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:

(Note: Personnel losses for the teams below include seniors and underclassmen who have publicly declared for the NFL draft. Alabama’s and Clemson’s third-year players haven’t announced their decisions yet; both teams could lose a handful of third-year sophomores and juniors to the pros.)


2018 record: 15-0, 8-0 ACC

Returning starters: eight offense, eight defense, one special teams

Key losses: LT Mitch Hyatt, C Justin Falcinelli, WR Hunter Renfrow, DT Christian Wilkins, DE Austin Bryant, LB Kendall Joseph

Outlook: Clemson throttled Alabama on Monday night, improving to 2-1 against the Tide in College Football Playoff National Championship games, and the Tigers once again look like the Crimson Tide’s nemesis in 2019.

The Tigers will probably have to replace each of the four starters from their vaunted defensive line; juniors Clelin Ferrell and Dexter Lawrence are expected to turn pro. Look for players such as Nyles Pinckney, Justin Foster and Xavier Thomas to emerge as potential replacements this spring.

Clemson will have two Heisman Trophy candidates — Lawrence and tailback Travis Etienne — leading its offense next season. The Tigers will have to replace two starters on the offensive line, but Lawrence should be even better in his second season under center. The Tigers broke single-season school records for scoring and total offense this past season.

Clemson hosts Texas A&M and plays at South Carolina in nonconference games in 2019. The Tigers will be overwhelming favorites to win a fifth straight ACC crown.


2018 record: 14-1, 8-0 SEC

Returning starters: eight offense, nine defense, one special teams

Key losses: C Ross Pierschbacher, RB Damien Harris, DE Isaiah Buggs, LB Christian Miller

Outlook:

Alabama’s dynasty took a major hit with its blowout loss on Monday night. Was it an aberration? Or is Nick Saban’s program finally showing cracks? For the first time in a long time, the Tide looked unprepared, overmatched and rather ordinary. But given the way Saban has reloaded year after year, it would be a big surprise if the Crimson Tide weren’t back among the final four teams in 2019.

Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa returns and will be looking for redemption after a woeful performance against Clemson. Three offensive linemen are expected back — junior left tackle Jonah Williams is probably turning pro — along with a potent receiver corps. Junior tight end Irv Smith Jr. is another candidate to leave early.

Associate head coach/quarterbacks coach Dan Enos is expected to take over the playcalling with offensive coordinator Mike Locksley leaving for Maryland. Will there be other changes on Alabama’s staff?

The Tide will have to replace a handful of starters on defense, especially if nose guard Quinnen Williams, end Raekwon Davis and free safety Deionte Thompson depart early for the pros, as expected.


2018 record: 11-3, 7-1 SEC

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

Key losses: CB Deandre Baker, DE Jonathan Ledbetter, LB D’Andre Walker, LB Juwan Taylor, C Lamont Gaillard, WR Terry Godwin, RB Elijah Holyfield, WR Mecole Hardman, WR Riley Ridley, TE Isaac Nauta

Outlook: The Bulldogs were a no-show until it was too late in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, falling to Texas 28-21 on New Year’s Day. Still, Georgia has competed nose-to-nose with Alabama the past two seasons. The Bulldogs started 11 freshmen or sophomores in 2018, and coach Kirby Smart is adding a second straight top-two recruiting class.

They’ll need help from a bunch of underclassmen in 2019, after four juniors — Holyfield, Nauta, Ridley and Hardman — left early for the NFL draft.

Quarterback Jake Fromm returns for his third season as a starter, and he’ll no longer be looking over his shoulder with freshman Justin Fields transferring. Four starters are coming back to what might be the country’s best offensive line in 2019.

Georgia’s defense was a work in progress in 2018, and it will undoubtedly miss Baker, who was the Jim Thorpe Award winner as the country’s top defensive back. Young defensive backs like Eric Stokes, Tyson Campbell, Mark Webb and Otis Reese will be under a microscope this spring. The Bulldogs have to build depth on the defensive line and identify players who can pressure the quarterback.

