Predicting the Top 10 Offenses in College Football in 2019
In 2017, Oklahoma had the best offense in college football with Baker Mayfield under center.
In 2018, it had the nation's best offense with Kyler Murray under center.
In 2019, it may well still have the nation's best offense with Jalen Hurts under center.
It won't be a cakewalk back to the No. 1 spot, though. Last year's national championship competitors, Alabama and Clemson, will both give the Sooners a run for their money. And if Houston, Nebraska and Arizona can keep their dual-threat quarterbacks healthy, watch out for those offenses, too.
If you choose to grade these predictions at the end of the season, the stat we're aiming for is yards per play. Points per game can be skewed by touchdowns on defense or special teams, and yards per game is dependent upon field position and how many offensive snaps a team is able to take. Thus, yards per play is the best "basic" statistic for comparing offenses.
Granted, Oklahoma led the nation in all three categories last year, so sometimes it doesn't matter.
For each of these teams, we'll take a look at the star players as well as the potential weaknesses the should-be-great offenses will need to avoid/address.
2018 Juggernauts Expected to Regress
West Virginia Mountaineers: 7.07 YPP (6th), 512.3 YPG (8th), 40.3 PPG (10th)
Playing in the Big 12 will keep West Virginia's offense from dropping off a cliff. But the Mountaineers can't possibly be this potent again in 2019 after losing quarterback Will Grier and his two top targets, David Sills V and Gary Jennings.
Memphis Tigers: 7.12 YPP (4th), 523.1 YPG (4th), 42.9 PPG (7th)
As is the case for West Virginia, a lack of high-caliber defenses in Memphis's conference (AAC) will ensure the Tigers continue to put points on the board. Replacing Darrell Henderson's 2,204 yards from scrimmage and his ever-present threat to break off a big gain might be impossible, though. He led the nation in plays of at least 20, 30, 40, 50 and 60 yards last year.
UCF Knights: 6.89 YPP (9th), 522.7 YPG (5th), 43.2 PPG (6th)
UCF gets back most of last year's top playmakers, but the uncertainty at quarterback is a legitimate concern. Whether it's Darriel Mack Jr. or Notre Dame transfer Brandon Wimbush filling in for the injured McKenzie Milton, the Knights are going to have a quarterback who isn't exactly renowned for his completion percentage.
Ole Miss Rebels: 7.12 YPP (4th), 510.5 YPG (9th), 33.9 PPG (30th)
The Rebels lost starting quarterback Jordan Ta'amu as well as their three best receivers—A.J. Brown, D.K. Metcalf and DaMarkus Lodge. Factor in the difficulty of their schedule in the SEC and they might not even finish among the top 50 in yards per play in 2019.
Ohio Bobcats: 7.0 YPP (8th), 466.8 YPG (16th), 40.1 PPG (12th)
Star dual-threat QB Nathan Rourke is back for one more season, but his supporting cast is littered with question marks. The Bobcats lost their top two running backs (A.J. Ouellette and Maleek Irons) and their top two receivers (Papi White and Andrew Meyer). They might still have the best offense in the MAC, but it may be a borderline top-25 offense from a national perspective.
The Wild-Card Honorable Mention: Arizona Wildcats
2018 Rankings: 6.23 YPP (26th), 457.7 YPG (24th), 31.3 PPG (43rd)
Key Players: Quarterback Khalil Tate dealt with a left ankle injury throughout the 2018 season and wasn't anywhere near the offensive dynamo who broke out the previous year. His ability to stay healthy in 2019 is what makes Arizona a wild card. The Wildcats also have an explosive running back in J.J. Taylor, who ranked sixth nationally last year with 119.5 rushing yards per game.
Potential Weakness: Who will emerge at wideout? Shun Brown, Tony Ellison and Shawn Poindexter each had at least 60 receptions and 1,000 receiving yards between the 2017 and 2018 seasons, but that trio is no longer on the roster. The top three guys left on the team—Devaughn Cooper, Cedric Peterson and Stanley Berryhill III—are each listed shorter than 6'0", which may present a challenge in the red zone.
What to Expect: We cannot in good faith put Arizona in the top 10. Not after the Wildcats lost the top three receiving options from a team that failed to rank among the top 20 in any of the three major offensive categories last season. But if Tate is healthy enough to run around the field like he did for that unbelievable six-week stretch in 2017, Arizona's offense is going to be a problem.
