Predicting Every Power 5 College Football Team's MVP for 2019 Season

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystJuly 18, 2019

Predicting Every Power 5 College Football Team's MVP for 2019 Season

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    Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa
    Alabama QB Tua TagovailoaBen Margot/Associated Press

    Whether a Heisman candidate at quarterback for a championship contender or a relatively obscure running back racking up yards for a team just trying to win one game, every college football roster has its own MVP.

    Our goal for today is to project that 2019 MVP for each of the 64 Power Five programs.

    Yes, even likely bottom-feeders such as Louisville, Oregon State and Rutgers will get a little bit of the spotlight here. Bad teams have best players, too.

    One key thing to keep in mind before we dive in: Value is based on projected production for this season. Though both may be mentioned at times, this isn't about NFL draft stock nor recruiting stars and the long-term potential that goes with them.

    We're just looking at who will be most important for each team in 2019.

    For more college football and NFL draft talk, check out the Stick to Football podcast with B/R's lead draft expert Matt Miller.

ACC (Atlantic Division)

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    Trevor Lawrence
    Trevor LawrenceJeffrey McWhorter/Associated Press

    Boston College Eagles: AJ Dillon, RB

    Dillon missed two games with an ankle injury and wasn't the same player over his final three outings after reaggravating it. Yet he finished with 1,108 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns and looked almost as good as he did while destroying defenses throughout the second half of the 2017 season. He should challenge Travis Etienne and Cam Akers for the ACC rushing title.


    Clemson Tigers: Trevor Lawrence, QB

    Lawrence threw 30 touchdowns as a true freshman, including six (with no interceptions) in the College Football Playoff. Aside from the hard hit that knocked him out of the game against Syracuse, nothing could faze him. Clemson is the heavy favorite to win the ACC for the fifth straight season if he stays healthy.


    Florida State Seminoles: Cam Akers, RB

    After rushing for more than 1,000 yards as a freshman, Akers had a sophomore slump of only 706 yards. Of course, when your offensive line is a large block of Swiss cheese, these things happen. If the big guys can create an inch or two of space for him this year, Akers has the athleticism to put up the type of Heisman conversation-worthy numbers Dalvin Cook produced in his final two seasons with the Seminoles.


    Louisville Cardinals: Malik Cunningham, QB

    New head coach Scott Satterfield preferred mobile quarterbacks during his time with Appalachian State, so you have to like Cunningham's chances of winning the job, considering he led the Cardinals in rushing yards as a redshirt freshman (497). Whether he'll have anyone to throw to or anyone who can block for him or a defense that can keep opponents from scoring 50 points per game remains to be seen.


    North Carolina State Wolfpack: Jarius Morehead, S

    NC State lost its starting quarterback, its primary running back and its top two wide receivers, which means you'll frequently hear the "R" word (rebuilding) in regards to this offense. The defense should rank among the best in the conference, though, led by this fifth-year safety. Morehead racked up at least 80 tackles in each of the last two seasons and had a team-best three interceptions in 2018.


    Syracuse Orange: Alton Robinson/Kendall Coleman, DL

    Both Robinson and Coleman recorded 10 sacks last season, which means Syracuse should be one of the best pass-rushing defenses in the nation. And when opponents do get passes away, they better avoid Andre Cisco. Syracuse's defensive back had seven interceptions and nine passes defended as a freshman. If any ACC team is going to disrupt Clemson's offensive rhythm and pull off an upset, it's the Orange.


    Wake Forest Demon Deacons: Essang Bassey, DB

    Bassey had at least 70 tackles and 15 passes defended in each of the past two seasons. The only other player to hit those marks in either year was Michigan State's Justin Layne in 2018. Some good it's doing for the Demon Deacons defense, though. They have allowed at least 450 yards per game in each of the last two seasons. They need to give Bassey more of a supporting cast this year.

