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Wayne Staats | NCAA.com | August 17, 2019

9 bold predictions for the 2019 college football season

2019 college football wide receivers to watch

Our long wait is almost over. The 2019 college football season is almost here, plus the AP Preseason Poll will be revealed on Monday.

Before the opening kick of the FBS season, we make some bold predictions that could happen. Sure, the season might end with the seemingly inevitable Alabama-Clemson rematch in the College Football Playoff, but there might be some fun along the way.

9 bold predictions for the 2019 college football season

Texas is...still not entirely back

This isn't to say Texas will fall far back and erase all those good feelings from the 2018 season. However, the Longhorns, despite that impressive Sugar Bowl win against Georgia, still lost four games last year. Texas went 10-4 overall and went 7-3 in games decided by a touchdown or less. The Longhorns also outgained foes by only 18.5 yards per game. So this team wasn't a juggernaut. The showdown with LSU on September 7 will say a lot about what this team is capable of accomplishing. But don't be surprised if this ends up being a 9-win team more than an 11-win one, with Iowa State the likely top challenger with Texas for the chance to play Oklahoma for the Big 12 title. But there could be a twist. Don't be shocked if the Longhorns go 9-3 but see QB Sam Ehlinger put up huge numbers on his way to New York as a Heisman finalist.

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Clemson will start getting some "greatest ever?" hype

As the defending national champion returning the probable Heisman co-leader in QB Trevor Lawrence (with Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa) and others, the Tigers will be expected to dominate all season long. The toughest road games are Syracuse, NC State and South Carolina. Texas A&M, Florida State and Boston College all come to Death Valley. So there will be blowouts — a lot of them. No one in the ACC should, on paper, come within two scores. Last year, only Syracuse came within three score in ACC play.

That doesn't mean things will end with Clemson No. 1 again. Remember 2005? Southern California won the BCS title the previous season (since vacated), opened No. 1, destroyed most teams and started getting mentioned in best-ever debates.

The Trojans then ran into Vince Young at the Rose Bowl. Debate over.

Nebraska goes to the Big Ten Championship Game

Northwestern shocked the league on the way to winning the Big Ten West and meeting Ohio State for the conference crown last season. Northwestern ran away with the division title, going 8-1 in conference play.

This year, the Wildcats probably think they're more than good enough to return. But Iowa, Nebraska and Wisconsin also want a chance — plus Minnesota and Purdue could make for another league surprise. Really, anything can happen.

Though Nebraska went 4-8 last year in Scott Frost's first season back home, the Huskers seem like the most obvious candidate for a huge turnaround. QB Adrian Martinez might end up being one of the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten and maybe in the country if everything breaks right. Nebraska also closed much better than it started, coming from an 0-6 start to a 4-2 finish with a pair of close losses to Ohio State and Iowa.

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The Group of 5 will have Boise State for the New Year's Six

After UCF reached consecutive New Year's Six games (beating Auburn in the Peach and falling to LSU in the Fiesta), it's time for another Group of 5 team to make one of the big bowl games.

The Broncos play Florida State and at BYU outside Mountain West play. It also might have another showdown with Fresno State for the MWC title. The Broncos could probably slip up once and still feel good about their chances — before UCF's run, the Group of 5 was represented by one-loss teams in Boise State and Houston. So an undefeated record might not be required.

Ohio ends its MAC championship drought

Through 14 seasons, coach Frank Solich has built a remarkably consistent program. Though other MAC schools have sparkled at times, they've all gone through nadirs. That really hasn't happened in Ohio. Fourteen seasons, 12 non-losing seasons, a brief ranking in 2012, four bowl victories and six seasons of nine-plus wins. But one thing is missing.

The Bobcats haven't won a conference title since 1968, the longest drought in the conference. Ohio has come close, even losing by only six points to then-undefeated Western Michigan in 2016.

This year's defense will be strong. Though there aren't many veteran weapons, Ohio has the league's top quarterback in Nathan Rourke (2,434 passing yards, 860 rushing yards last season). It's time for the title drought to end.

Michigan (finally) beats Ohio State, is Big Ten's best CFP hope

If not this year...when? Urban Meyer is gone. Michigan loses a ton on defense, but the Wolverines seem to reload with DC Don Brown. Plus, the game is in Ann Arbor this year and QB Shea Patterson is now ready for more. Road trips to Wisconsin and Penn State won't be easy (and neither will an early meeting against Army), but the Wolverines could end up being the Big Ten's best hope of halting the CFP drought at two seasons.

Notre Dame will drop toward the end of the Top 25 by season's end

Notre Dame won't match the 12-0 regular season from last year. But the drop-off might be steeper than just a game or two. After what should be an easy road opener against Louisville, the Irish's four remaining road trips are against teams that combined to win 38 games last year (Georgia, Michigan, Duke and Stanford). Notre Dame will also face teams that could rebound after poor 2018 seasons in Southern California and Virginia Tech. This is more of an 9-3 team than 11-1.

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Utah goes to the Rose Bowl

Three Pac-12 teams have yet to play in the Rose Bowl Game: Arizona, Colorado and Utah. The Wildcats had decades of a head start on the other two, as the Buffaloes and Utes didn't join the conference until 2011. Utah barely missed making it last season, falling to Washington in the Pac-12 title game. On paper, 2019 looks like it will be a season with even more potential. The defensive front will be powerful and the offense will be a beast if QB Tyler Huntley can stay healthy.

Then again, maybe the Utes will miss playing in the Rose Bowl Game again — because they'll be in the College Football Playoff. Remember, bold predictions.

Tennessee plays possible SEC East spoiler

This isn't to say the Vols will win the division — there's bold and there's bold. But coach Jeremy Pruitt is in his second season, plus he now has OC Jim Chaney working with promising QB Jarrett Guarantano.

The opening stretch is forgivable: Georgia State, BYU and Chattanooga all come to Neyland Stadium. It might be too much to ask Tennessee to then win at Florida — or win at Alabama — but it's easy to see Tennessee being underdogs in only three or four games this season. If you're looking for an SEC East surprise to the expected UGA-Florida tandem, look to Knoxville.

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