Georgia plays only four true road games in 2019 and hosts Notre Dame on Sept. 21 and Texas A&M on Nov. 23.


2018 record: 13-1, 8-1 Big Ten

Returning starters: five offense, 10 defense, one special teams

Key losses: QB Dwayne Haskins Jr., DT Dre’Mont Jones, DE Nick Bosa, WR Parris Campbell, WR Terry McLaurin, RB Mike Weber, OT Isaiah Prince, G Malcolm Pridgeon, C Michael Jordan

Outlook: New Buckeyes coach Ryan Day couldn’t have asked for a better scenario in replacing Urban Meyer, who retired after seven seasons and a 28-23 win over Washington in the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual. The Buckeyes might bring back 10 starters on defense after narrowly missing the CFP this past season.

Ohio State lost Haskins to the NFL draft, but landed Fields, the Georgia transfer who was the No. 1 overall prospect in the 2018 ESPN 300. Fields is expected to appeal to the NCAA for immediately eligibility; he would battle rising sophomore Tate Martell for the starting job if a hardship waiver is granted.

The Buckeyes will have to replace three starting offensive linemen, and Campbell and McLaurin were two of their biggest weapons on the perimeter. Tailback J.K. Dobbins is coming back; Weber, who shared carries with him, has already announced he’s forgoing his senior season.

The Buckeyes have a soft nonconference schedule in 2019 with home games against FAU, Cincinnati and Miami (Ohio). They’ll play Big Ten foes Michigan State, Wisconsin and Penn State at the Horseshoe.


2018 record: 12-1

Returning starters: seven offense, six defense, zero special teams

Key losses: DT Jerry Tillery, LB Te’von Coney, LB Drue Tranquill, RB Dexter Williams, G Alex Bars, C Sam Mustipher, TE Alize Mack, CB Julian Love, WR Miles Boykin

Outlook: Notre Dame’s 30-3 loss to Clemson in a CFP semifinal at the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic spoiled its resurgence under coach Brian Kelly. The anti-Fighting Irish crowd won’t want to hear it, but they’re probably going to be pretty good again in 2019.

All but a handful of starters are expected back on both sides of the ball. With quarterback Ian Book returning, along with four starting offensive linemen and two of their top three receivers, the Fighting Irish might be even better on offense in 2019. They’ll have to find a replacement for Williams, who ran for 995 yards with 12 touchdowns, and Boykin, who turned pro this week.

The Fighting Irish will lose several key playmakers on defense, including Thorpe Award finalist Love, top linebackers Coney and Tranquill, and defensive tackle Tillery. They’ll also have to replace both of their kicking specialists, with kicker Justin Yoon and punter Tyler Newsome departing.

Notre Dame’s 2019 schedule isn’t quite as arduous in terms of travel, but it plays road games at Louisville, Georgia, Michigan, Duke and Stanford.


2018 record: 12-2, 8-1 Big 12

Returning starters: five offense, 10 defense, zero special teams

Key losses: QB Kyler Murray, WR Marquise Brown, RB Rodney Anderson, G Ben Powers, G Dru Samia, OT Cody Ford, LB Curtis Bolton

Outlook: The Sooners have reached the CFP in each of the past two years under coach Lincoln Riley, but they’ll have their work cut out to get back in 2019.

Murray, the Heisman Trophy winner, is leaving to either play baseball for the Oakland A’s or perhaps enter the NFL draft. Sophomore Austin Kendall and incoming freshman Spencer Rattler of Phoenix, the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the ESPN 300, will battle for the unenviable task of replacing Murray next season. Brown, the Sooners’ leading receiver, and Anderson, who started the season as the No. 1 tailback, are also going pro.

The Sooners will have to replace as many as four of their starting offensive linemen if junior Bobby Evans leaves early. Ford has already announced he’s entering the NFL draft.

As many as 10 starters are expected back from what was a very porous defense this past season, but Riley hired Ohio State’s Alex Grinch as his new defensive coordinator to replace Mike Stoops, who was fired after six games.

