16 Aug 2019 AROSE PRESEASON CFB TOP 25: 1-10
Throughout this college football season, I will be releasing the AROSE TOP 25. I will be giving unbiased takes, thoughts, and rankings on the best teams in the nation, released weekly. I decided to release my rankings to have a different outlet than the often incorrect AP Poll. Someone who watches every game, a true fan, should feel their opinion matters (even though it does not, spoiler alert). I know for a fact that you will not agree with me, and that is okay. Let me know your incorrect thoughts on where you think I went wrong, what you thought I nailed, and how this will become the official ranking recognized nationwide. The AROSE CFB Playoff. Yeah. That has a nice ring to it.
What you should expect: I will release these rankings typically on Sunday (or when games conclude that week) before the AP releases at 2pm EST (Take that losers). The Top 10 will be more detailed, while 11 – 25 will be more brief. If you know nothing about college football, use this a primer before the season and you will be ready to go.
Let me hear your thoughts and enjoy your CFB Saturdays this Fall.
1). CLEMSON TIGERS
Trevor Lawrence and the Clemson Tigers are the clear number one team to start the season. They have proven they are the #1 team in the nation with a dominating performance over Alabama in the National Championship last January. Dabo had a great team then and has recruited to repeat that success this season. With a top-two receiving core in the nation, a Sophomore QB coming off a historic playoff performance, four seniors returning on the offensive line, and Travis Etienne running behind them… this offense is going to ROLL. WR Justyn Ross shined all season long last year, but especially in January. Neither ND or Alabama had an answer for Ross as he torched both defenses. The WR core only lost Clemson-lifer Hunter Renfroe, but as long as Ross/Higgins/Rodgers remains intact, Trevor Lawrence will have plenty of options around the field. Etienne is one of the best backs in the entire country and will look to follow up his 2nd Team All American sophomore season with a Heisman invite (If his teammate under center doesn’t get in the way of that).
Losing four starters on the defensive line is a struggle for anyone, however, Clemson has one of the deepest groups in the nation. With even more playing time available now for Justin Foster and Xavien Thomas at DE, they will be a nightmare for offensive lines on Clemson’s schedule. DBs AJ Terrell, K’Von Wallace, and Tanner Muse lead one of the best groups of defensive backs in the nation. All returning starters, the Clemson secondary is coming inexperienced, and ready to step up even more than a year ago to offset the losses in the front 7. At linebacker, they lose most of their starters from a year ago but as I mentioned earlier, no scrubs are playing for the Clemson Tigers. Very few teams can pull off the young, inexperienced group that Clemson will be rolling out this season but they will be able to manage that this year with one of the top defensive lines and secondary’s in the nation.
2). ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE
If you are looking for me to tell you that this Alabama dynasty is not what it used to be after losing to Clemson last year in the National Championship, buddy, you can stop reading now…
If you decided to stick with me and read more about the IMPROVED Crimson Tide, welcome back. The absolute last thing teams want to run into is Nick Saban and his squad with a chip on their shoulder. In seasons following a playoff loss since the birth of the CFP, Bama has won the National Championship both times (2016, 2017) with a total record of 27-2. Everyone knows Alabama is dominant. That isn’t changing. But the explosive offense you saw last year, that blew out teams week after week, is even better in 2019.
I won’t regurgitate the Tua talk you hear everywhere. You already know how special of a player he is, but last season he struggled to consistently stay healthy towards the end of the season. In both games the last two seasons vs. Georgia, a backup quarterback has come in to save the game. Now I am not saying UGA did not blow these games. They absolutely did. The security of knowing you have a star behind your guy, will NOT be replicated this season (Sorry Mac Jones and Tua Jr). In what I think is the best WR group in the country, the four-headed monster of Smith/Ruggs/Jeudy/Waddle gives Tua reliable receivers all over the field which almost no secondary in the nation can maintain. Najee Harris returns, but their depth at running back took a huge hit once 5-star Trey Sanders was announced he would be missing all of 2019. Brutal blow for the Crimson Tide who will now need back-ups, Brian Robinson and Jerome Ford, to carry a much larger workload than expected.
Despite having to replace five defensive starters, the experience level of those returning completely outweighs the losses. At linebacker alone, they bring back Senior Anfernee Jennings to play along Junior Dylan Moses. What is Bama without a centerpiece defensive lineman? Senior DE Raekwon Davis is that dude this season as he builds his strong resume before heading to the NFL next season. Senior LB Joshua McMillon is another Tide player to suffer the injury bug in camp, being ruled out for the season with a knee injury is an absolutely huge loss for one of their best defensive players.
