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Alabama, Clemson lead too early 2019 top 25 college football rankings, Washington State projected 24th

UPDATED: Thu., Jan. 10, 2019

Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa warms up before Monday’s College Football Playoff championship game  against Clemson  in Santa Clara, Calif. (David J. Phillip / AP)
Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa warms up before Monday’s College Football Playoff championship game against Clemson in Santa Clara, Calif. (David J. Phillip / AP)
By Matt Murschel Orlando Sentinel

Now that the 2018 college football season has come to a close, here are my 2019 never-too-early top 25 college football rankings.

1. Alabama

Buzz: Alabama and Nick Saban again head into a season as the proverbial favorites – especially with the return of All-SEC selections in quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and receiver Jerry Jeudy along with linebackers Dylan Moss and Mack Wilson.

The Crimson Tide have played in four straight national championships and a fifth one seems inevitable, especially with a manageable schedule and the top recruiting class in the country.

2. Clemson

Buzz: Dabo Swinney has apparently found the blueprint for success, with the Tigers having played in three out of the past four national championship games. The foundation appears solid for another run with the likes of quarterback Trevor Lawrence and running back Travis Etienne back in 2019.

The defense loses Christian Wilkins and Austin Bryant, but the schedule sets up nicely for another ACC championship and a likely return to the College Football Playoff semifinals.

3. Georgia

Buzz: It was a disappointing finish for the Bulldogs, who were shut out of the College Football Playoff semifinals after a loss to top-ranked Alabama in the SEC Championship Game and dropped their Sugar Bowl showdown with Texas.

Jake Fromm and D’Andre Swift return to guide an offense without its top three receivers from 2018. The defense needs to return to form, especially with an influx of five-star talent from the second-best recruiting class in the country.

4. Oklahoma

Buzz: Oklahoma has won four straight Big 12 titles and the Sooners don’t look like they’re slowing down.

Heisman winner Kyler Murray is gone, but Austin Kendall could step up and become the next great OU quarterback.

New defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, two years removed from his time at WSU, has a tremendous challenge ahead of him, but any improvement on that side of the ball has to be a bonus for a unit that ranked No. 114 nationally in total defense.

5. Ohio State

Buzz: Ryan Day takes over after the retirement of Urban Meyer and the first challenge he could face is choosing the next Buckeyes quarterback.

With Dwayne Haskins leaving for the NFL, that possibly opens the door for Georgia transfer Justin Fields, who is seeking a hardship waiver from the NCAA to become eligible immediately.

6. Texas A&M

Buzz: The gamble to land Jimbo Fisher paid off in Year 1 as the Aggies won nine games for the first time since 2013, including the program’s first bowl win since 2014.

Quarterback Kellen Mond, who finished fourth in the SEC in total offense, returns to lead an offense that ranked in the top 20 nationally.

7. Washington

Buzz: Chris Petersen has led Washington to two Pac-12 titles and three straight New Year’s Six bowl games in the five years since he arrived in Seattle.

Georgia transfer Jacob Eason presumably will take over the starting quarterback duties from Jake Browning in 2019 as the Huskies look to battle attrition on the defensive side of the football.

The good news is the toughest matchups – Oregon, USC and Washington State – take place at Husky Stadium.

8. Florida

Buzz: Coach Dan Mullen deserves credit for the job he did in his first season at Florida.

The Gators not only won 10 games for the first time since 2015, but also won their first New Year’s Six bowl game.

9. Notre Dame

Buzz: Notre Dame put together its best season since 2012 as the Irish qualified for their first appearance in the College Football Playoff semifinals.

The loss to Clemson was disappointing, but it gives the program a proper measuring stick for the future. Quarterback Ian Book returns to guide an experienced offense.

10. LSU

Buzz: Fresh off its first New Year’s Six bowl appearance and its first 10-win season since 2013, LSU enters 2019 riding a wave of optimism.

Joe Burrow became the first Tigers quarterback to pass for at least 2,800 yards since Zach Mettenberger in 2013.

11. Michigan

Buzz: The Wolverines won 10 games for the third time in the past four seasons under coach Jim Harbaugh, but last season feels somewhat like a disappointment after the team failed to win the Big Ten East following another humiliating loss at the hands of rival Ohio State.

That was followed by a double-digit loss to Florida in the Peach Bowl.

