The wait is nearly over college football fans. It’s been over seven months since Trevor Lawrence and the Clemson Tigers routed the Alabama Crimson Tide 44-16 on their way to a second College Football Playoff title in three seasons. The 2019 season is right around the corner. Florida vs. Miami will kick things off this Saturday, Aug. 24 at 7:00 p.m. at a neutral site Camping World Stadium in Orlando, FL. Let’s take a look at my preseason top 25…
Just Missed the Cut
These programs are right on the cusp and are poised for a successful season in 2019:
Nebraska, Boise State, Northwestern, Army, and Mississippi State
25. Miami Hurricanes
Formerly Defensive Coordinator Manny Diaz is now at the helm in Coral Gables after Mark Richt retired after four seasons as Miami’s head coach. In 2017, Miami recorded their first ten-win season since 2003 but followed it up with a disappointing 7-6 record in 2018, despite high expectations. The Hurricane defense will be anchored by 2018 All-ACC First Team Senior LB Shaquille Quarterman who has 249 career tackles in his first three seasons as a Hurricane. R-Frosh. Jarren Williams beat out coveted Ohio State transfer Tate Martell and R-Soph. N’kosi Perry who started 11 games for Miami in 2018 to win the starting quarterback job. Williams, who’s really impressed the coaching staff in fall camp; will look to spark a passing attack that averaged just 167.3 YPG through the air last season.
24. Iowa State Cyclones
Iowa State has gone 8-5 in each of the last two seasons and the expectations are starting to mount in Ames. Brock Purdy emerged as the guy under center last season posing a 7-3 record as a starter throwing for 2,250 yards, 16 TD’s and 7 INT’s and was named Big 12 Freshman of the Year according to ESPN. He looks to build upon that in his Sophomore campaign. The Cyclones will have a real litmus test early in the year Sep. 14 against their in-state rivals the Iowa Hawkeyes.
23. Stanford Cardinal
QB KJ Costello is back under the center to follow up an impressive 2018 season in which he threw for 273 YPG. He’s joined by just three other previous Cardinal starters offensively so this unit bodes inexperience. He shouldn’t have to worry about his blindside. 6″7, 313-pound Jr. LT Walker Little is an Associated Press First-Team All-American. The defense struggled at times during the 2018 season allowing 410 YPG to opposing offenses. Stanford has a very challenging non-conference schedule in 2019 with matchups vs. Northwestern, at UCF, and vs. Notre Dame.
22. Washington State Cougars
The Cougars earned their first 11 win season in program history. Engineered by QB Gardner Minshew II who threw for 4,779 yards, good for second in the FBS. Minshew II is graduated and R-Sr. Anthony Gordon beat out Eastern Washington graduate transfer Gage Guburd for the primary signal-caller spot. Former DC Alex Grinch left for the same position at Oklahoma, Tracy Claeys who was previously at Minnesota is now in command of a defense in Pullman that’s improved statistically in each of the last four seasons. HC Mike Leach looks to best the rival Washington Huskies who have defeated the Cougars in nine of the last ten “Apple Cup” meetings.
21. Iowa Hawkeyes
Kirk Ferentz is the longest-tenured current head coach in the FBS heading into his 21st season. QB Nate Stanley is one of the most underrated passers in the country with two years of starting experience in which he’s thrown 52 touchdown passes over that span. The Iowa defense looks to follow up their best defensive season this decade allowing just 294 YPG. The charge will be led by projected NFL First-Round draft pick DE A.J. Espensa who’s a disruptive pass-rusher with a 6″6 275-pound frame. The Hawkeyes will look to win the Big Ten West and get back to Indianapolis for their first Big Ten title game appearance since 2015.
20. Syracuse Orange
The Orange lose 4-year starter QB Eric Dungey to graduation, who is the Orange’s all-time program leader in passing yards with 9,340 in his career. However, R-So. Tommy Devito did see some action while Dungey was injured including throwing the game-winning touchdown pass in OT vs. UNC. The Cedar Grove, NJ native will be tasked with running HC Dino Babers high tempo no-huddle offense that averaged 456 YPG a season ago. The defense returns FS Andre Cisco who tied for first in the country in interceptions last season with seven. The Orange also return 2018 Groza Award winner (given to the top kicker in the nation) So. K Andre Szmyt. Syracuse looks to be the favorite to challenge the defending National Champion Clemson Tigers in the ACC
19. Michigan State Spartans
The Spartans finished just 7-6 last year but return 17 of their 22 starters from a year ago which lands them at #19. Senior QB Brian Lewerke has started 28 games over his first three years in East Lansing and looks to revitalize an offense that was sluggish in 2018. The experienced defense includes seven projected starters that are seniors headlined by DT Raequan Williams and MLB Joe Bachie Sr. HC Mark Dantonio’s team has to head to Ohio State and Wisconsin in consecutive weeks in early October, he’ll know then what his team is made of.
