College Football Preseason Top 25

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Joe Broback

Contributor at Champion Insiders
Joe is a writer covering the NFL, NBA, NHL and college football. He also currently writes for SB Nation’s Underdog Dynasty, covering the American Athletic Conference since 2016. Joe enjoys collecting shoes, playing sports, and anything fitness related.
Joe Broback
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We are officially 25 days away from the first weekend of college football! Games will be here before we know it, and the wait for the best sports will be over. In anticipation of the first games, we’re doing a 25 day countdown. Each topic will be different, and we start with the obvious. Top 25 lists often get misunderstood, but they create conversation. So, with that being said, here is the Champion Insiders College Football Preseason Top 25!

Others to watch: Memphis Tigers, Boise State Broncos, Oklahoma State Cowboys, Washington State Cougars, Stanford Cardinal, Michigan State Spartans, Mississippi State Bulldogs, North Texas Mean Green

25. TCU Horned Frogs (7-6)

Players to Watch: RB Darius Anderson, RB Sewo Olonilua, WR Jalen Reagor, CB Jeff Gladney, S Innis Gaines

Gary Patterson’s team is talented this year, and leads off the Top 25. They just need to find a couple key pieces. The offense is loaded, but they just need a quarterback to emerge. Jalen Reagor is one of the best receivers in the country, and just needs someone to get him the ball.

Patterson’s defense features a ton of talent at every level, and has potential to be a Top 10 defense this year. Jeff Gladney and Innis Gaines lead a secondary that will produce plenty of turnovers.

24. Miami Hurricanes (Last year: 7-6)

Players to Watch: WR Jeff Thomas, TE Brevin Jordan, DE Jonathan Garvin, LB Shaquille Quarterman, LB Michael Pinckney

Manny Diaz added to the roller coaster season by leaving for Temple in the offseason. Then, Mark Richt retired, and the Canes brought him back as head coach. Now he must address concerns at various positions, like quarterback.

N’Kosi Perry and Ohio State transfer Tate Martell battle for the starting job to lead an offense that has talent. They just need to take some stress off of the defense. Shaquille Quarterman, Michael Pinckney, and Zach McCloud all started at linebacker when they stepped on campus. They’re the leaders of a defense that should continue to thrive. The Turnover Chain should remain prominent in 2019.

23. Virginia Tech Hokies (6-7)

Players to Watch: QB Ryan Willis, TE Dalton Keene, LB Rayshard Ashby, LB Dax Holifield, S Reggie Floyd

Justin Fuente’s tenure started with 10 wins, but that number decreased each year since. After a 6-7 season, fans are wondering what’s next for the Hokies. If the Hokies want to be a Top 25 team, they need to be more consistent.

Quarterback is settled with Ryan Willis officially taking over. Fuente’s work with him was evident (24 passing touchdowns), and he gets a full year to start. Bud Foster’s defense struggled mightily for his standards last year. Luckily, eight starters return this year to improve upon that performance. They better be ready to play come Week 1, because freight train AJ Dillon and Boston College are headed their way.

22. Nebraska Cornhuskers (4-8)

Players to Watch: QB Adrian Martinez, WR JD Spielman, LB Mohamed Barry

We’ve seen what a dual threat quarterback and Scott Frost can do together after showing potential. Frost’s work at UCF drives the Nebraska hype this year, even though it’s getting out of hand. Nebraska started the year just outside the Top 25, then they were a Top 25 team. Now, it’s not even about being Top 25 as some are picking them to make the playoff. How? It starts with their quarterback.

Adrian Martinez returns after a solid freshman season, and has many believing he’ll make a Heisman Trophy run. The offense is set to put up big numbers this year as long as Martinez takes care of the ball. The defense also struggled last year, and must improve.

21. Missouri Tigers (8-5)

Players to Watch: QB Kelly Bryant, RB Larry Rountree III, TE Albert Okwuegbunam, CB DeMarkus Acy

Missouri’s offense inherits a different look this year with the transfer of Kelly Bryant. The former Clemson Tiger gives these Tigers a dual threat at the position after four seasons with pocket passer Drew Lock. He’s joined by experience at every position, meaning Missouri’s offense will still be dangerous.

Larry Rountree III gets the backfield to himself this year after rushing for over 1,200 yards and 14 touchdowns last year. There are concerns about depth behind both Rountree and Bryant, two key positions this team can’t lose. Bryant’s chemistry with his teammates goes a long way in determining the Tigers final Top 25 ranking.

20. Iowa State Cyclones (8-5)

Players to Watch: QB Brock Purdy, DE JaQuan Bailey, NT Ray Lima, LB Mike Rose, S Greg Eisworth

Matt Campbell’s teams typically play the role of the underdog, but this year’s different. The Cyclones have the Big 12’s attention, and they must now adjust to their new role. A Top 25 ranking just scratches the surface.

