For the past four seasons, college football has been dominated by Alabama and Clemson, which have consistently looked a step above other teams. While the two are favorites to once again make it back to the College Football Playoff, a new season brings hope to teams across the nation that this could be their year.
Ahead of the 2019 season, there are a number of key matchups which could help determine which teams can truly challenge Alabama and Clemson.
Auburn vs. Oregon: The most exciting matchup in the first week of the season, the two teams will meet for the first time since Auburn’s victory in the 2011 National Championship Game.
- Hot seat: Auburn will have a new starting quarterback this season, and it could be a make-or-break season for head coach Gus Malzahn, who has won 10 or more games just twice in six seasons.
- Best of the west: For Oregon, a victory could help launch a playoff campaign. Led by Heisman favorite Justin Herbert, the Ducks are favored to come out of the Pac-12. A win over a potential top-15 team in Auburn could go a long way for their hopes.
Texas A&M vs. Clemson: Last year’s matchup was nearly an early stumbling block for the Tigers, as they narrowly escaped with a 28-26 win. Former Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant still led the team at that time, but it’s all about Trevor Lawrence now.
- Mond’s the man: Second-year head coach Jimbo Fisher inherited an uncertain quarterback situation last year, but there’s no question about this year’s starter: Kellen Mond. After throwing for over 3,000 yards and adding 474 on the ground, there’s talk of an outside shot at the Heisman, but Mond will need improvements in both completion percentage (57.3%) and interceptions (nine) for that to happen.
- The real Heisman candidate: Even more so a favorite than Mond, Lawrence burst onto the college football scene as a true freshman and immediately looked the part of a national title-winning quarterback. He threw for over 3,000 yards and had only four interceptions compared to his 30 touchdowns. Lawrence is already just about pro-ready, and he’s ready to light up the nation once again.
Notre Dame vs. Georgia: With appearances from both teams in the College Football Playoff in the last two seasons, this Sept. 21 matchup has major postseason implications. Georgia narrowly squeaked out a 20-19 win in 2017, and now the Irish must travel to Athens, Georgia.
- Pressure on the Irish: This could be a statement victory for Notre Dame, which mastered a difficult schedule last season but was steamrolled by Clemson in the national semifinals. Quarterback Ian Book will have to play his best. A loss could be deadly for the team’s playoff chances, given road trips to Michigan and Stanford await later in the season.
- No room for error: With quarterback Jake Fromm and running back D’Andre Swift leading the way, the Bulldogs have big-play ability on offense. Georgia’s SEC schedule is a gauntlet, and similar to Notre Dame, a loss here would leave no room for slip-ups the rest of the way.
Texas vs. Oklahoma: The two bitter rivals met twice in 2018, as Texas pulled off an upset in the regular season, but Oklahoma claimed its revenge in the conference championship game. A similar story could repeat itself this year, as both teams are top-10 caliber and are a notch above the rest of the Big 12.
- Horns up: Texas head coach Tom Herman has the best team of his coaching career and will need to build off a Sugar Bowl victory over Georgia. Quarterback Sam Ehlinger continues to grow, but the Longhorn defense will need to do the same to compete against high-octane Oklahoma.
- New QB, same quality: The Sooners may have had their Heisman-winning quarterback go first overall in the NFL Draft for the second straight season, but there is no drop off in quality this year with Alabama transfer Jalen Hurts. There is talent all over the field for Oklahoma. If Hurts can retain his previous form, a three-peat isn’t out of the question.
LSU vs. Alabama: Often an important matchup in the SEC West, last year’s Alabama-LSU matchup fell flat of some of the historic clashes between the teams. The Crimson Tide steamrolled the Tigers 29-0, but LSU did the end the year with an important win in the Fiesta Bowl.
- Burrow’s bunch: LSU quarterback Joe Burrow was dreadful in that loss (18-35 for 184 yards, one interception), but showed his true quality in the team’s final four games of the season. A 394-yard, four-touchdown effort against UCF to close the season has given the Tigers hope that Burrow may be able to make a big jump as a senior.
- No stopping Saban: As is always the case with Alabama, a wealth of talent left for the NFL. But a new group of hungry players will replace it. The Crimson Tide have lost just one regular season game in the last three seasons, and will need to get past a tough LSU team to continue that dominance.
Michigan vs. Ohio State: The Wolverines have had talented teams in the last four seasons, but Harbaugh was never able to defeat Urban Meyer in the rivalry game. Both teams have playoff aspirations, and “The Game” could once again determine which Big Ten team makes it to the playoff.
- It’s Patterson’s team now: The Wolverines lost considerable talent to the NFL Draft (Devin Bush, Rashan Gary, Chase Winovich), but returns their most important piece: quarterback Shea Patterson.
- Unknowns abound: Meanwhile, Ohio State got an explosive quarterback of its own in Georgia transfer Justin Fields. First-year head coach Ryan Day can immediately slot the talented quarterback into his high-powered offense, presenting an opportunity for the Buckeyes to return to the postseason.
The bottom line: While the 2019 college football season may once again come down to Alabama and Clemson in the end, teams across the country are still vying for their shot at the title. The season kicks off with a top-15 matchup, and the best games of the year will continue all the way to rivalry weekend with “The Game.”