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Top five college football teams ready to bust out in 2019

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It may seem like Clemson’s thrashing of Alabama in the national title game was only a few months ago but as fresh in our minds as that contest was, it was last season. Hard as it is to believe but the 2019 campaign is almost here and it’s time to turn our attention from what happened last year to what could happen between the lines this fall.

As part of CFTalk’s 2019 College Football Preview, we’re exploring every nook and cranny of the sport before kickoff in Week 0. Up first, which teams might be ready to bust out and have a banner season? Several of these were either under or treading water in 2018 but could be in store for a big jump over the coming months.

Without further ado, here are five candidates to bust out in the Power Five and a handful of others in the Group of Five who could do the same in 2019:

Miami

Manny Diaz has taken over in Coral Gables and optimism is running high given what he was able to do with the Hurricanes defense as a coordinator the past few years, including bringing some of the swagger back to ‘The U’ with the now infamous turnover chain. The team slumped to a 7-6 finish last season, getting run out of the building by Wisconsin in the Pinstripe Bowl. That ending certainly framed how this team is viewed going into 2019 but the ‘Canes still have one of the more talented rosters in the ACC and sport perhaps the best defense this side of Clemson in the conference too. The key to the program all comes down to the offense being not quite as awful as it was a year ago. There’s some talent surrounding new quarterback Jarren Williams and the hope is that new OC Dan Enos — fresh off an impressive run as Tua Tagovailoa’s coach at Alabama — can meld everything on that side of the ball into a cohesive unit. The opener against rival Florida in Orlando is fairly tough but the schedule is among the most manageable in the country and Miami might be favored in 11 of their 12 games overall. Somebody has to win the Coastal Division and the Hurricanes have as good a shot as any to have a big jump on the win total and make a run to Charlotte.

TCU

It seems like this is an annual exercise under Gary Patterson. Much is expected of the Horned Frogs one year, only for them to flop. Then nothing is expected amid one big question mark and TCU winds up challenging for the Big 12 and a playoff bid (see 2014 and 2017). We might be a lot closer to the latter with this year’s squad, which may technically return only 12 starters but has a ton of players with experience returning to the lineup after injuries hit the team hard the past 18 months or so. The Horned Frogs offense should sport one of the better offensive lines, a solid running game and an All-American candidate Jalen Reagor at wideout.  The question remains quarterback, which will largely determine the ceiling or floor of this group. Kansas State transfer Alex Delton or four-star freshman Max Duggan are the two front-runners for the gig though both are likely to see time early on. As one can expect from a Patterson-coached team, the defense will be pretty good too. Most of the talk in the Big 12 has been about stalwarts Oklahoma and Texas but don’t discount the Frogs making it back to AT&T Stadium either.

Oklahoma State

Sticking in the Big 12, the Cowboys narrowly avoided their first losing season since 2005 and are hoping to get back to the double-digit wins that have they have been accustomed to having the last few years. Princeton’s Sean Gleeson is the team’s new offensive coordinator and his biggest task will be keeping the offense going with either redshirt freshman Spencer Sanders or Hawaii transfer Dru Brown at quarterback. Whoever emerges under center will get the benefit of throwing to Biletnikoff Award finalist Tylan Wallace at receiver and a pretty solid tailback group headlined by Chuba Hubbard. The secondary should be a strength on defense and the hope is that some surprises emerge in the front seven to help make a solid group on that side of the ball better. OSU was better than their record indicated in 2018 given the number of close losses they suffered and given how their schedule shakes out, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Mike Gundy’s group return to the top 25 this season.

Minnesota

There’s been a ton of discussion about the Big Ten West and how the division shakes up this year, with Iowa, defending champ Northwestern and fast-riser Nebraska garnering much of the discussion with a little Purdue mixed in for good measure. The dark horse few mention is the Gophers though, who took a nice jump in Year 2 under P.J. Fleck to a bowl game and are hoping to row the boat to even more progress in 2019. QB Tanner Morgan was a big reason behind last season’s stretch run, going 4-2 as a starter and developing obvious chemistry with top target Tyler JohnsonAdd in a pretty accomplished group at running back and the Minnesota offense has a chance to surprise folks with how good it can be. Defensively, the team has responded well to DC Joe Rossi after he was elevated to the gig and the Gophers are returning six starters on that side of the ball plus returning safety Antoine Winfield Jr. after a injury-shortened redshirt campaign and Notre Dame graduate transfer Micah Dew-Treadway up front.  They get Rutgers and Maryland as two of their crossover Big Ten East games so a run at double-digit wins can’t be ruled out in the Twin Cities if everything comes together.

Arizona

At this time last year, there was a ton of talk about Khalil Tate’s Heisman chances and if the Wildcats could make the jump in a wide-open Pac-12 South. Injuries put a damper on that first question early in 2018 but if the dynamic quarterback can get back to being his old self, that latter question may be of relevance in 2019 out in the desert. The team uniquely gets three bye weeks thanks to opening at Hawaii in Week 0 and the early schedule is easy enough to facilitate a pretty good start. Tate running and throwing like he did two years ago combined with superb tailback J.J. Taylor make the offense dangerous and it would be somewhat surprising if the defense didn’t improve at least incrementally. While this team isn’t likely to challenge for the conference title, making big strides and at least making a run at a trip to Santa Clara would be a huge sign of progress under Kevin Sumlin.

