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CFT’s 2019 Preseason Top 25

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Ready for yet another meaningless and useless preseason poll? Too bad, you’re getting one anyway.

As we have done each and every season around this time of the year, CFT has compiled its annual preseason Top 25 rankings. And, as has been the case each and every time, we’ve used the same tried and true formula: collect individual Top 25s from each of our esteemed staffers — this year it’s again Zach Barnett, Bryan Fischer, Kevin McGuire and myself — as well as a couple of other individuals who prefer to remain anonymous and mash them all together to form an initial Top 25, at which point I manipulate the numbers to ensure that I piss off as many fan bases as humanly possible.

As Clemson and Alabama have combined to win each of the last four national championships, and faced each other in the finale of the 2018 season, is it a surprise at all that they will begin the 2019 campaign at 1-2 in CFT’s Top 25?  Almost one year ago to the day, we pegged Clemson and Alabama as the Nos. 1 and 2 teams in the country; nearly five months later, the Tigers manhandled the defending champion Crimson Tide for its second title in three years.  Our Nos. 3-5 teams last year were Georgia, Ohio State and Wisconsin, respectively; they finished the season, in order, tied for seventh, third and (gulp) unranked.  The other two playoff teams from 2018, Notre Dame and Oklahoma, began last season as our Nos. 8 and 15 teams, respectively.

As for previous years in which we proved we are essentially a collective Nostradumbass?

Back in 2017, Ohio State sat at No. 1, followed by No. 2 USC, No. 3 Florida State, No. 4 Alabama and No. 5 Penn State.  Just one of those teams, the 2017 national champion Crimson Tide, qualified for the playoffs, while the others in our Top Five, the Buckeyes, Nittany Lions, Trojans and Seminoles, finished fifth, eighth, 12th and unranked, respectively.  And the other three teams that actually qualified for the playoffs?  National runner-up Georgia was No. 14 in our 2017 preseason Top 25, while Clemson was No. 9 and Oklahoma was right behind them at No. 10.

In 2016, we had Oklahoma as our preseason No. 1; the Sooners went on to finish 11-2 and third in the country, although they ended the regular season just shy of another berth in the College Football Playoff.  The four teams that did earn playoff berths, national champion Clemson, national runner-up Alabama and semifinalists Ohio State and Washington, began the 2016 season ranked fourth, second, 11th and seventh, respectively, in our preseason Top 25 two years ago.

The year before that, we had Ohio State, TCU, Oregon, Auburn and Michigan State Nos. 1-5; only playoff semifinalist MSU finished the regular season in the Top Five. 2015 national champion Alabama was No. 7 in our preseason rankings — just behind Arizona State, incidentally — while the team the Crimson Tide beat for the title, Clemson, was 14th. Oklahoma, the other of the four College Football Playoff semifinalists in 2015, came in at No. 16 in our friendly neighborhood poll.

All that said, below is CFT’s 2019 preseason Top 25.  Below that is a poll in which you can vote as to which team you feel should start the season No. 1 — or if there should even be a preseason No. 1. Below that is where you may complain and/or whine and/or moan and/or bitch about how disrespected your team and/or conference is.

Enjoy. And complain/whine/moan/bitch away at your leisure.

NO. 1 CLEMSON
2018 RECORD/FINAL ASSOCIATED PRESS RANKING: 15-0/No. 1

Not only do the defending national champions return a wealth of talent — eight starters on offense and 22 returning lettermen on defense, with nearly half of the preseason All-ACC team made up of Tigers — but just two teams on their 2019 schedule (No. 12 Texas A&M, No. 22 Syracuse) are currently ranked in the Associated Press Top 25.  With Heisman Trophy favorite Trevor Lawrence triggering what should again be an explosive offense, the stage is set for yet another return to the College Football Playoff — even as they must replace seven starters on the defensive side of the ball.

NO. 2 ALABAMA
2018 RECORD/FINAL AP RANKING: 14-1/No. 2

Nick Saban spent an offseason unlike any other he’s experienced in Tuscaloosa — or anywhere else for that matter.  Of the 10 coordinators/assistant coaches who were on the Crimson Tide’s staff at the beginning of the 2018 season, only three will return for the 2019 season.  Not only that, but Saban will have to replace nearly half of his starters on each side of the ball, although Tua Tagovailoa, provided he can stay upright and healthy, will return under center.  The season-ending matchup with Auburn on the road could, once again, determine the West’s representative in the SEC championship game, although a mid-October trip to College Station against what should be an improved Texas A&M squad shouldn’t be overlooked.

