Coaches confidential: Which schools will handle the pandemic best, and who could make their playoff debut?

  • College football reporter.
  • Joined ESPN.com in 2008.
  • Graduate of Northwestern University.

  • College football reporter
  • Joined ESPN.com in 2007
  • Graduate of the University of Tennessee

Normally, we spend the weeks before the college football season asking coaches to dish about fun, hot-button topics around the sport. In last year’s Confidential, coaches debated Tua vs. Trevor, how Jalen Hurts would fare at Oklahoma and Urban Meyer’s coaching future.

But this season isn’t a normal one, and the coronavirus pandemic has shaped all of our conversations with coaches. We’ve talked more about testing and contact tracing than quarterback competitions or new coordinators. While everyone is thrilled to see games kicking off, the biggest questions still relate to COVID-19 management.

“It’s your biggest opponent,” a Group of 5 coordinator said, “and you have to treat it that way.”

We’re doing so with this year’s topics:

  • Which teams are best set up to handle the potential loss of key players, or even an entire position group, because of COVID-19 protocols?

  • What highly ranked teams could be in real trouble? Who are the coaches best equipped to make the right adjustments throughout the fall?

  • Which teams could make their College Football Playoff debuts in a season with a lot of unusual elements?

We asked these questions and others to FBS head coaches and assistants in conferences set to play this fall. We granted anonymity so they could speak freely.

Here’s a look at what they said.

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