New Arena’s Top 25 College Football Poll for 2018-19 Season

The College Football season is nearly upon us!

It seemed like just yesterday when we all witnessed the SEC — I mean — the National Championship Game between Alabama and Georgia. There should be no shortage of exciting narratives this season. While the usual suspects remain exceptionally good, upstart team such as Washington, Wisconsin, and Miami (among others) are looking to vault themselves into College Football Playoff contention.

Here’s a look at New Arena’s earliest Top 25 Poll for the 2018-2019 College Football season:

25. Arizona Wildcats

Last year’s record: 7-6
Most important returning player: QB Khalil Tate

QB Khalil Tate combined for over 3,000 yards of total offense and 26 touchdowns a season ago. Easily one of the nation’s most dynamic dual-threat quarterbacks, the Los Angeles native could be a sneaky Heisman contender. The arrival of Kevin Sumlin could result in an even more potent offensive attack. Duly, the Wildcats return virtually its entire defense (including three-year defensive coordinator Marcel Yates). This team has the look of a darkhorse within the wide-open Pac-12 South Division.

24. Utah Utes

Last year’s record: 7-6
Most important returning player: QB Tyler Huntley

This could be the best Utah team Kyle Whittingham has had since the Utes joined the Pac-12 nearly a decade ago. Last year’s bunch featured a mass amount of sophomores. Now, all of those guys are upperclassmen. The QB-RB combination of Tyler Huntley and Zack Moss is one of the better one-two punches in the conference. Duly, you know any Whittingham-coached team will include toughness, physicality, and strong special teams play. This might be the breakthrough year in which Utah finally wins the South Division.

23. TCU Horned Frogs

Last year’s record: 11-3
Most important returning player: WR/Returner KaVontae Turpin

Wide receiver KaVontae Turpin is one of the most explosive players in the country. He’ll have to be exceptional — especially since TCU is tasked with replacing 10 starters on the offensive side of the ball. All isn’t lost, though. QB Shawn Robinson pairs terrific arm strength with exceptional athletic ability. Additionally, the defense returns six starters and a host of experienced reserves. Gary Patterson should field another highly competitive team. Rising DE Ben Banogu has the potential to be an All-American this season.

22. UCF Knights

Last year’s record: 13-0
Most important returning player: QB McKenzie Milton

Though Scott Frost is now back home at Nebraska, the Knights still project to be a very talented team across the board. The skill positions are loaded with speed — as is much of the projected starting defense. QB McKenzie Milton is one of college football’s top returning signal-callers. The Hawaii native threw for 4,037 yards in 2017. This included accumulating 45 total touchdowns in the process. Assuming the Knights can get past early road tests at UConn and North Carolina, this team will be set up to do quite well.

21. Mississippi State Bulldogs

Last year’s record: 9-4
Most important returning player: QB Nick Fitzgerald

There will be some transition for this program, as Dan Mullen is now in Gainesville. Joe Moorhead comes over from Penn State to lead a team with some real promise. The defense ranked No. 10 nationally in total yards allowed last season. Much of that personnel is back this year. Plus, they’ve got arguably the SEC’s best quarterback in Nick Fitzgerald. Road tilts at Alabama, LSU, and Kansas State won’t be easy. However, opposing teams would be wise in not sleeping on the Bulldogs.

20. Oklahoma State Cowboys

Last year’s record: 10-3
Most important returning player: RB Justice Hill

It all starts and ends with RB Justice Hill. The junior is poised to collect his third-straight season with at least 1,100 yards rushing. OSU will lean on him heavily with the departure of QB Mason Rudolph. The Pokes will still put up points — largely because of a deep receivers corps, and the presence of Mike Gundy. A non-conference clash with Boise State figures to be highly interesting.