NO. 3 GEORGIA
2018 RECORD/FINAL AP RANKING: 11-3/T-No. 7

You’ll have to pardon Georgia if there is still a bit of a hangover after how the Bulldogs’ 2018 season ended.  First, UGA blew a 28-14 third-quarter lead on Alabama in the SEC championship game that cost them a spot in the College Football Playoff, then got Bevo’d by Texas by a worse-than-it-looked score of 28-21 in the Sugar Bowl.  That said, they have a three-year starter at quarterback in Jake Fromm, although, like their heavyweight SEC counterpart Alabama, Kirby Smart will have to replace almost half of his starters both offensively and defensively.  A late-September home game against Notre Dame should provide an early clue as to where UGA stands nationally — or how far they need to go to keep pace with ‘Bama.

NO. 4 OKLAHOMA
2018 RECORD/FINAL AP RANKING: 12-2/No. 4

Oklahoma lost Heisman-winning quarterback Baker Mayfield following the 2017 campaign, then proceeded to put up another double-digit win season and Top Five finish in 2018; it’ll be lather, rinse and repeat on the stiff-armed replacement front in 2019 as Heisman-winning quarterback Kyler Murray left Norman early for the NFL following the 2018 season.  Into the quarterbacking fray steps transfer addition Jalen Hurts, who would love nothing better than to get a shot at his former school, Alabama, in the playoffs.  On the one hand, the Sooners return eight starters on defense, and have a new coordinator in the highly-respected Alex Grinch; on the other, they must replace the vast majority of an offensive line that claimed the Joe Moore Award for the best unit in the country, as well as top wideout Marquise Brown.  There is one sign, courtesy of a reader imploring us to not put his beloved Sooners in the top spot, that this could actually be OU’s year: Two quarterbacks with the initials of “JH” — Josh Heupel (2000) and Jamelle Holieway (1985) — have previously won national championships while starting for the Sooners.

NO. 5 OHIO STATE
2018 RECORD/FINAL AP RANKING: 13-1/No. 3

How do you replace a man who went 83-9 overall (54-4 in conference play) in seven seasons, finished first or tied for first in the Big Ten East every year he was in Columbus, and claimed Ohio State’s first national championship in over a decade? That is THE™ overriding question for Buckeye Nation as Ryan Day is chargeed with what some would say is THE™ unenviable task of replacing THE™ retired Urban Meyer (for now) in Columbus.  THE™ good news for THE™ first-time head coach is that OSU brings back eight starters on one of THE™ top defenses in THE™ conference as well as getting Michigan State and Penn State at home in THE™ Horseshoe, although they will have to travel to Ann Arbor to face hated rival Michigan in THE™ regular-season finale.  How quickly acclimated Georgia transfer Justin Fields becomes with THE™ offense and THE™ pressure of replacing THE™ prolific Dwayne Haskins at quarterback will go a long way in determining how big THE™ Game will be this season.

(WRITER’S NOTE: Click HERE for THE™ explanation.)

NO. 6 LSU
2018 RECORD/FINAL AP RANKING: 10-3/No. 6

Don’t tell anyone but, after years of wandering aimlessly through the signal-calling desert, it appears LSU has at long last (gasp!) found an answer at quarterback in Ohio State transfer Joe Burrow.  Coming off an above-average first campaign in Baton Rouge, Burrow will be the triggerman of what’s expected to be an even more (gasp!) 21st-century aerial attack thanks to an under-the-radar addition this offseason in the form of New Orleans Saints staffer Joe Brady as passing-game coordinator.  Eight starters return on each side of the ball, which is a good thing when viewed through the prism of having to go on the road to face Alabama and Texas.

