Athlon projects the top 25 teams for 2019 after Week 7
Weekly college football top 25 rankings are a big part of every season, and Athlon Sports will update its top 25 following the games each weekend. The seventh weekend of the 2019 season was headlined by LSU's win over LSU, Oklahoma's victory against Texas and Penn State's road win at Iowa on Saturday night. Alabama, LSU, Ohio State and Clemson take the top four spots, with Oklahoma at No. 5 and Wisconsin at No. 6 in the post-Week 7 top 25 rankings. With the seventh week of the 2019 season officially in the books, here are the top 25 teams in college football:
College Football Top 25 Rankings (After Week 7)
1. Alabama (6-0)
Week 7 Result: Defeated Texas A&M
Tua Tagovailoa has passed for four or more touchdowns in five out of Alabama’s six games this year.
2. LSU (6-0)
Week 7 Result: Defeated Florida
LSU’s offense shredded Florida’s standout defense for 10.6 yards per play and 42 points in another big win for coach Ed Orgeron’s team.
3. Ohio State (6-0)
Week 7 Result: Off Week
The Buckeyes were off in Week 7 and return to action next Friday at Northwestern.
4. Clemson (6-0)
Week 7 Result: Defeated Florida State
Tigers were rested and angry coming out of the bye week and took out their frustration in a 45-14 win against Florida State. Clemson has defeated the Seminoles 104-24 over the last two years.
5. Oklahoma (6-0)
Week 7 Result: Defeated Texas
Jalen Hurts accounted for over 300 yards and four total touchdowns, but Oklahoma’s defense stole the spotlight in the win over Texas. The Sooners allowed just 4.2 yards a play, generated nine sacks and did not surrender a pass longer than 22 yards.
6. Wisconsin (6-0)
Week 7 Result: Defeated Michigan State
The Badgers earned their fourth shutout of the season in a dominant 38-0 win over Michigan State.
7. Penn State (6-0)
Week 7 Result: Defeated Iowa
Penn State’s defensive line created its share of havoc, while freshman running back Noah Cain shined in the 17-12 win over Iowa on Saturday night.
8. Florida (6-1)
Week 7 Result: Lost to LSU
The Gators came up short in the second half, but coach Dan Mullen’s team shouldn’t slip too far in the rankings after a 42-28 loss in Baton Rouge.
9. Georgia (5-1)
Week 7 Result: Lost to South Carolina
Uncharacteristic performance by Jake Fromm (four turnovers) dooms Georgia in overtime loss to South Carolina. The Bulldogs aren’t out of the playoff picture, but there’s no margin for error the rest of the way.
10. Notre Dame (5-1)
Week 7 Result: Defeated USC
USC made it interesting late, but Notre Dame was in control for most of Saturday night’s 30-27 win. The offense pounded the Trojans for 308 rushing yards, and the defense held USC’s high-powered passing game to just 255 yards.
11. Texas (4-2)
Week 7 Result: Lost to Oklahoma
Oklahoma’s improved defense held the Longhorns to just 100 rushing yards and didn’t allow any big plays in the passing game. Tom Herman’s team has a lot to work on before a potential rematch in the Big 12 Championship.
12. Auburn (5-1)
Week 7 Result: Off Week
The Tigers were off in Week 7 and return to action next Saturday at Arkansas.
13. Oregon (5-1)
Week 7 Result: Defeated Colorado
Oregon’s ground game showed signs of life, while the defense dominated once again in a 45-3 win over Colorado on Friday night.
14. Boise State (6-0)
Week 7 Result: Defeated Hawaii
Hank Bachmeier was knocked out of Saturday night’s game against Hawaii, but backup Chase Cord and a tough defense ensured the Broncos rolled to a 59-37 win.
15. Utah (5-1)
Week 7 Result: Defeated Oregon State
Zack Moss’ return from a shoulder injury is good news with Arizona State up next.
16. Baylor (6-0)
Week 7 Result: Defeated Texas Tech
Bears haven’t lacked for drama in Big 12 play this season with a last-minute victory over Iowa State and Saturday’s overtime win against Texas Tech.
17. Michigan (5-1)
Week 7 Result: Defeated Illinois
A trip to Penn State next week should provide a good barometer test for whether or not Michigan’s offense has improved since the loss at Wisconsin.
18. Cincinnati (5-1)
Week 7 Result: Defeated Houston
Desmond Ridder’s 313 total yards and five forced turnovers by the defense ensured Cincinnati didn’t have a letdown after last week’s win over UCF.
19. Arizona State (5-1)
Week 7 Result: Defeated Washington State
Bad news for the rest of the Pac-12 South: Jayden Daniels is only going to get better over the second half of the season.
20. SMU (6-0)
Week 7 Result: Off Week
The Mustangs did not play in Week 7 and host Temple in Week 8.
21. Tulane (5-1)
Week 7 Result: Defeated UConn
The Green Wave have a tough second-half schedule to navigate: at Memphis, at Navy, Tulsa, at Temple, UCF and at SMU. The race to win the AAC will be one of the top conference battles to watch.
22. Missouri (5-1)
Week 7 Result: Defeated Ole Miss
The Tigers have rebounded nicely since losing to Wyoming in the season opener.
23. Minnesota (6-0)
Week 7 Result: Defeated Nebraska
With Rutgers and Maryland up next, Minnesota is likely to be 8-0 going into a key November showdown against Penn State.
24. Wake Forest (5-1)
Week 7 Result: Lost to Louisville
Jamie Newman’s shoulder injury is a major concern, but the Demon Deacons also have plenty to clean up on defense after giving up 7.5 yards a play to Louisville on Saturday night.
25. Iowa (4-2)
Week 7 Result: Lost to Penn State
Iowa’s offense managed only 15 combined points in losses to Michigan and Penn State.
College Football Top 25 Rankings (After Week 6)
1. Alabama (5-0)
Week 6 Result: Off Week
The Crimson Tide did not play on Saturday and return to action in Week 6 at Texas A&M.
2. LSU (5-0)
Week 6 Result: Defeated Utah State
Joe Burrow sets a new school record by eclipsing 300 passing yards in four consecutive games, as LSU beats Utah State 42-6.
3. Georgia (5-0)
Week 6 Result: Defeated Tennessee
Bulldogs have outscored Tennessee 122-26 over their last three meetings.
4. Ohio State (6-0)
Week 6 Result: Defeated Michigan State
The Buckeyes gashed Michigan State – one of the nation’s best rush defenses – for 323 rushing yards in a 34-10 victory.
5. Clemson (5-0)
Week 6 Result: Off Week
The Tigers did not play in Week 6 and return to action next Saturday against Florida State.
6. Oklahoma (5-0)
Week 6 Result: Defeated Kansas
Sooners started slow but eventually pulled away for a 45-20 win over Kansas. Up next: Texas.
7. Florida (6-0)
Week 6 Result: Defeated Auburn
Florida’s defense forces four turnovers and holds Auburn’s offense to just 4.4 yards a play in a 24-13 win in the Swamp.
8. Notre Dame (4-1)
Week 6 Result: Defeated Bowling Green
As expected, the Fighting Irish had no trouble with Bowling Green in a 52-0 win on Saturday. Brian Kelly’s team faces a key two-game stretch with USC and Michigan up next.
9. Wisconsin (5-0)
Week 6 Result: Defeated Kent State
Jonathan Taylor records five overall touchdowns, while the defense earn its third shutout of the year in a 48-0 win over Kent State.
10. Texas (4-1)
Week 6 Result: Defeated West Virginia
Balanced attack on offense and four forced turnovers by the defense help Texas avoid upset in Morgantown.
11. Auburn (5-1)
Week 6 Result: Lost to Florida
Auburn’s offense sputtered (269 total yards and four turnovers) in the Swamp.
12. Penn State (5-0)
Week 6 Result: Defeated Purdue
Penn State’s defensive line wreaked havoc with 10 sacks in Saturday’s 35-7 win over Purdue.
13. Oregon (4-1)
Week 6 Result: Defeated California
It wasn’t pretty, but Oregon notched its fourth straight victory thanks to another strong effort by the defense in a 17-7 win over California.
14. Boise State (5-0)
Week 6 Result: Defeated UNLV
The Broncos are clearly in the driver’s seat to earn the Group of 5 bowl spot in the New Year’s Six this season.
15. Utah (4-1)
Week 6 Result: Off Week
The Utes were off in Week 6 and return to action next Saturday versus Oregon State.
16. Wake Forest (5-0)
Week 6 Result: Off Week
The Demon Deacons were off in Week 6 and return to action next Saturday against Louisville.
17. Michigan (4-1)
Week 6 Result: Defeated Iowa
Wolverines dominate line of scrimmage (13 TFL and eight sacks) to edge Iowa 10-3.
18. Iowa (4-1)
Week 6 Result: Lost to Michigan
Turnovers, a lack of a consistent running game and bad play from the offensive line doomed Iowa in Saturday’s game at Michigan.
19. Virginia (4-1)
Week 6 Result: Off Week
The Cavaliers were off in Week 6 and return to action on Friday night at Miami.
