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“Way Too Early” Top 25’s

ESPN

From ESPN … The confetti has just finished falling at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, where Clemson stunned Alabama 44-16 in the College Football Playoff National Championship, handing Nick Saban his worst loss as the Crimson Tide’s coach.

The Tigers improved to 2-1 against the Tide in national title games, and here’s the worst part for the rest of college football: Clemson star quarterback Trevor Lawrence and receiver Justyn Ross are true freshmen.

But it’s never too early to look ahead to next year with the first edition of the 2019 Way-Too-Early Top 25, and — surprise! — the Tigers and Crimson Tide are ranked Nos. 1 and 2 again.

Last year, the first edition of the 2018 Way-Too-Early Top 25 correctly predicted four of the top five teams, six of the top 10 and 15 of the top 25 teams in the final College Football Playoff selection committee rankings.

Among the teams we had ranked too high: Wisconsin, Miami, Michigan State, Auburn, Virginia Tech and USC.

Among the teams we had ranked too low or didn’t have ranked at all: Florida, Washington State, Kentucky, Utah, Texas A&M and Syracuse.

Here’s the first edition of the 2019 Way-Too-Early Top 25 …

From the Pac-12 … 

12. Oregon Ducks

2018 record: 9-5, 5-4 Pac-12

Returning starters: 10 offense, seven defense, two special teams

Key losses: DE Jalen Jelks, OLB Justin Hollins, LB Kaulana Apelu, FS Ugochukwu Amadi, WR Dillon Mitchell

Outlook: When junior Justin Herbert passed on potentially becoming the first quarterback selected in April’s NFL draft, it put the Ducks at the top of the Pac-12 pecking order in 2019 — and might have made them a CFP dark horse.

With Herbert coming back, Oregon might bring back every starter from an offense that ranked No. 2 in the Pac-12 in scoring, despite throwing up a clunker in the last game, a 7-6 win over Michigan State in the Redbox Bowl.

13. Washington State Cougars

2018 record: 11-2, 7-2 Pac-12

Returning starters: eight offense, six defense, two special teams

Key losses: QB Gardner Minshew, OT Andre Dillard, WR Kyle Sweet, DE Logan Tago, LB Peyton Pelluer, DB Hunter Dale, CB Darrien Molton

Outlook: Cougars coach Mike Leach transformed Minshew, a graduate transfer from East Carolina, into a folk hero. Minshew, with his big arm and unforgettable moustache, passed for 4,779 yards with 38 touchdowns, leading Washington State to its first 11-win season.

What will Leach do for an encore? Will he comb the graduate transfer market again for someone like Notre Dame’s Brandon Wimbush? Or will he turn to one of Minshew’s backups: Anthony Gordon, Trey Tinsley or Cammon Cooper? Only the Pirate knows.

16. Washington Huskies

2018 record: 10-4, 7-2 Pac-12

Returning starters: seven offense, two defense, two special teams

Key losses: LB Ben Burr-Kirven, CB Byron Murphy, S Taylor Rapp, LB Tevis Bartlett, S JoJo McIntosh, DL Greg Gaines, DE Jaylen Johnson, QB Jake Browning, RB Myles Gaskin, OT Kaleb McGary

Outlook: Washington won at least 10 games and played in a New Year’s Six bowl for the third straight season. It also won a Pac-12 title for the second time in three seasons. But coach Chris Petersen is going to have yeoman’s work heading into 2019.

The Huskies’ defense was among the best in the FBS this past season, but they have to replace all but two starters. The entire starting defensive line is leaving, as well as Burr-Kirven, who had nearly 100 more tackles than any other Washington player.

18. Utah Utes

2018 record: 9-5, 6-3 Pac-12

Returning starters: nine offense, seven defense, zero special teams.

Key losses: OT Jackson Barton, G Jordan Agasiva, LB Chase Hansen, LB Cody Barton, FS Corrion Ballard, SS Marquise Blair, K Matt Gay, P Mitch Wishnowsky

Outlook: A flurry of turnovers in the second half of a 31-20 loss to Northwestern in the San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl sent Utah into the offseason on a sour note. It was Utah coach Kyle Whittingham’s second loss in 13 bowl games.

The Utes played without quarterback Tyler Huntley, who was recovering from a broken collarbone, and leading rusher Zack Moss, who was out with a knee injury. Redshirt freshman Jason Shelley started five games in Huntley’s absence and showed glimpses of promise. They’ll battle for the job this spring.

CBS Sports

From CBS Sports … It’s never too early for a top 25. And not so surprising, the 2019 season looks a lot like 2018. Alabama and Clemson are once again 1-2 after battling the the fourth time in as many seasons in the College Football Playoff. It was the Tigers who came out on top Monday night — in a major way — 44-16 over the Crimson Tide to pull Dabo Swinney and Nick Saban 2-2 in postseason competition.

Spoiler alert for these early rankings: The SEC isn’t dominating (only five teams in these rankings), though the best challengers to crack the four-team CFP field this year are Georgia and LSU. There is also pressure on the Big Ten (primarily Ohio State) to get back into the playoff, and Oklahoma to find a defense. Will Texas step up and overtake OU after bludgeoning UGA in the Sugar Bowl?

