AP Top 25 Heat Check: Wrapping up 2018 with eye toward 2019


By Ralph D. Russo - AP College Football Writer



Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa throws during the first half the NCAA college football playoff championship game against Clemson, Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa throws during the first half the NCAA college football playoff championship game against Clemson, Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)


Clemson's Trevor Lawrence throws during the first half of the NCAA college football playoff championship game against Alabama, Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)


Clemson beat Alabama for the national championship, but can the Tigers keep the Crimson Tide from reaching another less significant milestone?

Alabama has been preseason No. 1 in the AP poll the last three seasons, matching a record held by Oklahoma, which started No. 1 each season from 1985-87. Another preseason No. 1 in 2019 would make Alabama the first team to ever start four consecutive seasons top-ranked since the preseason poll started in 1950.

Clemson has never been preseason No. 1, but maybe next season.

At the very least expect a second straight season of the Tide and Tigers holding the top two spots to start the season in some order as both teams return star quarterbacks and a bevy of weapons.

The final 2018 rankings were revealed a few hours after Clemson beat Alabama 44-16 Monday night in the College Football Playoff championship game. The final Heat Check of the season looks at how the teams in the final rankings might start next season.

(x-player likely to leave early for NFL)

No. 1 Clemson (15-0)

2019 opener: vs. Georgia Tech.

Gone: DT Christian Wilkins; DE Clelin Ferrell; OT Mitch Hyatt.

Back: QB Trevor Lawrence; RB Travis Etienne; DE Xavier Thomas.

Heat check: The Tigers have some rebuilding to do on the lines. They’ll probably start at No. 2.

No. 2 Alabama (14-1)

2019 opener: vs. Duke in Atlanta.

Gone: DT Quinnen Williams-x; OT Jonah Williams-x; S-Deionte Thompson.

Back: QB Tua Tagovailoa; WR Jerry Jeudy; LB Dylan Moses.

Heat check: The beat goes on in Tuscaloosa.

No. 3 Ohio State (13-1)

2019 opener: vs. Florida Atlantic.

Gone: QB Dwayne Haskins; DT Dre’Mont Jones; WR Parris Campbell.

Back: RB J.K. Dobbins; DE Chase Young; S Jordan Fuller.

Heat check: Hello, QB Justin Fields, transferring from Georgia. The post-Urban Meyer era should start in the top five.

No. 4 Oklahoma (12-2)

2019 opener: vs. Houston.

Gone: QB Kyler Murray; QB Marquise Brown; OT Cody Ford.

Back: WR CeeDee Lamb; RB Trey Sermon; C Creed Humphrey.

Heat check: Big losses on offense. The Sooners are likely to be ranked behind Texas among Big 12 teams.

No. 5 Notre Dame (12-1)

2019 opener: at Louisville.

Gone: CB Julian Love; LB Te’von Coney; DL Jerry Tillery.

Back: QB Ian Book; DE Julian Okwara; DE Khalid Kareem.

Heat check: No reason the Irish shouldn’t start in the top 10, though the lopsided loss to Clemson might give voters some pause.

No. 6 LSU (10-3)

2019 opener: vs. Georgia Southern.

Gone: CB Greedy Williams; LB Devin White-x; RB Nick Brossette.

Back: S Grant Delpit; CB Kelvin Joseph; QB Joe Burrow.

Heat check: The Tigers are a top-10 team, but still need more consistent play out of quarterback.

No. 7 (tie) Florida (10-3)

2019 opener: vs. Miami in Orlando, Florida.

Gone: DE Jachai Polite; S Chauncey Gardner-Johnson; RB Jordan Scarlett.

Back: QB Feleipe Franks; S Brad Stewart; CB C.J. Henderson.

Heat check: Gators looked ahead of schedule in year one under Dan Mullen and could start next season borderline top-10.

No. 7 (tie) Georgia (11-3)

2019 opener: at Vanderbilt.

Gone: CB Deandre Baker; DE Jonathan Ledbetter; LB D’Andre Walker.

Back: QB Jake Fromm; RB D’Andre Swift; S Richard LeCounte.

Heat check: The Bulldogs should be loaded again to make another run at Alabama in the SEC, starting in the top five.

No. 9 Texas (9-4)

2019 opener: vs. Louisiana Tech.

Gone: DE Charles Omenihul, LB Gary Johnson; RB Tre Watson.

Back: QB Sam Ehlinger; S B.J. Foster; WR Collin Johnson.

Heat check: The Longhorns could start next season in the top 10 and actually deserve it.

No. 10 Washington State (11-2)

2019 opener: vs. New Mexico State.

Gone: QB Gardner Minshew II; RB James Williams; OT Andre Dillard.

Back: S Skyler Thomas; Davontavean Martin; RB Max Borghi.

Heat check: The Cougars will have to prove it with a new quarterback, but there is a lot coming back that could get them ranked in the high teens.

No. 11 UCF (12-1)

2019 opener: vs. Florida A&M.

Gone: WR Dredrick Snelson; LB Pat Jasinski; DE Titus Davis.

Back: RB Greg McRae; WR Gabriel Davis; RB Adrian Killins Jr.

Heat check: The health of QB McKenzie Milton (leg) will determine where the Knights will be ranked in the preseason.

No. 12 Kentucky (10-3)

2019 opener: vs. Toledo.

Gone: OLB Josh Allen; RB Benny Snell; OG Bunchy Stallings.

Back: QB Terry Wilson; WR Lynn Bowden; OLB Jamar Watson.

Heat check: The Wildcats were building to this season and are likely to fall back next. They might sneak into the bottom of the preseason rankings.

