10 Most Anticipated Rematches of the 2019 College Football Season

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    Ohio State WR Chris Olave

    Ohio State WR Chris OlaveJay LaPrete/Associated Press

    The Game is one of the most popular, no-love-lost battles in college football every season. With both Ohio State and Michigan mortal locks to open the 2019 season ranked in the AP Top 10, it should come as no surprise that their November showdown tops our list of the most anticipated rematches from 2018.

    In ranking these 10 repeat affairs, the goal was to find games that will be guaranteed appointment television.

    If it’s a battle between teams that played each other in 2018 and will enter 2019 with legitimate aspirations of a national championship, it probably made the list. If last year’s affair was also one of the more exciting contests of the season, the rematch was a lock for a spot in the top five.

    But even if last year’s game was a blowout, we were willing to consider any rematch with a good chance of playing host to College GameDay for that week.

    The following 10 games were ranked on a combination of how good they were in 2018, how evenly matched the teams should be in 2019 and how likely the contest is to have College Football Playoff implications.

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    James Franklin and Jim Harbaugh

    James Franklin and Jim HarbaughAssociated Press

    Auburn at Texas A&M (Sept. 21)

    Auburn at LSU (Oct. 26)

    Florida at LSU (Oct. 12)

    Alabama at Texas A&M (Oct. 12)

    We have four SEC showdowns in the top 10, and there’s a strong case to be made that each of these rematches belongs on the list as well.

    Last year’s September battle between LSU and Auburn was arguably one of the 10 best games of the season, decided by a last-second, 42-yard field goal by LSU’s Cole Tracy. Another nail-biter between those sets of Tigers wouldn’t surprise anyone.

    Nor would it be much of a shock if LSU and Floridatwo teams with a good chance to appear in the Top 10 of the preseason AP pollwage another war decided by a defensive touchdown in the final two minutes.

    Of all these options, however, the most difficult one to cut was Alabama at Texas A&M.

    No one came close to upsetting the Crimson Tide during the 2018 regular season, but Texas A&M was the closest, “only” losing by a 45-23 margin. Might things play out differently in College Station? This is definitely one of the must-watch games of the first half of the season. But with both teams already represented twice in our top 10, we went elsewhere to round out the list.

    Michigan at Penn State (Oct. 19)

    Penn State at Ohio State (Nov. 23)

    While the last three contests between Michigan and Penn State each had a final margin of at least 29 points, the Nittany Lions and the Buckeyes have played three consecutive games decided by three points or fewer. If Penn State is a top-15 type of team for the fourth straight year, either one of these matchups could be spectacular.

    With the departures of Trace McSorley, Miles Sanders and a couple of key wide receivers, though, we are far from convinced that Penn State will have enough offensive firepower to hang with these two College Football Playoff contenders. However, the Nittany Lions should have one of the better defenses in the nation, so a pair of 17-14 drama-filled affairs is a real possibility.

    Clemson at Syracuse (Sept. 14)

    Clemson is 17-1 against the ACC over the past two seasons, and 15 of those wins came by at least a 14-point margin. Syracuse has been the exception to the rule, upsetting the Tigers two years ago when Kelly Bryant suffered an injury in the first half and darn near knocking off Clemson in Death Valley last year when Trevor Lawrence got hurt late in the second quarter. Could the Orange do it again despite losing quarterback Eric Dungey?

    Notre Dame at Stanford (Nov. 30)

    If either the Irish or the Cardinal are still in the playoff hunt by the end of November, this will be one of the most important gamesperhaps the singularly most important oneof the year. Conversely, if both teams are hovering at 8-3 and this is merely a nonconference showdown between teams on the outer fringe of the New Year’s Six conversation, it wouldn’t even be one of the five most intriguing games of the day.

    And the latter scenario is more likely, given the difficulty of each team’s schedule leading up to this point.

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    Oregon QB Justin Herbert

    Oregon QB Justin HerbertThomas Boyd/Associated Press

    What happened in 2018: Neither Oregon nor Washington led by more than a touchdown at any juncture. The Ducks and Huskies were tied at the end of each of the four quarters, necessitating an overtime period in which CJ Verdell capped off a big day with the game-winning touchdown for Oregon. Washington entered the day at No. 7 in the AP poll, but this result all but eliminated the Pac-12 from the College Football Playoff by the midway point of the season.

    What’s changed: Washington had eight players selected in the NFL draft, and four-year starting quarterback Jake Browning wasn’t even one of them. The Huskies aren’t exactly starting over from scratch, but they have a ton of holes to plug. Head coach Chris Petersen will keep them from slipping far, but the three-year streak of 10 or more victories is in jeopardy.

    Oregon, on the other hand, only lost a few noteworthy players and brings back quarterback Justin Herbert. Though he struggled in this matchup last year, he is on the short list of legitimate candidates for the Heisman Trophy. With so much of Washington’s 2018 secondary now in the NFL, Herbert should have a better day.