19. LSU Tigers

Last year’s record: 9-4
Most important returning player: DB Greedy Williams

Ed Orgeron is starting to feel the pressure in Baton Rouge. The hometown figure made multiple changes to his coaching staff in the offseason. Ohio State transfer Joe Burrow is eligible to play right away for the Tigers in what many are calling a transition year. Derrius Guice, Darrel Williams, and Russell Gage are all gone from a year ago. Many think LSU will take a bit of a step back this season. The schedule will be fairly daunting. The season opener at a neutral site versus a game Miami team will be followed by a road game at Auburn, and home games versus Mississippi State, Alabama, and Georgia. However, one simply cannot count them out based upon the elite amount of talent littered within its defense.

18. Texas Longhorns

Last year’s record: 7-6
Most important returning player: WR Collin Johnson

Tom Herman has recruited like a mad man since coming over from Houston. UT has taken its lumps with underclassmen predominantly placed in featured roles. This season could be the first in the Herman era in which Texas challenges for a conference championship. Cal transfer Tre Watson is a very talented player from the running back spot. Collin Johnson is a freak of an athlete — and likely will be a future high draft pick. The front seven is also as deep as it’s been since the Mack Brown days. UT begins the season on the road at Maryland before embarking on a tough four-game stretch including the likes of USC, TCU, Kansas State, and Oklahoma.

17. Florida State Seminoles

Last year’s record: 7-6
Most important returning player: RB Cam Akers

The Seminoles haven’t exactly had the easiest offseason. Longtime head coach Jimbo Fishers left for Texas A&M. Starting QB Deondre Francois is coming off of a serious knee injury, and had multiple off-the-field issues. This isn’t exactly the ideal start new head man Willie Taggart had in mind. With that said, FSU still has a loaded roster. Cam Akers might be the best running back you’ve never heard of. Don’t be surprised to see him explode for all-conference honors this season.

16. Virginia Tech Hokies

Last year’s record: 9-4
Most important returning player: QB Josh Jackson

Justin Fuente has already put his imprint on the Hokies’ program. It’s a team fostering an explosive offense to go with a traditionally opportunistic defense. That’s not to say, however, that the offseason hasn’t been without controversy. Three of its defensive stars (Tre Edmunds, Tim Settle, Terrell) left for the NFL Draft. A promoted coach suddenly left the program after an extra-marital affair became public. To complicate matters further, the Hokies have only four starters returning on the defensive side of the ball. They’ll challenge Miami for the Coastal Division crown — though it won’t be easy.

15. Michigan Wolverines

Last year’s record: 8-5
Most important returning player: DL Rashan Gary

The biggest narrative surrounding Michigan is the arrival of QB transfer Shea Patterson. A one-time 5-star recruit, the former Ole Miss signal-caller recently transferred to Ann Arbor — where he’ll be eligible right away. This is a major boon for the Wolverines. Not only does Patterson increase the team’s respective ceiling, but it makes them legitimate contenders in the Big Ten. On other other side of the ball, Michigan is equipped with an exceptionally good front seven (led by defensive lineman Rashan Gary).

14. USC Trojans

Last year’s record: 11-3
Most important returning player: OL Toa Lobendahn

USC loses a lot from last year’s 11-3 team — including its best defender (Uchenna Nwosu) and the No. 3 Overall pick in last year’s NFL Draft (QB Sam Darnold). While it’s not official, it appears as if the Trojans will roll with incoming freshman J.T. Daniels as their starting quarterback. Daniels graduated a year early — meaning he should actually be a high school senior. Though very polished, it remains to be seen as to how impressive he’ll be. Fortunately for USC, it has a top-five roster nationally in terms of overall talent. Running back Stephen Carr is a star in-the-making.

13. Michigan State Spartans

Last year’s record: 10-3
Most important returning player: RB L.J. Scott

Virtually no one outside of East Lansing had a clue that Sparty would win 10 games for the sixth time in eight years last season. Michigan State is essentially the Midwest’s version of Utah with a better running back (L.J. Scott). As per usual, this less-than-flashy program will be workmanlike in nature. Mark Dantonio’s players embody his steely persona perfectly. They’ll be one to watch in the East Division.