3). GEORGIA BULLDOGS
Will this finally be the season UGA finishes the job and jumps into the next tier with Clemson & Bama? It is a large task at hand for Junior QB Jake Fromm and the Dawgs. The loss of Jeremiah Holloman hurts the receiving core from an experience standpoint, but as everyone knows, it is a “next man up” sport. Elite quarterbacks elevate the skill sets of those around them, and Georgia is not lacking talent at skill positions by any means sporting a WR core flooded with former 5* and 4* recruits and the most talented RB room in the nation. Deandre Swift will put together another 1000 yard season with ease behind their offensive line, with Brian Herrien, Zamir White, and James Cook contributing to the ground game that UGA Football is known for. Kirby Smart will be handing the keys to Jake Fromm and James Coley to drive this offense, giving free rein to show off the arm of this future pro.
Georgia is bringing back six defensive starters this season, including four of their top five tacklers from 2018. Top to bottom this is an improved defense from a season ago. Dawgs are extremely deep on the defensive line, led by a pair of seniors, DT Tyler Clark, and EDGE Malik Herring. They return the most experience in the secondary, with Richard LeCounte and JR Reed at safety. If Eric Stokes can succeed in his expanded role opposite of Tyson Campbell, this secondary can be the best unit of this defense and one of the best in the country. Monty Rice and Tae Crowder will be key in holding this defense together at interior linebacker. With experienced playmakers at every position, young future stars Nakobe Dean and Nolan Smith have plenty of guys to pick up habits from and leave their mark on this season.
Georgia has a National Championship caliber team again this season, but with an improved SEC East and a tough game hosting Notre Dame it will be a tougher journey for the Dawgs. They will need to be perfect in the regular season to guarantee a CFP spot but can afford one loss in the regular season to force a ‘Win or Go Home’ game vs Alabama for the third season in a row.
4). OKLAHOMA SOONERS
New Season. New Sooners QB for the third straight year. Jalen Hurts looks to build on his heroic performance in the SEC Championship, as he fits into what seems like a match made in heaven in Norman. Replacing Baker Mayfield is no easy task, neither is replacing Kyler Murray. OU looks to be a sure playoff team this season, and you couldn’t ask for a better leader from your QB. Hurts had a minor role at Alabama this past season, playing mostly only 2nd halves in blowouts. With an expanded role that will allow for designed run plays, for one of the best rushing QBs with a serviceable arm, Hurts will flourish under HC Lincoln Riley. Although many believe Hurts is a below-average thrower, he will have plenty of opportunities to make plays through the Oklahoma run game. Trey Sermon and Kennedy Brooks bring back 2,000+ rushing yards from a season ago, and I expect those two to match their previous season and hit that mark again despite heavy losses on the OL. TE tandem Grant Calcaterra & Lee Morris will be important options for Hurts, but All-American WR Ceedee Lamb is the star on this offense. Ceedee Lamb is the clear #1 but Riley’s play-calling allows for plenty of opportunities for the always deep, OU receiving corp.
Over the past few seasons, Oklahoma’s defense has been labeled as below average at best. This season, their defense is returning 8 starters from 2019 including 1st Team Big 12 Linebacker, Kenneth Murray. Now don’t get me wrong, this team will be nowhere near the top of the rankings in terms of defense, however, their experience on this side of the ball almost forces them to have at least some improvement from last seasons 33 PPG and 454 YPG.
As always, the weapons are undeniable for the Sooners, but they will have very little wiggle room and will need to be at least a one-loss team + Big 12 champ to be considered for the playoffs.
5). MICHIGAN WOLVERINES
After a straight-up flat performance against Florida in last seasons Peach Bowl, Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverines look to take the next step and push for a playoff berth in 2019. They have every opportunity to do so this year barring a bad upset loss, which would be easily forgotten if they take care of ND & tOSU, who both are visiting Ann Arbor this time around. Shea Patterson’s second year at UM will be at a faster pace than last year. This uptempo offense will benefit Shea’s style of play and build a strong relationship between him and the new offensive coordinator, Josh Gattis. The young but highly regarded RB group consists of two redshirt freshman and a true freshman. With enough talent to be able to establish the run as a group, Shea will have plenty of good looks in and out of the pocket. WR Tarik Black has been injury-plagued his first two seasons but returns in 2019 alongside Donovan Peoples-Jones and Nico Collins, who combined for 1,244 yards on 85 catches for 14 touchdowns. Giving DPJ and Nico Collins less of a workload with Tarik Black back should allow them even more chances for Shea to throw the ball around the field. Jim Harbaugh announced that he will be “redefining” the starter role this season by giving redshirt Sophomore Dylan McCaffery a shot at QB reps. I believe Coach Harbaugh when he makes this claim. Shea could use fire underneath him, being a transfer who has shown his play can sometimes look ugly, the pressure of a highly-touted young QB behind him may just be the spark he needs or we will see Dylan McCaffery sooner than expected.
