5. Ohio State Buckeyes
2018 record: 13-1, 8-1 Big Ten
Returning starters: five offense, 10 defense, one special teams
Key losses: QB Dwayne Haskins Jr., DT Dre’Mont Jones, DE Nick Bosa, WR Parris Campbell, WR Terry McLaurin, RB Mike Weber, OT Isaiah Prince, G Malcolm Pridgeon, C Michael Jordan
Ryan Day begins as Head Coach of the Buckeyes after the departure of Urban Myers on a medical retirement. He inherits a team returning 10 on defense and 5 on offensive. QB Dwayne Haskins Jr went to the NFL, so it is a rebuilding year in many ways.
Georgia transfer Justin Fields will be quarterbacking the Buckeyes for 2019. He is a top notch dual threat qb and Day is lucky to have him aboard. Backing him up will be sophomore Tate Martell and Gunnar Hoak, both quality qb’s who will challenge Fields to be even better this year.
Tailback J.K. Dobbins returns for another season and expected to be even more involved in the offense. So far, he has 2,456 rush yards, 17 touchdowns and 48 receptions in two years of play. These numbers will increase greatly this year.
Fields will have plenty of receivers to target in 2019. Tight ends Luke Farrell and Rashod Berry have the experience to enjoy enhanced roles in the new offense. Freshman Garrett Wilson will surprise with his athletic ability and will make some head-turning catches. Wide receivers Binjimen Victor and Chris Olave will play key roles as other targets for Fields.
The offensive line must be retooled after losing three starters with left tackle Thayer Munford as the lone returning starter. But not to worry, Ohio State has many back up replacements ready to step into the open positions.
The Buckeyes main problem is the defense even though they return nine starters on the defensive side. The defense ranked an seventh in the Big Ten in points allowed (25.5), finished sixth against the run (158.2 ypg), gave up 5.8 yards per play, and surrendered 23 plays of 40 yards or more last fall.
For a shot at the BCS or even the Big 10 title, there must be genuine improvement of the defense.
The line is going to be the most effective part of the defense with All-America candidate Chase Young returning on one end and Tyreke Smith on the other end. Freshman Zach Harrison should provide immediate relief as well. Robert Landers, Davon Hamilton, Jashon Cornell and Tommy Togiai will fill the interior of the line.
Ohio State’s linebackers were not as effective as normal in 2018. Restoring the linebacker play will be a major key to the season. Returning starters Pete Werner, Tuf Borland and Malik Harrison who will be one of the best lb’s in the Big Ten should provide continuity, but need to improve their quality of play. Hopefully another year of experience helps.
The secondary should be solid with Damon Arnette, Shaun Wade and Jeffrey Okudah at the corners, and senior Jordan Fuller at safety.
The Buckeye schedule will be typical for the Big Ten. They play Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan State at home along with weaker non-conference teams FAU, Cincinnati and Miami of Ohio.
The Big Game that makes or breaks the season is Nov 30 when the Buckeyes travel to Michigan.
Another 13-1 season is likely with the loss being to Michigan, and a New Years’ Day Bowl game, but no BCS appearance.
#4 Oklahoma Sooners
2018 record: 12-2, 8-1 Big 12
Returning starters: five offense, 10 defense, zero special teams
Key losses: QB Kyler Murray, WR Marquise Brown, RB Rodney Anderson, G Ben Powers, G Dru Samia, OT Cody Ford, LB Curtis Bolton
Oklahoma begins 2019 with hopes of another BCS appearance, but this time ending in a national title and another Heisman quarterback.
Two years in a row, OU has rode the play of Heisman Trophy quarterbacks Mayfield and Murray to success. They have moved on, but Bama transfer Jaylen Hurts comes to OU to stake his claim for both the Heisman and a national title.
Hurts will have plenty of help in the backfield with him. Trey Sermon and Kennedy Brooks are running backs who combined for 2,003 yards and 25 touchdowns last season and will provide Hurts with the running game needed to get back to the BCS .
Wide Receiver CeeDee Lamb, coming off an 1,100 yard season last year, will provide Hurts with a go to receiver. But he is not alone. Tight end Grant Calcaterra, All Big 12 player, will complement the play of Lamb, being a major target for Hurts as well.
More important, there is a bevy of good receivers on the sidelines in the event of an injury to either Lamb or Calcaterra. Waiting to play will be three of the top recruits in the nation, Jadon Haselwood and Theo Wease Jr., and ESPN 300 tight end Austin Stogner and wideout Trejan Bridges. Hurts will have plenty of targets to spread the ball around to when not running.
