With signing day in the books, and rosters largely set for the 2019 season, spring practice is now the focus for all 130 college football teams. And with every program hitting the field for offseason workouts, it’s never too early to look at the year ahead and project where all 130 teams could rank when the official Athlon Sports magazine predictions are released later this summer.
Expect several tweaks to this NCAA football top 130 ranking from now until August and before the 2019 season officially starts. However, with spring practice around the corner for all 130 teams, the 2019 outlook for every program is coming into focus.
Here is Athlon’s very early look at the top 130 teams in college football for 2019:
College Football Rankings: Pre-Spring Top 130 Teams
Mike Bloomgren’s debut at Rice ended on a high note, as the Owls knocked off Old Dominion 27-13 in the season finale. Rice is a ways off from contending, but more small signs of progress should be within reach in 2019. The staff will be counting on young players like running back Juma Otoviano, linebackers Antonio Montero and Treshawn Chamberlain, and safety Prudy Calderon to lead the way this season.
The good: Running back Kevin Mensah is back after rushing for 1,045 yards last season. The bad: UConn loses quarterback David Pindell (258.4 total yards a game) and must find some answers on a defense that allowed 50.4 points a game, 8.8 yards a play, and surrendered 335 rushing yards a contest. Additionally, both sides of the ball will have new play-callers in 2019.
New coach Walt Bell won’t have All-American receiver Andy Isabella or quarterbacks Ross Comis or Andrew Ford to lean on in 2019. The new staff also inherits a defense that allowed 42.9 points a game last fall. Cornerback Isaiah Rodgers is a name to watch this fall.
The Miners only won a single contest in coach Dana Dimel’s first season, but a closer look at the results shows this team made more strides than its record would suggest. Dimel’s team still has a long ways to go on both sides of the ball, especially since both units ranked near the bottom of Conference USA. Getting more consistency out of the quarterbacks, minimizing the mistakes (-17 turnover margin), and shoring up the run defense are top spring priorities for this coaching staff.
126. New Mexico State
Winning in Las Cruces isn’t easy, so it’s no surprise New Mexico State watched its win total regress by four games from 2017 to ’18. Quarterback Josh Adkins and running backs Christian Gibson and Jason Huntley provide optimism on offense, but the defense loses a handful of key pieces from its 2018 unit. The schedule is tough. The Aggies play at Washington State, Alabama, Georgia Southern and Ole Miss, while San Diego State and Fresno State come to Las Cruces.
125. Coastal Carolina
The Chanticleers should have a relatively seamless transition to new coach Jamey Chadwell, as the former Charleston Southern head coach worked as the program’s interim coach in 2017. However, a couple of key starters from the ’18 team – end Jeffrey Gunter and offensive lineman Brock Huffman – decided to transfer. Additionally, Coastal Carolina needs to find more production out of the quarterback position and replace big-play receiver Malcolm Williams.
124. South Alabama
The Jaguars were clearly in rebuild mode under first-year coach Steve Campbell in 2018. Improving on last season’s three-win mark will require a quarterback to emerge from a battle that features Cephus Johnson and junior college recruit Tylan Morton. Running back Tra Minter is back, but the offense will miss receiver Jamarius Way. South Alabama’s defense ranked last in the Sun Belt by giving up 38.8 points a contest and near the bottom in yards per play (6.7). Tackle Tyree Turner is one of the Sun Belt’s top returning linemen, but the Jaguars have to get better versus the run.
123. Georgia State
A year after posting the highest (seven) win total in program history, Georgia State took a step back with a 2-10 finish in 2018. The Panthers had a young team last fall, so there’s optimism for improvement this season. The defense is likely to receive a lot of attention this spring. Georgia State surrendered just over 250 rushing yards a game, 7.7 yards a play and 37.4 points a game in 2018. With major concerns on defense, getting back to six wins will rest on how far quarterback Dan Ellington and receiver Cornelius McCoy can carry the offense.
122. San Jose State
San Jose State isn’t an easy job, and coach Brent Brennan is clearly in the midst of a major rebuild with a 3-22 record over the last two years. Both sides of the ball need marked improvement. The Spartans averaged only 21.2 points a game and surrendered 36.6 last fall. Receiver Tre Walker (18.3 ypc in ’18) needs more opportunities this season.
121. Bowling Green
The Falcons won 10 games in coach Dino Babers’ final season in 2015 but have claimed only nine victories over the last three years. New coach Scot Loeffler is tasked with getting this program back to the top of the MAC East, and his background on offense should be a good fit for a team that returns promising quarterback Jarret Doege and running back Andrew Clair. The defense allowed 40 points a game last year and is set to lose six of its nine top tacklers, including All-MAC safety Marcus Milton.
120. Central Michigan
After an abysmal 1-11 season, Central Michigan is hitting the reset button under new coach Jim McElwain. Improving the offense is the top priority this spring for the new staff. The Chippewas averaged only 3.8 yards per play and 15 points a game last fall. The addition of Quinten Dormady (Houston transfer) and David Moore (junior college) will provide options at quarterback. All-MAC end Mike Danna left the program as a graduate transfer to Michigan.
After back-to-back seasons of six victories, UTSA fell to 3-9 in coach Frank Wilson’s third year at the helm. Wilson hopes a change at coordinator (Al Borges out, Jeff Kastl in) will jump-start an offense that averaged only 14.2 points a game in 2018. The return of Frank Harris from injury, along with the arrival of former LSU and junior college recruit Lowell Narcisse will add some much-needed competition to the quarterback room. UTSA’s defense led C-USA in fewest points allowed (17.0) in 2017 but fell to 31.2 a game in ’18. Getting this unit back on track will require finding a replacement for standout linebacker Josiah Tauaefa, who left early for the NFL.
New coach Tom Arth is an Ohio native and was the head coach at Division III John Carroll from 2013-16, compiling a 40-8 record during his tenure with the Blue Streaks. The 37-year-old coach could have his hands full in year one. The Zips return promising quarterback Kato Nelson and standout safety Alvin Davis, but All-MAC lineman Jamal Davis, cornerback Kyron Brown, and linebacker Ulysees Gilbert have finished their eligibility.
117. New Mexico
Bob Davie is facing a make-or-break year in Albuquerque, and the Lobos enter the 2019 season riding a seven-game losing streak. After last year’s three-win campaign, Davie made a few tweaks to his coaching staff and will have new coordinators on both sides of the ball. The defense lost nine of its top 11 tacklers, and there’s room to improve on an offense that lost 26 turnovers and ranked eighth in the Mountain West in scoring (26.6 ppg). In order to escape the bottom of the Mountain Division, New Mexico needs more consistency out of its quarterbacks.
116. Kent State
The Golden Flashes are trending up under second-year coach Sean Lewis. Quarterback Woody Barrett, running back Jo-El Shaw and receivers Mike Carrigan, Antwan Dixon, and Isaiah McKoy provide plenty of firepower for a unit that improved its scoring average from 12.8 in 2017 to 23.9 in ’18. More progress is needed on a defense that surrendered 36.7 points a game last fall.
