25. Missouri Tigers
‘18 Record: 8-5 (4-4)
Top Returning Player: Larry Rountree III — RB
Key Loss: Drew Lock — QB
Key Addition: Kelly Bryant — QB
Drew Lock may not be in town anymore, but the Tigers are happy to welcome former Clemson star Kelly Bryant. After leading Clemson to the College Football Playoff, Bryant lost his job to Trevor Lawrence — leading Bryant to the transfer market and ultimately Mizzou. Arkansas’ leading receiver in ’17, Jonathan Nance, arrives with Bryant. However, the biggest weapon for the Tigers is running back Larry Rountree III. Rountree rushed for over 1,200 yards as a sophomore and is possibly the top back in the SEC.
On the defensive side, the line is bizarre. They finished the year 108th in sack rate, but generally dominated the game otherwise. Opponents rushed for less than 130 yards per game and under four yards per carry. Linebacker Cale Garrett should once again pace the team in tackles. Seven players return in the defensive backfield, making the Tigers’ secondary one of the most experienced groups in the nation. Mizzou can cause some trouble in the SEC this season.
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24. Michigan State Spartans
’18 Record: 7-6 (5-4)
Top Returning Player: Kenny Willekes — DE
Key Loss: Justin Layne — CB
Key Addition: Devontae Dobbs — OG
Projected to be the fourth-best team in the Big Ten East, the Spartans aren’t likely to make a run at the conference crown. Still, there is plenty to be excited about in East Lansing. Coach Dantonio should once again have an elite defense. After an injury delayed Kenny Willekes’ NFL plans, the reigning Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year opted to return to school. Willekes and defensive tackles Mike Panasiuk and Raequan Williams will be a force all year long.
The offense is more of a question mark. Quarterback Brian Lewerke is back at full health and has a solid group of receivers to work with, but the Spartans lack a true No. 1 running back. Whoever wins the job will have an experienced line to run behind — seven linemen return — but as of now, nobody has grabbed hold of the job. If the offense comes through, nobody will look forward to playing Sparty.
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23. Iowa State Cyclones
’18 Record: 8-5 (6-3)
Top Returning Player: Brock Purdy — QB
Key Loss: David Montgomery — RB
Key Addition: Jirehl Brock — RB
The bad news is that the Cyclones must replace star running back David Montgomery and their top receiver from a year ago, Hakeem Butler. The good news, sophomore quarterback Brock Purdy seems primed to become a star in the Big 12. The entire starting offensive line from a year ago returns, but the group wasn’t all that great in ’18. A committee will try to replace Montgomery’s production, including freshmen Breece Hall and Jirehl Brock.
After leading the Big 12 in scoring defense (22.9 ppg) last season, the Cyclones will trot out another strong unit in ’19. With JaQuan Bailey and Ray Lima (all-conference players) manning the line, the Cyclones will rely on their defensive line to dictate games. Losing Brian Peavy and D’Andre Payne in the secondary is a blow, but safety Greg Eisworth — the 2018 Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year — could be the next defensive star in Ames.
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22. UCF Knights
’18 Record: 12-1 (8-0)
Top Returning Player: Greg McCrae — RB
Key Loss: McKenzie Milton — QB
Key Addition: Brandon Wimbush — QB
Despite another undefeated regular season for the Knights, last year ended on a sour note. In addition to falling to LSU in the Fiesta Bowl, UCF lost its star player to a devastating leg injury. Quarterback McKenzie Milton nearly lost his leg due to the damage, and will miss the entire ’19 season. Even without Milton, however, the Knights have a lot of talent. Darriel Mack Jr. — who filled in for Milton — will battle Notre Dame transfer Brandon Wimbush for the starting job.
The Knights’ running back depth is outstanding. Greg McCrae, Otis Anderson and Adrian Killins Jr. are all capable of huge performances. The receiving corps is in good hands as well with All-AAC Gabriel Davis on the outside. Richie Grant is back on defense a year after leading the team with 109 tackles and six interceptions. The middle of the defense will be led by All-AAC linebacker Nate Evans. If there is any area of concern defensively, it is on the defensive line. We should learn a lot about the Knights when Stanford comes to town in Week 3.