David Montgomery and Hakeem Butler both left for the NFL, leaving big holes offensively. The emergence of Brock Purdy last year eases some concerns. On the other side of the ball, JaQuan Bailey and Ray Lima headline a front seven that will be tough to block. Most of Iowa State’s tough games come in the middle of the season, though Week 2 against Iowa provide a big challenge early.

19. Iowa Hawkeyes (9-4)

Players to Watch: QB Nate Stanley, OT Alaric Jackson, OT Tristan Wirfs, DE A.J. Epenesa

Nate Stanley decided to finish out his career with the Hawkeyes, providing stability at the position. He’ll be protected by two of the best tackles in the country in Alaric Jackson and Tristan Wirfs. What he needs to do is find weapons at the skill positions, especially at tight end.

T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant both turned pro, and there aren’t established players at wide receiver or running back either. The defense also ushers in at least seven new starters. However, the Hawkeyes secondary returns three of four, and defensive end A.J. Epenesa is one of the best in the country.

18. Northwestern Wildcats (9-5)

Players to Watch: QB Hunter Johnson, DE Joe Gaziano, LB Paddy Fisher, LB Blake Gallagher, S JR Pace

Is Hunter Johnson the answer? The Clemson transfer comes to a team that’s reloading for another conference championship game run. With the defense proving to be reliable, it comes down to Johnson and the offense to determine the Wildcats’ success this season.

Paddy Fisher and Blake Gallagher are two of the best at their respective linebacker spots, and there’s experience everywhere else. They’ll be tested early, as the first half of the season is the toughest on their schedule (Stanford, Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Ohio State all appear). Staying in the Top 25 could be tough, but this is a tough team to beat any week.

17. Auburn Tigers (8-5)

Players to Watch: OT Prince Tega Wanogho, DE Marlon Davidson, DT Derrick Brown, BUCK Nick Coe

Gus Malzahn’s seat heats up as we speak, and there’s plenty to address in 2019. He must establish a new quarterback quickly, as Oregon awaits in Week 1. His defense should keep them in games until that happens.

Derrick Brown is the best defensive tackle in the country by many experts standards. He’s joined by Marlon Davidson and Nick Coe up front, and the only inexperienced group is the linebackers. They’ll buy Malzahn time while Joey Gatewood (or whoever wins the starting quarterback job) integrates himself into the offense.

16. Wisconsin Badgers (8-5)

Players to Watch: RB Jonathan Taylor, TE Jake Ferguson, C Tyler Biadasz, LB Chris Orr

You can probably predict who the players to watch for the Badgers are every year. A running back, a tight end, offensive lineman, and a linebacker or two. That’s a recipe for a Top 25 team. This year’s team is no different, but that doesn’t mean they’re forgettable.

Jonathan Taylor will garner even more NFL attention this year after another monster year (he’s already accumulated 4,171 yards and 29 touchdowns in two seasons). All he needs, again, is a quarterback to take away pressure up the middle. Believe it or not, the Badgers receivers are good, but they don’t get a chance to showcase their skills enough. A good quarterback, as we saw with Russell Wilson, can make this offense extremely dangerous.

15. UCF Knights (12-1)

Players to Watch: QB Brandon Wimbush, RB Greg McCrae, C Jordan Johnson, LB Nate Evans, S Richie Grant

The Knights still have yet to lose a regular season game since 2016. It’s going to be tougher to continue that trend without McKenzie Milton this year. Brandon Wimbush takes over for the injured Milton after Darriel Mack also hurt himself this offseason. Mack should return this season, but it’s Wimbush’s job now.

Are the Knights in trouble? There are some picking Memphis to win the conference, and UCF also has to face Stanford, Pitt and FAU in nonconference play. This is still the team to beat, but there are more concerns than in years past.

14. Washington Huskies (10-4)

Players to Watch: QB Jacob Eason, RB Salvon Ahmed, WR Aaron Fuller, TE Hunter Bryant, OT Trey Adams, S Myles Bryant

After losing Jacob Eason to Georgia in the recruiting process, the Huskies brought him back home. Replacing Jake Browning never seemed like an easy task, but Eason helps smooth out that transition. He’ll be blessed with weapons at the skill positions, and one of the best lines in the country.

Chris Petersen’s defense needs starters. Just one player with significant starting time returns, but it’s expected that this group reloads. Washington’s schedule appears to be easy in nonconference play, and that should help keep guys healthy once Pac-12 play starts.