Michigan had one of the countries most elite defenses for 85% of the season in 2018. They played well in their loss to ND and only improved throughout the year, up until Ohio State in the final week of the regular season, which continued into their bowl game vs Florida. They look to bring back the bright spots in their first 11 games, but with a much different look since losing key stars Rashan Gary, Chase Winovich and Devin Bush.
6). LSU TIGERS
Coming off the best season Coach Ed Orgeron has had in his career, the LSU Tigers will look to continue to make strides in their conquest in the West. Going 10-3 last year with losses to Florida, Alabama, and TAMU it was an interesting year for LSU. Coming off a loss to Florida, they went ahead and absolutely destroyed UGA. The run game couldn’t get going and Jake Fromm didn’t look like himself against this LSU defense and guess what… they’re returning the best secondary in the entire nation this season. Unanimous All American Grant Delpit returns to his SS position wearing the coveted #7 LSU jersey. With Kristian Fulton opting to return for his senior season and by adding the #3 overall recruit in the 2019 cycle, Derek Stingley, this secondary is going to be better than ever and will be successful in getting over the loss of Greedy Williams. Their biggest loss on the defensive side was star linebacker, Devin White, but as you have noticed this trend by now, the experience of returnees is the easiest, most effective way to replace kids going pro. LSU has a pair of some of the best linebackers in the conference in Jacob Phillips and Patrick Queen. This defense will adjust accordingly to these losses and with Coach O as your HC, you better believe this defensive line will be ready to match the intensity their secondary and linebackers will play with.
QB Joe Burrow comes back for his senior season after winning the starting QB job last summer and did not disappoint. He did not throw an interception until their first loss in Week 6 to Florida but started slumping from thereon. From Week 6 through Week 9 he did not throw a touchdown pass, making it out of those four weeks 2-2. During that span, they did beat UGA, but Burrow was much more effective on the ground than the air that day. Burrow will be expected to take a huge step in an RPO based offense with a deep running back group this year, even after losing a 1000 yard rusher in Brossette. LSU has always been a strong running school, finding the next man up will be no problem, whether it is true freshman John Emery, RS freshman Chris Curry, or Clyde Edward-Helaire, who is returning 677 yards with him from a year ago. Even though LSU loves to pound the ball, they have plenty of options at WR with Justin Jefferson leading this group.
7). OHIO STATE BUCKEYES
Enter the post-Urban Meyer era… HC Ryan Day comes in as the replacement as the new head coach of the Buckeyes, who have a much different look than previous years. With Dwayne Haskins now a pro, Ohio State picked up former 5-star dual-threat QB Justin Fields. Fields will bring an expanded run game to this Ohio State offense which they did not have with Dwayne Haskins under center. With a teammate also gunning for the Heisman in JK Dobbins, this offense has a lot of different directions to take and will prove to be a much faster product on the field. Dobbins returns after a sensational 1000+ yard, 10 touchdown season and will be relied on even more heavily due to the loss of their second-leading rusher from 2018. Another player who will see an expanded role this season is KJ Hill, returning off of an 885 yard, 70 reception season. In his freshman season, Justin Fields saw limited playing time behind Jake Fromm, coming in primarily for run situations, blowouts, or a good ol’ fake punt in the SEC Championship game.
Ohio State returns 9 starters on defense, none of which are younger than a Junior. The Buckeyes defense struggled all season in 2018, so the experience they are bringing back will only benefit their cause. DE Chase Young is the clear #1 impact player on this defense. In 2018, Young finished 2nd in the Big Ten in sacks with 10.5 and, in my eyes, is a sure top 10 selection in the NFL Draft in April. Jordan Fuller will be a key member of tOSU secondary, returning after a season where he was tied for leading tackler on the team with 81 tackles. Opposite of Fuller will be Jeffrey Okudah, an absolute stud corner who has lock down potential written all over him.
Ryan Day is faced with a difficult job in replacing one of the greatest coaches in college football, he was able to win his three games as Interim Head Coach to start 2018, which was not the most difficult task, I think I could out coach Rutgers and Oregon State, TCU not so much. It is impossible to see how Chris Ash will coach with a small sample size, but this seems to be the perfect formula for tOSU to continue their streak vs Michigan and try to make it eight years in a row beating Big Blue.