20. Baylor (5-0)
Week 6 Result: Defeated Kansas State
The improvement of Baylor’s defense has been an overlooked storyline in the Big 12 so far this year.
21. Cincinnati (4-1)
Week 6 Result: Defeated UCF
Cincinnati’s defense turned in a strong effort in Friday’s upset victory over UCF. The Bearcats limited UCF to 4.8 yards a play and allowed just one touchdown over six red zone trips.
22. Texas A&M (3-2)
Week 6 Result: Off Week
The Aggies were off in Week 6 and return to action next week against Alabama.
23. Arizona State (4-1)
Week 6 Result: Off Week
The Sun Devils were off in Week 6 and host Washington State next Saturday.
24. SMU (6-0)
Week 6 Result: Defeated Tulsa
Mustangs stay unbeaten after rallying from 30-9 deficit in the third quarter for a 43-37 win in overtime against Tulsa.
25. Tulane (4-1)
Week 6 Result: Defeated Army
Green Wave join the top 25 after picking up a huge win at Army on Saturday. After a matchup with UConn next week, Tulane travels to Memphis on Oct. 19.
College Football Top 25 Rankings (After Week 5)
1. Alabama (5-0)
Week 5 Result: Defeated Ole Miss
Big days from Tua Tagovailoa (418 passing yards) and DeVonta Smith (274 receiving yards and 5 TDs) guide Alabama to a 59-31 win over Ole Miss.
2. LSU (4-0)
Week 5 Result: Off Week
The Tigers did not play in Week 5 and will return to action next Saturday against Utah State.
3. Georgia (4-0)
Week 5 Result: Off Week
The Bulldogs did not play in Week 5 and return to action next Saturday against Tennessee.
4. Ohio State (5-0)
Week 5 Result: Defeated Nebraska
Ohio State’s offense recorded 368 rushing yards, while the defense held Nebraska to just 231 in a 48-7 blowout in Lincoln.
5. Clemson (5-0)
Week 5 Result: Defeated North Carolina
Survive and advance. Clemson stuffed North Carolina’s two-point attempt to escape Chapel Hill with a 21-20 victory.
6. Oklahoma (4-0)
Week 5 Result: Defeated Texas Tech
Jalen Hurts has accumulated at least 400 total yards in three out of Oklahoma’s four games this year.
7. Auburn (5-0)
Week 5 Result: Defeated Mississippi State
Best performance of Bo Nix’s young career (391 total yards) leads the way for Auburn in a 56-23 victory over Mississippi State.
8. Notre Dame (3-1)
Week 5 Result: Defeated Virginia
Brian Kelly’s team moved on from last week’s loss to Georgia by recording eight sacks in a 35-20 win over Virginia.
9. Texas (3-1)
Week 5 Result: Off Week
The Longhorns were off in Week 5 and return to action next Saturday against West Virginia.
10. Wisconsin (5-0)
Week 5 Result: Defeated Northwestern
Wisconsin’s defense scores twice and limits Northwestern to just 255 yards in a 24-15 victory.
11. Florida (5-0)
Week 5 Result: Defeated Towson
The development of Florida’s offensive line will be tested in next week’s showdown against Auburn.
12. Penn State (4-0)
Week 5 Result: Defeated Maryland
Nittany Lions have won their last three matchups against Maryland by a combined score of 163-6.
13. Oregon (4-0)
Week 5 Result: Off Week
The Ducks were off in Week 5 and return to action next Saturday against California.
14. Iowa (4-0)
Week 5 Result: Defeated MTSU
The Hawkeyes closed out their non-conference slate with an easy win over MTSU (48-3) on Saturday.
15. Boise State (4-0)
Week 5 Result: Off Week
The Broncos were off in Week 5 and return to action next Saturday at UNLV.
16. Washington (4-1)
Week 5 Result: Defeated USC
Huskies get a balanced effort out of the offense, while the defense picks off three passes to knock off USC 28-14.
17. Oklahoma State (4-1)
Week 5 Result: Defeated Kansas State
Chuba Hubbard’s 296 rushing yards was more than enough for Oklahoma State to beat Kansas State on Saturday night.
18. UCF (4-1)
Week 5 Result: Defeated UConn
Receiver Gabriel Davis closed out a terrific September by catching three more touchdowns in Saturday’s win over UConn.
19. Utah (4-1)
Week 5 Result: Defeated Washington State
The Utes leaned on their tough defense and quarterback Tyler Huntley to beat Washington State and rebound from last week’s loss at USC.
20. Wake Forest (5-0)
Week 5 Result: Defeated Boston College
Demon Deacons were outgained (536 to 440) against Boston College, but coach Dave Clawson’s team won the turnover battle (three to one) and converted 17 of 24 third-down attempts.
21. Virginia (4-1)
Week 5 Result: Lost to Notre Dame
Bryce Perkins is capable of carrying Virginia’s offense a long way, but as evidenced in Saturday’s loss in South Bend, it’s hard to overcome eight sacks and 13 tackles for a loss.
22. Texas A&M (3-2)
Week 5 Result: Defeated Arkansas
Kellen Mond threw for three touchdowns, and the defense got a key stop with less than a minute remaining to lift Texas A&M to its eighth win in a row over Arkansas.
23. Arizona State (4-1)
Week 5 Result: Defeated California
A stingy Arizona State defense limited California to just 30 yards on its final five offensive drives, with steady efforts by quarterback Jayden Daniels and running back Eno Benjamin providing enough offense to score a big win in Berkeley.
24. California (4-1)
Week 5 Result: Lost to Arizona State
Friday night’s loss against Arizona State was a costly one for California. Quarterback Chase Garbers suffered a shoulder injury in the first half and is out indefinitely.
25. SMU (5-0)
Week 5 Result: Defeated USF
The Mustangs join the top 25 after a convincing 48-21 win over USF. This is SMU’s first 5-0 start since 1983.
College Football Top 25 Rankings (After Week 4)
1. Alabama (4-0)
Week 4 Result: Defeated Southern Miss
Tua Tagovailoa has passed for 17 touchdowns and has only 25 incompletions through four games this season.
2. Clemson (4-0)
Week 4 Result: Defeated Charlotte
Tigers score on six out of their first seven offensive possessions to rout Charlotte 52-10.
3. LSU (4-0)
Week 4 Result: Defeated Vanderbilt
Joe Burrow is the first quarterback in LSU history to throw for at least 350 yards (or more) in three consecutive games. However, the Tigers have a lengthy injury list after Week 4.
4. Georgia (4-0)
Week 4 Result: Defeated Notre Dame
Key throws by quarterback Jake Fromm and late defensive stop lift Georgia to 23-17 win over Notre Dame.
5. Ohio State (4-0)
Week 4 Result: Defeated Miami (Ohio)
Justin Fields accounted for six touchdowns in the second quarter, which helped Ohio State dismantle Miami (Ohio) 76-5.
6. Oklahoma (3-0)
Week 4 Result: Off Week
The Sooners were off in Week 4 and host Texas Tech next Saturday.
7. Auburn (4-0)
Week 4 Result: Defeated Texas A&M
Two road trips to Texas, two victories for Auburn. The Tigers didn’t generate much on offense (299 yards), but coach Gus Malzahn’s team maximized their opportunities.
8. Notre Dame (2-1)
Week 4 Result: Lost to Georgia
The Fighting Irish impressed in a loss at Georgia, but penalties (12), a lack of big plays on offense and production out of the ground game are areas that must be addressed to make a run at the playoff.
9. Texas (3-1)
Week 4 Result: Defeated Oklahoma State
Sam Ehlinger’s four passing touchdowns and timely stops in second half help Texas end four-game losing streak to Oklahoma State.
10. Wisconsin (3-0)
Week 4 Result: Defeated Michigan
Total domination. Jonathan Taylor’s big day and standout defensive effort key Badgers’ blowout victory over Michigan.
11. Florida (4-0)
Week 4 Result: Defeated Tennessee
Kyle Trask tossed two interceptions but delivered a solid start (20 of 28 for 293 yards) in a 34-3 win over Tennessee.
12. Penn State (3-0)
Week 4 Result: Off Week
The Nittany Lions were off in Week 4 and return to action Friday at Maryland.
13. Oregon (3-1)
Week 4 Result: Defeated Stanford
Ducks get revenge for last year’s overtime loss by beating Stanford 21-6 on Saturday afternoon. Oregon has not allowed an offensive touchdown since the opener against Auburn.
14. Texas A&M (2-2)
Week 4 Result: Lost to Auburn
Kellen Mond threw for 335 yards in Saturday’s loss to Auburn, but once again, Texas A&M struggled to win the battle up front and on the ground with its offense.
15. Iowa (3-0)
Week 4 Result: Off Week
The Hawkeyes did not play in Week 4 and return to action on Saturday versus MTSU.
16. Boise State (4-0)
Week 4 Result: Defeated Air Force
Broncos use three second-half touchdowns to pull away for a 30-19 win over Air Force.
17. Virginia (4-0)
Week 4 Result: Defeated Old Dominion
Cavaliers needed second-half comeback to hold off Old Dominion’s upset bid.
18. California (4-0)
Week 4 Result: Defeated Ole Miss
Goal-line stand in final seconds keeps California undefeated going into a key Pac-12 matchup with Arizona State next week.