The Sooners play nonconference games against Houston, FCS foe South Dakota and UCLA in 2019.


2018 record: 10-3, 5-3 SEC

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

Key losses: S Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, LB Vosean Joseph, OT Martez Ivey, RB Jordan Scarlett, G Tyler Jordan, G Fred Johnson, DE Jachai Polite, OT Jawaan Taylor

Outlook: The Gators improved dramatically in Year 1 under Dan Mullen, which was capped off by a 41-15 rout of Michigan in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. Florida’s six-victory improvement from 2017 was among the best in the FBS, and Mullen’s 10 victories were one more than what Meyer and Steve Spurrier won in their first seasons at Florida.

Even more impressive, Mullen did it while squeezing everything possible out of quarterback Feleipe Franks, who ranked 10th in the SEC in passing. How much will a second season under Mullen help him?

The Gators are going to have to rebuild their offensive line, with four starters departing. Taylor, a potential first-round pick, has already announced he’s leaving.

Polite, who was third in the SEC with 11 sacks, and Gardner-Johnson have already announced they’re turning pro. But defensive coordinator Todd Grantham will have the bulk of his unit back, after the Gators ranked sixth in the SEC in scoring defense and third against the pass in 2018.

Florida opens the 2019 season against Miami in Orlando, Florida, and will leave the Sunshine State only four times for road games at Kentucky, LSU, South Carolina and Missouri.


2018 record: 10-4, 7-2 Big 12

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

Key losses: LB Gary Johnson, LB Anthony Wheeler, DB P.J. Locke III, CB Kris Boyd, DL Charles Omenihu, NT Chris Nelson, CB Davante Davis, RB Tre Watson, OT Calvin Anderson, G Patrick Vahe

Outlook: Texas is back — and this time, the Longhorns mean it. They improved from 7-6 to 10-4 in coach Tom Herman’s second season, including an upset of Oklahoma and a big win over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. It was Texas’ first 10-win season in nine years, and Herman has instilled a physical style that had been missing in Austin.

Though the Longhorns are headed in the right direction, they’re going to have to reload on defense in 2019, with as many as nine starters departing if junior safety Brandon Jones decides to turn pro.

Junior college transfer Caleb Johnson and early enrollees De’Gabriel Floyd and Marcus Tillman Jr. might get looks at linebacker this spring, and 2018 signee Anthony Cook and redshirt freshman Kobe Boyce are next in line at cornerback.

Quarterback Sam Ehlinger had a breakout season in 2018, and one of his favorite targets, Collin Johnson, has already decided to return, but Lil’Jordan Humphrey could turn pro early. Three starters will have to be replaced on the offensive line, as well.

Texas plays nonconference games against Louisiana Tech, LSU and Rice in 2019, with Big 12 road games at West Virginia, TCU, Iowa State and Baylor.


2018 record: 9-4, 5-3 SEC

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

Key losses: RB Trayveon Williams, LB Otaro Alaka, S Donovan Wilson, DT Daylon Mack, DE Landis Durham, DE Kingsley Keke, G Keaton Sutherland, TE Jace Sternberger, LB Tyrel Dodson, C Erik McCoy

Outlook: After only one season at Texas A&M, Jimbo Fisher’s rebuilding job seems ahead of schedule. The Aggies won nine games for the first time since 2013, defeated NC State 52-13 in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl and signed the No. 3 recruiting class in the early signing period.

The Aggies might take another big step next season if things fall right, but they’ll have to survive a very challenging schedule. Fisher has done a nice job restoring quarterback Kellen Mond‘s confidence, and the Aggies’ top five receivers were only sophomores this past season. Star tailback Williams is turning pro along with standout tight end Sternberger.

Before the regular-season finale, a 74-72 victory over LSU in seven overtimes, Texas A&M’s defense had improved dramatically under coordinator Mike Elko. He’ll have to build the defensive front; Mack, Durham and Keke combined for 19 sacks in 2018.

The Aggies didn’t play particularly well on the road this past season, and they’ll play games at Clemson, Georgia and LSU in 2019.