115. Ball State
Mike Neu’s fourth year in Muncie will be a critical one. The Cardinals haven’t exceeded four wins in each of his three seasons at the helm, and with most of the depth chart returning for 2019, there’s pressure to get to a bowl. Standout running back James Gilbert opted to transfer to Kansas State, but Caleb Huntley and Malik Dunner provide an effective duo in the backfield. The development of quarterback Drew Plitt, along with improvement on defense after giving up 32.4 points a game last season, is likely to determine whether or not Ball State goes bowling in 2019.
114. Texas State
New coach Jake Spavital inherits a Texas State team that finished 3-9 in 2018 but five of those losses came by 10 points or less. Spavital’s background on offense should help the Bobcats find a spark after averaging only 19.8 points a game last fall. Former Montana and junior college quarterback Gresch Jensen will be a name to watch this offseason. Texas State’s defense took a step forward by cutting its yards per play allowed from 6.2 to 5.3 last fall. This unit has to patch a few holes up front, but linebacker Bryan London is one of the Sun Belt’s top returning defenders.
This program has a lot of untapped potential, and new coach Will Healy should help the 49ers move forward in Conference USA over the next few seasons. An offense that averaged only 21.7 points a game last fall will have to retool up front and needs to find more production under center. Running back Benny LeMay (1,243 yards) should be the focal point for Healy in 2019. Linebacker Juwan Foggie leaves big shoes to fill, but the defense could be one of the better groups in C-USA thanks to the return of end Alex Highsmith and safety Ben DeLuca.
112. Old Dominion
After winning 10 games in 2016, the Monarchs have only claimed nine over the last two seasons. New defensive coordinator David Blackwell is tasked with improving a unit that has allowed over 30 points a game in four out of the last five seasons. Quarterback Blake LaRussa passed on his senior year, but Steven Williams is back after a redshirt season, and junior college (and former Michigan State quarterback) Messiah deWeaver will compete for the job. The winner of the quarterback battle will have to navigate a revamped receiving corps after the top three statistical options from last year completed their eligibility. Standout end Oshane Ximines will be missed.
The Hilltoppers are just two years removed from a Conference USA title. How fast can new coach Tyson Helton get this program back into contention? Jump-starting an offense that managed only 21.1 points a game in 2018 is a good starting point, and the arrival of Arkansas graduate transfer Ty Storey adds competition to a quarterback room already featuring Steven Duncan, Davis Shanley and Kevaris Thomas. The winner of the quarterback battle will have some pieces to work with at the skill positions, including running back Joshua Samuel and receiver Lucky Jackson. The defense must replace three out of its top five tacklers after Ben Holt chose to transfer to Purdue.
110. East Carolina
New coach Mike Houston is one of the offseason’s top hires, but the Pirates will be in rebuild mode for 2019. Quarterback Holton Ahlers is promising, and there’s some talent to work with at the skill positions. However, even though East Carolina’s defense took a step forward last fall, there’s still plenty of room to improve after giving up 37.3 points a game.
The Midshipmen are coming off their lowest win total (three) of coach Ken Niumatalolo’s tenure. Quarterback/slot back Malcolm Perry returns, but Navy must restock along the offensive line and on defense under new coordinator Brian Newberry.
The Flames certainly won’t lack for intrigue in 2019. New coach Hugh Freeze inherits an offense that features 1,000-yard receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden, along with quarterback Stephen Calvert and running back Frankie Hickson. The schedule features a home opener against Syracuse and trips to BYU and Virginia in November, but this is a manageable slate to push for a winning record.
Abysmal. That’s the best way to sum up Rutgers' offense in 2018. The Scarlet Knights averaged 13.5 points a game and 4.1 yards a play and lost a whopping 29 turnovers. Fixing this unit starts with improved play out of quarterback Artur Sitkowski. Coach Chris Ash’s defense allowed 31.4 points a contest in 2018 and returns only four starters for ’19.
With Les Miles in control, the Jayhawks won’t lack for intrigue in 2019. However, while this program will be interesting, Miles and his staff inherit a roster with major question marks on both sides of the ball. The status of All-Big 12 running back Pooka Williams is unsettled after an offseason incident.
With a new stadium on the way, there’s no shortage of pressure for coach Tony Sanchez to get UNLV to the postseason in 2019. In order to hit six victories, the Rebels need to improve a defense that surrendered 37.2 points a game in ’18. Sanchez also needs a healthy year out of quarterback Armani Rogers, especially with running back Lexington Thomas out of eligibility.
104. Eastern Michigan
Chris Creighton has quietly pieced together an impressive stint at Eastern Michigan, guiding one of the toughest jobs in the nation to two bowl games over the last three years. The Eagles led the MAC in scoring defense last fall (22.1 ppg) but have to replace eight of their top 11 tacklers, including All-MAC end Maxx Crosby, linebacker Kyle Rachwal, and lineman Jeremiah Harris. Quarterback Tyler Wiegers departs, and the offense also loses a couple of starters in the trenches as well as No. 1 receiver Blake Banham.
103. Colorado State
The Rams won seven games in each of coach Mike Bobo’s first three years in Fort Collins but slumped to 3-9 last fall. Getting back to the postseason will require marked improvement on defense after Colorado State surrendered 36.8 points a game. Additionally, Nebraska transfer Patrick O’Brien will compete with Collin Hill for the starting quarterback spot, but a new go-to receiver must emerge after Preston Williams left early for the NFL.
The Golden Hurricane opened coach Philip Montgomery’s tenure with back-to-back bowl trips, but the program has slipped to 5-19 over the last two years. The arrival of Baylor transfer Zach Smith should provide a spark under center, and Shamari Brooks and Corey Taylor return at running back. New defensive coordinator Joseph Gillespie hopes to build on last year’s progress on defense. After giving up 37.5 points a game in 2017, Tulsa cut that total to 29.6 in ’18.
101. Middle Tennessee
Life after Brent Stockstill for the Blue Raiders officially begins this spring. Replacing the four-year starter isn’t going to be easy. Junior college recruit Randall Johnson, freshman Chance Nolan and Asher O’Hara are slated to battle for the starting job under center this offseason. The good news for the new quarterback? The supporting cast is isn’t bare, as Chaton Mobley at running back and Ty Lee at receiver are back in 2019. The defense is set to lose nine of its top 17 tacklers from last fall. A restocked defense and a new quarterback will determine just how high this team climbs this season.
After a 2-4 start, ULM nearly rallied to the second bowl trip in program history with a 4-2 finish. With quarterback Caleb Evans, receivers RJ Turner and Xavier Brown and an intact offensive line returning, the Warhawks should have no trouble putting points on the board in 2019. However, there must be more improvement out of a defense that allowed 6.3 yards per play and 31.8 points a game.
The 2019 season will be an important one for coach Chuck Martin, as the RedHawks have only one bowl appearance over the last five years. In order to post a winning record this fall, Martin will have to find a new quarterback to replace Gus Ragland, restock the backfield with Alonzo Smith and Kenny Young out of eligibility, and plug a couple of holes on defense, including linebacker with the departure of standout Brad Koening.
