Calling it: 10 predictions for 2019

ByMark Schlabach ESPN logo
Thursday, January 17, 2019

The 2018 college football season is over, after Clemson routed Alabama 44-16 to win its second national title in three years.

With the Tigers raising the trophy once again, it's time to look back at my bold predictions for 2018, some of which I hit with Trevor Lawrence-like accuracy and some of which flopped like Alabama's fake field goal try.

In January 2018, I projected that Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma and Ohio State would make the four-team College Football Playoff field. Three out of four isn't too bad.

I predicted that the true freshman Lawrence -- and not returning starting quarterback Kelly Bryant -- would lead the Tigers back to the CFP.

I also forecast that Alabama-Georgia Round 2 would decide the SEC championship and a CFP berth, which it did. And in August I predicted -- admittedly tongue-in-cheek -- that former starter Jalen Hurts would come off the bench to replace Tua Tagovailoa at halftime and help the Crimson Tide knock off the Bulldogs, which he did.

I said Michigan would finally beat a team that mattered (it defeated Wisconsin, Michigan State and Penn State, but not the teams that really mattered). I told you that UCF and its former coach, Scott Frost, now at Nebraska, wouldn't go undefeated.

I anticipated that Auburn fans wouldn't like coach Gus Malzahn after Week 1; they waited until Week 3 to really boo.

What did I get wrong? Among other things, I predicted that new UCLA coach Chip Kelly would bring life back to the Pac-12 (it's still roadkill). I guessed that FAUcoach Lane Kiffin would have a Power 5 job after the season; he's still coaching the Owls.

What's in store for 2019? Here are 10 bold predictions for the 2019 season.

With apologies to Ron Powlus and the late, great Beano Cook, Lawrence will win the Heisman Trophy as a sophomore and junior. He's that good.

At 6-foot-6 and 205 pounds, Lawrence has a rare combination of size, arm strength, mobility and intelligence. Even better, he's one of the most grounded 19-year-old kids you'll meet.

Lawrence became the first true freshman quarterback to start and win a national championship game since Oklahoma's Jamelle Holieway in 1985.

How much has the game changed since back then? Holieway, who took over OU's wishbone offense after Troy Aikman broke his leg, attempted 58 passes in 12 games in 1985. Lawrence attempted 71 in two CFP games, completing 47 for 674 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions.

Lawrence is only going to get better. He will lead the Tigers back to the CFP in 2019, winning the stiff-arm trophy as a reward.

The Crimson Tide are going to catch a lot of ridicule between now and their Aug. 31 opener against Duke in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in Atlanta, and deservedly so. For the first time in a long time, Alabama looked overwhelmed and panicked in its ugly loss to Clemson.

But to suggest that Nick Saban's dynasty is over is extremely shortsighted. The Crimson Tide lost to a better team with the best player on the field. Alabama was better than everyone else for so long because it had better players than everybody else.

Alabama is on pace to sign the No. 1 recruiting class for the sixth time in eight years, according to ESPN Recruiting. The Crimson Tide will reload and will be heavy favorites to win a second consecutive SEC title. And they'll be extremely motivated for revenge, which isn't always the case.

Alabama will reach the CFP for the sixth straight season in 2019, joining Clemson and ...

The Sooners haven't missed a beat under wunderkind Riley, who replaced longtime OU coach Bob Stoops two summers ago. Under Riley, 35, the Sooners have reached the CFP and produced Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks in each of his two seasons.

Day, 39, was Urban Meyer's hand-picked successor at Ohio State, where he inherits a team that must replace quarterback Dwayne Haskins and brings back as many as 10 defensive starters.

Meyer has raved about Day, who might end up being better than any of his former assistants, including Florida's Dan Mullen and Texas' Tom Herman.

Day has already overhauled his coaching staff, snaring Michigan assistants Greg Mattison and Al Washington to help shore up OSU's defense.

Georgia transfer Justin Fields might be Haskins' successor, if he successfully appeals to the NCAA for a hardship waiver. Whether it's Fields or rising sophomore Tate Martell under center, the Buckeyes will beat Michigan (again), finish 12-1 and reach the CFP.

