We came into the 2019 college football with several questions on our minds. We waited patiently, we followed debates via social media and we engage in dialogue with one another. Some of it civil. Some of it not so much.
But those times have passed. The day of reckoning has finally arrived. Today is about college football.
There are only two FBS games on the slate and they both are scheduled later today (feel free to turn on Youngstown State vs Samford if you can’t wait until this evening). Miami kicks off the season against #8 Florida in Orlando which, incidentally, gives this tradition of Week 0 a very Disney-like feel. Arizona’s visit to Hawaii in what ought to immediately put us all in a #PAC12AfterDark mood, closes out the opening day.
So, about those questions. Here are the things that are on my mind as I eagerly await kickoff today.
1. Alabama v Clemson
There are many injustices that we can debate about college football. But the annual eminence of Alabama and Clemson at the top of the CFB world is probably not one of them. These two teams come into the season ranked as the top two teams in the nation often accompanied by the phrase “... and everybody else”.
Is this the year that the dynamic duo of college football finally gets broken up? They have, after all, met each other in the post season each of the last four years.
This could be that year. Clemson is probably the weaker of the two teams despite the #1 ranking. The Tigers lost five defensive lineman and four key linebackers meaning that their entire defensive front seven will be made up of players who have collectively almost no experience. On the flip side, the Crimson Tide have issues of their own. Steve Sarkisian’s return as OC comes with some consternation for a team whose star QB Tua Tagovailoa had injury issues. On top of that, the continuing special teams issues could become a factor with teams like Georgia, Florida and LSU becoming stronger.
I’m going to go on a ledge and say that only one of these two teams will make the CFP in 2019. Which of the two? I’ll leave that to your imagination.
2. Bad Preseason Rankings
Preseason rankings are like in-laws: if you are going to participate, you just have to tolerate them. One of the things that really kills me about preseason rankings is how much bias they introduce into the national dialogue even before a single snap has been played. That they are notoriously inaccurate is something that we rarely discuss. But the fact of the mater is that every year since 2006, a preseason ranked Top Ten team falls out of the rankings all together. Last season, 11 of the preseason ranked top 25 finished unranked including three teams out of the preseason top 10.
The inverse of that observation is also true. I looked around and I found only one season since 1996 (that is as far back as I looked) where a preseason unranked team failed to break the Top Ten to close the season.
Here are your preseason AP rankings from last week.
- Clemson (1,540 points)
- Alabama (1,496)
- Georgia (1,403)
- Oklahoma (1,331)
- Ohio State (1,261)
- LSU (1,199)
- Michigan (1,164)
- Florida (1,054)
- Notre Dame (1,044)
- Texas (1,005)
- Oregon (860)
- Texas A&M (852)
- Washington (786)
- Utah (772)
- Penn State (651)
- Auburn (578)
- UCF (410)
- Michigan State (377)
- Wisconsin (370)
- Iowa (330)
- Iowa State (302)
- Syracuse (209)
- Washington State (200)
- Nebraska (154)
- Stanford (141)
Others receiving votes: Missouri (117), Army (94), Mississippi State (87), Miami (70), Northwestern (63), TCU (57), Virginia (44), Boise State (38), Cincinnati (16), South Carolina (15), Virginia Tech (12), Fresno State (8), Utah State (8), Minnesota (7), Memphis (6), Appalachian State (5), West Virginia (3), Oklahoma State (3), Arizona State (3), Arizona (1), USC (1).
When looking at the current top ten, there are a couple of teams that you see there that, if things break wrong with the schedules that they have or one to two key injuries invade the roster, could fall out of the top 25. I would think that Notre Dame has to top that list. The Irish have four tough away games this year (Louisville, Georgia, Michigan and Stanford). In addition, their offense is already dealing with the losses of a couple of key starters in camp and are breaking in a new QB.
I think we all need to be very skeptical about Michigan, as well. The Big Blue are starting out in the Top Ten despite the fact that nobody seems to have faith in QB Shea Patterson or a Michigan offense that has really done nothing during the tenure of Jim Harbaugh. On top of that, the Wolverines play six ranked teams - two of which are in the Top Ten. Harbaugh is 8-10 during his Michigan tenure against ranked teams and only 1-9 against Top Ten.
On the flip side, there are several unranked teams that could really flash this year. Miami has a great opportunity with their Florida game tonight. If they can catch a little mojo with new coach Manny Diaz and new QB Jarren Williams (who beat out former UW commit Tate Martell).
I think both TCU and USC are teams that are probably undervalued in the preseason. If it turns out that the media is terribly wrong about teams in the Big 12 like Texas or in the PAC 12 South like Utah, both of those teams have the talent - particularly on D - to string together some wins and finish the year strong.
Dark Horse Heismans?
The Heisman race in 2019 has been pegged by most pundits as a two-man race between Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Alabama’s Tagovailoa. But if it seems like every year the award ends up going to someone you weren’t expecting, that’s because it often does. Who might some of those unexpected players be this year?
There are tons of them. To narrow the list, we can focus on players on likely top 25 kinds of teams as those are the players that get the most fanfare. On top of that, we can take out of consideration players like Alabama WR Jerry Jeudy and Clemson RB Travis Etienne because of the presence of other Heisman candidates on the same roster.
The first guy that comes to mind - and it will make Husky fans gag - is Oregon QB Justin Herbert. He enters the season with the nation’s longest TD pass stream (28 games) alive and has all of the tools available to put up the big numbers that voters love. In addition, he’ll be getting weekly attention thanks to his status as a top NFL prospect. Of course, there is that thing about the SI cover jinx.
Adrian Martinez - the younger brother of former Cornhusker great Taylor Martinez - is back at Nebraska this year. I find him an interesting dark horse because of a) his multi-tool capabilities and b) the positive momentum that Scott Frost has created in Lincoln. If Nebraska surprises in the Big Ten this year - which I think is very possible - he could burst on the scene.
Finally, keep your eyes on LSU safety Grant Delpit. Delpit is an NFL uber prospect in a game that is quickly evolving in recognizing the value of the safety position. Following in the footsteps of players like Washington’s Steve Emtman and Notre Dame’s Mante Teo, he is sure to be the one guy in 2019 who reopens the debate on whether or not a defensive player ought to be considered for the prestigious Heisman.
Other players that could also pop up on the radar as dark horses include Missouri QB Kelly Bryant (after his transfer from Clemson), BC running back AJ Dillon, Purdue WR Rondale Moore, and, yes, Arizona QB Khalil Tate.
Week Zero College Football Viewing Guide
Miami (FL) vs. #8 Florida (-7), 4 p.m. PT, Camping World Stadium, Orlando, FL, ESPN
Arizona at Hawaii (+11), 7:30 p.m. PT, Aloha Stadium, Honolulu, HI, CBSSN
This is your Week Zero open thread. Let’s enjoy some football.