The offensive line is a problem after losing four starters from last year’s best line in the country. Center Creed Humphrey returns as the lone starter from last year. OU will need to find new guards and tackles from those on the bench last year.
Having 10 starters return sounds impressive, but when they were the quality of last year’s unit, it says little to nothing.
The Sooner’s pass rush in 2018 was dead last at #130 in Division A and in the Big 12, last in both total defense and scoring defense. Only the offense kept them winning. If OU has any hope for winning a national title, the defense must improve in all areas.
Linebacker Kenneth Murray is likely the best of the defense having nine games of double-digit stops a year ago. Veteran linemen Neville Gallimore and Kenneth Mann have significant time in the trenches and may benefit from the new Defense Coordinator, Alex Grinch.
Five starters return in the secondary, but with their defensive record last year, Grinch needs to find new blood to infuse into the group.
The biggest game of the season for the Sooners will be against the resurgent Texas. The winner of the game will likely find themselves as the #4 team in the BCS playoff.
Unless the defense improves, OU will find themselves with two losses and playing only on New Year’s Day. BCS? Only if Jaylen Hurts can carry the load and outscore opposing teams with no help from the defense.
2018 record: 11-3, 7-1 SEC
Returning starters: seven offense, eight defense, two special teams
Key losses: CB Deandre Baker, DE Jonathan Ledbetter, LB D’Andre Walker, LB Juwan Taylor, C Lamont Gaillard, WR Terry Godwin, RB Elijah Holyfield, WR Mecole Hardman, WR Riley Ridley, TE Isaac Nauta
Georgia returns in 2019 to again challenge Alabama for the SEC crown and then a BSC playoff. This year’s team looks better than last year’s so there is hope that someone other than Clemson or Bama wins it all.
Returning quarterback Jake Fromm is better than ever. But Georgia will continue to push the running game with D’Andrew Swift, Brian Herrien, James Cook and Zamir White running over defenses. And when not running, Fromm will be passing and racking up huge numbers.
Targets for Fromm will include Charlie Woerner at tight end and freshmen receivers George Pickens and Dominick Blaylock vying to become the best receivers on the team. Cal transfer Demetris Robertson must step up and perform to expectations as must senior Tyler Simmons.
Fromm will be passing behind one of the best passing defenses in the country. Four starters return with stand out tackles Andrew Thomas and Isaiah Wilson, both likely NFL starters in a couple of years. Joining them from the guard positions will be Ben Cleveland, Cade Mays and Solomon Kindley.
Georgia’s defense was in need of work in 2018, though it was second behind Mississippi in total defense. It remains the same for 2019.
Much will be expected out of defensive backs Eric Stokes, Tyson Campbell, Mark Webb and Otis Reese. They must perform or lose playing time to others.
At the cornerback position will be returning star Eric Stokes. Opposite him should be Tyson Campbell. At safety will be JR Reed and Richard LeCounte who have the ability to be among the best in the nation.
To reach the BCS final, Georgia will need a more effective pass rush. Tae Crowder and Monty Rice will contribute often, but others will need to step up their play.
Watch for freshmen LB Nolan Smith and Nakobe Dean to become the stars that their talent would reflect. Ends Jermaine Johnson and Travon Walker should emerge as some of the best defensive players on the team.
For Georgia to be successful this year, they must dethrone Alabama. They have had them on the ropes twice in the last two years, but ended up losing. Now they must overcome that and beat Bama and then Clemson to with the national championship.
Georgia’s first test comes Sep 21 at home against Notre Dame. This game will provide an indicator of how good Georgia and Notre Dame will be.
Georgia also gets Texas A&M at home on Nov. 23 and Florida on the road Nov 2. If Georgia loses any of these games then BCS hopes are greatly reduced.
Expect an 11-1 record. There is just no way to go undefeated in the SEC unless you are Alabama in previous years.
2018 record: 14-1, 8-0 SEC
Returning starters: eight offense, nine defense, one special teams
Key losses: C Ross Pierschbacher, RB Damien Harris, DE Isaiah Buggs, LB Christian Miller, Jaylen Hurts
Another year and another Alabama threat to win the national championship. Some things never change. This is even after their humiliating defeat by Clemson in last year’s BCS championship.
Biletnikoff Award winner Jerry Jeudy returns to catch Tags passes. Najee Harris, DeVonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle and Henry Ruggs IV all return also.
Alabama has 10 of the top 50 players expected to be taken first in the 2020 draft.