18. Wisconsin Badgers
RB Jonathan Taylor set the Freshman record for rushing yards in 2017 with 1,977. He followed that up with 2,194 yards on the ground to win the Doak Walker Award (given to the nation’s best RB) in 2018. He’s back for his Junior year and is a favorite to win the Heisman trophy this season. The Badgers defense was plagued by injuries in 2018 but returns six starters and will look to put pressure on the QB recording just 19 sacks last year. Paul Chryst’s crew will battle with competitors Iowa, Northwestern, and Nebraska for the Big Ten West crown.
17. UCF Knights
The Knights have gone 25-1 in the last two seasons, the best record of any team in the FBS over that span. After self-proclaiming a National Championship after an undefeated season in 2017, the Knights went 12-1 with their only loss coming to LSU in the Fiesta Bowl in HC Josh Huepel’s innagural season. UCF has a stronger non-conference schedule this season in hopes of getting recognition from the playoff committee, but still will likely be overlooked. Notre Dame transfer QB Brandon Winbush is the starter for the Knights and looks to take over for McKenzie Milton who suffered a brutal injury in 2018, keeping him sidelined for this year. The defense will be led by an experienced secondary headlined by 2018 First-Team American Conference players CB Nevelle Clarke and FS Richie Grant.
16. Auburn Tigers
This week, HC Gus Malzahn named true Freshman and former 5-star recruit Bo Nix as his starting QB for the highly anticipated Week 1 game against Oregon. Nix is the first true freshman to start at Auburn since Travis Tidwell in 1946. Despite never taking a college snap, Nix is very polished and his ability to adapt to the college game will be indicative of Auburn’s success in 2019. The defensive is led by an experienced defensive line unit that will be as imposing as any. DT Derrick Brown is an Associated Press First-Team All-American and will be a wall in the middle of that front line.
15. Penn State Nittany Lions
Yesterday, R-So. QB Sean Clifford was named as the guy under center. He’ll try to fill the shoes of three-year starter and Penn State’s all-time leading passer Trace McSorley. WR KJ Hamler led the team in receiving yards in 2018 with 754. He is one of the speediest pass-catchers in the country and looks to establish himself as one of the nation’s best wideouts. A defensive unit that had 47 sacks a year ago expects to be even stronger returning stud pass-rushers DE Yetur Gross-Matos Jr. and LB Micah Parsons. HC James Franklin has restored the Nittany Lions winning ways, but now looks to take the next step and make their first College Football Playoff.
14. Utah Utes
HC Kyle Whittingham enters his 15th year at Utah and he’s turned this program into a consistent top 25 team and one of the PAC-12’s best. The defensive line combined for 37 sacks in 2018 and allowed just 100 YPG on the ground. DT’s John Pensini and Leki Fotu were both All-PAC-12 selection’s in 2018 and will be a force to be reckoned with this year. The Utes are the early favorite to win the PAC-12 South and advance to their second straight conference title game.
13. Texas A&M Aggies
Jimbo Fisher is now in his second season as Head Coach in College Station. There’s a lot of anticipation about this 2019 Aggies squad as the roster contains lots of talent. Kellen Mond won the job over Nick Starkel during the year in 2018 and holds the job as top signal-caller heading into this year. Mond was shaky at times last season, but has a capable arm and the ability to make plays with his feet. The defense returns just four starters, but the Aggies hauled in the fourth best-recruiting class in the country according to 247 Sports Composite. The Aggies have a brutal schedule with four games slated against my top six ranked teams. (at Clemson, vs. Alabama, at Georgia, and at LSU)
12. Washington Huskies
Washington won their second PAC-12 title in three seasons in 2018 and finished 10-4 after a 26-23 defeat to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl. QB Jacob Eason redshirted last year behind Jake Browning after transferring from Georgia and could be poised for a breakout year. He has an NFL-prototype frame at 6″6 225- pounds and a rocket arm. The biggest objective for the Huskies will be establishing a run game after losing the school’s all-time leading rusher in Myles Gaskin. The defense returns just two starters from last season. HC Chris Petersen’s crew will face a much more competitive PAC-12 schedule than a season ago.
