Enough of the 2018 college football season already. Which 25 teams look the strongest for the 2019 season … at least in early January.
The recruiting world isn’t done, we’re still waiting to find out who’s leaving early, the grad transfer quarterback circuit is in full go, and spring ball is still a long, long way away.
Your team isn’t on here? Give it a bit … there will be about 9,783 changes between now and the start of next season, here’s the first guess on who the top 25 teams of 2019 are going to be.
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25. Missouri Tigers
And here comes the Kelly Bryant era. The former Clemson Tiger has found a home, and he’s got enough talent around him to make the offense amazing. The defense might lose a slew of key parts, but five of the top seven tacklers are back.
24. Florida State Seminoles
It was a young, young team that should be a whole lot better after improving a bit as the season went on. The Seminoles started seven underclassmen on defense, and now it should grow into a deep, productive group that’s a whole lot more consistent. The offensive line has to get a whole lot better, but the skill talent is there to shine if they can all get some room and time to work.
23. South Carolina Gamecocks
Total clunker against Virginia aside, the fundamentals are strong going into the 2019 season. Playmaking WR Deebo Samuel is done, and the O line needs a few new tackles, but QB Jake Bentley leads what should be better attack. But can it be consistent? On the other side, only four of the top 20 tacklers are expected to be gone.
22. UCF Knights
They’re not going away. Great O, suspect D … expect more of the same. They’re losing the defensive interior along with linebacking machine Pat Jasinski, but the offensive side should continue to explode. Assuming McKenzie Milton isn’t going to be ready yet, Darriel Mack is a good quarterback option leading another dangerous attack that should return all the top targets.
21. Iowa State Cyclones
RB David Montgomery is leaving early, and WR Hakeem Butler is gone, too, but this should still be Matt Campbell’s best team yet. QB Brock Purdy is a great one to build around, everyone is back on the offensive line, and the defense returns nine of the top 12 tacklers. It’ll be on the short list of sleeper teams to play for the Big 12 title.
20. USC Trojans
Okay, let’s give this another shot. JT Daniels was a high school senior playing quarterback, there were underclassmen in key spots across the board, and it was supposed to be a year of transition. Kliff Kingsbury is in at offensive coordinator, seven starters return on the offensive side, but … the defense. The secondary is going to be a massive issue early on, but the overall bounceback should be quick.
19. Syracuse Orange
Is the system in place to keep this all going? Yup. The top two tacklers – Ryan Guthrie and Kielan Whitner – are done, but eight of the top ten are back including most of the top pass rushing producers. QB Eric Dungey has to be replaced, but there are a whole lot of nice parts to work with for an offense that should be even more dangerous.
18. Washington Huskies
Is Jacob Eason ready to take over the quarterback gig and be amazing? He’ll need to shine for what should be a good offense that needs to overcome a rebuilding defense. Both lines have to undergo an overhaul, the early loss of S Taylor Rapp hurts a depleted secondary, and tackling machine Ben Burr-Kirven is done. Eight starters are gone on D, but the talent is there to step in.
17. Miami Hurricanes
Can Manny Diaz be the one to crank up get the program back to where it was two years ago? The team wasn’t that bad last season – it just didn’t have the explosion or punch. There has to be an identity to rely on offensively to go along with the killers on the other side. The amazing linebacking corps of Shaq Peterman, Zach McCloud, and Michael Pinckney returns – that should make up for the losses in the secondary.
16. Auburn Tigers
Can the Auburn team that ended its season by rocking Purdue keep it all going? QB Jarrett Stidham and WR Darius Slayton are leaving early, but the running backs should shine behind a potentially loaded line – at least, the line is loaded with experience. It’ll take all offseason to get the defense back up to snuff after losing way too many good parts, especially on the front seven.
15. Wisconsin Badgers
Let’s try this again. OT David Edwards is leaving early, and two other starters are gone, but the O line will be the Wisconsin O line again. The receiving corps is great, Jonathan Taylor is a Heisman candidate, and the quarterback situation will sort itself out. Heart-and-soul LB TJ Edwards is gone, but eight starters are back on defense.
14. Texas A&M Aggies
The hiring of Jimbo Fisher made Jace Sternberger a star, but the tight end is leaving early along with star RB Trayveon Williams. But the receiving corps is big and nasty for QB Kellen Mond. The defense, though, needs a TON of work on the front seven with five starters gone. Give it one more year of building, and then … look out.
13. Penn State Nittany Lions
There might be a wee bit of a concern at finding the right guy at quarterback to replace Trace McSorley, but the Nittany Lions will be in the Big Ten title chase. The big losses are on the lines. Shareef Miller and Kevin Givens are leaving early on the D, and the right side of the offensive front is gone with Connor McGovern and Ryan Bates taking off. On the plus side, the running backs and receivers should be deadly, and LB Micah Parsons leads an outstanding back seven.
12. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
The Irish won’t have Dexter Williams around, and it won’t have Brandon Wimbush to step in if needed, but Ian Book is back along with just enough running back talent to make the O go. Replacing star CB Julian Love will be a problem, but the secondary should be a strong part of a rebuilding defense with four of the top five tacklers gone.
11. Michigan State Spartans
The offense isn’t going to be worse – it can’t be. The defense might be almost as good, though, with LB Joe Bachie returning to lead another outstanding group. Eight starters are back – CB Justin Layne is leaving early – including almost everyone of note on the front four. When it comes to the offense … the defense will be strong. At the very least, all five starters are back on the line, and there are options at quarterback. In all, eight starters are expected to return.