Heisman candidate quarterback Tua Tagovailoa returns and will be looking to make amends for his poor performance in the BCS championship game. This time, he won’t have to worry about the departed Jaylen Hurts looking over his shoulder.
Tagovailoa will have plenty of receivers to target in 2019. Jerry Jeudy returns and may be the next Amari Cooper going to the NFL. Speedy Henry Ruggs III and Jaylen Waddle will pose problems for opposing teams coverage and DeVonta Smith continues his reliable play.
The real question will be running back positions. The good news is that Bama has been stockpiling five start recruits. Expect Najee Harris and Brian Robinson Jr. to take over the rb position with true freshman Trey Sanders pushing them to play.
Alex Leatherwood will be at left tackle while guards and center positions will be up in the air, but there is enough talent available that the offensive line will be fine.
The defense will have to be reworked. As every year, the defense loses too many players to the NFL and this year was no different
Raekwon Davis should be anchoring the line with his strength and athleticism. He may be joined by LaBryan Ray and Phidarian Mathis who have waited gracefully in the wings for their time to come. True freshman DJ Dale, and Antonio Alfano are present as well.
Middle linebacker may be a cause for concern. The only experienced player is Dylan Moses. Competing against him are reserves Ale Kaho, Joshua McMillon and Markail Benton. Pass rusher lb Anfernee Jenning will continue to perform in a consistent manner and provides measureable experience to the unit.
Patrick Surtain II and Trevon Diggs return at cornerback and Xavier McKinney will be the safety along with Shyheim Carter.
Alabama has an easy schedule for them, road trips to Texas A&M, Auburn, South Carolina and Mississippi. The only team to worry about would be A&M. LSU comes to play in November but it may be just another game for Bama.
Another 14 win season is expected with a return to the BCS championship game on tap.
2018 record: 15-0, 8-0 ACC
Returning starters: eight offense, eight defense, one special teams
Key losses: LT Mitch Hyatt, C Justin Falcinelli, WR Hunter Renfrow, DT Christian Wilkins, DE Austin Bryant, LB Kendall Joseph
Just like with Alabama, Clemson returns with the expectations of another national championship. After dismantling Bama for the national title, Clemson must be considered a clear favorite to win it all again in 2019, their third title in four years.
QB Trevor Lawrence returns for another year. After watching him perform against Alabama in the BSC Championship game, there is no doubt that he is the “real deal.” Lawrence totally dismantled a very good Bama defense as if they were a high school football team. For the 2019 season, as much, if not more, is expected of Lawrence.
Joining Lawrence, the Tigers return veteran receivers Justyn Ross and Tee Higgins. . But the receiving corps is even deeper, with Amari Rodgers, Diondre Overton and Derion Kendrick, all former ESPN 300 recruits. Joining this talented corps are two highly recruited freshman, Frank Ladson Jr. and Joe Ngata.
Veteran Travis Etienne returns in the running back position. Alongside him are Tavien Feaster and Lyn-J Dixon. The combined production of these three backs were more than 2,800 yards and 37 touchdowns last season
For the offense to score, the Tigers need a good offensive line. Four starters return for Clemson making the line one of the best in the country. Behind this line, Clemson could score 50 points in most games.
The Clemson offense will be one of the best in the country.
The Tigers defensive line will have to be rebuilt after losing three players to the first round NFL draft. Expect Xavier Thomas, Nyles Pinckney and Justin Foster to fill needed roles along with linebacker Isaiah Simmons and cornerback A.J. Terrell.
Junior db JustinFoster, will provide leadership and experience while redshirt freshman defensive end K.J. Henry makes his own case to start. Joining them will be Justin Mascoll and Logan Rudolph.
Cornerback A.J. Terrell and safeties Tanner Muse and K’Von Wallace are back to start at safety. And cornerback Kyler McMichael may be the big surprise among this group.l
The only concern for Clemson might be the middle of the defense. Having lost both Joseph and Tre Lamar to the NFL, there may be problems replacing them.
Isaiah Simmons returns with Chad Smith and Shaq Smith. But none have the overall talent of the Lamar’s.
In reality, by the end of the year, this defense may be better than last year’s unit.
Clemson has an interesting non-conference match up with Texas A&M on Sep 7 which will show how well both teams should play this year. And as if the Texas A&M date was not challenging enough, on Sep 14, Clemson plays Syracuse, the only ACC team with a chance of defeating them.
Clemson wins the ACC title and the BCS Championship.