College Football Teams with Best Shot to Go Undefeated in 2019
Alabama and Clemson may well meet in the College Football Playoff for a fifth consecutive year, but which juggernaut has the better odds of at least getting to conference championship week with a zero in the loss column?
Along with the Crimson Tide and Tigers, these are the college football teams with the best odds of an undefeated season in 2019.
For each team, we'll look at what appears to be its biggest weakness, its most likely loss and the overall strength of its schedule. In many cases, the biggest weakness was the reason for picking the most likely loss, but the combination of team strength and overall strength of schedule was the primary driving factor in the rankings.
Figuring out how to stack elite teams facing tough schedules against good teams playing weak schedules is half the fun here. Four of the squads in our top eight are serious title contenders. The other four are hoping to run the table in order to claim the Group of Five's reserved spot in a New Year's Six Bowl.
One key note: Projected conference championship games were not considered for this exercise. We're only looking for the teams most likely to have a 12-0 record prior to those contests. Because of this, two SEC squads can squeeze into our top five.
Army Black Knights
If by some miracle Army is able to win the road game against Michigan on Sept. 7, it's all downhill from there. The second-toughest game on the schedule is...a home game against Tulane? Or maybe the road game against Hawaii solely because of the logistics involved when traveling from New York to Hawaii? It's a weak slate aside from that one near-impossible task.
Similar to Army, Syracuse will be in good shape if it can clear a colossal hurdle in September. The Orange do not play Miami, Virginia or Virginia Tech, and their nonconference schedule (at Liberty, at Maryland, Western Michigan, Holy Cross) is among the easiest in the country. But the Sept. 14 home game against Clemson—as well as the late-October road game against Florida State—make it hard to buy any stock in this team going 12-0.
Ohio State Buckeyes
This should be one of the five best teams this year, especially if quarterback Justin Fields immediately delivers on his immense potential. But this is a relentless schedule for new head coach Ryan Day. The Buckeyes will play four straight against Nebraska, Michigan State, Northwestern and Wisconsin, not to mention the back-to-back games against Penn State (home) and Michigan (away) to close out the regular season. Running the table in the Big Ten is beyond difficult.
It may take some time to adjust to life after Jake Browning and Myles Gaskin for the first time in four years. Fortunately, Washington opens the season with home games against Eastern Washington, California and Hawaii to ease into it. The Huskies also get Oregon, Utah, USC and Washington State at home, so they might not be an underdog at any point in the season.
8. Ohio Bobcats
Biggest Weakness: Uncertainty in Playmakers
Ohio quarterback Nathan Rourke is probably the most valuable player in the MAC and arguably one of the best among all Group of Five schools. But what will the dual-threat quarterback's supporting cast look like? With A.J. Oullette, Maleek Irons, Papi White and Andrew Meyer all out of the picture, the Bobcats lost 38 of last year's touchdowns and all primary ball-movers not named Rourke.
Most Likely Loss: at Pittsburgh (Sept. 7)
Pitt is going to look a lot different without leading rushers Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall and will probably finish in the bottom half of the ACC standings as a result. But while a road game against Pitt barely qualifies as a trap game for the likes of Miami or UCF, this is a massive early-September hurdle for a MAC team trying to figure out who its go-to performers will be this season.
Overall Schedule Strength: Lamentable
Give Ohio's schedule to a top-50 team, and it probably has a 50 percent chance to run the table. The five next-best teams in the MAC are arguably Toledo, Miami (Ohio), Northern Illinois, Western Michigan and Eastern Michigan. The Bobcats play three of them at home and avoid the other two altogether. Back-to-back road games against Pitt and Marshall will likely induce a loss, but 12-0 becomes a legitimate possibility if Ohio can start out with three straight victories.
7. Boise State Broncos
Biggest Weakness: Quarterback
Boise State hasn't had any uncertainty at quarterback in a long time. It's perhaps the biggest reason this team has been so consistently great for more than a decade. But Brett Rypien is gone after four years as the starter, and his replacement is anyone's guess at this moment. True freshmen Hank Bachmeier and Kaiden Bennett both appear to be in the running for the job. If the Broncos hadn't also lost leading rusher Alexander Mattison, maybe this transition wouldn't seem as daunting.
