the past two seasons.
  • Henry Ruggs III, receiver: One of the most electric receivers in the nation the past couple of seasons, Ruggs will be a first-round pick, according to the latest mock drafts.
  • Jerry Jeudy, receiver: Technical, and deadly. Jeudy can make even the best defenders look silly in the open field, and he will be highly coveted by NFL teams for his polished skill.
  • Jedrick Wills, offensive tackle: One of the best tackles in college football, Wills has a chance to hear his name called early in the draft.

Now, it’s worth pointing out that Alabama loses a bunch of top players every year, and that Nick Saban has an outstanding track record of being able to replace that lost talent with comparable — if not better — players.

Not surprisingly, ‘Bama had the nation’s second-best recruiting class for 2020, and it was the best in the SEC, per 247 Sports. That’s why it’s so important to look at the competition as a big reason the Crimson Tide may miss the College Football Playoff for the second year in a row.

The competition: There are some absolute powerhouses being built in other parts of the nation, not to mention the perennial powerhouses like Ohio State and Clemson.

Here’s a brief look at the teams that could keep Alabama out of the College Football Playoff in 2020:

  • Ohio State Buckeyes: Returning Justin Fields and possessing one of the best overall rosters in college football, the Buckeyes are going to be a heavy favorite to win it all in 2020.
  • Clemson Tigers: A third year for quarterback phenom Trevor Lawrence, who gets Travis Etienne back, along with one of the most dynamic receiving corps in the nation. Oh, and Clemson’s defense is always incredible.
  • Georgia Bulldogs: A viable threat within the SEC to knock Alabama out of the College Football Playoff, the addition of transfer Jamie Newman makes the Bulldogs one of the more intriguing teams in the nation for 2020.
  • Oregon Ducks: The Ducks fell short of the Playoff this past season but could be even better in 2020 even with Justin Herbert moving on to the NFL. Oregon’s defense is going to be absolutely frightening thanks to their pass rush up front and as talented and deep a defensive secondary as you’ll find anywhere in the nation.
  • Oklahoma Sooners: Even with Jalen Hurts and CeeDee Lamb moving on to the NFL, Lincoln Riley’s offense is going to continue putting points on the board. And if Alex Grinch’s defense can continue to take steps in the right direction, Oklahoma will likely be back in the Playoff once more in 2020.
  • Florida Gators: With Kyle Trask coming back for his third season, and Dan Mullen’s influence being established for one season more in Gainesville, the Gators have a chance to really shine in 2020.

The X-factor: It’s easy to assume that the Alabama offense will take a significant step backward in 2020 thanks to the departures of Tagovailoa, Ruggs and Jeudy. But there are talented quarterbacks on Alabama’s roster and the competition for the starting job will be intense this spring and summer.

Here’s a quick look at who could be starting under center for Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide in 2020:

  • Mac Jones: This redshirt junior has the most experience of any quarterback on Alabama’s roster. He showed some good things this past season, completing 68.8% of his passes for 1,503 yards with 14 touchdowns and three interceptions.
  • Taulia Tagovailoa: When Tua went down with his season-ending injury, younger brother Taulia became the No. 2 quarterback on ‘Bama’s roster. A dual-threat passer, he has the potential to spark the offense like his brother did.
  • Paul Tyson: The great-grandson of legendary Alabama head coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, Tyson is a prototypical pocket passer. If he ends up winning the competition this offseason, Alabama’s offense will likely look significantly different.
  • Bryce Young: Though he’s the youngest of the bunch, Young — the nation’s top-ranked dual-threat passer in the 2020 class — has a prime opportunity to make a big impression and take over this summer.

If one of these four ends up taking major steps toward establishing himself as the undisputed starter and can keep the passing game from taking steps backward in 2020, then Alabama should be in the mix for the College Football Playoff until the bitter end.

The bottom line: There’s just too much talent going on around the rest of the nation to assume that Alabama will be a shoo-in to make the College Football Playoff in 2020.

And with so much uncertainty on offense after the departure of Tua Tagovailoa, it’s not even a given that Alabama will win the SEC Championship Game.