Following an offseason filled with drama and storylines, college football is officially back — and nobody’s quite sure what to expect
The Duquesne Duke sports staff
Following months of having nothing to follow but baseball, sports fans across the country finally get a taste of big-time college football again this weekend for the first time since Jan. 8, when Alabama triumphantly topped Georgia in the National Championship. The months in between then and now have seen vast alterations and developments within the sport, including the Urban Meyer-Zach Smith saga that’s still ongoing at Ohio State.
Regardless, it’s finally time for the teams to hit the field and begin inching toward the 2019 College Football Playoff. Fortunately for fans, Week 1 offers no shortage of high-profile matchups that could have serious playoff implications.
Adam’s Heisman: Bryce Love, RB, Stanford —
The senior halfback ran for over 2,000 yards last season, and figures to turn in an even more impressive performance in his final season at Stanford this year. Already in an established system under Head Coach David Shaw, expect Love to terrorize Pac-12 defenses all season long.
Adam’s National Champion: Clemson —
Trotting out one of the most intimidating defensive fronts in college football’s recent memory, perennial CFP contender Clemson should be right back in the sport’s Final Four at the end of the season, barring unsteadiness on the other side of the ball.
Adam’s Dark Horse Playoff Candidate: Wisconsin —
While Wisconsin isn’t exactly “slept on” — the Badgers begin the season ranked No. 4 in the AP’s Preseason Top 25 — Wisconsin isn’t exactly the flashiest team in the stacked Big Ten, either. A steady defense might propel Wisconsin into playoff consideration in a few months, especially with star halfback Jonathon Taylor leading the Badgers’ offense.
Adam’s Most Exciting Storyline to Follow This Season: How the Incredibly Talented Big Ten Plays Out —
No. 5 Ohio State, No. 4 Wisconsin, No. 14 Michigan, No. 10 Penn State and No. 11 Michigan State all stand to battle for one or two of four total playoff spots — never mind the league’s solid middle-class, consisting of Iowa, Purdue, Northwestern and Nebraska. Whoever gets out of this league alive might be the most battle-tested team standing come January.
Andrew’s Heisman: Will Grier, QB, West Virginia —
Grier comes into the season as possibly one of the most exciting prospects in all of college football. From his interesting start at Florida that included a 6-0 record and a year-long suspension for PED usage, to transferring to West Virginia, Grier has always had a big following, and I expect nothing different this season in what will be his last in Morgantown. Playing in a weak defensive conference will also help Grier, as his numbers will be eye-popping all season long.
Andrew’s National Champion: Alabama —
You know what they say — iron sharpens iron. The Crimson Tide play in the SEC West, arguably the best division in college football, they will play numerous top-10 teams this season, and even though it might look like this could be another team’s year, Nick Saban won’t let that happen. It seems his teams get better throughout the year and are full-swing at the end of the season come playoff time, and I don’t see another program that can stick with them this season.
Andrew’s Dark Horse Playoff Candidate: Central Florida —
They should have been there last year, but they got overlooked — then, they took it to Auburn in the Peach Bowl. This season, the committee should think differently of them. Offensively this team should be dynamite, as most starters return, including dark horse Heisman candidate McKenzie Milton. They do have some holes to fill defensively, but this team is going to be stirring the pot all year long within the Top 25.
Andrew’s Most Exciting Storyline to Follow This Season: Who Starts for Georgia? —
The Bulldogs went to the title game last season on the back of impressive freshman Jake Fromm. He was steady, reliable, and didn’t make many mistakes, but the Bulldogs came up just short. Georgia recruited top recruit Justin Fields for a while, and Fields wound up choosing the Bulldogs. Coach Kirby Smart now has two options at QB in the experienced Fromm and the electrifying, dual-threat Fields.
Jacob’s Heisman: Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama —
Tagovailoa has played just one half of college football, Jalen Hurts is still in competition for the starting quarterback job, and Nick Saban’s teams never seem to have a star quarterback. So, is this a long shot? Of course. However, Tagovailoa showed unprecedented poise for a freshman quarterback on the biggest stage — the National Championship. It will be an uphill battle, but he clearly has the talent to put together a Heisman campaign.
Jacob’s National Champion: Clemson —
For me, it’s a tough call between perennial powerhouses Alabama and Clemson, but I’m going with the Tigers. With a historically-talented defensive line and a more seasoned Kelly Bryant at the helm at quarterback, Clemson will be right back in contention again this year. Assuming they don’t slip up against any inferior ACC teams, the Tigers will be back in the playoff and poised to win another title.
Jacob’s Dark Horse Playoff Candidate: Washington —
The Huskies have been in the playoff mix for the past few seasons, qualifying as the fourth seed in 2017 and falling just short last year. They enter the 2018-19 season ranked No. 6 in the country, but with the Pac-12’s woes and the lack of national attention that comes with being on the West Coast, Washington has flown under the radar. However, with star veteran quarterback Jake Browning and an all-around talented squad, the Huskies have a good shot at grabbing a coveted playoff spot once again this year.
Jacob’s Most Exciting Storyline to Follow This Season: What Great QB Emerges? —
Unlike recent years, there aren’t any clear-cut superstar quarterbacks. Alabama’s Tagovailoa, Clemson’s Bryant, West Virginia’s Will Grier and Penn State’s Trace McSorley should supply excitement, but no definitive star has emerged yet. In fact, the upcoming 2019 NFL Draft could be first time since 2013 that a quarterback isn’t taken in the top five. It will be interesting to see if any single player stands out at the most significant position on the field.
Matt’s Heisman: Trace McSorley, QB, Penn State —
McSorley was part of an explosive Nittany Lion offense but was often backseat in headlines to 2018’s second overall draft pick, Saquon Barkley. In the upcoming season, expect Trace to play with a little Baker Mayfield-type flair as he attempts to prove he can step up and lead Penn State to the top of the Big Ten.
Matt’s National Champion: Alabama —
Alabama seems to be the favorite to return to the National Championship and win under the always-sharp Nick Saban. If this team sees quarterback Tua Tagovailoa progress into a leadership role on an already explosive offense, I think any team in the nation will have a hard time keeping up with the Crimson Tide.
Matt’s Dark Horse Playoff Candidate: Wisconsin —
Wisconsin has an incredibly talented offensive line in front of star running back Jonathan Taylor. This team consistently performs well in the Big Ten and this could act as a breakout year for the Badgers. If Taylor stays healthy, he could go for 2,000-plus yards and be in the Heisman race as he leads the Badgers and their favorable schedule to the CFP.
Matt’s Most Exciting Storyline to Follow This Season: Be Ready Early —
When the time comes for the committee to meet toward the end of the season, it is easy to get caught up in how teams are playing at that exact moment. However, there are some big games early, where teams could immediately take losses that will likely keep them from playoff consideration, even if they win out. Washington and Auburn will be a showdown out of the gate, especially with both being in the conversation as contenders. Miami vs. LSU, along with Michigan vs. Notre Dame, are other hot ticket Top 25 matchups going on during this opening weekend, as well. In the ACC, Virginia Tech vs. Florida State on Monday night could have lasting implications throughout that division, as well.
The Duke’s College Football Playoff Predictions:
*Predicted champion in bold.
Sports Editor Adam Lindner: Clemson, Georgia, Wisconsin, Stanford
Editor-in-Chief Raymond Arke: Clemson, Alabama, Georgia, Washington
Staff Writer Jacob Hebda: Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Washington
Staff Writer Andrew White: Clemson, Alabama, West Virginia, Washington
Staff Writer Matt Dougherty: Alabama, Clemson, Washington, Penn State