19. Washington (3-1)
Week 4 Result: Defeated BYU
Jacob Eason’s three touchdown passes helped to ensure Washington didn’t suffer the same fate as USC did last week in Provo.
20. USC (3-1)
Week 4 Result: Defeated Utah
Matt Fink stepped up with Kedon Slovis injured, and Utah’s secondary had no answer for receiver Michael Pittman.
21. Utah (3-1)
Week 4 Result: Lost to USC
Big plays allowed in the secondary and missed opportunities on offense doom Utah in Los Angeles. The severity of a shoulder injury to running back Zack Moss is worth monitoring.
22. UCF (3-1)
Week 4 Result: Lost to Pitt
UCF’s 35-34 loss to Pitt was its first regular season defeat since Nov. 26, 2016.
23. Oklahoma State (3-1)
Week 4 Result: Lost to Texas
Two missed scoring opportunities in second half prove costly for Mike Gundy’s team in 36-30 loss to Texas.
24. Wake Forest (4-0)
Week 4 Result: Defeated Elon
Quarterback Jamie Newman torched Elon for five touchdowns in an easy win for Wake Forest.
25. Michigan (2-1)
Week 4 Result: Lost to Wisconsin
Wolverines were thoroughly dominated in Madison. Can Jim Harbaugh get things back on track?
College Football Top 25 Rankings (After Week 3)
1. Alabama (3-0)
Week 3 Result: Defeated South Carolina
Alabama’s passing game was sharp in Saturday’s win over South Carolina. But the Crimson Tide still have a few concerns up front and in pass coverage that need to be addressed.
2. Clemson (3-0)
Week 3 Result: Defeated Syracuse
Clemson quickly dispatched Syracuse’s upset bid with eight sacks on defense and 612 total yards on offense.
3. LSU (3-0)
Week 3 Result: Defeated Northwestern State
LSU’s defense allowed 14 points in the first half against Northwestern State but pitched a shutout over the final two quarters in a 65-14 victory. Quarterback Joe Burrow also chipped in 373 passing yards.
4. Georgia (3-0)
Week 3 Result: Defeated Arkansas State
The Bulldogs are ready for their primetime matchup against Notre Dame next Saturday.
5. Ohio State (3-0)
Week 3 Result: Defeated Indiana
Justin Fields accumulated four total touchdowns in his first road start with the Buckeyes, while the defense held Indiana to just 3.8 yards per play and recorded 12 tackles for a loss.
6. Oklahoma (3-0)
Week 3 Result: Defeated UCLA
Another game, another huge performance from quarterback Jalen Hurts.
7. Notre Dame (2-0)
Week 3 Result: Defeated New Mexico
Ian Book had a sluggish debut against Louisville but torched New Mexico for 360 passing yards and six total touchdowns.
8. Texas (2-1)
Week 3 Result: Defeated Rice
Longhorns rebounded from last week’s loss to LSU with an easy 48-13 victory over Rice.
9. Utah (3-0)
Week 3 Result: Defeated Idaho State
Quarterback Tyler Huntley has completed 77.8 percent of his passes and tossed zero picks through Utah’s first three games.
10. Texas A&M (2-1)
Week 3 Result: Defeated Lamar
Jashaun Corbin’s season-ending injury was a setback for Texas A&M’s offense, but Isaiah Spiller has played well in limited action and rushed for over 100 yards against Lamar.
11. Florida (3-0)
Week 3 Result: Defeated Kentucky
Gators rally behind backup quarterback Kyle Trask to get revenge for last year’s loss to Kentucky. While Trask led the team to a win, redshirt freshman Emory Jones could also factor into the quarterback situation with Feleipe Franks out for the year.
12. Michigan (2-0)
Week 3 Result: Off
Michigan used its off week to prepare for a huge showdown next weekend at Wisconsin.
13. Penn State (3-0)
Week 3 Result: Defeated Pitt
Penn State’s defense has allowed only 30 points through three games. The off week after a win over rival Pitt comes at a good time with Maryland, Purdue, Iowa, Michigan and Michigan State up next.
14. Auburn (3-0)
Week 3 Result: Defeated Kent State
Auburn’s ground game has struggled at times, but finding running room against Kent State wasn’t a problem. The Tigers averaged 7.5 yards a carry and had three-100-yard rushers in the easy victory against the Golden Flashes in Week 3.
15. Oregon (3-0)
Week 3 Result: Defeated Portland State
Ducks begin a critical six-game stretch with a road trip to Stanford next week.
16. Wisconsin (2-0)
Week 3 Result: Off
Jonathan Taylor versus Michigan’s defense is easily one of the must-see matchups to watch next week.
17. Iowa (3-0)
Week 3 Result: Defeated Iowa State
The Cy-Hawk Trophy is headed back to Iowa City for the fifth consecutive year.
18. Boise State (3-0)
Week 3 Result: Defeated Portland State
As expected, the Broncos cruised to an easy win over Portland State.
19. UCF (3-0)
Week 3 Result: Defeated Stanford
Stanford’s defense had no answers for UCF’s high-powered offense. The Knights averaged 7.4 yards per play, 15.8 yards a completion, converted 8 of 14 third-down attempts and scored on six of their first seven drives.
20. Virginia (3-0)
Week 3 Result: Defeated Florida State
Quarterback Bryce Perkins helped Virginia avoid an upset loss to Florida State by leading the offense on three consecutive scoring drives in the fourth quarter.
21. Oklahoma State (3-0)
Week 3 Result: Defeated Tulsa
Running back Chuba Hubbard has rushed for more than 200 yards in two out of Oklahoma State’s first three games.
22. California (3-0)
Week 3 Result: Defeated North Texas
Golden Bears managed only 278 yards against North Texas, but Justin Wilcox’s defense ensured Cal wouldn't lose in Week 3.
23. Washington (2-1)
Week 3 Result: Defeated Hawaii
Washington’s offense got back on track (7.9 yards a play) in Saturday’s win versus Hawaii.
24. Washington State (3-0)
Week 3 Result: Defeated Houston
All signs point to Anthony Gordon having a big season as Mike Leach’s next standout under center. The senior has connected on 78.7 percent of his throws and 12 touchdowns through the first three games of 2019.
25. BYU (2-1)
Week 3 Result: Defeated USC
The Cougars have seven wins over Power 5 teams since Kalani Sitake took over as head coach in 2016.
College Football Top 25 Rankings (After Week 2)
1. Alabama (2-0)
Week 2 Result: Defeated New Mexico State
As expected, Alabama rolled to an easy win over New Mexico State on Saturday.
2. Clemson (2-0)
Week 2 Result: Defeated Texas A&M
Receivers Justyn Ross and Tee Higgins made big plays downfield, and Clemson’s rebuilt defense held Texas A&M to just 4.2 yards a play in a dominant 24-10 win for coach Dabo Swinney’s team.
3. LSU (2-0)
Week 2 Result: Defeated Texas
Saturday night’s win against Texas showed how far LSU’s offense has improved since last season.
4. Georgia (2-0)
Week 2 Result: Defeated Murray State
Freshman receiver George Pickens seems primed to take on a bigger role after catching four passes for 78 yards against Murray State.
5. Ohio State (2-0)
Week 2 Result: Defeated Cincinnati
Justin Fields was efficient (20 of 25), and the Buckeyes got plenty of help from the defense and ground game to end any hope Cincinnati had of an upset in Columbus.
6. Oklahoma (2-0)
Week 2 Result: Defeated South Dakota
Jalen Hurts has more overall touchdowns (nine) than incompletions (seven) through two games this year.
7. Notre Dame (1-0)
Week 2 Result: Off
The Fighting Irish did not play in Week 2 and will return to action next Saturday against New Mexico.
8. Texas (1-1)
Week 2 Result: Lost to LSU
Sam Ehlinger was excellent, but Texas had no answers in the secondary against LSU’s passing attack.
9. Utah (2-0)
Week 2 Result: Defeated Northern Illinois
Tyler Huntley had a solid day through the air (14 of 19 for 219 yards), and Utah’s defense pitched a shutout in the second half to move Kyle Whittingham’s team to 2-0.
10. Texas A&M (1-1)
Week 2 Result: Lost to Clemson
The Aggies weren’t able to get enough consistency or big plays on offense to pull off the upset in Death Valley.
11. Florida (2-0)
Week 2 Result: Defeated UT Martin
After an up-and-down performance in the opener, Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks was sharp versus UT Martin (25 of 27 for 270 yards and two scores).
12. Michigan (2-0)
Week 2 Result: Defeated Army
Survive and advance for Jim Harbaugh’s team. However, the Wolverines have a lot to clean up after a sloppy performance against Army.
13. Penn State (2-0)
Week 2 Result: Defeated Buffalo
Nittany Lions started slow but pulled away in the second half for a 45-13 win over Buffalo.
14. Auburn (2-0)
Week 2 Result: Defeated Tulane
Tulane’s defensive front played a role in the sluggish production, but Auburn’s ground game has some work to do after averaging 3.8 yards per carry on 45 attempts.