The Bulls are coming off their best season in school history at the FBS level. But for a team hoping to repeat as MAC East champs, the path to a division title suffered a few setbacks this offseason. Quarterback Tyree Jackson declared for the NFL draft, and receiver K.J. Osborn transferred to Miami. That’s on top of receiver Anthony Johnson, center James O’Hagan, defensive end Chuck Harris, cornerback Cameron Lewis, and linebacker Khalil Hodge expiring their eligibility. Until the quarterback position is stabilized, look for the offense to feature a heavy dose of running backs Jaret Patterson and Kevin Marks.
97. Oregon State
The Beavers have a steep climb out of the Pac-12 North cellar but showed small signs of progress in coach Jonathan Smith’s first year in Corvallis. Another step forward is a reasonable expectation for 2019, especially with instant help coming from the transfer ranks in the form of quarterback Tristan Gebbia (Nebraska), receiver Tyjon Lindsey (Nebraska), and linebackers Avery Roberts (Nebraska) and Addison Gumbs (Oklahoma). Jermar Jefferson is one of the Pac-12’s top returning running backs after posting 1,380 yards as a freshman in 2018. Oregon State’s defense will be under the spotlight this spring after giving up 7.4 yards a play and 45.7 points a game last fall.
The Wolf Pack showed marked improvement in coach Jay Norvell’s second season. However, getting back to a bowl in 2019 won’t be easy. Nevada loses quarterback Ty Gangi, a couple of starters in the trenches, and a handful of key defenders, including Korey Rush, Malik Reed, Dameon Baber, and Asauni Rufus. The cupboard isn’t bare, however. Running back Toa Taua and linebacker Gabriel Sewell are two candidates for All-Mountain West honors and will ease the transition on both sides of the ball.
A turnover margin of minus-seven, along with losses in close games (four by eight points or less), hindered Lane Kiffin’s team from making a run at back-to-back Conference USA titles. The Owls have a few glaring concerns going into 2019, as running backs Devin Singletary and Kerrith Whyte and receiver Jovon Durante left early for the NFL. The line has to be rebuilt, and the defense loses a key contributor at every level. The development of quarterback Chris Robison (12 TDs to 12 INTs) will be crucial for this team’s hopes of a rebound.
The Cowboys just missed a trip to a bowl last year at 6-6, but there’s optimism to return to a winning mark in 2019. Quarterback Sean Chambers showed potential in limited action, receiver C.J. Johnson is back after missing ’18 due to injury, and a young offensive line should take a step forward. Leading rusher Nico Evans, and a handful of key defenders – including standout safety Andrew Wingard – have expired their eligibility.
The Mustangs will be an interesting team to watch in the AAC in 2019. Texas graduate transfer Shane Buechele is set to take over at quarterback, with James Proche (1,199 yards) and Reggie Roberson (802) providing support at receiver. Getting better at pass protection (31 sacks allowed) and shoring up a defense that gave up 35.2 points a game are top priorities this spring.
92. Air Force
All seven of Air Force’s losses in 2018 came by 10 points or less. That should provide plenty of optimism for coach Troy Calhoun’s team in 2019, especially with most of the depth chart slated to return. Leading rusher Cole Fagan (997 yards) is back to anchor the ground game, while Donald Hammond will benefit from a full offseason to work as the starting quarterback.
91. Northern Illinois
Former NIU running back Thomas Hammock inherits the reigning MAC champs at his alma mater. The Huskies won’t have All-American end Sutton Smith coming off the edge this season, but the defensive cupboard isn’t bare with safety Mykelti Williams, linebacker Kyle Pugh and lineman Jack Heflin back for 2019. More is needed out of an offense that averaged only 20.1 points a game last fall. Quarterback Marcus Childers returns after accounting for 21 total touchdowns in 2018.
90. Western Michigan
The 2019 Western Michigan team is likely to be the best of Tim Lester’s three-year tenure in Kalamazoo. The Broncos bring back nearly everyone, including running back LeVante Bellamy, receiver Jayden Reed, quarterbacks Jon Wassink and Kaleb Eleby, and safety Justin Tranquill. New defensive coordinator Lou Esposito is tasked with improving a unit that struggled to stop the pass and allowed 34.5 points a game last fall.
Jason Candle’s high-powered offense will have to find a couple of new playmakers following the departure of Cody Thompson, Diontae Johnson, and Jon’Vea Johnson at receiver. Eli Peters and Mitchell Guadagni will likely rekindle the quarterback battle after combining for 31 touchdowns in 2018. Toledo’s defense allowed 30.5 points a game last fall and lost key pieces at every level, including linemen Tuzar Skipper and Reggie Howard.
Coach Nick Rolovich’s team took a big step forward last fall, jumping from three wins in 2017 to an 8-6 mark. Another winning season is within reach for the Rainbow Warriors, especially with plenty of firepower coming back. Cole McDonald and Chevan Cordeiro will compete for the starting job under center, while Cedric Byrd and JoJo Ward are set as the top options at receiver after John Ursua left early for the NFL. Two units that need to step up – offensive line and defense – will return largely intact.
After winning 17 games over the last two seasons and claiming a bowl victory over Toledo in 2018, the next step for coach Butch Davis’ team is to win the C-USA East title. The Panthers appear to have the pieces in place to do just that in 2019. Quarterback James Morgan returns, along with most of his supporting cast from an offense that averaged 34.6 points a game last fall. FIU’s defense will have a new play-caller after Brent Guy stepped away from the team. Despite losing a key contributor at every level, this unit should still rank near the top of C-USA in 2019.
86. Louisiana Tech
Quarterback J’Mar Smith has been solid over the last two years as the starter, but coach Skip Holtz needs more from his senior signal-caller for the Bulldogs to win the C-USA West Division in 2019. Smith seems poised to take a step forward, especially with a solid offensive line in place, along with the return of go-to target Adrian Hardy at receiver. Holtz’s biggest concern has to reside on defense, where three starters – including the NCAA’s all-time sack leader in Jaylon Ferguson – have departed.
The Fighting Illini are making small gains under coach Lovie Smith. With most of the depth chart intact from last season, Illinois can make a run at exceeding last year’s four wins. Finding a quarterback to headline an offense that features running back Reggie Corbin is the top priority this spring. Major improvement is needed on a defense that surrendered 39.4 points a game in 2018.
84. Southern Miss
Southern Miss was trending up at the end of 2018, as coach Jay Hopson’s team won four out of its last six games, with the two defeats coming by three points. The Golden Eagles are a small step behind the top of the division, but a bowl game should be within reach in ’19. Quarterback Jack Abraham and running back Trivenskey Mosley are back to lead the way on offense, but uncertainty surrounds the status of receiver Quez Watkins. Despite a couple of key defenders out of eligibility, the defense should rank near the top of the conference once again.
83. Georgia Tech
New coach Geoff Collins is the right hire for Georgia Tech, but with the program switching away from the option, 2019 is likely to be a transition year for this team. Can the offense find a quarterback who fits the new offense? And on defense, the Yellow Jackets must replace eight of the top 13 tacklers from last season.
