Spring camps have wrapped up. The NFL Draft has concluded. And Pomp and Circumstance has been played approximately 13,000 times across the country. The silly season of coaching changes is in the books. The transfer portal has been busy (and will likely see more action over the summer), but teams are largely as they will be constructed this Fall.
So, let’s take stock of the ranked teams as we head into the offseason. Here’s your Post-Spring Who Needs a Blog Poll Top 25.
Post-Spring Top 25
|Alabama Crimson Tide
|Ohio State Buckeyes
|Texas A&M Aggies
|Notre Dame Fighting Irish
|Washington State Cougars
|Army Black Knights
|Boise State Broncos
|Iowa State Cyclones
|Utah State Aggies
|Fresno State Bulldogs
|Penn State Nittany Lions
|Minnesota Golden Gophers
Let’s break it down by conference; that may be easier:
Big 10: The Rust Belt may have the deepest crop of bowl teams this year. It would not be surprising to see 12 teams make post-season play. And, weirdly, the usually-awful Western Division may be the tougher road to hoe. Iowa, Wisconsin, and Northwestern are the sorta’ co-favorites here (and my money is on Iowa), but keep an eye out for Minnesota as a dark horse, and especially Nebraska in the outside lane. The Cornhuskers were a different team the last month of the season and look to be trouble for the slow-footed lummoxes out there. So too, must the division be on the lookout for Purdue: they can’t play defense consistently or win road games. Both will need to improve. While Auburn destroyed the Boilers, they weren’t as bad a team as they looked in Nashville. Illinois should continue its steady improvement. The usually-brutal East is going to be a bit down though. Ohio State will be a killing machine, despite losing Haskins and Weber — and Day coached this team better than Urban did. The Buckeyes are going to drop damn-near 60 a game. Penn State has key losses at every nearly position group on the field. I don’t trust Michigan State, to be honest...they’ll have to earn it. Michigan’s offense may have to hold down the fort while the new guys on defense get up to snuff — Harbaugh wasted a title run team last season. Do you trust Jim to modern-up? I don’t, and the speed and depth and scheme on defense simply still isn’t there yet. Indiana and Maryland should be bowl teams, but nothing special. At this point, you can really only eliminate Rutgers and maybe Illinois from Bowl contention. But, like the ACC, it’s basically a one-team juggernaut league.
Big 12: This is a league that, while maybe not in transition, should see a new name reign supreme in the Orange Bowl: There is a lot more to like about the Longhorns than there is to like about an OU team without its best QB, WR, OL and a defense that looked even more lost in March than it did in January (Jalen Hurts is going to have a monster year, though.) I don’t want to talk about these crappy defense-optional teams. So, I will just say that Iowa State is going to be quite good given all of their structural and talent deficiencies. West Virginia and K-State got very good new hires, but it’s going to take a while to re-calibrate both programs. TCU...I guess. But the Frogs are closer to 8-4 than to 10-2. And, with so little expected from Oklahoma State, that’s usually when the Mullet turns in his best work. Your dark horse here is probably Baylor. They’re a year or two away, but they will ruin someone’s season. Kansas is intriguing with The Hat, but that team needs much more talent to get out of the cellar, and I really am not sure how his paleoball is going to fly in a league where you routinely need 48 points to win a game. So, I guess meet the new boss, same as the old boss: Texas and Oklahoma are playing twice this year, and I suspect the Longhorns take it, even if Herman is way too flaky to win 13 straight games to get into the playoffs.
SEC: There is something in the air, something that was hinted at last season — a decided shift of the balance of power not from from the West to the East, but to where both divisions are roughly equal for a change. Alabama and Georgia are national title contenders, despite their losses to the NFL. Full stop. LSU and Florida and Texas A&M are on the margins and could very well get to the playoffs too. It’s in the second tier where you see the two divisions narrow a bit. South Carolina has little momentum, but Missouri does. A 3rd-place finish would be unsurprising. Tennessee will be much improved, even while Kentucky takes a step back. Vandy will be Vandy. Both Mississippi teams look to be down this year, with the Rebels in the cellar and the Bulldogs relying on a hopefully-competent offense while the retooled defense gets up to speed. Auburn is going to be competitive in most contests with its defense alone, but that may not be enough. Your real wildcard is the Arkansas Razorbacks. They were the SEC’s Nebraska: a hopelessly lost team that improved tremendously as the year went on. And, they’ve upped the talent under Morris too. The Hogs are going bowling in 2019. Book it.
Midmajors / Independents:
Notre Dame didn’t lose a whole lot — notably their best corner, RB, and WR. But it’s a deep and talented team that importantly knows that Ian Book is their guy and how he works within the offense. So, they’re not going anywhere, but the schedule is much tougher in 2019. Boise State, Cincinnati, UAB and Army are also poised to capitalize on big 2018 seasons — especially Cincinnati if it can find consistent offensive production. Utah State has some nice pieces, but we’ll see if Gary Andersen ruins Matt Wells’ fun team. Fresno State will probably fall back a bit, but should very much be a borderline Top 25 squad. I absolutely hate the UCF Knights trying to rely on a system offense without their system QB and leaning a defense that is abominable-but-opportunistic. The Knights won’t fall off the map, but Memphis, Cincinnati, and Holgo’s Houston are all going to be handful. A healthier, more experienced USF and Tulsa look to rebound as well. And, you can’t expect Navy to have two crappy years in a row either.