15. Oregon (1-1)
Week 2 Result: Defeated Nevada
Justin Herbert’s five passing touchdowns helped Oregon rebound from last week’s last-second loss to Auburn.
16. Wisconsin (2-0)
Week 2 Result: Defeated Central Michigan
Badgers have steamrolled their first two opponents by a combined score of 110-0.
17. Iowa (2-0)
Week 2 Result: Defeated Rutgers
Iowa’s defense did not allow a drive longer than 30 yards in Saturday’s 30-0 win over the Scarlet Knights.
18. Michigan State (2-0)
Week 2 Result: Defeated Western Michigan
Mark Dantonio wanted to see more out of his offense after a lackluster debut against Tulsa. The Spartans showed signs of life by recording 582 yards and 51 points in a win against Western Michigan on Saturday.
19. Boise State (2-0)
Week 2 Result: Defeated Marshall
The Broncos held Marshall to zero yards in the second half to hold on for a 14-7 victory.
20. UCF (2-0)
Week 2 Result: Defeated FAU
Freshman quarterback Dillon Gabriel threw for 245 yards and two touchdowns and added another on the ground, as the Knights rolled to an easy 48-14 win over FAU.
21. Virginia (2-0)
Week 2 Result: Defeated William & Mary
The 52 points scored by Virginia in Friday night’s win over William & Mary were the most by the program since 2005.
22. Oklahoma State (2-0)
Week 2 Result: Defeated McNeese State
The Cowboys crushed McNeese State in Week 2 and have one more tune up (Tulsa) before beginning Big 12 play at Texas.
23. California (2-0)
Week 2 Result: Defeated Washington
California joins the top 25 after its stingy defense once again led the way in a win over Washington.
24. USC (2-0)
Week 2 Result: Defeated Stanford
USC’s defense didn’t allow a point in the second half, but the real story was how impressive freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis was in his first start.
25. Washington (1-1)
Week 2 Result: Lost to California
The Huskies outgained California (348 to 303), but three drives into the red zone ended in a field goal.
College Football Top 25 Rankings (After Week 1)
1. Alabama (1-0)
Week 1 Result: Defeated Duke
Crimson Tide got off to a slow start but still finished with 512 yards in a dominant 42-3 win over Duke.
2. Clemson (1-0)
Week 1 Result: Defeated Georgia Tech
Trevor Lawrence was just okay on Thursday night, but running back Travis Etienne and Clemson’s defense ensured the opener against Georgia Tech wasn’t close.
3. Georgia (1-0)
Week 1 Result: Defeated Vanderbilt
The Bulldogs used the nation’s best offensive line and backfield to gash Vanderbilt’s defense for 325 yards on the ground in a 30-6 victory.
4. LSU (1-0)
Week 1 Result: Defeated Georgia Southern
Quarterback Joe Burrow is the perfect fit for LSU’s new offensive scheme, as this group aced its first test in an easy win over Georgia Southern.
5. Michigan (1-0)
Week 1 Result: Defeated MTSU
There were plenty of positives for Jim Harbaugh’s team in the win over MTSU. However, there were also some things to clean up on both sides of the ball. This team also has a few key injuries – Donovan Peoples-Jones and Jon Runyan – to monitor.
6. Ohio State (1-0)
Week 1 Result: Defeated FAU
Justin Fields didn’t disappoint in his debut, and the defense held FAU to just 3.1 yards a play.
7. Oklahoma (1-0)
Week 1 Result: Defeated Houston
As expected, Jalen Hurts is going to put up huge numbers in Lincoln Riley’s offense.
8. Notre Dame (1-0)
Week 1 Result: Defeated Louisville
Notre Dame’s defense has a few things to clean up, but a 35-17 victory at Louisville moved Brian Kelly to 8-2 in openers for the Fighting Irish.
9. Texas A&M (1-0)
Week 1 Result: Defeated Texas State
Kellen Mond’s development under coach Jimbo Fisher continued with a strong outing (19 of 27 for 194 yards and 3 TDs) in an easy win over Texas State.
10. Texas (1-0)
Week 1 Result: Defeated Louisiana Tech
Longhorns win season opener for the first time under Tom Herman. And now the attention turns to a huge showdown with LSU next Saturday.
11. Washington (1-0)
Week 1 Result: Defeated Eastern Washington
The potential of Jacob Eason’s big-time arm and Washington’s receiving corps were on display in the win over Eastern Washington.
12. Utah (1-0)
Week 1 Result: Defeated BYU
A big performance from running back Zack Moss and Utah’s standout defense boosted the winning streak over BYU to nine in a row.
13. Florida (1-0)
Week 1 Result: Defeated Miami (Aug. 24)
Florida’s revamped offensive line remains a question mark after the win over Miami on Aug. 24.
14. Penn State (1-0)
Week 1 Result: Defeated Idaho
The Nittany Lions showcased their depth at running back by gashing Idaho for 331 yards and seven touchdowns in a 79-7 blowout.
15. Auburn (1-0)
Week 1 Result: Defeated Oregon
Auburn’s defense stepped up after slow start, while freshman Bo Nix delivered in the clutch to lift the Tigers over Oregon.
16. Oregon (0-1)
Week 1 Result: Lost to Auburn
The Ducks let a prime opportunity for a huge non-conference win slip away in Arlington.
17. Wisconsin (1-0)
Week 1 Result: Defeated USF
Jonathan Taylor’s big night and a suffocating defense (2.8 ypp allowed) led the way in a 49-0 romp over USF.
18. Iowa (1-0)
Week 1 Result: Defeated Miami (Ohio)
The Hawkeyes improved to 18-3 in openers under Kirk Ferentz with a 38-14 win over Miami (Ohio).
19. Michigan State (1-0)
Week 1 Result: Defeated Tulsa
The jury is still out on whether or not the offense improved from last year. However, the answer on the other side of the ball is pretty clear. Michigan State’s defense dominated against Tulsa and will rank among the best in college football once again.
20. Boise State (1-0)
Week 1 Result: Defeated Florida State
True freshman quarterback Hank Bachmeier is going to be a big-time star for the Broncos.
21. UCF (1-0)
Week 1 Result: Defeated Florida A&M
The win over Florida A&M was costly for coach Josh Heupel’s team. Standout cornerback Brandon Moore was lost for the year due to injury.
22. Cincinnati (1-0)
Week 1 Result: Defeated UCLA
Luke Fickell’s return to Columbus will be an intriguing storyline for Cincinnati’s matchup against Ohio State in Week 2.
23. Virginia (1-0)
Week 1 Result: Defeated Pitt
The Cavaliers are 4-0 in ACC openers under coach Bronco Mendenhall.
24. Oklahoma State (1-0)
Week 1 Result: Defeated Oregon State
Big 12 defenses are going to have their hands full trying to slow down Spencer Sanders, Chuba Hubbard and Tylan Wallace this year.
25. Nebraska (1-0)
Week 1 Result: Defeated South Alabama
It wasn’t pretty on offense, but the defense and special teams made enough plays to lift Nebraska to a 14-point win over South Alabama.
Projected Top 25 College Football Rankings for 2019
Note: The rankings below are a top 25 projection to the end of the season. These were posted prior to the season as part of Athlon Sports' preseason predictions and rankings for the 2019 season.
For the first time since 2005, Virginia is projected by Athlon Sports to finish inside the top 25. The Cavaliers have made considerable progress under coach Bronco Mendenhall’s watch. After a 2-10 mark in 2016, Virginia improved to 6-7 in '17 and finished 8-5 last year. The Cavaliers are the only team from the ACC's Coastal Division that has not played for the conference championship. Behind a standout defense and quarterback Bryce Perkins, there's a good chance that streak ends in 2019. Perkins accounted for 34 total touchdowns and averaged 277.2 total yards a game in his first year on campus. The senior's supporting cast will have to be retooled in a few spots. Leading rusher Jordan Ellis (1,026 yards) and No. 1 receiver Olamide Zaccheaus expired their eligibility. The offensive line also has room to improve after giving up 32 sacks in 2018. Hasise Dubois and Joe Reed lead the way at receiver, but Mendenhall added extra depth with two post-spring pickups in graduate transfers Terrell Chatman (Arizona State) and Dejon Brissett (Richmond). Virginia's defense returns seven starters from a unit that limited opponents to 20.1 points a game and 5.3 yards a play last season. Cornerback Bryce Hall is one of the top lockdown cover men in college football, with Jordan Mack and Charles Snowden anchoring a strong linebacker unit. The regular season finale in Charlottesville vs. Virginia Tech – a matchup the Cavaliers have not won since 2003 – may decide the Coastal Division champion.
