50 days from college football, here are 50 thoughts I have about the 2019 season
What do you call the stretch before the home stretch?
I feel like that’s where we are. Fifty days from the start of college football isn’t quite the home stretch. That would be more like a month from now.
But it does feel good knowing that we’re only 50 days from the opening kickoff.
In honor of that, I decided to compile 50 thoughts that I have about the upcoming season. That can be anything. It can be predictions, opinions about a coach/player/mascot. You name it and popped into my brain at some point during this offseason.
Here are those 50 things that are on my mind heading into 2019:
1. Bless the powers that be for moving up Florida vs. Miami
You all took away a week of the offseason by moving that matchup up a week, to Aug. 24. Even better? This game will take place in my neck of the woods without any other SEC matchups going on. It will have my full attention and then some.
2. Tate Martell and Sam Ehlinger will be most hated players in 2019
Speaking of Miami, I’d love to hear what visiting fans are going to say to the well-traveled Martell, who has probably burned a bridge or two in his brief college career. Then again, maybe I wouldn’t want to hear those things. And as for Ehlinger, the guy just oozes confidence. We need more characters like him in college football.
3. Jalen Hurts will be the most beloved player in 2019
If there’s a player with a higher approval rating in all of college football than Hurts, I’d have a tough time believing it. When even Alabama fans are rooting for you after leaving, you know you’re doing something right.
4. This will be the year of the SEC transfer QBs shining
The list is impressive:
- Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma
- Justin Fields, Ohio State
- Shea Patterson, Michigan
- Jacob Eason, Washington
Will that group produce a Heisman Trophy? A Playoff berth? A title? I don’t think I’d bet against it. All I know is there will be plenty of SEC fans closely following how well that group does in 2019.
5. People are sleeping on Washington nationally
I’ve said throughout the offseason that I can’t wait to see what Eason does replacing the roller-coaster Jake Browning. I think Washington is in for a big year and that it should be considered the Pac-12 favorite instead of Oregon. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Huskies went into the Pac-12 Championship with their Playoff lives intact.
6. How is Syracuse’s preseason over/under for regular-season wins just 5.5?
That’s absurd. I think Syracuse is a legitimate Top 25 team that will give Clemson everything it can handle when that showdown rolls around. This flash-in-the-pan thing with Syracuse is totally underestimating the work of Dino Babers.
7. And the Kentucky disrespect needs to stop
Along those same lines, I’ve maintained this offseason that Kentucky ain’t falling off the face of the Earth. In fact, I think that despite some low preseason expectations following the loss of Josh Allen and Benny Snell, Mark Stoops is going to establish a much higher floor than the experts believe.
Coming off of a 10-3 season, will @UKFootball replicate their success, or take a step back?@cjogara thinks the program is here to stay, and that Mark Stoops is building something similar to what Dan Mullen did in Starkville circa 2009 pic.twitter.com/JUDzUhYEQj
— College Sports on SiriusXM (@SXMCollege) July 2, 2019
8. This year’s Kentucky will be …
Non-existent. At least in the SEC. Even Tennessee, which seems the most likely to improve its 2018 win total of any team in the conference, wouldn’t follow that same path because preseason expectations are higher. The only teams really eligible to follow that path in the SEC are Ole Miss, Arkansas and Vandy. Well, and maybe Kentucky when you consider that Phil Steele doesn’t believe the Cats will make a bowl game.
So yes, maybe this year’s Kentucky will be Kentucky.
9. I sold my James Franklin stock last year
As for the team who Kentucky beat in the Citrus Bowl, I have a weird feeling that by season’s end, Franklin’s 2016 season at Penn State and even the job he did at Vanderbilt will feel like a distant memory. I thought the Lions had major issues offensively in their first year without Joe Moorhead and Josh Gattis. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Penn State fans have some frustrations with Franklin boil over.
10. Speaking of Moorhead, offensive improvement is coming
Nick Fitzgerald wasn’t a fit in Moorhead’s offense because of his inability to stretch the field. He didn’t get much help, but still. I think either Keytaon Thompson or Tommy Stevens will be better suited to do that this year. As for which guy earns the right to do that, well, that’s anyone’s guess at this point.
11. Kylin Hill is the hill I’m dying on
That is, that the Mississippi State back will be really, really good in Moorhead’s system this year.
12. Jonathan Taylor is extraordinary, but …
You can’t be considered the best back in America if you put the ball on the ground as much as he does. That’ll be the “yeah, but” when he runs into the record books this year (he’s 1 of 2 backs with 1,200 rushing yards and 10 TDs in each of the past 2 seasons).