12. Oregon

Buzz: The Ducks enter 2019 with a 3,000-yard passer in Justin Herbert and a 1,000-yard rusher in CJ Verdell, making them a serious contender in the Pac-12 race.

A showdown with Auburn in the season opener in Dallas could give everyone a real gauge of how good this Oregon team can be in Year 2 under coach Mario Cristobal.

13. Texas

Buzz: The debate as to whether Texas football is truly back will most likely carry into 2019, especially after the way the Longhorns capped a tremendous turnaround in 2018 with a win over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.

Tom Herman’s team returns quarterback Sam Ehlinger and defensive back Caden Sterns.

14. Virginia Tech

Buzz: Injuries and departures hit the Hokies hard in 2018, with the program suffering its first losing season since 1992.

Quarterback Josh Jackson missed most of the season after being injured in mid-September, opening the door for Kansas transfer Ryan Willis.

The defense was young, and it showed at times.

15. Mississippi State

Buzz: The Bulldogs capped a relatively successful first season under Joe Morehead with the program’s ninth consecutive bowl appearance.

After spending time primarily as the backup to Nick Fitzgerald, Keytaon Thompson presumably will move into the starting quarterback role.

16. Penn State

Buzz: After back-to-back top-10 finishes, Penn State took a step backward in 2018, suffering losses to rivals Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan in Big Ten play.

This will be a rebuilding year for the Nittany Lions, who must replace longtime quarterback Trace McSorley as well as five underclassmen who declared early for the NFL draft.

17. Central Florida

Buzz: The Knights saw their 25-game win streak come to an end in the Fiesta Bowl, but that shouldn’t discourage anybody heading into 2019.

As quarterback McKenzie Milton continues to recover from a gruesome knee injury, Darriel Mack Jr. remains the top quarterback heading into 2019.

18. Nebraska

Buzz: Nebraska won four out of its final six games last season, giving Huskers fans cause for renewed optimism heading into 2019.

Scott Frost is no stranger to a quick turnaround, leading UCF to a perfect 13-0 record in his second season and he’ll have a much larger talent pool to work with this upcoming season.

19. Auburn

Buzz: This likely is a make-or-break season for Auburn coach Gus Malzahn.

The Tigers followed up their New Year’s Six appearance in 2017 with a disappointing eight-win season and a spot in the Music City Bowl.

New offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham must resuscitate an offense that finished near the bottom of the SEC and he’ll have to do it without Jarrett Stidham, who declared early for the NFL draft.

20. Iowa State

Buzz: Matt Campbell has quickly turned Iowa State into a Big 12 contender after seven consecutive losing seasons. Quarterback Brock Purdy, who combined for close to 2,600 yards of total offense last season, returns to power the offense.

21. Utah

Buzz: The last time Utah opened a season ranked was in 2009. The Utes are coming off a bounce-back season during which they captured their first Pac-12 South Division title.

Quarterback Tyler Huntley is coming back from an injury and he’ll be joined by running back Zack Moss, a second-team All-Pac-12 selection. The defense returns several key players from a unit that was ranked as one of the best in the conference in 2018.

22. Wisconsin

Buzz: It’s not much of a stretch to say that 2018 was a disappointing year for the Badgers. After four consecutive double-digit win seasons, Wisconsin managed eight victories this past season.

Quarterback Alex Hornibrook was dinged up, forcing the offense to lean heavily on running back Jonathan Taylor, who won the Doak Walker Award after leading the nation with 2,194 yards.

23. Missouri

Buzz: The Tigers have made a steady climb in the win column during the three seasons under Barry Odom. Much of that success can be attributed to the offense, which has ranked at the top of the SEC.

Drew Lock leaves after passing for more than 12,000 yards and 39 touchdowns, but the arrival of transfer Kelly Bryant, who was 16-2 as a starter at Clemson, should provide a seamless transition for Mizzou in 2019.

24. Washington State

Buzz: It was a record-setting season for the Cougars, with the team putting together its first 11-win season while finishing the year ranked in the top 10 in the CFP rankings.

The biggest concern heading into 2019 is replacing quarterback Gardner Minshew, who finished as the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year. The new starting QB will have a full array of talent at the skill positions.

25. Northwestern

Buzz: The Wildcats head into next season on a high after capturing the program’s first Big Ten West Division title. Despite interest from the NFL, Pat Fitzgerald will be back coaching the Wildcats.

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