Matt Charboneau of The Detroit News breaks down the teams in The Detroit News' preseason college football Top 25 poll.
► Last season: 15-0 overall, 8-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference; beat Notre Dame, 30-3, in the Cotton Bowl and beat Alabama, 44-16, in the national championship game
► Coach: Dabo Swinney, 116-30 in 11 seasons at Clemson
► Outlook: It’s not supposed to be easy, but sometimes it seems like the Tigers sure make it look that way. They’re shooting for a second straight national championship and third in four seasons, and judging by the players they’re returning it seems like the bigger upset would be if they don’t get it done. Heisman hopeful Trevor Lawrence is back at quarterback as the Tigers might be double-digit favorites in every regular-season game.
► Last season: 14-1 overall, 8-0 in the Southeastern Conference; beat Oklahoma, 45-34, in the Orange Bowl and lost to Clemson, 44-16, in the national championship game
► Coach: Nick Saban, 146-21 in 12 seasons at Alabama, 237-63-1 overall
► Outlook: All five years of the College Football Playoff has featured the Crimson Tide and in each of the past four seasons, they’ve played in the national championship game, winning it in 2015 and 2017. Yet after last season’s blowout loss to Clemson, it feels like the Tide are in a “rebuilding” mode. It’s hardly the rebuild most programs would go through, especially with Tua Tagovailoa back at quarterback, but Saban made multiple changes on his staff. and the Tide are once again replacing a handful of starters who are now in the NFL.
► Last season: 11-3 overall, 7-1 in the SEC; lost to Texas, 28-21, in the Sugar Bowl
► Coach: Kirby Smart, 32-10 in three seasons at Georgia
► Outlook: In three seasons, Smart has turned the Bulldogs into one of the top programs in the country. There’s only one small problem: They happen to reside in the same conference as Alabama. It’s not like winning the SEC is impossible. After all, they did so two years ago. But when they got to the national title game, there was 'Bama. Smart continues to bring top-level recruits and this season has experience, led by quarterback Jake Fromm. If there was a year to get over the Alabama hump, this might be it.
► Last season: 12-2 overall, 8-1 in the Big 12; lost to Alabama, 45-34, in the Orange Bowl
► Coach: Lincoln Riley, 24-4 in two seasons at Oklahoma
► Outlook: Kyler Murray is off to the NFL, but that loss doesn’t sting quite as much when it’s Jalen Hurts who takes over. The former Alabama quarterback transferred after last season and is now at the helm of one of the most explosive offenses in the country. It’s a unit that has been good enough to get the Sooners to the playoffs in each of the past two seasons, but the biggest thing keeping them from the ultimate prize has been the defense. If that unit shows any improvement it could lead to more than just a spot in the playoffs for the Sooners.
► Last season: 10-3 overall, 5-3 in the SEC; beat UCF, 40-32, in the Fiesta Bowl
► Coach: Ed Orgeron, 25-9 in three seasons at LSU, 41-36 overall
► Outlook: The 10 wins last season, including a Fiesta Bowl victory over UCF, have given the Tigers plenty of momentum heading into 2019. Always a solid defensive team, the Tigers return 16 starters as they continue to tinker with the offense. A highly rated recruiting class has added to the excitement in Baton Rouge, but in the SEC West it’s all still about getting past Alabama, which LSU hasn’t done since 2011.
6. Ohio State
► Last season: 13-1 overall, 8-1 in the Big Ten; beat Washington, 28-23, in the Rose Bowl
► Coach: Ryan Day, first season
► Outlook: There’s a lot assumptions being made around Columbus these days. It’s assumed there will be no drop-off as former offensive coordinator Ryan Day takes over for Urban Meyer. The same assumption is being made as five-star transfer Justin Fields takes over at quarterback after coming over from Georgia. It all leads to the assumption the Buckeyes win the Big Ten again. Of course, if those assumptions turn out to be false, then you know what Ohio State might look like. That said, the Buckeyes are still loaded with talent, and that never hurts.