2018 record: 10-3, 5-3 SEC

Returning starters: eight offense, eight defense, one special teams

Key losses: CB Greedy Williams, DT Ed Alexander, CB Terrence Alexander, G Garrett Brumfield, RB Nick Brossette, TE Foster Moreau, K Cole Tracy

Outlook: The Tigers made strides in coach Ed Orgeron’s second full season, winning 10 games and beating UCF 40-32 in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl. But their eighth straight loss to Alabama showed they still have a long way to go in catching the Crimson Tide in the SEC West.

Despite an offseason overhaul, LSU’s offense was still inconsistent, finishing seventh in the SEC in scoring, seventh in passing and ninth in total offense. The Tigers hope Ohio State transfer Joe Burrow‘s performance against UCF — 394 passing yards with four touchdowns — is a precursor of things to come.

One problem: The Tigers used seven different combinations on the offensive line. Incoming freshman Kardell Thomas, the No. 1 guard in the ESPN 300, might provide immediate help. John Emery, the No. 1 running back, also might step into a starting spot as a freshman.

The Tigers are expected to lose a handful of star defenders. Williams and Alexander have already declared their intentions to enter the NFL draft. Star linebacker Devin White, a potential top-10 pick, is also expected to leave. The Tigers signed the No. 2-rated cornerback in the ESPN 150, Derek Stingley Jr., who will enroll early and could fill Williams’ vacated spot.

The Tigers play a nonconference game at Texas on Sept. 7 and also play at Alabama on Nov. 9.


2018 record: 10-3, 8-1 Big Ten

Returning starters: Eight offense, five defense, two special teams

Key losses: LB Devin Bush, DE Rashan Gary, DE Chase Winovich, FS Tyree Kinnel, RB Karan Higdon, OT Juwann Bushell-Beatty, WR Grant Perry, TE Zach Gentry, CB David Long

Outlook: The Wolverines looked like they were finally ready to turn the corner under coach Jim Harbaugh — until they flopped in the regular-season finale against Ohio State and were rolled by Florida in their bowl game. Still, they won 10 straight games before that and were in the Big Ten race until the end.

With quarterback Shea Patterson deciding to return to school, the Wolverines should be back in the mix again in 2019 — if they can replace several key contributors on defense.

The Wolverines will have to find a replacement for Higdon, who ran for 1,178 yards with 10 touchdowns, and Harbaugh will have to decide whether his offense needs a facelift in terms of philosophy.

The Wolverines are losing their top three tacklers — Kinnel, Bush and Winovich — and Gary was another key piece of Don Brown’s defense, which was exploited for 103 points in the final two games.

Michigan’s schedule will be one of the most difficult in the FBS in 2019, with nonconference games against Army and Notre Dame and Big Ten crossover games against Wisconsin and Iowa. The Wolverines will close the regular season against the Buckeyes in 327 days.


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.

Four of the Ducks’ five starting offensive linemen, led by left guard Shane Lemieux and right tackle Calvin Throckmorton, are rising seniors with 133 career starts combined.

Oregon coach Mario Cristobal’s ability to keep defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt can’t be overlooked. The Ducks allowed 25.4 points per game — a 16-point improvement from 2016 — while starting six sophomores on defense this past season. The Ducks will also add incoming freshman Kayvon Thibodeaux, a defensive end from Westlake Village, California, who was the No. 1 overall prospect in the 2019 ESPN 300.

Though Oregon looks like the Pac-12’s best team on paper for 2019, it will have to survive one of the most difficult schedules in the FBS. The Ducks open the season against Auburn in Arlington, Texas, and they’ll play Pac-12 road games at Stanford, Washington, USC and Arizona State.


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.

Regardless of who is under center, the Cougars will bring back a wealth of playmakers on offense and four starting offensive linemen. They’ll have to replace Pelluer, their leading tackler, and two senior defensive backs.

Washington State’s nonconference slate in 2019 is again Charmin-soft with games against New Mexico State, FCS foe Northern Colorado and Houston. But Pac-12 road games at Utah, Arizona State, Oregon, Cal and Washington are potential obstacles.


