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Wayne Staats | NCAA.com | July 2, 2019

College football rankings: Preseason Top 25 for 2019

Clemson rolls Alabama for the CFP national title

Summer is here, so we're getting close to the 2019 college football season — and the first official college football rankings. As the games near, it's time to rank our preseason Top 25.

Alabama and Clemson remain the clear favorites to make the College Football Playoff this season — but there are a handful of teams ready to challenge the dominant duo and make a run for the title themselves.

College football rankings: Preseason Top 25 for the 2019 season

25. Boise State

Things could come crashing down early if the Broncos lose to Florida State in Jacksonville to start the season. Four-year starting QB Brett Rypien is gone, though the new guy will have all five starters back on the offensive line. A veteran defense will carry the Broncos to what might be another Mountain West title game. The Broncos and UCF are the top Group of 5 teams to watch for the New Year's Six appearance. Army could also make a play toward the top 10, should the Black Knights upset Michigan.

MORE: 2019-20 College Football Playoff semifinal dates, sites

24. Northwestern

Don't doubt Pat Fitzgerald. If the Wildcats can avoid the slow starts to the season, Northwestern might be ready for another big season. It'll have to score more, however. QB Clayton Thorson is gone, but Clemson transfer Hunter Johnson could mean the offense is stronger. LB Paddy Fisher is back to lead a defense that will be asked to do a lot again.

23. Missouri

Drew Lock won't be back, but Clemson transfer Kelly Bryant won't have to do it all alone at quarterback. Larry Rountree III also rushed for 1,216 yards. The schedule also sets up what could be a 7-0 (or 8-0) start before traveling to Georgia on November 9.

22. Michigan State

This team might be in the middle between those double-digit compilers and the just-get-by bowl games that seem to populate Mark Dantonio's tenure. The Spartans (surprise!) will depend on their defense to keep it in games, but the offense should be markedly improved. A healthy Brian Lewerke makes all the difference.

MORE: Programs with the most national championships

21. Virginia Tech

At the very least, the Hokies should avoid the embarrassing losses (Old Dominion and blowout defeats). QB Ryan Willis has a strong group of targets to work with, but the defense will have to be much better. But a lot of people return for DC Bud Foster. This seems like an eight-win team.

20. Nebraska

The offseason hype only continues to grow at Nebraska. There won't be another 4-win season. There won't be another missed bowl game. There won't be struggles in close games (1-5 in single-possession games last year). QB Adrian Martinez and coach Scott Frost should at least double the win total.

19. UCF

QB McKenzie Milton will be recovering from his gruesome injury, meaning Darriel Mack Jr. and Brandon Wimbush will battle for the job. The eventual winner shouldn't have a tough time leading an explosive attack. UCF has a tough home game against Stanford on September 14, but the Knights are clear favorites in the AAC again.

18. Iowa

Iowa brings back QB Nate Stanley (2,852 yards, 26 TDs) and should have a strong 1-2-3 at running back with Mekhi Sargent, Toren Young and Ivory Kelly-Martin. The Hawkeyes lost two of the country's best tight ends, but they should still be better on offense. Defensively, it's all about DE A.J. Epenesa. He could lead the country in sacks.

MORE: College football rankings and AP Poll | Official CFP rankings | Coaches poll

17. Auburn

A much-hyped 2018 season ended at 8-5, though the Tigers routed Purdue in the Music City Bowl. But that isn't anywhere close to enough for coach Gus Malzahn. He might need a 10-win season. The defense will be good, but the questions are on offense. If the Tigers find the answer at quarterback, they will be better. But they also play Oregon, Texas A&M, Florida and LSU away from home.

16. Wisconsin

RB Jonathan Taylor needs help. He's rushed for almost 4,200 yards in only two seasons, but he'll need the passing game to improve. Alex Hornibrook is gone. Either Jack Coan or Graham Mertz will take over — and will have to be better. The suddenly balanced and more rugged Big Ten West might slow the Badgers' return to national contention.

MORE: Every undefeated national champion since 1936

15. Utah

We might be headed toward a Utah-Washington rematch for the Pac-12 title. The Utes don't have to play either Stanford or Oregon this season, meaning if they take care of their division foes, another division title is on the way. QB Tyler Huntley and RB Zack Moss combine for a good duo on offense. On defense, DEs Leki Fotu and Bradlee Anae will help Utah stay one of the nation's best against the run. 

14. Washington

Much optimism is thanks to Georgia transfer Jacob Eason. Four starters return on the line to give him time, so Eason should step right in and deliver big numbers. There are a lot of new faces starting on defense, but the Huskies have been consistently strong on that side of the ball. Washington might be the Pac-12's best best of returning to the College Football Playoff.

