Now that the 2018 college football season has come to a close, here are my 2019 never too early top 25 college football rankings:
Buzz: Once again, Alabama and Nick Saban head into a season as the proverbial favorites — especially with the return of All-SEC selections in quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and receiver Jerry Jeudy along with linebackers Dylan Moss and Mack Wilson. The Crimson Tide have played in four straight national championships and a fifth one seems inevitable, especially with a manageable schedule and the top recruiting class in the country.
Buzz: Dabo Swinney has apparently found the blueprint for success, with the Tigers having played in three out of the past four national championship games. And the foundation appears solid for another run with the likes of quarterback Trevor Lawrence and running back Travis Etienne back in 2019. The defense suffers the loss of Christian Wilkins and Austin Bryant, but the schedule sets up nicely for another ACC championship and a likely return to the College Football Playoff semifinals.
Buzz: It was a disappointing finish for the Bulldogs, who were shut out of the College Football Playoff semifinals after a loss to top-ranked Alabama in the SEC Championship Game and dropped their Sugar Bowl showdown with Texas. Jake Fromm and D’Andre Swift return to guide an offense that will be without its top three receivers from 2018. The defense needs to return to form, especially with an influx of five-star talent from the second-best recruiting class in the country.
Buzz: Oklahoma has won four straight Big 12 titles and the Sooners don’t look like they’re slowing down anytime soon.
Heisman winner Kyler Murray is gone, but Austin Kendall could step up and become the next great OU quarterback.
New defensive coordinator Alex Grinch has a tremendous challenge ahead of him, but any improvement on that side of the ball has to be a bonus for a unit that ranked No. 114 nationally in total defense.
5. Ohio State
Buzz: Ryan Day takes over after the retirement of Urban Meyer and the first challenge he could face is choosing the next Buckeyes quarterback.
With Dwayne Haskins leaving for the NFL, that opens the door for either Tate Martell or possibly Georgia transfer Justin Fields, who is seeking a hardship waiver from the NCAA to become eligible immediately.
The defense finished near the bottom of the Big Ten, but it returns talent and experience.
6. Texas A&M
Buzz: The gamble to land Jimbo Fisher paid off in Year 1 as the Aggies won nine games for the first time since 2013, including the program’s first bowl win since 2014.
Quarterback Kellen Mond, who finished fourth in the SEC in total offense, returns to lead an offense that ranked in the top 20 nationally. The Aggies will face a schedule that features five teams in the final College Football Playoff rankings: Clemson, Georgia, Mississippi State, Alabama and LSU.
Buzz: Chris Petersen has led Washington to two Pac-12 titles and three straight New Year’s Six bowl games in the five years since he arrived in Seattle.
Georgia transfer Jacob Eason presumably will take over the starting quarterback duties from Jake Browning in 2019 as the Huskies look to battle attrition on the defensive side of the football.
The good news is the toughest matchups — Oregon, USC and Washington State — take place at Husky Stadium.
Buzz: Coach Dan Mullen deserves credit for the job he did in his first season at Florida.
The Gators not only won 10 games for the first time since 2015 but also won their first New Year’s Six bowl game.
Expect the offense to continue to develop under Mullen, especially at the quarterback position, while the defense must deal with the departures of linebacker Vosean Joseph, defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson and defensive end Jachai Polite.
9. Notre Dame
Buzz: Notre Dame put together its best season since 2012 as the Irish qualified for their first appearance in the College Football Playoff semifinals.
The loss to Clemson was disappointing, but it gives the program a proper measuring stick for the future. Quarterback Ian Book returns to guide an experienced offense.
The defense will need to be retooled after the departures of linebackers Julian Love, Tre’von Coney and Drue Tranquill.
Buzz: Fresh off its first New Year’s Six bowl appearance and its first 10-win season since 2013, LSU enters 2019 riding a wave of optimism.
Joe Burrow became the first Tigers quarterback to pass for at least 2,800 yards since Zach Mettenberger in 2013.
He will be joined by more than a dozen returning starters on both sides of the football to form a solid foundation for coach Ed Orgeron to build on heading into next season.
Buzz: The Wolverines won 10 games for the third time in the past four seasons under coach Jim Harbaugh, but last season feels somewhat like a disappointment after the team failed to win the Big Ten East following another humiliating loss at the hands of rival Ohio State.
That was followed by a double-digit loss to Florida in the Peach Bowl. Any hopes of breaking through next season could rest on quarterback Shea Patterson, who will lead the offense against a challenging schedule.
Buzz: The Ducks enter 2019 with a 3,000-yard passer in Justin Herbert and a 1,000-yard rusher in CJ Verdell, making them a serious contender in the Pac-12 race.
A showdown with Auburn in the season opener in Dallas could give everyone a real gauge of just how good this Oregon team can be in Year 2 under coach Mario Cristobal.
