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The Big 10: Alabama or Clemson yet again? Power 5 rankings, non-con gems, Heisman talk

Here’s your championship choice, people: You’ve got (a) Alabama and Clemson or (b) the field. It’s only Junior’s college fund hanging in the balance.

College Football Playoff National Championship Presented By AT&T - Alabama v Clemson
Dabo Swinney’s Clemson squad kicked Nick Saban and Alabama’s butts in last season’s title game.
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Here’s your championship choice, people: You’ve got (a) Alabama and Clemson or (b) the field.

Yes, you can bet that either the Crimson Tide or the Tigers will win college football’s national title yet again. They’ve alternated trophy celebrations for the last four seasons, reveling in two apiece.

Or you can wager Junior’s college fund on the prospect of any other team on God’s green earth — the 128 FBS squads not named Alabama or Clemson, all in the same pot — doing what the 2014 Ohio State Buckeyes did in the first rendition of the College Football Playoff.

Hmm … are quarterbacks Trevor Lawrence (Tigers) and Tua Tagovailoa (Tide) really that much better than everybody else? Are their respective coaches, Dabo Swinney and Nick Saban, that far ahead of the curve? Isn’t it time for all of them to get taken down a peg?

Short answer: Yes! At least, that’s the hope — to bring some real drama to the college game in 2019.

Shorter answer: Hope is for suckers. I’m betting on (a) all day.

On to the rest of the national “Big 10” (where 10 actually means 10):

2. OU, too: Oklahoma has made the playoff for three seasons running, losing in the semifinal round each time. Will transfer quarterback Jalen Hurts, who lost his job to Tagovailoa after two seasons as the starter in Tuscaloosa, take the Sooners where No. 1 overall NFL draft picks Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray couldn’t? Hurts has the temperament — and the motivation — to go out with a bang.

3. Conference calls: No matter what Cousin Earl swears to you is true, the best league in the land this season is the SEC. It’s about as close as Earl is to perfect teeth and steady employment.

What’s the pecking order after the SEC? Here’s one stab at it: Big Ten, Big 12, ACC and Pac-12. The Big Ten — with Michigan and Penn State in prime positions to challenge Ohio State in the East, and the West in a time of general incline — belongs squarely in the second spot. The Big 12 is third only if Texas is as good as advertised. That’s always a shaky proposition.

4. SEC West is best: Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Texas A&M — when any two of those four teams play, it’ll be must-watch time. It has been said before many seasons that this is the best division in college football, but it hasn’t always turned out to be true. It feels true and then some in ’19. It could be we’re looking at the strongest division in college football history.

Or, heck, maybe the Tide will yawn, stretch and then wipe the field with all of them. As if that would be some kind of shocker.

5. Trojan course: Will USC sophomore quarterback JT Daniels hold off Jack Sears, blossom into a true superstar and save coach Clay Helton’s job? There are a few moving parts to that scenario, and here’s another one: Urban Meyer. Seriously. If Helton isn’t the answer at USC, what would stop ol’ Urb from kicking retirement to the curb (again) to take on another of the sport’s most glamorous roles?

6. Dandy ’Canes? How many years in a row will Miami be hyped as a comeback contender only to disappoint in the end? The right quarterback could make all the difference this time. The wrong one could tear the Hurricanes apart.

In a real surprise, first-year coach Manny Diaz named Jarren Williams the starter less than two weeks into camp. Don’t give up on former Ohio State five-star recruit Tate Martell, though. N’Kosi Perry has been around the block, too. With the right guy when it counts, this team could pose a threat to Clemson in a potential ACC title game.

7. Move over, Manny: Diaz probably won’t be the most talked-about first-year coach in 2019. All eyes will be on Ohio State’s Ryan Day, who impressed during a brief interim gig in 2018. Longtime fans of the sport will enjoy keeping tabs on Mack Brown, who is back at North Carolina, and Les Miles, who is chewing grass at Kansas. And don’t forget about Thomas Hammock at Northern Illinois. We’re interested, anyway.

8. Is it hot in here? We mentioned Helton at USC; no coach is on a hotter seat. Willie Taggart had better show signs of improvement at Florida State. Justin Fuente isn’t exactly killing it at Virginia Tech. Gus Malzahn hasn’t delivered enough of late at Auburn. We could be about four months away from one of the wildest, highest-profile spins of the coaching carousel in memory.

9. In a non-league of their own: It’s not the sexiest season for out-of-conference tilts, but each of the five coolest ones could render that prejudgment way out of touch with reality. A top five, though any order would do: Notre Dame at Georgia (Sept. 21), LSU at Texas (Sept. 7), Texas A&M at Clemson (Sept. 7), Auburn vs. Oregon (Oct. 31), Miami vs. Florida (Aug. 24).

10. Heisman hopefuls: Let’s go back to (a) Alabama/Clemson or (b) the field, because we could view the Heisman race in precisely the same way. Tagovailoa and Lawrence are runaway co-favorites entering the season. Mayfield and Murray have given Oklahoma a Heisman streak that Hurts will look to continue. Other QBs to watch include Ohio State’s Justin Fields, Texas’ Sam Ehlinger. The non-QB with the biggest profile is Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor.

In reality, the Heisman race is utterly wide open. Breaking news: It’s only August.