24. Iowa State
Iowa State is on the rise under coach Matt Campbell. The Cyclones are coming off back-to-back winning records in Big 12 play for the first time in program history, and this is the first time Iowa State has been projected by Athlon Sports to finish in the top 25. Running back David Montgomery and receiver Hakeem Butler left big shoes to fill in Ames after leaving early for the NFL Draft. However, the news wasn't all bad for the offense this offseason. Tom Manning returned to Ames from the NFL to call the plays, and quarterback Brock Purdy is one of the Big 12's rising stars. As a freshman in 2018, Purdy went 6-2 as the starter and threw for 2,250 yards and 16 touchdowns. The offensive line has room to improve but brings back all five starters from last season. Replacing Montgomery might be more of a committee approach, while Deshaunte Jones, Tarique Milton and transfer La'Michael Pettway lead the way at receiver. Iowa State led the Big 12 in run defense and held opposing offenses to just 22.9 points a game (also best in the conference). This unit boasts a strong front seven, anchored by end JaQuan Bailey and nose guard Ray Lima up front, with Marcel Spears and Mike Rose providing support at linebacker. The biggest concern for coordinator Jon Heacock rests at cornerback in finding a replacement for standout Brian Peavy and D'Andre Payne. Sophomore Anthony Johnson had a solid year as a backup at cornerback last fall and should be an answer at that position for 2019.
For a variety of reasons, Missouri will be an interesting team to watch in 2019. The Tigers were banned from postseason play this year due to NCAA violations, but the program filed an appeal in hopes of overturning that decision. The postseason uncertainty could hang over this program into the 2019 campaign, but regardless of what happens with the appeal, the on-field product should be entertaining. Coach Barry Odom's team possesses a dynamic offense, led by Clemson transfer Kelly Bryant at quarterback and some of the SEC's top talent at the skill positions. Bryant is more mobile than last year's starter (Drew Lock), so coordinator Derek Dooley will have to tweak the offense to fit his skill set. Running back Larry Rountree will run behind a strong offensive line that returns three starters, and tight end Albert Okwuegbunam is the best in college football at his position. Missouri's high-powered offense should provide some cover for a defense that has to replace standout lineman Terry Beckner, must identify and develop a couple of players to rush the passer off the edge, and needs better play out of the secondary. Tackle Jordan Elliott is a rising star, and linebacker Cale Garrett should challenge for All-America honors. Missouri has started slow but picked up steam over the second half of the season in back-to-back years. The schedule affords an opportunity for a fast start. The Tigers play five out of their first six games at home and could be 8-0 going into the Nov. 9 showdown at Georgia.
Another undefeated record in the regular season might be too much to ask for coach Josh Heupel's team, but UCF remains Athlon's pick to rank as the top Group of 5 program by the end of 2019. With McKenzie Milton expected to sit out this year recovering from a leg injury suffered in November, a new conductor must be found for the Knights' high-octane offense, which averaged 6.9 yards per play and 43.2 points a game last fall. Notre Dame graduate transfer Brandon Wimbush and sophomore Darriel Mack are the top candidates for the starting job, but Mack is sidelined indefinitely due to an ankle injury suffered in the summer. With Mack out, Wimbush should be the favorite to take the first snap of 2019 and has plenty of talent at his disposal. Running back Greg McCrae gashed defenses for 8.9 yards per carry on 133 attempts, all-purpose threat Adrian Killins accounted for 107.5 total yards a game last fall, and the receiving corps features big-play threats in Gabriel Davis (15.4 ypc) and Tre Nixon (14.1). Three starters return to anchor an offensive line that should be the best in the AAC in 2019. The outlook on defense isn't as certain for Heupel. UCF gave up 222.3 rushing yards a game last season and begins 2019 with concerns in the front seven. End Brendon Hayes and linebacker Nate Evans are solid building blocks, but coordinator Randy Shannon will need instant contributions from transfers like tackle Cam Goode and help from the junior college ranks. Led by safety Richie Grant and cornerback Nevelle Clarke, the secondary is the strength of the defense. UCF has two favorable matchups – Stanford and at Pitt – against Power 5 teams this season, but road trips in league play to Cincinnati, Tulane and Temple could be tricky.
After back-to-back 4-8 seasons to begin his tenure at Syracuse, coach Dino Babers delivered a breakout year in 2018. The Orange finished 10-3 – the program's first double-digit win total since 2001 – and capped the year with a 34-18 victory over West Virginia in the Camping World Bowl. A favorable schedule puts another 10-win season within reach, and there's an intriguing (and critical to the ACC Atlantic title picture) Sept. 14 home game against Clemson. Eric Dungey will be missed under center, but the offense seems to be in good hands with sophomore Tommy DeVito. The New Jersey native ranked as a four-star prospect out of high school and saw playing time in eight games last fall. Easing DeVito's transition into the starting lineup is a loaded group of skill players. Moe Neal (869 yards) is joined by Oklahoma transfer Abdul Adams at running back, with Sean Riley, Nykeim Johnson and Trishton Jackson forming one of the ACC's top receiving corps. The offensive line returns two starters and adds South Alabama transfer Ryan Alexander but is the biggest question mark going into the fall. Syracuse's defense showed marked improvement in 2018. After giving up 32.2 points a game and 6.4 yards a play in 2017, the Orange cut those totals to 27 points a contest and 5.83 a play in '18. A strong defensive line leads the way for coordinator Brian Ward in 2019, as ends Alton Robinson and Kendall Coleman are back after combining for 20 sacks last fall. The linebacker unit must be rebuilt, but the secondary returns four starters – including All-America candidate Andre Cisco at safety – is among the best in the ACC. Kicker Andre Szmyt connected on 30 of 34 field goals last fall and won the Lou Groza Award in his first year on campus.
High expectations surrounded coach Gus Malzahn's team going into the 2018 season. However, the Tigers fell short, finishing 8-5 overall (3-5 in the SEC) and outside of the top 25 rankings at the end of the year. Auburn has been a hard team to get a read on during Malzahn's tenure, as the program played for a national championship in 2013 and nearly made the CFB Playoff in '17 but didn't win more than eight games in the other four years under his watch. That unpredictability follows Auburn into 2019. Talent certainly isn't an issue for Malzahn’s team, but the Tigers face one of the nation's toughest schedules. A neutral site opener against Oregon is on tap for Week 1, Georgia and Alabama – both picks by Athlon Sports to make the playoff – come to Auburn this fall but road trips are on tap for matchups versus Florida, LSU and Texas A&M. The strength of Malzahn's team is a defense that returns seven starters from a group that limited opponents to 19.2 points a game in 2018. Tackle Derrick Brown anchors arguably the best defensive line in the nation, and the secondary returns two senior safeties in Daniel Thomas and Jeremiah Dinson. Malzahn handled the play-calling duties in Auburn's 63-14 romp over Purdue in the Music City Bowl and will handle that role in a full-time basis this season. Malzahn's top priority is settling a quarterback battle that features two talented freshmen in Joey Gatewood and Bo Nix. Improvement should be expected from an offensive line that returns all five starters, with running back JaTarvious Whitlow and receiver Seth Williams primed for All-SEC seasons. Provided a clear answer (and production) emerges at quarterback, the talent is there to easily exceed Athlon’s projection of No. 20.
Athlon Sports projects a tight race in the Big Ten West in 2019. Wisconsin ranks No. 19 overall but just two spots behind projected champ Nebraska at No. 17. The Badgers failed to win double-digit games for the first time in coach Paul Chryst’s tenure last season. Reaching that mark this season will require navigating a schedule that features crossover games versus Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State, along with a road trip to Nebraska on Nov. 16. Chryst's team is once again anchored by a strong ground game, featuring Heisman Trophy candidate Jonathan Taylor. Another 2,000-yard season could be in order for the junior, but Wisconsin does have to reload along the offensive line. Center Tyler Biadasz is the best in the nation at his position, and he's also the lone returning starter for Chryst in the trenches. Left tackle Cole Van Lanen is a rising star and should push for All-Big Ten honors in his first year as a starter. Jack Coan made three starts in relief of an injured Alex Hornibrook last season and enters the fall as the No. 1 quarterback on the depth chart. Coan threw for 515 yards and five touchdowns last year but could be pushed by true freshman (and four-star recruit) Graham Mertz. The team's top four statistical options in the receiving corps are back, including tight end Jake Ferguson (36 catches for 456 yards) and receiver Danny Davis (40 grabs). Despite returning only three starters last season, Wisconsin's defense limited opponents to 22.6 points a game and 5.5 yards per play. This unit has to deal with turnover once again, but the pieces are in place for coordinator Jim Leonhard to have another strong defense. Garrett Rand's return to full strength should help to bolster the defensive line, while a promising group of young players will continue to develop in the secondary. Replacing T.J. Edwards, Andrew Van Ginkel and Ryan Connelly at linebacker is the top priority for Leonhard this offseason.
The 2019 season sets up an interesting dynamic in the Big Ten West. On paper, the Hawkeyes should be the best and most complete team in the division. However, the schedule isn't kind to coach Kirk Ferentz's program. Iowa plays at Iowa State in non-conference play and has road trips to Michigan, Northwestern, Wisconsin and Nebraska in league play. And if that wasn't enough, Penn State visits Kinnick Stadium a week after the road date at Michigan in 2019. Senior quarterback Nate Stanley (2,852 yards and 26 TDs in 2018) leads the way on offense, with three running backs vying for the starting job and the opportunity to jumpstart a ground game that ranked 10th in the Big Ten last year. Tight ends T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant must be replaced, but there's potential at receiver with Brandon Smith, Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Tyrone Tracy and Nico Ragaini in place on the outside. The offensive line could be the best unit in the Big Ten. The interior is a little unsettled going into the fall, but tackles Alaric Jackson and Tristan Wirfs will contend for All-America honors. The strength in the trenches extends to the defense. End A.J. Epenesa recorded 10.5 sacks in a limited role last fall and should rank among the top players in the nation with a full workload in 2019. Chauncey Golston is a capable end on the other side, but the Hawkeyes have to identify some depth across the line to keep the starters fresh late in the game. Three starters are back to headline a standout secondary but filling the void left behind by hybrid defensive back/linebacker Amani Hooker won’t be easy.
