#1 CLEMSON TIGERS (13-0):
KEY PLAYERS: QB- Trevor Lawrence (SO.), RB- Travis Etienne (JR.), WR- Justyn Ross (SO.), WR- Tee Higgins (JR.) S- Isaiah Simmons (JR.), CB- A.J. Terrell (JR.)
ANALYSIS: Despite losing plenty of talent along the defensive line, the Clemson Tigers are ABSOLUTELY loaded on both sides of the ball. No one in America has the explosive playmakers that Clemson can boast. I have little doubt that the Tigers run through the ACC once again and are due for a return to College Football’s ‘Final Four’ and are the favorite’s for the 2020 National Championship.
#2 ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE (13-0):
KEY PLAYERS: QB- Tua Tagovailoa (JR.), WR- Jerry Jeudy (JR.), WR- Henry Ruggs III (JR.), DT- Raekwon Davis (SR.), LB- Dylan Moses (JR.), S- Xavier McKinney (JR.)
ANALYSIS: Are we looking at another Clemson vs. Alabama rematch? Certainly feels that way. It truly is an embarrassment of riches when you look at the talent that Alabama has on both sides of the football. Their offensive speed and firepower will leave the remainder of the SEC in their wake and they will once again be a player in the National Championship picture.
#3 OHIO STATE BUCKEYES (13-0):
KEY PLAYERS: DE- Chase Young (JR.), QB- Justin Fields (SO.), RB- J.K. Dobbins (JR.), WR- K.J. Hill (SR.), WR- Binjimen Victor (SR.), CB- Jeffrey Okudah (JR.)
ANALYSIS: When surveying the College Football landscape and attempting to predict the Conference champions, outside of Clemson and Alabama, I will that Ohio State has the best chance. The Buckeyes constantly reload and are just athletically superior to their opponents in the Big Ten. All that being said, the season really rests on incoming QB Justin Fields, given that he wins the QB battle in Columbus. I believe that he will given his unreal athleticism and expect Fields to have a HUGE impact on the Ohio State program in 2019.
#4 GEORGIA BULLDOGS (12-1):
KEY PLAYERS: QB- Jake Fromm (JR.), RB- D’Andre Swift (JR.), OT- Andrew Thomas (JR.), DT- Tyler Clark (SR), S- J.R. Reed (SR), LB- Monty Rice (JR.)
ANALYSIS: With Jake Fromm and D’Andre Swift returning to the Georgia Bulldog program, we know that Georgia’s offense will be as balanced and efficient as ever. I do question who is going to step up on the outside at the WR position following Riley Ridley and Mecole Hardman moving on to the NFL. That being said, Georgia has been on the cusp the past couple of seasons–is this the year Jake Fromm gets them over the hump?
#5 OKLAHOMA SOONERS (12-1):
KEY PLAYERS: QB- Jalen Hurts (JR.), WR- CeeDee Lamb (JR.), OG- Creed Humphrey (SO.), TE- Grant Calcaterra (JR.), RB- Trey Sermon (JR.), DT- Neville Gallimore (SR.)
ANALYSIS: Can Jalen Hurts repeat the success that Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray have produced for the Oklahoma Sooners in their recent past? I don’t want to overstate the fact, however, Jalen Hurts is nowhere near the same type of player that these two are. I believe Hurts brings a different element to the Sooners with a more physical running style. The Sooners remain head and shoulders above the rest of the Big XII and will be strongly considered for the ‘Final Four’.
#6 WASHINGTON HUSKIES (12-1):
KEY PLAYERS: QB- Jacob Eason (JR.), OT- Trey Adams (SR.), OG- Nick Harris (SR.), CB- Myles Bryant (SR.), TE- Hunter Bryant (JR.)
ANALYSIS: The Washington Huskies are my surprise team to potentially crash the party as it relates to College Football’s ‘Final Four’. The Pac XII was atrocious in 2018, I don’t believe anyone would question that. I believe the Conference could be in store for a big bounce back season. A lot hinges on whether Jacob Eason can harness the talent that we saw from him briefly while at Georgia. I trust Pederson and company, and believe the Huskies will emerge as the Pac XII champions in 2019.
#7 UTAH UTES (10-2):
KEY PLAYERS: QB- Tyler Huntley (SR.), RB- Zack Moss (SR.), CB- Jaylon Johnson (SR.), DT- Leki Fotu (SR.), S- Julian Blackmon (SR.)
