Friday Five: Reigning college football division champions least likely to repeat in 2019 season

Last week in Friday Five, I ranked the five teams that are the most likely to escape last place in their division in 2019. This week, it only makes sense that I take the opposite approach and rank the 2018 division winners that are most likely to not win it again in 2019. I changed one thing up a bit, though. When it came to the Big 12 last week, I only considered Kansas since the conference doesn’t have divisions. For this week, I’m considering both Oklahoma and Texas out of the Big 12 seeing that two teams play for the conference title at the end of the regular season.

Now, keep in mind that, unless I expressly state that I don’t expect the team to win the division next season, this isn’t a prediction. I’m just looking at each of our 10 candidates and trying to determine which ones are most likely to suffer a step back in 2019. Oh, I’m sorry, did I say 10 candidates? I meant eight. There are only eight candidates. Clemson and Alabama aren’t making this list. Sure, Alabama plays in the SEC West and it’s an incredibly difficult division to play in, but that didn’t stop Alabama from winning it by three games last year. As for Clemson, who is beating it in the ACC Atlantic?

So who did make the cut? Let’s find out.

5. Ohio State: The Buckeyes are here for a few reasons. One of them is that they play in the Big Ten East, which means they have some stiff competition from schools like Penn State, Michigan State, Michigan and maybe even a Maryland team that’s more talented than most Big Ten squads. Still, the real reason I have Ohio State here is the turnover.

Urban Meyer is gone. I think Ryan Day could be successful at Ohio State, as he has the most talented roster in the conference and he’s getting Justin Fields to replace Dwayne Haskins. Still, we’ve never seen Fields take on a full-time role and Day has been a head coach for three games. I’m not just going to assume everything will run smoothly. After all, in 2010 Ohio State went 12-1 and won the Sugar Bowl. Then Jim Tressel was fired and replaced by Luke Fickell, who inherited a team that had a lot of talent and the No. 2 dual-threat QB in the country taking over as a freshman in Braxton Miller. The Buckeyes then proceeded to go 6-6 and eventually hire Meyer.

4. Texas: The offseason hype machine for Texas is always strong, and after beating Georgia in the Sugar Bowl to end the 2018 season, this offseason will be no different. And deservedly so! Texas still has a long way to go to get to where it wants to be, but it does feel like the program has turned a corner. It’s just … I’m not ready to anoint it as a sure thing in the Big 12 just yet. This is a team that loses a lot of production from the 2018 roster.

Plus, as far as the schedule is concerned, the Horns will get Oklahoma at a neutral site per usual, but they also have challenging road games against West Virginia, TCU, Iowa State and a Baylor team I expect to take a step forward. All in all, the Big 12 is going to be one of the more exciting conferences in the country next season, and I don’t think it’s unrealistic to think this team could slip to third or fourth.

3. Utah: The Utes won the Pac-12 South last season, but we mustn’t look past the fact that they did so while going 9-5 overall and only 6-3 in conference. It’s not like they were a dominant champion. They also play in a division that may not be strong overall, but there’s a lot of parity within it, as well as the sleeping (passed out?) giant that is USC.

Utah could win the division again in 2019. In fact, if it does, I wouldn’t consider it a surprise. But that doesn’t change the fact the Utes still have to play both USC and Washington on the road next season, and I don’t think it’s crazy to expect two losses there. They’ll also get an always difficult Washington State, and an Arizona State team that should be stingy. There’s also the specter of UCLA taking a step forward. Still, I think the biggest threat is USC. The Trojans were awful by their standards last season, and I don’t think Clay Helton is the long-term answer there. Still, logic and talent dictates that a 5-7 season and 4-5 mark in the Pac-12 is an outlier, doesn’t it? Like, that’s not going to happen again, Is it? Maybe? I don’t know. We’ll see. If it does, I’d still consider Utah the favorite in the division, but not a huge favorite.

2. Northwestern: This is such an odd situation to figure out. I was never a big fan of Clayton Thorson, though anybody involved with the program will tell you what a huge impact he had on the team. Thorson’s gone, and I think his replacement is most likely better, or at the very least, much more talented. Hunter Johnson was a five-star prospect who originally committed to Clemson but then found himself staring into the beaming light that is Trevor Lawrence and decided he needed to find playing time elsewhere. With Johnson, I believe the Northwestern offense has a much higher ceiling (it scored 24.6 points per game in conference last season, so it almost has to), but the Wildcats lose a lot of key players on offense, so the floor might not be that high, either.

Also, while both have to come to Evanston, the Wildcats draw Ohio State and Michigan State from the East. They also have to go on the road to take on Wisconsin and Nebraska. Speaking of Wisconsin, the Badgers will likely be better in 2019. Purdue is a program that is on an upward trend. Nebraska was much better at the end of 2018 than the beginning. Iowa is going to be solid, steady Iowa no matter what. Even Minnesota seems headed in the right direction, and Illinois‘ 2019 recruiting class included some much-needed talent infusions. The division is stronger than most believe, and it only seems to be getting stronger. That means it’ll be difficult for Northwestern to repeat, though it certainly can. I don’t think it’s the favorite.

1. Pittsburgh: Last week, it was easy to peg Tennessee as the last place team most likely get out of last. This week, it was even easier to put Pitt at No. 1 here. The Panthers went 7-7 last year but 6-2 in the ACC to win a Coastal Division that nobody seemed to want to win. I would expect the Coastal to be wide open again in 2019, with Pitt yet still in contention.

But do you think it’s going to repeat? It has to go on the road to play Syracuse and Virginia Tech, which will be difficult games. It gets Miami at home, but there’s a part of me wondering if a change in leadership will work wonders for a Miami team that seemed disinterested in playing football last season. The Panthers could win the Coastal next season, but at the moment, I would have at least two teams as favorites ahead of them (Miami, Virginia Tech), and possibly a third (Virginia).

Honorable Mention: Georgia, Oklahoma, Washington

Categories: National Sports

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