10. Ohio State Buckeyes
2018 Rankings: 6.63 YPP (11th), 535.6 YPG (2nd), 42.4 PPG (8th)
Key Players: It's all about Georgia transfer Justin Fields at quarterback. If the dual-threat QB is as good as he was supposed to be while jockeying with Trevor Lawrence for the title of best recruit in the 2018 class, Ohio State's offense should be lethal. But if he gets banged up or is otherwise disappointing, the Buckeyes don't have much of a plan B with Dwayne Haskins and Tate Martell out of the picture.
Potential Weakness: Will the Buckeyes be able to run-block this year? Despite the luxury of a pair of former 1,000-yard rushers in Mike Weber and J.K. Dobbins, Ohio State's run game was a disaster in 2018. After six consecutive seasons averaging at least 240 rushing yards per game and 5.2 yards per carry, the Buckeyes could only muster 171.3 and 4.2, respectively. They've also lost four of their five starting offensive linemen from last season. With any luck, though, that will be addition by subtraction.
What to Expect: Ohio State lost both of its quarterbacks, three of its top four receivers, a running back with more than 2,600 career rushing yards and its head coach. Expectations are far from obvious. But there's a ton of talent on this roster thanks to the constant influx of top-five recruiting hauls, so the Buckeyes should be plenty capable of scoring points.
And watch out for redshirt freshman Jaelen Gill. The all-purpose back just barely missed a 5-star rating from 247Sports in last year's class. He could be huge in the quest to replace Parris Campbell, Terry McLaurin and Johnnie Dixon.
9. Utah State Aggies
2018 Rankings: 6.84 YPP (10th), 497.4 YPG (11th), 47.5 PPG (2nd)
Key Players: Was there a more improved player in the country than Utah State quarterback Jordan Love? After taking over for Kent Myers in the second half of his freshman season, Love could barely hit the broad side of a barn. But as a sophomore, his passer rating skyrocketed from 119.3 to 158.3, while his touchdown total quadrupled from eight to 32. He and running back Gerold Bright (888 yards, 10 touchdowns) give Utah State hope for another monster season on offense.
Potential Weakness: Utah State lost all five of its leading receivers, including both tight end Dax Raymond and running back Darwin Thompson as somewhat unexpected early entrants to the NFL draft. However, no Aggie had more than 709 yards or eight touchdowns in what was a receiver-by-committee type of arrangement. Perhaps Jordan Nathan, Carson Terrell and Taylor Compton will thrive as the next men up, but there are a lot of holes to plug.
What to Expect: Between the changes in the receiving group and the road games against Wake Forest and LSU in nonconference play, Utah State's offense may initially take a sizable step backward. But once Love gets a feel for his new targets, the Aggies should be just as potent as last year.
There is one big difference that may cause them to drop well outside the top 10, though: They don't have a game against San Jose State this season. They had 804 yards of total offense against the lowly Spartans, and replacing that late-in-the-season home game with an early road game against San Diego State will impact their numbers.
8. Texas A&M Aggies
2018 Rankings: 6.26 YPP (23rd), 471.6 YPG (15th), 36.0 PPG (19th)
Key Players: Kellen Mond is hardly a model of efficiency at quarterback, but he is the undisputed leader of Texas A&M's offense. He had more than 3,500 combined passing and rushing yards and 31 touchdowns last season, and he was outstanding in key, tough games against Clemson and LSU. His No. 1 target, tight end Jace Sternberger, is now with the Green Bay Packers, but all five of last year's top wide receivers return for the Aggies.
Potential Weakness: Can Jashaun Corbin effectively replace Trayveon Williams in the backfield? The rising sophomore missed most of the spring with a hamstring injury, but he is the presumed No. 1 running back now that Williams (2,038 yards from scrimmage last season) is off to the NFL. If Corbin is unable to become A&M's bell cow, it may throw the entire offense for a loop.
What to Expect: Jimbo Fisher had little difficulty adjusting to his first year of coaching in the SEC. Save for a road game against Mississippi State's elite defense, the Aggies had at least 375 yards and 20 points in every game last season. They ended the 2018 campaign on a four-game winning streak, averaging 502.5 yards and 51.3 points. This should be one of the best offenses in the best conference.
7. Nebraska Cornhuskers
2018 Rankings: 6.31 YPP (20th), 456.2 YPG (25th), 30.0 PPG (58th)
Key Players: Dual-threat quarterback Adrian Martinez is the straw that stirs Nebraska's drink, and JD Spielman is an obvious important piece of the offense after back-to-back years with at least 800 receiving yards. But the key players for the Cornhuskers are the two new ones: Dedrick Mills and Wan'Dale Robinson. The former started out at Georgia Tech before dominating at Garden City Community College last year. The latter is a true freshman who could be this year's version of what Rondale Moore did for Purdue in 2018.