ACC (Coastal Division)

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    Shaquille Quarterman
    Shaquille QuartermanLynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Duke Blue Devils: Deon Jackson, RB

    Jackson was Duke's primary rushing threat last season with 847 yards and seven touchdowns, but he's also the top returnee in the passing game with quarterback Daniel Jones and top four receivers T.J. Rahming, Johnathan Lloyd, Chris Taylor and Daniel Helm all gone. Furthermore, Jackson was the main man in the kick-return game, which means he's just about the only established weapon for moving the ball.


    Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets: Tariq Carpenter, S

    No one knows what to expect from this offense in its transition from the triple-option to a more conventional style. (Can Tobias Oliver throw the ball?) And the defensive front seven is just as big a mystery with most of the starters graduating. At least the secondary is a bit of a sure thing with Carpenter (55 tackles, two interceptions) and Tre Swilling both returning. With so many unknowns at quarterback in this division, that might be enough to win six games.


    Miami Hurricanes: Shaquille Quarterman, LB

    Quarterman has recorded at least 80 tackles in each of the past three seasons. He, Michael Pinckney and Zach McCloud have each been a big part of the Hurricanes' linebacker corps for all three years, and they now make up a senior-heavy unit that could be a major wild card for the 2019 ACC standings.


    North Carolina Tar Heels: Sam Howell, QB

    The return of Mack Brown means North Carolina is going to live and die on the arm of its quarterback. Considering all realistic fans should be expecting a rebuilding year, the Tar Heels might as well let that be the arm of their prized 2019 recruit. Howell held offers from basically every noteworthy program before opting for the home-state Heels. And now that we're knee-deep into the "transfer if you don't immediately get a starting job" era of college football, he should start from day one.


    Pittsburgh Panthers: Kenny Pickett, QB

    Pickett accounted for all but five of Pittburgh's pass attempts in 2018, but he only had one game with 200 or more passing yards in the run-first scheme. With 1,000-yard rushers Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall both graduating, though, the Panthers are going to need a lot more from their quarterback in order to remain relevant.


    Virginia Cavaliers: Bryce Hall, CB

    Virginia's defense has improved considerably in each of the past two seasons, and the Cavaliers ought to continue thriving in that regard with Hall back for a senior year. He defended 23 passes (two picks, 21 breakups) last season and was also one of UVA's top tacklers. More of the burden will fall on his shoulders following the departure of Juan Thornhill (98 tackles, 13 passes defended), but it might mean Hall's half of the field becomes a no-fly zone to opposing quarterbacks.


    Virginia Tech Hokies: Rayshard Ashby, LB

    VT's defense just about had to start over from scratch last season, and it often showed. But one of the good things to come out of that 6-7 mess was Ashby, who led the Hokies with 105 tackles after recording no stats as a special teams player in 2017. With any luck, he will continue to improve and will take on a Tremaine Edmunds type of leadership role on a much-improved defense.

Big 12

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    CeeDee Lamb
    CeeDee LambBrad Tollefson/Associated Press

    Baylor Bears: Charlie Brewer, QB

    Brewer threw for 400 yards against Oklahoma in September, had another 308 yards in a must-win-to-become-bowl-eligible game against Texas Tech and went off for 384 passing yards and 109 rushing yards in the Texas Bowl win over Vanderbilt. He was wildly inconsistent, but those three games are cause for optimism in Waco. 


    Iowa State Cyclones: Brock Purdy, QB

    It took a Kyle Kempt Week 1 injury and a few weeks of ineffective play from Zeb Noland for Purdy to even get a shot at running this offense, but the Cyclones found something special in this freshman. Excluding the one kneel down against Akron, Purdy threw for at least 230 yards and scored multiple touchdowns while leading Iowa State to wins in each of his first five games. He sputtered to the finish line, but he'll be (at least) the third-best QB in the Big 12 if he regains that form.


    Kansas Jayhawks: Pooka Williams, RB

    Williams rushed for 1,125 yards in 11 games as a freshman, including 252 against Oklahoma in mid-November. It has been more than a decade since Kansas fans had anything to get excited about, but this running back and new head coach Les Miles will at least make things interesting.