13. Texas A&M Aggies (9-4)

Players to Watch: QB Kellen Mond, WR Jhamon Ausbon, WR Quartney Davis, DT Justin Madubuike

Kellen Mond’s development has taken off since Jimbo Fisher came to campus. With the amount of talent at the skill positions, the Aggies need a solid quarterback. Especially in the SEC West.

There’s no question Texas A&M has Top 25 talent, but they’re also battling with three other elite teams within their own division. Alabama, Auburn, LSU all appear on the schedule yearly, and it’s always tough to go 3-0 against them.

12. Norte Dame Fighting Irish (12-1)

Players to Watch: QB Ian Book, RB Jafar Armstrong, DE Julian Okwara, DE Khalid Kareem, S Alohi Gilman

Until further notice, be cautious when putting Notre Dame and the playoff together. The Fighting Irish finished 12-0 last year, only to get thumped by Clemson 30-3 in the College Football Playoff semifinals. There’s plenty of returning talent to make another run, but should we let them?

After last year and the 2013 BCS National Championship Game against Alabama, many will wonder if the Irish are actually legit. No one’s questioning that they can go undefeated, but it’s a matter of how good that undefeated record actually is at the end of the season.

11. Ohio State Buckeyes (13-1)

Players to Watch: QB Justin Fields, RB J.K. Dobbins, DE Chase Young, LB Malik Harrison, CB Damon Arnett, S Jordan Fuller

Life without Urban Meyer came sooner than expected, and now Ryan Day’s running the show. He inherits a loaded roster with playoff potential. They just need to avoid bad loss like Purdue (last year) and Iowa (2017). An easy nonconference schedule should build momentum heading into Big Ten play. That should help their new quarterback settle in nicely.

Justin Fields comes in from Georgia, and displayed his strong arm early this spring. The question becomes how accurate he can be. New receivers must emerge, and there’s just one returner up front. The defense won’t be an issue. Seven starters return, and the new faces have experience. Again, the Buckeyes cannot have another relapse, and we will find out how good of a coach Day is soon enough.

10. Utah Utes (9-5)

Players to Watch: QB Tyler Huntley, RB Zack Moss, DE Bradlee Anae, CB Jaylon Johnson, S Julian Blackmon

Utah’s played and thrived as the role of underdog seemingly the last ten years. They typically finish in the teens or lower in the Top 25, and pull off a few upsets. Now, they’re a team to beat. If the offensive playmakers can stay healthy, a College Football Playoff appearance is a possibility.

Tyler Huntley and Zack Moss give the Utes a formidable tandem in the backfield. However, injuries have kept them off the field for extended periods of time. There’s depth behind them, but not enough to do the things they do. Seven starters return to a defense that was great last year. Jaylon Johnson and Julian Blackmon are two of the best in the secondary, and the front seven is littered with talent as well. First week against BYU will be fun.

9. Florida Gators (10-3)

Players to Watch: QB Feleipe Franks, C Nick Buchanan, WR Van Jefferson, CB Marco Wilson, CB CJ Henderson, S Brad Stewart Jr.

Dan Mullen’s effect on this team became evident immediately in his first season. Granted, there were a few bumps in the road, but that was expected. Now, the Gators are poised for a run in the SEC East, with some experts picking them to overthrow Georgia.

Feleipe Franks gives Mullen arguably his most talented quarterback he’s ever coached. Franks big arm is evident, and just needs to fine tune some things to be elite. There are playmakers at the skill positions, and eight starters return defensively.

8. Oregon Ducks (9-4)

Players to Watch: QB Justin Herbert, RB CJ Verdell, RB Travis Dye, OT Penei Sewell, OG Shane Lemieux, NG Jordon Scott, LB Troy Dye

Watch out college football, the Ducks are back. At least on paper. It seems like forever since the Ducks were this high in the Top 25. Oregon gets Justin Herbert back after he thought about turning pro, and 16 starters return. All five offensive linemen return to give the Ducks arguably the best line in the country. Herbert is joined by numerous starters at the skill positions as well. Like Oregon teams in the past, it comes down to the play of their defense.

Mario Cristobal’s defense returns a handful of leaders, including Mr. Tackle Everything, Troy Dye. Nose guard Jordon Scott is an underrated athlete at his size, but also thrives at clogging running lanes. We will find out the first week if this team is legit when they face Auburn in Arlington, and watch out if they dominate that game.

7. Texas Longhorns (10-4)

Players to Watch: QB Sam Ehlinger, WR Collin Johnson, C Zach Shackelford, DB BJ Foster, S Caden Sterns

Tom Herman’s third season as head coach is already garnering a ton of attention. After winning 10 games last year, the Longhorns have their sights set on the playoff. They have the talent to do it, and the coaching staff to get them there. They just have to overcome one team.