There is plenty yet to be written as we head into 2019, but first, some team(s) are going to need to figure out a way to beat Alabama and Clemson.

The Pac-12 … 

7. Oregon … Mario Cristobal landed a top five recruiting class topped off by No. 1 recruit (lineman Kayvon Thibodeaux). The return of quarterback Justin Herbert makes the Ducks the Pac-12 favorite and an outlier playoff contender.

14. Washington … Chris Petersen has won Pac-12 titles in two of the last three seasons. The Huskies will likely start projected behind Oregon in the North. But it will be exciting with the Jacob Eason era starting.

15. Utah … Countering the Pac-12 slide are the Utes. Kyle Whittingham has it going for the defending Pac-12 South champions. Quarterback Tyler Huntley returns after missing the final games due to injury. Three starters in the offensive line are gone. The defense is solid having allowed less than 20 points per game. The Utes should be favored to win the South again.

21. Washington State … Gardner Minshew and his celebrated mustache are gone. But Mike Leach has it going in Pullman, Washington. The top four receivers return. Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys was honored as the Pac-12’s top assistant.

Stewart Mandel – The Athletic

From The Athletic … Jan.​ 13, 2020, is​ a long way​ away, but as of​ today, it’s hard​ to​ imagine we won’t​ be seeing​ the​​ same two teams in New Orleans that we watched in Santa Clara. And two teams that narrowly missed this season’s College Football Playoff, Georgia and Ohio State, will be right in the mix again next season.

But as for my way-too-early teams 5 through 25 … let the wild guesstimates begin. Note: SEC haters are not going to like this list. But Big Ten West enthusiasts will.

9. Oregon (9-4)

Putting aside the Ducks’ ugly 7-6 bowl win against Michigan State, star QB Justin Herbert’s return makes Oregon the likely Pac-12 favorite. The Ducks return nearly every other key offensive player, though 1,184-yard WR Dillon Mitchell turned pro. Oregon’s defense was inconsistent this season but will be more experienced. And coach Mario Cristobal welcomes the highest-rated recruiting class in school history.

20. Utah (9-5)

The Utes’ injury-plagued season ended in disappointment, but they were still a solid team that returns most of its key pieces. On offense, that’s QBs Tyler Huntley and Jason Shelley, RBs Zack Moss and Armand Shyne and WR Britain Covey. And while LBs Chase Hansen and Cody Barton will be missed, Kyle Whittingham’s teams can be counted on to field a strong defense nearly every year, especially up front.

22. Washington (10-4)

Chris Petersen will be dealing with massive turnover, replacing RB Myles Gaskin, LB Ben Burr-Kirven, CB Byron Murphy and S Taylor Rapp. In fact, Washington could have as few as nine returning starters. But former five-star QB Jacob Eason, who started for Georgia as a true freshman, is the favorite to take over for four-year starter Jake Browning. RB Salvon Ahmed showed potential to step up in place of Gaskin, and LB Joe Tryon and DE Levi Onwuzurike are rising stars on defense

24. USC (5-7)

Consider this a bet on new OC Kliff Kingsbury a) staying with USC and b) having a major impact. He inherits rising sophomore QB JT Daniels and WRs Michael Pittman, Tyler Vaughns and Amon-Ra St. Brown. But USC wasn’t particularly strong on defense to begin with and must replace veterans like LBs Cam Smith and Porter Gustin and CB Iman Marshall. DEs Christian Rector and Jay Tufele and LB Palaie Gaoteote IV must step up.

Jon Wilner – San Jose Mercury News

From the San Jose Mercury News … The 2018 season ended emphatically on two levels.

Clemson dominated Alabama, and Clemson and Alabama dominated the field — the best teams in the land, by far.

Will that change in 2019? Is anyone capable of preventing the Tigers and Crimson Tide from meeting for the title a year from now and ending their four-year (combined) hold on the national championship?

Both teams are loaded with underclassmen at key spots, from the quarterbacks (Trevor Lawrence and Tua Tagovailoa) to the tailbacks (Travis Etienne and Najee Harris) to the never-ending talent on the lines of scrimmage.

From the Pac-12 … 

9. Oregon: Combine Justin Herbert’s return with a veteran offensive line and playmakers on all levels of defense, and you’ve got the potential for a championship season. But at this point, there’s no reason to think the best team in the Pac-12 is one of the best half-dozen in the country.

14. Utah: With two options at quarterback (Tyler Huntley and Jason Shelley), plenty of skill talent and a veteran defensive line, the Utes look like the best team in the Pac-12 South. If the retooled offensive line coalesces, they could be the best team in the Pac-12.

17. Washington: Heavy attrition on defense points to a less-than-dominant unit, but the Huskies will remain relevant nationally if quarterback Jacob Eason, the heralded transfer from Georgia, adds a big-play dimension to the aerial game.

20. Washington State: The plug-and-play Air Raid should remain effective without Gardner Minshew, and most of the line returns to protect the new starter. The Cougars lose loads of leadership on defense, however.

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One Reply to ““Way Too Early” Top 25’s”

  1. OK so predicting the ranking of the PAC 12 is somewhat of a crapshoot. ESPN bragging about their record of their way too early national predicting last year? zzzzzzzzz. Anyone could have done that. It will be the same ol names every damn year until something is done to level the playing field. Even the NFL has a draft.

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