11. Texas Longhorns
In 2018, Texas was back. Well, they’re still here. After putting together their first ten-win season since 2009. The Longhorns are back to national relevancy and have a talented roster heading into 2019. QB Sam Ehlinger proved last year that he’s a capable gunslinger recording 3,292 passing yards and is a dark horse for this year’s Heisman trophy. WR Collin Johnson was just shy of a 1,000 yards receiving a year ago with 985 and his 6″6 220-pound frame makes him a matchup nightmare on the outside. Texas has the arguably best pair of safeties in college football in So. Caden Sterns and Sr. Brandon Jones. The Longhorns host Coach O and the LSU Tigers on Sep. 7 in an early-season matchup with potential playoff implications.
10. Oregon Ducks
The PAC-12 hasn’t sent a team to the College Football Playoff the past two seasons and the Ducks likely have the best chance to break that trend in 2019. QB Justin Herbert could’ve been a first-round pick in this year’s draft but elected to come back to Eugene for his senior season. He’ll be well protected with an offensive line that boasts 153 career starts, the most in the FBS since 2011. The defense welcomes 247 Sports Composite’s #1 overall 2019 recruit Kayvon Thibodeaux who is expected to start right away. The Ducks are featured in one of week one’s most highly anticipated matchups against the Auburn Tigers at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX.
9. Florida Gators
A trendy preseason top 10 pick after finishing 10-3 in 2018, the Gators first ten-win season since 2015. Dan Mullen now enters his second year and has his goal set on dethroning the Georgia Bulldogs who have won the past two SEC East titles. Offensively, QB Felipe Franks threw for 2,547 yards, 24 touchdowns, and six interceptions last season. He has his top three receivers back but an inexperienced offensive line raises questions with just one returning starter. Defensively, the Gators get a whopping eight starters back and should be one of the stoutest defenses in all of college football. We will get our first glimpse of the Gators tonight, as they take on the Miami Hurricanes at a neutral site.
8. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
The Fighting Irish finished the regular season with a perfect 12-0 record in 2018 which led them to their first-ever College Football Playoff appearance. The 30-3 loss in the Cotton Bowl was one to forget for HC Brian Kelly who is now entering his 10th year as the head man in South Bend. QB Ian Book is a prolific passer who completed 68% of his throws a season ago and now has a full-year of experience as a starter heading into his Junior year. Experienced Senior duo DE Julian Okwara and FS Alohi Gilman are both Associated Press Second-Team Preseason All-Americans. The Irish have a brutal road schedule that includes trips to Georgia, Michigan, and Stanford.
7. Michigan Wolverines
HC Jim Harbaugh is now in his fifth year at Michigan and although he’s held an overall record of 38-14 but he’s yet to lead his Wolverines to a Big Ten title game or College Football Playoff. The offense returns eight starters including four on the offensive line. Former Ole Miss transfer and Second-Team All-Big Ten Selection Shea Patterson enters his second year as the starting QB. The Wolverines ranked second in the FBS in total defense in 2018, allowing just 275.2 YPG. Despite losing some key players from that unit, the defense returns five starters including 2018 Associated Press Third-Team All-American CB Lavert Hill. Michigan faces a difficult schedule with six games slated against my preseason top 25 teams.
6. LSU Tigers
The Tigers finished 10-3 last season including a record-breaking 74-72, 7OT loss to Texas A&M. The Tigers defense will be led by projected top-10 2020 Draft pick S Grant Delpit who had 74 tackles and 5 picks a season ago. He’s joined by LB’s Michael Divinity, K’lavion Chaisson and CB Kristian Fulton that make up the heart of this physical defense. On the opposite side, the offense returns its top six pass-catchers from 2018 including Jr. Justin Jefferson who caught 54 balls for 875 yards and 6 TDs. QB Joe Burrow is entering his second year as the primary signal-caller, he struggled at times but now has a full year of experience under his belt. This talented roster will go as far as Burrow takes them, and for HC Ed Orgeron and the faithful in Baton Rouge, they hope that destination is their first College Football Playoff appearance.
