Yes, I am back. Yeah, it’s been a long story. Here it is summed up in a Tweet:
To anyone that cares: An update on me and my writing endeavors – pic.twitter.com/t685jKE2fd
— Jay Hawkins (@legitjaydogg) July 24, 2018
Anyways, I am indeed back to writing after a LONG hiatus. College football is so close to being back, and frankly, I am so excited. This is my personal Christmas. I live and breathe college football like probably everyone reading this.
This season (like every season) is filled with storylines and drama. There will for sure be a lot of suprises this football season, but I gave this my best shot. So without further ado, here is my preseason top 25 for the 2018 CFB season.
This was a close one for the battle for the top two spots, but I have Clemson edging out Alabama for the top spot. The Tigers return the best defensive line in all of college football, and it’s not even close. The likes of Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell, Austin Bryant and Dexter Lawrence will lead this year’s edition of a Clemson defense that was No. 4 overall in the country last year in total defense and will once again be among the nation’s best this season.
Combine that with an offense that returns weapons all over the field including running backs Travis Etienne and Tavien Feaster, receivers Hunter Renfrow and Tee Higgins and whoever starts at QB for Clemson (more on that below), and one can see why this team is No. 1 in my poll.
The reason I have Clemson No. 1 is that I think true freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence will ultimately win the starting job at some point in the 2018 season and never look back. The incumbent Kelly Bryant does a great job in his own right, but I think, if the Tigers want to go all the way and win the CFB Playoff, Lawrence will be the guy to take them over the top. (Did I mention Dabo Swinney is one of the few active FBS coaches to win a national title?)
Alabama as always is right at the top. Despite the Tide losing all but two starters on the defensive side of the ball, don’t look for Nick Saban’s team to take much of a step back if any. After all Saban, who has won five out of the last nine national championships at Alabama, is obviously at the point where he reloads instead of rebuilds.
The Tide again will have one of the best defenses in college football led by guys like Raekwon Davis (top returning tackler and sack leader) and Isaiah Buggs at defensive end, Mack Wilson and Dylan Moses at linebacker and more.
The offense could prove to be the best Saban has ever had in Tuscaloosa, and that is quite the scary thought if the defense is just as good. 2018 CFB National Championship hero Tua Tagovailoa will eventually start at QB no matter what lies Saban tells to keep Jalen Hurts around. Tagovailoa will have a loaded backfield along side him with two of the best running backs in the game right now in Damien Harris and Najee Harris.
Receiver will be just fine as well as a bunch of fast and athletic guys will highlight the corps. (Looking at you Henry Ruggs III, DeVonta Smith and Jerry Jeudy.) Alabama will again have one of the nation’s best offensive lines as well, so I don’t see the Crimson Tide taking much of a step back in 2018.
3. Ohio State
So yeah, the three teams in my top five so far look pretty familiar. All of these three blued-blood programs (Clemson has grown into one) are quite used to this situation. The Buckeyes are once again loaded as they return 12 starters including the best defensive player in the Big 10 and maybe the entire country in defensive end Nick Bosa.
Yeah, the little brother of Joey is making a name for himself too. He leads a Buckeyes’ defense that was one of the nation’s best last season and should be again this season. (Bosa led the Bucks with 8.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss in 2017.)
The Ohio State offense will be a forced to be reckoned with this fall as the Buckeyes had the No. 7 offense in the country last year with J.T. Barrett at QB. Say what you want about Dwayne Haskins, but the quarterback play can only get better in my opinion. J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber are two dynamic running backs, and Parris Campbell returns at wideout to give Haskins plenty of options to give the ball to.
Ohio State will again be the preseason favorite to win the Big 10 and reach the playoff. However, their path is far from easy as they have to navigate the toughest division in CFB – the Big 10 East. Oh yeah, guess who they’ll get in the conference title game too? A Wisconsin team that might be the best it’s had in quite a while.