For the second consecutive season, the Sooners will have to replace a Heisman Trophy winner, with junior quarterback Kyler Murray departing for the Oakland Athletics or the NFL draft.

Rising junior Austin Kendall is the early favorite to replace him, at least until incoming freshman Spencer Rattler, the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the ESPN 300, enrolls this summer. Throw in two of the country's most heavily recruited receivers -- Jadon Haselwood and Theo Wease Jr. -- and the Sooners are going to continue to score a bunch of points.

The difference in 2019 will be on defense, with 10 starters expected back and former Ohio State assistant Alex Grinch taking over as coordinator. The Sooners ranked dead last among 130 FBS teams in pass defense in 2018. There's literally only one way to go.

OU will lose to Texas at the Cotton Bowl on Oct. 12 and then defeat the Longhorns in the Big 12 championship game to return to the CFP for the third consecutive season.

The Pac-12's football reputation has taken a beating lately, but the league will be better in 2019 -- just not good enough to have one of its teams crack the top four.

The Pac-12 will feature some of the sport's best quarterbacks this coming season: Oregon's Justin Herbert, Washington's Jacob Eason (a Georgia transfer) and Stanford's K.J. Costello.

It's all about baby steps, and the league should be better in 2020, after Washington rebuilds its defense with Chip Kelly in Year 3 at UCLA.

Perhaps no FBS coach is going to face more pressure this coming season than USC's Clay Helton, who went 5-7 in 2018 after winning 21 games the previous two seasons combined. Trojans athletic director Lynn Swann has shown patience, but it will run out after a mediocre season in 2019.

Meyer, who said he believes he'll never coach again, will be the top candidate to replace Helton. Meyer, 54, won more than 90 percent of his games at Ohio State, never lost to rival Michigan and won three Big Ten titles and the 2014 national championship.

Meyer isn't going to sit around and do nothing, and it's not like he hasn't changed his mind about retirement before.

Kingsbury, who was fired after three straight losing seasons at Texas Tech, his alma mater, became one of the hottest commodities in the NFL coaching carousel.

Kingsbury, 39, resigned as USC's offensive coordinator -- only a month after taking the job -- to become the Arizona Cardinals' new coach. The Cardinals will go 7-9 in his first season in 2019.

The Longhorns and Aggies both seem to be on the fast track back to national relevancy, but they'll both fall short in winning conference titles in 2019.

Their consolation prize: They'll finally meet in the Allstate Sugar Bowl on New Year's Day.

The in-state rivals haven't played since the Longhorns' 27-25 victory on Nov. 24, 2011, their ninth victory in the past 12 meetings. The Aggies left for the SEC the next season.

Brown and Miles came out of retirement to take over big rebuilding jobs at North Carolina and Kansas, respectively.

Brown, who turns 68 four days before the Aug. 31 opener against South Carolina in Charlotte, North Carolina, inherits a team that went 2-9 in 2018. Seven of UNC's nine losses were by 10 points or fewer, including two in overtime.

Keep an eye on UNC's home game against Miami. New Hurricanes coach Manny Diaz was Brown's defensive coordinator at Texas, and things didn't end particularly well.

Kansas went 3-9 in coach David Beaty's final season, and Dr Pepper commercials are about as close as Miles, 65, will get to another national championship trophy.

UCF and Boise State are probably the favorites among the teams from the Group of 5 conferences to make a New Year's Six bowl game.

But Army is coming off an 11-2 season, which included a near-upset of Oklahoma and a 70-14 win over Houston in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, which tied the FBS record for the most lopsided result in a bowl game.

With quarterback Kelvin Hopkins Jr. and six other starters coming back on offense, the Cadets should have a good chance to win every game but one: a road trip to Michigan on Sept. 7.

Army would have to be selected as an at-large and wouldn't take the Group of Five automatic bid.

While Army's schedule probably isn't up to snuff, the CFP selection committee might give the Cadets a pass. It would be un-American not to do so.

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