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21. Syracuse Orange
’18 Record: 10-3 (6-2)
Top Returning Player: Alton Robinson — DE
Key Loss: Eric Dungey — QB
Key Addition: Lee Kpogba — OLB
The Orange and coach Dino Babers are feeling good heading into the new season. As they look to continue the momentum from their first double-digit win season since 2001, the Orange are hoping sophomore quarterback Tommy DeVito is ready to lead the team. Thankfully, DeVito will be surrounded by a lot of good weapons. The receiving trio of Sean Riley, Trishton Jackson and Nykeim Johnson is among the best in the ACC. Abdul Adams and Moe Neal are dangerous in the backfield.
The Orange are sure to get good production from the defensive line, especially out of Alton Robinson and Kendall Coleman — the two combined for 20 sacks last season. Four starters are back in the secondary, including Andre Cisco. Cisco may be the best safety in the ACC and has All-American potential. Teams will look to attack Syracuse in the middle of the field, as the linebacker corps is the weakest unit.
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20. Wisconsin Badgers
’18 Record: 8-5 (5-4)
Top Returning Player: Jonathan Taylor — RB
Key Loss: T.J. Edwards — LB
Key Addition: Graham Mertz — QB
For the first time under Paul Chryst’s leadership, the Badgers failed to win at least 10 games. The Badgers under-performed in ’18, but there is reason for optimism heading into this campaign. Whenever you have a Heisman candidate in the backfield, you are off to a good start — and the Badgers have that with Jonathan Taylor. After rushing for 1,977 yards as a freshman, Taylor eclipsed 2,000 (2,194) a season ago. The Badgers field the nation’s best center in Tyler Biadasz, but he is the only returning starter on the line.
Incoming freshman Graham Mertz will push Jack Coan for the starting quarterback gig. The receivers won’t blow anybody away, but they don’t need to do much with Taylor receiving the majority of touches. Staying true to form, Wisconsin should be good defensively. There are a lot of holes to fill throughout the unit, but the system would suggest they will be able to adjust quickly.
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19. Auburn Tigers
’18 Record: 8-5 (3-5)
Top Returning Player: Derrick Brown — DT
Key Loss: Jarrett Stidham — QB
Key Addition: Owen Pappoe — OLB
There weren’t many teams who had a more disappointing season than the Auburn Tigers a year ago. After entering the year with Playoff aspirations, Auburn struggled to an 8-5 record — including a losing record in SEC play. Jarrett Stidham is no longer in town, leaving Gus Malzahn to find an answer at quarterback. Bo Nix, a five-star recruit, is seen as the future but it remains to be seen if he is ready to take over now. There is potential at running back, but no surefire star.
Auburn’s defensive line is stacked — possibly the best line in the nation. Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson are the best of the bunch, while Nick Coe is a force off the edge. Every single linebacker from last year is gone, making five-star freshman Owen Pappoe all the more important. Should the linebackers get torn apart, safeties Jeremiah Dinson and Daniel Thomas will be tasked with picking up the slack. With suspect corners and linebackers, the Tigers may need to score a ton of points to stay in the upper-echelon of the SEC.
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18. Washington State Cougars
’18 Record: 11-2 (7-2)
Top Returning Player: Davontavean Martin — WR
Key Loss: Gardner Minshew — QB
Key Addition: Gage Gubrud — QB
Mike Leach, what a personality, what a coach. The Cougars have become perennial contenders in the Pac-12 under Leach’s watch. While Wazzu’s potent Air Raid offense has continued to blitz the competition, its taken a step up nationally due in large part to its defense. The defense has yielded fewer points each of the past four seasons. With a mix of returning players and new blood — namely West Virginia transfer Lamonte McDougle — Wazzu should field one of the better units in the conference.
Offensively, Leach will likely turn to Gage Gubrud — an FCS All-American — to quarterback the offense. Davontavean Martin and Dezmon Patmon combined for 130 receptions in ’18 and should have similar, if not better, success this time around. Washington and Oregon are a little better than the Cougars, but it wouldn’t be a shock to see Leach’s team to make a run in the North.
