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2019 College Football Playoff predictions, expert picks, most overrated and underrated teams – CBS Sports

The long offseason finally ended on Saturday with Florida-Miami and Hawaii-Arizona getting things going. That means college football has officially returned for the 2019 season. And with that comes all of the typical prognostications — preseason polls, watch lists and the like.

We at CBS Sports are here to do our part as our staff breaks down its predictions for the College Football Playoff, 2019 national champion, Coach of the Year and Heisman Trophy winner. They also look at the most overrated and underrated teams in college football before making a bold prediction for the season as a whole.

College Football Playoff predictions

2019 national champion

Alabama: Alabama fell short in a big way in last year’s College Football Playoff National Championship, and that does not bode well for other teams trying to keep the Tide from winning this year’s title.  Alabama is, as it has been for quite some time, the most talented and deepest team. It is still, as it has been for quite some time, the best coached, although that distinction is now shared with Clemson. The Crimson Tide this year will also be hungry. It will not be easy, but it rarely is in this game.  Alabama’s last four national titles have come in seasons where the Tide lost a regular season game.  Not only do I think the Tide will win the title this season, I think that streak will be snapped and they will do so without a loss. — Jerry Palm (also Barton Simmons, Ben Kercheval)

Clemson: A budding dynasty took root in January winning a national championship for the second time in three years. The Tigers are such overwhelming favorites it’s just question their playoff credentials if they don’t go undefeated. I’m trying to find an L on the schedule — at Syracuse, at NC State, at South Carolina? Nah. This is a 13-0 team after the ACC Championship Game that will chase a second straight national championship. Trevor Lawrence has started only nine regular season games (and, oh yeah, guided Clemson to a national championship). Get ready for a 40-touchdown, 4,000-yard season out of that magic right arm. The defensive line has to “rebuild” after losing the entire front to the NFL. Something tells me everything will be OK. — Dennis Dodd (also Tom Fornelli)

Oklahoma: Two years in a row, the Sooners have brought a championship contender into the College Football Playoff only to be stopped short by the SEC. I think this is the year Lincoln Riley gets over the SEC hump and brings Oklahoma its first national championship in nearly two decades. Believing that there is a major gap between Oklahoma and the SEC ignores the razor thin margins of the Rose Bowl against Georgia or the furious comeback against the Tide in the Orange Bowl a season ago. — Chip Patterson

Georgia: There’s no denying the talent on Georgia’s roster. Kirby Smart has taken that roster from solid to stellar, and that has been the biggest reason why the Bulldogs have been on the brink in each of the past two seasons. They have the best offensive line in college football, an established star in Jake Fromm taking the snaps and one of the best running back rooms in the country. Talent alone should be able to fill the holes at wide receiver, and veterans up front on defense should solve their biggest problem last year — getting to the quarterback. Georgia will lose to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game, find its way to the College Football Playoff, squeak by Clemson and get revenge on the Crimson Tide in the national title game. — Barrett Sallee


Most overrated team

Michigan: This is based on those who think Michigan is a playoff team. It’s not. This is a 10-2 regular season team that has enough to win the Big Ten and go to the Rose Bowl. To get to the playoff, the Wolverines are going to have to go 12-1 or better. There are trips to Wisconsin and Penn State. Notre Dame and Ohio State come to the Big House. I’m trying not to disparage Jim Harbaugh because I truly believe Michigan is on the upswing, it’s just not a playoff team this season. — Dennis Dodd (also Jerry Palm, Barton Simmons)

Michigan State: The Spartans owned one of the worst offenses in the Big Ten last season. Michigan State scored at least 30 points in three of its first four games and then never scored more than 24 in its final nine games, including four when it was limited to single digits. It finished with seven wins and now starts the season ranked in the top 20? With so many questions left to answer on offense — and a difficult schedule that sees the Spartans playing nearly all their biggest games on the road — it’s hard to envision this team finishing with a record good enough to warrant top 20 placement. — Tom Fornelli

Texas: I’ll maintain that Texas should be good in 2019. A healthy Sam Ehlinger gives the Longhorns a chance to win every game. I just don’t know if they’ll be as good as others believe. For one: Can Ehlinger stay upright all the time? Also, Texas is replacing a lot of key starters on both sides of the ball, and while the depth is finally where coach Tom Herman wants, there are big holes to fill along the offensive line and on the back end of the defense. Of the two areas, I’m more concerned about the O-line, since defensive backs Caden Sterns and B.J. Foster could be major playmakers. The early-season game against LSU should be a great litmus test and the line has now moved to make Texas a slight favorite. Texas will win games, but anything less than another Big 12 title game appearance, and perhaps a win, will be a disappointment. That’s a thin margin, but it’s where Texas wants to be again. — Ben Kercheval

Nebraska: I’m sorry, but I don’t see where this Nebraska hype is coming from. Wisconsin, Iowa and Northwestern should be way more hyped up. If Scott Frost’s crew comes of age and quarterback Adrian Martinez plays well, then we should consider Nebraska a contender for the Big Ten West title. But that’s the ceiling for this team. When depth becomes a factor late in the season, Nebraska will be relying on players who were either recruited for the old system or those who haven’t played big roles at all. Even if the Cornhuskers start hot, they’ll fade down the stretch. — Barrett Sallee