MORE: Final rankings for the 2018-19 college football season

13. Penn State

It's going to be weird not seeing QB Trace McSorley. That's the biggest loss, though he's not the only one the Nittany Lions will miss. Thankfully, as the offense settles in with projected starting QB Sean Clifford, the defense (with DE Yetur Gross-Matos and LB Micah Parsons) should lead the way. The first five games shouldn't be a problem, but then it gets much more difficult. Seems like another 9-3 season.

12. Oregon

This all comes down to Justin Herbert staying healthy. The Ducks won 9 games last season and will be Washington’s biggest threat in the Pac-12. He passed for 3,151 yards and 29 touchdowns a year ago. If Herbert stays healthy and the Ducks win 10+, he’ll be in New York as a Heisman finalist. Five-star defensive lineman Kayvon Thibodeaux could be a monster right away for the Pac-12 favorites.

11. Texas A&M

A&M will be better than it was in Jimbo Fisher's first season. But it might be difficult to improve last year's 9-4 mark. That schedule is brutal. Road trips to Clemson, Georgia and LSU could mean three losses right there. And then 'Bama also comes to College Station. But when the schedule is the biggest concern (QB Kellen Bond should be even better), you know a program is on the rise.

10. Notre Dame

Get ready for a slightly down year for the Irish. That trip to Georgia seems destined to end in a loss. And then there are brutal games at Michigan, Duke and Stanford. Seems like 9-3 is the end result. But there won't be a collapse.

9. Texas

If he stays healthy, QB Sam Ehlinger will have some of the best stats in the country. However, there are concerns on the offensive and defensive lines. Coach Tom Herman also does best when his team can play the underdog card. That won’t happen this year. LSU awaits in Week 2.

8. Florida

The Gators haven't won the SEC Championship since 2008 — the Tim Tebow era. But much like Georgia has to overcome the 'Bama problem, Florida needs to overcome the Georgia problem. Two consecutive defeats to the Dawgs mean Florida will be the underdog to favorite Georgia in the East. After going 10-3 last season, expect a similar run this year.

7. LSU

Is this the year LSU finally has a dynamic offense to go with the stout defense? Former New Orleans Saints offensive assistant Joe Brady is here as the passing game coordinator and receivers coach. That should help QB Joe Burrow in his second season as the starter. Other than that, it's all about Alabama for the Tigers. A 29-0 rout last year proved there's still a large gap. If the Tigers can win at Texas and play respectably against the Tide, an 11-1 LSU team might be impossible to deny in the CFP.

6. Michigan

It has to be this year. If Jim Harbaugh and Michigan are going to beat Ohio State, it will be this season. The Buckeyes won’t experience much of a drop off with Ryan Day as coach, but with Shea Patterson back and Donovan Peoples-Jones and Nico Collins leading the receivers, the offense should be more explosive. The defense might not have as much star power outside CB Lavert Hill, but DC Don Brown is one of the nation’s best.

5. Oklahoma

There's no way OU wins another Heisman...right? Even if Jalen Hurts can't duplicate the Baker Mayfield-Kyler Murray magic, Lincoln Riley's team will put up ridiculous stats all season long. But the concern rests on the defense. The Sooners allowed more than 450 yards per game last year and simply can't depend on outscoring other top teams.

4. Georgia

Perhaps no team had a more disappointing end to the season than the Bulldogs. First they blew a lead against Alabama in the SEC title game. Then they lost to Texas in the Sugar Bowl. But this team is going to write a different ending. QB Jake Fromm could make a serious run for the Heisman, but he won't have to do it alone. RB D'Andre Swift should be lethal from the backfield. There may not be a huge star on defense, but the unit will be extremely tough. Now it's just about finally being 'Bama.

3. Ohio State

Urban Meyer, QB Dwayne Haskins, RB Mike Weber and WR Parris Campbell are all gone. But new head coach Ryan Day and QB Justin Fields (UGA transfer) might be even better on offense. J.K. Dobbins will regroup to become a menace for defenses, plus DE Chase Young will lead what will be an even better defense.

Ohio State victorious in Big Ten Championship

2. Alabama

Nick Saban hasn’t gone two consecutive years without a national title since the 2013-14 seasons. Whenever there are doubts about the Tide’s dynasty ending, Alabama seemingly returns to the top. But for the first time since that 2009 title, Saban’s bunch has competition as the sport’s dominant program. With QB Tau Tagovailoa, WR Jerry Judy and LB Dylan Moses among the returning stars, another ‘Bama-Clemson showdown might be on the way.

1. Clemson

The Tigers will go into the season as the huge ACC favorites, national title favorites with Alabama and possibly the Heisman frontrunner in QB Trevor Lawrence. The schedule is also far from daunting, so it would be a slight surprise if the Tigers don’t go 12-0 (or 13-0 with an ACC crown). Can any ACC team even stay within two touchdowns?

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