    Kansas State Wildcats: James Gilbert, RB

    If Kansas State is going to bounce back from its disappointing 5-7 season, it at least needs to replace Alex Barnes, who rushed for 1,355 yards and 12 touchdowns. The hope is that this Ball State transfer will fill that void, as Gilbert had a nearly identical line of 1,350 yards and 12 scores as a sophomore in 2016.


    Oklahoma Sooners: CeeDee Lamb, WR

    Hollywood Brown is in the NFL now, but the Sooners still have one heck of a wide receiver to help ease Jalen Hurts' transition into this offense. Lamb had 1,158 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns as a sophomore. He had at least three receptions and 50 yards in each of his final 10 games, including going over the century mark in both the Big 12 Championship against Texas and in the CFP semifinal against Alabama.


    Oklahoma State Cowboys: Tylan Wallace, WR

    Only Andy Isabella of Massachusetts had more receiving yards in 2018 than Wallace's 1,491. Quite the breakout campaign for a guy who made a mere seven receptions as a freshman the previous season. In each of the Cowboys' marquee games against Texas and Oklahoma, he had 10 receptions, two touchdowns and at least 220 yards.


    Texas Longhorns: Sam Ehlinger, QB

    Ehlinger took a huge step forward as a sophomore and will enter his junior year as one of the top Heisman candidates not named Tua Tagovailoa or Trevor Lawrence. He threw for 25 touchdowns, rushed for 16 and only had five interceptions. In both games against Oklahoma, he had at least 385 combined yards and four touchdowns. Do that again this year and the Longhorns might go to the Playoff.


    TCU Horned Frogs: Jalen Reagor, WR

    Wallace and Lamb get more national acclaim when discussing Big 12 wide receivers, but don't sleep on Reagor. Even though TCU's quarterback situation in 2018 was a hot mess, he managed to stockpile 1,061 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. He also rushed for 170 yards and two more scores and averaged 164.2 all-purpose yards over his final five regular-season games. 


    Texas Tech Red Raiders: Alan Bowman, QB

    Through four games, Bowman was averaging 389.3 passing yards and had thrown for 10 touchdowns. He suffered a partially collapsed lung in Week 5 but returned a few weeks later to torch Kansas for 408 yards and three touchdowns. Not bad for a true freshman. Had he been able to stay healthy, he would have easily eclipsed 4,000 yards and might have made a push at 5,000. Buy stock while you can.


    West Virginia Mountaineers: Austin Kendall, QB

    Since saying goodbye to Geno Smith in 2012, West Virginia has consistently handed its quarterback job to transfers. It was two years of Clint Trickett (Florida State) followed by two years of Skyler Howard (Riverside City) and two years of Will Grier (Florida). It's time for Kendall (Oklahoma) to join that fraternity. It could be tough sledding for the former Sooner, though, as the Mountaineers need to replace all four of last year's top receivers.

Big Ten (East Division)

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Indiana Hoosiers: Stevie Scott, RB

    Scott became just the third Indiana player since 2002 to rush for at least 1,130 yards in a single season, joining future NFL running backs Jordan Howard and Tevin Coleman on that list. He also became the first Hoosier to rush for at least 800 yards as a freshman since future NFL running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis did it in 2003. So you might want to keep an eye on this guy.


    Maryland Terrapins: Jeshaun Jones, WR

    Jones' collegiate debut in Maryland's upset of Texas included a passing touchdown, a rushing touchdown and a receiving touchdown. But the Terrapins couldn't seem to figure out how to properly utilize him from that point forward—he had a grand total of six receptions over the course of the next six games. He should be the go-to guy in the passing game this year.


    Michigan Wolverines: Shea Patterson, QB

    Patterson wasn't bad in his first year with Michigan, but it wasn't anything close to the match made in heaven that some were anticipating. He didn't have a single game with more than 282 passing yards, and he had a passer efficiency rating below 130 in each of Michigan's three losses. The Wolverines brought in an offensive coordinator (Josh Gattis) to hopefully improve the passing game, because Michigan isn't competing for a title if Patterson has similar numbers in 2019.