Iowa State: The program health of Iowa State is in a great place and Matt Campbell continues to be one of my favorite coaches in college football, but I think the strong finish to last season — winning seven of its final eight games after a 1-3 start — has put the Cyclones in a heightened status for many preseason predictions. I think the loss of David Montgomery and Hakeem Butler is notable enough to believe that Iowa State is much closer to the TCU-Baylor-Oklahoma State portion of the Big 12 than the top tier occupied by Oklahoma and Texas. — Chip Patterson

Most underrated team

USC: The Trojans finished 5-7 last season, missing out on a bowl game for non-NCAA sanction reasons for the first time since 2000. Clay Helton’s on the hot seat. His original choice for offensive coordinator, Kliff Kingsbury, left for the Arizona Cardinals. All these reasons have led to the world wanting to bury USC, but I’m not so convinced. Kingsbury was replaced by another Texas Tech QB in Graham Harrell and will run the same offense. The Trojans are still the most talented team in a division where the team most assume will win the division went 6-3 last season. I don’t know how good USC will ultimately be in 2019, but I can almost guarantee it’ll be better than what everybody expects it to be. — Tom Fornelli (also Chip Patterson, Barrett Sallee)

Oregon: Mario Cristobal has done it the right way, rebuilding the Ducks in the image of an SEC team — getting strong in both lines. True freshman defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux was the No. 1 recruit in the country and is slated to start. The biggest reason for optimism is quarterback Justin Herbert. He has a chance to be the No. 1 player taken in next year’s NFL Draft. Herbert is among the core seniors who have a huge chip on their shoulders. A late-breaking concern: Freshman Mycah Pittman became the third receiver to miss significant time when he injured a shoulder. — Dennis Dodd

Iowa State: Let’s just push all the chips forward on this Iowa State hype train. It’s less of a gamble than it appears. The Cyclones have one of the game’s rising stars at in Matt Campbell. It has top tier coordinators in Jon Heacock (defense) and Tom Manning (offense) — even if you’ve never heard of them. It has a quarterback that would be coming off of a national freshman of the year type of season in any traditional Trevor Lawrence-less year. It has an offensive line that returns all of its starters, and it has a defense that returns eight players off the second best unity in the Big 12. I’m not taking a flyer on a penny stock. This is a principled investment in a team that checks all the boxes for growth and a steady return. Buy in now before this team enters November undefeated. — Barton Simmons

UCF: All UCF has done the last two seasons is go 25-1, and it did so under two different coaches.  This is still the dominant program in the Group of Five conferences and the Knights shown that they compete with top level teams in college football.  When the dust is settled, more likely than not, UCF will be back in the top 10 at the end of the season and playing in another New Year’s Six game, but it’s not likely that the Knights will ever start a season ranked that high.  This season, they are 17th in both preseason polls. — Jerry Palm

Memphis: When we talk about Group of Five teams that could make a New Year’s Six bowl, UCF and perhaps Boise State are probably the first two programs that come to mind. Memphis should be on that list, too. The Tigers lose star running back Darrell Henderson — he of the staggering 8.92 yards per rush last season — but there’s so much talent returning to this offense. Chief among them is quarterback Brady White, who is finishing up his second Ph.D thanks to some eligibility help from the NCAA. The AAC is going to be a lot of fun this year, so the road is not so easy for Memphis. However, this is a good window for the Tigers to make a run against UCF. The season-opener against Ole Miss is a nice opportunity to turn some heads early and get people on the train. — Ben Kercheval


Coach of the Year

Kirby Smart, Georgia: If I think Georgia finds a way to sneak into the CFP, and I do, then that presupposes some pretty lofty conclusions for this Georgia football team. It means that despite losing his defensive coordinator to a head coaching job and losing his offensive coordinator to a division rival, Smart keeps things cooking. It means that despite losing just about all of his meaningful receptions from last fall, the pass-game excelled. It means that a schedule that includes Notre Dame, Florida, Auburn, Texas A&M and likely Alabama was somehow handled with authority. It means that Georgia is in its second CFP in three seasons and is one fourth-quarter comeback away from three straight trips to the biggest stage. It means that Smart is firmly positioned as one of college football’s best coaches. — Barton Simmons (also Barrett Sallee)

Dabo Swinney, Clemson: Here’s the scary thing: At age 49, with 18 years on Nick Saban, it would seem Swinney is just getting started. Coach Fun has cornered the market on winning with a smile. The Tigers have a rock (Howard’s), a slide (in the facility) and the best of everything. With his destruction of Alabama in January, Swinney established himself as the best coach in the country. That could change but after last season and going into this one Dabo is just getting started. Proof: Clemson is the preseason No. 1 in the AP Top 25 for the first time. — Dennis Dodd