Buzz: The debate as to whether Texas football is truly back will most likely carry into 2019 especially after the way the Longhorns capped a tremendous turnaround in 2018 with a win over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.
Tom Herman’s team returns extensive experience, including quarterback Sam Ehlinger, wide receiver Lil’ Jordan Humphrey and defensive back Caden Sterns.
14. Virginia Tech
Buzz: Injuries and departures hit the Hokies hard in 2018, with the program suffering its first losing season since 1992.
Quarterback Josh Jackson missed most of the season after being injured in mid-September, opening the door for Kansas transfer Ryan Willis.
The defense was young and it showed at times. That good news is most of those players should be back in 2019 as the group looks to put its struggles behind them.
15. Mississippi State
Buzz: The Bulldogs capped a relatively successful first season under Joe Morehead with the program’s ninth consecutive bowl appearance.
After spending time primarily as the backup to Nick Fitzgerald, Keytaon Thompson presumably will move into the starting quarterback role.
The defense returns a pair of All-SEC selections in cornerback Cameron Dantzler and linebacker Erroll Thompson as well as some new faces on the front line.
16. Penn State
Buzz: After back-to-back top 10 finishes, Penn State took a step backward in 2018 after suffering losses to rivals Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan in Big Ten play.
This will be a rebuilding year for the Nittany Lions, who must replace longtime quarterback Trace McSorley as well as five underclassmen who declared early for the NFL draft, including 1,000-yard rusher Miles Sanders
Buzz: The Knights saw their 25-game win streak come to an end in the Fiesta Bowl, but that shouldn’t discourage anybody heading into 2019.
As quarterback McKenzie Milton continues to recover from a gruesome knee injury, Darriel Mack Jr. remains the top quarterback heading into 2019.
There is plenty of speed and athleticism at the skill positions as well as a defense that needs to grow in Year 2 under DC Randy Shannon.
Buzz: Nebraska won four out of its last six games last season, giving Huskers fans cause for renewed optimism heading into 2019.
Scott Frost is no stranger to a quick turnaround, leading UCF to a perfect 13-0 record in his second season and he’ll have a much larger talent pool to work with this upcoming season.
Quarterback Adrian Martinez demonstrated tremendous growth in his first season as a starter and the defense became more opportunistic later in the season.
Buzz: This likely is a make-or-break season for Auburn coach Gus Malzahn.
The Tigers followed up their New Year’s Six appearance in 2017 with a disappointing eight-win season and a spot in the Music City Bowl.
New offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham must resuscitate an offense that finished near the bottom of the SEC and he’ll have to do it without Jarrett Stidham, who declared early for the NFL draft.
20. Iowa State
Buzz: Matt Campbell has quickly turned Iowa State into a Big 12 contender after seven consecutive losing seasons. Quarterback Brock Purdy, who combined for close to 2,600 yards of total offense last season, returns to power the offense.
The defense, which was second-best in the Big 12, returns all-conference safety Greg Elsworth and defensive end JaQuan Bailey.
Buzz: The last time Utah opened a season ranked was in 2009. The Utes are coming off a bounce-back season during which they captured their first Pac-12 South Division title.
Quarterback Tyler Huntley is coming back from an injury and he’ll be joined by running back Zack Moss, a second-team All-Pac-12 selection. The defense returns several key players from a unit that was ranked as one of the best in the league in 2018.
Buzz: It’s not much of a stretch to say that 2018 was a disappointing year for the Badgers. After four consecutive double-digit win seasons, Wisconsin managed just eight victories last year.
Quarterback Alex Hornibrook was dinged up, forcing the offense to lean heavily on running back Jonathan Taylor, who won the Doak Walker Award after leading the nation with 2,194 yards. His return is huge as the Badgers looks to bounce back in 2019.
Buzz: The Tigers have made a steady climb in the win column during the three seasons under Barry Odom. Much of that success can be attributed to the offense, which has ranked at the top of the SEC.
Drew Lock leaves after passing for more than 12,000 yards and 39 touchdowns, but the arrival of transfer Kelly Bryant, who was 16-2 as a starter at Clemson, should provide a seamless transition for Mizzou in 2019.
24. Washington State
Buzz: It was a record-setting season for the Cougars, with the team putting together its first 11-win season while finishing the year ranked in the top 10 in the College Football Playoff rankings.
The biggest concern heading into 2019 is replacing quarterback Gardner Minshew, who finished as the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year. The new starting QB will have a full array of talent at the skill positions.
Buzz: The Wildcats head into next season on a high after capturing the program’s first Big Ten West Division title. Despite interest from the NFL, Pat Fitzgerald will be back coaching the Wildcats.
He’ll have a team loaded with experience and talent, including Clemson transfer Hunter Johnson, who will presumably be the starting quarterback in 2019.
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