    Michigan State Spartans: Kenny Willekes, DL

    Michigan State desperately needs to improve on offense if it expects to get back into the hunt for the Big Ten East crown, but it also needs to continue to dominate on defense. Willekes is the veteran star who will lead the Spartans' pursuit of the latter goal. He had 20.5 tackles for loss and 8.0 sacks last season, as well as a 13-tackle performance in the defensive grind against Ohio State.


    Ohio State Buckeyes: Justin Fields, QB

    The Buckeyes lost their starting quarterback (Dwayne Haskins), his backup (Tate Martell) and the guy who was supposed to back up Martell this year (Matthew Baldwin), leaving this highly touted transfer from Georgia as the only realistic option. Even if the defense is significantly better than last year's subpar effort, it's going to be a long few months in Columbus if Fields isn't as good as advertised.


    Penn State Nittany Lions: Yetur Gross-Matos, DE

    Just like at Michigan State, it's hard to find a more valuable player for Penn State than the veteran lineman who had 20 tackles for loss and 8.0 sacks last season. Gross-Matos started out slowly in September, but he was a force over the final seven regular-season games while the defense became the Nittany Lions' forte.


    Rutgers Scarlet Knights: Raheem Blackshear, RB

    Blackshear led Rutgers in carries, rushing yards, receptions and receiving yards as a sophomore. In fact, he was the only player in the country to accumulate at least 40 receptions, 350 receiving yards and 575 rushing yards last year, and Saquon Barkley was the only Power Five player to do so in 2017. The Scarlet Knights were the lowest-scoring team in the country, but it would have been even worse if not for Blackshear.

Big Ten (West Division)

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    Jonathan Taylor
    Jonathan TaylorMorry Gash/Associated Press

    Illinois Fighting Illini: Reggie Corbin, RB

    After rushing for 78 yards in the entire 2017 season, Corbin was one of last year's biggest breakout stories. He averaged 8.5 yards per carry, racking up 1,085 yards and nine touchdowns. In Weeks 5-9, he had at least 100 yards and a score in four out of five games, culminating in a 213-yard, two-touchdown explosion in a win over Minnesota. 


    Iowa Hawkeyes: AJ Epenesa, DE

    Iowa had one of the stingiest defenses last season, holding opponents below 300 yards per game while forcing more than two turnovers per contest. And it's hardly a stretch to say that Epenesa was the biggest reason for that. He had 10.5 sacksmost among any returning player in the countryforced four fumbles and was constantly somewhere between a nuisance and a nightmare for opposing linemen. Provided he declares for the 2020 draft, his name should be among the first called.


    Minnesota Golden Gophers: Tyler Johnson, WR

    Almost all of Minnesota's key contributors on offense were freshmen, but Johnson was a major exception to that rule. The rising senior had 78 receptions for 1,169 yards and 12 touchdowns, ranking top three in the Big Ten in all three categories. With the exception of one dud against Maryland, he had at least four catches and 50 yards in every contest.


    Nebraska Cornhuskers: Adrian Martinez, QB

    Nebraska lost eight games for the second consecutive season. The team also lost a 1,000-yard rusher (Devine Ozigbo) and a 1,000-yard receiver (Stanley Morgan Jr.). But the Cornhuskers are probably going to be a Top 25 team when the preseason AP poll comes out. That's how much promise Martinez has as a quarterback. (And how much faith we all have in head coach Scott Frost.)


    Northwestern Wildcats: Blake Gallagher/Paddy Fisher, LB

    You don't often see a team get back a player who recorded at least 115 tackles. Among Power Five schools, there are only eight guys who fit that description: Colin Schooler (Arizona), De'Jon Harris (Arkansas), Evan Weaver (California), Kenneth Murray (Oklahoma), Troy Dye (Oregon), Markus Bailey (Purdue) and these two studs from Northwestern.