Oklahoma has reigned over the Big 12 recently, and the Longhorns knocked them down last year. They just couldn’t do it twice. The Sooners beat Texas in the Big 12 Championship Game after losing an earlier matchup. That’s arguably the only thing standing in their way. Sam Ehlinger and the offense have what it takes to compete in the Big 12, but they need to beat Oklahoma……twice.

6. Georgia Bulldogs (11-3)

Players to Watch: QB Jake Fromm, RB D’Andre Swift, OT Andrew Thomas, OG Solomon Kindley, S J.R. Reed, S Richard LeCounte

Normally, you’d be concerned if one of your front seven starters returned defensively, but not with Georgia. Kirby Smart’s dominated recruiting, and brought in elite talent to reload every year. The secondary is set with J.R. Reed and Richard LeCounte, but new starters are needed up front. Luckily, they’ll have an offense that can put up serious points again this year.

Jake Fromm has one of the best running backs in the country joining him in the backfield in D’Andre Swift. He’ll also benefit from one of the best offensive lines in the country too. All he needs is new receivers to step up. Georgia’s a favorite to make the playoff, and it’s tough to bet against them.

5. LSU Tigers (10-3)

Players to Watch: QB Joe Burrow, RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire, WR Justin Jefferson, DE Rashard Lawrence, S Grant Delpit

Last year wasn’t supposed to end with 10 wins, but the Tigers came out swinging. Now, they’re back to being an expected contender. Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda’s defense features a number of players that are a problem for opposing offenses. Grant Delpit is the next great defensive back for the Tigers. Rashard Lawrence could play tackle, but is athletic enough to play end. One thing LSU benefits from also, is an offense that can spread things out.

Joe Burrow’s transfer to LSU has yielded huge dividends for the offense. Four of his offensive lineman return, his top receiver is back, and there’s talent at running back too. Week 2 against Texas will be a colossal matchup, and determines either team’s fate.

4. Michigan Wolverines (10-3)

Players to Watch: QB Shea Patterson, WR Nico Collins, C Cesar Ruiz, LB Khaleke Hudson, CB Lavert Hill

Michigan desperately needs a playoff appearance. So does the Big Ten. Jim Harbaugh’s welcome is wearing out despite winning 38 games in his four seasons in Ann Arbor. Beat Ohio State, Michigan State and Notre Dame. All three come to The Big House this year, so there’s no excuses.

Shea Patterson should benefit from a scheme change offensively, and he’s surrounded by talent on the line and at the skill positions. Don Brown’s defense returns a handful of experienced players, and should be one of the best in the country again.

3. Oklahoma Sooners (12-2)

Players to Watch: QB Jalen Hurts, RB Kennedy Brooks, RB Trey Sermon, WR CeeDee Lamb, LB Kenneth Murray

Will it be a third consecutive Sooner Heisman winner? Lincoln Riley receives Jalen Hurts from Alabama as his starter for 2019, and that’s a strong possibility. Oklahoma, no surprise, is loaded offensively even if they have just one returning starter on the line. Once again, success depends on the defense.

Kenneth Murray is one of the best linebackers in the country, but would probably appreciate less action. Oklahoma’s defense took a step back last year, but returns eight starters in 2019. Hurts and the offense shouldn’t skip a beat, and it seems the Sooners are poised for yet another playoff run.

2. Alabama Crimson Tide (14-1)

Players to Watch: QB Tua Tagovailoa, RB Najee Harris, WR Jerry Jeudy, DE Raekwon Davis, LB Dylan Moses, CB Trevon Diggs

Nick Saban’s team just needs to play football at this point. After being humiliated in the national championship game last year, the Tide just need to play. No surprise here, they’re reloaded and ready for another title run. However, it’s the offense that’s elite, with the defense right behind it.

Tua Tagovailoa made a run for the Heisman last year, and does so again in 2019. Throwing to Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III, Jaylen Waddle, and DeVonta Smith make the box score look inflated. The defense enters 2019 as arguably the most uncertain group that Nick Saban’s had in a while. But they’ll be just fine given the amount of talent returning.

1. Clemson Tigers (15-0)

Players to Watch: QB Trevor Lawrence, RB Travis Etienne, WR Justyn Ross, WR Tee Higgins, LB Isaiah Simmons, CB AJ Terrell

It’s crazy how far Clemson pulled away from the rest of the ACC, and the gap doesn’t appear to be closing soon. After stunning Alabama to win the national championship, there’s a big target on their backs. Luckily, the Tigers are learning to reload like the Tide have done for many years.

Trevor Lawrence garners Heisman Trophy attention after his performance in the postseason, but he’s not the only one on his team. Travis Etienne will give him a run for his money, and there are only so many touches to go around. Six of the front seven players are gone, including the legendary defensive line. Still, there’s a lot that Brent Venables can mold.

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