Jim Harbaugh, Michigan: I have Harbaugh getting past Ohio State and winning Michigan’s first Big Ten title since 2004 (and first outright since 2003). That in turn gets the Wolverines to the College Football Playoff, and while I don’t have them reaching the title game, if they have the season I believe they’re going to have, it’s hard to imagine any other coach receiving this award. Harbaugh will have proved a lot of doubters wrong, and defying expectations is typically the single-most important ingredient when it comes to putting together a Coach of the Year Award. — Tom Fornelli

Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma: I’ve Oklahoma winning it all and Jalen Hurts winning the Heisman Trophy. Riley doesn’t need both, or either, to occur to win Coach of the Year but if this is indeed the year of the Sooners you can bet it’s going to come with the 35, soon to be 36-year-old head coach claiming the profession’s top honor. Riley’s candidacy for such awards will be linked directly to his quarterback, and ever since he arrived in Norman as an offensive coordinator, there has been nothing but stellar quarterback play. I expect the same with Hurts coming in and taking over for Kyler Murray. — Chip Patterson

Ryan Day, Ohio State: Day takes over the Ohio State football program from Urban Meyer, and while poll voters still like the Buckeyes slightly more than Michigan, the popular school of thought is that the coaching change is what will finally allow Harbaugh to win a Big Ten championship at Michigan.  I will believe it when I see it.  Ohio State still has the most talent in the Big Ten.  Day acquitted himself well in his time filling in for Meyer during Meyer’s suspension last season.  There is no reason to believe there will be any backsliding at Ohio State and when the Buckeyes pick up right where they left off, Day will be recognized for doing so. — Jerry Palm

Matt Campbell, Iowa State: Campbell has seemingly done the impossible at Iowa State. The Cyclones are winning in the Big 12’s round robin schedule, and one could argue that no two teams could have suffered more in that format that them and Kansas. Not only that, Iowa State is a contender for the conference’s championship game. The Clones were in the running last November and bring back a team that’s capable of it this season. Campbell has churned out some potential big-time pros in Ames and gets guys to buy in like few others in his position. If Iowa State makes it to Arlington in December as one of the Big 12’s top two teams, like I believe it will be, I don’t know how you can look at the body of work and not give Campbell the vote. — Ben Kercheval


Heisman Trophy winner

Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson: Let’s be real about this … any pick other than Lawrence or Tua Tagovailoa is contrarian for the sake of being contrarian. Lawrence grew into a star last year and has had a full offseason — with one of the best receiving groups in the country — to build upon that success. Lawrence will top the 50-touchdown mark, throw for more than 4,000 yards and lead the Tigers to another undefeated regular season. His biggest threat in the Heisman race will be “Trevor Fatigue.” — Barrett Sallee (also Dennis Dodd, Jerry Palm, Barton Simmons, Ben Kercheval)

Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama: With Kyler Murray having such an amazing regular season and Lawrence dominating in the College Football Playoff, it’s somewhat easy to forget that Tua was incredible himself. He finished last season with 3,966 yards, 43 touchdowns and only six interceptions despite spending the first half of the season watching second halves from the sideline. He struggled a bit in two of Bama’s biggest games (Georgia and Clemson) but was banged up, and he now enters 2019 fully healthy and surrounded by some of the most dangerous weapons in the country. He’ll be back in New York at a minimum come December. — Tom Fornelli

Jalen Hurts, QB, Oklahoma: The work that Hurts has put in to develop his game since his breakout as a freshman at Alabama will be on full display in Oklahoma’s offense. He’s not Kyler Murray or Baker Mayfield, but his skill set, maturity and unique playmaking ability are perfectly set up for him to be the third straight Sooners quarterback to win the Heisman. The numbers may not match the record-setting production of the 2018 Oklahoma offense, but if the Oklahoma is playoff-bound and Hurts is a major reason why, then I expect him to be a finalist lock and a strong contender to win. — Chip Patterson


Bold prediction

  • Dennis Dodd: Urban Meyer will be the USC coach before Army-Navy kicks off. The guy’s history and vibe is just too strong. He wants to coach again and become the first to win national championships at three different schools. 
  • Jerry Palm: Urban Meyer will be one of the first hires after the regular season. Someone will make him an offer he can’t refuse.   
  • Tom Fornelli: Jalen Hurts will lead Oklahoma past his former team in a College Football Playoff semifinal before losing to Clemson in yet another title game.  
  • Chip Patterson: Auburn will win 10 games, including a victory over Georgia or Alabama in Jordan-Hare in November.  
  • Barton Simmons: One-loss conference champs out of the Pac-12 (Utah) and the Big 12 (Oklahoma) get left out of the playoffs. So too does an 11-1 Notre Dame as calls for playoff expansion continue to gain steam. 
  • Barrett Sallee: Georgia will suffer its first loss in the SEC Championship Game at the hands of Alabama, but the College Football Playoff landscape will open the door for Georgia to squeak into the No. 4 spot. The Bulldogs will then run through Clemson in the semifinal and finally get revenge on Alabama in the CFP National Championship to win their first title since 1980.
  • Ben Kercheval: After getting shut out of the CFP again, the Pac-12 makes the first unified push for an eight-team playoff. The heat will be on commissioner Larry Scott to do what is best for his bosses. 

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