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.