The 2020 college football season has been exhausting, to say the least.
Dominated by cancellations, postponements and the uncertainty of what’s yet to come, this season has failed to maintain any sense of normalcy. Playing in a pandemic has created challenges that were unimaginable a year ago, and COVID has forced players and coaches to make career-altering decisions.
As the regular season comes to an end, it’s an appropriate time to reflect on the college football year that was 2020. While it hasn’t been an ideal year, 2020 has actually produced some of the greatest success stories in college football history. The Group of Five schools — teams who play in the American Athletic Conference (American), Conference USA (C-USA), Mid-American Conference (MAC), Mountain West Conference (MW) and Sun Belt Conference (Sun Belt) — are usually overlooked, but 2020 has been their year to shine. From record-breaking performances to an undefeated team with mullets, here are 2020’s best small-school success stories.
5. Texas State plays 12 games
Somehow, Texas State played 12 games while other teams struggled to reach five. It might have been pure luck, or Texas State might have had exceptional COVID-prevention protocols. Regardless, the Bobcats were able to contain the virus within its program and play more regular-season games than anybody else in the country.
In a COVID-hindered season, this accomplishment is bigger than it sounds.
Not only did Texas State play 12 football games, but it also exceeded expectations with a 2-10 record.
Despite winning just two games, the Bobcats kept games entertaining. With head coach Jake Spavital running a fast-paced Air Raid offense, Texas State played in five one-score games and scored over 30 points five times.
Two highlights include a 51-48 loss in a classic against UTSA and a 47-45 win against Arkansas State. While the Bobcats didn’t win many games, Texas State’s season will be remembered as a fun one for a 2-10 team.
4. Liberty earns first national ranking in program history
After an impressive 8-5 season in 2018, head coach Hugh Freeze and the Liberty Flames have taken the program to the next level in 2019.
The Flames are 9-1 this season and earned the first AP Top 25 ranking in program history after making the transition to the FBS just three years ago.
Junior quarterback Malik Willis has dominated this season, leading the team in both passing and rushing. Willis has thrown for 2,040 yards and 20 touchdowns while rushing for 807 yards and 10 scores. His 20 touchdown passes have him tied for No. 12 in the country.
The Flames are currently ranked No. 22 in the AP Top 25 and rank 19th in the nation in points per game, with 37.1.
While Liberty is an Independent and not in the Group of Five, it was an FCS school three years ago and made the transition seem easy.
3. Louisiana gets first national ranking since 1943
Often overshadowed by in-state foe LSU, Louisiana-Lafayette is having the greatest season in program history.
After opening the 2020 campaign with a surprising 31-14 upset over now-No. 7 Iowa State, the Ragin’ Cajuns received their first national ranking since 1943. Louisiana has remained ranked since week one and now stands at No. 17 in the AP Poll and No. 19 in the College Football Playoff Rankings.
Louisiana is 9-1 with its only defeat coming in a three-point loss to undefeated Coastal Carolina.
Led by seniors Levi Lewis, Elijah Mitchell and Trey Ragas, the Ragin’ Cajuns are scoring 33.9 points per game.
Lewis ranks No. 20 in the country with 2,128 passing yards. The Baton Rouge native also has 23 total touchdowns, with 17 coming through the air and five from the ground.
The backfield of Mitchell and Ragas has become one of the best in college football. Through 10 games, the two have combined for 1,411 yards and 16 rushing touchdowns. Mitchell ranks No. 20 in the country with 751 yards and Ragas stands at No. 35 with 660.
Capitalizing on LSU’s down year, the Ragin' Cajuns have become the most talked-about team in Louisiana and are representing the Pelican State well.
2. Jaret Patterson and UB’s historic season
Selected as the preseason media favorite to win the MAC, UB had high expectations heading into the 2020 season.
So far, those expectations have been shattered.
The Bulls are currently undefeated and are beating opponents by an average of 26 points. UB also leads the nation in scoring, at 50.8 points per game.
The main contributor to the nation’s highest-scoring offense is junior running back Jaret Patterson.
Through four games, Patterson has rushed for 920 yards and 16 touchdowns. His 16 scores are tied for third in the nation and his 920 yards are good for No. 10,. despite playing in far fewer games than the other top backs.
In UB’s latest game, Patterson ran for 409 yards and eight touchdowns. He tied Howard Griffith’s FBS record for single-game rushing touchdowns and came 18 yards short of Samaje Perine’s single-game rushing record.
The performance gave both Patterson and UB national recognition, as Patterson was announced as a Doak Walker Award nominee and Buffalo was ranked in the AP Top 25 for the first time in program history.
Through four games it seems like UB has accomplished as much as it could have through 12. After already clinching the MAC East, all that’s left for the Bulls is to win the MAC Championship in Detroit and win their second bowl game in program history.
1. Mullets and bodyslams: Coastal Carolina takes the nation by storm
Nobody could have expected the meteoric rise of Coastal Carolina in 2020.
After moving to the FBS in 2017, Coastal Carolina had a combined 13-23 record in its first three seasons against tougher competition.
In 2020, the Chanticleers re-wrote the script.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Grayson McCall and head coach Jamey Chadwell have led Coastal on one of the most impressive runs in college football history.
McCall is currently tied at No. 12 in the nation with 20 passing touchdowns and only has one interception to his name.
The Chanticleers are ranked for the first time in program history and don’t seem to be letting the foot off the gas.
Coastal’s 10-0 record isn’t the only reason the program is in the national spotlight. The Chants also have one of the most absurd identities in college football history.
The team has gained acclaim for its players’ mullets and WWE-style post-game celebrations, representing the outcasts and the chaos they can create.
After dominating the Sun Belt, Coastal challenged then-No. 13 BYU to a matchup to determine the best non-Power 5 school in the country.
In a battle popularly recognized as “Mormons vs. Mullets,” the Chanticleers defeated the Cougars 22-17 in an instant classic. The contest was immediately regarded as college football’s game of the year and saw once-overlooked Coastal Carolina stake its claim as one of the best teams in the country.
The Chanticleers are currently ranked No. 11 in the AP Top 25 and No. 13 in the College Football Playoff Rankings.
From struggling with the FBS transition to becoming one of the most talked-about teams in the country, Coastal Carolina is college football’s biggest success story of 2020.
Anthony DeCicco is the Senior Sports Editor and can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @DeCicco42
Anthony DeCicco is the senior sports editor for The Spectrum. In his free time, he can be found playing video games, watching ‘90s Knicks games and arguing with people on NBA Twitter at 3 a.m.