    Early outlook: If the Pac-12 is going to have a horse in this year’s playoff race—a huge “if,” according to recent playoff betting odds—this game is likely to determine whether that horse will be a duck or a husky. Oregon (40-1) and Washington (50-1) are the league’s best hope for a national championship.

    Washington smashed Oregon in both 2016 and 2017, ending a 12-year losing streak in this series in emphatic fashion. With last year’s letdown in Eugene, another losing streak may have already begun. Even with home-field advantage, the roster attrition will be too much for the Huskies to overcome. Herbert leads Oregon to a crucial 31-23 victory.

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    Nebraska QB Adrian Martinez

    Nebraska QB Adrian MartinezJay LaPrete/Associated Press

    What happened in 2018: In their first action after the embarrassing loss to Purdue, the Buckeyes darn near blew another one against an inferior foe. Nebraska scored first and had a five-point halftime lead at the Horseshoe, but J.K. Dobbins shouldered the load and weathered the storm with 163 rushing yards and three touchdowns in a 36-31 Ohio State victory.

    What’s changed: For starters, expectations for Nebraska are much higher. After an 0-6 start to Scott Frost’s tenure as head coach, the Cornhuskers won four of their final six games and are going to receive more than a few votes in the preseason AP Top 25 poll. But they lost their leading rusher (Devine Ozigbo) and leading receiver (Stanley Morgan Jr.), so we’ll see who emerges as the playmakers alongside dual-threat quarterback Adrian Martinez.

    Ohio State also lost quite a few stars from its offense, most notably Heisman finalist and first-round draft pick Dwayne Haskins. Excluding the outrageous fake-punt rushing attempt in the SEC Championship Game last year, this will likely be the first time that Georgia transfer Justin Fields is on the field at critical junctures of a close college game. Throw in the road-game factor and this could get wild.

    Early outlook: With the possible exception of Ohio State’s Week 2 home game against Cincinnati, neither of these teams figures to face much of a challenge in the first four weeks. Expect a battle between 4-0 teams, and expect Nebraska to bring everything it has for this potential upset.

    Ohio State should be able to secure the victory. Let’s call it 35-21 for the Buckeyes. If the Cornhuskers win, though, get ready for some phenomenal hyperbole as we entertain the possibility that this is the best Nebraska has been since the 1990s. After this one, the Huskers won’t need to deal with Michigan, Michigan State or Penn State, and they’ll get Wisconsin, Iowa and Northwestern at home.

    Not saying they would run the table, but you better believe the conversation would begin in earnest at that point.

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    LSU QB Joe Burrow

    LSU QB Joe BurrowRoss D. Franklin/Associated Press

    What happened in 2018: No big deal. Just an unbelievable seven-overtime affair in which LSU head coach Ed Orgeron spent the entirety of those extra sessions drenched in Gatorade following a premature celebration near the end of regulation. After more than an hour of transitioning from cold and wet to sticky and miserable, Orgeron and the Tigers ended up on the wrong end of a 74-72 classic.

    What’s changed: Each team retained its starting quarterback—Joe Burrow for the Tigers and Kellen Mond for the Aggies—and a bunch of key starters. Each squad also lost two vital players, though. LSU needs to replace linebacker Devin White and cornerback Greedy Williams. Texas A&M’s main departures are on the other side of the ball, as running back Trayveon Williams and tight end Jace Sternberger took their combined 29 touchdowns and nearly 2,900 yards from scrimmage to the NFL.

    Early outlook: LSU gets home-field advantage and is the slightly better team as far as most of the still-way-too-early projections are concerned. Things may be different by the end of November, though, especially given what coach Jimbo Fisher was able to get out of the Aggies in his first season with the program. If they are able to adequately replace Williams in the backfield, they’ll be in the hunt for a title.

    But we’ll take the Tigers by a 24-20 margin. Both teams have brutal schedules and figure to be all sorts of battered and bruised by this season finale. Texas A&M has the tougher closing stretch, playing at Georgia seven days before this road game. The Aggies will give it everything they’ve got, of course, but there won’t be much left in the tank to give.

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    Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa

    Alabama QB Tua TagovailoaGerald Herbert/Associated Press

    What happened in 2018: It took more than two months, but LSU became the first team to pick off Tua Tagovailoa or even remotely slow down Alabama’s offense. Unfortunately for the Tigers, they were unable to accomplish anything against the Crimson Tide defense, losing in the bayou 29-0. Alabama has now won eight in a row in this series, three of them in shutout fashion.

    What’s changed: Alabama lost 10 players to the NFL draftthe most among any program this year—but this still figures to be one of the most potent offenses in the nation. The Tide lost a running back in the first round and the third round, but they still have Najee Harris, Brian Robinson Jr. and a true freshman (Trey Sanders) who would be the starter from day one at about 125 other schools. More importantly, Tagovailoa and his top four wide receivers are back.