13. 1 year of D’Andre Swift/Zamir White could be awesome
Speaking of talented backs, here’s hoping White can return from his second serious knee injury and become a star in Georgia’s backfield alongside Swift. As Georgia reminds us on a early basis, there’s plenty of room for 2 backfield forces. Watching the former 5-star recruits trade long touchdowns would be a treat, even if it is only for 1 year.
14. And same with Najee Harris/Trey Sanders
There could be a really strong debate about whether Georgia or Alabama has the best 1-2 punch at running back. Both have hungry, third-year guys starting with 5-star first-year players behind them. Maybe we’ll get to see that play out in an SEC Championship?
15. The Alabama secondary is the best bet of any unit in the SEC to …
Improve. It was an uncharacteristically frustrating year for that group, especially down the stretch. But with Xavier McKinney, Patrick Surtain and Trevon Diggs back, I like the odds of that group improving off Alabama’s worst season defending the pass since Year 1 of the Nick Saban era.
16. Let’s chill on the Alabama-Clemson schedule talk
I love how we argue about this stuff like the Playoff is going to be decided tomorrow. If Alabama and Clemson are sitting there in late-November with a loss and 1 win against a Top 25 team, then tell me about how bad their schedule is. But until then, let’s not pretend like we have all of this figured out.
17. Does Clemson have the No. 1 quarterback, running back and receiver in America?
I’m not ruling it out. There’s a really strong case to be made that Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne are tops at their respective positions and that Justyn Ross is on his way. Putting up over 300 yards and 3 touchdowns in the Playoff alone is a good sign. If Clemson can claim that unbelievable trio (Johnny Unitas Award, Doak Walker Award, Biletnikoff Award), that would be an unprecedented feat.
18. This August’s ACC Network launch has me curious
The ACC was late to the party, but will this finally put the conference in the same neighborhood as the Big Ten and SEC as it relates to annual TV revenue? The ACC’s average distributions were just more than half of what the Big Ten and SEC brought in last year, both of which obviously have extremely successful conference networks. Perhaps the ACC will finally not lag behind in that department.
19. Basically all the best nonconference games involve the SEC
Here are the best SEC nonconference games:
- LSU at Texas
- Notre Dame at Georgia
- Miami vs. Florida (in Orlando)
- Texas A&M at Clemson
- Auburn vs. Oregon (in Dallas)
Now let’s compare that to the best non-SEC nonconference games:
- Notre Dame at Michigan
- Stanford at UCF
- Arizona State at Michigan State
Aaaaaand that’s about it? That third one was a reach, by the way. Sure, you could say a game like Nebraska-Colorado is good, but in terms of teams who were actual conference contenders last year, the nonconference slate outside of the SEC is pretty weak this year.
20. Man, Gus better win that opener
In what feels like a make-or-break year, Gus Malzahn’s future won’t be decided by that Oregon game. But man, it can put a whole bunch of pressure on him if he falls. Even worse would be if the offense looked disastrous with Malzahn calling plays. No, he won’t get fired with a loss, but Malzahn would love to give himself just a touch of breathing room with how difficult that schedule is.
21. I’ve come full circle on Joey Gatewood
Last year, it angered me that people compared him to Cam Newton before he stepped on campus. This year, I just want to see him play live. The Auburn quarterback impressed me in the spring game, and that was without the ability to truck dudes. He’s my guess to be Auburn’s starter, which would be a credit to how much work he put in after looking extremely raw as a true freshman.
22. But if a freshman movement is on the way, I’m here for that
That means if it’s time for Bo Nix and Ryan Hilinski in 2019, let’s do it. And save the dated rhetoric about true freshmen quarterbacks not being able to succeed.
23. I wish the best for Jake Bentley, but I don’t care about a contest at a quarterback camp
Sorry. Just thought you should know that.
24. Barring disaster/scandal, 2020 — not 2019 — is the year for Will Muschamp
I won’t buy any preseason take that says Muschamp needs to win 8 games to keep his job. That’s absurd given the dynamics in that athletic department and the schedule he’s up against. If the next 2 years are nothing but mediocre? That’s a different story.
25. And the same goes for Willie Taggart
As frustrated as I’ve been with Taggart’s start at Florida State — it’s not entirely on Jimbo Fisher that FSU was a complete disaster last year — I’m also not saying the guy is fighting for his job in Year 2. He set such a low bar last year that even the slightest improvement would be an easy thing for FSU to spin, which they’ll do by any means necessary.
26. This Ole Miss experiment is fascinating
I don’t think it can be overstated how rare it is to see a coach do what Matt Luke did. That is, fill both coordinator vacancies with coaches who were both leading Power 5 programs in the past 2 years. How Rich Rodriguez fits in with Luke will be an interesting week-by-week study, as will the improvement of the dreadful Ole Miss defense under Mike MacIntyre.