Potential Weakness: Are Mills and Robinson enough to replace Devine Ozigbo and Stanley Morgan Jr.? Ozigbo had 1,082 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns last season. Morgan had 1,990 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns over the past two years. Those aren't exactly minor personnel changes, and those transitions could be bumpy.
What to Expect: Other than a few awful showings against Michigan and Michigan State, Scott Frost brought this Nebraska offense back from the dead in his first season with the program. If his sophomore-year leap running the Huskers is even half as impressive as the offensive improvements UCF made in his second season there, Nebraska might win the Big Ten West division.
6. Oregon Ducks
2018 Rankings: 5.86 YPP (58th), 427.2 YPG (41st), 34.8 PPG (25th)
Key Players: Justin Herbert surprised just about everyone with his decision to return for a fourth season as Oregon's quarterback, and the Ducks ought to be special on offense because of that. They also get back both halves of their two-headed backfield in redshirt sophomore CJ Verdell and true sophomore Travis Dye. And while the star of the receiving corps (Dillon Mitchell) is gone, virtually everyone else returns. They also picked up Penn State grad transfer Juwan Johnson, so there are a lot of weapons for Herbert to play with.
Potential Weakness: What if keeping the status quo isn't enough for improvement? Bringing back a significant percentage of offensive production typically means increased output, but we're talking about a team that didn't rank among the top 40 in yards per play or yards per game. The Ducks were also held below 380 yards in four of their final eight games, including a seven-point, 203-yard stinker in the Redbox Bowl.
What to Expect: It won't quite be a return to the first half of the 2010s when Oregon consistently ran up the score against everyone, but the Ducks should bounce back after three straight seasons averaging around 35 points per game. The opener against Auburn might be rough, but this ought to be the highest-scoring team in the Pac-12.
5. Georgia Bulldogs
2018 Rankings: 7.05 YPP (7th), 464.9 YPG (18th), 37.9 PPG (14th)
Key Players: Excluding the likes of Kyler Murray, Baker Mayfield and Tua Tagovailoa, Georgia's Jake Fromm has quietly been one of the nation's most efficient quarterbacks over the past two seasons. He has 54 touchdowns with a completion percentage just a hair below 65 and a passer rating of 165.9.
But the real stars of this offense are the running backs. The Bulldogs have had multiple 1,000-yard rushers in each of the past two seasons. With D'Andre Swift, Brian Herrien, James Cook and Zamir White at Kirby Smart's disposal, this should be one of the nation's best non-triple-option rushing attacks in 2019.
Potential Weakness: While Georgia's backfield is overflowing with talent, the receiving situation is a big unknown. After losing Riley Ridley, Mecole Hardman, Isaac Nauta and Terry Godwin, Jeremiah Holloman (418 yards, five TDs) is the only proven commodity in the bunch. Former California transfer Demetris Robertson is one breakout candidate, even though he didn't make a single reception last year. True freshmen George Pickens and Dominick Blaylock may also be immediate, necessary contributors.
What to Expect: Because Georgia runs 50 percent more often than it passes, you would think its yards-per-play rate would languish behind the pass-heavy offenses. Instead, the Bulldogs have ranked in the top 15 in back-to-back seasons. There's no good reason to think that will change this year, especially since they won't need to deal with Alabama, LSU or last year's No. 1 defense, Mississippi State, during the regular season.
4. Houston Cougars
2018 Rankings: 6.60 YPP (12th), 512.5 YPG (7th), 43.9 PPG (5th)
Key Players: D'Eriq King threw for 36 touchdowns and ran for 14 more last season. The only other players in the past decade to rush for at least a dozen scores and throw for at least three dozen in a single season were Kyler Murray, Patrick Mahomes and Marcus Mariota. So, two Heisman winners and a third guy who just won the NFL's MVP award. Not bad company. And King did it in only 11 games.
Not only is he back in the saddle for the Cougars, but leading receivers Marquez Stevenson, Keith Corbin and Courtney Lark all return. So does top running back Patrick Carr. This was one of the highest-scoring offenses last year, and it should only get better, especially with Dana Holgorsen taking over as head coach.
Potential Weakness: Will King's knee (torn meniscus) be at and stay at 100 percent? Houston's star quarterback missed the final 2.5 games of last season following the injury, and the offense was much worse without him. (The Cougars averaged 4.7 yards per play in the regular-season finale and 4.3 YPP in the blowout loss to Army in the Armed Forces Bowl.) If King is limited in any way, Houston's ceiling drops considerably.
