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Every top 25 team's best reason for optimism next season

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Notre Dame looking for more balanced offense with Book back (2:24)

Kirk Herbstreit breaks down the matchups he likes this week, including No. 12 Syracuse vs. No. 3 Notre Dame as Ian Book makes his return. (2:24)

There's always next year, right? Even with the College Football Playoff selection committee's top 25 still battling for semifinal and New Year's Six bowl positions, it's never too early to look ahead to next season. Here are the biggest reasons for optimism in 2019.


No. 1 Alabama

Tua Tagovailoa has at least one more season in Tuscaloosa, as do all of his top four receivers, Jerry Jeudy, DeVonta Smith, Henry Ruggs III and Jaylen Waddle. The defense might take a hit with Quinnen Williams looking more and more like a top-10 NFL draft pick, but much of the secondary will return, along with inside linebacker Dylan Moses. At the center of it all is coach Nick Saban, who doesn't appear to be slowing down even at 67 years old. -- Alex Scarborough


No. 2 Clemson

Forget for a minute that Christian Wilkins and Clelin Ferrell will move on to the NFL and remember just whom the Tigers bring back in 2019: quarterback Trevor Lawrence and incredible talent at the skill positions, giving Clemson the potential to be even better on offense next season. Leading rusher Travis Etienne returns, along with Tavien Feaster and Lyn-J Dixon. So do receivers Tee Higgins, Justyn Ross and Amari Rodgers -- just for starters. Add in yet another top-10 recruiting class, and Clemson should once again be among the favorites to make it to the College Football Playoff. -- Andrea Adelson


No. 3 Notre Dame

Ian Book, currently the country's most accurate passer (74.5 completion percentage), should be back for his senior season. Book's emergence this year set the Irish on their current playoff trajectory, and his return should give the team a stable quarterback situation, something that has been rare during coach Brian Kelly's long tenure in South Bend. -- Dan Murphy


No. 4 Michigan

Coach Jim Harbaugh has the Big Ten's top recruiting class at this point and seems to have finally installed the formula he was hoping to bring to his alma mater for the past several years. The run-first Wolverines will return the core of an offensive line that has been its most-improved group in 2018. -- Murphy


No. 5 Georgia

Some Bulldogs fans might be more anxious than others when it comes to Justin Fields' implementation into the offense this season, but remember that this is just a starting point. As a sophomore next season, Fields could do even more to help Georgia become more dynamic. What's more, the defense should benefit from the return of several young talents, including freshmen Jordan Davis and Tyson Campbell. Defensive end Nolan Smith, ESPN's No. 2 overall 2019 prospect, could provide a disruptive pass-rushing presence as well. -- Scarborough


No. 6 Oklahoma

Even if Kyler Murray moves on with his baseball career after this season, as expected, the Sooners will be adding the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback recruit in the country, Phoenix native Spencer Rattler. Regardless of whether he wins the job right away, he will give coach Lincoln Riley yet another big-time passing talent to develop. OU figures to look very different on the other side of the ball as well. After such a dismal defensive season, Riley will have the backing to go hire a premier defensive coordinator, too. With that, OU would, at the very least, be better defensively. After all, it can't be any worse. -- Jake Trotter


No. 7 LSU

In the aftermath of the Tigers' loss to Alabama, coach Ed Orgeron essentially called out the offensive line for not being up to the challenge. The bottom line is that the only way to get there is through recruiting. So say what you will about Joe Burrow and the passing game, but LSU needs some of these signees like four-star Kardell Thomas to make an impact. The same goes for Orgeron's defense, which has sorely missed a pass rush. The return of K'Lavon Chaisson will be a huge boost in that regard, but developing one or two other players at end or outside linebacker would do this team wonders. -- Scarborough


No. 8 Washington State

Now that Wazzu proved it can replace a bevy of key contributors and still improve, it'll be easy for its fan base to expect more success in 2019. The Cougars have to replace Gardner Minshew, but the deep receiving corps will still be in good shape, and they will return their dynamic pair of running backs, James Williams and Max Borghi. At a place like Washington State, success like this year's will always lead to rumors about a coaching departure, but so long as Mike Leach is around, the program shouldn't see too much of a dip. -- Kyle Bonagura