NO. 7 MICHIGAN
2018 RECORD/FINAL AP RANKING: 10-3/No. 14

I’m not saying Jim Harbaugh is on the coaching hot seat, but I am saying his hindquarters should be feeling fairly warm — and for good reason.  One of the highest-paid head coaches in college football, Harbaugh’s Wolverines have finished third, third, fourth and tied for first in the Big Ten East his first four seasons back home in Ann Arbor.  The finish last season provided some optimism heading into the 2019 postseason, although those hopes should be tempered by the reality that Harbaugh is just 2-6 against his school’s chief football rivals — he’s never beaten Ohio State in four tries and is 2-2 against “little brother” Michigan State.  Scheduling-wise, there’s good news on the rivalry front as U-M gets both MSU and OSU at home, although they’ll face stiff road trips to Madison and Happy Valley in the span of a month.  The Wolverines should be improved, perhaps even enough to climb back onto the national stage, but if they don’t and continue to lag behind the hated Buckeyes…

NO. 8 TEXAS
2018 RECORD/FINAL AP RANKING: 10-4/No. 9

Texas is back!?  One of these seasons, that longstanding proclamation/question rivals derisively use at UT’s expense will come to fruition.  The latest reason for hope amongst Longhorn Nation was the finish to the 2018 season in which UT bullied a seemingly disinterested Georgia squad in the Sugar Bowl to put the finishing touches on the football program’s first 10-win season since 2009.  The reality, though, is that the Tom Herman‘s Longhorns return just eight starters — five on offense, three on defense.  By mid-October, we should have a good handle on this year’s version of the “Texas is back!” narrative as UT will face LSU, Oklahoma State, West Virginia (in Morgantown) and Oklahoma in a five-game stretch the first half of the season.  If they can handle that rigorous stretch with, say, just one loss, it’d be fair to say they are back — and probably back for another shot in the Big 12 championship game as well.  Personally, given the lack of experienced players returning, I think Texas sitting inside the Top 10 of any preseason poll is way too high, but time will tell on that front.

NO. 9 NOTRE DAME
2018 RECORD/FINAL AP RANKING: 12-1/No. 5

Last year, in cautiously making the case for Notre Dame being ranked 15th, I wrote that “[t]he last five times the Irish had a chance for back-to-back 10-win seasons, they won four (2016), nine (2013), three (2007), five (2003) and six (1994) games.” So, of course, the Fighting Irish went out and won a dozen games — the first time the program won 10 or more in consecutive seasons since 1991-93 — and earned a spot in the College Football Playoff for the first time ever.  This season, the Irish will be forced to replace their leading rusher, receiver and tackler — they return 13 of 22 starters overall — and have three significant road trips on tap each month of the regular season: Georgia in September, Michigan in October and Stanford in November.  If they can successfully navigate those three away tests, and take care of business with the rest of the schedule, they could very well find themselves punching yet another playoff ticket.

NO. 10 FLORIDA
2018 RECORD/FINAL AP RANKING: 10-3/T-No. 7

After an abominable 4-7 season led to Jim McElwain‘s departure, Florida won 10 games for the first time since 2015 in Dan Mullen‘s first season as head coach in Gainesville last year. Arguably Mullen’s most impressive job during that initial campaign in The Swamp was turning Feleipe Franks into an above-average quarterback; coming off a year in which he threw for nearly 2,500 yards and 24 touchdowns, Franks will see his top six reception leaders returning to the Gators this season.  The defense, which was 21st nationally and sixth in the SEC in points per game at 20.4, returns eight starters as well.  The conference schedule-makers didn’t do them very many favors at all, though, as their league cross-over games are against Auburn and LSU, with the latter matchup being played in Death Valley.

