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Teams Not Named Alabama or Clemson That Could Win the National Title

Rob Joyce
August 08, 2019 - 1:49 pm

It’s a religion in parts of the country no matter the outlook, but for the casual college football fan the regular season in 2019 feels… predetermined. Many think (and perhaps rightfully so) that we can basically simulate to January 13 in New Orleans, where Alabama and Clemson will meet for the fifth straight year in the playoff, including a fourth title game clash.

But what if the Tide or Tigers were to slip up? What if Tua Tagovailoa or Trevor Lawrence gets hurt? In a world where Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney didn’t rule all, who would be the 2019 national title contender? Here are the best bets to dethrone two powerhouses that have won the last four championships:

5) LSU:

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The Tigers lose two high-end talents on defense in Devin White and Greedy Williams, but eight starters are back, and points will be hard to come by against the always-vaunted defense.

There are two major obstacles in Baton Rouge. One, the offense needs to be more consistent, with Joe Burrow showing flashes, but only completing 58 percent of his passes. He does have his top six receivers back, and four o-linemen from 2018 (though they struggled, too). And, of course, to come out of the SEC West means upending Alabama, whom the Tigers have lost to eight straight times. Not only that, but LSU has one touchdown total against the Tide in the last three years and hasn’t reached the 20-point plateau since 2010. Before that, though, Week 2 against Texas is a must-win.

4) Texas:

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Texas is back! Okay, maybe not all the way back, but this time the oft-used statement might come to fruition (for real this time). After losing to Maryland for a second straight year in the season opener, the Longhorns won 9 of its final 11 games, losing in the final minute to Oklahoma State and West Virginia in consecutive weeks. After losing the Big 12 title game to Oklahoma, a 28-21 Sugar Bowl win over Georgia in a game that wasn’t that close has many expecting big things for UT.

Sam Ehlinger had a 25-to-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio, while rushing for 16 scores. Up that passing production a bit – he threw for 170 yards just once in the final four games of the year – notch a nice win over LSU on Sept. 7 and beat Oklahoma, and you’re talking about a top-5 team nationally.

3) Ohio State:

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The Buckeyes, as usual, have as much talent as anyone in the nation, but there are some major question marks. Ryan Day takes over the full-time head coaching role after Urban Meyer stepped down. While successful in a three-game interim role last year while Meyer was suspended, Day has never been a head coach at any level. And he must groom an intriguing quarterback in Justin Fields, a former five-star who transferred from Georgia late last year and is immediately eligible.

Though Week 2 against Cincinnati and former offensive coordinator Luke Fickell could be tricky, we won’t truly know about OSU’s mettle until mid-October, when it travels to Northwestern before hosting Wisconsin.

2) Oklahoma:

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In two years as head coach Lincoln Riley has two Heisman Trophy winners and No. 1 NFL Draft picks. Jalen Hurts doesn’t quite have the NFL scouting report of Baker Mayfield or Kyler Murray, but there’s no questioning his collegiate credentials. Despite losing the starting gig to Tua in 2018, Hurts went 24-2 as a starter at Alabama, winning a national championship and going to another title game. He has 48 touchdowns to 12 interceptions in his career and he’s mobile. Oklahoma’s offense likely won’t put up 48 points a game again, but don’t expect much drop-off. The overwhelming question: is the defense any better?

1) Georgia:

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The Bulldogs have come agonizingly close twice against Alabama. In 2017, of course, it was freshman Tua to come out after halftime and lead the Tide to a come-from-behind national title in overtime (2nd-and-26!). Last year in the SEC title game the roles reversed – Jalen Hurts came on for an injured Tua and, a year after being benched in the national championship, Hurts led a magical fourth quarter charge for the 35-28 comeback shocker.

Now Georgia is just as loaded, especially on offense. Jake Fromm can be in the same class as Tua and Lawrence at quarterback, though he does lose his top three targets from 2018. D’Andre Swift is one of the best running backs in the country and is behind a line that brings back four starters. And the defense is still upper echelon. Until proven otherwise, a Bama-UGA SEC championship is expected again.