Georgia burst on to the college football scene last season with a fantastic 13-2 season that included a dominant SEC Championship win over Auburn and a thrilling double overtime victory over Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl. The Bulldogs came up just short in the National Championship against Alabama, but the sleeping giant in Athens finally woke up and showed that Kirby Smart’s program is here to stay.
UGA will once again be in the thick of the CFB Playoff conversation as an SEC Championship clash with Alabama a.k.a. a play-in game for the playoff seems extremely likely.
Whether the Bulldogs make the playoff remains to be seen but they definitely have the talent to do so. UGA’s offense returns eight starters, which is headlined by Jake Fromm. Fromm has a year of experience under his belt, a backfield headlined by D’Andre Swift that will be just fine despite the loss of Sony Michel and Nick Chubb and a receiving corps that will be one of the best UGA has boasted in years featuring Terry Godwin, Riley Ridley, the electric Mecole Hardman and others.
The offensive line (which returns four starters) will be one of the best UGA has fielded in years. All of that to say UGA’s offense has the potential to be one of the best in the country. The defense is the bigger question mark as it lost a solid amount of experience (Roquan Smith, Lorenzo Carter, etc.). It might not be as dominant as it was last year, but it shouldn’t take that big of a step back.
Can Wisconsin finally get over the (most likely) Ohio State hump and win the Big Ten Championship? I think there is a very good chance they do that this year.
Wisconsin is absolutely loaded this year, particularly on offense. The Badgers return nine starters including one of the best running backs in college football and a serious Heisman candidate in Jonathan Taylor. As a true freshman in 2017, Taylor set the FBS freshman rushing record with 1,977 yards and scored 13 touchdowns.
Taylor will have the benefit of running behind a dominant offensive line led by Beau Benzschawel and Micael Deiter. The rest of the offense is in good shape as veteran signal caller Alex Hornibrook returns with a slew of talented receivers.
Their defense will still be solid despite losing a bunch of starters from 2017’s No. 2 defense in the country. Everyone can go ahead and pencil in Wisconsin to play in the Big 10 Title game, as their division of the conference doesn’t offer too much of a challenge. And who knows? Maybe, the Badgers will finally get it done in Indianapolis in December.
Losing a Heisman trophy winner in Baker Mayfield won’t be easy, but many (including me) think Kyler Murray is poised to do just fine running the show in Norman. The Sooners will once again have one of the best offenses in the country with Rodney Anderson at running back, wide receivers Marquise “Hollywood” Brown and CeeDee Lamb.
Now, can they survive a Big 12 that may offer actual competition in the forms of West Virginia and Texas? More on them later.
Quarterback Jake Browning and running back Myles Gaskin are back to run the show in Seattle as the Huskies dynamic offense are the reason why they are the favorites to win the Pac-12. Did I mention they also return nine starters on a defense that was top ten in the country last year? That won’t change in 2018.
Chris Peterson is one of the most underrated coaches in CFB. IF (and that’s a big if), Washington can get out of their own way, beat Auburn on opening day and charge through the Pac-12 unblemished, they’ll for sure be in the playoff. Easier said than done.
It’s starting to get in put up or shut up territory for Jim Harbaugh. Yeah, he’s been one of the biggest names in college football, drawn a lot of attention and had a lot of talent on his team. It’s time to produce this year.
Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson may prove to be the missing piece Michigan is looking for and finally give them some decent quarterback play. The defense is absolutely unbelievable, and the rest of the team is in good shape. The biggest challenge for Michigan is navigating a tough division and actually beating Ohio State at the end of the year.
Another team that will be extremely dangerous this year is Miami. Mark Richt is resurrecting the program and building a powerhouse.
Miami is superbly talented, but their biggest question mark is at QB. Will Malik Rosier be the guy this season even though he struggled at times in 2017, or will Richt decide to go with someone different like maybe true freshman Jarren Williams? That remains to be seen.
