USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Nick Saban, Kirby Smart and Dabo Sweeney
With college football season almost in the books, it’s never too early to start looking toward the 2019 season — when Clemson and Alabama will be the teams to beat once again.
The Tide and Tigers bring back so much, especially on offense and at quarterback, and have never had trouble replacing defensive stars. Such is life when you recruit at an elite level and have two of the best coaches in the country.
College Football Top 25 Rankings for 2019
Title odds from Westgate in parentheses.
1. Alabama (5-2)
Are they still the undisputed king of college football? The Tide deserve to be No. 1 because I think they’ll still be power rated slightly ahead of Clemson. Tua Tagovailoa is back, so are all of his receivers, and a young secondary that got exposed in the national title game should get better.
2. Clemson (9-5)
If a 1A existed, Clemson would deserve it. The Tigers bring back Trevor Lawrence at quarterback and so much at the skill positions. There’s a lot to replace on defense, but Clemson might have the best offense its ever had next year, and that’s saying something.
3. Georgia (12-1)
This was supposed to be a little bit of a rebuilding year for Georgia, after an excellent senior class left and before its elite recruiting really got on campus. But the Dawgs were ahead of schedule all the way until the second half of the SEC Championship Game, when things fell apart.
4. Oklahoma (15-1)
New quarterback Austin Kendall is not Kyler Murray or Baker Mayfield, but you have to trust Lincoln Riley to keep this offense rolling. The recruiting on defense is excellent, too, so with the right coordinator in place, that side of the ball should get a little better.
5. Ohio State (12-1)
Ohio State’s elite recruiting over both a 2-year and 5-year stretch will keep the Buckeyes high in any next-season projection, even with the loss of Urban Meyer and quarterback Dwayne Haskins. We’ll see if Justin Fields is eligible after transferring from Georgia.
6. Florida (25-1)
Florida exceeded expectations in Dan Mullen’s first season, capping it off with a New Year’s Six bowl blowout of Michigan.
The Gators bring back a lot on defense and will be a trendy SEC and national title pick as the fall approaches.
7. Michigan (14-1)
The Jim Harbaugh hype has cooled, but the Wolverines should still be among the national title favorites.
8. Texas (20-1)
Texas. Is. Back. You’ll hear it all summer.
I’m a little bearish on the Horns compared to a lot of people — they have to replace a lot on defense, even if the offense should be really good. And they had a lot of help getting to 10 wins this season.
9. LSU (50-1)
It’s hard to knock LSU after what the Tigers did this season, surviving the toughest schedule in the country to go 10-3 with a Fiesta Bowl win.
Quarterback Joe Burrow, for all his flaws, will be back and more seasoned. The defense has a lot to replace, but LSU never seems to have trouble with that thanks to elite recruiting.
10. Texas A&M (80-1)
Jimbo Fisher brings back a good, veteran quarterback, most of his offensive line and just about everyone at the skill positions. The Aggies’ strong finish coupled with top 15 recruiting over the last five years will make them a sleeper in the SEC West.
11. Auburn (50-1)
Gus Malzahn will take over the playcalling again, but he’ll have to break in a new quarterback. The Tigers have recruited at a top-10 level over the last five years.
12. Penn State (100-1)
The Nittany Lions have had a lot of early draftee defections, but as we get further from the program’s NCAA sanctions, the roster just continues to get better. Expect the defense to be excellent again and the offense should remain strong if Tommy Stevens or Sean Clifford can at least partially fill Trace McSorley’s shoes at quarterback.
13. Notre Dame (25-1)
Ian Book returns at quarterback, though there will be lots of losses on defense that might be tough to replace. Games at Georgia and at Michigan might spoil the Irish’s playoff hopes.
14. Washington (25-1)
The bar is high for the Huskies in a weak Pac-12, so expect them to compete for another Rose Bowl berth.
Washington hosts USC, Utah, Oregon and Washington State in 2019. Its toughest road challenge is at Stanford.
15. Utah (80-1)
The Utes will be a popular Pac-12 pick, since they return their quarterback and plenty more, and always seem to be in the mix in the South division.
16. Iowa (100-1)
Another team with a quarterback returning. But the Hawkeyes will live and die by an excellent defense, particularly up front.
Iowa gets Penn State and Michigan in cross-over games and goes to Nebraska and to Wisconsin in November.
17. UCF (500-1)
The Knights have earned the benefit of the doubt at this point to land in the top 25. S&P+ has them in the top 10. They hope quarterback McKenzie Milton can return after a gruesome leg injury in November.
18. Wisconsin (50-1)
The Badgers probably won’t be this bad on defense again, but they do get Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State in crossover play.
19. Oregon (30-1)
The Ducks will be a trendy College Football Playoff pick because quarterback Justin Herbert returns, but they play at Stanford, Washington and USC and open the season at Jerry World against Auburn.
20. Missouri (300-1)
Having Clemson transfer Kelly Bryant to replace Drew Lock helps, but the Tigers lose about half their starters on both offense and defense.
21. Iowa State (200-1)
Iowa State made major strides on offense when it switched to freshman Brock Purdy, and the defense should always be solid under Matt Campbell.
22. Nebraska (25-1)
Another popular conference sleeper, the Huskers looked better and better all season and suffered some tough luck in the early goings. They’ll be much improve and contend for the Big Ten West title.
23. USC (80-1)
USC still has loads of talent and suffered some bad-luck losses this year. The Trojans deserved two more wins than they had based on their statistical profile, per Football Outsiders.
24. Miami (80-1)
Another team considered unlucky based on its statistical profile, the Canes will need major improvement at quarterback if they want to positively regress.
25. Mississippi State (50-1)
Mississippi State’s elite defense loses a lot, but I think Keytaon Thompson will be an improvement over Nick Fitzgerald with what coach Joe Moorhead wants to do on offense.