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17. Iowa Hawkeyes
’18 Record: 9-4 (5-4)
Top Returning Player: A.J. Epenesa — DE
Key Loss: T.J. Hockenson — TE
Key Addition: Ezra Miller — OT
How do you replace T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant? You do not. Trying to tell yourself you can adequately replace two first-round draft picks at tight end would be a lie. With that being said, Iowa still has some nice pieces on offense. Senior quarterback Nate Stanley is entering his third year as the man in charge. His experience should go a long way. The offensive line and running game will be leaned on more this year, as the Hawkeyes’ top three running backs and two star linemen return.
Keep an eye out for A.J. Epenesa. The junior could end up being a first round pick in next year’s draft if he continues to dominate off the edge. Three linebackers are back from last year’s starting group, as are three starters in the secondary. The loss of ’18 Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year Amani Hooker is big, but the Hawkeyes have enough talent to compensate.
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16. Nebraska Cornhuskers
’18 Record: 4-8 (3-6)
Top Returning Player: Adrian Martinez — QB
Key Loss: Stanley Morgan Jr. — WR
Key Addition: Wandale Robinson — ATH
Can Scott Frost do for Nebraska in Year 2 what he did for UCF in Year 2? Cornhusker fans sure hope so, and people are beginning to jump on board. Quarterback Adrian Martinez is getting a smattering of Heisman buzz coming off of a year in which he averaged a school-record 295.1 yards per game. Devine Ozigbo and his 1,000 yards are gone, Maurice Washington’s status is in the air due to legal problems, so it will be up to Dedrick Mills to control the running game alongside Martinez. Without Stanley Morgan Jr., Nebraska’s receivers are a complete unknown.
Nebraska’s defense last season was a travesty. If they don’t improve this year, the Cornhuskers will struggle to win more than six games. Nonetheless, they do have some intriguing players. Linebacker Mohamed Barry led the team in tackles last year and is primed to have a big ’19. The defensive front will be buoyed by the addition of Oklahoma State transfer Darrion Daniels.
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15. Penn State Nittany Lions
’18 Record: 9-4 (6-3)
Top Returning Player: Yetur Gross-Matos — DE
Key Loss: Trace McSorley — QB
Key Addition: Brandon Smith — OLB
It will be interesting to see how the Nittany Lions adjust to life without Trace McSorley. Their three-year starting quarterback will be replaced by Sean Clifford. Clifford, a redshirt sophomore, is only in that position because the assumed heir to McSorley — Tommy Stevens — decided to enter the transfer portal. KJ Hamler is an exciting receiver who has shown he can produce, but there is not much else out wide. Four underclassmen will fight for carries at tailback, with sophomore Ricky Slade bringing the most experience to the mix.
Penn State is fun defensively. The Nittany Lions led the nation in sacks a year ago, and they boast an absolute beast in defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos. Gross-Matos notched eight sacks and 20 TFLs, while DT Robert Windsor tallied 7.5 sacks of his own. Look for Micah Parsons to come into his own this year in the middle of the field. The talented linebacker led the team with 83 tackles last season. Combine a potentially dominant line with a veteran laden secondary, and the Nittany Lions have one of the nation’s best defenses.
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14. Utah Utes
’18 Record: 9-5 (6-3)
Top Returning Player: Leki Fotu — DT
Key Loss: Chase Hansen — LB
Key Addition: Manny Bowen — LB
For the first time since joining the Pac-12, Utah won its division. In winning the South, the Utes set the bar high for themselves in ’19. If Utah wants to win the conference this time around, it will have to follow a familiar formula — excellent defense, great special teams and solid offense. Getting back Tyler Huntley at quarterback should help improve the offense overall. Zack Moss, who ran for 1,000 yards in nine games before an injury ended his season, will be the focal point of the Utes’ offense. If Moss and Huntley perform up to expectations, look out.
Defensively, there are not many teams at Utah’s level. The defensive line is full of units — namely Leki Fotu and Bradlee Anae — and is tremendous against the run. The linebacker corps isn’t as imposing, but Utah is well off in the secondary. Despite losing both starting safeties from a year ago, the secondary is in good hands thanks to players like Julian Blackmon and corner Jaylon Johnson. Utah is the class of the Pac-12 South.