Scott Frost has Nebraska trending up entering the 2019 season. The Cornhuskers finished 2018 by winning four out of their last six games. The two losses – Ohio State and Iowa – came by a combined eight points. Quarterback Adrian Martinez averaged 295.1 total yards a game as a freshman last year and will only get better with another offseason to work with Frost. Martinez's development is a big reason why the Cornhuskers are the pick to win the Big Ten West Division. The offensive line returns two starters, and JD Spielman (66 catches in 2018) will move into the No. 1 role after the departure of Stanley Morgan Jr. The status of running back Maurice Washington is uncertain due to legal issues, but junior college recruit Dedrick Mills should help in the backfield right away. True freshman and all-purpose threat Wan'Dale Robinson is a name to remember and a potential breakout candidate this fall. There's room for improvement on a Nebraska defense that allowed 5.8 yards per play and 31.3 points a game last fall. The good news for Frost: A good foundation is in place up front, and the line was bolstered by the addition of Oklahoma State transfer Darrion Daniels at tackle. Mohamed Barry (linebacker) and Dicaprio Bootle (cornerback) are two of the best in the Big Ten at their position. In addition to the projected improvement by Martinez and the offense, along with some gains on defense, Nebraska's schedule sets up favorably for a run at the West Division title. The Cornhuskers play Ohio State in crossover play but catch Indiana and Maryland in their other two games against the East. Additionally, Nebraska hosts Iowa, Wisconsin and Northwestern in Lincoln this fall.
16. Michigan State
Defense led the way for the Spartans in 2018 and will anchor coach Mark Dantonio’s team once again in '19. Michigan State led the Big Ten by limiting opponents to 4.5 yards a play, 17.2 points a game and just 77.9 rushing yards a contest. Eight starters are back from that suffocating group, including end Kenny Willekes (8.5 sacks), linebacker Joe Bachie (102 tackles), and cornerback Josiah Scott. All three players will be in the mix for All-America honors this fall. Tackles Raequan Williams and Mike Panasiuk are an underrated duo up front. While the defense dominated last season, Michigan State only won seven games and finished 2018 by losing three out of their last four contests. Offensive issues were largely to blame for the sluggish '18 season, and this unit will determine whether or not the Spartans can contend for the Big Ten East Division title. Quarterback Brian Lewerke regressed last fall after a promising 2017 campaign. However, Lewerke's struggles last year were largely due to a shoulder injury suffered in the first half of the season. Assuming Lewerke is back to full strength, it would be a huge boost for a unit that averaged only 18.7 points a game in 2018. Brad Salem was promoted to play-caller and a few tweaks could be coming to the scheme and overall pace of this unit. The Spartans have a solid receiving corps in place, but the offense needs more consistency out of the offensive line and ground game. Of Michigan State's six losses last season, four came by 10 points or less. Modest improvement on offense could lift Dantonio's team to nine wins in 2019.
Oregon returns all of the necessary pieces to win its first Pac-12 title since 2014. Quarterback Justin Herbert passed on the NFL for one more year in Eugene, and the senior ranks among the best in college football for 2019. Herbert started every game in 2018, throwing for 3,151 yards and 29 touchdowns to just eight picks. His supporting cast features one of the nation's top offensive lines and a solid one-two punch at running back in CJ Verdell and Travis Dye. The receiving corps is Oregon's biggest question mark. Dillon Mitchell left early for the NFL, leaving Jaylon Redd (11.4 ypc on 38 catches) and tight end Jacob Breeland (24 receptions) as the top statistical options for 2019. However, coach Mario Cristobal tapped into the transfer portal, landing Juwan Johnson from Penn State. Oregon's standout recruiting class could provide some solutions to the receiving corps. Freshman Mykael Wright is a name to watch this fall. New coordinator Andy Avalos inherits a defense that allowed only 25.4 points a game in 2018 and features a promising core of talent at every level. Freshman Kayvon Thibodeaux is an impact addition in the trenches, and linebacker Troy Dye – an All-America candidate – is likely to lead the team in tackles for the fourth year in a row. The Ducks ranked fourth in the Pac-12 in pass efficiency defense last season and should own one of the league's top defensive backfields once again. Cornerbacks Thomas Graham and Deommodore Lenoir combined for 27 pass breakups last fall and are joined by Jevon Holland and Nick Pickett at safety. The biggest obstacle to Oregon's Pac-12 North title hopes could be the schedule. The Ducks play at Washington and Stanford this season. Additionally, the opener versus Auburn is one of the top non-conference showdowns of 2019.
14. Penn State
The Nittany Lions have won at least nine games in each of the last three seasons, and there's a good chance that streak extends to four in 2019. But in order to reach nine (or more) wins, Penn State has to find a replacement for quarterback Trace McSorley. Sophomore Sean Clifford played sparingly as McSorley's backup last season and is set for the starting role after Tommy Stevens transferred to Mississippi State. Clifford has a big-time arm, and the Nittany Lions have intriguing talent on the edge to utilize downfield. The best of the bunch is sophomore KJ Hamler (42 catches for 754 yards and five scores last season), with Jahan Dotson, Justin Shorter and transfer Weston Carr (Azusa Pacific) also poised to contribute. Tight end Pat Freiermuth caught 26 passes as a freshman last season and should be more involved in 2019. Miles Sanders left for the NFL after a terrific junior season, but the cupboard isn't bare at running back. Ricky Slade is likely to see the bulk of the carries, with Journey Brown and freshmen Noah Cain and Devyn Ford rounding out a deep rotation. Three starters are back up front, but the left tackle spot is worth monitoring, as redshirt freshman Rasheed Walker is penciled in as the favorite to start. If Clifford and Penn State's offense needs a few games to find their footing, the defense provides an excellent insurance policy. The Nittany Lions held teams to 20.5 points a game and 4.7 yards per play in 2018. The strength of this unit is the front seven. End Yetur Gross-Matos is poised for All-America honors after recording 20 tackles for a loss and eight sacks last fall. Sophomore Micah Parsons is one of college football's rising stars at linebacker, joining an experienced starting trio that features Cam Brown and Jan Johnson. John Reid and Tariq Castro-Fields form a solid duo at cornerback. Michigan visits Happy Valley in 2019, but Penn State catches Ohio State, Michigan State and Iowa on the road.
Utah crossed an important hurdle in its program history by claiming the first Pac-12 South crown. The next step for coach Kyle Whittingham's team is clear: Win the Pac-12 title and play in a New Year's Six bowl. Both goals are attainable for 2019. As expected from a Whittingham-coached team, Utah's defense ranks among the best in college football. The line is one of the best in the nation, with Bradlee Anae and tackles Leki Fotu and John Penisini poised to challenge for All-America honors. Transfer Francis Bernard (BYU) will fill some of the void left behind by Chase Hansen and Cody Barton at linebacker. Some retooling is needed in the secondary following the departures of safeties Marquise Blair and Corrion Ballard. While the starting unit will look a little different, the level of performance shouldn't change. Cornerback Jaylon Johnson, safety Julian Blackmon and defensive back Javelin Guidry lead a group that held Pac-12 teams to just 58.6 percent passing last fall. Injuries to quarterback Tyler Huntley and running back Zack Moss hindered Utah's offense in 2018. The Utes ended the year by averaging 5.7 yards a play and 28.1 points a game, but there’s room for improvement. Coordinator Andy Ludwig's return to Salt Lake City is one of the offseason's top coordinator hires, and he's tasked with helping Huntley take the next step in his development. Assisting Huntley is a solid group of receivers, including all-around playmaker Britain Covey (recovering from an ACL injury) and tight ends Cole Fotheringham and Brant Kuithe. The Utes have to replace two starters up front but usually do a good job of rebuilding in the trenches. Special teams are often overlooked, but Utah will miss standout kicker Matt Gay and punter Mitch Wishnowsky. The Utes left spring with concerns at kicker and tapped into the transfer portal for help with the addition of UCLA graduate Andrew Strauch. Utah is clearly the class of the Pac-12 South and the Nov. 2 date at Washington could be an early preview of the conference title game.
