Mark Clark: Way too early, but here we go again

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The 2018 college football season came to an end just this past Monday at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., with the annual National Championship Game – Alabama vs. Clemson in the third title tilt for the two opponents in the last four seasons. Alabama and Clemson have faced each other in each of the last four playoffs – three times in the title game and once in the semifinal round. Guess what next season holds in store for college football fans? Well, it is way too early to make such predictions, but some already have done so.

So, should I throw in my two cents? I guess I can. People get ready for Alabama vs. Clemson in the National Championship Game for a fourth time in six seasons. Do not laugh. It is certainly possible. Neither team will lose enough players to graduation and the NFL Draft to keep it from happening. And, both schools return next season with dynamic quarterbacks – Tua Tagovailoa for the Crimson Tide and Trevor Lawrence for the Tigers. They will also return the best receivers in college football. Both teams will be just fine at the running back position, offensive lines and tight end. Defense will go through some changes, but the better players this past season have been the younger ones who will return in 2019.

On top of that, both teams are capable of going through the regular season undefeated for a second year in a row. Also, if you want a prediction on next year’s Heisman Trophy winner, I pick Tua Tagovailoa. Right next to him on the stage that night should be Trevor Lawrence. An interesting pick would be Justyn Ross in the final players named to make the trip to New York. He certainly has the talent to win the trophy – and I am prejudiced when it comes to Phenix City athletes.

My picks for the Top 25 teams for next season are as follows:

Alabama at No. 1 and Clemson at No. 2

Oklahoma is my No. 3 team. The Sooners will be just as potent on offense as they were this season. If the defense improves – and I feel it will – the Sooners can make my pick look very good.

Georgia is my No. 4 team. The Bulldogs will lose a lot of players from this year’s team, but the replacements Kirby Smart has to fill those empty slots are very good and young. D’Andre Swift will be back and will battle to be the leading rusher in the SEC. Jake Fromm could be even better than he has been his first two seasons. The Bulldogs will get better on defense because of Smart.

Texas gets my nod at No. 5. The Longhorns made a big step to returning to their glory days with their Sugar Bowl rout of Georgia this past season. Texas has Sam Ehlinger coming back and he will be an elite quarterback next season – in the top five or six is my prediction.

No. 6 goes to Ohio State. Whether transfer Justin Fields or Tate Martell is at quarterback will be decided by Ryan Day in his first season as the Buckeyes’ coach. The talent is at Ohio State to battle for the Big 10 title and possibly the national championship.

No. 7 for me is LSU. The Bengal Tigers of LSU did the world of college football a favor last season by beating Central Florida, so we do not have to hear them claim they are the National Champions again. The Tigers have two big games next season against Texas and Alabama – and they also play good Auburn, Texas A&M and Florida teams in Baton Rouge. It will not be an easy season, but it should be a successful one.

At No. 8, I am slotting Florida. Beating Michigan in the Peach Bowl 41-15 is less impressive than it appeared, but the Gators will be improved under Dan Mullen in the upcoming season. Feleipe Franks should be even better now that he has settled into the Mullen offense. Mullen will field an even better defense. They will fight Georgia for the SEC East title.

No. 9 in my too early poll is Texas A&M. Jimbo Fisher has recruited for his needs well. After one season at Texas A&M, the veteran coach will focus on defensive improvement. The offense is fine under Kevin Mond. Third place in the SEC West will be where the Aggies fall, but the overall three team race will be a close one.

No. 10 is Michigan. The Wolverines have got to get better sometime. Jim Harbaugh has done nothing in his first few years with the team to elevate it to elite status and has to do that this season or he could wind up like Urban Meyer – out of coaching. Shea Patterson should return to the Wolverines for his final season. The defense which was touted as the best in the nation last year until it played talented teams will improve.

The rest of the Top 25 is as follows: Notre Dame, Penn State, Oregon, UCF, Washington, Iowa, Utah, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Virginia Tech, Iowa State, Northwestern, Auburn, Missouri and Washington State.

There, that should get your juices flowing for next season. I am sure you agree with some of my picks and disagree with others. Well, that is why the game is played on the field and not in the newspaper.

Mark Clark is a local sports writer for The Citizen of East Alabama.