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13. Oregon Ducks
’18 Record: 9-4 (5-4)
Top Returning Player: Justin Herbert — QB
Key Loss: Dillon Mitchell — WR
Key Addition: Kayvon Thibodeaux — DE
Thanks to Justin Herbert’s decision to pass on the NFL for one more year in Eugene, Oregon enters the season with hopes of making the Playoff. Herbert, a likely first round pick, will be in the Heisman conversation should he lead the Ducks towards the top of the poll. Oregon’s offensive line is one of the best in the country, which will only enhance Herbert’s production. The combination of Travis Dye and CJ Verdell at running back has a lot of promise.
The Ducks’ defense has talent, but it remains to be seen how good it may be. Jordon Scott is imperative to the defense’s success. Alongside him on the line, freshman phenom Kayvon Thibodeaux will garner national attention. Troy Dye, Oregon’s leading tackler in ’18, will be tasked with controlling the middle of the field. An experienced secondary led by Deommordore Lenoir and Thomas Graham Jr. will look to capitalize on the terror caused by the line. If the line does its job, free safety Jevon Holland could lead the nation in interceptions.
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12. Texas Longhorns
’18 Record: 10-4 (7-2)
Top Returning Player: Sam Ehlinger — QB
Key Loss: Charles Omenihu — DE
Key Addition: Jordan Whittington — ATH
After dismantling Georgia in the Sugar Bowl to end the ’18 season, Texas will enter the new year as a trendy pick to make the College Football Playoff. Sam Ehlinger improved a lot last year and should be the driving force behind Texas’ offense again this campaign. Helping him out will be running backs Keontay Ingram and Jordan Whittington. With three new starters along the offensive line, it will be imperative for Ehlinger to make quick decisions.
If Texas is to face any trouble, you may be able to blame the defense. Defensive Coordinator Todd Orlando must replace nine starters from last year’s Horns. The entire defensive line, linebacker corps and two members of the secondary have moved on. The two returning starters — safeties Brandon Jones and Caden Sterns — will be asked to lead the young defense. Oh, and don’t forget about Cameron Dicker the kicker — he can play.
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11. Texas A&M Aggies
’18 Record: 9-4 (5-3)
Top Returning Player: Kellen Mond — QB
Key Loss: Jace Sternberger — TE
Key Addition: Kenyon Green — OT
Jimbo Fisher coaches the best team in Texas, sorry Longhorns. Kellen Mond won’t blow anybody away, but the veteran gunslinger is more than capable of winning double-digit ballgames for the Aggies. Mond gets back his top receiver in Quartney Davis, as well as a majority of the receiver corps from last year. Unfortunately, All-American tight end Jace Sternberger is now in the NFL — leaving A&M with a huge hole at the position. Gone also is All-SEC running back Trayveon Williams.
Six of the seven players who comprised the front seven are gone, with defensive tackle Justin Madubuike being the lone holdover. Keep an eye out for Micheal Clemons. After missing all of last year, Clemons has flashed in recent practices. The linebackers and secondary are worrisome as currently constituted. However, high-ranked recruits and promising players are primed to step up.
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10. LSU Tigers
’18 Record: 10-3 (5-3)
Top Returning Player: Grant Delpit — S
Key Loss: Devin White — LB
Key Addition: John Emery — RB
There are no excuses in Baton Rouge this season. Not only do the Tigers return 15 starters (7 on offense, 8 on defense), but they also will enjoy an influx of top-end talent thanks to another top-five recruiting class. With a new offensive scheme in place, there is hope of an explosive offense sprouting in Louisiana. Quarterback Joe Burrow will finally get the chance to run the RPO — which works towards his strengths.
Freshman John Emery is a tantalizing running back prospect who should shine in short order. On the other side of the ball, Rashard Lawrence is poised to become a star following his Defensive MVP performance in last year’s Fiesta Bowl. Devin White is irreplaceable, but the linebacker corps should be steady. In the defensive backfield, stud safety Grant Delpit will look to dominate. Delpit recorded a team-high five sacks, five interceptions and nine pass deflections in ’18.