It’s a close call between Washington and Oregon for the top spot in the Pac-12 North. With the Huskies hosting the Ducks this season, and a belief in Chris Petersen and his staff, Washington is Athlon's pick to win the division once again in 2019. The Huskies held teams to 16.4 points a game and 4.67 yards a play last fall. The defense may not match those totals with just two returning starters but a significant drop-off isn't likely. Coordinator Jimmy Lake should have this unit performing at a high level in short order, especially with plenty of talent returning in the secondary and Benning Potoa'e and Levi Onwuzurike back to anchor the trenches. Washington's offense did just enough to win the Pac-12 last season, but Petersen and coordinator Bush Hamdan need more out of this group. Georgia transfer Jacob Eason is slated to replace Jake Browning under center, and the Huskies have a breakout star in Salvon Ahmed ready to move into the No. 1 running back role. Eason brings more arm strength and downfield passing ability to the offense, which will open up more opportunities for Ty Jones and Aaron Fuller. The return of tight end Hunter Bryant to full strength should provide a boost to the passing game. The line is among the best in the nation, with left tackle Trey Adams back to 100 percent after missing most of 2018 due to injury. The schedule sets up in Washington's favor. The Huskies catch USC, Oregon, Utah and Washington State all in Seattle this fall.
Texas made considerable progress in coach Tom Herman's second year in Austin. The next step? Win the Big 12 title and earn a spot in the CFB Playoff. Both goals are certainly within reach this fall, but the Longhorns have work to do on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Sam Ehlinger accounted for 41 overall touchdowns last season and is the catalyst for an offense that averaged 31.1 points a game. Keeping Ehlinger healthy is a priority, so the coaching staff may look to get running backs Keaontay Ingram and Jordan Whittingham more involved to lessen the junior quarterback's workload on the ground. Ehlinger won't have No. 1 receiver Lil'Jordan Humphrey to throw to, but Collin Johnson, Devin Duvernay, Brennan Eagles and Josh Moore provide plenty of capable targets. Left tackle Samuel Cosmi and center Zach Shackelford are two of the Big 12's top returning linemen, but the other spots feature three new full-time starters. Todd Orlando is one of the nation's highest-paid defensive coordinators, and he will certainly earn every penny in 2019. The Longhorns return just two starters but feature a cadre of promising talent at every level. In other words, the drop-off from the 2018 unit is likely to be minimal – it's just a matter of how fast this defense reloads. Sophomore safety Caden Sterns is primed to push for All-America honors after picking off four passes as a freshman last fall. Lineman Keondre Coburn, linebacker Joseph Ossai and cornerbacks Anthony Cook and Jalen Green are breakout candidates to watch. Texas' rebuilt defense will be tested right away in 2019. The Longhorns host LSU in Week 2 and play Oklahoma State and Oklahoma before mid-October. The schedule also features road matchups at Baylor, Iowa State and TCU. Another double-digit win season and trip to the Big 12 Championship Game should be within reach for Herman's team.
10. Texas A&M
Texas A&M paid big money to lure Jimbo Fisher to College Station, and the program is already reaping the benefits of that move. The Aggies finished 9-4 last fall, which was headlined by a victory over LSU for the first time since joining the SEC and a dominant win over NC State in the Gator Bowl. Fisher closed out his first full year on the job with an elite recruiting haul, setting the program up to take another step forward in the coming seasons. Exceeding last year's nine wins won't be easy in 2019. Texas A&M faces a brutal schedule, featuring matchups against Athlon's projected top three teams – Alabama, Clemson and Georgia – home SEC matchups against Auburn, South Carolina and a road date at LSU. Fisher excels at developing quarterbacks, and his next star pupil is Kellen Mond. The junior showed marked improvement in 2018, throwing for 3,107 yards and 24 touchdowns and accounting for 474 yards and seven scores on the ground. Mond is poised to rank among the SEC's best at quarterback, but his supporting cast features some turnover at key positions. The offensive line must continue to develop under new assistant Josh Henson, and running back Trayveon Williams and tight end Jace Sternberger must be replaced after departing early for the NFL. The good news for Mond: The cupboard isn't bare. Sophomore Jashaun Corbin is primed for a breakout year at running back, and freshman Baylor Cupp could be the answer at tight end. Similar to the offense, Texas A&M's defense is trending in the right direction. Coordinator Mike Elko's group held teams to just 25.3 points a game last fall and ranked second in the SEC versus the run. The line will feature some new faces after Landis Durham, Daylon Mack and Kingsley Keke expired their eligibility, and the linebacker unit must replace Otaro Alaka and Tyrel Dodson. While those losses are significant, the overall play of the front seven may not decline too much with the young talent – including five-star freshman Demarvin Leal – in place. The secondary ranked 12th in the SEC in pass efficiency defense last season and remains a concern for 2019. Texas A&M is likely to show more progress in Fisher's second year, but the record may not reflect it thanks to one of the nation’s toughest slates.
9. Notre Dame
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.
The Gators were one of the most-improved teams in the nation last season. After a 4-7 mark in 2017, coach Dan Mullen led Florida to a 10-3 record and capped his first season in Gainesville with a convincing 41-15 victory over Michigan in the Peach Bowl. Mullen's second team features a major question mark along the offensive line, but another double-digit win total is within reach. The development and overall improved play from quarterback Feleipe Franks was instrumental in Florida's turnaround last fall. Franks threw for 2,457 yards and 24 touchdowns and rushed for 350 yards and seven scores. The junior has a strong supporting cast at his disposal. Lamical Perine leads a solid stable of running backs after rushing for 826 yards and seven scores in 2018. The top six statistical receivers from last season are back, including Van Jefferson (35 catches) and all-purpose threat Kadarius Toney. However, none of the skill talent or development from Franks will matter unless Florida solidifies a line that returns only one starter and finished spring with plenty of uncertainty. The Gators bring back seven starters from a defense that held teams to just 20 points a game last season. End Jabari Zuniga will be joined by Louisville transfer Jonathan Greenard to form a potent pair of edge rushers but more is needed out of the interior of the line after giving up 162.5 rushing yards a game last fall. David Reese is back to anchor the linebacker unit, while the secondary ranks among the best in the SEC with Marco Wilson (back from injury) and CJ Henderson in place at cornerback. Solidifying the safety positions will be a priority for defensive coordinator Todd Grantham in fall practice. Florida opens with an intriguing matchup against Miami in Orlando and hosts Auburn on Oct. 5 in a huge barometer game for both teams. Road trips to LSU and Missouri are tough but closing the gap to Georgia in the SEC East will require a win in Jacksonville against the Bulldogs on Nov. 2.
Reading too much into spring hype or what takes place in the actual scrimmages is always dangerous. However, the offseason chatter about an improved and modernized offense in Baton Rouge seems to be actually taking place. Coach Ed Orgeron brought up-and-coming assistant Joe Brady from the Saints to coach receivers and help coordinator Steve Ensminger implement more spread/RPO looks. Quarterback Joe Burrow is the perfect fit for this offense, as the former Ohio State signal-caller ranks as one of the best in the SEC after throwing for 2,894 yards and 16 touchdowns in his first year with the program. Justin Jefferson is back after catching 54 passes for 875 yards last season, and the program has a cast of talented receivers waiting to emerge, including Ja'Marr Chase and Terrace Marshall. The offensive line needs to play with more overall consistency and must get better in pass protection. Orgeron won't be starting from scratch up front though, as four starters return to provide a good foundation. Dave Aranda is one of the top defensive coordinators in college football, and despite the loss of linebacker Devin White and cornerback Greedy Williams to the NFL, don't expect LSU’s defense to slip on the stat sheet. Each level of the unit ranks among the best in the SEC, and linebacker K'Lavon Chaisson’s return from injury will bolster a pass rush that managed only 14 in conference games last fall. Kristian Fulton will slide into the No. 1 cornerback role, and he's joined by a freshman poised to make an instant impact in Derek Stingley Jr. on the other side. Safety Grant Delpit is one of the nation's top returning defenders. A Sept. 7 road date at Texas should provide an early glimpse into LSU's revamped offense. The Nov. 9 date at Alabama is one of the must-see games of 2019, but the Tigers catch Florida, Auburn and Texas A&M all at home this year.
The Sooners will once again ride their high-powered offense to contend for their third consecutive trip to the CFB Playoff and the program's fifth Big 12 title in a row. Coach Lincoln Riley has a few holes to fill on this side of the ball, but as evidenced by back-to-back Heisman winners (Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray), this unit isn't likely to miss a beat behind Alabama transfer Jalen Hurts. The Texas native accounted for 7,602 total yards in his career with the Crimson Tide, but most importantly, showed marked improvement as a passer during his senior campaign. The supporting cast is loaded with dynamic playmakers. Trey Sermon and Kennedy Brooks combined for 2,003 rushing yards last season and form one of the top running back units in college football. Marquise Brown's big-play ability on the outside will be missed, but CeeDee Lamb, Grant Calcaterra and three standout freshmen from the 2019 class – Jadon Haselwood, Theo Wease and Trejan Bridges – provide plenty of weapons for Hurts. Oklahoma line coach Bill Bedenbaugh is one of the best in the nation, but he will have his work cut out this offseason, as the Sooners look to replace four starters from a dominant line. Defense is once again Oklahoma's biggest concern and the unit that could derail a trip to the playoff. New coordinator Alex Grinch was one of the offseason's top hires, and nine starters provide a good starting point. However, the numbers weren't pretty in 2018. The Sooners gave up nearly 160 rushing yards a game, finished 111th nationally in pass efficiency defense and allowed 6.1 yards per snap. How much can Grinch improve this group over the course of the season? The answer to that question is likely to decide whether or not Oklahoma makes the CFB Playoff in 2019.
