Will Clemson become the first team to win back to back national titles since Alabama in 2011 and 2012? Can the Tide bounce back and avoid their first two-year title drought in five seaons? Or will Georgia, Ohio State or another team finally break through?
These are the latest odds according to Bovada.com and the arguments for and against each of the top contenders.
Clemson Tigers +240
Key Games: Texas A&M (Sept. 7), at Syracuse (Sept. 14), Florida State (Oct. 12), at South Carolina (Nov. 30)
Why Bet Clemson?
If you remember last season, this doesn’t require much of an explanation. The offense that rolled over Notre Dame, Alabama and everyone else returns a backfield with two legitimate Heisman candidates (QB Trevor Lawrence and RB Travis Etienne), a pair of projected high first-round picks at receiver (Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross) and most of the offensive line that paved the way to a national title in 2018.
Things will look quite a bit different on the other side of the ball, especially upfront, with six starters including three first round picks from last year’s starting front seven gone. That kind of turnover would be reason to panic for most teams but Clemson has nine defensive linemen rated as four or five star prospects by 247Sports.com coming back along with a handful of four-stars at linebacker.
Why Stay Away?
There’s a reason no one outside of Alabama has won back to back titles the last 25 years — it’s really hard to do. Clemson will be double-digit favorites in every regular season game and presumably the ACC Championship game in December. If they run the table, which seems likely, they’ll be riding a 28-game winning streak heading into the 2020 playoff. Keeping a bunch of 18 to 22-year-old’s focused and playing their best football after so many weeks may be the biggest challenge of Dabo Swinney’s coaching career, especially with the departure of 2018 team leaders, Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell, Mitch Hyatt and Hunter Renfrow.
Alabama Crimson Tide +250
Key Games: at Texas A&M (Oct. 12), LSU (Oct. 19), at Auburn (Nov. 30)
Why Bet Alabama?
Given the way last season ended, this Alabama team should be more motivated than any group Nick Saban has ever coached in Tuscaloosa. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is back, along with one of the best receiving corps college football has ever seen including Jerry Jeudy, Jaylen Waddle, Devonta Smith and Henry Ruggs III. All four caught over 40 balls and averaged more than 16 yards per catch a season ago.
Alabama’s biggest weakness in 2018 was its secondary. Trevon Diggs, who missed most of last season with a broken foot, and Patrick Surtain, Jr., who started as a true freshman most of the season, both return in 2019, giving Alabama two of the best corners in the nation.
Why Stay Away?
It’s hard to forget just how much better Clemson looked in the national title game. If Trevor Lawrence could pick the Alabama defense apart the way he did as a true freshman, how much more unstoppable could he and the Clemson offense be in year two? On top of Clemson, SEC foes LSU, Texas A&M and Georgia should all be improved plus having to play Auburn at Jordan-Hare in 2019 makes for a tougher road back to the playoff.
Georgia Bulldogs +800
Key Games: Notre Dame (Sept. 21), Florida* (Nov. 2), Missouri (Nov. 9), at Auburn (Nov. 16), Texas A&M (Nov. 23)
Why Bet Georgia?
Georgia’s offensive line anchored by left tackle Andrew Thomas might be the best the unit college football has seen in a decade or more. Junior quarterback Jake Fromm is entering his third year as a starter and has been as good as any quarterback in the country when given time in the pocket the last two seasons. Fromm will have a thousand-yard rusher in D’Andre Swift returning and a stable of other talented young running backs to complement him. Outside of junior Jeremiah Holloman, the Dawgs have very little experience coming back at receiver.
The same can be said for the defensive line, inside linebacker and corner but with three straight top-three recruiting classes, Georgia has more talent and depth at almost every position. If a couple of the five-star underclassmen can step up for Kirby Smart, this could easily be Georgia’s best shot to win its first national championship since 1980.
Why Stay Away?
Even if Georgia runs the table in the regular season, they’ll still have to go through Alabama (at least once). Until they prove they can get over that hump, it’s hard to pick them to win it all — not to mention that Clemson will likely be waiting on the other side if can knock off the Tide.
Ohio State Buckeyes +950
Key Games: at Nebraska (Sept. 28), Michigan State (Oct. 5), at Northwestern (Oct. 18), Wisconsin (Oct. 26), Penn State (Nov. 23), at Michigan (Nov. 30)
Why Bet Ohio State?
Nine players from Ohio State’s 2018 team, including quarterback Dwayne Haskins, were drafted in April. Expected to replace Haskins is Georgia transfer Justin Fields. Fields was a five-star recruit, the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback and No. 2 overall prospect behind Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence in 2018. At 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, Fields is an extremely accurate passer with 4.51 speed, tailor made for Ohio State’s spread offense. He’ll have a two-time thousand-yard rusher in J.K. Dobbins in the backfield with him and plenty of speed on the outside.
Projected top-five pick Chase Young and two other returning starters are back on the defensive front. Ohio State’s defense needs to improve overall but if Fields can live up to his potential, he can be the kind of X-factor that allows Ohio State to score enough to beat anyone. They’ll just need to navigate the 2019 season without losing any major upsets like they have the last two seasons.
Why Stay Away?
Ohio State will rely on a first-year head coach in Ryan Day and first-year starter at quarterback in Fields in 2019. They came up short of even making the playoff a season ago with one of the best quarterbacks in school history and one of the greatest coaches in college football history. As promising as Day and Fields both may be, neither has been through the fire like their predecessors and the path to a national title this year looks more daunting than any over the last several years.
Michigan Wolverines +1500
Key Games: at Wisconsin (Sept. 21), at Penn State (Oct. 19), Notre Dame (Oct. 26), Michigan State (Nov. 16), Ohio State (Nov. 30)
Why Bet Michigan?
Up until the Ohio State game last season, Michigan had one of the best defenses in the country. The problem, as it’s been since Jim Harbaugh arrived in Ann Arbor in 2015, was the offense. After four seasons of a stagnant, run-first pro-style offense, Harbaugh hired Alabama offensive coordinator Josh Gattas to bring his fast-paced, high-powered spread offense to Michigan. Quarterback Shea Patterson put up 322 passing yards per game running the spread as a sophomore at Ole Miss and with Michigan’s trio of receivers coming back, Tarik Black, Donovan Peoples-Jones and Nico Collins, the Wolverines have the personnel to be a dominant force in the Big Ten in 2019.
The defense must replace a pair of first round picks in linebacker Devin Bush and defensive end Rashan Gary which won’t be easy. Fortunately Harbaugh and his staff have recruited extremely well along the front seven and even with a slight drop-off in talent and experience, Michigan’s D should improve significantly just by virtue of the balance Michigan’s new offense brings.
Why Stay Away?
The Wolverines still haven’t beaten Ohio State in the Harbaugh era and were utterly embarrassed 62-39 in 2018. They’ll have to navigate one of the most difficult schedules in the country in 2019, then get past the Buckeyes to even have a chance to compete in the playoff.
Florida, Texas +2500
LSU, Notre Dame, Oregon +3300