Preseason Rankings Predictions: Part 2
By Simon Carroll
In anticipation of the upcoming season, Si concludes 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:
#25 – #13 were deliberated last week. So without further ado, let’s have a look at those who could be topping the list heading into 2019:
#12. Texas A&M Aggies
SEC. Last year: #16 (+4)
After a lean couple of final seasons under Kevin Sumlin, The Aggies went and reeled in a huge fish in stealing Jimbo Fisher from Florida State. Outside of a disappointing loss to Mississippi State it was a reasonable season for Fisher, finishing 9-4 with a bowl win and an epic 74-72 overtime victory in the regular season finale against LSU. With QB Kellen Mond a season wiser things should get better for Texas A&M. But a slate that includes my predicted top-three teams in the nation means that ambitions for a top ten finish may have to be tempered somewhat.
#11. Texas Longhorns
Someone needs to pump the brakes on the runaway excitement coming out of Austin. And as a long-time Longhorns fan, I feel more qualified than most to deny Texas a spot in the preseason top ten. 2018 was Coach Tom Herman’s breakout year in the burnt orange – The ‘Horns had double digit wins and their best ranking since 2009. They also beat Oklahoma before losing to their bitter rivals in the Big 12 Championship Game, but rebounded nicely with a shock victory over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. QB Sam Ehlinger comes back, as does most of their stellar secondary. But question marks over their offensive line remain, and some new targets will have to step up with Lil’Jordan Humphrey gone. They’re in a much better place, but ultimately they’re still second fiddle in the Big 12 to The Sooners. Until that changes, their prospects are somewhat limited.
#10. Florida Gators
SEC. Last year: #7 (-3)
The Gators aren’t particularly known for being quiet. But they kind of went under the radar last year, finishing on ten wins and a strong victory over Michigan in the Peach Bowl. That caused voters to move them up to joint 7th with Georgia who won their division. This strong end of season showing coupled with the return of promising QB Feleipe Franks will allow the SEC-biased AP to keep them high in the rankings. Not a bad start to the Dan Mullen era over in Gainesville, but pipping the Bulldogs in the East will be the key to surpassing last year’s finish.
#9. Washington Huskies
PAC 12. Last year: #13 (+4)
I know I have Oregon pipping the Huskies in the PAC 12 North , but on the basis of last season the AP won’t feel that way. The Huskies under Chris Peterson have been an almost permanent fixture in the ranking’s upper echelons. Only intermittent disappointing losses and a devaluation of the Pacific Conference has ruled them out of playoff recognition. This year the optimism is in no small part down to Quarterback Jacob Eason who transferred across from Georgia. If he can pick up the offense quickly expect him to flourish behind Washington’s strong offesive line.
#8. Michigan Wolverines
I know one of the golden rules regarding AP voting is a strong end to the previous year. But despite Michigan losing two heavyweight battles to round out 2018 the hysteria surrounding this program will keep them highly regarded. Jim Harbaugh is considered one of College Football’s elite coaches and he improved his coaching staff by bringing in Josh Gattis as Offensive Co-Ordinator. Gattis will be tasked with getting the most out of Shea Patterson. The only chance the Wolverines have of supplanting the Buckeyes at the summit of the Big Ten is if their highly touted Quarterback reaches the heights expected of him.
#7. LSU Tigers
SEC. Last year: #6 (-1)
Ed Orgeron is home and finally has an SEC powerhouse to truly call his own. In his first full two seasons at the helm ‘Coach O’ has 19 wins and has brought expectation back to Death Valley. His recruiting is renowned but he’s also been credited with getting a team to outperform the sum of their parts – the thrashing of Georgia being a prime example. Travelling to Texas in Week 2 will be a stern test, and being shut out by Alabama shows there’s still work to do. But The Tigers with Joe Burrow at QB are explosive, a fun team to watch and a threat to any team in College Football, let alone the SEC. Another ten win season is more than attainable.
#6. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Independent. Last year: #5 (-1)
One of College Football’s most historic and iconic programs, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame had a phenomenal 2018. An unbeaten regular season with some big teams on the schedule including Michigan, Stanford, Virginia Tech & USC earned them their first ever spot in the playoffs. But a humbling defeat to eventual champions Clemson registering just three points in the process shows there’s still work to do for Brian Kelly…
It’s not all been sweetness and light for Coach Kelly during his nine years in South Bend. Averaging almost four losses a year isn’t hitting the benchmark for Notre Dame football. But three ten-win seasons out of the last four has shown he has the program back on track. Prized recruits are still desperate to wear that golden dome. The brand is still strong. And playing for Notre Dame still has that gravitas.
