By Simon Carroll

In anticipation of the coming season, Si conducts his very own preseason poll…

Every year around mid-August the Associated Press announce their pre-season College Football rankings. These projected positionings are based on last year’s record, coaching hires and roster changes, and will serve as a vague baseline when it comes to offering their first set of playoff rankings in November.

For those that don’t know the AP serves as the official rankings for the College Football Playoffs, and have been polling football programs since the early 1930’s. There are other polls including the coaches poll which have also been around a long time. This article is a little dated but to further understand the differences between the two take a read here:

I’m so impatient for football to resume, I had a go at predicting the preseason rankings myself. We’ll compare these to the official ones when the come out in about a month’s time, and see just how wrong I was. I’ll delve a little deeper on the smaller or independent schools, but for any of the Power 5 teams you can see more detailed breakdowns on my conference preview articles here. So without further ado, here’s numbers 25-13:

#25. Army Black Knights

Independent. Last year: #19 (-6)

Preseason Rankings

Always good to start off with a bit of controversy. Thanks to military duty being compulsory to anyone who attends one of the service academies, Army, Navy & Air Force have often missed out on the top talent. Our favourite President looks set to repeal that ruling but it will still be some time before the effects will be seen on recruiting classes. Regardless, these institutions have intermittently been able to compete with the CFB behemoths through a combination of work ethic, intelligence and good coaching.

Last year Army confounded expectations, finishing 19th in the rankings with an 11-2 record. This included an overtime loss to 5th ranked Oklahoma, a tight win against bitter rivals Navy and an utter drubbing of highly touted Houston in the Armed Forces Bowl (70-14). Jeff Monken returns as Head Coach and Kelvin Hopkins comes back for his senior year. Hopkins is a duel threat Quarterback who ran for almost as many yards as he threw. He scored 23 touchdowns and Monken’s triple option offense suits his skillset perfectly. So much so that he was shortlisted for both the Maxwell and Davey O’Brien awards.

Defense returns most of it’s core, including Mike Linebacker Cole Christiansen who would be getting a lot more buzz if he played at a Power-5 school. The schedule is slightly tougher than 2018 which makes the risk and reward greater – travelling to Michigan to face the Wolverines in week 2 will be a tough test to say the least. But based on stability and consistency, The Black Knights deserve to be ranked.

#24. Northwestern Wildcats

Big 10. Last year: #21 (-3)

Preseason Rankings

Winning the West division and losing just one game in conference play will make sure you’re not disregarded by the AP. Pat Fitzgerald has done amazing things with The Wildcats and it would be reckless to think he won’t have them competitive once again. But the division gets tougher this season. And losing to Akron in week 3 last year is a stark reminder that this team is far from the Big 10 elite.

#23. Nebraska Cornhuskers

Big 10. Last year: NR

Preseason Rankings

Between Scott Frost, Adrian Martinez and a favourable Big 10 schedule, nobody will have made more ground in voter’s eyes than Nebraska this offseason. They finished very strongly in 2018 which is always a factor. And the hype will only grow around this program if they get ranked before a snap has been made.

#22. Syracuse Orange

ACC. Last year: #15 (-7)

Preseason Rankings

Last year was the perfect storm for Syracuse. A program that came together under Dino Babers in a respected conference short on tough opposition, they flourished. They came closest to de-railing Clemson and nearly won the Atlantic division as a result. But the competition will bounce back and with the National Champs in your division ambitions will be limited. They should get knocked down a little.

#21. Iowa State Cyclones

Big 12. Last year: NR

CFB Week 3

There aren’t many programs out there that have been disrespected much more than Iowa State. Matt Campbell has transformed this team into a serious Big 12 contender, and despite talent departing for the NFL returns a loaded roster in 2019. Expect them to continue to mix it up with the big boys, including a juicy week 3 game against in-state rivals Iowa.

#20. Kentucky Wildcats

SEC. Last year: #12 (-8)

Preseason Rankings

Lots of people have Kentucky knocked right out of the rankings. That’s understandable; a lot of their top talent has moved on. But they return their Head Coach Mark Stoops and both co-ordinators who did a fantastic job last year. Plus they beat three ranked teams including Penn State in the Citrus Bowl and were a Georgia defeat away from representing the East in the SEC title game. They’ll still be respected by the voters.

