2019 NCAA Football Preview

By DeMarco Williams

If you thought the NBA's free-wheeling summer of change was head-spinning, just wait until you see what college football has in store this fall. On the move are one-time starters (Georgia's Jacob Eason to Washington; Alabama's Jalen Hurts to Oklahoma) and former top recruits (Clemson's Kelly Bryant to Missouri; Georgia's Justin Fields to Ohio State), creating a sort of free-agency frenzy usually reserved for the professional ranks.

But the funny thing is that, even with all the movement across campuses, three things remain the same: Clemson, Alabama and UGA are still the cream of the collegiate crop. The defending champion Tigers still have QB Trevor Lawrence. The Crimson Tide still have more five-star athletes than your alma mater. The Bulldogs still have Jake Fromm and a stable of running backs. Yep, death, taxes and this talented trio being College Football Playoff contenders.

The transfers will make things fun, no doubt, but when it comes down to picking a team that will hoist the trophy after the national championship game has ended in New Orleans on January 13, 2020, we're fairly confident that it'll be a familiar ACC school.

1 Clemson
How good were the Tigers a year ago? Their two biggest scoring explosions weren't against low-level schools but, instead, it was Florida State (59 points) and Louisville (77). With Lawrence, ACC Player of the Year RB Travis Etienne and four starters on the offensive line returning, the offensive onslaught continues.

2 Alabama
The best way for Bama to forget about the 44-16 smackdown it received from Clemson in the national title game is to move on. That's easy to do when you have all-world QB Tua Tagovailoa, RB Najee Harris and WR Jerry Jeudy lining up every Saturday.

3 Georgia
The Fromm- and D'Andre Swift-led offense may get the headlines right now, but with new co-coordinators (Dan Lanning and Glenn Schumann) and freshman stars (nation's No. 1 overall recruit LB Nolan Smith) on defense, that may change soon.

4. Oklahoma
If Hurts can bring anything close to the offensive pain that Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray brought last year — the Sooners had an eight-game streak of scoring at least 45 points last year — OU feels great about its chances.

5. Ohio State
By the time the Buckeyes' new QB (Fields) and first-year head coach (Ryan Day) go for OSU's eighth-straight win against Michigan on November 30, any jitters they had at the beginning of the year will have long disappeared.

6. Washington
Though the Pac-12 North Division will be tough to navigate — Oregon, Washington State and Stanford all won their bowl games a season ago — these Huskies have the pin-point Eason and coach Chris Petersen (and his 80.8 career winning percentage) guiding them.

7. Florida
We'll know if the Gators' bite is truly back pretty quickly — Florida battles in-state rival Miami in the Camping World Kickoff on August 24, the earliest date that the college football season has begun since 2003.

8. Notre Dame
The theme of being good (11-1 regular season record) but not great (a 27-point thumping to Clemson in the Cotton Bowl) was true for the Irish again last year. Games at UGA, Michigan and Stanford will prove which category they'll fall into in '19.

9. Oregon
The Ducks have quietly improved every season over the past three. With NFL-ready QB Justin Herbert in the huddle and an exciting recruiting class (led by No. 2 player DE Kayvon Thibodeaux) on the horizon, things are about to get loud in Eugene.

10. Texas
A culture-changing win over a top SEC program (Georgia) has folks talking about the Longhorns again. If they get a second victory over a team in the conference (LSU, September 7) in as many years, you won't hear the last of it until January.

11. LSU
Speaking of the Tigers, if they come out on top of that just-mentioned showdown with Texas, Ed Orgeron's pack could be 8-0 for its Alabama tussle on November 9.

12. Michigan
We're not saying Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh is on the hot seat, but an embarrassing finish to the season (62-39 loss to Ohio State, 41-15 spanking from Florida) has him wearing his finest khakis with cool-knit technology.

13. Texas A&M
We have to hand it to the Aggies, they have some good-looking receivers (Quartney Davis, Kendrick Rogers) and one of the SEC's most-underrated arms (Kellen Mond) on their roster.

14. Penn State
Though key players left holes at nearly every position for the Nittany Lions, they still have one of the game's smartest coaches (James Franklin) and a stingy defense (DE Yetur Gross-Matos) on their side.

15. Washington State
Though the Cougars still aren't quite sure who their man is under center — Gage Gubrud or Anthony Gordon? — they trust that the "Mad Scientist" (coach Mike Leach) will have things figured out before tough road games vs. Utah (September 28) and Oregon (October 26).

16. Central Florida
The mighty mid-major Knights have a monster back-to-back set (Stanford, Pitt) in September, meaning we'll know if this lofty placement is genius or a grave mistake by October 1.

17. Army
If you think the Black Knights' 21-5 record of the past two seasons and its 70-15 crushing of Houston in the Armed Forces Bowl last year is a farce, just wait until you see how well they play Michigan in the Big House on September 7.

18. Syracuse
Thanks to head coach Dino Baber's more up-tempo style and the defense's bend-but-don't-break stubbornness (we see you, Andre Cisco), the Orange had their best season since 2001. We fully expect a repeat this year.

19. Nebraska
We haven't drank nearly the amount of Kool-Aid that some have with the new-look Huskers, but we do admit that the combination of an exciting coach (Scott Frost), an explosive offense (Adrian Martinez, JD Spielman) and a re-energized fanbase packs a punch.

20. Michigan State
The defense should be dynamic in East Lansing, but the other lethargic side — the Spartans scored 32 points over its last four games — didn't improve nearly enough to threaten Michigan or Ohio State for the Big Ten crown.

Rounding out the Top 25:
Auburn, Boise State, Northwestern, Stanford and Utah

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