NO. 11: Utah — Every year around this time, there is always one team I fear that I have ranked way too low; the Utes are that team this season.
NO. 12: Texas A&M — Conversely, A&M might be a team ranked too high, if for nothing more than its schedule: road games against Clemson, Georgia and LSU (the latter two to close out the regular season) as well as Alabama and Auburn at home. If Jimbo Fisher matches or exceeds the nine wins from a year ago, that’s Coach of the Year stuff right there.
NO. 13: Washington — Besides having to replace the football program’s all-time leading passer and rusher along with a whopping nine starters on defense, how did you enjoy the play, Mrs. Lincoln?
NO. 14: Penn State — The two biggest road tests Penn State will face this season come at Ohio State and at Michigan State; the last time that happened, in 2017, the Nittany Lions lost both (by a combined four points) and missed out on a trip to the Big Ten championship game.
NO. 15: Oregon — If Oregon can get past Auburn in the opener, and with Heisman contender Justin Hebert directing a potentially explosive offense, the Ducks have the kind of talent to make a serious run at a Pac-12 title — if not more.  Speaking of AU…
NO. 16: Auburn — If Auburn is to get back on the national stage — and get past rival Alabama in the process — the Tigers will do so with a true freshman triggering the offense as five-star 2019 signee Bo Nix was named as AU’s starting quarterback this week.
NO. 17: Wisconsin — In his first two seasons at Wisconsin, true junior Jonathan Taylor has rushed for an astounding 4,171 yards; if he were to put up 2,235 yards this season, he would surpass San Diego State’s Donnell Pumphrey (6,405) as the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher in just three seasons.
NO. 18: Iowa State — If it weren’t for Utah — and three straight games against Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Texas in late October/early November — Iowa State would be the team I feared I have placed too low.
NO. 19: Michigan State — As is normally the case, Michigan State should field an above-average defense. How far the Spartans go, therefore, will be determined by how dramatically one of the worst offenses in the country a year ago — they were 125th out of 129 teams in scoring at 18.7 points per game — improves in 2019.
NO. 20: Iowa — The Hawkeyes have won fewer than seven games just once in the last 11 years — 4-8 in 2012 — a streak that stretches back to the 2008 season.  In eight of those 11 seasons, they have won seven, eight or nine games.  Ferentz gonna Ferentz, most seasons.
NO. 21: Syracuse — Under Dino Babers, Syracuse won 10 games in 2018 after winning a combined eight the two years before, and yet I can’t for the life of me figure out if they will challenge Clemson or sink back to sub-.500 football.
NO. 22: Miami — Tate Martell losing out on the starting quarterback job at The U — bailing on the first practice after the announcement for good measure — and getting work in at wide receiver after leaving Ohio State because he wouldn’t compete with a high-profile transfer might be my most favorite thing of the 2019 offseason.
NO. 23: Cincinnati — After winning just eight games combined the previous two seasons, Cincinnati won 11 in Luke Fickell’s second year with the program in 2018, setting the stage for the Bearcats to be a favorite (the favorite?) to claim the Group of Five’s New Year’s Six bid in 2019.
NO. 24: Mississippi State — I’m just going to be totally blunt here: If it were solely and completely up to me, Mississippi State would not be in this particular Top 25. There, I said it. Bitch and whine at your leisure below.
NO. 25: Army — To paraphrase Maj. Gen. Jefferson Gregory, ‘Merica, dammit.  The Black Knights are coming off the winningest season in academy history and have played in a bowl game three straight years for the first time ever. They will face a huge test in Week 2 as they square off with Michigan in the Big House.

Documents show UCLA AD Dan Guerrero will retire in June of 2020

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Given the development earlier this month, this is certainly an interesting twist in the UCLA-USC rivalry.

Sept. 9, it was confirmed that Lynn Swann had “resigned” as the athletic director at USC.  Exactly 10 days later, it’s being reported that Dan Guerrero will step down from his post as UCLA’s athletic director next summer.

Specifically, Guerrero will retire on June 30, 2020.  Guerrero’s contract currently runs through Dec. 31 of this year, with the university system’s regents approving Thursday to extend it out to his retirement date.

The 67-year-old Guerrero — he’ll be 68 on his retirement date — has served in his current post since April of 2002.  His most recent high-profile hire, head football coach Chip Kelly, hasn’t remotely matched the post-addition fanfare as the Bruins have posted a 3-12 record in one-plus season under Kelly.  That includes an 0-3 start to the 2019 season that already has fans of the program talking about how much it would cost to buy Kelly out.

Because of neck injury, Texas A&M RB Vernon Jackson ‘will probably never play again’

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The tumult Texas A&M has experienced in its backfield the past several months has taken yet another negative twist.

In April, Texas A&M’s Vernon Jackson posted on social media that he had “suffered a neck injury in practice… [that] could keep me from ever playing again.” Three months later, A&M would only confirm that the running back would be sidelined for the entire 2019 season because of the injury.

Wednesday night on his weekly radio show, Jimbo Fisher acknowledged that, because of the injury, “Vernon will probably never play again.” The specific nature of the neck issue has never been divulged.

According to the head coach, Jackson will remain on a medical scholarship and serve as a student coach with the football program.

“He wanted to be in coaching,” Fisher said according to the Dallas Morning News. “He’s a tremendous human being. We wanted him to be a part of our team. He’s become a student coach and learning all the things you got to be to do that.”