Most Likely Loss: vs. Florida State (in Jacksonville on Aug. 31)
Willie Taggart's first season as Florida State's head coach couldn't have gone much worse, but his roster is still dripping with talent. In particular, the Seminoles are loaded in the secondary, led by Levonta Taylor and Stanford Samuels III. What can only be loosely defined as a neutral-site game in Florida, this is a treacherous season opener for a Boise State team with question marks at quarterback.
Overall Schedule Strength: Could Be Much Tougher
That first game is no joke, but looking for potential losses beyond that is like a game of "Where's Waldo?" Road games against Utah State (Nov. 23) and BYU (Oct. 19) won't be walks in the park, but they are winnable—and that's as tough as it gets. The home game against Marshall might be the only other difficult contest on this schedule, and Boise could be favored by double digits in that one.
6. San Diego State Aztecs
Biggest Weakness: Defensive Line
San Diego State is loaded with returning starters, but not along the defensive line. Chibu Onyeukwu, Noble Hall and Anthony Luke all graduated, which means the Aztecs need to replace the entire first line of defense for a unit that barely allowed 100 rushing yards per game. Quarterback is also a legitimate concern here, as returning part-time starter Ryan Agnew was hardly an example of consistency or efficiency last year.
Most Likely Loss: at UCLA (Sept. 7)
Like Willie Taggart's first year at Florida State, Chip Kelly's debut at UCLA was nothing close to ideal. The Bruins went 3-9 and were a disaster on defense. But does anyone really expect this team to be down for long? The combination of quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson and running back Joshua Kelley will be tough for an inexperienced Aztecs defensive line to contain.
Overall Schedule Strength: Nothing Special
San Diego State does not have Boise State on the calendar, and games against Utah State and Fresno State will both be played at home. You can't ask for a more favorable Mountain West Conference schedule than that. And aside from the UCLA matchup, a season-ending home game against BYU is as tough as it gets. With running back Juwan Washington leading the charge, the Aztecs should at least bounce back for an 11-3 type of campaign that was the norm prior to last year's 7-6 disappointment.
5. Georgia Bulldogs
Biggest Weakness: Receivers
Georgia has plenty of options at receiver. Constantly crushing it in the national recruiting battle will have that effect. But there's a lot of uncertainty about who Jake Fromm will target in 2019, considering Riley Ridley, Mecole Hardman, Isaac Nauta and Terry Godwin all left. Jeremiah Holloman will almost certainly be a starter, but the rest of the pecking order in the receiving corps could go any direction.
Most Likely Loss: vs. Florida (in Jacksonville on Nov. 2)
The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party is always a highly anticipated affair, and this year's version figures to have serious College Football Playoff ramifications. Both the Bulldogs and the Gators—the expected top candidates for the SEC East crown—should open the season in the AP Top 10 with room to spare.
Overall Schedule Strength: Brutal
Even though Georgia avoids both Alabama and LSU, it won't be able to cruise to a 10-win season. The nonconference home game against Notre Dame will make sure of that. Later, the Bulldogs draw Texas A&M (home) and Auburn (road) in the interdivisional games, both of which fall directly after games against Florida and Missouri. Throw in the rivalry game at Georgia Tech to end the season, and the Dawgs would be lucky to go undefeated in their five November outings, let alone for the entire year.
4. Oklahoma Sooners
Biggest Weakness: The Entire Defense
In four losses over the past two seasons, Oklahoma scored 39.5 points per game. Whether Baker Mayfield or Kyler Murray was steering the ship at quarterback, there's never been any question that this Sooners offense is good enough to win a national championship. That continues with Jalen Hurts under center. The defense has been the issue, and the hope in Norman is that new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch will be able to find a solution.
Most Likely Loss: vs. Texas (in Dallas on Oct. 12)
Texas handed Oklahoma its only regular-season loss last year, and the Longhorns might be up to the task once again. Sam Ehlinger—he of the five total touchdowns in last season's meeting—is back for another year of mobile precision at quarterback. Texas has to replace well over half its starters on defense, so we'll see how well this team performs on that side of the ball. There's more than enough raw talent to expect great things, though. This just might be the most important game of the entire 2019 college football season.