27. Memphis is my Group of 5 New Year’s 6 pick
The team Ole Miss will meet in the season-opener is going to have a prime opportunity to earn the Group of 5’s New Year’s 6 bowl bid. That experienced offense has a chance to be special with Mike Norvell running the show. After 3 consecutive thrillers with UCF, I think it’s the Tigers who celebrate an AAC championship en route to a nothing-to-lose New Year’s 6 Bowl.
28. A prediction? UCF caves on scheduling the 2-for-1 with Florida
I just have a feeling that reality will sink in this year and UCF athletic director Danny White will agree to a 2-for-1 matchup with Florida. He’ll realize that the Knights are hurting themselves by not taking an opportunity like that, and they’ll put their cards on the table even though they believe they deserve Power 5 treatment for having 2 special seasons.
29. More of the same would be awful for 4-team Playoff supporters
This isn’t really about UCF not getting a chance but if this is another year with a field that looks like Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma, the urgency to expand the Playoff will reach an all-time high. In the 5 years of the Playoff, Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma and Ohio State accounted for 14 of the 20 spots. If we’re being honest, I can’t blame anyone who’s frustrated by the lack of variance.
30. I honestly don’t know what it’d take for the SEC to get left out of the Playoff
Because at this point, beating Alabama or Georgia is such a significant occasion that it’s hard to imagine hurdling them wouldn’t warrant Playoff consideration.
31. Not winning a title isn’t a failure for Georgia
As much pressure as there might be on the Dawgs to win their first national title since 1980, a title-or-bust approach with a team that hasn’t won in that long doesn’t seem fair.
Have expectations for programs gotten loftier in the College Football Playoff era?@colecubelic thinks so, especially for big-time programs that haven't broken through yet since the playoff was formed pic.twitter.com/zYCiD2xXrm
— College Sports on SiriusXM (@SXMCollege) June 24, 2019
32. If in fact Georgia is competing for a title at season’s end, Demetris Robertson probably went off
I just keep thinking that in a year in which UGA doesn’t return any of its top 5 receivers, Robertson is the one guy who has to become an All-SEC player this year. The former Cal transfer is, in my opinion, the biggest wild card in college football this year. If he can develop as a route-runner and hit the occasional home-run play, the Dawgs have a much better chance of overcoming their experience issues at receiver.
33. Dan Mullen has some actual quarterback juggling this year
Emory Jones wants to play. With his redshirt year in the books, I think Mullen is going to have to handle some egos in the quarterback room. It’ll either be convincing Feleipe Franks to get on board with Jones getting occasional meaningful snaps, or it’ll be Mullen convincing Jones that his time will come. Either way, it won’t be an easy thing for Mullen to do in 2019.
34. That LSU secondary, though
This has potential to be one of the best groups in program history, which is saying a lot. Kristian Fulton and Grant Delpit are legitimate stars and Derek Stingley has the makings of one as just a true freshman. The matchup of the year in the SEC is watching that group take on Alabama’s receivers because I think the LSU defensive backfield takes another step this year.
35. Who will be toughest defensive players to replace? Devin White, Quinnen Williams or Josh Allen?
I should probably add Jeffery Simmons and Montez Sweat to that group. All 5 were so incredible for their respective defenses, and so versatile at the same time. I think we’ll have moments throughout 2019 that reminds us all of how special those elite SEC defenders were last year. For now, though, Allen would be my bet as the toughest to replace.
36. With A&M’s schedule, 9 wins would be incredibly impressive
If we’re talking about the Aggies having the chance to win double-digit games in a bowl, I think Year 2 of the Jimbo Fisher era would be an extraordinary success. Considering these 5 games are on the schedule, just winning 2 of them would be huge:
- at Clemson
- vs. Auburn
- vs. Alabama
- at Georgia
- at LSU
And that’s essentially saying no letdowns the rest of the way. That’d be quite the feat.
37. Jim Chaney could be just what the doctor ordered for Jarrett Guarantano
Four coordinators in 4 years. Hey, fourth time is the charm? I like the chances of that for Guarantano working with Chaney, who did extremely good things with Jake Fromm the last 2 years.
38. Nebraska and Tennessee seem like the best Power 5 bets to have highest win total improvement, but …
… they should understand it’s not all about wins in Year 2 with a new coach. I say that with having reservations about both, especially with the lack of playmakers on defense. But still. A pair of teams that missed bowl games last year should make significant steps forward with their up-and-coming head coaches.
39. Wake me up when November ends
For the Heisman, that is. It’s now become such a narrative-driven award that if someone isn’t lighting it up at an all-world level in November, they lose.