2018 record: 12-1, 8-0 AAC

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

Key losses: OT Wyatt Miller, DE Titus Davis, DT A.J. Wooten, LB Pat Jasinski, SS Kyle Gibson, K Matthew Wright, P Mac Loudermilk

Outlook: The defending national champions — oh, sorry — didn’t miss a beat under first-year coach Josh Heupel, as they narrowly missed finishing the 2018 season with an unbeaten record for the second season in a row.

It’s unclear when star quarterback McKenzie Milton will be ready to return after suffering a devastating knee injury, but Heupel said he’s certain Milton will play again. Redshirt freshman Darriel Mack Jr. was very good in his absence; he was named MVP of the AAC championship game after throwing for 348 yards with six total touchdowns.

The Knights will have to rebuild their defensive line and will have to replace a couple of key contributors in the secondary.

UCF plays two nonconference games against Power 5 opponents — against Stanford in Orlando, Florida, on Sept. 14, and at Pitt on Sept. 21.


2018 record: 10-3, 6-2 ACC

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

Key losses: QB Eric Dungey, WR Jamal Custis, OT Cody Conway, G Aaron Roberts, OT Koda Martin, DT Chris Slayton, LB Kielan Whitner, LB Ryan Guthrie

Outlook: After going 4-8 in each of coach Dino Babers’ first two seasons, the Orange had their breakthrough season in 2018. Syracuse won 10 games for the first time since 2001 and defeated West Virginia 34-18 in the Camping World Bowl.

The Orange will undoubtedly miss Dungey, who threw for 9,340 yards with 58 touchdowns in four seasons. But backup Tommy DeVito has a strong arm and can run, which means he’s tailor-made for Babers’ offense.

The Orange also got their first look at two more offensive weapons in the bowl game: running back Abdul Adams, an Oklahoma transfer, and receiver Trishton Jackson, a Michigan State transfer. Syracuse will have to replace three starters from a solid offensive line.

All but three starters are expected back on defense, including ends Alton Robinson (10 sacks) and Kendall Coleman (seven sacks), but two key linebackers are leaving.

Syracuse will play only one Power 5 nonconference opponent (Maryland) and will play ACC road games at Duke, FSU, Louisville and NC State.


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.

The Huskies are also losing Browning, a four-year starter and the school’s career leader in passing yards and touchdown passes, and Gaskin, who had more than 1,000 rushing yards in four straight seasons. Former Georgia transfer Jacob Eason sat out this past season under NCAA transfer rules and should be in line to take over at quarterback.

The Huskies play four of their first five games at home in 2019, and they’ll get to play Pac-12 opponents USC, Oregon, Utah and Washington State in Seattle.


2018 record: 9-4, 6-3 Big Ten

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

Key losses: QB Trace McSorley, WR DeAndre Thompkins, LB Koa Farmer, CB Amani Oruwariye, S Nick Scott, RB Miles Sanders, G Connor McGovern, OT Ryan Bates, DE Shareef Miller

Outlook: Life after McSorley begins for the Nittany Lions, who must replace the school’s all-time leading passer and winningest quarterback. It’s not going to be easy after a mass exodus of underclassmen to the NFL draft.

Rising fifth-year senior Tommy Stevens is the leading candidate to replace McSorley, but Stevens has been plagued by injuries. He missed the first four games this past season and underwent a recent unspecified surgery that caused him to miss a 27-24 loss to Kentucky in the VRBO Citrus Bowl. Rising sophomore Sean Clifford and incoming freshmen Michael Johnson Jr. and Ta’Quan Roberson might also be in the mix.

Making matters worse, leading rusher Sanders and the starting right side of the offensive line (McGovern and Bates) left early.

The Nittany Lions play a manageable nonconference schedule in 2019, with consecutive home games against Idaho, Buffalo and Pittsburgh. They’ll have to play Big Ten foes Iowa, Michigan State and Ohio State on the road.


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.