No. 9 West Virginia

The Mountaineers could be in rebuilding mode with quarterback Will Grier, receiver David Sills V and a host of other key seniors moving on. But coach Dana Holgorsen does have an intriguing quarterback talent in Jack Allison, who was the No. 68 overall recruit in the country in 2016 before transferring in from Miami. West Virginia could also be much more seasoned defensively, with defensive backs Kenny Robinson Jr. and Keith Washington and linebacker David Long -- assuming he doesn't go pro -- leading the way. -- Trotter


No. 10 Ohio State

When has the future not looked bright around Ohio Stadium? The talent will continue to flow through Columbus, and whether or not Dwayne Haskins heads to the NFL, the quarterback position is in good shape. Behind one door is a record-setting, rocket-armed returning starter. Behind the other is Tate Martell, a dynamic runner who would allow head coach Urban Meyer to shift back slightly toward the style of offense he is most comfortable calling. -- Murphy


No. 11 UCF

Look no further than quarterback McKenzie Milton, who will be going into his senior season in 2019. Plenty of talent returns with him, including Adrian Killins Jr., Otis Anderson, Greg McCrae, Tre Nixon, Dredrick Snelson, Gabriel Davis and three starters on the offensive line. There is a reason UCF has won 22 straight games, and it starts with the offensive production from Milton and his teammates going back to last season. UCF has no plans to start moving backward given everything it has accomplished, and with Milton and a deep group of playmakers returning, nobody should expect the Knights to look back. -- Adelson


No. 12 Syracuse

The Orange might be losing Eric Dungey, but optimism remains high for the offense with Tommy DeVito set to take over as starting quarterback in 2019. Everybody got a glimpse against North Carolina. With Dungey struggling, coach Dino Babers went with DeVito in the fourth quarter, and he helped deliver a come-from-behind double-overtime win, throwing a career-high three touchdown passes and a career-high 181 yards. DeVito looked poised and confident, and with players like Sean Riley, Taj Harris, Nykeim Johnson and Moe Neal returning, the Orange offense should continue to play at a high level. -- Adelson


No. 13 Florida

Gators fans are already clamoring for more of true freshman quarterback Emory Jones in these final two games, so it stands to reason that many are optimistic he can take the starting job from Feleipe Franks headed into 2019. Whether he does or not remains a big question mark, but coach Dan Mullen has been steadfast in not wanting to play Jones before he is ready. Come 2019, with a full season of learning, Jones should be ready to at least compete for the starting job and perhaps provide an upgrade at a position that desperately needs it for Mullen to be successful at Florida. -- Adelson


No. 14 Penn State

The Nittany Lions' top receiver, top tight end, leading tackler and leading pass-rusher are all underclassmen playing their first season as significant contributors. In order, that's KJ Hamler, Pat Freiermuth, Micah Parsons and Yetur Gross-Matos who will all benefit next year from a full year of experience. There will be no shortage of playmakers in Happy Valley in 2019. -- Murphy


No. 15 Texas

One of the more underrated developments in the country this season has been the continued emergence of sophomore Sam Ehlinger at quarterback. Since throwing two picks in the opener against Maryland, Ehlinger has passed for 17 touchdowns and rushed for nine more scores without throwing an interception. Quarterback has been Texas' biggest issue on the field this decade. With Ehlinger giving the Longhorns elite quarterback play again, they have returned to being a Big 12 title contender. -- Trotter


No. 16 Iowa State

The Cyclones are 5-0 with freshman Brock Purdy as their starting quarterback, which included handing West Virginia its only loss of the season. In that game, Purdy threw for three touchdowns. On the season, he ranks No. 4 nationally in QBR, just behind Heisman front-runners Tagovailoa and Murray as well as Michigan's Shea Patterson. Assuming coach Matt Campbell is back as well, the Cyclones could open in the top 15 of the preseason polls. -- Trotter