Quarterback Anthony Russo and linebacker Shaun Bradley headline the key returnees for new coach Rod Carey. However, the Owls have a handful of significant departures to address this offseason. Running back Ryquell Armstead, receiver Ventell Bryant, safety Delvon Randall, and defensive lineman Michael Dogbe have completed their eligibility in Philadelphia.
After a disappointing 7-6 season and six-game losing streak to end 2018, coach Charlie Strong is hoping staff changes on offense help this program get back in the right direction. New play-caller Kerwin Bell inherits plenty of pieces to work with on offense, including quarterback Blake Barnett, receiver Randall St. Felix, and running backs Jordan Cronkrite and Johnny Ford. USF’s defense also has room to improve after giving up 247.5 rushing yards a contest and 32 points a game.
Scott Satterfield was a home-run hire at Louisville, but the former Appalachian State coach will have his hands full in 2019. The Cardinals need better quarterback play out of Jawon Pass or Malik Cunningham to help an offense that averaged only 19.8 points a game last fall. New defensive coordinator Bryan Brown is a rising star and is tasked with addressing a group that surrendered nearly seven yards a play (6.9) last season.
79. Arkansas State
The offseason brought numerous changes – including coordinators on both sides of the ball – to coach Blake Anderson’s staff. In addition to the coaching changes, the Red Wolves will have to replace some key cogs in order to push for the Sun Belt West Division title in 2019. Quarterback Justice Hansen, running back Warren Wand, left tackle Lanard Bonner, and defenders Ronheen Bingham and Justin Clifton have departed Jonesboro. The cupboard certainly isn’t bare, however. Kevin Thurmon and Forrest Merrill will ease the transition in the defensive trenches, with Marcel Murray primed for a breakout year as the team’s No. 1 running back.
In Athlon’s pre-spring power rankings, a slight edge goes to the Ragin’ Cajuns over Arkansas State for control of the Sun Belt West. Coach Billy Napier’s team claimed the division last fall and can lean once again on a potent ground game that features Trey Ragas, Raymond Calais and Elijah Mitchell at running back. Louisiana has room to improve on a defense that surrendered 34.2 points a game last fall.
Coach Bill Clark has to replace several key contributors from last year’s Conference USA title-winning team, but don’t expect the Blazers to slip too far in the West Division pecking order. Quarterback Tyler Johnston and running back Spencer Brown are back to build on last year’s offensive improvement, while Conference USA’s No. 1 defense can lean on lineman Garrett Marino, linebacker Fitzgerald Mofor and cornerback Brontae Harris to ease the transition this offseason.
The Green Wave are coming off their first winning season since 2013, and coach Willie Fritz’s team is likely to take another step forward in the win column this year. Quarterback Justin McMillan and receiver Darnell Mooney are back, while Tulane should have one of the deepest running back units in the AAC with the return of Darius Bradwell, Corey Dauphine and Stephon Huderson. Linebacker Zachery Harris, cornerback Donnie Lewis, and safety Roderic Teamer leave big shoes to fill on defense, but edge rusher Patrick Johnson is one of the conference’s top returning defenders.
New coach Mel Tucker has plenty of personnel issues to address this spring, but the former Georgia defensive coordinator has to like the potential of his passing game thanks to the return of quarterback Steven Montez and receiver Laviska Shenault. The Buffaloes have to find a new running back with Travon McMillian out of eligibility and must get better play out of the offensive line. Tucker’s background on defense should help a unit that finished ninth in the Pac-12 in points allowed in 2018.
74. North Texas
As long as the Mean Green can keep Mason Fine upright in the pocket, this team will have a chance to win the Conference USA title in 2019. Fine is one of the top Group of 5 players and is helped by the return of DeAndre Torrey at running back, along with Rico Bussey, Jaelon Darden and Michael Lawrence at receiver. Coach Seth Littrell’s defense will have to replace both starting cornerbacks, linebackers E.J. Ejiya and Brandon Gardner, along with end Roderick Young.
Coach Doc Holliday’s team has to patch a few holes on defense, but there’s a lot to like about this team for 2019. Quarterback Isaiah Green showed flashes of potential as a redshirt freshman last fall, while the ground game is in good hands with the return of Tyler King and Brenden Knox. Green’s go-to receiver (Tyre Brady) must be replaced. Linebacker Chase Hancock, safety Malik Gant and nose tackle Ryan Bee join Brady as key departures from last year’s 9-4 squad.
Coach Frank Solich’s team must replace several key players from last year’s nine-win team, but the Bobcats have the MAC’s top returning player on offense for 2019 in quarterback Nathan Rourke. Filling some of the voids around the senior will be crucial to winning the conference. On defense, the Bobcats are losing a key starter at every level and will have a new play-caller (Ron Collins) this season. Safety Javon Hagan should be one of the MAC’s top defenders.
As evidenced by last year’s 2-10 record, Chad Morris inherited a significant rebuilding effort in Fayetteville. A standout recruiting class will help the Razorbacks improve in 2019, but finding an answer at quarterback and solving the issues along the offensive line will determine whether or not Arkansas avoids another winless SEC record. The defense also needs to step up after giving up 34.8 points a game last fall. De’Jon Harris is one of the best returning linebackers in the SEC.
It’s no secret new coach Mike Locksley knows how to reel in talent on the recruiting trail. And the first-year coach is already hard at work in the transfer portal, landing former Virginia Tech signal-caller Josh Jackson to start in 2019. Jackson’s arrival addresses one of the big question marks surrounding the Terrapins, and adds to an offense already featuring running back Anthony McFarland. A revamped defense and offensive line are two units to watch this offseason.
69. North Carolina
Mack Brown is back on the sidelines in Chapel Hill and is tasked with getting this program back on track after consecutive nine-loss seasons. Brown hired a pair of standout coordinators (Phil Longo on offense and Jay Bateman on defense), but the new staff will inherit a talented but inexperienced quarterback room and a defense that allowed 34.5 points a game last fall. Small improvement in the win column would be a good start for Brown's second stint leading the Tar Heels.
68. Ole Miss
The Rebels have to replace a handful of key players – tackle Greg Little, quarterback Jordan Ta’amu and receivers D.K. Metcalf and A.J. Brown - from last year’s 5-7 squad. Coach Matt Luke made two standout coordinator hires, with Rich Rodriguez brought aboard to coordinate the offense, and former Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre calling the defense. Quarterback Matt Corral is a breakout candidate, but Ole Miss enters 2019 with significant concerns on defense.
67. Georgia Southern
In his first full year at the helm, Chad Lunsford guided Georgia Southern to the biggest turnaround at the FBS level in 2018. The Eagles should be in the hunt to win the Sun Belt title once again in ’19, as quarterback Shai Werts, a solid offensive line, and the one-two punch at running back in Wesley Kennedy and Logan Wright return. A defense that held opponents to 21.5 points a game should be strong once again. Kindle Vildor is a lockdown corner on the back end, with Raymond Johnson and Ty Phillips back to anchor the trenches.