    Gallagher and Fisher anchored a good Wildcats defense as sophomores, and this D could be elite with both of them back. If Hunter Johnson (Clemson transfer) also hits the ground running at quarterback, Northwestern might win the West Division for the second straight year.


    Purdue Boilermakers: Rondale Moore, WR

    Only Jonathan Taylor (see below) and Memphis' Darrell Henderson had more all-purpose yards in 2018 than this true freshman. Moore burst onto the scene with 109 receiving yards, 79 rushing yards and 125 kick-return yards in the season opener, and he didn't slow down much after that. He led the nation in receptions (114), and you have to believe the Boilermakers will be trying to get him the ball even more often this year.


    Wisconsin Badgers: Jonathan Taylor, RB

    Taylor rushed for at least 100 yards in 12 of 13 games last season. In two years, he has already eclipsed 4,000 career rushing yards, and he's going to blow by Anthony Davis, Melvin Gordon and Montee Ball on Wisconsin's career rushing leaderboard this season. He's the most unstoppable force in the country.

Pac-12 (North Division)

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    Jermar Jefferson
    Jermar JeffersonTimothy J. Gonzalez/Associated Press

    California Golden Bears: Evan Weaver, LB

    It only took two years for Justin Wilcox to take California's horrendous defense and turn it into arguably the best in the Pac-12. Weaver was a key piece in that transformation, and he'll be the keystone for the Golden Bears defense following a junior campaign with 155 tackles, 4.5 sacks and a pair of interceptions.


    Oregon Ducks: Justin Herbert, QB

    Herbert likely would have been a top-15 draft pick had he left Oregon a year early. Now he has to prove that wasn't a bad decision by playing his way into the hunt for the No. 1 overall pick in 2020. He'll need to do so without his favorite target from last season (Dillon Mitchell), but Oregon will win the Pac-12 if Herbert can manage that.


    Oregon State Beavers: Jermar Jefferson, RB

    Buried in the obscurity of a 2-10 season on a team that couldn't stop any opponent from scoring, Jefferson had a sensational freshman campaign. Even though the Beavers were constantly playing from behind and changed quarterbacks multiple times, Jefferson just kept running, finishing with 1,380 yards and 12 touchdowns.


    Stanford Cardinal: Paulson Adebo, CB

    After redshirting the 2017 season, Adebo made up for lost time with 64 tackles, 19 passes broken up and four interceptions. Only Virginia's Bryce Hall defended more passes in 2018. But the Cardinal had better hope someone steps up alongside Adebo this year. In spite of his individual accolades, Stanford allowed 264.0 passing yards per gameits worst mark since 2009.


    Washington Huskies: Jacob Eason, QB

    With so many noteworthy immediately eligible transfer quarterbacks this offseason, Eason—injured in Week 1 of the 2017 season before transferring and sitting out the 2018 campaignhas sort of been forgotten by the national media. He will presumably be replacing four-year starter Jake Browning, and he's inheriting quite the starting stack of targets with Andre Baccellia, Aaron Fuller, Ty Jones and Chico McClatcher all returning.


    Washington State Cougars: Max Borghi, RB

    You don't often think of the running back as an important part of Mike Leach's offense, but Borghi had 740 yards from scrimmage and 12 touchdowns last season while serving as the backup to now-departed James Williams. No other returning Cougar tallied more than one carry last year, so Borghi is clearly the main man for backfield production.

Pac-12 (South Division)

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    Laviska Shenault Jr.
    Laviska Shenault Jr.Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Arizona Wildcats: Khalil Tate, QB

    Tate suffered an early ankle injury and was never anything close to the explosive phenom who took the world by storm for six weeks in 2017. If he is (and stays) healthy, we just might get the Heisman-worthy campaign we were expecting this past season. If not, well, at least he displayed some promise as a pocket passer. Arizona might be able to get back to a bowl game even without cheat-code Tate.