#19. Washington State Cougars

PAC 12. Last year #10 (-9)

Preseason Rankings

The Cougars, on their day, are as dangerous a team as any in college football. Mike Leach had them balling in 2018, and they came close to gatecrashing the PAC 12 title game as a result. But can their QB whispering Head Coach replicate that success with Gardner Minshew moving on? They’ll also be penalised for always seeming to fall at the final hurdle. A dropoff for Wazzou but still ranked nonetheless.

#18. Penn State Nittany Lions

Big 10. Last year: #17 (-1)

UK TV Week 3

Others have them coming in higher but I think that’s generous. Losing your bowl game and seeing your starting Quarterback finish school are two major red flags that the AP often use to project teams. Not only that but Miles Sanders has also headed to the NFL, leaving this offense starting from scratch. James Franklin is a fantastic Head Coach and that saves them from dropping out of my rankings altogether.

#17. UCF Knights

AAC. Last year: #11 (-6)

CFB UK TV Games Week 6

It’s a long, protracted road for any non-Power 5 team to break into the College Football Playoff. No team has ever done it. 2 years ago, UCF went unbeaten and proclaimed themselves the true National Champions. As a reward the AP gave them a preseason rank of #21, which theoretically should have helped them push even higher. But small schools like this have to go undefeated. They have to play big schools on their non-conference schedule (and which big school is going to schedule that banana skin?). And they have to look convincing doing all this as well.

UCF had another great season. But not great enough. Despite winning their conference with an unblemished record, they were still only ranked #7 when all was said and done. After 25 games unbeaten, why? Crucially they missed out on another win after their game against North Carolina was cancelled. That didn’t help. They also weren’t as convincing, scraping past Memphis TWICE, once in the Championship game. This was enough for the AP to not upset the apple cart, and the status quo remained intact.

So why do UCF only come in at #17 I hear you ask? Two reasons mainly. Firstly they got beat by LSU in the Fiesta Bowl. No shame in that but it is a convenient excuse to knock them down a peg. Not only that but their star Quarterback McKenzie Milton looks to miss most, if not all of the season with a career-threatening knee injury. Notre Dame transfer Brandon Wimbush comes in to deputise but whether they can hit the heights of the last two years is in doubt. They should still dominate the AAC and have a good year. But its a step back in the quest to challenge the elite.

#16. Wisconsin Badgers

Big 10. Last year: NR

CFB UK TV Week 5

The Badgers had a poor 2018 by their own standards. Not only that, but a lot of the talent on both sides of the ball has departed. But they are a Big 10 heavyweight who know how to run the football – Jonathan Taylor heads into his final year in Madison looking to shatter records and drag this team into postseason reckoning once more. It’s a competitive West division this year but there’s no elite team guaranteed to make it to the championship game. Wisconsin have a good chance of making it theirs.

#15. Utah Utes

PAC 12. Last year: NR

College Football Playoffs

Utah hit their first ever PAC 12 Championship Game last season. And with their favourable schedule and loaded roster, the signs look good for a repeat in 2019. Zack Moss and Tyler Huntley get a lot of love in my Lookout Lists, their offense looking primed to dominate. And defensively they are strong too, averaging just 20 points conceded per game. If they can overcome USC early then The Utes will look good for a PAC-12 run. If they can go undefeated, a surprise tilt at the playoffs isn’t out of the question…

#14. Auburn Tigers

SEC. Last year: NR

Oregon Auburn

Expectations are high in Auburn. And despite being revered by the Tigers faithful Gus Malzhan is definitely under pressure to produce. Forever being in a division with rivals Alabama makes that problematic, but The Tigers finished 2018 strong. And with that star-studded Defensive Line they should be able to stifle any attack that comes into Jordan-Hare Stadium. The SEC might be out of their reach, but a big bowl game and double-digit wins is possible.

#13. Oregon Ducks

PAC 12. Last year: NR

Oregon Auburn

The Ducks are the hipster’s choice for the PAC 12 this year. And being the trendy kind, I’m fully on board. Head Coach Mario Cristobal has done a great job in dragging this program back to relevance following the lean post-Chip Kelly years. And in Justin Herbert they have potentially the best Quarterback in College Football. Only five wins in their conference last year forbids me from putting them in my top 10. And Washington, Stanford and Washington State make up a tough division. But an Oregon renaissance is very much on the cards.

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Simon Carroll


previously the founder of nfl draft uk, simon has been covering college football and the nfl draft since 2009. based in manchester, simon is also co-creator & weekly guest of the collapsing pocket podcast.