12. Stanford Cardinal

Last year’s record: 9-5
Most important returning player: RB Bryce Love

Bryce Love surprised everyone (including David Shaw) by returning for another year on the Farm. He likely enters the season as the best running back in the country — and a bona fide Heisman candidate. K.J. Costello has the best arm of any Stanford quarterback in recent memory. It should aid in Stanford having an added dimension of throwing the ball downfield. Additionally, both sides of the ball are loaded with juniors and seniors. The Cardinal look primed to battle Washington for supremacy in the Pac-12 North Division.

11. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Last year’s record: 10-3
Most important returning player: DL Jerry Tillery

Notre Dame figures to be fighting for a College Football Playoff spot in 2018. Seniors Brandon Wimbush (QB) and Dexter Williams (RB) are both dynamic from their respective positions. The offensive line is yet again a major strength of the team. On defense, Jerry Tillery leads a very big front seven. LB Te’Von Coney follows in the long line of exceptional linebackers from the school. The season opener versus Michigan will go a long way in determining just how good this team is. Other marquee matchups on the schedule include Stanford, USC, Virginia Tech, and Florida State. There are plenty of opportunities for Notre Dame to build a strong résumé.

10. Auburn Tigers

Last year’s record: 10-4
Most important returning player: QB Jarrett Stidham

Auburn’s quest to win a National Championship begins in a very high-profile non-conference matchup versus the Washington Huskies. Should Gus Malzahn’s team drop this contest, it’ll be very hard for them to ultimately make the College Football Playoff (unless Auburn can go unscathed throughout the daunting SEC schedule). Unfortunately for the Tigers, two of Jarrett Stidham’s best targets — Will Hastings, Eli Stove — will be out for a chunk of the season due to ACL injuries. Auburn should be very good on the defensive side of the ball. If the Tigers can upset Washington, it could set the scene for a very special season. If not, things could go downhill quickly.

9. Miami Hurricanes

Last year’s record: 10-3
Most important returning player: RB Travis Homer

Miami is back to resembling the teams of yesteryear. Mark Richt and his staff have done a fantastic job in continuing to add speed to its roster. The defense is loaded in this category — as is the entire stable of running backs. Quarterback Malik Rosier returns as a fifth-year senior. Though there were some issues with interceptions, Rosier still threw for over 3,000 yards and 26 scores. Assuming the Hurricanes get past LSU in the opener, the schedule is there for them to be a darkhorse playoff threat.

8. Penn State Nittany Lions

Last year’s record: 11-2
Most important returning player: QB Trace McSorley

Penn State is a legitimate threat to both win the Big Ten and appear in the College Football Playoff for the first time under James Franklin’s leadership. In the short time he’s been in Happy Valley, Franklin has transformed the roster considerably. Penn State has a ton of athletes as well as newfound depth up front on both sides of the ball. If the Nittany Lions are to make a serious run, QB Trace McSorley will have to have a Heisman-like season. Though PSU has a weak non-conference slate, the team will be tested with back-to-back home games versus Ohio State and Michigan State, as well as a tough three-game run featuring Iowa, at Michigan, and versus Wisconsin at home.

7. Oklahoma Sooners

Last year’s record: 12-2
Most important returning player: RB Rodney Anderson

OU may take a step back from last year. Losing the No. 1 Overall pick is never a good thing for the following year’s prospects. With that said, this is still a team chock-full of talented players. Elite athlete Kyler Murray will man the quarterback position. He affords head coach Lincoln Riley a bit of creativity as it pertains to play-calling — particularly on zone-read and option looks. Rodney Anderson is an elite running back, and should be in contention for the Heisman Trophy. The schedule isn’t overly tough. Oklahoma has only four road games. However, three of the trickier games include a home tilt versus an underrated UCLA team, and road games versus the likes of TCU and West Virginia.

6. Wisconsin Badgers

Last year’s record: 13-1
Most important returning player: RB Jonathan Taylor

Wisconsin is as systematic as any football team in the sport. They don’t appear to have any athletes on the perimeter. Additionally, this archaic run-first scheme would seem (in theory) to be easy to stop. However, the machine-like Badgers find a way to routinely win at least 10 games (four-straight years and six of their last eight). This year will be no different. Senior quarterback Alex Hornibrook returns alongside stud running back Jonathan Taylor. Taylor might be the best running back in the country — and at the very least the most productive. He’ll have a monster season for Wisconsin, who’ll likely battle Ohio State for the right to represent the conference in the CFP.