    Arizona State Sun Devils: Eno Benjamin, RB

    Scouts tuning in to catch a glimpse of wide receiver N'Keal Harry might have ended up more impressed by this rising junior running back. Only Wisconsin's Jonathan Taylor averaged more yards per game in 2019 than Benjamin's 126.3. Even if we take out the 312-yard game against Oregon State's atrocious defense, he still hit the century mark eight times.


    Colorado Buffaloes: Laviska Shenault Jr., WR

    A toe injury was about the only thing capable of slowing down Shenault last year. After six healthy games, he was on pace for 1,560 receiving yards and 22 all-purpose touchdowns. And Steven Montez should look Shenault's way even more often with 1,000-yard rusher Travon McMillian out of the equation.


    UCLA Bruins: Dorian Thompson-Robinson, QB

    DTR's true-freshman season was a far cry from what UCLA fans were hoping to see. But he got a lot of valuable game experience in Chip Kelly's offense, and he seemed to be rounding into form in October prior to suffering a shoulder injury. If Thompson-Robinson is as good as a sophomore as he was advertised to be in high school, UCLA should be bowl-bound.


    USC Trojans: JT Daniels, QB

    Same story at USC as it is for UCLA: The true-freshman quarterback showed some promise but was ultimately one of the least efficient quarterbacks in the Pac-12. If Daniels (14 TD, 10 INT, 59.5 completion percentage) plays more like the 5-star recruit that he was, the Trojans will be back in business. And there were signs of that late in the year, as he threw for a career-high 337 yards against UCLA, followed immediately by a new career-high 349 yards in the season finale against Notre Dame.


    Utah Utes: Bradlee Anae, DE

    Defense was the moral of Utah's breakout year and first trip to the Pac-12 championship, holding opponents below 20 points per game. If that defense is going to remain strong in spite of losing leading tacklers Cody Barton and Chase Hansen, it starts with up front with Anae. He has recorded at least 39 tackles and seven sacks in each of the last two seasons.

SEC (East Division)

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    Jake Bentley
    Jake BentleySean Rayford/Associated Press

    Florida Gators: Jabari Zuniga, DL

    The Gators offense should be in great shape, as almost all of the key skill-position players return for a squad which averaged 35.0 points per game. Defense could be another story with Jachai Polite, Chauncey Gardner and Vosean Joseph gone. They still have Zuniga, though, and he has at least eight tackles for loss and four sacks in each of the past three seasons. He should be their anchor.


    Georgia Bulldogs: Andrew Thomas, OT

    He won't receive nearly the fanfare that Jake Fromm and D'Andre Swift will, but this fringe early contender for the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2020 will be the big man responsible for keeping the QB and RB clean. Thomas might be a unanimous preseason first-team All-American.


    Kentucky Wildcats: Lynn Bowden, WR

    Benny Snell and Josh Allen were Kentucky's megastars last season, but Bowden was doggone impressive in his own right. Even in an extremely run-first offense, the rising junior racked up 67 receptions for 745 yards and five scores. He was also the primary return man for the Wildcats, taking two punts to the house and accounting for all 539 of the team's kick-return yards.


    Missouri Tigers: Kelly Bryant, QB

    Not only is Bryant replacing 12,000-yard passer Drew Lock at quarterback, but the dual-threat signal-caller will also likely be tasked with taking over Damarea Crockett's role as the second-leading rusher on the team. Missouri is banned from postseason play, but don't expect this redshirt senior to play with any less fire because of that. He transferred to Missouri with hopes of proving that he belongs in the NFL.


    South Carolina Gamecocks: Jake Bentley, QB

    No Deebo Samuel? No problem. South Carolina still has a pair of quality receivers (Bryan Edwards and Shi Smith) for this senior quarterback to utilize. Bentley was one of just three quarterbacks to throw for at least 500 yards with five or more touchdowns in a single game last season, and he did so late in the year, on the road against the eventual national champions. If he can harness some of that and bring it into 2019, look out.


