The college football season officially begins on Aug. 24, but it's never too early to start thinking about what might transpire this fall. Athlon Sports released its College Football Top 25 Rankings for 2019 today and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish came in at No. 9.
Here's why: The Fighting Irish have some key players to replace but also return enough talent to make another run at a CFB Playoff berth. Coach Brian Kelly's team is likely to be favored in 10 of its 12 matchups, with road trips to Georgia and Michigan looming large in the playoff mix. Quarterback Ian Book took over the starting job in September from Brandon Wimbush last season and was instrumental in the 12-1 mark. Book was efficient (68.2 percent completion percentage), threw for 2,628 yards and 19 touchdowns and added four more scores on the ground. Coordinator Chip Long is likely to lean a little more on Book's right arm this season, and three out of the top five receiving targets are back, including rising star tight end Cole Kmet and receiver Chase Claypool. Dexter Williams expired his eligibility after nearly rushing for 1,000 yards last fall, but Jafar Armstrong (383 yards) and Tony Jones (392) should have a productive one-two punch. Four starters are back to form a solid and experienced foundation in the trenches. Clark Lea had an impressive debut as Notre Dame's defensive coordinator but will have his work cut out in 2019. The Fighting Irish won't have lockdown cornerback Julian Love on the outside or Jerry Tillery back to wreak havoc on the interior of the line. Also, the linebacker unit lost standouts Te'von Coney and Drue Tranquill. While the losses are significant, the defense isn't hurting for talent. The defensive end duo of Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem is among the best in college football, and safety Alohi Gilman should earn All-America honors in 2019.
*An important note on Athlon's Top 25 for 2019: This is not a preseason ranking of teams going into the season. Instead, this ranking takes into account where we project teams to finish after the national championship in January. Here are Athlon's projected top 25 teams in college football for 2019.
Check out Athlon's entire College Football Top 25.