ANALYSIS: If you’re looking for a dark horse candidate to make a run this year, look no further than the Utah Utes. I like the veteran presence on this team, I like their overall makeup on both sides of the ball. Here in August, I feel like the Utah program is flying under the radar. I recommend not sleeping on the Utes.
#8 LSU TIGERS (10-2):
KEY PLAYERS: S- Grant Delpit (JR.), CB- Kristian Fulton (SR.), DT- Rashard Lawrence (SR.), QB- Joe Borrow (SR.), DE- K’Lavon Chaisson (SR.)
ANALYSIS: The analysis here for LSU is very simple, and it remains the same that has been for a decade plus. You know that the defense is going to be formidable and a tough unit to deal with. You also know that the Tigers have to deal with Alabama, Florida, and Auburn in the SEC race. It simply boils down to the play at the QB position. Can Joe Borrow succeed where past LSU signal callers have failed? The Tigers will go as far as the offense can develop.
#9 NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH (10-2):
KEY PLAYERS: QB- Ian Book (SR.), DE- Julian Okwara (SR.), OT- Liam Eichenberg (SR.), OT- Tommy Kraemer (SR.), DE- Khalid Kareem (SR.), S- Jalen Elliott (SR.)
ANALYSIS: I feel like College Football fans are slow to embrace that the Notre Dame program has legs under Brian Kelly. This team does not possess the explosiveness or athleticism that your Clemson, Alabama, or Ohio State programs have, but they are fundamentally sound and extremely well coached. Ian Book coming back for his Senior season provides additional stability to prove that the 2018 season was no fluke.
#10 FLORIDA GATORS (10-2):
KEY PLAYERS: QB- Felipe Franks (SR.), RB- Lamical Perine (SR), CB- C.J. Henderson (JR.), DE- Jabari Zuniga (SR.), WR- Van Jefferson (SR.)
ANALYSIS: The last time we saw the Florida Gators on a football field, they were thumping the MIchigan Wolverines. The Gators are bringing back a good amount of talent on offense and defense. QB Felipe Franks emerged a season ago as a player that the Gator program can count on to lead them into 2019. As always, they will have to deal with the hyper-competitive SEC–but don’t be surprised if a Top 10 finish is in the range of outcomes.
#11 MICHIGAN WOLVERINES (10-2):
KEY PLAYERS: QB- Shea Patterson (SR.), WR- Donovan Peoples-Jones (JR.), OG- Ben Bredeson (SR.), CB- Lavert Hill (SR.)
ANALYSIS: This rankings at #11 might wind up being too high to be quite frank. I am very much concerned with the vacuum left behind by the defensive leadership. Outside of Peoples-Jones, there’s not much around the offensive side of the football to get too excited about either. I’m banking on Jim Harbaugh’s coaching staff developing their young talent. 2019 could very well shape up to be a rebuilding year for the Michigan Wolverines program.
#12 TEXAS LONGHORNS (9-3):
KEY PLAYERS: S- Brandon Jones (SR.), WR- Collin Johnson (SR.), QB- Sam Ehlinger (JR.), OG- Zach Shackelford (SR.)
ANALYSIS: The Texas Longhorns program returned to College Football fan’s consciousness in 2018. QB Sam Ehlinger ended up wrestling the job away and then leading the team down the stretch. Collin Johnson is a true difference maker on the outside, one that Ehlinger can lean upon. I feel that Oklahoma is on their own tier in the Big XII, but someone else has to emerge as the #2. I’m predicting the Longhorns continue their positive momentum.
#13 AUBURN TIGERS (9-3):
KEY PLAYERS: DT- Derrick Brown (JR.), OT- Prince Tega Wanogho (SR.),
ANALYSIS: The Auburn Tigers are a bit of a mystery as we head into 2019. Jarrett Stidham moving to the NFL leaves a hole behind at the QB position in Gus Malzahn’s offense. In fact, I’m not sure what we are getting at all from the skill position players–this is a leap of faith that you believe Gus and his staff will figure it out. The Auburn program has not lacked the talent in recent years, just understand that they are not on par with the Crimson Tide, Bulldogs, or Tigers.
