Heading into the 2019 NCAAF season, the general consensus it that it will once again be Alabama and Clemson squaring off in the title tilt. That may very well be the case, but we’re not about to hit the snooze button and wait until January.
There are plenty of teams worth paying attention to in the coming year, several of which are not receiving the attention they deserve. Here are our five favorite sleeper teams for you to keep on your radar as the season fast approaches.
The first year of the Scott Frost era in Lincoln couldn’t have started off that much worse. The club opened up 2018 by losing six in a row. For one stretch over that span, the club would drop three straight games by double digits.
Nebraska turned a corner after a three-point OT loss to Northwestern dropped the team’s record to 0-6. The club found a spark the rest of the way and went on to win four of its last six games. The two defeats over that span were both on the road and by a combined total of eight points.
Frost is back for another crack at it, as is sophomore QB Adrian Martinez, who just so happens to be being mentioned as a Heisman candidate. Additional improvement is on the way in Lincoln, and Nebraska is seeing some love from pundits as a result.
It’s not enough. This team has a legitimate shot at taking down the Big Ten West division one year after a 4-8 campaign.
We can stay in the same division for another team that’s garnering a little bit of attention, but far from enough. Northwestern was a surprising winner of the B10-West last year after an 8-4 regular season. Sure, they were smoked by Ohio State in the title tilt, but this is a program that isn’t going anywhere.
Head coach Pat Fitzgerald has done a fantastic job leading his alma mater. He’s also about to have a weapon at his disposal which he hasn’t had in recent years. Hunter Johnson, a five-star transfer QB from Clemson who sat out last year.
He could be in line to replace Clayton Thorson, who has also done a fine job as starter. However, the offense hasn’t been matching the productivity of the defense. That could change in 2019.
Northwestern is ranked 25th in the preseason coaches poll, but this is looking a team which can climb up several pegs before all is said and done.
The reasons that Syracuse doesn’t see much attention are simple: the Orange are more well-known for hoops, and they reside in the same division as Clemson. The chances of them breaking through and toppling the powerhouse look slim.
Closer examination confirms that the gap is big, but Syracuse also happens to have a shot at a 10-win season in 2019. Last year’s club pushed Clemson to the limit on the road, and they’ll be welcoming the Tigers to town this time around.
We’re not calling an upset, but let’s just say that the place is going to be a madhouse. It could easily turn out to be Clemson’s toughest test of the regular season once again. The defense took strides last year and is expected to do so again, while sophomore signal caller Tommy DeVito has another year of seasoning.
The team has some turnover to deal with on the offensive line, and that’s naturally a concern. However, that’s not enough to deter us from viewing the Orange as a squad which can win 10 games.
How can a team which is ranked 10th in the preseason coaches poll be considered underrated? It’s simple; expectations are being tempered too much for a Texas team which is on the cusp of taking a significant leap forward.
Tom Herman will be back for year three on the sidelines in Austin. The Longhorns made significant strides last time around. Season highlights included a three-point victory over Oklahoma in the Red River Showdown, and a seven-point win over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.
While the Bulldogs may not have had their hearts in the game after a crushing defeat in the SEC title game, it was still a big feather in the cap for Herman – not to mention a fantastic way to build momentum for the coming year.
Oklahoma is favored to win the Big 12 once again, but we’re not in the preseason coronation business. Texas will be a big factor in how the conference shakes out this season, maybe even bigger than most are expecting.
It was down year for the Pac-12 as a whole in 2018, and nowhere was that more true than on the campus of USC. Starting off with a record of 4-2 was bad enough, but slogging through the rest of the way to finish up at 5-7 was downright awful.
Nonetheless, there is reason for optimism for the Trojans in 2019. Clay Helton is back for his third season to lead the charge for the program, and he’ll have a new partner in crime. Graham Harrell, formerly of North Texas, is on board as offensive coordinator with visions of installing an Air Raid offense.
Naturally, that should be a big boon for the offense. If the defense can take a step forward as well. USC could be back in the mix for the Pac-12 title in 2019.