    Tennessee Volunteers: Darrell Taylor, LB

    In Taylor's three best games of the seasonat Georgia, at Vanderbilt, vs. Kentucky—he had a combined total of 19 tackles, 8.0 sacks and three fumbles forced. The rest of the year, he was a ghost. If he can more consistently play at that high level and make a push for the conference lead in sacks, it might help the Volunteers bounce back into the top half of this division.


    Vanderbilt Commodores: Ke'Shawn Vaughn, RB

    Vaughn had more rushing yards last season (1,244) than any returning player in the SEC, and he did it at a clip of 7.9 yards per carry. He had at least 125 yards in four of his final five games, including a career-best 243 yards (on just 13 carries) in the Texas Bowl against Baylor.

SEC (West Division)

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    Grant Delpit
    Grant DelpitRoger Steinman/Associated Press

    Alabama Crimson Tide: Tua Tagovailoa, QB

    Tagovailoa is one of the top candidates for the 2019 Heisman and one of the top candidates for the first pick in next April's draft. Jerry Jeudy is also somewhere in both of those conversations, but even if Alabama loses Jeudy to an injury, the Tide would still be more than fine in the hands of Henry Ruggs III, Jaylen Waddle and Devonta Smith. If the team were to lose Tagovailoa, this season could turn south in a hurry.


    Arkansas Razorbacks: De'Jon Harris, LB

    Not much cause for optimism in Fayetteville, but the Hogs do have one of the better tackling machines in the nation. Harris has been in on at least 115 tackles in each of the last two seasons, which no other returning playerSEC or otherwisecan claim. And he may be even more of a one-man show after the departures of Dre Greenlaw and Santos Ramirez (167 combined tackles last year).


    Auburn Tigers: Derrick Brown/Nick Coe, DL

    If Bo Nix or Joey Gatewood can lock down the starting quarterback job and improve an offense that was well below its normal levels last season, that dude will be Auburn's MVP. Since that's a great big "if" at the moment, let's go with the two primary big men who will be tasked with disrupting opposing quarterbacks. Brown and Coe combined for 24 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks last season, and we should be expecting more of the same from the duo of potential 2020 first-round picks.


    LSU Tigers: Grant Delpit, S

    Speaking of first-round picks, feel free to lock in Delpit as a top-10 guy if his 2019 is anything like his 2018. He did a mighty fine Tyrann Mathieu impersonation, finishing the year with 74 tackles, 5.0 sacks, nine passes broken up and five interceptions. His numbers will probably dip to some extent now that opponents will be primarily focused on avoiding him instead of Devin White and Greedy Williams, but he's still a no-brainer first-team All-American and the linchpin of this LSU defense.


    Mississippi State Bulldogs: Kylin Hill, RB

    Technically, Hill was already Mississippi State's primary running back. Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald (221) nearly doubled Hill's number of carries (117), and Aeris Williams (85) wasn't far behind. But with both of those Bulldogs gone, Hill figures to really become the featured back as a junior. He had 910 yards from scrimmage and eight touchdowns last season, and he may well double both of those marks this year.


    Ole Miss Rebels: Scottie Phillips, RB

    The Rebels lost their starting quarterback (Jordan Ta'amu) and all three of their best wide receivers (A.J. Brown, D.K. Metcalf and DaMarkus Lodge), which means their 2019 passing game is a rather large question mark. But Phillipsthe former JUCO transfer who rushed for 923 yards and scored 14 all-purpose touchdowns in the first nine games of last seasonat least gives the offense something to build around.


    Texas A&M Aggies: Kellen Mond, QB

    I'm not saying Mond is the best quarterback in the country, but he might be the most important one as far as the 2019 College Football Playoff is concerned. Texas A&M will face Clemson, Alabama, Georgia and LSU. If he performs in any of those four games (or all of them) like he did against Clemson (430 yards, 3 TD) or LSU (287 yards, 6 TD, 1 rush TD) last year, the national championship picture is going to be a wee bit different than most are anticipating.


    Kerry Miller covers college football and men's college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @kerrancejames. Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports' composite rankings.


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