8). FLORIDA GATORS
The next two teams are some of the hottest trending teams in college football, the Florida Gators have the edge here and open up the AROSE Preseason rankings at #8. Dan Mullen’s first season was extremely successful, capping it off with a 26 point blow out vs Michigan in the Peach Bowl. This offense was clicking throughout 2018, and it all started with the performance of QB Feleipe Franks. Watching Florida in 2017, I did not think anything of Feleipe Franks, I’ll be honest, Malik Zaire and he were the butt of many of my jokes throughout that season. Franks stepped up in a big way, throwing for 2457 yards on a 58% completion percentage and throwing for 24 TDs with only 6 INTs… he also ran the ball himself for 500 yards. With Franks back under center and Lemical Perine returning 834 yards and 7 TDs in the backfield as well, Florida has themselves a couple of star players to run the offense through. The loss of Jordan Scarlet will hurt, but they return Malik Davis off an ACL injury, where he would’ve been the leading rusher a season ago if not for getting injured. Also, to compliment Franks is the Florida receiving corp. Their top six pass-catchers all return from last season, Van Jefferson will be the clear #1 target as he was a season ago, but the Florida offense is expected to use Ohio State transfer Trevon Grimes in a more expanded role from 2018.
The Gators defense looks to also be on the same slope as their offense and will prove to be better. Cornerback CJ Henderson is one of the best corners in the SEC, he will be playing on Sundays real soon, whether that is 2020 or 2021 is unknown. Florida also only lost one player off their defensive line and will have the depth to rotate in their experienced playmakers as well as include some of their freshmen in the mix. With eight returning starters overall on defense, this team will have a perfect balance of veteran leadership on the defensive line and secondary, to pick up the young linebacker group who may show weaknesses through the Fall.
9). TEXAS LONGHORNS
Off a 7-point Sugar Bowl win against Georgia (if you watched the game it was not that close) the Texas Longhorns are self-proclaimed ~BACK~. Tom Herman is an incredible coach, embracing the role of an underdog throughout his career, especially at Texas where he is 8-2 against the spread in his games as a Vegas underdog. Texas finally has an open window to win the Big 12 championship this season, but this all hinders on Sam Ehlinger’s play entering his Junior season. He had a more than impressive sophomore campaign, completing 65.7% of his passes on a 25:5 TD to interception ratio. Ehlinger is just as much of a threat on the ground as he is with his arm, and with RB Keontay Ingram returning alongside, you must be prepared to stop Texas on the ground and in the air if you want any chance of stopping this offense. WR Collin Johnson had an outstanding season as well in 2018 and will be the #1 option for Sam Ehlinger entering 2019. Johnson electing to stay at Texas was a huge victory for the Longhorns, they will now bring back a senior leader who, when healthy is one of the best in the Big 12. All of the options are there for the Longhorns but will be tested early with a Top 10 match-up against LSU in Week 2.
On the defensive side, Texas is only returning three starters and will be starting a handful of sophomores without much experience. Their safeties are the biggest bright spot on this defense, both returning starters, Caden Sterns and Brandon Jones combined for 132 tackles and 6 interceptions in 2018. Texas will be hovering around 25-30 points allowed mark for most of their Big 12 schedule, which is solid when factoring in the reputation of weak defensive teams in the Big 12. Texas should have no problem scoring past this mark, but must be able to make stops in pressure situations when facing other defensive-minded teams (ie. LSU, TCU).
10). NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH
The 2019 Fighting Irish come out with a bad taste in their mouth, ending a spectacular season last year in blowout fashion, a 30-3 loss to the eventual national champion Clemson Tigers. Notre Dame’s offense drastically improved once naming Ian Book the starter in Week 4, finishing off the year with an impressive 68.2% completion rate for 2628 yards and 19 touchdowns. Ian Book provided an offensive spark for Notre Dame which boosted their per game average by almost two touchdowns, from 23.3 to 36.5. The Irish lose their top RB and WR but return their next two highest producers in each category. RB Tony Jones and Jafar Armstrong combined for 814 yards and 10 TDs but will be seeing a much more handsome workload between the two. At wide receiver, they are in a similar situation as well, with Chase Claypool and Chris Finke returning with impressive numbers given their role on the team in 2018. Ian Book and the Irish have the offensive weapons and a top offensive line to be able to match this production, but they must travel to Athens and Ann Arbor and face two AROSE Top 5 teams to reach the College Football Playoff again.
DL Julian Okwara headlines the defense coming off a 2018 season where he tallied 8 sacks and got a hit on the QB 21 times. His pass-rush presence will be key when facing Georgia and Michigan, who boast some of the best offensive lines in the nation. Notre Dames secondary got torched in the 2Q last season by Clemson, which I point out specifically because they were without their best corner, Julian Love. Love went to the NFL so this unit must be improved upon to replace the “lockdown” status that Julian Love earned.
As an Independent school, controlling your destiny seems to be all that matters. However, the question comes to mind after seeing ND do absolutely nothing against Clemson if the selection committee would skip over Notre Dame to put in a one or two-loss team with a conference championship or a more impressive schedule/wins. Only time will tell that decision, but even with one loss to UGA or Michigan, Notre Dame could find themselves on the outside looking into the CFB Playoff