Similar to fellow first-year coach Eli Drinkwitz at Appalachian State, new Troy coach Chip Lindsey inherits a relatively stocked cupboard from the previous staff. Kaleb Barker returns from missing the second half of 2018 due to a knee injury to compete with Sawyer Smith at quarterback. In Barker and Smith, the Trojans have two capable options under center, along with 1,000-yard rusher B.J. Smith. The defense doesn’t lose a ton of players, but the ones that are leaving Troy – linebackers Tron Folsom and Hunter Reese, nose guard Trevon Sanders and defensive backs Blace Brown and Cedarius Rookard – won’t be easy to replace.
Quarterback Daniel Jones left early for the NFL, but coach David Cutcliffe isn’t starting completely from scratch under center with senior Quentin Harris leading the way in 2019. Running back Deon Jackson is promising, and former All-ACC cornerback Mark Gilbert is back after missing most of 2018 due to injury. However, linebacker Joe Giles-Harris left early for the NFL, and the receiving corps must be revamped.
64. Boston College
The Eagles won’t have standout guard Chris Lindstrom or key defenders like end Zach Allen and cornerback Hamp Cheevers back in 2019, but running back AJ Dillon is primed to earn his third straight 1,000-yard season. Quarterback Anthony Brown should build off a solid sophomore campaign (2,121 yards and 20 TDs).
63. Wake Forest
Receiver Greg Dortch departed early for the NFL, but coach Dave Clawson’s team should be in the mix for its fourth consecutive bowl bid. Sam Hartman and Jamie Newman will battle for the quarterback job, and the return of left tackle Justin Herron from injury will provide a boost to the offensive line. The Demon Deacons need to shore up a defense that allowed 33.3 points a game in 2018.
62. Kansas State
Chris Klieman has a tough job to do in replacing legendary coach Bill Snyder, but the former North Dakota State head coach should be a great fit in Manhattan. The strength of Klieman’s first team should be a defense that held teams to 25.4 points a game last season. The Wildcats lost standout tackle Dalton Risner, and running back Alex Barnes departed early to the NFL.
61. West Virginia
New coach Neal Brown will have a busy offseason, as West Virginia looks to rebuild an offense that lost quarterback Will Grier, tackle Yodny Cajuste and receivers David Sills and Gary Jennings. Oklahoma transfer Austin Kendall could be the answer under center. All-Big 12 linebacker David Long departed early to the NFL, leaving a significant void on a unit that held teams to 5.8 yards per play in 2018.
60. Texas Tech
The Red Raiders are a team in transition under new coach Matt Wells. The former Utah State coach can build his first squad around an offense that features quarterback Alex Bowman, receiver T.J. Vasher and a solid offensive line. Defense remains a concern in Lubbock after this unit allowed six yards a play and 31.1 points a game in 2018.
The Hoosiers have recorded back-to-back 5-7 records under coach Tom Allen. Exceeding that mark in 2019 is attainable, especially as the offense develops under new coordinator Kalen DeBoer, quarterback Peyton Ramsey and running back Stevie Scott. Allen is handing play-calling duties on defense to Kane Wommack. This unit has plenty of room to improve after giving up six yards a snap in 2018.
High expectations surrounded Kevin Sumlin’s debut in Tucson, but Arizona finished 5-7 last fall. Quarterback Khalil Tate was at less than 100 percent for most of the year due to an ankle injury suffered in September, yet still finished the season by averaging 250.4 total yards a game. With Tate and running back J.J. Taylor returning, the Wildcats should have one of the Pac-12’s top offenses. Arizona needs more out of its defense after giving up 32.6 points a game in 2018. This unit isn’t losing much talent, providing optimism for ’19.
Even though the Commodores have to replace quarterback Kyle Shurmur, coach Derek Mason and new play-caller Gerry Gdowski have a lot to be optimistic about this spring. Running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn, receiver Kalija Lipscomb and tight end Jared Pinkney are returning for their senior campaigns, which should ease the transition to the new signal-caller. Cornerback Joejuan Williams left early for the NFL, and Vanderbilt has a few other pieces to replace on a defense that allowed 6.1 yards a play in 2018.
56. Arizona State
The Sun Devils have already wrapped up spring practice for coach Herm Edwards’ second year in Tempe. Replacing quarterback Manny Wilkins and receiver N’Keal Harry is the top priority on offense, but this unit can lean on running back Eno Benjamin until a new signal-caller emerges. Arizona State’s defense took a step forward under coordinator Danny Gonzales last fall and could be one of the better units in the Pac-12 for 2019.
A punishing ground attack led by running backs Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall guided the Panthers to the Coastal Division title last season. New coordinator Mark Whipple has to replace both backs and restock one of the league’s top offensive lines, but quarterback Kenny Pickett and receivers Taysir Mack and Maurice Ffrench are back. End Rashad Weaver and safety Damar Hamlin headline a Pitt defense that hopes to take a step forward after giving up 27.8 points a game in 2018.
The 2019 season hasn’t been played, but the Boilermakers are already big winners. Coach Jeff Brohm didn’t go to Louisville, and the staff inked a top 25 recruiting class. Expect sophomore all-purpose weapon Rondale Moore to see a plethora of touches in 2019, and the quarterback spot should be in good hands with Elijah Sindelar back under center. The return of linebacker Markus Bailey was a big boost to Purdue’s defense.
After a 4-9 record in 2017, BYU rebounded with a 7-6 mark in ’18. Coach Kalani Sitake’s team has a chance to build on that record in 2019, especially as sophomore quarterback Zach Wilson continues to develop behind a solid offensive line and the return of his top three receivers. The Cougars held teams to 21.4 points a game last fall, but linebacker Sione Takitaki and lineman Corbin Kaufusi must be replaced. BYU opens with four Power 5 opponents – Utah, Tennessee, USC and Washington and features matchups against Boise State, Utah State and San Diego State over the second half of 2019.
The Bruins were only 3-9 in Chip Kelly’s debut, but this team was much more competitive in the final month of 2018. Look for Kelly’s squad to build on that finish, especially with running back Joshua Kelley and quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson leading the way on offense. UCLA struggled on defense last season but isn’t losing much in the way of personnel.
51. NC State
Reaching nine wins for the third season in a row will be a tough assignment for coach Dave Doeren’s team. The Wolfpack lost offensive coordinator Eli Drinkwitz (head coach at Appalachian State), while quarterback Ryan Finley, receivers Jakobi Meyers and Kelvin Harmon, and linemen Garrett Bradbury, Tyler Jones and Terronne Prescod must be replaced.
50. Florida State
Offensive line issues derailed coach Willie Taggart’s first season in Tallahassee, and this unit is surrounded by question marks once again for 2019. Keeping quarterback James Blackman healthy, and finding ways to spark big plays out of running back Cam Akers will be priorities for new play-caller Kendal Briles. End Brian Burns is a big loss for the defense, but nose guard Marvin Wilson and defensive back Jaiden Lars-Woodbey are both back.