► Last season: 10-3 overall, 8-1 in the Big Ten; lost to Florida, 41-15, in the Peach Bowl
► Coach: Jim Harbaugh, 38-14 in four seasons at Michigan, 67-35 overall
► Outlook: It’s Harbaugh’s fifth season, and after winning 10 games in three of his first four the pressure is now on to produce a championship. After all, it’s the reason the Wolverines hired their former quarterback, and he’s made more offensive staff changes to attain that goal, bringing in former Alabama assistant Josh Gattis to run the offense. He’ll have the benefit of having Shea Patterson back at quarterback behind an experienced offensive line. If the defense makes up for the loss of a handful of players now in the NFL, then this could be the season the program has been waiting for.
8. Notre Dame
► Last season: 12-1; lost to Clemson, 30-3, in the Cotton Bowl
► Coach: Brian Kelly, 81-35 in nine seasons at Notre Dame, 134-57 overall
► Outlook: The Fighting Irish got to the playoffs last season, but it didn’t take long before Clemson showed just how far Notre Dame has to go to contend for a national championship. Taking that step this season will be tough, as the Irish must replace their share of talent on both sides of the ball, but getting quarterback Ian Book back helps. He’ll have to prove he can make plays down the field and if not, it could be a frustrating fall in South Bend.
► Last season: 10-3 overall, 5-3 in the SEC; beat Michigan, 41-15, in the Peach Bowl
► Coach: Dan Mullen, 11-3 in one-plus seasons at Florida, 80-49 overall
► Outlook: The Gators entered the season with plenty of high hopes after rolling over Michigan last season in the Peach Bowl. Big things are expected of quarterback Feleipe Franks, even after his two-interception performance in the opening win over Miami (Fla.). The offense turned the ball over four times, but the defense bailed them out as the Gators avoided the upset. Cleaning things up offensively will be critical moving forward for the Gators.
► Last season: 9-4 overall, 5-4 in the Pac-12; beat Michigan State, 7-6, in the Redbox Bowl
► Coach: Mario Cristobal, 9-5 in one season at Oregon, 36-52 overall
► Outlook: If you’re buying into the Ducks being the favorite to win the Pac-12 because of the return of quarterback Justin Herbert, don’t rewatch the 7-6 win over Michigan State in the Redbox Bowl. Other than that day, Herbert has proven he’s the real deal and turned down the NFL for another year at Oregon. He has an experienced offensive line to protect him and if the Ducks beat Auburn in the opener, it could get the ball rolling for a team that’s looking to get back into the national discussion.
11. Texas A&M
► Last season: 9-4 overall, 5-3 in the SEC; beat North Carolina State, 52-13, in the Gator Bowl
► Coach: Jimbo Fisher, 9-4 in one season at Texas A&M, 92-27 overall
► Outlook: Maybe the move to hire Jimbo Fisher was exactly what the Aggies needed, as A&M won nine games and earned a bowl victory. It helped that quarterback Kellen Mond emerged as a legitimate difference-maker, throwing for more than 3,100 yards and 24 touchdowns. There’s a good chance those numbers increase this season as Mond matures, but the Aggies do have to replace their share of starters on the defensive side of the ball, including the top five tacklers.
► Last season: 10-4 overall, 7-2 in the Big 12; beat Georgia, 28-21, in the Sugar Bowl
► Coach: Tom Herman, 17-10 in two seasons at Texas; 39-14 overall
► Outlook: Plenty of folks are buying into the hype that is surrounding the Longhorns after beating Georgia last year in the Sugar Bowl to get to 10 wins. Quarterback Sam Ehlinger had a big year, throwing for 3,292 yards and 25 touchdowns, but he did lose his top receiving target to the NFL. The bigger question for the Longhorns is replacing all but three starters on defense, something that should be easier considering the recent recruiting hauls Tom Herman has brought to Austin.