Group of Five Bust Out Candidates: Ohio, Florida Atlantic, Hawaii, UL-Lafayette, Tulane

ACC endorses free one-time transfer for all student-athletes

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The ACC is now on-board with the idea of allowing student-athletes in all sports a chance to have a free one-time transfer without having to sit out a season. The conference released a brief statement on Monday afternoon confirming the ACC supports a one-time transfer opportunity.

“During the league’s annual winter meetings (February 12-14), the ACC discussed the transfer environment and unanimously concluded that as a matter of principle we support a one-time transfer opportunity for all student-athletes, regardless of sport,” the statement from the ACC said. “As a conference, we look forward to continuing the discussion nationally.”

It is important to understand this does not mean players in the ACC will now be given a free transfer. This is merely a step in the direction toward allowing the free one-time transfer and shows the ACC would support any potential adjustment to the NCAA transfer rule. As the transfer rule currently stands, any player transferring from one school to another at the same level of competition (FBS to FBS, for example), is required to sit out one full season before being ruled eligible again. This takes away a year of eligibility or burns a redshirt season, barring any potential exemptions granted by way of a waiver. Graduate transfers are generally the only transferring players allowed to play immediately at a new school.

The Big Ten quietly proposed just such legislation last year, but no movement was made on the proposal. The NCAA instead opted to have a committee spend additional time reviewing the current policies regarding transfers with the intent of continuing the discussion this year as rule changes begin to be reviewed.

That gives us two power conferences that appear to be ready to embrace the one-time transfer rule. Don’t be shocked if more join the party, and expect the transfer rule to be altered soon enough. Maybe even as early as this upcoming year.

The NCAA modified the redshirt rule two years ago. The transfer rule appears the next most likely rule to be altered regarding a player’s eligibility.

Indiana completes coaching staff with Tulane DL coach Kevin Peoples

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After being left at the altar by a Michigan State assistant coach, Indiana had found a way to plug its hole at defensive line coach. Kevin Peoples is reportedly leaving Tulane to join the Hoosiers, multiple reports said on Monday. News of the coaching hire in Bloomington was first shared by Football Scoop.

Peoples will be taking on the job on the Indiana coaching staff previously set to be filled by Michigan State assistant Ron Burton. Burton decided to remain in East Lansing with the Spartans and new head coach Mel Tucker over the weekend before officially making his way from one Big Ten school to another. With the addition of Peoples to the coaching staff, the Hoosiers will now have a full coaching staff barring any potential adjustments before spring football begins.

With Peoples in charge of the defensive line, Tulane was not among the conference leaders in sacks and tackles for loss in the American Athletic Conference in 2019, but Tulane did have the conference’s fourth-best rushing defense; Tulane allowed 156.31 rushing yards per game in 2019, an averages that is inflated slightly from playing Navy in conference play (allowed 385 yards to the triple-option Midshipmen) and Army in non-conference play as well as a road game against Auburn. Tulane allowed just 58 rushing yards in its bowl victory over Southern Mississippi.

Peoples is filling the role previously held by Mark Hagen. Hagen left Indiana to accept a coaching position with Texas this offs

Utah, LSU to play home-and-home in early ’30s

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The SEC and Pac-12 are in a bit of a love affair right now. Actually, scratch that. They’re full-on obsessed with one another.

More than 30 SEC v. Pac-12 games are on the docket for future years, and two more were added to the ledger on Monday when LSU and Utah inked a home-and-home.

Utah will host LSU on Sept. 6, 2031, and LSU will return the favor on Sept. 11, 2032.

“Our aspirations to continue to grow and elevate our football program make opportunities like this especially important,” Utah AD Mark Harlan said. “For our student-athletes it is an incredible opportunity to play a high-profile opponent in two fantastic environments. It also is incredibly attractive to our fans to host a team like LSU at Rice-Eccles Stadium and to go on the road to Baton Rouge and cheer on their Utes.”

Utah has two more home-and-homes against SEC schools coming, against Florida in 2022-23 and Arkansas in 2026 and ’28. LSU has home-and-homes with UCLA (2021, ’24) and Arizona State (2029-30) on its docket.

The schools have met twice previously, with LSU winning in Baton Rouge both time, 35-10 in 1974 and 35-7 in ’76.

Bret Bielema reportedly interviewing for Colorado job

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Bret Bielema is interviewing for the Colorado head coaching position, according to reports Monday from NFL Network and ESPN.

Bielema tried to get in on the Michigan State job that, obviously, went to Mel Tucker, so now he’s in the running for the job Tucker left.

The former Wisconsin and Arkansas head coach joined Bill Belichick‘s witness protection program after his 2017 Arkansas firing, working for a year as “consultant to the head coach” in New England. He was promoted to defensive line coach and reportedly told friends he was in the running to become the defensive coordinator after Greg Schiano stepped down, but Belichick wound up giving that job to himself.

He wound up following Joe Judge from Foxboro to the New York Giants, but now has apparently decided he’d rather be back in college than work as a position coach at the NFL level.

Bielema went 68-24 at Wisconsin before his 29-34 flameout at Arkansas. His teams famously stuck to a ground-and-pound philosophy that worked like peanut butter and jelly in Madison but peanut butter and salsa in Fayetteville. So, should Colorado be as interested in Bielema as he apparently is in them, his offensive philosophy would figure to be question one in the interview.