What to Expect: Houston scored at least 41 points in 10 of its first 11 games in 2018 and likely would have been worthy of New Year's Six Bowl consideration if its defense hadn't allowed 54.8 points per game in the four regular-season losses. With so much returning talent from that roster, the Cougars are on the short list of serious candidates to lead the nation in scoring in 2019.
3. Clemson Tigers
2018 Rankings: 7.35 YPP (3rd), 527.2 YPG (3rd), 44.3 PPG (4th)
Key Players: Pick your poison for each of our top three offenses. Clemson lost a ton of its defense to the NFL, but this already stout offense returns primarily intact. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence is back after throwing for 30 touchdowns and four interceptions as a true freshman. His top two receivers (Justyn Ross and Tee Higgins) also return after accounting for 1,936 yards and 21 touchdowns in 2018. And Travis Etienne (1,658 rushing yards, 26 total touchdowns) is probably the top Heisman candidate among non-quarterbacks.
Potential Weakness: Jackson Carman was a 5-star recruit in 2018 who saw a fair amount of action as a reserve this past season, but is he ready to become the primary protector of Lawrence's blind side? Mitch Hyatt was a four-year starter and a two-time All-American, so Carman has some big shoes to fill. Clemson also lost starting center Justin Falcinelli.
What to Expect: Clemson's offense broke through in a huge way with Lawrence running the show. The Tigers averaged only 33.3 points in 2017, but they were one of the nation's most unstoppable teams last year thanks to their elite quarterback. Expect more of the same this season. The Tigers should barrel through the ACC like a runaway freight train once again.
2. Alabama Crimson Tide
2018 Rankings: 7.76 YPP (2nd), 522.0 YPG (6th), 45.6 PPG (3rd)
Key Players: Just like Clemson, Alabama has no shortage of returning stars. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is obviously the biggest one, but that left-handed phenom also has four returning wide receivers—Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III, Jaylen Waddle and Devonta Smith—who each had at least 42 receptions, 693 yards and six touchdowns last season.
Potential Weakness: It's hard to call the run game a weakness when Alabama has the top-rated recruit from both the 2017 (Najee Harris) and 2019 (Trey Sanders) classes at its disposal. However, the Crimson Tide lost more than 1,500 rushing yards, more than 450 receiving yards and 23 total touchdowns with the departures of Damien Harris and Josh Jacobs. Backfield depth is at least a minor concern.
What to Expect: Although Alabama has traditionally dominated with defense, it re-branded itself this past season as a point-producing machine. As long as Tagovailoa is there and healthy, that is going to continue. He got beat up over the second half of the season, but he was just about perfect for the first two months. If that O-line can keep his jersey a little cleaner this year, Alabama might average 50 points per game.
1. Oklahoma Sooners
2018 Rankings: 8.60 YPP (1st), 570.3 YPG (1st), 48.4 PPG (1st)
Key Players: Oklahoma lost one hell of a QB-WR tandem in Kyler Murray and Marquise Brown, but those cupboards are far from bare. In search of a third consecutive Heisman winner from the transfer market, the Sooners brought in Jalen Hurts from Alabama.
The mobile, efficient quarterback will get to team up with star wide receiver CeeDee Lamb (1,158 yards, 11 TDs), tight end Grant Calcaterra (396 yards, six TDs) and running backs Trey Sermon and Kennedy Brooks (combined 2,003 yards, 25 TDs).
Potential Weakness: Who emerges as the No. 2 wide receiver? Lamb is great, and tight ends Calcaterra and Lee Morris are excellent options in the passing game. But there's no clear second fiddle to Lamb.
If he does his best 2016 Dede Westbrook impression and goes off for more than 1,500 yards while both running backs rack up north of 1,000 yards on the ground, no problem. Short of that, though, the Sooners need a guy like Charleston Rambo or Nick Basquine to take a huge step forward to help replace everything Brown did for them this past season.
What to Expect: Oklahoma didn't just lead the nation in yards per play last season. It blew everyone else out of the water. Same goes for the 2017 season. A lot of that was the supreme skills of eventual No. 1 picks Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield, but the brilliant offensive mind of Lincoln Riley and the laughably bad defenses in the Big 12 were also key elements of that offensive dominance. With those latter two factors and a ton of proven talent still on Oklahoma's side, it should continue to move down the field at will.