No. 13 Washington (10-4)

2019 opener: vs. Eastern Washington.

Gone: QB Jake Browning; LB Ben Burr-Kirven; S Taylor Rapp.

Back: QB Jacob Eason; OL Trey Adams; WR Ty Jones.

Heat check: The Huskies are saying goodbye to most of a good defense, but former five-star Eason should put Washington in the low teens.

No. 14 Michigan (10-3)

2019 opener: vs. Middle Tennessee.

Gone: DE Rashan Gary; LB Devin Bush; RB Karan Higdon.

Back: QB Shea Patterson; DE Kwity Paye; WR Donovan Peoples-Jones.

Heat check: Some rebuilding on defense likely leaves the Wolverines in the 8-10 range.

No. 15 Syracuse (10-3)

2019 opener: at Liberty.

Gone: QB Eric Dungey; WR Jamal Custis; LB Ryan Guthrie.

Back: S Andre Cisco; RB Moe Neal; QB Tommy DeVito.

Heat check: The Orange have several defensive linemen they are hoping to get back. If they do, they should start ranked for the first time since 1998.

No. 16 Texas A&M (9-4)

2019 opener: vs. Texas State.

Gone: RB Trayveon Williams; TE Jace Sternberger; DT Daylon Mack.

Back: QB Kellen Mond; WR Quartney Davis; DE Justin Madubuike.

Heat check: The offense has big potential while the defense rebuilds. Jimbo Fisher’s second year will likely start ranked.

No. 17 Penn State (9-4)

2019 opener: vs. Idaho.

Gone: QB Trace McSorley; DE Shareef Miller; RB Miles Sanders.

Back: DE Yetur Gross-Matos; LB Micah Parsons; WR K.J. Hamler.

Heat check: The Nittany Lions will start in the back of the Top 25, but some new stars could emerge from strong recruiting classes.

No. 18 Fresno State (12-2)

2019 opener: at Southern California.

Gone: QB Marcus McMaryion; LB Jeffrey Allison; CB Anthoula Kelly.

Back: RB Ronnie Rivers; DE Mykal Walker; S Mike Bell.

Heat check: Huge losses on offense, but the Bulldogs might get benefit of the doubt after 22 wins the last two seasons, and a ranking in the 20s.

No. 19 Army (11-2)

2019 opener: vs. Rice.

Gone: FB Darnell Woolfolk; LB James Nachtigal; LB Kenneth Brinson.

Back: QB Kelvin Hopkins; LB Cole Christiansen; RB Kell Walker.

Heat check: The Black Knights have won 21 games the past two seasons, but will probably need to prove it again to get ranked next season.

No. 20 West Virginia (8-4)

2019 opener: vs. James Madison.

Gone: QB Will Grier; LB David Long; WR David Sills V.

Back: RB Kennedy McKoy; DL Dante Stills; QB Jack Allison.

Heat check: Major rebuild and new coach Neal Brown’s first West Virginia team will start unranked.

No. 21 Northwestern (9-5)

2019 opener: at Stanford.

Gone: QB Clayton Thorson; CB Montre Hartage; WR Flynn Nagel.

Back: QB Hunter Johnson; RB Isaiah Bowser; LB Paddy Fisher.

Heat check: With a former five-star transfer QB in Johnson, Wildcats might be better next season and ranked to start it.

No. 22 Utah State (11-2)

2019 opener: at Wake Forest.

Gone: RB Darwin Thompson; Ron’quavion Tarver; TE Dax Raymond.

Back: QB Jordan Love; LD David Woodward; DE Tipa Galeai.

Heat check: Losing coach Matt Wells will make voters tentative, but bringing back Love should make them take notice.

No. 23 Boise State (10-3)

2019 opener: vs. Florida State in Jacksonville, Florida.

Gone: QB Brett Rypien; RB Alexander Mattison; CB Tyler Horton,

Back: S Kekoa Nawahine; LB Curtis Weaver; WR John Hightower.

Heat check: With Rypien gone, Boise State will probably start the season unranked but with potential.

No. 24 Cincinnati (11-2)

2019 opener: vs. UCLA.

Gone: DT Cortez Broughton; DT Marquise Copeland; WR Khalil Lewis

Back: QB Desmond Ridder; RB Michael Warren II; S James Wiggins.

Heat check: One of the best turnaround teams in the country in 2018 and might sneak into the bottom of the rankings to start 2019.

No. 25 Iowa (9-4)

2019 opener: vs. Miami, Ohio

Gone: TE Noah Fant; S Amani Hooker; DL Parker Hesse.

Back: QB Nate Stanley; DE A.J. Epenesa; TE T.J. Hockenson.

Heat check: The Hawkeyes have only been ranked in the preseason once in the last eight years. Outside chance they buck that trend in 2019.

Unranked teams likely to start 2019 ranked: Oregon; Auburn; Iowa State.

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at https://podcastone.com/AP-Top-25-College-Football-Podcast

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Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa throws during the first half the NCAA college football playoff championship game against Clemson, Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
https://www.wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2019/01/web1_122092334-8a048ff6dd734ffaaa07c4b0e9578362.jpgAlabama’s Tua Tagovailoa throws during the first half the NCAA college football playoff championship game against Clemson, Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence throws during the first half of the NCAA college football playoff championship game against Alabama, Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
https://www.wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2019/01/web1_122092334-99abc74a5e924155952535d8d560738a.jpgClemson’s Trevor Lawrence throws during the first half of the NCAA college football playoff championship game against Alabama, Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

By Ralph D. Russo

AP College Football Writer