#14 TEXAS A&M AGGIES (9-3):
KEY PLAYERS: QB- Kellen Mond (JR.)
ANALYSIS: Consider this ranking as much a part of my belief in Jimbo Fisher and the Aggies coaching staff as it does with the overall talent here at A&M. Kellen Mond returns at the QB position to provide some stability to the offense will help. If anyone can navigate the SEC waters against top tier talent weekly, it’s Jimbo.
#15 WISCONSIN BADGERS (9-3):
KEY PLAYERS: C- Tyler Biadasz (JR.), RB- Jonathan Taylor (JR.), DT- Isaiah Loudermilk (JR).
ANALYSIS: What we know about the Wisconsin Badgers program is that they are going to build their team along their formidable offensive line and running the ball with a high degree of effectiveness. Enter in Tyler Biadasz, the Center for the Wisconsin Badgers who could have easily went pro, and likely would have been a 1st round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Jonathan Taylor returns for a Junior season where 2,000 yards on the ground is not out of the question, and a trip to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony could very well be in store.
#16 OREGON DUCKS (9-3):
KEY PLAYERS: QB- Justin Herbert (SR.), LB- Troy Dye (SR.), TE- Jacob Breeland (SR.), OT- Calvin Throckmorton (SR.), OG- Jake Hansen (SR.), DT- Jordon Scott (JR.)
ANALYSIS: The big news in Eugene following the 2018 season was that Justin Herbert would be returning for his Senior season. The cupboard is not bare on either side of the ball as both offensive and defensive lines should be strong. Having Herbert in tow changes the Oregon dynamic entirely and makes them a legit contender for the Pac XII title.
#17 CENTRAL FLORIDA KNIGHTS (10-2):
ANALYSIS: Central Florida will back with a new host of players to make the ‘Big Boys’ in College Football nervous once again. Josh Heupel has continued the momentum here and they are posed for a run in the American Athletic Conference.The time for doubting the Central Florida program has come and gone–they are here to stay.
#18 MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS (8-4):
KEY PLAYERS: QB- Brian Lewerke (SR.), DE- Kenny Willekes, DT- Raequan Williams, LB- Joe Bachie Jr., S- David Dowell (SR.)
#19 STANFORD CARDINAL (8-4):
KEY PLAYERS: QB- K.J. Costello (JR.), CB- Paulson Adebo (JR.), TE- Colby Parkinson
ANALYSIS: I am a big fan of K.J. Costello, and quite frankly, I believe he is a bit underrated nationally. As mentioned previously, the Pac XII is wide open for the taking, and I see no reason why a program that has been there before under Head Coach David Shaw, can’t do it again in 2019.
#20 SYRACUSE ORANGEMEN (8-4):
KEY PLAYERS: DE- Alton Robinson (SR.) S- Evan Foster (SR.)
ANALYSIS: The Syracuse Orangemen have been an under the radar program for awhile now. This could very well be their year to step up and make some noise in the ACC. Syracuse has some playmakers at every level of their defense. I believe a New Years Day Bowl Bid could be possible for the Orangemen in 2019.
#21 PENN STATE NITNEY LIONS (8-4):
KEY PLAYERS: DE- Yetur Gross-Matos (SR.), S- John Reid (SR.)
ANALYSIS: The team from Happy Valley has not found a way to get over the hump, but the Penn State program feels like it is on very solid ground. Outside of Ohio State, the Big Ten feels pretty wide open. Trace McSorely and Miles Sanders are not walking through those doors–so the Nitney Lion’s coaching staff has their work cut out for them in 2019.
#22 WASHINGTON STATE COUGARS (8-4):
ANALYSIS: Mike Leach, for all his ‘quirks’, can certainly put together a high-powered offense. Leach will be tested heading into 2019 as he must replace the highly-productive Gardner Minshew.
#23 MIAMI (FL) HURRICANES (8-4):
KEY PLAYERS: LB- Shaquille Quarterman (SR.), CB- Trajan Bandy (JR.)
ANALYSIS: As of today’s date the Miami (FL) Hurricanes have NOT named their Starting Quarterback. We are hoping that we get to see Ohio State transfer Tate Martell at the helm. Regardless, the home of the Turnover Chain should once again boast a terrific defense.
#24 BOISE STATE BRONCOS (8-4):
#25 OKLAHOMA STATE COWBOYS (8-4):