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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

Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy headlines 2019 Biletnikoff Award Watch List

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Media Day season is also Watch List season and the latest to surface for the 2019 campaign comes out of Tallahassee in the form of the Biletnikoff Award Watch List. The award, given annually to the nation’s most outstanding receiver, includes the defending winner in Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy and fellow semifinalist Tylan Wallace out of Oklahoma State, as well as a number of other talented pass-catchers from around the country.

Here’s the full list, which is a good general overview of the best wide receivers and tight ends for the upcoming season even if a few names can gripe about being left off:

Lynn Bowden, Jr. (Kentucky)

Rico Bussey, Jr. (North Texas)

Cedric Byrd (Hawaii)

Grant Calcaterra (Oklahoma)

Damonte Coxie (Memphis)

Gabriel Davis (UCF)

Bryan Edwards (South Carolina)

D’Wayne Eskridge (Western Michigan)

Aaron Fuller (Washington)

Antonio Gandy-Golden (Liberty)

KJ Hamler (Penn State)

Adrian Hardy (Louisiana Tech)

Damon Hazelton (Virginia Tech)

Tee Higgins (Clemson)

K.J. Hill (Ohio State)

Isaiah Hodgins (Oregon State)

Justin Jefferson (LSU)

Jerry Jeudy (Alabama)

Tyler Johnson (Minnesota)

Collin Johnson (Texas)

CeeDee Lamb (Oklahoma)

Ty Lee (Middle Tennessee State)

Kalija Lipscomb (Vanderbilt)

McLane Mannix (Texas Tech)

Kirk Merritt (Arkansas State)

Riley Miller (Ball State)

Denzel Mims (Baylor)

Darnell Mooney (Tulane)

Rondale Moore (Purdue)

Albert Okwuegbunam (Missouri)

K.J. Osborn (Miami)

Dezmon Patmon (Washington State)

Jared Pinkney (Vanderbilt)

Michael Pittman, Jr. (USC)

James Proche (SMU)

Jalen Reagor (TCU)

Jared Rice (Fresno State)

Sean Riley (Syracuse)

Reggie Roberson, Jr. (SMU)

Justyn Ross (Clemson)

Henry Ruggs III (Alabama)

Laviska Shenault, Jr. (Colorado)

JD Spielman (Nebraska)

Amon-Ra St. Brown (USC)

Marquez Stevenson (Houston)

Tamorrion Terry (Florida State)

Jaylen Waddle (Alabama)

Tylan Wallace (Oklahoma State)

JoJo Ward (Hawaii)

Quez Watkins (Southern Miss)

CFT 2018 Preseason Previews: The Big 12

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The Big 12 is the most quarterback-driven of all QB-driven leagues, and 2018 represents a major changing of the guard. Gone is Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 pick Baker Mayfield, and so, too, are Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph, TCU’s Kenny Hill, Texas Tech’s Nic Shimonek and Kansas State’s Jesse Ertz. West Virginia returns Heisman candidate Will Grier, but the next-highest returning passer is Texas’s Sam Ehlinger, who threw for all of 1,915 yards as a true freshman in 2017. This is going to be a wide-open year and, as such, a year where the unpredictable will reign supreme over the predictable. It’s an off-year in the Big 12’s your turn/my turn College Football Playoff rotation with the Pac-12, and a year where a young, ascendant team (Baylor?) is likely to rise up and wreck the season of a favored team who is among the best in the land (Oklahoma? West Virginia? TCU?) who’s wobbly from the most difficult week-to-week grind in college football. (Don’t @ me.)

Oklahoma enters as the prohibitive favorite, but the Sooners lose a lot of production from 2017. You know about Mayfield, but Lincoln Riley also loses All-American pass rusher Obo Okoronkwo, All-American left tackle Orlando Brown and All-American tight end Mark Andrews, as well as Swiss army knife fullback Dimitri FlowersKyler Murray will add an extra dimension to Oklahoma’s running game, but can a 5-foot-9 quarterback sit back in the pocket and pick people apart when necessary?

West Virginia enters as OU’s top challenger, and the combination of Grier, Gary Jennings (97 catches for 1,096 yards in 2017) and David Sills (60 grabs for 980 yards and 18 touchdowns) is easily the conference’s most fearsome passing attack. Dana Holgorsen thinks his team finally has the defense and the depth to survive the year-long grind of the Big 12, but he seemingly says that every year. Making four cross-country trips a year is a unique challenge that any program would struggle to solve, though WVU does get Oklahoma and TCU in Morgantown. TCU replaces Hill with Gary Patterson‘s highest-regarded quarterback recruit ever in sophomore Shawn Robinson. He should team with KaVontae Turpin and Jalen Reagor to give the Frogs plenty of sizzle, and TCU’s front seven is probably the scariest in the league, but the Frogs’ four new offensive line starters will have to grow up in a hurry.