Pac 12: The less said about this conference the better. Oregon has the buzz, but I don’t really see it (ask USC what a brute force talent advantage is worth.) For my money, Utah and Washington will be the class of a bad conference (even sans departing Senior QBs), with Wazzu still being the best all-around team after Spring...at least until they have to play conference road games. You have to trust Leach to reload under center more than the other squads. So, for now we’ll give the nod to the Cougs, though I suspect the Huskies and Utes again meet for the Crown. Stanford should rebound from an up-and-down season, but I don’t see them atop the far more loaded North. Getting past Wazzu, U Dub, and Oregon is probably too much to ask. The South is Utah’s to lose, though Arizona State is intriguing. If you’re looking for a possible divisional dark horse, Herm’s rebuilding Sun Devils may just fit the bill. And, I honestly don’t know what to make of Sumlin’s Arizona and his scheme that took 75% of the e season to figure out how to use the best player in the conference. #Swag. The window has closed for Colorado as quickly as it opened, I fear.
ACC: The ACC of 2019 is the same as the ACC of 1993: One behemoth, another respectable team, and then a whole lot of crap. Clemson is the deserved preseason No. 1 team after spring (but I’d be very surprised if they escape September undefeated. Go ahead and write that down.) Syracuse is the clear second best team in the conference, even after losing Eric Dungey. Beyond that...what? Mediocre 6-8 win bowl teams in NCSU, Pitt, Miami, BC, Virginia, and Duke? Hideous bottom of the barrel FSU, Louisville, and UNC programs with way too much talent to be that bad? Wake Forest nibbling at the edges? A five-year modernization effort at Georgia Tech? A Virginia Tech team with more hype than production (and amidst an offseason that has seen them lose over 10% of the roster to the Portal?)
Sometimes parity is the result of very good teams across the board. Sometimes, it’s that everyone kind of sucks. You only need to watch three games featuring the ACC this year — they’re fortunately all in a row too! The first is when Alabama beats Duke up, steals their lunch money, and shoves them in a locker. Then in Week Two Clemson hosts Texas A&M for an early season playoff game. After what should be an emotional and hard-hitting game, that following Saturday the Fightin’ Ostarines travel to Syracuse to face the Orange in the Carrier Dome. Winner gains the inside track to Charlotte in front of dozens of excited fans. Beyond that (and maybe for gambling purposes), there’s literally not a single reason to watch another ACC game this year.
Elsewhere: Big coaching losses at App. State and Troy open up the Sun Belt more than usual. But, the ‘Eers are still going to wind up on top. This is probably FIU’s year in the C-USA. UAB will be tough — why Bill Clark doesn’t have a major job is beyond me — but Butch Davis is building something nice. Look for a more experienced Toledo team to rebound in 2019 and face perennially-good Ohio. With Tyree Jackson moving on the NFL, Buffalo probably falls back enough to miss the title game. Want to know a MAC up-and-comer? Jim McElwain’s Central Michigan Chippewas. He can make a lot of noise even in Year One of the Midmajor Rehab Tour.
Post Spring Conference Championships:
ACC: Clemson vs. Virginia Tech (Clemson)
AAC: Memphis vs. Cincinnati (Memphis)
Big 10: Ohio State vs. Iowa (Ohio State)
Big 12: Texas vs. Oklahoma (Texas)
CUSA: UAB vs. FIU (FIU)
MAC: Ohio vs. Toledo (Ohio)
MWC: Fresno State vs. Boise State (Boise)
SEC: Alabama vs. Florida (Alabama)
Sun Belt: App. State vs. Arkansas State (Troy)
PAC 12: Utah vs. Washington (Utah)
Post Spring Playoff Predictions:
- Alabama — Runs wild and undefeated through a weak schedule, despite an October scare in Aggieland and the usual mudwrestle with LSU in Tuscaloosa. Beats Auburn interim Coach Kevin Steele senseless in Auburn, before routing Florida in the SECCG.
- Ohio State — Undefeated, and most games won’t be particularly close. But, forget Ann Arbor, the scary ones are at Nebraska and Northwestern. The Buckeyes also won’t have to worry about claims of a pitiful OOC schedule this year. With the addition of FAU and Cincinnati, the Buckeyes have added two bowl teams on top of a nine-game B1G schedule. Only Alabama’s momentum and preseason ranking keep the Bucks from securing No. 1 seed. After getting blown out by Clemson, Barry Alvarez finds new ways to whine.
- Clemson — Too many losses on defense prove to be fatal early. They succumb to the rat poison versus Jimbo or the following week in the Carrier Dome. Then, Clemson turns it on against the rest of the ghastly ACC and impress voters. Bludgeons the Hokies senseless in the ACCCG. The early season loss is forgotten and forgiven. Arguably, the best of the nation’s one-loss teams, alongside Georgia. Alabama-Clemson V is fait accompli.
- Georgia — One loss, to Florida, but with the addition of Notre Dame to the SOS, and good showings the rest of the year, the ‘Dawgs get the ‘Nod over two-loss Texas, Oklahoma and Utah, despite not winning their division. Finds way to blow second-half lead against Alabama in the first round of the playoffs. Big 12 continues to howl.