CROSS OFF ANOTHER MILESTONE FOR CLEMSON, COLLEGE FOOTBALL’S
NO. 1 CLEMSON
COACH: Dabo Swinney CONFERENCE: ACC 2018 FINISH: No. 1 (15-0) KEY GAMES: vs. No. 12 Texas A&M, Sept. 7; at No. 22 Syracuse, Sept. 14; vs. Florida State, Oct. 12; at South Carolina, Nov. 30. OUTLOOK: Sophomore QB Trevor Lawrence returns to defend the Tigers’ national championship, leading a loaded offense with WRs Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross and RB Travis Etienne. After having four defensive linemen drafted, three in the first round, sophomore DE Xavier Thomas leads the next wave of future NFL players. A fifth straight College Football Playoff appearance seems like almost a foregone conclusion.
NO. 2 ALABAMA
COACH: Nick Saban 2018 FINISH: No. 2 (14-1) KEY GAMES: at No. 12 Texas A&M, Oct. 12; vs. No. 6 LSU, Nov. 9; at Mississippi State, Nov. 16; at No. 16 Auburn, Nov. 30. OUTLOOK: QB Tua Tagovailoa leads another explosive offense, with All-America WR Jerry Jeudy. The only question is: What does new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian bring to the Tide after a stint in the NFL? Candidates to be the breakout star on defense are DE LaBryan Ray and freshman NG D.J. Dale. The Crimson Tide is the only team to make the playoff all five seasons of its existence.
NO. 3 GEORGIA
COACH: Kirby Smart 2018 FINISH: No. 7 (11-3) KEY GAMES: vs. No. 9 Notre Dame, Sept. 21; vs. No. 8 Florida in Jacksonville, Nov. 2; at No. 16 Auburn, Nov. 16; vs. No. 12 Texas A&M, Nov. 23. OUTLOOK: Close losses to Alabama the last two years have kept the Bulldogs from the ultimate prize. Is this the year QB Jake Fromm gets Georgia over the hump? RB D’Andre Swift works behind maybe the best offensive line in the country. Look for freshman OLB Nolan Smith to make an impact as a pass rusher.
NO. 4 OKLAHOMA
Coach: Lincoln Riley 2018 finish: No. 4 (12-2) Key games: vs. Houston, Sept. 1; vs. No. 10 Texas in Dallas, Oct. 12; No. 21 Iowa State, Nov. 9; at Oklahoma State, Nov. 30. Outlook: Former Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts, a graduate transfer, tries to become the third straight Oklahoma Heisman Trophy winner. Riley’s offense figures to be potent again, even with a rebuilt offensive line. The defense needs improvement and the Sooners brought in coordinator Alex Grinch, formerly of Washington State and Ohio State, to tighten things up. LB Kenneth Murray is a nice player to build around.
NO. 5 OHIO STATE
COACH: Ryan Day. 2018 FINISH: No. 3 (13-1). CRITICAL GAMES: at No. 24 Nebraska, Sept. 28; vs. No. 18 Michigan State, Oct. 5; vs. No. 16 Penn State, Nov. 23; at No. 7 Michigan, Nov. 30. OUTLOOK: Day takes over for the retired Urban Meyer. Job #1 is developing talented QB Justin Fields, a transfer from Georgia. The defense, which struggled mightily last season, has new co-coordinators in Greg Mattison and Jeff Hafley. DE Chase Young is likely to be the Buckeyes’ next high first-round draft pick pass rusher.