Most people have The Irish slipping back a little this year. It’s a fair assumption – the roster will be seeing some considerable turnover and there’s little room for error when you’re trying to match a 12-1 season. Not only that, but the schedule is probably a little tougher. Travelling to Georgia in Week 3 is as tough a challenge as they could give to a young roster. And the likes of Michigan, Stanford & USC should be much better than last year. They won’t drop out of the top-ten for me, but back to back playoff appearances will likely be just out of their reach.
#5. Oklahoma Sooners
The Big 12 in 2018 was a lot tougher than Oklahoma are used to. Texas beat them in the regular season, West Virginia pushed them close, and out of conference they were taken to overtime by Army. ARMY. But ultimately Lincoln Riley’s team fought through these setbacks to have another strong season. They got revenge on The Longhorns in the title game before valiantly going down to Alabama in the College Football Playoffs. After two straight Heisman Quarterbacks have left the building, their hopes are pinned on Jalen Hurts who has transferred from the Crimson Tide. If Riley can work his magic a third time, and the Sooners somehow find some defense (they shipped 40+ points in five of their last six games), they won’t be far off a repeat in 2019.
#4. Ohio State Buckeyes
Yeah, Urban Meyer has gone. And a lot of offensive firepower has departed too. But can anybody really see the juggernaut that is Ohio State Football taking a step back under Ryan Day? The new Head Coach cut his teeth stepping up to cover through Meyer’s suspension last year, so he’s aware of what awaits him in the Horseshoe on gameday. With JK Dobbins any and everywhere in this offense they still have that x-factor to cause the opposition sleepless nights. And with Justin Fields coming over from Georgia the dropoff from Dwayne Haskins should be as minimal as you can imagine. Winning the Big 10 is the norm for The Buckeyes, and despite growth from their division rivals (most notably Michigan) the division is still theirs to lose. Claim the crown with one loss or less and they’ll be in the conversation for playoff football once again.
#3. Georgia Bulldogs
SEC. Last year: #7 (+4)
This seems like a very generous bump up amidst the crowded elite for Georgia, but they really only fell to seventh after the surprise loss to Texas in the Sugar Bowl. Before that they were ranked fourth before cruelly falling out of the playoff spots losing to Alabama in the SEC championship game. That’s a problem they’ll no doubt have to face once again, but they may be even better prepared for the task this year. Kirby Smart knows how to run an SEC Defense and they’ll be a tough team to beat. And on offense they look to have one of the best QB-RB combo’s in all of college football with Jake Fromm and D’Andre Swift. Both are legitimate Heisman candidates. If they can get to Alabama undefeated – and that game is no gimme for the Crimson Tide – they’ll have booked their ticket to the dance whatever the outcome.
#2. Alabama Crimson Tide
SEC. Last year: #2 (+/-0)
It tells you something about the dynasty that Nick Saban has built in Tuscaloosa that putting Alabama lower than first in any rankings feels weird. You can thank Dabo Swinney for that. But anyway, more of them in a moment. The juggernaut keeps rolling on, and Alabama are loaded once again. They have arguably one of the top three Quarterbacks in the nation in Tua Tagovailoa, a guy so good that The Dolphins have been tanking since about 2009 to go and get in next year’s NFL Draft. His job is made much easier with a quartet of receivers that are unmatched by any other college program. Jerry Jeudy is a generational talent, and alsongside Henry Ruggs, Devonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle is quite simply ridiculous. Add to that Najee Harris is the latest in a long list of physical backs – just in case you think Bama were sleeping on the running game, they’re not.
Led on Defense by Linebacker Dylan Moses, they’ll be as strong as ever. In any other era this team would be light years ahead of it’s competitors. The voters pushing them into second shows you just how good this next team is…
#1. Clemson Tigers
You win two out of the last three National Championships, you return your legendary Head Coach and your Heisman-candidate SOPHOMORE Quarterback, you get ranked #1. It’s that simple. Dabo Swinney has made this team a collegiate powerhouse, the only program who can challenge Alabama on a consistent basis. Trevor Lawrence’s performances as a true freshman were insulting to Quarterbacks who’ve had any type of learning curve in college history. So pretty much all of them. They start first, and in the ACC it’s as friendly a schedule to go unbeaten and remain first as you could fathom. Out of conference is a little tougher with Texas A&M & a trip to South Carolina on the last game of the season, but that’s not going to put the voters off. Clemson are the team to beat and there’s only one team who can reasonably be asked to do it. For that we’ll likely have to wait until January.
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.