National Signing Day has come and gone and teams have now begun to assess the incoming classes and gear up for 2019. With fans now looking forward to spring practices, it’s time to pick the teams that I think will be most improved for the coming year. These predictions will only include one team from each of the Power 5 Conferences that ended the year unranked in the final AP Poll.
ACC- Miami Hurricanes
It’s hard to believe only two months ago this team was finishing the season at 7-6 after a blowout loss to Wisconsin. A lot has changed since then, which is why the Hurricanes make this list. After the abrupt retirement of Mark Richt, all seemed lost for this program. Enter Manny Diaz and the start of #TNM, The New Miami. Diaz immediately got to work bringing the swagger back. In just two months the Hurricanes have added 6 transfers from the Transfer Portal and are looking to add more. These include big impact players like QB Tate Martell, Safety Bubba Bolden, the return of WR Jeff Thomas and much more.
Manny also brought the recruiting class from outside to inside the top 30, and now sit as the fourth best in the ACC. If you include the transfers the class would rank much higher. This Hurricanes roster has a wealth of talent and depth that can and should easily run through the Coastal Division. What will matter is QB play, something that plagued Miami last year. With the addition of recruits and new Offensive Coordinator Dan Enos from Alabama, I think we will see a lot of improvement from this team. Also, Miami has a very favorable schedule to help usher in the Manny Diaz era.
2019 Season Prediction: (11-1)
BIG TEN- Nebraska Cornhuskers
Scott Frost‘s Cornhuskers are my pick from the Big Ten to take the biggest step forward in 2019. Last season got off to a rough start in Frost’s first year, going 0-6 before heating up at the end to finish 4-8. This year they should be able to double that win total. In 2019 Nebraska is set to have one of the easiest schedules in the conference. Non-Conference games include South Alabama and Northern Illinois which should be easy wins. The Huskers get Ohio State, Wisconsin, Iowa and Northwestern all at home. Their toughest road test is at Purdue.
On top of favorable scheduling, Nebraska ended with the fourth best recruiting class in the Big Ten and ranked in the top 25 nationally. The 2019 class is headlined by the #1 All-Purpose Running Back in the nation, Wandale Robinson. They also snagged Christian McCaffrey’s brother Luke, a 4 star athlete from Colorado. Scott Frost was busy this season recruiting weapons to pair with his All-American QB Adrian Martinez. Martinez is coming off a stellar Freshman year and should break out even more in 2019.
2019 Season Prediction: 8-4
BIG 12- Kansas Jayhawks
The Jayhawks are very far removed from the coach Mark Mangino days of going 12-1 and winning the Orange Bowl. Last year Kansas won just 3 games and saw coach David Beaty get fired. However, that firing led to one of the better hires of the year as KU nabbed ex-LSU coach Les Miles to help revive this program. Usually it’s difficult to find reasons to believe in a team that just went 3-9, but this Jayhawks team is different. They add a future hall of fame head coach that’s already been busy recruiting, and this Kansas team came close last year in games against Texas and Oklahoma.
The Jayhawks return 3 of last years top 5 tacklers and it’s leader in Interceptions in DB Hasan Defense. What a perfect last name for a guy playing defense. On top of that, they will return last year’s leading rusher Pooka Williams who torched the Big 12 for 1,125 yards and 7 TDs as a Freshman. Next season’s schedule isn’t the easiest for Les in his first year as his Jayhawks have to travel to TCU, Texas, OK State, and Boston College. Yikes. They do get Oklahoma and West Virginia at home, though. As hard as the 2019 schedule is for Kansas, I think they will double their wins and make a bowl game for the first time since 2008.
2019 Season Prediction: 6-6
SEC- Tennessee Volunteers
Of all the Power Five Conferences, the SEC was the easiest to pick from. The Volunteers seem poised to take a huge step forward in Jeremy Pruitt’s second year calling the shots. Last year, the Vols ended 5-7 in a very up and down season for them. They had great wins against Auburn on the road and a ranked Kentucky at home. They also suffered beat down losses to Mizzou and Vanderbilt…oops. All of that can be chalked up to new coaching personnel and youth throughout the roster. The Vols return the most starters of any team in the SEC including QB Jarrett Guarantano and INT leader DB Bryce Thompson.
On top of the depth that already exists on the team, Pruitt was able to bring in a top 15 recruiting class headlined by 5-star Offensive Tackle Wanya Morris. Morris is predicted to help immediately. The Vols are beginning to load their roster with talent. Their 2019 schedule starts off easy with three non-conference home games that should all be wins. Tennessee gets Georgia, Vanderbilt and South Carolina at home, three games they lost last year. Toughest games will be at Alabama and at Florida. I expect Tennessee to fight their way into a winning season and a bowl game in 2019.
2019 Season Prediction: 8-4
PAC 12- Oregon Ducks
The PAC-12 is bad. Truly bad. The Oregon Ducks are great. Last year they went 8-4 in Mario Cristobal’s first year calling the shots. I didn’t expect to have an 8-4 team on this list, but they ended the year unranked. Oregon has the best shot to bring the PAC-12 back to the playoffs and I believe they will do it. Cristobal inherited a very talented, but under coached team by Willie Taggart. Under Cristobal the team defense instantly improved moving into the top 50 in total defense and 3rd down conversion percentage. The Ducks also ranked 6th in the nation for defensive touchdowns with 4.
Oregon is losing some key players from last year’s defense, but has done a great job reloading with this recruiting class which ranks inside the top 10 in the nation. 5-star Defensive End Kayvon Thibodeaux should help immediately. Cristobal did an exceptional job recruiting this season which pairs well with the return of Senior QB Justin Herbert. Herbert will be a Heisman favorite in 2019 and a projected 1st round pick for the NFL draft. Oregon seems to have all the pieces in place to win the PAC-12. Their biggest game will be opening weekend against Auburn in Arlington, Texas. The Ducks also must face Stanford and Washington on the road.