Clemson and Alabama on course to College Football Playoff

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Perusing the various late-summer power rankings and preseason Top 25 polls is likely to leave college football fans outside Clemson, S.C., and Tuscaloosa, Ala., thinking, “No, not again!” 

But Clemson and Alabama, who’ve split the past four national titles appear to be on yet another collision course to the College Football Playoff championship game. 

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Over the past four seasons the two schools are both 55-4. They’ve faced each other in three of the past four title games — the Crimson Tide beat Clemson in the semifinals in 2018. One of the two schools has been seeded first in all five years of the CFP. And both enter 2019-20 with a strong Heisman Trophy contender at quarterback. 

The Tigers, who were No. 1 in the Associated Press’ preseason Top 25 released this week, will need to replace four starters from last season’s national title team. But they have the possible No. 1 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft in sophomore quarterback Trevor Lawrence and play just two ranked teams — No. 12 Texas A&M at home and at No. 22 Syracuse — this season, both in the first half of September. 

Alabama also is helped by its schedule. The Crimson Tide opens against a Duke team that will have a new quarterback, does not play Florida or Georgia and get LSU in Tuscaloosa on Nov. 9. 

Junior quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, last season’s Heisman runner up, and defending Biletnikoff Award winner Jerry Jeudy, who had 1,315 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns a year ago, comprise the nation’s best quarterback-wide receiver combo.. 

Alternatives to Clemson-Alabama III 

Among the trio ranked third through fifth in the AP poll — Georgia, Oklahoma and Ohio State — the No. 4 Sooners might be best suited to make it to the final game. 

After losing Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks to the NFL the past two seasons, head coach Lincoln Riley lured former Alabama starter Jalen Hurts to Norman. The Sooners’ offense should once again be prolific despite adding four new starters on the offensive line. 

During the offseason, Riley also addressed his team’s Achilles heel: the defense. Alex Grinch left Ohio State to become Oklahoma’s defensive coordinator in January. 

The Buckeyes have a new coach and new starting quarterback, and Georgia still needs to figure out how to beat Alabama. 

Will Pac-12 eat itself? 

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Oregon (at the end of the 2014-15 season) and Washington (2016-17) are the only West Coast teams to make the playoff in the CFP’s first five years. 

A season ago, just two Pac-12 teams made the final Top 25: No. 10 Washington State and No. 13 Washington, which lost to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl. The Huskies and Cougars had a combined six losses. Seven teams finished between 6-3 and 4-5 in conference play. 

The 2019-20 version of the Pac-12 looks stronger — but probably lacks a serious CFP contender. 

Five conference schools — Oregon, Washington, Utah, Washington State and Stanford — were ranked between 11th and 25th in the new preseason AP poll. 

The No. 11 Ducks look like the Pac-12’s best hopes this season, thanks in large part to the return of senior quarterback Justin Herbert.  

Draft experts expected Herbert would have been one of the first two quarterbacks taken in the draft. Returning to Eugene will give him a chance to work out some of the consistency issues that plagued him as a junior. Herbert’s chances for a big season is bolstered by a pair of sophomore running backs — CJ Verdell and Travis Dye — and the return of the entire offensive line. 

Head coach Mario Cristobal begins his second year at Oregon after bringing in one of the best recruiting classes in program history. 

The Ducks will be tested early in an Aug. 31 matchup with No. 16 Auburn in Arlington, Texas. They also play two of their toughest intraconference games — against Washington and Stanford on the road. 

Futures play: Stanford is a tantalizing 20-1 to win the conference, according to the Westgate SuperBook. 

Rising, falling 

In 2018, Year 1 of the Scott Frost era, Nebraska started 0-6 but finished 4-2, which included a close loss to Ohio State in Columbus. The Cornhuskers should be 4-0 when the Buckeyes visit Lincoln on Sept. 28. 

Last season, Northwestern rebounded from a 1-3 start that included a loss to Akron to advance to the Big Ten title game. But now the Wildcats have to replace Clayton Thorson, a four-year starter at quarterback, and got little help from the schedule-makers. Northwestern opens at Stanford and face Big Ten West rivals Wisconsin and Nebraska on the road in back-to-back weeks. 

Also rising: Wisconsin, Oklahoma State, UCLA. 

Also falling: Kentucky, Notre Dame, Central Florida. 

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About the Author

Ched Whitney

Ched Whitney has been a journalist in Las Vegas since 1994. He worked for the Las Vegas Review-Journal for 18 years, where he was the paper’s art director for 12. Since becoming a freelancer in 2012, his work has appeared at ESPN.com, AOL, The Seattle Times and UNLV Magazine, among others. ​

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