Clemson, Alabama battle for top spot in 'too early' 2019 rankings


by - Staff Writer -
Round five in New Orleans anybody?
Round five in New Orleans anybody?

Clemson and Alabama have now split their meetings over the last four seasons and the 2019 campaign is setting up for quite the battle for the top spot from preseason to postseason.

The Tigers' blowout of Alabama on Monday made picking a preseason No. 1 for 2019 that much harder but a number of college football websites made their 'too early' call in the last week.

The most prominent sites to keep Clemson at the top are Sports Illustrated, ESPN and CBS Sports.

"Clemson will have two Heisman Trophy candidates -- Lawrence and tailback Travis Etienne -- leading its offense next season," ESPN's Mark Schlabach writes. "The Tigers will have to replace two starters on the offensive line, but Lawrence should be even better in his second season under center. The Tigers broke single-season school records for scoring and total offense this past season.

"Clemson hosts Texas A&M and plays at South Carolina in nonconference games in 2019. The Tigers will be overwhelming favorites to win a fifth straight ACC crown."

"The big questions lie on the defensive side of the ball," SI's Scooby Axson said, "where the entire starting line needs to be replaced, but defensive coordinator Brent Venables should be enough to get the Tigers' cache of decorated underclassmen up to speed quickly."

Alabama, of course, is No. 2 in both rankings with Georgia, Ohio State and Notre Dame rounding out the top-5 and Virginia Tech the only other ACC team in the top 25 for SI (at 25) and there's the same top-5 for ESPN but Syracuse (15) being the lone top-25 ACC projection there. Home non-conference opponent Texas A&M checks in at No. 9 (ESPN) and No. 11 (SI) for those two sites with six returning starters on offense and five on defense projected.

CBS Sports caps out its top-5 with LSU at No. 4 and Oklahoma No. 5, placing Texas A&M at No. 13 and Virginia Tech at No. 24.

Another set of early projections put Clemson in the same spot as a year ago - chasing the Crimson Tide. Athlon, Yahoo, 247Sports and Orlando Sentinel rankings have Alabama at No. 1, and Clemson, No. 2.

"The Crimson Tide bring back Heisman runner-up Tua Tagovailoa and a receiving corps that was the best in the country in 2018," Yahoo writes. "The defensive secondary will be a year older in 2019 and that’s bad news for the SEC and the rest of the country because it was pretty young in 2018 and still really good. Alabama will lose a lot of people to the NFL up front on both sides of the ball but Nick Saban’s teams have always been very good at finding talent in the trenches and at running back. There’s no reason to doubt Alabama’s depth at those positions heading into 2019. The only team that’s made all five College Football Playoff brackets should extend the streak to six in 2019."

Of note from that next quartet of early rankings, Virginia Tech checks in at No. 14 and Texas A&M is No. 6 for the Orlando Sentinel.

Clemson in 'Too early' rankings

ESPN: 1

SI: 1

CBS: 1

Yahoo: 2

Orlando Sentinel: 2

Athlon: 2

247Sports: 2

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