Defense certainly wasn’t a problem in Berkeley last season. California limited teams to 4.6 yards a play and ranked third in the Pac-12 by holding offenses to 20.4 points a game. Linebacker Evan Weaver and one of the conference's top defensive backfields return this season, so the Golden Bears will have one of the league’s best units once again. However, plenty of question marks remain about an offense that averaged just 21.5 points per contest. Can former UCLA quarterback Devon Modster provide a spark under center?
Following last year’s 5-7 record, coach Clay Helton sits squarely on the hot seat for 2019. Helton shuffled his staff in an effort to get this program back on track, and new offensive play-caller Graham Harrell is one of the offseason’s most important hires. Harrell has plenty to work with on offense. Quarterback JT Daniels should be better in his second year, and while depth is an issue, there are playmakers at receiver. However, the Trojans have to rebuild up front, and there are concerns on defense at every level.
The Volunteers should be better in coach Jeremy Pruitt’s second year, especially with an improved staff and a standout recruiting class to bolster the depth and talent across the roster. Improved play along the offensive line and continued development by quarterback Jarrett Guarantano under new play-caller Jim Chaney will be crucial for Tennessee’s offense to improve off last year’s scoring average (22.8 ppg). New defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley needs to identify a couple of difference-makers in the trenches, but the secondary should be a strength with Alontae Taylor, Bryce Thompson and Nigel Warrior back in 2019.
46. Fresno State
The reigning Mountain West champs will be busy restocking the roster this spring. Coach Jeff Tedford’s offense must replace quarterback Marcus McMaryion, receiver KeeSean Johnson, and four starters up front. A defense that held teams to 14.1 points a game in 2018 lost linebacker Jeff Allison and safety Mike Bell early to the NFL. However, this unit should be strong once again, especially with Mykal Walker (14 TFL in ’18) back to create havoc off the edge.
45. San Diego State
The Aztecs started 6-1 last fall but finished with only one win over their last six contests. Coach Rocky Long should get this team back on track this spring, as a healthy Juwan Washington at running back should make a big difference after he was limited to nine games due to injury. Quarterback Ryan Agnew gained valuable experience due to Christian Chapman’s injury last fall and will assume the No. 1 spot under center. Linebacker Kyahva Tezino will be one of the Mountain West’s top returning defenders and is set to anchor a unit that held teams to just 22.2 points a game last season.
44. Appalachian State
New coach Eli Drinkwitz inherits a strong foundation from the reigning Sun Belt champs, giving the Mountaineers an excellent shot to win the conference title once again in 2019. Quarterback Zac Thomas returns after accounting for 31 total touchdowns last season, while Darrynton Evans (1,187 yards) and Marcus Williams (561) are back to anchor the ground game. Appalachian State led the Sun Belt in scoring defense last year, holding teams to 15.5 points a game. New coordinator Ted Roof won’t have to replace many pieces, but cornerback Clifton Duck left for the NFL, and linebacker Anthony Flory, nose tackle Myquon Stout, and cornerback Tae Hayes have finished their eligibility.
The combination of new coach Dana Holgorsen’s offense and quarterback D’Eriq King makes Houston the front-runner to win the AAC West in 2019. The Cougars suffered some significant losses on defense, including Ed Oliver and linebacker Austin Robinson.
The Tigers won’t have the big-play ability of Darrell Henderson in the backfield this season, but the cupboard certainly isn’t bare for coach Mike Norvell. Quarterback Brady White returns, Patrick Taylor is primed to step up as the No. 1 running back, and receiver Damonte Coxie is back after catching 72 passes for 1,174 yards and seven scores last fall. The defense allowed 31.9 points a game last fall, but there’s reason for optimism on this side of the ball with most of the depth chart returning.
41. Oklahoma State
Mike Gundy’s hire of Sean Gleeson from Princeton to run Oklahoma State’s offense is one of the offseason’s most intriguing coordinator moves. Gleeson will have to find a new quarterback – likely Dru Brown or Spencer Sanders – with Taylor Cornelius out of eligibility. Chuba Hubbard is a breakout candidate at running back, and Tylan Wallace ranks among the nation’s top receivers for 2019.
40. South Carolina
After improving its scoring average from 24.2 points a game in 2017 to 30.1 in ’18, the Gamecocks hope this unit takes another step forward under senior quarterback Jake Bentley and receiver Bryan Edwards. Injuries took a toll on South Carolina’s defense last season, as this unit fell from fifth in the SEC in scoring defense to 11th. The defensive line is a strength thanks to the return of tackle Javon Kinlaw, and the secondary needs a big year from sophomore Jaycee Horn.
The Wildcats were the biggest surprise of the SEC last season. Winning 10 games again will be a challenge, but there’s still plenty to like about coach Mark Stoops’ team for 2019. Quarterback Terry Wilson has another offseason to develop, and even though Benny Snell will be missed at running back, Asim Rose (6.23 ypc) flashed potential in limited action. The offensive line should be a strength, and receiver Lynn Bowden is one of the SEC’s top all-around playmakers. Stoops and new coordinator Brad White have to restock a defense that gave up 16.8 points a game last fall. Edge rusher (and likely first-round pick) Josh Allen and the entire secondary must be replaced.
38. Mississippi State
Defense led the way in Starkville last season, as coach Joe Moorhead’s group held teams to 13.2 points a contest. This unit has a few holes to address in spring ball, starting up front with the departures of Montez Sweat and Jeffery Simmons. Even though the defense might not be as strong as the 2018 version, there’s still enough talent to rank near the top of the SEC. Bigger concerns remain on offense. Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald is gone, and the Bulldogs need more big plays out of their receivers. Running back Kylin Hill should see more touches after averaging 6.3 yards per rush in 2018.
The Bears are trending up in coach Matt Rhule’s third year in Waco. Receiver Jalen Hurd has to be replaced, but the offense is primed for a big season behind quarterback Charlie Brewer and receiver Denzel Mims. Baylor’s defense allowed 31.7 points a game and struggled to stop the run last fall. Improvement is expected with most of the depth chart back in place for 2019.
TCU will have an intriguing quarterback battle on its hands this offseason. True freshman Max Duggan, Michael Collins, Kansas State transfer Alex Delton, and redshirt freshman Justin Rogers are all in the mix. Regardless of which quarterback starts, finding ways to get the ball in the hands of receiver Jalen Reagor is a priority. Coach Gary Patterson’s defense should rank near the top of the Big 12 once again, but end Ben Banogu will be tough to replace.
The Golden Gophers will be an intriguing sleeper team to watch in the Big Ten West in 2019. Receiver Tyler Johnson passed on the NFL for another season in Minneapolis, and the backfield is among the best in the Big Ten. Coach P.J. Fleck needs Tanner Morgan or Zack Annexstad to emerge as the clear answer under center, and the defense under coordinator Joe Rossi has to pick up where it left off in December to crack the top 25.
The Cardinal are known for their running backs and offensive lines under coach David Shaw, but the focal point of the offense has shifted to quarterback K.J. Costello after he threw for 3,540 yards and 29 scores last fall. Costello’s supporting cast is under renovation, as Bryce Love finished his eligibility, the line needs to be retooled, while receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside and tight end Kaden Smith left early for the NFL. Cornerback Paulson Adebo is back after a terrific freshman campaign, but Stanford’s defense returns only five starters and has to replace standout linebacker Bobby Okereke.