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9. Washington Huskies
’18 Record: 10-4 (7-2)
Top Returning Player: Hunter Bryant — TE
Key Loss: Myles Gaskin — RB
Key Addition: Jacob Eason — QB
The class of the Pac-12? We think so. Despite having to replace nine starters from a great defense, the Huskies have a ton to be excited about entering the season. Sure, four-year starting quarterback Jake Browning may be gone, but Georgia transfer Jacob Eason is arguably an even better option at the position. He will be protected by a very good offensive line which returns four starters — highlighted by All-Pac-12 center Nick Harris and the returning Trey Adams. The loss of Myles Gaskin hurts, but Salvon Ahmed flashed at running back in limited action and should be a decent replacement.
When it comes to the defense, the Huskies only returning starters are defensive end Benning Potoa’e and safety Myles Bryant. The line should be able to create pressure, which will be doubly important due to the uncertainty at linebacker. The secondary may have lost four starters, but one player in particular has Washington’s staff excited. Redshirt freshman Kyler Gordon has the look of a future star. Utilizing impressive lockdown coverage skills, Gordon will likely draw the toughest assignment on a weekly basis for the Huskies.
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8. Florida Gators
’18 Record: 10-3 (5-3)
Top Returning Player: CJ Henderson — CB
Key Loss: Jawaan Taylor — T
Key Addition: Keon Zipperer — TE
Can quarterback Feleipe Franks continue his upward trajectory? The jury is still out. However, if he continues to improve his game, the Gators may arrive sooner than anyone could have envisioned less than 20 months ago. Franks will be surrounded by legit playmakers in wideout’s Van Jefferson, Trevon Grimes, Kadarius Toney and running back Lamical Perine. Although the Gators are oozing with talent, a revamped offensive line may be a hindrance — replacing four starters is no small task.
After starting the year playing average ball defensively, Florida turned the corner in a big way to end the season. Corners Marco Wilson and CJ Henderson combine to form a top-end duo. David Reese II and Amari Burney will be in charge of controlling the middle of the field, while Jabari Zuniga and Jonathan Greenard will look to terrorize quarterbacks off the edge. With seven returning starters and a bevy of talented players behind them, Florida’s defense could be a dominant force in ’19.
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7. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
’18 Record: 12-1
Top Returning Player: Ian Book — QB
Key Loss: Jerry Tillery — DT
Key Addition: Jacob Lacey — DT
It is consistently tough to determine just how good the Irish are. Some years they appear to be a threat to make the College Football Playoff and they end up being pedestrian. Others, they look like an average team on paper and end up making a run at the CFP. So, how do we view them leading up to the ’19 season? We think they have an outside shot at making the Playoff, but likely will fall a little short. The Irish’s offense has a chance to be lethal. Quarterback Ian Book returns alongside four starters along the offensive line, a promising receiving corps, and a strong tight end in Cole Kmet.
The Irish lost a lot of talent on defense, but there is still plenty left in the cupboard to cause problems again this year. Khalid Kareem, Daelin Hayes and Julian Okwara will be hard to stop on the edge. When it comes to the secondary, Jalen Elliott and Alohi Gilman have the potential to be one of the best safety duos in America. Gilman, in particular, has All-America potential. With road games at Louisville, Georgia, Michigan and Stanford — as well as home tilts against Virginia Tech and USC — ND will be hard pressed to return to the CFP.
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6. Ohio State Buckeyes
’18 Record: 13-1 (8-1)
Top Returning Player: Jordan Fuller — S
Key Loss: Urban Meyer — HC
Key Addition: Justin Fields — QB
So long, Urban Meyer. Hello, Ryan Day. With the controversial Meyer now off on his second ‘retirement’, the Buckeyes will try to remain a contender under Day’s leadership. Day will be receiving some immediate help in the form of Georgia-transfer Justin Fields. Fields, a former five-star quarterback, is a true dual-threat who is capable of winning any game. With the dynamic J.K. Dobbins still in town, the Buckeyes’ offense should be ready to fire on all cylinders.
Nick Bosa is now in the NFL, but defensive end Chase Young is no slouch. Young rattled off 9.5 sacks a year ago and could push for a few more this season. He will have plenty of help on the line playing next to Tyreke Smith, Jonathon Cooper and the highly-touted Zach Harrison. The linebacker corps — aside from Malik Harrison — needs some help, but there is no such problem in the secondary. Jordan Fuller is an NFL talent and Jeffrey Okudah is likely to reach that level as well.
