10 teams that could dethrone Clemson next season
While it’s unclear how history will judge the Clemson Tigers in the context of the sport’s greatest ever teams, it’s enough to know that they went 15-0 and are going to be great again next year. Knocking them off their perch is going to be a real challenge, and only a handful of teams will be able to enter the season saying they have a chance to do it.
So who are those elite few? Clemson will be the early favorite to claim the title again, but here are ten teams capable of taking it from them in 2019.
Mario Cristobal’s decision to stay with the Ducks, coupled with Justin Herbert’s return, ensures that Oregon will be Pac-12 contenders in 2019. Add in top recruit Kayvon Thibodeaux’s arrival to create havoc in opposing backfields, plus a Pac-12 there for the taking, and you have a potential playoff team. They’re still raw and have a ways to go, but anyone who gets in the playoff at least has a chance to knock off Clemson, and Oregon might just get there.
That 41-15 bowl win over Michigan is, many Gators fans hope, a sign of things to come. Much will depend on who the quarterback of this team is, but there is an outside chance that they crash the playoff if they get good play from either Feleipe Franks or Emory Jones. There will be talent on defense, but Dan Mullen is a good coach, and he has this program headed in the right direction. They have a chance to make some noise.
8) Notre Dame
Yes, the Fighting Irish did get wiped out pretty comprehensively by Clemson this season, and they may not be better next year. Still, this year and a full offseason as quarterback can only help Ian Book, and perhaps they can take that performance against the Tigers as a learning experience. Talent returns on both sides of the ball, and the program seems to be as solid as it’s been in a while under coach Brian Kelly, ensuring they have a chance to get back to where they were this season.
Jim Harbaugh has never failed to recruit talent, and that remains true. Plus, perhaps Urban Meyer’s departure from Ohio State will prove beneficial. He has some work to do after a bitter end to this season, but the Wolverines are still a talented bunch with a solid returning quarterback, though they will have to replace several names on both sides of the ball. They run a good enough program that they’ll be back among the contenders; they just have to get over the hump.
The Longhorns are definitely back after an excellent season that concluded with a win over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. Sam Ehlinger is the starting quarterback, and he looks ready to take a step into the elite class of collegiate signal-callers. The defense will have to do the job after struggling at times in 2018, but with key pieces returning on offense, they will be in the mix for a possible playoff spot and a date with Clemson.
A year of getting involved in the offense will only help Joe Burrow, and though they will lose the likes of Devin White on defense, they’ll still have safety Grant Delpit to lead the defensive unit. This is a program on the rise and they appear headed in the right direction, culminating in their Fiesta Bowl win over UCF. If Burrow can take a significant step forward, LSU will be a playoff contender out of the SEC, which could prepare them for Clemson.
The quarterback situation is the biggest question mark for the Sooners, and it remains unclear how they’ll replace Kyler Murray — unless he takes the unlikely decision to return to school, that is. Since that seems like a longshot to say the least, Oklahoma can be consoled by the fact that Lincoln Riley will definitely be back. He’s a great offensive coach and will probably figure it out, and Austin Kendall has showed signs of being good enough if he wins the job. Oklahoma might not take many other steps back. Their talented offense could give Clemson issues.
3) Ohio State
The Buckeyes enter 2019 with their usual stack of future NFL players, and they’ll be even better if Justin Fields is allowed to play immediately as he hopes. There is also significant overhaul, though, with a new head coach in Ryan Day and several new staff members. If the Buckeyes can put it together quickly, they will pose a serious threat to Clemson’s crown, but there are a lot of variables here and it’s a risky proposition. It’s still one worth watching.
So close to beating Alabama in the SEC Championship, Georgia will be contenders again under Kirby Smart. Jake Fromm and D’Andre Swift will lead a talented offense that has a chance to win the SEC. They have to avoid losses to basically anyone other than Alabama, which they were unable to do this season. If they can do that, they may have the talent to give Clemson a real game, though the fact that they share a conference with the Crimson Tide looms as a factor.
If we’re being honest, Alabama has the best chance by some distance to knock Clemson off the throne. Tua Tagovailoa will be back, and despite a brutal showing in the title game, it’s worth remembering that he was a Heisman finalist for a reason. Nick Saban has a lot of starters returning and his customarily strong recruiting class, and what’s more, enough motivation from Monday night’s drubbing to last an entire year. Anyone proclaiming the end of their dynasty should probably wait a year or two to weather Saban’s inevitable response.