Let’s assume for a moment that the four FBS conferences and a few independents that have canceled their fall football seasons all decide to play in the spring. It stands to reason that group deserves to have a preseason All-America team.
So we will provide one.
This means the elimination of players from the six conferences that plan to play in the fall (ACC, Big 12, SEC, AAC, Conference-USA and Sun Belt). We are not eliminating players who have said they will opt out of the 2020 season, because, theoretically, they could decide to play in the spring. We will indicate with an asterisk (*) players on the list that have opted out for the 2020 fall season. Presumably most, if not all, of those players and many of the other top players would opt out of a spring season to prepare for the NFL draft, but we will include them for now.
We will select from the 38 teams in the Pac-12, Big Ten, Mountain West and Mid-American Conference, plus independents UConn, UMass and New Mexico State, which are not playing in the fall. We left Air Force in the spring group even though the Falcons hope to play Army and Navy in the fall, and we don’t know what to do with BYU, which is trying to find opponents for the fall.
Ultimately, deciding which players should be considered for our spring selections took more time than making the selections.
So let’s proceed with our spring preseason first-team and second-team All-American picks. Players who have said they will opt out of the 2020 season are indicated by an asterisk (*). Maybe we’re a little biased; we named two Cal players to the All-America second team:
Quarterback – Justin Fields, Ohio State (2019 Heisman runnerup)
Running back – Max Borghi, Washington State (rushed for 817 yards, caught 86 passes for 597 yards in 2019); Jaret Patterson, Buffalo (probably never heard of him but he rushed for 1,799 yards last season)
Tackles: Penei Sewell, Oregon (likely to be first lineman taken in 2021 NFL draft); Cole Van Lanen, Wisconsin (Badgers linemen are always the best)
Guards: Wyatt Davis, Ohio State (didn’t allow a sack in 459 pass-blocks according to PFF); Nolan Laufenberg, Air Force (Falcons allowed just four sacks last season; rarely passing helps that stat)
Center: Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa (former defensive tackle now a possible first-round NFL pick)
Tight end: Pat Freiermuth, Penn State (15 TD receptions over past two seasons).
Receivers: *-Rashod Bateman, Minnesota (Big Ten receiver of the year in 2019); *-Rondale Moore, Purdue (hamstring injury limited him to four games in 2019, but he had 1,258 receiving yards as a freshman)
Kicker: Keith Duncan, Iowa (set Big Ten record with 29 field goals last year)
Ends: Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon (10.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks over final six games of 2019); Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan (10.5 tackles for loss, 6 pass breakups in 2019)
Tackles: *-Jay Tufele, USC (6.5 tackles for losses, 4.5 sacks in 2019); Levi Onwuzurike, Washington (6.0 tackles for losses in 2019)
Linebackers: *-Micah Parsons, Penn State (109 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, 4 forced fumbles in 2019); Hamilcar Rashed Jr., Oregon State (nation-best 22.5 tackles for loss, 14 sacks in 2019); Paddy Fisher, Northwestern (great as a redshirt freshman and sophomore, he regressed a bit in 2019)
Cornerbacks: Shaun Wade, Ohio State (returned after declaring for 2020 NFL draft); Elijah Molden, Washington (4 interceptions and 13 pass breakups last season).
Safeties: Jevon Holland, Oregon (Oakland Bishop O’Dowd grad had 9 interceptions over 2018 and 2019 seasons); Kekaula Kaniho, Boise State (11.0 tackles for loss in 2019)
Punter: Blake Hayes, Illinois (22 punts of 50-plus yards, only two touchbacks in 2019)
Quarterback: Kedon Slovis, USC (performance against Cal convinced us)
Running backs: Journey Brown, Penn State (6.9 yards per carry in 2019, 4.29 speed in the 40); CJ Verdell, Oregon (more than 1,000 yards each of the past two seasons)
Tackles: *-Rashawn Slater, Northwestern (a starter since his freshman year); Walker Little, Stanford (missed virtually all of 2019 with injury).
Guards: Alijah Vera-Tucker, USC (budding star out of Oakland); Jaxson Kirkland, Washington (2018 freshman All-American by The Athletic)
Center: Josh Myers, Ohio State (led the way for J.K. Dobbins, Justin Fields)
Tight end: Brant Kuithe, Utah (34 receptions, 602 receiving yards, 6 TDs)
Receivers: *-Warren Jackson, Colorado State (77 receptions, 1,119 receiving yards in 2019); Amon-Ra St. Brown, USC (77 catches, 1,042 receiving yards in 2019)
Kicker: Blake Mazza, Washington State (one of three finalists for 2019 Lou Groza Award)
Ends: Drake Jackson, USC (11.5 tackles for loss as a freshman in 2019); Dom Peterson, Nevada (15.0 tackles for loss, 9.0 sacks in 2019)
Tackles: Cameron Thomas, San Diego State (All-Mountain West as a freshman in 2019); Jerome Johnson, Indiana (named Hoosiers’ top lineman the past two seasons)
Linebackers: Kuony Deng, Cal (third in Pac-12 in tackles in 2019); Nate Landman, Colorado (two-time Colorado defensive player of year); Treshaun Hayward, Western Michigan (2019 MAC defensive player of the year).
Cornerbacks: Camryn Bynum, Cal (started 38 straight games); Paulson Adebo, Stanford (two-time first-team all-Pac-12)
Safeties: Talanoa Hufanga, USC (90 tackles, 7.5 for loss in 10 games in 2019); Tyrone Hill, Buffalo (10 pass breakups in 2019)
Punter: Ryan Stonehouse, Colorado State (two-time first-team all-Mountain West)
Cal offensive tackle Jake Curhan, Bears running back Christopher Brown Jr. and Cal outside linebacker Cameron Goode received serious consideration for second-team honors, but we could not quite pull the trigger on them.