5. Ohio State
Urban Meyer finished his Ohio State career with an 83-9 record, a 7-0 mark versus rival Michigan, a national championship in 2014 and no finish below No. 12 in the final Associated Press poll. In other words, no pressure Ryan Day. As if following Meyer wasn't a tough task on its own, Day has to replace quarterback Dwayne Haskins and address a defense that underachieved in 2018. While Day has big shoes to fill, he inherits one of the nation's most talented rosters. Additionally, the addition of former five-star recruit Justin Fields as a transfer from Georgia addressed the quarterback position. Fields brings more dual-threat ability than Haskins provided to the offense last season, but the sophomore is still developing as a passer. Day's offense also returns standout running back J.K. Dobbins, along with a deep group of weapons at receiver. Left tackle Thayer Munford is the lone returning starter up front, but the Buckeyes have some experienced pieces (including Rutgers transfer Jonah Jackson) and talent pushing for snaps. Ohio State's defense ranked an uncharacteristic seventh in the Big Ten in points allowed (25.5), finished sixth versus the run (158.2 ypg), gave up 5.8 yards per play, and surrendered 23 plays of 40 yards or more last fall. Day tapped former Michigan assistant Greg Mattison and Jeff Hafley (49ers) from the NFL to coordinate the defense and address last year's deficiencies. The defensive line is deep, as All-America candidate Chase Young anchors the edge with Tyreke Smith, Jonathon Cooper and Zach Harrison, while Robert Landers, Davon Hamilton, Jashon Cornell and Tommy Togiai plug the interior. Senior Malik Harrison should rank among the Big Ten's best at linebacker, but the rest of the unit struggled in 2018 and must step up this fall. The secondary will be a strength with Damon Arnette, Shaun Wade and Jeffrey Okudah at corner, along with senior Jordan Fuller leading the way at safety. The Buckeyes get Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan State at home, but the success level of Day's first season (and the Big Ten East Division title) is likely to be decided on Nov. 30 at Michigan.
Predicting the champion of the Big Ten East Division was one of the toughest picks for Athlon Sports this offseason. A couple of factors swung this debate in favor of Michigan. Urban Meyer retired, the Wolverines have an edge at quarterback with Shea Patterson returning for his senior year, and most importantly, the game is in Ann Arbor this season. Everything is in place for Jim Harbaugh and Michigan to break through and win the division and claim a berth in the CFB Playoff in 2019. That doesn't mean the Wolverines are short on question marks entering this season, however. Harbaugh is handling the play-calling duties to Josh Gattis – a first-time offensive coordinator – and Michigan is planning to go up-tempo and use more spread/RPO looks to utilize Patterson's talent. A healthy Tarik Black, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Nico Collins and Mike Sainristil form a deep group of options at receiver and should benefit from the switch in offensive style. Running back Chris Evans won't play in 2019 due to an academic issue. Walk-on Tru Wilson, and freshmen Christian Turner (redshirt) and Zach Charbonnet (true) will handle the bulk of the carries this fall. The offensive line showed marked improvement under assistant Ed Warinner in 2018 and could be the best in the Big Ten with four starters back. Michigan's defense allowed 103 points over the final two contests last season and a run to the playoff will require coordinator Don Brown to get this group back on track. The bad news: Chase Winovich, Rashan Gary, Devin Bush, David Long, Brandon Watson and Tyree Kinnel are gone. That's a lot of talent to replace in one offseason, but the cupboard isn't bare. Kwity Paye, Aidan Hutchinson, Central Michigan transfer Mike Danna and hybrid end/linebacker Josh Uche should keep the pass rush performing at a high level. Josh Ross will get the first opportunity to replace Bush in the middle of the linebacker unit, while this position group would benefit from a bounce-back season by Khaleke Hudson. Lavert Hill is poised to rank among the top corners in the nation, while Ambry Thomas is the favorites to fill the void left behind by Long on the other side. Incoming freshman Daxton Hill is expected to push for a starting job at safety. Trips in Big Ten play to Wisconsin and Penn State are challenging, but Michigan gets three of its biggest games – Michigan State, Notre Dame and Ohio State – in Ann Arbor.
Georgia fell short of a repeat trip to the CFB Playoff last season, but coach Kirby Smart's team has all of the necessary pieces for a run at the national title in 2019. Quarterback Jake Fromm returns after throwing for 2,749 yards and 30 touchdowns to just six picks in a brilliant sophomore season. Fromm is supported by the nation's best offensive line, and as usual in Athens, there's no shortage of talent at running back. D'Andre Swift leads the way on the ground, with James Cook, Zamir White and Brian Herrien slated to round out a deep rotation. The biggest question marks on offense are centered on new play-caller James Coley and a revamped receiving corps. Coley was promoted after Jim Chaney left for Tennessee but hasn't called plays since the 2015 season at Miami. Junior Jeremiah Holloman was expected to be Fromm's No. 1 target, but he was dismissed from the team over the summer. Freshmen Dominick Blaylock and George Pickens are likely to contribute right away in the receiving corps, while experienced options like Tyler Simmons and Demetris Robertson have to step up. Georgia's two-deep is overflowing with talent at every level on defense. The line has to get a little better versus the run, but sophomore Jordan Davis and senior Tyler Clark should push for All-SEC honors. Freshmen Nolan Smith and Nakobe Dean and junior college recruit Jermaine Johnson join a linebacker unit that features Monty Rice, Brenton Cox, Adam Anderson and Tae Crowder. Replacing No. 1 cornerback Deandre Baker won't be easy. However, Eric Stokes and Tyson Campbell are both talented and poised to start at cornerback, with steady senior J.R. Reed providing support at safety. Rodrigo Blankenship one of the most reliable kickers in the nation. Matchups versus Notre Dame, Florida (in Jacksonville), Texas A&M and at Auburn are tough, but Georgia is likely to be favored in all 12 regular season contests.
The reigning national champs are in great shape to repeat in 2019. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence is only going to get better as a sophomore, and he's surrounded by big-play threats Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross at receiver, along with dynamic running back Travis Etienne in the backfield. The receiving corps will only get deeper once Amari Rodgers during the regular season after a torn ACL suffered in the spring. Clemson's offensive line returns four starters and ranks among the best in college football. Even though several key players are gone from a dominant defense, the level of concern is low in Death Valley. That's largely due to coordinator Brent Venables' track record of consistently reloading and developing the next wave of stars. Christian Wilkins, Austin Bryant, Clelin Ferrell and Dexter Lawrence leave big shoes to fill in the trenches, but the cupboard isn't bare. Sophomore Xavier Thomas is primed for a breakout year on the outside, with Jordan Williams and Nyles Pinckney set to step up on the interior. All-America candidate Isaiah Simmons anchors a rebuilt group of linebackers, while cornerback A.J. Terrell and safeties Tanner Muse and K'Von Wallace are back to start at safety. Clemson's schedule features an intriguing non-conference matchup versus Texas A&M on Sept. 7 and a tough road date at Syracuse on Sept. 14. However, the Tigers should be favored in all 12 games and are a heavy favorite to win the ACC title. Although Clemson is one of the favorites to win it all in 2019, history isn't on their side. Only one team (Alabama) has won back-to-back national titles since the start of the BCS era. But with Lawrence and a talented cast of playmakers in place on offense, along with a standout defense, the Tigers have all of the necessary pieces to reverse that trend.
The last image of Alabama in the 2018 college football season was a blowout loss at the hands of Clemson in the national championship. Defeats like the one the Crimson Tide suffered in Santa Clara simply don't happen under coach Nick Saban's watch. But after another offseason of coaching changes, Alabama is poised for another run at the national championship – the sixth during Saban's tenure. The offense is led by Heisman runner-up Tua Tagovailoa after he threw for 3,966 yards and 43 touchdowns in his first year as the starter. Keeping Tagovailoa healthy is a priority with Jalen Hurts deciding to transfer to Oklahoma. The Crimson Tide's receiving corps is the best in college football, and Najee Harris is primed for a breakout season replacing Damien Harris and Josh Jacobs as the No. 1 running back. The concerns on offense are minimal for new play-caller Steve Sarkisian, but the line does have three new starters, including at center and left tackle. Alabama's defense annually ranks near the top of the nation in most defensive categories and that shouldn't change in 2019. Similar to the offense, there are concerns up front. Quinnen Williams and Isaiah Buggs departed, leaving Raekwon Davis as the lone returning starter. A standout 2019 class should replenish the talent in the trenches. Dylan Moses takes over as the leader at linebacker in the middle of the Crimson Tide's 3-4 defense after Mack Wilson left for the NFL. A healthy Terrell Lewis would bolster a pass rush that already features Anfernee Jennings (13 TFL and 5.5 sacks) from the outside linebacker spot. The secondary had an uneven performance in 2018, but the return of Trevon Diggs from injury, along with the development of Patrick Surtain will solidify the cornerback position. Deionte Thompson is a big loss at safety, but Xavier McKinney seems ready for a career season. Alabama has to navigate road trips to Texas A&M, Auburn, South Carolina and Mississippi State, but LSU visits Tuscaloosa in early November.
WANT MORE? Listen to our podcast below.