Jackson was a four-star member of the Aggies’ 2018 recruiting class.  As a true freshman, he appeared in 12 games, carrying the ball seven times for 49 yards.

The situation around Jackson, as well as a couple of other developments, has left the Aggies with just three healthy running backs heading into Week 4.

Starter Jashaun Corbin, who posted his first career 100-yard game in the 2019 opener, is out for the season after suffering a hamstring injury in the Week 2 loss to Clemson.  This week, Deneric Prince opted to place his name into the NCAA transfer database.

Isaiah Spiller‘s 246 yards (on just 28 carries) currently leads the Aggies.  His 8.8 yards per carry is seventh nationally among all players with at least 25 rushing attempts.

Braylon Edwards: Michigan ‘light years behind Ohio State’ right now

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There is some breaking news, y’all.

To say that Ohio State has owned the greatest rivalry in all of sports of late would be an understatement of mammoth proportions, with Michigan losing each of the last seven editions of The Game.  Taking it back further, the Buckeyes have won 14 of the last 15 and 16 of the last 18.

Throughout the offseason, and as OSU is in its first year of the post-Urban Meyer era, there’s has been many a discussion that this is the season that, finally, the Wolverines get over that Buckeye hump.  Michigan, though, has hardly looked the part thus far — they nearly lost to Army in the Big House in double overtime — while Ohio State has outscored its opponents 138-31 in starting 3-0 and still looks like the class of the Big Ten.

Enter Braylon Edwards, the former U-M receiving great who has never in the past been shy about criticizing his alma mater when he feels it’s warranted.  During a radio appearance this week, Edwards laid out his unvarnished opinion on how the Wolverines stand in comparison to their hated rivals.

“Falling [behind OSU]? We fell,” Edwards said by way of USA Today. “It’s past tense. We’re light years behind Ohio State right now.”

Edwards also had stern words for how the Wolverines approach The Game compared to the Buckeyes.

My biggest concern, if I’m being honest. Three-hundred-sixty-five days a year, [OSU is] breathing, living, hating – they can’t even say our name. They hate us so much. When they go into that game, that’s that old-school, 1960s football, Friday Night Lights in Texas – that’s the atmosphere. That’s what they bring to the table when they play us. You can feel it on them. You can almost smell the hate when you play against them.

… You approach certain teams differently. We got to start approaching that game from the standpoint that they do. I feel like when we go into that game, you’re looking at two different preparation systems.

The latest edition of The Game will be played Nov. 30 in Ann Arbor.  If U-M were to lose that game, the heat underneath Jim Harbaugh‘s seat, regardless of the record the first 11 games, will be cranked up exponentially.

Nick Saban says Alabama’s highest-rated 2019 signee has ‘basically quit’ the team

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I guess it’s time to close the books on this little mini-soap opera, at least for now.

Antonio Alfano was suspended for unspecified reasons and didn’t dress for Alabama’s Week 2 home opener against New Mexico State.  Last week, Nick Saban added a bit of mystery to Alfano’s status when he stated that the highly-touted defensive lineman has “kind of disappeared a little bit” before launching into an oral dissertation about failing to confront and learn from one’s mistakes.

On Twitter nearly a week ago, Alfano’s parents stated that, in large part because of an ailing grandmother, their son “has not attended classes or practices” for an unspecified period of time.  Against their wishes, the parents also confirmed that Alfano has entered the NCAA transfer database.

Wednesday, Saban offered up an update in which the head coach, very bluntly, stated that the defensive lineman has basically quit the team as he hasn’t shown up for football-related activities, classes or counseling for unspecified issues.  The player isn’t responding to attempts by the team to contact him, either, Saban added.

With his name in the transfer database, other schools can contact Alfano without receiving permission from Alabama.  The true freshman also, as the parents alluded to in their social media posts last week, can pull his name from the portal and remain with the Crimson Tide.

During summer camp, Alfano missed a couple of practices for what were described as personal reasons but ultimately returned to the team.  Even before the suspension, the lineman didn’t play in the season opener against Duke.

A five-star 2019 signee, Alfano was rated as the No. 1 strongside defensive end in the country; the No. 1 player at any position in the state of New Jersey; and the No. 5 player overall on 247Sports.com‘s composite board.  He was the highest-rated Crimson Tide signee during this most recent cycle.