NCAAF 2019 Season Outlook
The 2019 college football season is upon us and once again all eyes will be on the two programs that have dominated the sport for the last several years – Clemson and Alabama. The Tigers got the best of the Crimson Tide last year winning their second national title in three seasons. Can Clemson repeat? Can anyone else break into that top two?
If there is another team that can break the Alabama-Clemson stranglehold on the College Football Playoff, it could be a team from the SEC. The conference is once again loaded with talent and it starts with the one school that could rival Alabama for the SEC title – Georgia. The Bulldogs return third-year starter Jake Fromm at quarterback and return six starters, including a secondary loaded with talent, on defense. Georgia is the only team other than Alabama to win an SEC title in the past five seasons.
Both Florida and LSU return eight starters on defenses that were among the best in the nation. Both teams return their starting quarterbacks – Feleipe Franks at Florida and Joe Burrow at LSU – and should be right in the thick of the SEC race all season.
If you look outside the SEC, Alabama and Clemson might find their biggest threat to another national championship in the Big 12. Head coach Lincoln Riley looks to reload at Oklahoma. The Sooners have won the past four conference titles but must once again replace a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback. Kyler Murray stepped in and won the award one year after Baker Mayfield did it. This year, it will be former Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts, a graduate transfer, who takes over the Oklahoma offense. Hurts was the SEC Offensive Player of the Year as a freshman at Alabama and went 26-2 as a starter. The Sooners also return eight starters on defense.
If not the Big 12, then maybe the Big Ten can challenge the Alabama-Clemson hold on the national championship. Jim Harbaugh hired a new offensive coordinator in Josh Gattis to modernize his offense. It’s an up-tempo, spread that has the perfect pieces with which to be successful. Shea Patterson is back at quarterback and four of five starters return on the offensive line. The defense finished No. 2 in the nation in total defense last year and returns five starters.
Ohio State will have a new head coach in Ryan Day and a new starting quarterback in transfer Justin Fields. The Buckeyes went 13-1 last season and return 11 starters total from last year’s Big Ten champion. Michigan State, Penn State, and Iowa should all figure into the conference race but might not have the firepower to get into the CFP.
The Pac-12 continues to be the little guy among the Power 5 conferences with only a single entrant in the CFP. That was Washington back in 2016. The streak may continue unless Oregon or Utah comes through. The Ducks and Utes are favored to win their respective divisions. The Ducks would have a more realistic shot at the CFP with a season-opening win over Auburn and a Pac-12 title. The Utes don’t have the strength of schedule that the CFP committee looks for.
Notre Dame, which went 12-0 in the regular season last year and won a spot in the CFP, has the potential to do so again. Quarterback Ian Book (2,826 yards, 68.2 %, 19 TDs) returns as one of seven offensive starters back from a unit that averaged over 31 points per game. Head coach Brian Kelly returns six starters to a defense that allowed just 18.2 points per game (13th nationally). The schedule is difficult – at Georgia, at Michigan, at Stanford – but another unbeaten regular season would likely put the Irish right back into contention for a national title.
Clemson should run the table in the ACC. Their only real threat would come from Syracuse, a team that beat the Tigers two years ago in the regular season. Head coach Dino Babers has the Orange program trending in the right direction. Florida State could surprise some teams. Head coach Willie Taggart suffered through a 5-7 campaign last year and hired Kendall Briles to be his new offensive coordinator. That should spice up the offense which finished 112th last season in scoring.
If there is a team that could shock the nation, it will likely come from the American Athletic Conference. UCF has won two straight AAC titles and is 25-1 over the past two seasons. They did lose QB McKenzie Milton to injury, but Notre Dame transfer Brandon Wimbush appears to have stepped right into head coach Josh Heupel’s explosive offense. If not UCF, watch out for Houston with new head coach Dana Holgorsen. The Cougars return one of the most dynamic dual threat quarterbacks in the nation in D’Eriq King. Houston will find out quickly if they are worthy of national praise. The Cougars face Oklahoma in the season opener.