Utah will have to replace two starting offensive linemen, but everybody else on offense is expected back. Whittingham is also searching for a new offensive coordinator.

The Utes lose only four starters on defense, but they’re the top four leading tacklers: Hansen (114 tackles, 22 for loss), Barton (108 tackles), Ballard (60) and Blair (50).

2018 record: 9-5, 8-1 Big Ten

Returning starters: six offense, seven defense, one special teams.

Key losses: QB Clayton Thorson, OT Blake Hance, G J.B. Butler, WR Flynn Nagel, DT Jordan Thompson, LB Nate Hall, S Jared McGee, CB Montre Hartage

Outlook: The Wildcats won nine games, claimed a Big Ten West title and defeated Utah in the Holiday Bowl. Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald says his alma mater is only getting started, which is why he says he won’t entertain NFL teams’ reported interest in him.

The Wildcats will have to find a new quarterback, with two-way star Thorson departing. Backup TJ Green attempted 36 passes this past season, and former five-star prospect Hunter Johnson sat out this past season after transferring from Clemson. Top receiver Nagel is also leaving. The left side of the offensive line will have to be replaced.

But Northwestern will bring back its top four tacklers, including linebackers Blake Gallagher and Paddy Fisher.

The Wildcats will have to survive a difficult five-game stretch — Michigan State (home), Wisconsin (road), Nebraska (road), Ohio State (home) and Iowa (home) — but they’ll avoid Michigan and Penn State during the regular season.

2018 record: 8-5, 6-3 Big 12

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

Key losses: RB David Montgomery, LB Willie Harvey, CB Brian Peavy, CB D’Andre Payne, TE Sam Seonbuchner, WR Matthew Eaton, WR Hakeem Butler

Outlook: The Cyclones won eight games for the second season in a row, and they pulled off an upset by locking up two-time Big 12 Coach of the Year Matt Campbell through the 2024 season.

Iowa State is bringing a lot back on both sides of the ball, but its top two offensive playmakers — Montgomery and Butler — are turning pro. The Cyclones are going to need new playmakers to step up on the perimeter to help quarterback Brock Purdy.

Replacing Peavy and Payne, who made 78 career starts combined, will be a priority in the spring. Redshirt freshman Datrone Young and freshman Anthony Johnson saw significant action playing behind them in 2018.

The Cyclones play four of their first five games at home in 2019, including a Sept. 14 showdown against Iowa.


2018 record: 8-5, 5-4 Big Ten

Returning starters: seven offense, seven defense, one special teams.

Key losses: G Michael Deiter, OT David Edwards, G Beau Benzschawel, LB Andrew Van Ginkel, LB T.J. Edwards, LB Ryan Connelly, S D’Cota Dixon

Outlook: After largely exceeding expectations in coach Paul Chryst’s first three seasons, the Badgers fell short of lofty preseason predictions in 2018. At least they head into the offseason with a 35-3 rout of Miami in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.

The bad news: The Badgers will have to rebuild their stellar offensive line, with three starters possibly departing. Edwards, a junior tackle, has already said he’s entering the draft; third-year sophomore center Tyler Biadasz says he’s coming back.

The good news: Sophomore tailback Jonathan Taylor is returning after running for 4,171 yards with 29 touchdowns on 606 carries in his first two seasons.

The Badgers need to get more from their passing game; it’s unclear when quarterback Alex Hornibrook will be cleared from concussion symptoms. Sophomore Jack Coan and incoming freshman Graham Mertz, the No. 2 pocket passer in the ESPN 300, will battle him for the job.

Wisconsin’s schedule in 2019 will be arduous with Big Ten cross-divisional games against Michigan (home), Michigan State (home) and Ohio State (road).


2018 record: 8-5, 4-4 SEC

Returning starters: six offense, six defense, one special teams

Key losses: QB Drew Lock, WR Emanuel Hall, RB Damarea Crockett, G Kevin Pendleton, OT Paul Adams, DT Terry Beckner Jr., LB Terez Hall, LB Brandon Lee

Outlook: The Tigers have slowly built momentum under coach Barry Odom, improving from four wins in 2016 to seven in ’17 and eight this past season, when they won five of six games before falling 38-33 to Oklahoma State in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.