Overall Schedule Strength: Not That Daunting
The Red River Rivalry is an obvious challenge, and Bedlam—at Oklahoma State this year—is always a potential loss. But the Big 12 doesn't figure to have much beyond the Sooners and Longhorns, and Oklahoma's nonconference schedule (vs. Houston, vs. South Dakota, at UCLA) isn't exactly a murderer's row of title contenders.
3. UCF Knights
Biggest Weakness: Defensive Line
UCF's rush defense was already porous, allowing 224.3 yards per game to opposing ground games in 2018. The Knights also lost just about every noteworthy contributor at both defensive end and tackle. Brendon Hayes (44 tackles, 3.0 sacks) is the only key returnee on the D-line, as head coach Josh Heupel is hoping an arsenal of freshmen and transfers can plug all the holes.
Most Likely Loss: at Cincinnati (Oct. 4)
The Knights won't need to deal with Memphis during the regular season, but this Friday night road game against Luke Fickell's Bearcats should be a major challenge. Cincinnati gets back all four top rushers from an offense that averaged nearly 240 yards on the ground. If UCF's defensive line is as much of an issue as expected, stopping the Bearcats could be next to impossible.
Overall Schedule Strength: Mediocre
A bunch of potential losses await on the docket, including road games against Florida Atlantic, Temple and Pittsburgh and a home game against Stanford. However, UCF should be favored in every contest. And, let's be honest. If you're betting on any program aside from Alabama or Clemson to go undefeated, don't you want to back the one that hasn't lost a regular-season game since November 2016?
2. Alabama Crimson Tide
Biggest Weakness: Kicking
Kickers have been a thorn in Nick Saban's side for years. Alabama's kickers missed nine extra points last season and were an OK, but not great, 15-of-20 on field-goal attempts. It doesn't much matter when the Crimson Tide are winning games 62-7. But when the need for a clutch kick inevitably arrives, will they be able to convert?
Most Likely Loss: at Mississippi State (Nov. 16)
Alabama has a bye before each of its two toughest games (at Texas A&M, vs. LSU) and has an effective bye the week before the Iron Bowl when it hosts Western Carolina. But this road game against Mississippi State comes just one week after the LSU battle. Meanwhile, head coach Joe Moorhead will get two weeks to prepare his Bulldogs for this one. If they are able to figure out their quarterback situation sans Nick Fitzgerald, they might be able to take down the Crimson Tide.
Overall Schedule Strength: Legitimately Challenging
Just about any other team facing this schedule would have no hope at an undefeated season. Yes, Alabama's nonconference schedule—four home games against Duke, New Mexico State, Southern Miss and Western Carolina—is pathetic. But a home game against LSU and four road outings against Texas A&M, Auburn, Mississippi State and South Carolina will ensure the Crimson Tide face a healthy dose of title contenders just to earn a date with either Georgia or Florida in the SEC Championship Game.
1. Clemson Tigers
Biggest Weakness: Defensive Leadership
This isn't a weakness so much as an uncertainty in the absence of almost the entire defensive front seven. Leading tackler Isaiah Simmons is back, but he's one of the only familiar faces on this Tigers defense. Will young guys like Kyler McMichael, Xavier Thomas and K.J. Henry step up to become immediate leaders? Will it be the veterans in the secondary who become the guiding light for the defending champs? Or will Clemson just count on being better offensively than everyone else?
Most Likely Loss: vs. Texas A&M (Sept. 7)
It's tempting to go with the season-ending road game against South Carolina in this spot, but Clemson should have its defensive questions answered by then. This Week 2 game against the Aggies—a team that damn near beat Clemson in this spot on last year's calendar—should be a different story. Jimbo Fisher quickly turned this team into a contender, and A&M could make a massive statement with a win here.
Overall Schedule Strength: Undefeated or Bust
Similar to last year, Clemson probably needs to walk a tightrope to perfection if it wants to reach the College Football Playoff because one loss against this relatively weak schedule might be one too many. The Tigers do not draw Miami, Virginia or Virginia Tech, and they get Florida State at home. Road games against Syracuse, North Carolina State and South Carolina should be tough, but they also shouldn't be that much of a challenge for what is once again supposed to be one of the two best teams in the nation.