The Clemson Tigers were the kings of 2018, showing that Dabo Swinney and company are pretty good at this football thing. The way Clemson dominated the Alabama Crimson Tide in the National Championship was a shock to the system. Does anyone else remember having the discussions of whether this Crimson Tide team was the best in college football history? So, what does that make Trevor Lawrence and the Tigers?
In all likelihood, we're going to be treated to Alabama-Clemson 5 in next year's playoff, but there's a lot to sort out before then. Will 2019 be even better for the Tigers? Will Alabama get a boost from the embarrassment? Can the PAC 12 get a team back in the playoff? Will this finally be Georgia's year? Can a new coach and a new QB get Ohio State back to the mountain top?
Here are 20 storylines to watch, as we seek answers to those questions...
TIGERTOWN BECOMING TITLE TOWN, DOUBLE THE HEISMAN HYPE.
Trevor Lawrence was magical in his freshman year. The kid from Cartersville, GA threw for more than 3,000 yards, with 30 TDs, and just 4 interceptions. He's being hyped as the best QB prospect, ever, despite the fact that he's just a year out of high school. In fact, some talking heads are suggesting he's a perfect example of why the three-year HS-NFL mandatory wait period is flawed.
Lawrence may be everything they say he is, but he's not the only Heisman hopeful on his team. Running back Travis Etienne averaged over 8 yards per carry in 2018. His 1,658 yards and 24 TDs set new school records.
TUA'S SWAN SONG?
Tua Tagovailoa will be eligible to go pro after the 2019 season, but a national championship and revenge should be on his mind before he gets to that decision. Tua probably should have won the 2018 Heisman, but it's hard to argue against Kyler Murray's big season. For the Tide, Tua threw for nearly 4,000 yards, 43 TDs, and just 6 interceptions. If he can stay healthy, he'll have a great chance to improve on those stats. He'll have Biletnikoff winner Jerry Jeudy to throw to again.
IS THIS GEORGIA'S YEAR?
The Bulldogs have been knocking on the door of a national title two years in a row, and the one team stopping them (other than themselves) is Alabama. Kirby Smart would probably love nothing more than to finally get the better of his old boss, Nick Saban. He'll have Jake Fromm back for a junior season free of QB controversy. D'Andre Swift and 5-star recruit Zamir White are expected to keep the offense humming, but all but one receiver with 10 or more catches returns next season.
Georgia's defense was not elite in 2018. They'll need to be, if 2019 is to end with another CFP appearance.
IT'S TATE TIME AT OHIO STATE
Tate Martell, the #2 dual-threat QB recruit of the Class of 2017, has waited two season for his turn. With Dwayne Haskins going pro, his time has come. New head coach Ryan Day says he'll have an "extraordinary talent" at QB in 2019. It probably will be Martell, but if Georgia transfer Justin Fields is awarded a hardship waiver, there will be a full-on competition for the starting job.
Running back J.K. Dobbins returns, which will be a big benefit to the new signal caller, whoever he is.
NEXT MAN UP FOR THE SOONERS
First there was Baker, then there was Kyler, but the Sooners probably won't claim a third Heisman Trophy in a row. The cupboard is not bare. Does anyone remember the Cuthbertson kid who torched Erwin for 5 total TDs in the 2015 playoffs? Austin Kendall is up in Norman. The Sooners also have the #1 dual-threat QB in the 2019 class coming in (Spencer Rattler).
IAN BOOK'S ENCORE CHALLENGE
Notre Dame was already good, but the benching of Brandon Wimbush made them legit contenders. Ian Book should improve on his 3,000 + yard season, in which he accounted for 23 scores. Notre Dame's schedule next year includes games against Georgia and Michigan. They'll be in the playoff discussion.
THE SWAMP DRAINED?
Dan Mullen won 10 games in his first year leading the Gators. His quest to "Make UF Football Great Again" started with a 10-3 season, a top-10 final ranking, and a 41-15 beatdown of Michigan in the Peach Bowl. Mullen will need to get even more out of junior quarterback Feleipe Franks, if Florida hopes to take down Georgia and Alabama.
TOM HERMAN IS THE GUY AFTER ALL
The Longhorns practically start from scratch on defense in 2019, as they'll lose as many as 9 starters on that side of the ball. That could hurt, but with a dynamic QB returning the offense shouldn't take a step back. Sam Ehlinger may forever be known as the arm (and legs) that propelled UT back to national prominence.