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5. Oklahoma Sooners
’18 Record: 12-2 (8-1)
Top Returning Player: CeeDee Lamb — WR
Key Loss: Kyler Murray — QB
Key Addition: Jalen Hurts — QB
Oklahoma’s starting quarterback the last three seasons: Baker Mayfield (’17 Heisman), Kyler Murray (’18 Heisman) and now Jalen Hurts. Hurts may not have a Heisman, but he did lead Alabama to two National Championship appearances and two SEC Titles. Now, Hurts hopes to lead Oklahoma to glory. Playing next to electric backs Trey Sermon and Kennedy Brooks will help ease Hurts’ transition in Norman.
There is also CeeDee Lamb, a second-team All-Big 12 selection a year ago who tallied 1,158 yards and 11 touchdowns. Want one more weapon? Have Grant Calcaterra — a First-Team All-Big 12 selection at tight end. Defensively…the Sooners have a lot to prove. They ranked dead last nationally in pass defense last season, as well as last in the Big 12 in total defense and scoring defense.
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4. Michigan Wolverines
’18 Record: 10-3 (8-1)
Top Returning Player: Shea Patterson — QB
Key Loss: Devin Bush — LB
Key Addition: Daxton Hill — S
Like most years, there is not much that separates Michigan and Ohio State. We would not be surprised in the least bit if the Buckeyes ended up being the better team. For now, however, we favor the Wolverines. The combination of Jim Harbaugh coaching, Shea Patterson at quarterback and the game being in Ann Arbor this season, Michigan gets the slight nod. The running back position is rather bleak — from a standpoint of not having an experienced runner. Despite the lack of experience at back, the offensive line is going to be rather good — which should help immensely.
Michigan lost a lot of talent on the other side of the ball. Devin Bush and Rashan Gary are the biggest names, but Chase Winovich will also be missed. The Wolverines will still be talented across the board, but there is not one player who jumps out more than the others to this point.
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3. Georgia Bulldogs
’18 Record: 11-3 (7-1)
Top Returning Player: Jake Fromm — QB
Key Loss: Deandre Baker — CB
Key Addition: Jermaine Johnson — DE
The top-three is all too familiar — starting with the Georgia Bulldogs. Offensively, the Bulldogs feature perhaps the best line in America. Left tackle Andrew Thomas is the best of the bunch, but there is no weak spot at any position across the line. Playing behind Thomas and the gang will be Jake Fromm — a quarterback good enough to cause Justin Fields and Jacob Eason to transfer — and potentially one of the nation’s best backs in D’Andre Swift. The receiving corps doesn’t feature a standout, but it shouldn’t matter much.
Despite not having a superstar ala Roquan Smith, this version of Georgia’s defense may be the best one yet. The unit is full of former five-star recruits, top JUCO transfers and future collegiate stars. Freshman linebacker Nakobe Dean has already made a name for himself on campus and appears to be the next household name. Safety J.R. Reed will need to mentor a young secondary, but the fifth-year senior should be up to the task.
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2. Alabama Crimson Tide
’18 Record: 14-1 (8-0)
Top Returning Player: Tua Tagovailoa — QB
Key Loss: Quinnen Williams — DT
Key Addition: Evan Neal — OT
Wasn’t it refreshing to see Alabama get stomped in the National Championship? Unless you are a fan of the Crimson Tide, we are guessing you would say ‘yes’. Still, the Tide are likely to get the last laugh. Nick Saban is still in control, Tua Tagovailoa returns at quarterback and there are NFL-caliber players littered throughout the roster. There isn’t much to say about this program — other than, expect to see them in the CFP.
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1. Clemson Tigers
’18 Record: 15-0 (8-0)
Top Returning Player: Trevor Lawrence — QB
Key Loss: Clelin Ferrell — DE
Key Addition: Frank Ladson Jr. — WR
The reigning, defending, undisputed champion of college football…the Clemson Tigers! With no obvious threat in the ACC, Clemson appears destined for yet another trip to the CFP. Heisman favorite Trevor Lawrence, tantalizing running back Travis Etienne and talented receivers Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross are all back. Despite losing a handful of defensive stars to the NFL, Clemson remains one of the best defensive teams in the nation. We won’t be pulling for it, but a Clemson–Alabama National Championship is in the cards.
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