5. Oklahoma Sooners
In back-to-back years, the Sooners have made it two College Football Playoff’s won two Big 12 Championships while also producing consecutive Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks in Baker Mayfield (2017) and Kyler Murray (2018) who were both formerly transfers. HC Lincoln Riley now has another transfer QB to work with, this time it’s former Alabama starter Jalen Hurts. He’ll lead an offense that ranked 1st in the FBS last season with an outstanding 48.4 PPG. New DC Alex Grinch will look to improve a defense that let up 453.8 YPG last season. The Sooners toughest regular-season test will be when they travel to Austin for the Red River rivalry against Texas on Oct. 12.
4. Ohio State Buckeyes
Former OC Ryan Day went 3-0 as interim Head Coach in 2018 which earned him the job permanently when Urban Meyer retired in January. The Buckeyes just will look to win their third straight Big Ten title and get back to the College Football Playoff. DE Chase Young is one of the most talented players in the entire country and could potentially be the #1 pick in the NFL Draft come April. The 6″5 265-pound Junior recorded 10.0 sacks and 15.5 TFL in 2018. He will be a nightmare for opposing offenses all season long. QB Dwayne Haskins is off to the NFL after just one season as the starter under center in which he threw for 50 TDs and led the country with 4,831 passing yards. Georgia transfer and former 2018 #2 overall recruit according to 247Sports Composite Justin Fields was granted an immediate eligibility waiver from the NCAA and will try to pick up where Haskins left off as he was announced as the starter this week. Their biggest test will come on the last week of the regular season with a trip to Ann Arbor, MI to face their bitter rivals the Michigan Wolverines, the Buckeyes have won 14 of the last 15 meetings against their foes.
3. Georgia Bulldogs
The question facing HC Kirby Smart and his Georgia Bulldogs in 2019 is can they get over the hump? After the 2OT heartbreaking National Championship loss followed up by last season’s surrendering of a 28-14 second-half lead in the SEC Championship both at the hands of the Alabama Crimson Tide; Georgia’s still hunting for their first national title since 1980. QB Jake Fromm is entering his Junior year with an impressive 23-5 record as a starter. The offensive line is slated to be one of the nation’s most prolific anchored by two AP Preseason First-Team All-Americans on the left side in LT Andrew Thomas and LG Solomon Kindley. The Bulldogs lose their top six leaders in receiving yards from a season ago and will look to an inexperienced yet talented group of recievers to step up. A key game for Bulldogs will be when they take on the rival Florida Gators at a neutral site in Jacksonville, FL on Oct. 26. The winner of that contest should be in the driver seat for an SEC East title and conference championship game berth.
2. Alabama Crimson Tide
Another year, another roster loaded with talent for HC Nick Saban and his staff. Despite a sluggish performance in last season’s lopsided National Championship loss, Heisman runner-up QB Tua Tagovailoa is back for his Junior campaign. His top weapon will be 2018 Biletnekoff Award winner and predicted top-5 NFL Draft pick WR Jerry Juedy who had 68 receptions for 1,315 yards and 14 TD’s a season ago. AP Preseason First-Team All-Americans DT Raekwon Davis and LB Dylan Moses will lead a stout Crimson Tide defense. Alabama will look to regain their spot as top dog in the college football world in 2019. Regardless of what is said to the media, revenge is on the mind in Tuscaloosa.
1. Clemson Tigers
Last year’s College Football Playoff National Champions are once again loaded with talent in 2019 which is why they claim the #1 spot. The Tigers led by Heisman trophy favorite QB So. Trevor Lawrence who caught the entire nation’s attention after tearing apart Alabama’s defense for 347 yards 3 TD’s and 0 INT’s during their commanding 44-16 CFB Playoff Championship victory. Lawrence will have a slew of talent around him including another Heisman trophy contender in RB Travis Etienne and breakout stars at WR in Justyn Ross and Tee Higgins. The defensive line in 2018 is considered to be one of the greatest in college football history, saw three players get drafted in the first 20 selections of the 2019 NFL Draft. Soph. DE Xavier Thomas who was named a 2018 Freshman All-American will look to build on his 10.5 TFL in his first year to lead the Tigers defense. Don’t forget, Clemson still has HC Dabo Swinney, who has his sights sets on a third national title in four years.
College football is back, let’s have some fun.