2019 Preseason College Football Top 25

Now that the dust has settled on the 2018 season, it's time to look ahead to next year. Normally the rankings I publish on here are my computer's ratings, with no human input from me. This preseason top 25 is a little different. With recruiting and NFL draft declarations not quite settled yet, I can't generate my preseason ratings for next year so these rankings is my guess of what my model's preseason top 25 will be.

One thing to note here is that I'm trying to predict team strength, not final ranking. A lot of the top 10 teams are going to be playing each other and knock each other out of playoff contention. So while I mention what a team's schedule is looking like in their blurb, I didn't factor it into my rankings.

1. Clemson
If the national championship game was a close Clemson win, I was probably going to slot Alabama here. But the Tigers dominated and return the vast majority of their offensive production next year, making them the clear #1. This is reflected in the 2020 championship futures- Clemson was +350 before the game and +180 afterwards. Their biggest test by far will be at home against Texas A&M, although they will have some potentially tricky road games against Syracuse, NC State and South Carolina.

2. Alabama
Alabama is going to have to reload significantly, but Saban always has another group of 5-stars ready to step in. Tua will be back, but he's going to lose a lot of the other playmakers on offense. By my count, Alabama will only be returning 9 starters in total. The Tide are also second favorites in Vegas- they went from +250 before the game to +350 after. The schedule will be tough as the SEC West will be as rugged as it's ever been- road trips to Texas A&M, Mississippi State and Auburn await while LSU comes to Tuscaloosa.

3. Georgia
Georgia is only going to be getting better as Jake Fromm takes over his third year at the helm. Despite a lot of early entrants to the NFL draft, the Bulldogs were quite young and should return about 13 starters, including 4 of 5 on their offensive line. The schedule is a bit lighter in the SEC East then the west- but Texas A&M does make the trip to Athens, as does Notre Dame. Georgia will play Auburn on the road and Florida in Jacksonville as well.

4. Ohio State
A lot will depend on whether or not Justin Fields is eligible or not, but the Buckeyes will be looking to build off a strong 2018 finish. 9 or 10 starters will be coming back on what should be an improved defense, even with the loss of potential new DC Alex Grinch to Oklahoma. They get Michigan State and Wisconsin at home, but travel to Michigan and Nebraska. The Buckeyes probably have a lower floor than most of the other top teams with a first year coach and a first year QB, but will be solid favorites in the Big Ten.

5. LSU
There is a pretty big drop off from #4 to #5 for me- I felt confident about the top 4 but the next 7 or 8 teams could be shuffled around. I went with LSU here because they return 15 starters from a team that finished #11 in my ratings, including Joe Burrow. After the quarterback position, offensive line experience is the most predictive, and the Tigers will return 4 of their 5 starters there. The schedule is going to be a monster though- Florida, Auburn and Texas A&M at home, Texas, Alabama and Mississippi State on the road. They'll play 10 P5 teams and 2 G5 teams that won 10 games this year (Utah State and Georgia Southern).

6. Oregon
The Ducks finished #36 in my ratings this year, so it would take a lot for me to move them all the way up to #6. But the Ducks will be returning 10 starters on offense and 8 on defense, including stud QB Justin Herbert. The Ducks are also bringing in their first top 5 recruiting class in school history. The Pac-12 should be a bit improved with the big game being at Washington. Add in the opener against Auburn in Atlanta and the schedule isn't a cakewalk.

7. Texas A&M
The Aggies had a solid season in Jimbo Fisher's first year in College Station, going 9-4 and capping it off with a demolition of NC State in the Gator Bowl. That was enough to propel them to #13 in my final rankings. Kellen Mond had a breakout season and he's coming back, along with a decent amount of his offensive playmakers. If this ranking was of predicted end of season record, I'd have A&M a lot lower as they face the brutal task of playing 4 of my top 5 teams- Alabama at home and Georgia, LSU and Clemson on the road. If they make it to the playoffs, they'll certainly be battle tested.