The defense will be extremely good, and the rest of their offense will be fine. Can Mark Richt put his past demons aside of choking in big games and actually win the division and beat Clemson in the ACC title game? Answer=NO.
Auburn is talented. There is no question. If Gus Malzahn wasn’t their coach, they could very seriously have a chance to win the national championship. The Tigers certainly have the talent to do so.
They boast the best defense in the entire SEC on paper. Led by a stalwart defensive line featuring the likes of Marlon Davidson, Dontavius Russell and Derrick Brown, the defense has talent all over the field. Most notably, leading tackler and sack leader (tie between Brown and Davidson) Deshaun Davis (82 tackles and 3.5 sacks in 2017) returns to lead the defense at middle linebacker.
Offense will be fine with the talented Jarrett Stidham leading the charge at quarterback along with a slew of good wideouts. Can Auburn find a solid running back and depth at the position? We shall see.
— Jay Hawkins (@legitjaydogg) July 25, 2018
11. Notre Dame
The Irish will be a team to be reckoned with despite losing a lot of talent on the offensive line, Equanimeous St. Brown at wide receiver and Josh Adams at running back. Brandon Wimbush returns at quarterback though, and the Irish are not expected to take a step back.
Can Notre Dame survive Michigan in the opening weekend? That will say a lot about their season.
12. Penn State
Barkley is gone, but the veteran presence of McSorely returns as the Nittany Lions’ signal caller. McSorely is one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in college football, and he is poised for an even bigger season now that Barkely is in the NFL. Defense is the big question mark (3 starters return) besides having to play in the grueling Big 10 East.
Bryce Love is the frontrunner for the Heisman. Having that is always gonna take a team far. David Shaw knows how to get the best out of this Stanford team as well.
14. Michigan State
Can I just make it clear that Mark Dantonio is one of the best coaches in college football? It’s not talked about enough. His team this year is definitely a contender in a tough Big 10 East. Having quarterback Brian Lewerke and running back LJ Scott in the same backfield never hurts either.
Is Tom Herman gonna build off the big bowl win over Missouri following a mediocre season and have a breakout year in Austin this fall? I think the time is now. Oklahoma may finally have some competition in conference.
No Darnold. No problem. Ok, not really, but USC is too talented to take a major step back.
17. West Virginia
Will Grier, David Sills V and the West Virginia offense under Dana Holgerson will kick ass once again this year. That side of the ball will keep them in every game. The problem is on the other side of the ball.
18. Mississippi State
Veteran Nick Fitzgerald returns at quarterback to run the show in Starkville. The Bulldogs have enough talent (17 returning starters including running back Aeris Williams, nose guard Jeffrey Simmons and end Montez Sweat) to challenge in the SEC West.
19. Boise State
Non-power five team to reach a New Years’ Six bowl game? That will probably be quarterback Brett Rypien and Boise State this year.
Scott Frost is gone to Nebraska, but the Knights should be very good again particularly on offense (No. 5 overall in 2017).
21. South Carolina
The Gamecocks are the second-best team in the East. An offense with Jake Bentley at quarterback and the explosive Deebo Samuel at receiver plus a pretty good defense should build off their comeback bowl victory over Michigan last postseason to have a solid year.
22. Virginia Tech
The combination of head coach Justin Fuente, QB Josh Jackson and defensive coordinator Bud Foster are nothing to be sneezed at. The Hokies will offer the only competition to Miami in the ACC Coastal.
Gary Patterson always finds a way for his team to be successful. It helps having arguably the best defense in the Big 12. (Yes, apparently that’s a thing.)
Prototypical quarterback Justin Herbert has NFL scouts drooling. The Ducks will be good again consistently if he stays healthy.
The Seminoles are not near as bad as their record showed in ’17. Also, Deondre Francois is back at quarterback with Cam Akers and Jacques Patrick at running back. The offense should be able to move the ball much more effectively than last season. Keep an eye on Levonta Taylor in the defensive backfield and Demarcus Christmas on the line as well.