JIMBO'S "TAMU TURNAROUND" OFF TO A GOOD START
Jimbo Fisher was brought in to raise the Aggies' program from a perennial 8 to 7 win team, to a national player. STATUS CHECK: On Track. The Aggies won 9 games in his first year. To win more than 9 next season, they'll have to win one of the following: @ Clemson, vs Alabama, @ Georgia, or @LSU.
Jimbo & Co. secured the #3 recruiting class in the early signing period.
HOW GOOD CAN JOE BURROW BE?
The LSU Tigers have been on the brink of greatness for several years now. It seems they always find a way to slip up and miss out on the big show. Joe Burrow's junior season showed he can play "big boy football" at a high level, but how high? LSU has the #1 running back in the Class of 2019 coming in. John Emery could be the next, great power back to star in Baton Rouge.
JIM HARBAUGH NEEDS A MORE EXPLOSIVE OFFENSE
For the third year in a row the Michigan Wolverines climbed into the top 10, but for the second consecutive year they ended the season out of the top 25. Michigan beat up on most of the Big Ten, but was murdered by Ohio State and Florida to close out the year. Shea Patterson was efficient in his junior season, but he needs more weapons. Michigan's schedule gets harder next year, as they have games against Army, Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Iowa, and OSU.
WILL HERBERT REGRET RETURNING TO OREGON?
Justin Herbert could have been the first QB off the board in the 2019 NFL Draft, but he's opted to finish his college career. He'll lead a team that had the #2 offense in the PAC-12 in 2019. As soft as the PAC-12 is, Oregon could be a surprise entrant in the CFP.
MIKE LEACH LOOKING FOR A QB
One has to think Mike Leach will not be with the Cougars if he has another season like 2018. His boys won 11 games, and Leach made ECU grad transfer Gardner Minshew one of the best quarterbacks in the country (4,776 yds, 38 TD). Could Leach do better if he got, say, Jalen Hurts?
NATIONAL CHAMPS LOL
The UCF Knights fans should have been brought back to Earth after being dominated by LSU in the Fiesta Bowl. If you don't think they were, you didn't watch the same game as the rest of us. A few bogus plays made it look like a close one. Here's a spoiler alert: they STILL think they belong in the title picture. Next year we'll have to hear it again, as they still play practically no one. Will McKenzie Milton make it back from a brutal leg injury? Will they be in the market for Jalen Hurts?
If the answer to both is no, we might get a break from the UCF mania.
A HUSKY REBUILD
Joe Browning is not coming back, neither is Myles Gaskin. The defensive unit will also lose all but three of its starters. The big plus, for Washington? Georgia transfer Jacob Eason steps in as the starting QB. Eason was named a honorable mention freshman All-American by Campus Insiders in 2016. He lost his gig to Jake Fromm after an injury in 2017.
IS SYRACUSE "BACK?"
In his 3rd year, Dino Babers beat his win total from the previous two. Syracuse's 10 wins was the first such season for the Orange since 2001. They have a lot to replace, including senior QB Eric Dungey. The dual threat racked up 32 total TDs in his final season.
THE BATTLE OF HAPPY VALLEY
The Nittany Lions couldn't find a way to replace Saquon Barkley in 2018, and it'll be a tough task to replace Trace McSorley in 2019. Rising senior Tommy Stevens has waited patiently for his turn, but this year freshman Sean Clifford became an instant fan favorite after connecting on all 5 of his 5 passes in regular season blowouts for 195 yards and two touchdowns.
JT ON THE BRINK OF HISTORY
Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor will again be on the short list for the Heisman Trophy. The rising junior has amassed 4,171 yards in his two seasons. Another 2,000-yard campaign would put him 4th all-time in NCAA history, behind only Donnell Pumphrey, fellow Badger Ron Dayne, and Ricky Williams.
KELLY BRYANT JOINS THE SEC
The Clemson transfer has chosen to finish his college career at Mizzou. He steps into a program that made Drew Lock a NFL prospect, and he has 2019's best security blanket in tight end Albert Okwuegbunam.
VIRGINIA TECH'S HOKIE POKEY AT QB
The Hokies were led, admirably, down the stretch by Ryan Willis, but the dynamic Josh Jackson returns from injury. Is there a controversy here? Willis' numbers were comparable to Jackson's, from his freshamn season.