Reality Check: Why your Top 25 team could tank in 2019
Sorry to be a bummer at a time of the year usually reserved for hope and optimism, but there is a decent chance your favorite college team is going to be a big disappointment this season.
The preseason AP Top 25 presented by Regions Bank is out. There were no real surprises at the top. Defending champion Clemson is No. 1 and Alabama is No. 2. The Tigers and Crimson Tide have alternated winning the last four national championships.
Georgia, which has had its national championship hopes dashed by ’Bama the past two seasons, is No. 3. Oklahoma, working on a string of four straight Big 12 championships, is No. 4. Ohio State, with three Big Ten titles and a national championship in the last five years, landed at No. 5.
Over the last 10 years, about 40 percent of the teams that have started the season ranked end it unranked. Obviously, the better the start the more likely it is a team stays in the rankings, but 19 preseason top-10 teams have finished the season unranked in that span. And seven of those were in the top five. Three times in the last 10 seasons, including last year, three top-10 teams finished unranked. The last time all the preseason top-10 teams managed to finish the season in the Top 25 was 2006.
So give a look at that top 10, rounded out by No. 6 LSU, No. 7 Michigan, No. 8 Florida, No. 9 Notre Dame and No. 10 Texas. At least one of them is fixin’ to break some hearts.
The first Reality Check of the season assesses the chances for each Top 25 team to tank.
No. 1 Clemson (15-0)
Opener: vs. Georgia Tech.
Reality check: The preseason poll started in 1950. Only two preseason No. 1 teams have failed to be in the final rankings (USC in 2012 was the last). The Tigers have history and, more importantly, Trevor Lawrence on their side.
No. 2 Alabama (14-1)
Opener: vs. Duke in Atlanta.
Reality check: The Crimson Tide have not finished outside the top 10 since Nick Saban’s first season. And he’s still the coach.
No. 3 Georgia (11-3)
Opener: at Vanderbilt.
Reality check: In 2013 and ’15, Mark Richt’s Georgia teams were preseason top 10 and finished unranked. Kirby Smart was brought in to stop that nonsense.
No. 4 Oklahoma (12-2)
Opener: vs. Houston.
Reality check: The Sooners’ path to ruin: The offense regresses from historically great to merely good with Jalen Hurts and the defense remains bad.
No. 5 Ohio State (13-1)
Opener: vs. FAU.
Reality check: If Georgia transfer QB Justin Fields is a bust the Buckeyes aren’t in position to bail him out.
No. 6 LSU (10-3)
Opener: vs. Georgia Southern.
Reality check: OK, THIS is the year the Tigers open up the offense. What if that’s a bad idea?
No. 7 Michigan (10-3)
Opener: vs. Middle Tennessee.
Reality check: The optimism about the Wolverines has a lot to do with the uncertainty at Ohio State.
No. 8 Florida (10-3)
Opener: vs. Miami in Orlando, Florida.
Reality check: The Gators’ surge last season was inflated by a bowl victory against a Michigan team that sort of checked out.
No. 9 Notre Dame (12-1)
Opener: at Louisville.
Reality check: The Irish expect offensive improvement to compensate for some defensive regression. Or, it doesn’t and some of last season’s one-score victories against so-so opposition go the other way this year.
No. 10 Texas (10-4)
Opener: vs. Louisiana Tech.
Reality check: It wouldn’t be the first time “Texas is Back!” went bad.
No. 11 Oregon (9-4)
Opener: vs. No. 16 Auburn in Arlington, Texas.
Reality check: High expectations for a team that scored seven points in the RedBox Bowl and went 2-3 on the road last year.
No. 12 Texas A&M (9-4)
Opener: vs Texas State.
Reality check: The Aggies, along with South Carolina, are the first team in 44 years to have preseason Nos. 1-3 on the schedule. They are a little bad luck away from a 6-6 season.
No. 13 Washington (10-4)
Opener: vs Eastern Washington.
Reality check: New QB Jacob Eason has not played in a game in two years. He was a five-star recruit. But is he still?
No. 14 Utah (9-5)
Opener: at BYU.
Reality check: The Utes have been great at exceeding modest expectations. Meeting high ones can be a different deal.
No. 15 Penn State (9-4)
Opener: vs. Idaho.
Reality check: The Nittany Lions need lots of relatively inexperienced players, including at quarterback, to become stars and leaders.
No. 16 Auburn (8-5)
Opener: vs. No. 11 Oregon.
Reality check: Failing to meet expectations is pretty much Auburn being Auburn. Then again, so is exceeding them.
No. 17 UCF (12-1)
Opener: vs. Florida A&M.
Reality check: Two years removed from Scott Frost and without QB McKenzie Milton, a new era begins for college football’s brash interlopers. Sustaining it is the toughest part.
No. 18 Michigan State (7-6)
Opener: vs. Tulsa.
Reality check: The Spartans scored 32 points in their final four games last season. Coach Mark Dantonio is banking on a shuffled, though not new, offensive staff and better health at quarterback and receiver to fix it. Good luck.
No. 19 Wisconsin (8-5)
Opener: at USF.
Reality check: The Badgers were last season’s big bust, going from preseason No. 4 to unranked. Maybe it wasn’t a fluke?
No. 20 Iowa (9-4)
Opener: vs. Miami (Ohio).
Reality check: So two-year starting QB Nate Stanley is going to get BETTER after losing two first-round draft pick tight ends. Really?
No. 21 Iowa State (8-5)
Opener: vs. Northern Iowa.
Reality check: There’s a reason the Cyclones are in the preseason rankings for the first time since 1978. Winning in Ames is hard and doesn’t happen very often.
No. 22 Syracuse (10-3)
Opener: at Liberty.
Reality check: The Orange rode 31 takeaways, third-best in the nation, and a plus-13 margin (fifth best) to 10 victories last season. Regression is an uninvited and often unpleasant visitor.
No. 23 Washington State (11-2)
Opener: vs. New Mexico State.
Reality check: Can coach Mike Leach find Minshew Magic with another new quarterback?
No. 24 Nebraska (4-8)
Opener: vs. South Alabama.
Reality check: The last team to start a season ranked after a having record as bad or worse than the Cornhuskers was Alabama in 2001. The Tide was 25th after going 3-8 in 2000 and finished 7-5.
No. 25 Stanford (9-4)
Opener: vs. Northwestern.
Reality check: After two straight nine-win season, the Cardinal have to prove they can get back the physical formula that helped them win at least 11 games five times from 2010-15.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at https://podcastone.com/AP-Top-25-College-Football-Podcast
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