Approaching the more traditional start to the college football season, a look at the legitimate threats to make the playoff and particularly to win it all reveals a distinct lack of long-term intrigue, with Alabama vs. Clemson capping the season for the fourth time in five years feeling Warriors-Cavs in the NBA Finals-levels of inevitable.
In essence, parity is in purgatory as it pertains to college football right now. Since 1980, six occasions have seen a team either win two national titles in a row, win twice in three years, or win three titles in four years. Four of the six instances have happened in the last decade or so, and Clemson and Alabama have traded the ‘chip back and forth since 2015.
If you’re a fan of the Tigers or Crimson Tide, then good for you; enjoy the life-enhancing success of your teams. As for the rest of us, part of the fun continues to be watching and waiting for the next team – hopefully ours – to reach their level. Here are four teams that could break the Dabo-Saban monotony:
Georgia – Clearly the most likely to break through in 2019 after getting so close to knocking off ‘Bama in the last two seasons. Kirby Smart is right there. He has the experienced and very talented quarterback in Jake Fromm, some elite skill players, and cultural momentum (losses of players and coaches but a firmly entrenched system) on defense. Add an SEC still re-developing the usual cadre of top flight teams and a visit to Athens by their toughest non-conference opponent, Notre Dame, and it’s very possible that Georgia will get its shot at the title. Unfortunately, it looks like they would have to face Alabama possibly twice (SEC Title and CFP) and beat Clemson (NC game) to win it. The vibe is that it is Clemson and ‘Bama, then Georgia, and then a few steps back to everyone else.
Ohio State – Justin Fields was the top quarterback in the 2018 recruiting class for Georgia, then transferred to OSU. Expectations are high. The Buckeyes are breaking in new head coach, Ryan Day, who took over for the legendary Urban Meyer (igniter of the current dynasty-heavy decade-ish by winning two of three national titles in 2006 and 2008 at Florida), but they remain the Big 10 favorites to me until I see someone take their crown (I’m selling Michigan stock). Don’t forget that they have been among the Top 5 teams in the country for the vast majority of the decade. It feels like a long-shot for them to win it all, but it’s definitely no long-shot for them to make the playoff. Programs as loaded with talent as they are often handle coaching changes well for a season or two, even if the new guy can’t hack it long-term.
Oklahoma – To crack the Saban code in the 2010s, teams have typically needed both a really good defense and a game-changing quarterback; and now there is the Dabo code to crack too. The Sooners were historically bad on defense last year and way too much hope is being put in Alex Grinch’s new scheme given that it is his first season in Norman, and to expect Alabama transfer Jalen Hurts to replicate even 80% of the production from back-to-back Heisman trophy winners is unrealistic. OU is a little bit over-hyped in the pre-season if you ask me, but they have been to three out of the last four playoffs and belief within the program likely burns bright until distinguished by repetitive losing – a proposition that also does not seem realistic. Stories like Hurts facing his old team and an old, familiar foe in Clemson for a chance to win it all are too awesome not to want to see.
Washington – I distinctly recall the 2014 season narrative being that the Big 10 was not going to put a team in the playoff, and that the conference was weak. Ohio State promptly emerged down the stretch and won the national championship. What have enthusiasts heard for the past nine months in 2019? “The Pac 12 is no good.” Well, the Huskies are the class of the conference right now and former quarterback Jake Browning regressed after his breakout 2016 during which he led UW to the playoff. Chris Peterson is an excellent coach and now he has former Georgia #1 recruit, Jacob Eason (a Washington state native), to quarterback his offense. If Eason lives up to past hype and the Huskies continue their defensive track record, the bad losses from the last two seasons might get replaced with big wins. It’s not at all inconceivable that they finish 13-0 heading into the playoff.
QUESTION OF THE DAY: Which team outside of Clemson, Alabama, and Georgia is most likely to win the 2019 College Football National Championship?