Ahead of a normal college football season, our preseason preview series would begin with the unveiling of the CBS Sports 130, the most comprehensive weekly college football rankings of every FBS team. Voted on by balloters from CBS Sports and 247Sports, the rankings provide a deeper look at the entire landscape of college football as there are more programs worth highlighting on a weekly basis than those who are among the top 25.
There will be endless reminders this fall that we're not playing a normal college football season in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but our first comes today as the CBS Sports rankings system has undergone a shift. In order to ensure everyone planning to step on the field has an equal opportunity to get evaluated among others doing the same, we will only rank teams set to play a fall 2020 season as part of the adjusted CBS Sports 76.
The 54 teams that have individually or collectively chosen to cancel their fall seasons have been removed from the ballots, leading to a resorting of the list that sharpens our focus on what's immediately ahead in the coming months. Fans of those 54 teams that may give it a go in spring 2021 -- including those in the Big Ten, Pac-12 and Mountain West -- can find out where their favorites would have been ranked in a separate preseason rankings release coming Wednesday.
The adjustment from the CBS Sports 130 to the CBS Sports 76 does not change much for College Football Playoff regulars like Clemson, Alabama and Oklahoma, who start most seasons near the top of the rankings, but it has opened the door for programs that would be fringe top 25 teams to make a run at the top 10 and upper-tier Group of Five teams to get a sharper look in comparison to some of the Power Five teams that too often have a built-in reputation advantage in the midst of the voters.
All of it makes for great debate going to into the season, one that will no doubt lead to some surprising comparisons and movements once action gets underway. The goal of the CBS Sports 130 has always been to expand fans' view of college football, so even with a narrowed field and unusual season, ahead we want to keep that objective at the heart of our analysis. If anything, the narrowed list allows for even more focus programs that too often get overlooked by traditional rankings systems.
With Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne firmly opted in to make another run at a national championship, Clemson starts the season as the clear No. 1 in the CBS Sports 76, followed by Alabama at No. 2 and Oklahoma at No. 3. The loss of Big Ten contenders like Ohio State and Penn State, long with Oregon from the Pac-12, opened the top 10 to more teams from the SEC, which holds six of the top nine spots in the rankings. There's a Georgia-Florida-LSU run at the top, and both Auburn and Texas A&M entered the top 10.
Below we've listed the top 25 from the newly configured CBS Sports 76 with greater detail on those teams that jumped into the top third of our rankings after the 54 other programs decided not to play this fall.
College football experts from CBS Sports and 247Sports contribute ballots each week, which are averaged together for our rankings. You can see the top 25 below and 26-76 on our rankings page.
Preseason CBS Sports 76 college football rankings
10 teams that entered the top 25 of the CBS Sports 76 after the Big Ten, Pac-12 Mountain West canceled their seasons.
- Tennessee: The turnaround for Jeremy Pruitt during the 2019 season provided some offseason optimism as Year 3 expectations have set in for a staff that has also been providing positive headlines on the recruiting trail. The Volunteers defense could be elite with Henry To'o To'o as the team's breakout star at linebacker following his SEC All-Freshman team debut in 2019. He's one of several promising young players stepping into bigger roles in 2020 as players from Pruitt's recruiting classes start to take over as the new starters and stars for Tennessee.
- Iowa State: I wrote earlier this offseason that quarterback play -- which has already taken a huge leap in importance to team success from the BCS era to the CFP era -- might be even more of a difference-maker in a year with less time to prepare and more uncertainty on a week-to-week basis. That's where Brock Purdy, one of the top quarterbacks in all of college football, makes the Cyclones dangerous.
- Virginia Tech: The Hokies were one win away from playing for the ACC Championship in 2019, but the season didn't quite feel as successful because that one loss came in a streak-snapping fashion to Virginia and then the defense couldn't stop Lynn Bowden (233 rushing yards) in a Belk Bowl shootout loss. There's a ton of returning starters in Blacksburg that have put Virginia Tech back in that conversation among the better ACC teams in 2020, but also a lot to prove for Justin Fuente and his staff after the ups and downs of 2019.
- Louisville: From the preseason pick of dead last to a end of season finish as solo second place in the ACC Atlantic behind Clemson, few teams in college football exceeded expectations quite like Louisville in 2019. Scott Satterfield took a talented offensive personnel and put them in position to be one of the most dangerous units in the conference, and heading into 2020, he's got one of the best QB-RB-WR trios in Micale Cunningham, Javian Hawkins and Tutu Atwell. The defense needs to take big steps forward to live up to this hype, but the tone and tenor around the program has been immediately changed after the disaster that was 2018.
- Miami (FL): The arrival of D'Eriq King alone provides plenty of intrigue for college football fans curious of what lies ahead for Manny Diaz in Year 2 as coach. The staff has been recruiting really well in the 2021 cycle, but there's a ton of uncertainty for this group in the fall 2020 season. Gregory Rousseau has opted out, but Jaelan Phillips (former No. 1 high school prospect, now eligible after a transfer from UCLA) takes his spot as the team's top-end edge rusher. Will King and new offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee bring the Canes offense up to speed with a defense that has been pretty solid even through recent disappointments?
- Kentucky: A year where everyone's schedule and routine is thrown out of whack shapes up perfectly for a Kentucky program that has perfected the art of finding ways to win in an unforeseen circumstances. Lynn Bowden may be gone, but the grittiness and willingness to evolve through quarterback attrition remains, all capable thanks to an under-appreciated commitment and level of success at the line of scrimmage. We're not picking Kentucky to beat every opponent on its schedule, but it'll take down a couple of good ones thanks to its ability to make adjustments on the fly.
- Florida State: Though decidedly not on Clemson's level, there's not much of a ceiling otherwise on where Florida State could be by the end of 2020. This will be Mike Norvell's most talented roster as a coach, and offensively at least, there are enough pieces in place to think much of what worked at Memphis can be brought to Tallahassee, Florida. Getting James Blackman settled into yet another offensive scheme change is the big challenge there, but if it clicks then there's no reason Florida State can't be the second-best team in the ACC.
- Baylor: Matt Rhule left behind loads of athleticism for Dave Aranda; the big question will be how Aranda and the new staff utilize it and how new faces step up in the wake of an overhaul of starters from last year's Big 12 runner-up squad. A pandemic is not the ideal setting for a first-time coach making his debut, especially at the Power Five level after a massive turnover of starters, but there is too much solid infrastructure in place to bail entirely on Baylor being competitive in 2020.
- Pittsburgh: Though All-America candidate defensive tackle Jaylen Twyman has opted out of playing this season, we should still expect this to be a Pitt team that plays at a high level along the defensive line and brings an intensity that can make any game competitive. The Panthers are strong enough defensively to be worthy of top 25 consideration on a 130-team ballot, but they need Kenny Pickett to be a difference-maker offensively to hold onto that spot in this adjusted season.
- Appalachian State: Year 1 for Shawn Clark brings "one of our own" back to the head coaching role after just one year with Eli Drinkwitz. The standard for success at App State has been Sun Belt championships, and there's no reason to think that will change. The big question as we take a look at this narrowed field of FBS competitors will be how the Mountaineers stack up against the best teams in the country.
Check out the rest of the Preseason CBS Sports 76: Teams ranked 26-76