8. Texas
Texas should open as the Big 12 favorite in 2019, as they have a lot of momentum after their big win over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. Sam Ehlinger is seen by many Longhorns fans as the next great QB, and rightfully so. The issue is he only has 2 offensive line starters returning, and the schedule is not terribly kind. LSU comes to Austin, and the 'Horns play the 2 main challengers to the Big 12 away from home: Oklahoma in Dallas and Iowa State in Ames.

9. Oklahoma
For the second year in a row, Oklahoma is replacing a Heisman winning QB. Austin Kendall will likely take over, and will be buoyed by 14 returning starters, including 10 on defense. That should help the Sooners avoid the kind of shootouts they faced with West Virginia and Oklahoma State this year. They'll face Iowa State, West Virginia and Houston at home, Texas in Dallas and Oklahoma State on the road. They should be favored in 11 games and will likely make a NY6 bowl.

10. Iowa
This figures to be Kirk Ferentz's best team since the 2015 squad that made the Rose Bowl. 14 of 22 starters return, including experienced QB Nate Stanley. 3 offensive line starters return from a group that was elite as usual last year. The Hawkeyes had a better season than most realize- they finished #14 in my final rankings after beating a really good Mississippi State team in the bowl game. The schedule will be the tough part next year, with Iowa State, Michigan, Nebraska and Wisconsin on the road.

11. Michigan
Michigan's season really fell off the rails at the end in blowout losses to Ohio State and Florida. Their high point in my ratings was #4, and they finished all the way down at #18. Most of the good news is on offense where Shea Patterson returns along with 4 out of 5 offensive line starters, and dynamic playmaker Donovan Peoples-Jones. A lot of talent in the front 7 is gone though, which will be a problem as the schedule is filled with physical run-heavy teams. Most of the big games are at home, as Iowa, Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State come to Ann Arbor while the Wolverines travel to Wisconsin and Penn State.

12. Iowa State
It feels pretty weird to have Iowa State this high in the preseason, but Matt Campbell's squad certainly deserves it. They return 15 of 22 starters, including breakout freshman QB Brock Purdy. He'll be protected by an offensive line that returns all 5 starters from last year. Playmakers David Montgomery and Hakeem Butler left early, but most of the stars on defense will be back. Texas and Iowa will come to Ames, while the Cyclones will try to make it 2 in a row in Norman against the Sooners.

13. Washington
Washington will be Oregon's biggest challenger in the Pac-12, despite having to replace the experienced Jake Browning and backfield partner Myles Gaskin. Former Georgia starter Jacob Eason will be the key to the season- if he plays like he did at first at Georgia, the Huskies will dice up the Pac-12 defenses. Thanks to only 10 returning starters, Washington will take a step back from their Rose Bowl season but will be aided by having almost every big game at home, as Utah, Washington State and Oregon come to Seattle.

14. Notre Dame
The Irish are going to have to reload significantly on defense in the wake of losing 7 or 8 starters on defense, although Ian Book will return at QB. He's losing a lot of his playmakers on offense though, including RB Dexter Williams. Notre Dame finished at #6 in my ratings this year, so I'm projecting a decent dropoff but Book's return will keep them from falling too far. The Irish should be in the NY6 hunt throughout the season, they should be favored in every game but Michigan and Georgia on the road.

15. Auburn
Auburn was a lot better than their record this year, finishing at #10 in my final ratings after the blowout win over Purdue in the bowl game. Jarrett Stidham is graduating, and it's a bit of a messy situation to determine who will take over for him at QB. Whoever it is, they'll be behind a sturdy offensive line that returns all 5 starters. The schedule will be very tough though- they face 5 of my preseason top 10 teams in Alabama, Georgia, Texas A&M, LSU and Oregon,

16. Utah
Utah is going to be the favorite to repeat in the Pac-12 south. The Utes stumbled a bit down the stretch, but finished just outside my final top 25 at #32. QB Tyler Huntley is back, along with 14 other starters. The division should be a little better though- USC won't be that good but UCLA and Arizona State will be. The toughest game on the schedule will be outside the division, as Utah has to travel to Seattle.

