Scott Frost

Nebraska and coach Scott Frost are aiming for a big 2019 after a 4-8 season in 2018.

The AP Top 25 was released Monday. Here's my preseason ballot, which is designed to predict what I think might happen this season.

In other words, the top four teams double as my teams for the College Football Playoff. 

A couple general truisms about my preseason poll: 

» I have a system — kind of like power rankings — that informs my baseline thinking and then is compared against various metrics to comprise the preseason rankings. 

» I'm less prone than most voters to put Group of Five teams in my preseason rankings. This changes as the season goes on, and it's worth noting that in 2017 I voted Central Florida my postseason No. 1 over Alabama. 

1. Clemson: The defending national champions may have lost the nation’s best collection of defensive linemen, but they return one of the nation’s top quarterbacks, Trevor Lawrence, to helm what could be — no exaggeration — a 50-point-per-game offense. The Tigers’ defense will be average because their offense will be out of sight.

2. Alabama: Nick Saban will have the Crimson Tide hungry and ready for vengeance against Clemson in January, and it’s pretty likely the two teams will meet. There might be one squad who can wreck round four in the College Football Playoffs, but quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is a Heisman frontrunner.

3. Georgia: UGA is the team that can wreck Alabama’s dreams. The Bulldogs have an absolutely brutal schedule — Notre Dame comes to town Sept. 21 and they drew Auburn and Texas A&M out of the SEC West — but they have perhaps college football’s most complete team. With Georgia, it’s always whether the offense can come through when it counts.

4. Oklahoma: The Sooners are a good bet to make yet another College Football Playoff because of the relative weakness of the Big 12, a winning quarterback (Jalen Hurts) and a soft nonconference slate.

5. Michigan: A new spread offense, a rebuilt defense, and no Urban Meyer. That’s how the Wolverines will win the Big Ten in 2019. But UM can’t afford a single loss, and the schedule is rawhide-tough.

6. Oregon: The Pac-12 is weak — really weak — and the Ducks could run right through it with quarterback Justin Herbert and one of the nation’s fastest, most athletic rosters. The season-opener with Auburn is key. Win that, and Oregon could be in the top five until it loses.

7. Ohio State: Year one for Ryan Day and his revamped staff is one challenge. The real one is pairing a new staff with Georgia transfer quarterback Justin Fields. OSU will have a great defense. Offense? We’ll see.

8. Notre Dame: Trips to Georgia and Michigan — plus tricky home games against Virginia and Virginia Tech — make it unlikely the Fighting Irish run the table. This is a solid 10-win team, though, for Brian Kelly.

9. Utah: This could be the Year of the Ute in the Pac-12. Coach Kyle Whittingham will have one of college football’s best defenses, a returning quarterback and a manageable schedule. Don’t be stunned if Utah heads to Washington Nov. 2 undefeated. 

10. LSU: Another very solid team — led by quarterback Joe Burrow — that has to plow through a brute of a schedule. The Tigers head to Alabama. That’s an L right there.

11. Florida: A year away. The Gators don’t quite have Georgia’s talent or Alabama’s quarterback. They also chose to play Miami and Florida State in nonconference. Too much.

12. Texas: The name “Sam Ehlinger” just sounds like a Texan, doesn’t it? Beat LSU at home to start the season, and Tom Herman will have all the attention he wants.

13. Miami: The Hurricanes have the coach (Manny Diaz) and the talent on defense to make a deep run in the weak ACC.

14. Missouri: NCAA rules prohibit the Tigers from playing in the postseason, but they’re likely to win 10 games without a bowl.

15. Iowa: This ranking is about the offensive and defensive lines. Iowa has good ones, again, and enough skill at receiver and defensive back to win the Big Ten West.

16. Texas A&M: The Aggies are darn good, and also have the honor of playing the top three teams in this poll. Welcome to the best 8-4 team in college football.

17. Washington: Welcome to the weakest potential 12-0 team. Probable? No. Possible. Oregon, Utah and Washington State all visit Seattle.

18. Auburn: The lack of proven quarterback makes it hard to elevate the Tigers above this spot. Five-star freshman Bo Nix could be Trevor Lawrence. He could be Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who struggled at UCLA.

19. Nebraska: You get the sense the Huskers are close, really close, and may be only a solid offensive line away from winning the whole Big Ten. The quarterback is in place, so is the defense, and the skill players are better than advertised.

20. Michigan State: Even a passable offense earns the Spartans a nine-win season. The defense is that good — shades of 2013, when MSU won the Rose Bowl.

21. Iowa State: What a year in the Midwest, huh? The Cyclones haven’t been ranked at the end of the season since 2000. That’s how good Matt Campbell might be.

22. Minnesota: The Gophers have a lot of pieces back, including almost all of their offensive production and a big, burly offensive line. This is a sleeper pick to win the Big Ten West.

23. Arizona State: The Pac-12 South is pretty soft by just about every standard, and Herm Edwards’ style of steady offense and good defense takes a jump in year two.

24. Mississippi State: Nothing is easy in the SEC West — the Bulldogs will struggle to reach nine wins — but don’t bet against coach Joe Moorhead and Penn State transfer quarterback Tommy Stevens.

25. Penn State: If James Franklin wins the Big Ten in 2019, it’ll be one heck of a coaching job. The Nittany Lions are in a firm transition year and have tricky Big Ten West road games at Iowa and Minnesota.

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