5. Washington Huskies

Last year’s record: 10-3
Most important returning player: RB Myles Gaskin

This might be Chris Petersen’s best team since he took over the gig four years ago. In a short amount of time, Petersen’s turned this program into the class of the Pac-12 North — and perhaps the Pac-12 as a whole. His players are hard-nosed, physical, and exceptionally well coached. This year, seniors QB Jake Browning and RB Myles Gaskin will look to lead this team back to the College Football Playoff. An opening game test versus Auburn in Atlanta will tell us a whole lot about the possible trajectory of this team. Other tough games on the schedule include road games at Oregon and Utah, and an end-of-the-season bout with Stanford.

4. Ohio State Buckeyes

Last year’s record: 12-2
Most important returning player: DL Nick Bosa

It appears as if Urban Meyer will utilize two quarterbacks this season — although Dwayne Haskins figures to get first reps over highly-touted dual-threat option Tate Martell. Aside from that, the two-headed monster at running back (J.K. Dobbins, Mike Weber) will be as good as anyone’s in the country. There’s also that Nick Bosa guy running off the edge ready to obliterate opposing quarterbacks at a moment’s notice. This team is loaded across the board, and figures to yet again get back to the College Football Playoff. A non-conference contest versus TCU will be a nice primer for the rest of the regular season schedule. It’s not an easy one — as Ohio State goes on the road versus Michigan State and Penn State before finishing with foe Michigan.

3. Georgia Bulldogs

Last year’s record: 13-2
Most important returning player: QB Jake Fromm

Georgia expedited its rebuilding process in a big way last year. While everyone knew Kirby Smart’s team was talented, no one expected them to reach the National Championship. Seemingly overnight, QB Jake Fromm has turned into a household name. The Bulldogs still figure to be exceptionally gifted from a talent standpoint. However, they’ll have to replace a number of huge contributors from a season ago — namely Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, and Roquan Smith. Keep an eye on true freshman signal-caller Justin Fields. A player bursting with ability, he could see some snaps this upcoming year.

2. Clemson Tigers

Last year’s record: 12-2
Most important returning player: DL Dexter Lawrence

Will all due respect to the No. 1 team on our list, Clemson might be the most talented team in the country. This is especially the case as it pertains to the defensive line. Multiple players (Christian Wilkins, Austin Bryant, Clelin Ferrell) bypassed becoming high draft choices in order to return to school. Clemson’s first depth chart listed 16(!) members within its defensive line group. LT Mitch Hyatt is a stud — as is WR Hunter Renfrow, running back Travis Etienne, and monster DT Dexter Lawrence. The most intriguing name is QB Trevor Lawrence. The No. 1 high school prospect from this year’s class, he’ll battle with incumbent starter Kelly Bryant for snaps. Both will play, though it remains to be seen as to which one will actually take the reins of the offense in meaningful games.

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

Last year’s record: 13-1
Most important returning player: QB Tua Tagovailoa

Until someone knocks Alabama off its perch, it will remain as the No. 1 team heading into the 2018-19 season. We can talk about how many talented athletes the team lost from last year’s Championship squad. However, it doesn’t mean a whole lot when you think about Nick Saban’s ability to reload each and every year. Running backs Damien Harris and Najee Harris are absolute studs. The projected starting defensive line group (Isaiah Buggs, Raekwon Davis, Quinnen Williams) is exceptionally gifted. The biggest question remains at quarterback — where Tua Tagovailoa awkardly took Jalen Hurts’ spot during the second half of the title game. We still don’t know who will get first reps during Alabama’s season opener versus Louisville. It remains as one of the biggest storylines in all of college football going forward into the season.

Image Source: Ken Blaze/USA TODAY Sports