► Last season: 10-4 overall, 7-2 in the Pac-12; lost to Ohio State, 28-23, in the Rose Bowl
►Coach: Chris Petersen, 47-21 in five seasons at Washington, 139-33 overall
►Outlook: The Huskies lose their quarterback and top running back, but it’s hardly as if the cupboard is bare for coach Chris Peterson. Former Georgia five-star recruit Jacob Eason takes over at quarterback, and he’ll play behind an offensive line that returns four starters. Questions abound on the defense, as well, where only four starters return as the Huskies try to reach double-digit wins for the fourth straight season.
►Last season: 9-5 overall, 6-3 in the Pac-12; lost to Northwestern, 31-20, in the Holiday Bowl
►Coach: Kyle Whittingham, 120-61 in 15 seasons at Utah
►Outlook: The Utes have been steadily improving since joining the Pac-12 in 2011 and now believe they are in position to win a conference championship. Quarterback Tyler Huntley and tailback Zack Moss are healthy after missing the last five games last season and they’ll be pushing to be one of the top offenses in the Pac-12. The schedule isn’t brutal, but a trip to Washington in early November could be where the Utes prove they are the team to beat.
►Last season: 8-5 overall, 3-5 in the SEC; beat Purdue, 63-14, in the Music City Bowl
► Coach: Gus Malzahn, 53-27 in six seasons at Auburn, 62-30 overall
►Outlook: The Tigers will be looking to an unproven quarterback to lead the offense, though they’ll likely lean heavy on a running attack that features sophomore JaTarvious Whitlow, who racked up 787 rushing yards on 5.2 yards per carry last season. They also have the luxury of having an outstanding defense, but they’ll get tested right out of the gate by Oregon before jumping into a treacherous SEC slate.
16. Michigan State
►Last season: 7-6 overall, 5-4 in the Big Ten; lost to Oregon, 7-6, in the Redbox Bowl
►Coach: Mark Dantonio, 107-51 in 12 seasons at Michigan State, 125-68 overall
►Outlook: The Spartans enter the season with one of the best defenses in the nation, allowing just 17.2 points a game last season. However, the offense was awful, ranking among the worst in the country in most major categories. A reshuffling of the coaching staff followed, but the biggest key will be remaining healthy and providing even a sliver of help for the defense. If the Spartans can be slightly above average with the ball, they could be the surprise of college football.
►Last season: 8-5 overall, 5-4 in the Big Ten; beat Miami (Fla.), 35-3, in the Pinstripe Bowl
►Coach: Paul Chryst, 42-12 in four seasons at Wisconsin, 61-31 overall
► Outlook: The Badgers were left to search for a quarterback after Alex Hornibrook decided to transfer. But that is much easier to do when Jonathan Taylor is your tailback. He ran for 2,194 yards and 16 touchdowns as a sophomore and gained more than 200 yards in a game five times. However, offense isn’t the problem for the Badgers. Improving on a defense that allowed more than 344 yards a game will be vital to the Badgers being in the mix to win the Big Ten West
► Last season: 9-4 overall, 5-4 in the Big Ten; beat Mississippi State, 27-22, in the Outback Bowl
►Coach: Kirk Ferentz, 152-101 in 20 seasons at Iowa
► Outlook: The Hawkeyes were a top-10 defense last year and return their share of starters, including junior defensive end A.J. Epenesa, who had 10.5 sacks last year as a backup. They’ll rely heavily on that unit as quarterback Nate Stanley lost his two top targets — tight ends Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson — to the NFL. The Hawkeyes avoid Ohio State and Michigan State, but road games with Michigan, Wisconsin and Nebraska could make winning the West a difficult task.
19. Penn State
►Last season: 9-4 overall, 6-3 in the Big Ten; lost to Kentucky, 27-24, in the Citrus Bowl
►Coach: James Franklin, 45-21 in five seasons at Penn State, 69-36 overall
►Outlook: Playing in one of college football’s toughest divisions is hard enough for most teams, but the Nittany Lions will be attempting to replace quarterback Trace McSorley after backup Tommy Stevens surprised everyone and bolted for Mississippi State. That means the Lions will be inexperienced on offense and will lean heavily on a defense as they navigate a schedule that includes trips to Ohio State, Michigan State and Iowa.