Texas has a lot to like on an individual level, but skepticism is warranted until the quarterback position is sorted out. This is a league where 40 touchdowns responsible for from your starting quarterback is a prerequisite for winning the conference title, and Ehlinger and Shane Buechele combined for 22 in 2017. Oklahoma State won’t be as good as they were last year after losing Rudolph and James Washington but will still be much better than you assume they’ll be, which is exactly how Mike Gundy prefers it. Iowa State will be just good enough to ruin your season but not good enough to seriously contend for the league title. Texas Tech enters the year with more question marks on offense than defense for the first time since the 19th century, which could be considered a very good sign considering Kliff Kingsbury will never field a bad offense. Baylor was much better than last year’s 1-11 record, and Matt Rhule‘s 17 returning starters, led by sophomore quarterback Charlie Brewer, means this will be the league’s most improved team — and perhaps the country’s. Kansas State will be about as pleasant to play as a root canal, and junior quarterback Alex Delton will again be a nightmare to contain. David Beaty returns 19 starters and enters a last-chance season to show marked progress with new AD Jeff Long watching.

Before we get to the predictions, consider that the Big 12 is annually a league where the gap between No. 3 and No. 8 is small enough to slip a notecard through, and especially so this year.

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
1. Oklahoma
2. Texas
3. West Virginia
4. TCU
5. Iowa State
6. Oklahoma State
7. Kansas State
8. Baylor
9. Texas Tech
10. Kansas

IN SHORT…

Oklahoma storms out to 17-0 lead, but TCU chipping away in Big 12 championship game

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The Big 12 Championship Game is finally back, for some reason, and Oklahoma was ready to welcome it back in a big way. The Sooners blew the doors wide open in the first quarter with a 17-0 start, but TCU regained some control of things in the second quarter and we have ourselves a ballgame in Arlington. With the Big 12 title on the line, No. 3 Oklahoma holds a 24-17 lead on No. 11 TCU, setting the stage for a really good second half.

Oklahoma took the game’s opening drive down the field and settled for a field goal to open the scoring. The lead was quickly expanded when Caleb Kelly returned a TCU fumble for a score on the first offensive play for the Horned Frogs.

TCU’s first full offensive possession resulted in a punt, and the Sooners tacked on more points. Baker Mayfield made some plays with his arm and his legs to keep the drive alive and he ended the drive with a touchdown pass to Mark Andrews from five yards out to push Oklahoma out to a 17-0 lead.

TCU finally got things together on offense in the second quarter with Kenny Hill connecting on a 29-yard pass to Jalen Reagor early in the second quarter. Hill again got TCU in the end zone through the air on their next possession with a 12-yard pass to John Diarse. The Sooners responded on the ensuing possession following a solid kickoff return and TCU penalty to work on a shorter field. Mayfield pushed the lead to 24-14 with a six-yard pass to Andrews.

A win for Oklahoma would just about guarantee a spot in the College Football Playoff.

Baker Mayfield and Oklahoma lead the way when it comes to the 2017 All-Big 12 Football Awards

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To the surprise of absolutely nobody, the Big 12 is headlined by Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield when it comes to the conference’s annual regular season awards.

The Sooners star signal-caller (and prohibitive Heisman Trophy favorite) was named the 2017 Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year on Thursday according to a release, capturing the honor for the second time in three seasons in Norman. Teammate Ogbonnia Okoronkwo also took home some hefty hardware from the conference, as he was named co-Defensive Player of the Year with Texas’ linebacker Malik Jefferson.

Also notable was the Chuck Neinas Coach of the Year Award winner, which went to Matt Campbell after he took the Cyclones to a 7-5 record (5-4 in conference play).

Other Big 12 honors handed out included:

  • West Virginia QB Will Grier was name Offensive Newcomer of the Year
  • TCU defensive end Ben Banogu was the Defensive Newcomer of the Year
  • Co-Offensive Freshmen of the Year were Baylor QB Charlie Brewer and TCU wideout Jalen Reagor
  • Co-Defensive Freshmen of the Year were Oklahoma LB Kenneth Murray and TCU DT Ross Blacklock
  • Special Teams Player of the Year was Texas punter Michael Dickson, an Aussie who won the trophy for the second straight season
  • Offensive Lineman of the Year was Orlando Brown, the Sooners’ left tackle who won for the second year in a row
  • Defensive Lineman of the Year honors went to Texas senior DT Poona Ford

According to the conference, Oklahoma won the most individual awards in the 21-year history of the Big 12 with a whopping 39 after this year’s haul. All the selections were voted on by the league’s coaches, which were not allowed to vote for their own players.