40. Justin Fields is an intriguing Heisman bet
I’ve already written about why I hate a preseason bet on Tagovailoa and Lawrence. But Fields at +1,100 is definitely interesting. He has a better chance of following the Heisman narrative that voters fall for instead of getting picked apart like Tagovailoa and Lawrence will. And considering the year Dwayne Haskins had with Ryan Day, I don’t hate putting some chips on Fields to make a major push for the award.
41. Can Nick Starkel follow Joe Burrow’s 2-year path?
I’m not asking whether Starkel can lead Arkansas to a New Year’s 6 Bowl victory, but can the former A&M quarterback follow the Burrow path? That is, leave a big-time program, enroll over the summer and go in as a grad transfer with the perfect 2-year approach? Burrow won his starting gig and immediately won over that locker room. It remains to be seen if Starkel can do that at Arkansas, but I wouldn’t bet against him maximizing his opportunity the next 2 years.
42. Which grad transfer QB will have the best year in the SEC?
Starkel? Burrow? Ben Hicks? Kelly Bryant? Riley Neal? Malik Zaire?
Whoops. Dated reference.
My money is on Burrow just because I think he has the intangibles and we’ve already seen it from him, especially down the stretch. The addition of Joe Brady to implement the RPO-based system will only benefit the mobile Burrow.
43. What new Power 5 coach will have the best year?
Last year, that title belonged to Dan Mullen. This year? That’s a tougher question. I highly doubt it’ll be Mike Locksley at Maryland. Maybe former Georgia defensive coordinator Mel Tucker will find early success at Colorado. Manny Diaz at Miami seems to be the more likely pick, though I wouldn’t be surprised if Neal Brown rose above expectations in Year 1 at West Virginia.
44. Are we sure we don’t have any more coaching turmoil?
This tweet got me wondering:
Shocking college football coaching stories in each of the last three summers:
2016: Art Briles
2017: Hugh Freeze, Bob Stoops
2018: Urban Meyer, DJ Durkin
Is another bomb gonna drop before this season?
— Andrew Doughty (@Adoughty88) July 1, 2019
This is the time of year when this stuff always seems to drop. I’ll be ready for it.
45. The most favorable pre-November Power 5 schedules belong to …
Mizzou and Minnesota.
- vs. FCS South Dakota State
- at Fresno State
- vs. Georgia Southern
- at Purdue
- vs. Illinois
- vs. Nebraska
- at Rutgers
- vs. Maryland
And here’s Mizzou:
- at Wyoming
- vs. West Virginia
- vs. FCS Southeast Missouri State
- vs. South Carolina
- vs. Troy
- vs. Ole Miss
- at Vandy
- at Kentucky
I mean, my goodness. It’s amazing that both teams could actually be favored in nearly all of those games. They could even creep into the top 15 conversation by late-October if they take advantage of their favorable starts.
46. Is this the year Kadarius Toney is maximized?
Said every Florida fan ever. In their defense, a big offseason priority for Mullen has to be figuring out how to get speedster more involved after a year in which he only averaged 3.8 touches from scrimmage per contest. The Toney crowd will be heard loud and clear if that doesn’t change.
Most elusive player in the country ❗️❗️❗️ pic.twitter.com/AAZHvYvD8n
— Gators24/7 (@Gators247_) January 18, 2019
47. I’m already sick of the Urban Meyer-USC talk
Did you roll your eyes when you found out Fox was going to have an Los Angeles-based pregame show with Meyer and a couple of USC legends? Oh, that was just me? If we’re being honest, can we just be done with Meyer in college football? Let him go run his new bar and “teach that class” at Ohio State in peace, and let’s all move on to someone else.
48. I’m actually pumped for Vandy’s “Big 3”
And you should be, too! Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Kalija Lipscomb and Jared Pinkney were the only Power 5 trio in the country who ranked among the top 3 in yards among the respective position players in their league. And now, all 3 are back. Vaughn is the in the running for “best player to watch in a game you have no rooting interest in.” Why? He had 10 runs of 40 yards or more and 6 runs of 60 yards or more last year. Red Mamba is a human highlight reel. Here’s hoping he and the rest of Vandy’s “Big 3” stays healthy and productive in 2019.
49. I cannot wait for LSU at Texas on Sept. 7
I feel like I’ve been saying that all offseason. Have I repeated myself? Probably. It’s worth saying one more time.
I cannot wait for LSU at Texas.
50. Shoot, just give me Southern Utah vs. UNLV
Because nothing is worse than turning on the TV on Saturday morning and realizing that the only thing on is yet another Property Brothers marathon.