► Last season: 12-1 overall, 8-1 in the American Athletic Conference; lost to LSU, 40-32, in the Fiesta Bowl
► Coach: Josh Heupel, 12-1 in one season at UCF
► Outlook: The Knights will have a different look offensively as McKenzie Milton continues to recover from a nasty knee injury suffered at the end of the 2018 regular season. Enter Notre Dame transfer Brandon Wimbush, who lost his starting job with the Irish early last season. He should keep UCF’s offense rolling while the defense will need to do a better of stopping the run if the Knights expect to push for another undefeated regular season.
►Last season: 8-5 overall, 4-4 in the SEC; lost to Oklahoma State, 38-33, in the Liberty Bowl
►Coach: Barry Odom, 19-19 in three seasons at Missouri
►Outlook: The Tigers will be counting on former Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant to take over the offense and compete in the SEC East. Junior running back Larry Rountree III returns after rushing for 1,216 yards last season, and he’ll be playing behind a physical offensive line. The defense is also solid, ranking in the top 25 against the run. Generating more of a pass rush will be focus as the season gets underway.
22. Iowa State
►Last season: 8-5 overall, 6-3 in the Big 12; lost to Washington State, 28-26, in the Alamo Bowl
►Coach: Matt Campbell, 19-19 in three seasons at Iowa State, 54-34 overall
►Outlook: The Cyclones had the best defense in the Big 12 last season, and that’s nothing to dismiss in a conference that is all about spreading the ball around and putting points on the board. Challenging Oklahoma for conference supremacy will rely heavily on an offense that didn’t take off last season until Brock Purdy took over and led the Cyclones to a 7-2 finish.
23. Washington State
► Last season: 11-2 overall, 7-2 in the Pac-12; beat Iowa State, 28-26, in the Alamo Bowl
►Coach: Mike Leach, 49-40 in seven seasons at Washington State, 133-83 overall
►Outlook: Mike Leach has things rolling in Pullman and after winning 11 games last season, there’s hope the Cougars can break through to a Pac-12 title. However, they’ll have to do that by replacing the 4,779 passing yards and 38 touchdowns from Gardner Minshew last season while figuring out a way to replace several starters on a defense that was already susceptible to the run.
►Last season: 9-4 overall, 6-3 in the Pac-12; beat Pittsburgh, 14-13, in the Sun Bowl
►Coach: David Shaw, 82-26 in eight seasons at Stanford
►Outlook: Senior quarterback K.J. Costello had a breakout season in 2018, but he’ll have to overcome the loss of the Cardinal’s top three receivers as well as four starting offensive linemen. The inexperience means it will be an uphill battle for the Cardinal to contend in the Pac-12 North, but Stanford has been nothing but consistent under David Shaw and likely will be in the race all season.
25. (tie) Nebraska
►Last season: 4-8 overall, 3-6 in the Big Ten
►Coach: Scott Frost, 4-8 in one season with Nebraska, 23-15 overall
► Outlook: There might not be a team with more buzz these days than the Cornhuskers. Some of it is because of Scott Frost’s track record as the head coach and some of it is because of the fact the Huskers closed last season winning four of six. Sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez is an electric playmaker, but if the Huskers’ defense doesn’t improve significantly, the buzz might dissipate quickly in Lincoln.
25. (tie) Syracuse
►Last season: 10-3 overall, 6-2 in the ACC; beat West Virginia, 34-18, in the Camping World Bowl
►Coach: Dino Babers, 18-19 in three years at Syracuse, 36-28 overall
►Outlook: After winning eight games total in his first two seasons, Dino Babers led the Orange to a 10-win season in 2018 behind a prolific offense. They’ll have to replace quarterback Eric Dungey, but feel they have talent there to do so with sophomore Tommy DeVito taking over. A defense that gets after the quarterback is led by seniors Alton Robinson and Kendall Coleman, who combined for 20 sacks and 29 tackles for loss last season.