Missouri might be ready to make another move in 2019, even without Lock, the SEC’s second all-time leading passer. Former Clemson starter Kelly Bryant, a graduate transfer, should be ready to step right under center next season. Three starting offensive linemen and three of the top four receivers are returning.

The Tigers lose two of their starting linebackers — leading tackler Cale Garrett is expected back — and three starting defensive backs are returning.

Missouri plays five of its first six games at home and SEC road games at Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Georgia and Arkansas.


2018 record: 8-5, 3-5 SEC

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

Key losses: QB Jarrett Stidham, HB Chandler Cox, WR Ryan Davis, DT Dontavius Russell, LB Darrell Williams, LB Deshaun Davis, CB Jamel Dean, WR Darius Slayton

Outlook: Even with more than $40 million left on his contract, it might be a make-or-break season for Auburn’s Gus Malzahn in 2019. So it’s a good thing the Tigers are headed into the offseason with some much-needed momentum after blasting Purdue 63-14 in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl.

With Malzahn calling offensive plays for the first time in more than two years, and the Tigers using an up-tempo game plan, they set an SEC record for points in a bowl game. Malzahn plans on calling plays again next season, with new offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Kenny Dillingham assisting him.

The Tigers will have to find a new quarterback after Stidham announced he’s entering the NFL draft. Auburn is in the market for a graduate transfer, and incoming freshman Bo Nix was the No. 4 pocket passer in the ESPN 300.

Auburn’s defense received a big boost when star junior defensive tackle Derrick Brown decided to return in 2019. The 6-foot-5, 325-pound Brown had 45 tackles and 3.5 sacks in 2018.

Auburn’s 2019 schedule is again among the most difficult in the FBS. The Tigers open the season against Oregon in Dallas, play SEC road games at Texas A&M, Florida and LSU, and play Georgia and Alabama at home.


2018 record: 4-8, 3-6 Big Ten

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

Key losses: WR Stanley Morgan Jr., RB Devine Ozigbo, LB Dedrick Young II, LB Luke Gifford, S Aaron Williams, S Tre Neal

Outlook: It was a painful yet rewarding first season for Scott Frost as coach of his alma mater. The Cornhuskers lost their first six games, but they won four of their last six and nearly beat Northwestern, Ohio State and Iowa on the road.

Freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez gives the Cornhuskers plenty of hope for the future. He passed for 2,617 yards with 17 touchdowns while running for 629 with eight scores. He’ll miss leading receiver Morgan and leading rusher Ozigbo.

Defensively, Nebraska will lose four of its top five tacklers, including two linebackers and two safeties.

Next season, Nebraska plays Ohio State, Northwestern, Wisconsin and Iowa at home and doesn’t play Michigan, Michigan State or Penn State in the regular season.


2018 record: 11-2

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

Key losses: FB Darnell Woolfolk, C Bryce Holland, OT Austin Schuffert, LB James Nachtigal, S James Gibson, LB Chandler Ramirez, LB Kenneth Brinson

Outlook: The Black Knights enjoyed one of the most remarkable seasons in the 125-year history of the program. They won 11 games for the first time, took Oklahoma to the wire before falling in overtime and blasted Houston 70-14 in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, tying the FBS record for the most lopsided result in a bowl game.

Army has been fortunate to keep coach Jeff Monken around, and he’ll have a team capable of winning 10 or more games again in 2019. Quarterback Kelvin Hopkins Jr., who became the first Army player to run and pass for more than 1,000 yards in a season, will be back to lead the offense. Woolfolk, who ran for 885 yards, and Holland, the leader of the offensive line, are significant losses.

Army is in the market for a new defensive coordinator with Jay Bateman, a Broyles Award finalist, leaving for North Carolina. The Black Knights will miss Nachtigal, their leading tackler, but a solid corps is returning.

Army opens the 2019 season against Rice and plays at Michigan the following week.

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