17. Missouri
My guess is that Florida will be most people's pick for #2 in the SEC East, but I've got the Tigers. Missouri was a much better team than most realized this year, finishing #15 in my ratings despite the bowl game loss to Oklahoma State. They're only returning 12 starters, and they do lose star QB Drew Lock. However, Kelly Bryant is transferring in from Clemson, and will be surrounded by a decent core of weapons on offense. The schedule sets up very favorably as they get West Virginia and Florida at home, and should be favored in their first 8 before a trip to Georgia.

18. Florida
Florida was much more smoke and mirrors this past year than most realized- they were outside my top 25 for most of the year, although the bowl win took them up to #16. They return roughly 13 of their 22 starters, but will be hurt by having only 1 offensive line starter returning and 5 early entrants to the NFL draft. The schedule is pretty light by SEC standards- Auburn and Florida State at home, Miami and Georgia on neutral sites and LSU and Missouri on the road. A return to the New Year's Six is a possibility.

19. Army
Army had their best season in a long time this past year, going 11-2 and finishing #28 in my ratings. The Black Knights will return about 18 starters next year, including QB Kelvin Hopkins. 4 offensive line starters will also be coming back to help propel the flexbone. Army should be favored in 11 games, with the one exception being the trip to Ann Arbor in September. Win that one, and they could be headed to their first major bowl game in decades.

20. Appalachian State
Surprisingly, neither of my top 2 G5 teams come from the American or Mountain West. Appalachian State brings back a lot from last year's squad that went 11-2, won the Sun Belt, and finished #27 in my ratings. Roughly 16 starters will return, including star QB Zac Thomas who was hurt for the Georgia Southern game. The Mountaineers will be favored against their two P5 opponents, North Carolina and South Carolina, and probably favored in all 12 games.

21. Penn State
For the second year in a row, Penn State fell out of playoff contention in October and disappeared off the national radar for a while. The Nittany Lions was hit hard by early NFL draft declarations, including star RB Miles Sanders. Tommy Stevens will likely take over for the experienced Trace McSorley, and he'll be behind a relatively inexperienced offensive line. The schedule features trips to Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan State and Ohio State as well as a home game against Michigan.

22. UCF
If McKenzie Milton is healthy enough to play, expect UCF to move up to the top G5 team. Still, they should be the favorites in the American, with Cincinnati as their main challenger. Darriel Mack showed sparks in the last two games, but is still pretty raw. Add in only 12 returning starters, and the Knights will take a bit of a step back next year. Stanford will come to Spectrum Stadium, but there will be tough road games against Cincinnati and Pitt.

23. Minnesota
P.J. Fleck's squad put together a phenomenal finish to the season, blowing out Wisconsin and then Georgia Tech in the bowl game. Looking over their roster, I was surprised to see they return 16 starters including both QBs, Zach Annexstad and Tanner Morgan. I imagine most people will have Wisconsin or Nebraska in the #2 spot in the Big Ten west, but I've got the Gophers. They've got Nebraska, Penn State and Wisconsin at home while they have to make trips to Northwestern, Iowa and Fresno State.

24. Michigan State
Michigan State's offense was really dreadful down the stretch, but Brian Lewerke will be back as well as all 5 offensive line starters. Add in the return of playmaker Felton Davis and the offense should see a significant improvement. Despite the bad end to the season, my ratings still had the Spartans #39 at the end of the season so it's really not that big a jump to 24. The schedule will be tough though, with trips to Michigan, Ohio State, Northwestern and Wisconsin.

25. Virginia
It says a lot about the state of the ACC that it took all the way until #25 for my second ACC team to appear. Clemson should romp through the league, but Virginia is my pick to win the Coastal and face them in the ACC title game. 14 of 22 starters are coming back, and QB Bryce Perkins is a dark horse Heisman candidate. The schedule is really light as well, with Virginia Tech and Notre Dame on the road being the biggest challenges.

Also Considered: Mississippi State, Boise State, UCLA, Nebraska, Cincinnati, Oklahoma State, Virginia Tech, Wisconsin, Arizona State, Syracuse, Texas Tech, Baylor

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