The top of the Coastal Division should be a tight battle between Miami, Virginia Tech and Virginia this season. For the Hurricanes to return to the ACC title game in early December, more consistency is needed at quarterback, which could come in the form of Ohio State transfer Tate Martell. Diaz dipped into the transfer portal for instant help on defense, which should bolster a unit that was already slated to return one of the nation’s top linebacker units and end Jon Garvin.
Quarterback Bryce Perkins averaged 277.2 total yards a game in his debut with the Cavaliers last season and ranks among the ACC’s top returning signal-callers for 2019. Coach Bronco Mendenhall will have to replace Perkins’ go-to target (Olamide Zaccheaus) and running back Jordan Ellis (1,026 yards). The defense loses only three starters from a group that held teams to 20.1 points a game last fall. All-American cornerback Bryce Hall passed on the NFL for one more season in Charlottesville.
31. Utah State
The Aggies tied a school record with 11 victories last season and should push for double-digit wins once again behind new coach Gary Andersen. Quarterback Jordan Love and linebacker David Woodward are two of the top Group of 5 players in the nation. Andersen and his staff do have a few holes to fill this offseason. Utah State’s offensive line must be retooled, dynamic running back Darwin Thompson left early for the NFL, and the receiving corps lost its top five pass catchers (yardage) from 2018.
Coach Luke Fickell’s team showed marked improvement in his second year at the helm. The Bearcats figure to be UCF’s biggest obstacle in the AAC East, but this team did suffer some key losses in the trenches. Quarterback Desmond Ridder and a deep backfield should help Cincinnati push for double-digit victories once again.
The Black Knights are 21-5 over the last two seasons, and another double-digit win total is within reach for 2019. A manageable schedule awaits coach Jeff Monken’s team, and quarterback Kelvin Hopkins returns after leading the offense with 1,017 rushing yards in 2018. Standout linebacker James Nachtigal must be replaced.
28. Boise State
Coach Bryan Harsin’s team opened spring practice with two significant question marks on offense. Who steps up to replace quarterback Brett Rypien, and who emerges as the go-to running back with Alexander Mattison off to the NFL? A defense that allowed only 22.1 points a game last season returns largely intact and should keep the Broncos in the mix to be the top Group of 5 team until the pieces fall into place on offense.
Eric Dungey is gone, but Syracuse’s offense should have no trouble scoring points behind sophomore quarterback Tommy DeVito. Coach Dino Babers has some extra firepower at his disposal with transfers Abdul Adams (running back) and Trishton Jackson (receiver) eligible for a full year in 2019.
26. Michigan State
Defense certainly wasn’t the problem in Michigan State’s 7-6 campaign last year. The Spartans led the Big Ten in scoring defense, held teams to 4.5 yards a play, ranked first versus the run and fourth in pass efficiency defense. Thanks to the return of cornerback Josiah Scott, linebacker Joe Bachie, and end Kenny Willekes, this unit will be one of the toughest in the conference again. Contending for the Big Ten East title is going to hinge on an offense that returns quarterback Brian Lewerke but must get more consistent play up front and with the ground game.
25. Washington State
Mike Leach has to find a new quarterback after Gardner Minshew’s successful stint in Pullman, but the Cougars should be in the mix to be a top 25 team once again. Eastern Washington's Gage Gubrud is an impact transfer under center, and Washington State returns plenty of pass catchers and four starters in the trenches. Running back Max Borghi is primed for a breakout year. The Cougars lose linebacker Peyton Pelluer, but six returning starters provide a good foundation for coordinator Tracy Claeys.
Don’t be surprised if Northwestern goes back-to-back in the Big Ten West. Coach Pat Fitzgerald will have an impact transfer (Hunter Johnson) set to start under center, and the ground game is led by promising sophomore Isaiah Bowser. The Wildcats had one of the Big Ten’s top defenses last season, and this unit is set to return standouts in linebacker Paddy Fisher and end Joe Gaziano.
After an 8-5 season that didn’t meet preseason expectations, it’s no secret coach Gus Malzahn is feeling some pressure going into the 2019 campaign. Finding a quarterback from a battle that features talented freshman Bo Nix, along with Malik Willis, Joey Gatewood and Cord Sandberg is the top priority this spring. The line of scrimmage is a strength on defense but remains a question mark on offense.
22. Iowa State
Running back David Montgomery and receiver Hakeem Butler must be replaced, but the Cyclones return rising star Brock Purdy at quarterback, and the offensive line is poised to take a step forward with unit returning largely intact. Iowa State led the Big 12 in scoring defense last fall and should rank near the top of the league once again despite losing cornerbacks Brian Peavy and D’Andre Payne.
21. Virginia Tech
The Hokies are coming off a 6-7 season, but coach Justin Fuente’s team should rebound in 2019. Both sides of the ball enter spring practice with areas to work on, as the offense needs to develop more punch from the ground game and continue to develop quarterbacks Ryan Willis and Quincy Patterson. Bud Foster’s defense has to get better against the run (over 200 yards a game allowed last season) and sort out personnel battles at tackle and cornerback.
Drew Lock is off to the NFL, but Clemson transfer Kelly Bryant is ready to step into the starting quarterback job in Columbia. In addition to Bryant, Missouri’s offense got a boost when tight end Albert Okwuegbunam passed on the NFL for his senior year. A favorable schedule should allow coach Barry Odom plenty of time to address a couple of voids on defense. The Tigers need to identify a couple of difference-makers in the trenches and find a replacement for linebacker Terez Hall.
Expect a big jump forward by coach Scott Frost’s team in 2019. Quarterback Adrian Martinez is back after a prolific freshman campaign, with JD Spielman leading the way at the skill positions. The defense is on the right track under coordinator Erik Chinander, but this unit enters the spring with questions to address at every level. A favorable schedule gives Nebraska a shot to double last year’s win total.
The Badgers are losing four starters on the offensive line and will have a new starting quarterback after Alex Hornibrook transferred. However, the formula for success isn’t going to change on offense for coach Paul Chryst. Running back Jonathan Taylor ranks among the top Heisman contenders for 2019, with standout center Tyler Biadasz proving a good foundation up front. Youth was served on Wisconsin’s defense last season, but that should translate to a better performance this fall. Linebackers T.J. Edwards, Ryan Connelly and Andrew Van Ginkel will be tough to replace.
The Big Ten West will be one of the toughest divisions to pick in college football next season. The Hawkeyes get a slight edge in Athlon’s early rankings, as coach Kirk Ferentz’s team will be led by quarterback Nate Stanley and dynamic defensive end A.J. Epenesa. The road slate is challenging, headlined by trips to Iowa State, Michigan, Wisconsin and Nebraska.