    Perhaps LSU will have better luck moving the ball against a somewhat depleted Alabama front seven, though. The Tigers had 25 carries for 12 yards last November, but no Quinnen Williams, Christian Miller or Mack Wilson should make that quest a little easier.

    Early outlook: LSU hasn’t scored more than 17 points in any of its last nine tries against Alabama, and the Crimson Tide averaged better than 45 points per game last season. It’s a great SEC rivalry and a battle between teams that should debut in the AP Top 10, but it probably won’t be that close of a game—especially in Tuscaloosa with Alabama fresh off a bye week. Crimson Tide roll 31-10.

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    Texas QB Sam Ehlinger

    Texas QB Sam EhlingerJeffrey McWhorter/Associated Press

    What happened in 2018: Which time? Texas won the regular-season matchup 48-45 behind five touchdowns (two passing, three rushing) by Sam Ehlinger. But Oklahoma returned the favor in the Big 12 championship, securing its spot in the College Football Playoff with a 39-27 victory. In both games, each team had at least 300 yards and multiple scores through the air.

    But it’s because the regular-season game didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things that we’re keeping this rematch outside our top fiveeven though it’s a marquee battle between teams who should be ranked in the preseason Top 10. Unless Iowa State can beat one of these teams and finish in the top two of the Big 12 standings, Texas and Oklahoma will probably meet in the conference championship game for a second straight year.

    What’s changed: Oklahoma lost No. 1 overall draft pick Kyler Murray and just about the entire offensive line that protected him, but the Sooners acquired Jalen Hurts from Alabama in their search for a third consecutive Heisman winner. Texas’ most significant roster changes were on the defensive side of things where the Longhorns need to replace six of last year’s 12 leading tacklers. They should be OK in the secondary with Caden Sterns leading the unit, but that front seven may be porous.

    Early outlook: There will be scoring, and probably plenty of it. Between Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb and Texas’ Collin Johnson, this game will feature two of the best wide receivers in the country. The Sooners also have an excellent running back in Kennedy Brooks, but we’ll see how the aforementioned pressing of the reset button along the offensive line affects his production.

    Five consecutive regular-season games in this series have been decided by seven points or fewer, and we’ll take Texas to win another white-knuckle affair, this time by a 42-38 final score.

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    Michigan WR Donovan Peoples-Jones

    Michigan WR Donovan Peoples-JonesTony Ding/Associated Press

    What happened in 2018: In a Week 1 showdown with massive season-long implications, Notre Dame jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first eight minutes of what then became a defensive grind. Aside from a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and a relatively meaningless 80-yard drive in the closing minutes, Michigan never got going in a 24-17 Notre Dame victory.

    What’s changed: It was Shea Patterson’s first game with Michigan and Ian Book didn’t even take a snap for Notre Dame in last year’s contest, so the quarterback situation is different on both sides. And each team lost critical starters from all three levels of the defense, making it tough to know if either, both or neither will be great on that side of the field again. We’re fairly confident Michigan will be, but Notre Dame is a tougher call.

    Early outlook: Instead of facing off right away again, the Wolverines and Fighting Irish will duke it out in the second half of the 2019 season. That’s probably a bigger benefit for Notre Dame, as it will have additional time to figure out its replacements for RB Dexter Williams, WR Miles Boykin and TE Alize Mack. Notre Dame will also enter this game coming off a bye week while Michigan will be playing for the sixth consecutive weekand immediately after back-to-back road games against Illinois and Penn State.

    Those factors will help the Irish keep this one close, but Michigan will find a way to get the W at the Big House. The Wolverines have gone undefeated at home in two of the past three seasons and have won 10 consecutive nonconference home games by at least a 16-point margin. Granted, Notre Dame is a whole heck of a lot better than any of those 10 teams were, but beating Jim Harbaugh’s guys in Ann Arbor is a tall order. Michigan 27-24.

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    What happened in 2018: Auburn never led in last year’s installment of the Iron Bowl, but the Tigers at least kept things interesting in the first half—more than can be said for most of Alabama’s 2018 opponents. The Crimson Tide only led 17-14 at the intermission. But things got ugly in a hurry as Alabama scored touchdowns on five of its next six possessions, none of which lasted more than five plays. UA ran away from AU for a 52-21 win.

    What’s changed: As previously mentioned, Alabama lost 10 draft picks but still has talent to spare. Auburn also took a heavy attrition hit, most notably quarterback Jarrett Stidham, top receivers Darius Slayton and Ryan Davis and defensive leader Deshaun Davis. Good thing the Tigers will have 11 games prior to this one to figure out who their new stars are.