The Utes are a heavy favorite to repeat as Pac-12 South champs in 2019. Coach Kyle Whittingham’s team is once again loaded on defense, as this unit features cornerback Jaylon Johnson, end Bradlee Anae and transfers Francis Bernard (BYU) and Manny Bowen (Penn State) at linebacker. New play-caller Andy Ludwig is one of the top coordinator hires this offseason, and he’s tasked with helping an offense that returns quarterback Tyler Huntley and running back Zack Moss take the next step after averaging 28.1 points a game in 2018.
The Knights are once again the pick to rank as the top Group of 5 team in 2019. Coach Josh Heupel’s squad may not have quarterback McKenzie Milton due to injury, but Notre Dame transfer Brandon Wimbush and sophomore Darriel Mack provide two talented options under center. There’s no shortage of talent at the skill positions, but UCF will have to retool a bit on defense.
The Huskies are losing several key players from last year’s Pac-12 title-winning team, but don’t count out coach Chris Petersen’s squad from another championship in 2019. Georgia transfer Jacob Eason is the front-runner to replace Jake Browning under center, and Salvon Ahmed should be a capable replacement for Myles Gaskin. Washington’s defense brings back just two starters, but there’s no shortage of promising young talent waiting to step up in 2019.
13. Penn State
The NFL’s early entry deadline took a toll on Penn State’s line of scrimmage, and coach James Franklin heads into 2019 looking for a replacement for quarterback Trace McSorley in a battle that features Tommy Stevens and Sean Clifford. End Yetur Gross-Matos quietly recorded 20 tackles for a loss last season and is one of the Big Ten’s top returning defenders.
The Ducks are set to open spring practice as the favorite to win the Pac-12 in 2019. Quarterback Justin Herbert passed on the NFL for his senior year, and he’s supported by one of the nation’s top offensive lines, and running back C.J. Verdell. The addition of Penn State graduate transfer Juwan Johnson will provide a needed playmaker on the outside. New co-defensive coordinator Andy Avalos inherits a unit that features standout senior linebacker Troy Dye and as well as cornerback Thomas Graham and safeties Jevon Holland and Nick Pickett. Additionally, coach Mario Cristobal inked a top-10 recruiting class, which includes five-star lineman Kayvon Thibodeaux.
11. Notre Dame
Getting back to the CFB Playoff will require the Fighting Irish to navigate road trips to Michigan and Georgia next season, but coach Brian Kelly’s team also has personnel concerns on both sides of the ball. A defense that limited teams to 18.2 points a game loses cornerback Julian Love, tackle Jerry Tillery and linebacker Te’von Coney. Quarterback Ian Book is back, but question marks remain up front, while both No. 1 receiver Miles Boykin and running back Dexter Williams are off to the NFL.
10. Texas A&M
Jimbo Fisher has Texas A&M trending in the right direction going into 2019. Quarterback Kellen Mond will only get better as a junior, and the Aggies have plenty of playmakers to lean on at receiver. Replacing running back Trayveon Williams, tight end Jace Sternberger and center Erik McCoy are the top spring priorities on offense. The defense has promising talent in the freshman and sophomore ranks ready to step up, but retooling the front seven and improving the pass defense are a must if Texas A&M wants to reach double-digit wins in 2019.
A tough schedule and uncertainty on offense limited preseason expectations for LSU in 2018, but coach Ed Orgeron’s team exceeded those prospects, finishing 10-3 overall. The Tigers still need more out of their offense, and improvement seems likely with quarterback Joe Burrow back for his second year under coordinator Steve Ensminger. Burrow’s top five receivers are back for 2019, and Clyde Edwards-Helaire and freshman John Emery are set to form a potent one-two punch on the ground. Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda has to replace linebacker Devin White and lockdown corner Greedy Williams. However, this unit will remain among the best in the nation.
With all of the changes at Ohio State, the door is open for Michigan to win the Big Ten East in 2019. The Wolverines have plenty of offensive firepower with quarterback Shea Patterson, four starters up front and one of the nation’s top receiving corps back in Ann Arbor. How will new coordinator Josh Gattis deploy this talent? Michigan’s defense opens spring ball looking to replace linebacker Devin Bush, cornerback David Long, and linemen Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich.
The Gators were one of the most-improved teams in college football last season. Under new coach Dan Mullen, Florida finished 10-3 – up from 4-7 in 2017. Contending for the East Division title will require Mullen to reload along an offensive line that loses four starters and sort out a quarterback battle with Feleipe Franks and Emory Jones. The Gators have one of the top defensive backfields in the SEC, with Jabari Zuniga, Louisville transfer Jon Greenard and linebacker David Reese leading the way up front.
Coach Tom Herman’s Longhorns lost a handful of key players from last year’s 10-win team, but a Big 12 title is within reach thanks to the development of quarterback Sam Ehlinger. Sophomore safety Caden Sterns will be one of the new leaders for a defense that returns only two starters in 2019.
5. Ohio State
All eyes in Columbus will be on new coach Ryan Day this season, and the cupboard is stocked for another run at the Big Ten title and CFB Playoff. Georgia transfer quarterback Justin Fields should thrive under Day’s watch, with running back J.K. Dobbins and receivers K.J. Hill, Chris Olave and Austin Mack providing plenty of options in the passing game. Ohio State’s defense slipped on the stat sheet last fall, but Day is hoping veteran Greg Mattison and co-coordinator Jeff Hafley return this unit to elite status.
Alabama transfer Jalen Hurts inherits the reigns of Lincoln Riley’s high-powered offense with Kyler Murray off to the NFL. There’s plenty of skill talent available for the senior, as CeeDee Lamb is back to anchor the receiving corps, and Trey Sermon and Kennedy Brooks form one of the top backfields in the nation. New coordinator Alex Grinch was a home-run hire to run the defense.
Thanks to elite recruiting by coach Kirby Smart, the Bulldogs are loaded and primed for another run to the CFB Playoff. New play-caller James Coley inherits an offense that features one of the nation’s top quarterbacks in Jake Fromm, along with an explosive running back in D’Andre Swift, and one of the top offensive lines in the nation. Mel Tucker left to be the head coach at Colorado, and Smart handed the keys on defense to co-coordinators Dan Lanning and Glenn Schumann. All-American cornerback Deandre Baker leaves big shoes to fill in the secondary. However, the rest of the unit is loaded with promising talent at every level, ensuring the Bulldogs should have one of the top defenses in the nation.
A scary thought for the rest of college football regarding the reigning champions: An offense with quarterback Trevor Lawrence, running back Travis Etienne and receivers Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross will be even better than the 2018 version. Dabo Swinney’s defense loses a good chunk of talent, but this unit should still rank among the best in college football.
As usual, there are plenty of changes in Tuscaloosa, but Alabama won’t miss a beat in 2019. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is back (and healthy) after a terrific sophomore season, with running back Najee Harris and receivers Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs, Devonta Smith, and Jaylen Waddle surrounding him in the supporting cast. The Crimson Tide slipped just a bit on defense last fall and has to replace Quinnen Williams, Mack Wilson, Deionte Thompson, and Isaiah Buggs. However, there’s plenty of talent coming back, including end Raekwon Davis, linebacker Dylan Moses and cornerback Patrick Surtain. Additionally, cornerback Trevon Diggs and linebacker Terrell Lewis are back from injury.