    Early outlook: Is Auburn going to win at least nine games this season? If so, then the Tigers will probably win this one. Auburn has won 11 of the last 23 games in this series dating back to 1996. In 10 of those 11 seasons, it finished with at least nine wins. In each of the other 12 years, it won eight games or fewer. One of the few apparently predictable things in this incalculable sport is that Auburn wins the Iron Bowl whenever it’s having a great year.

    Here’s the problem, though: Between the unknowns at quarterback and the sheer difficulty of this schedule—seven games (four away from home) against likely preseason AP Top 25 teams—it’s probably going to be a seven-win season for Auburn. That means Alabama wins this road game—and by a comfortable margin: 35-17.

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    Dabo Swinney and Jimbo Fisher

    Dabo Swinney and Jimbo FisherSam Craft/Associated Press

    What happened in 2018: Following months of hearing about how impenetrable Clemson’s defense was going to be, Kellen Mond threw for 430 yards and three touchdowns while leading the Aggies back from a 21-6 third-quarter deficit. The Tigers were able to hang on for a 28-26 victory, but only after denying a two-point conversion attempt in the final minute. 

    What’s changed: Clemson lost almost its entire starting defensive front seven, but Texas A&M also lost 1,760 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns with the departure of Trayveon Williams. This will be an early litmus test to let us know which squad has done the best job of filling its most noteworthy void this offseason.

    Also, Trevor Lawrence did not take a snap in the fourth quarter of last year’s game. Had Dabo Swinney already handed him the reins by that time, there’s reason to believe the game wouldn’t have been as close.

    Early outlook: With Lawrence, Travis Etienne, Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross all returning, Clemson’s offense should be some kind of special. But Texas A&M still has Mond and four of his five favorite targets in the fold, so the Aggies will be able to move the ball, too. Translation: Expect a lot of points. Expect more for the home team, though. Clemson wins 41-28 and takes the first big step toward yet another playoff appearance.

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    Georgia QB Jake Fromm

    Georgia QB Jake FrommJohn Raoux/Associated Press

    What happened in 2018: Florida turned the ball over on its first two possessions yet managed to take a 14-13 lead early in the second half. The Gators simply could not stop D’Andre Swift or Jake Fromm, though. Georgia scored on five of its final six possessions (excluding running out the clock at the end of the game) and forced a fumble on the first play after a punt on the lone exception to that rule. The Bulldogs cruised to a 36-17 victory.

    What’s changed: Georgia lost four of its top five receiving options, but the Dawgs still have Fromm, Swift and more than a few candidates to replace those wideouts and tight ends.

    Similarly, Florida lost three of its best defenders (Vosean Joseph, Jachai Polite and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson), but the cupboards are far from barren. Look for Jabari Zuniga and Louisville transfer Jon Greenard to become the best pass-rushing combo in the SEC.

    Early outlook: It’s almost a foregone conclusion that this game will determine who wins the SEC East Division. That means it will also decide who plays for the SEC championship, which will inevitably produce at least one College Football Playoff team. So, yeah, kind of a big game, and both sides will have two full weeks to prepare for it with an idle week on October 26.

    As far as a prediction goes, this one will be won by Georgia in the trenches. The Dawgs should have one of the best offensive lines in the nation, which will mitigate the impact of Zuniga and Greenard. Meanwhile, Florida lost four of its five starters along the OL, which could spell trouble—even though Georgia doesn’t have a single returning player who had more than two sacks last season. UGA ekes out a 27-23 win.

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    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    What happened in 2018: In one of the stunning outcomes of last year, Ohio State boat-raced what previously appeared to be an outstanding Michigan defense. Dwayne Haskins threw for 396 yards and six touchdowns in a 62-39 beatdown. Chris Olave was on the receiving end of two of those TD passes. He also had the blocked punt in the third quarter that opened up the floodgates. Quite the end-of-season breakout for the true freshman.

    What’s changed: Not much. Just each team losing a pair of top-15 draft picks and Ohio State replacing Urban Meyer at head coach. Oh, and Ohio State acquired one elite quarterback via the transfer market (Justin Fields) and lost another one (Tate Martell).

    But they’re both still expected to be Top 10 teams and the front-runners for the Big Ten East Division crown, which means you can already circle this game in sharpie on your calendar as a must-watch affair.

    Early outlook: Ohio State has won seven straight in this series, four of the last five by a double-digit margin. But with Meyer, Haskins and a bunch of other key Buckeyes out of the picture, who knows what to expect?

    Might change our tune on this one about a dozen times over the course of the more than five months until it begins, but for now we’ll take Michigan 28-24 at home in what could be the best game of the entire season. At any rate, if the Wolverines don’t win, it’ll be time to seriously consider cutting ties with Jim Harbaugh. Fool me once, shame on you. Fall to 0-5 against your bitterest rival, shame on the head coach.

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