No. 17 Kentucky

The beauty of what Mark Stoops has done in Lexington is that it isn't some fly-by-night operation. Slow and steady won the race to an appearance in the College Football Playoff selection committee's rankings, which is something many Wildcats fans couldn't have dreamed of. So if anything, expect more of the same, especially considering the wave of momentum Stoops and his staff should ride in recruiting. Replacing Benny Snell Jr. and Josh Allen won't be easy, of course, but quarterback Terry Wilson should be back, and if he improves even a little bit throwing the ball, that offense will be dangerous. -- Alex Scarborough


No. 18 Washington

So long as Chris Petersen is in Seattle, Washington fans will undoubtedly look forward to each season, expecting to be in the mix for a conference title. He's easily one of the best coaches in the country, and that kind of stability is the envy of several programs across the country. With quarterback Jake Browning's development seemingly stunted, Washington fans are already intrigued by what the post-Browning era will look like, and with Georgia transfer Jacob Eason waiting to become eligible, there is a clear plan in place. -- Bonagura


No. 19 Utah

Before quarterback Tyler Huntley went down with a season-ending injury, he had been showing he could operate the offense at a level that made the team a real threat to win the Pac-12. The Utes scored at least 40 points in his final four full games, and there was a strong argument that they were the conference's best team during that span. With Kyle Whittingham, it's safe to regularly expect Utah to remain in the top third of the conference defensively, and with a proven quarterback coming back, too, it's easy to be excited about the future of Utah football. -- Bonagura


No. 20 Boston College

For those who have watched the Eagles' development in the ACC, their rise in 2018 does not come as a huge surprise. They have a chance to continue on that upward trajectory in 2019 for one key reason: running back AJ Dillon returns. When healthy, Dillon has proved to be one of the best backs in the nation, both elusive and powerful. An ankle injury has slowed his production over the past month, and that has hampered the BC offense. Quarterback Anthony Brown also returns, along with some talented skill players like Kobay White. The defense will face a bit of a rebuild job, but Hamp Cheevers, Max Richardson and Isaiah McDuffie provide a solid returning nucleus. -- Adelson


No. 21 Mississippi State

Everyone assumed the transition from Dan Mullen to Joe Moorhead would have been more pleasant, but maybe that shouldn't have been the expectation. What looked the same on the outside -- a system that spreads receivers out and uses a quarterback's mobility -- was actually much different when it came to concepts and execution. So, State fans, give it some time, and maybe next season will be better. Keytaon Thompson will take the reins from Nick Fitzgerald with plenty of experience and a proven ability to make plays running the football. If he can make the passing game a bigger part of the offense, we could see the Bulldogs take off. -- Scarborough


No. 22 Northwestern

Freshman running back Isaiah Bowser is rapidly beginning to look like the next workhorse for the Wildcats. Bowser was pressed into service sooner than expected due to Jeremy Larkin's injury this season, but the rookie has found a rhythm in the past few weeks. Bowser's sturdy frame (6-foot-1, 216 pounds) and no-nonsense, straight-ahead running style make him a good fit for what coach Pat Fitzgerald expects from his team. -- Murphy


No. 23 Utah State

Quarterback Jordan Love has thrown 24 touchdown passes to just four interceptions and is just a sophomore. Regardless of how the Aggies close this year following their 9-1 start, that won't be a bad place to start when looking at why there should be more success to follow. Their top two running backs, Darwin Thompson and Gerold Bright, will also return, which should ensure that the Aggies remain a threat to win the Mountain West. -- Bonagura


No. 24 Cincinnati

Luke Fickell has done a masterful job at Cincinnati, leading the Bearcats to their first CFP ranking. But he is only just getting started. The Bearcats have one of the youngest rosters in all of college football, with 73 percent of their roster underclassmen. That includes starting quarterback Desmond Ridder and running back Michael Warren II, who has already rushed for 1,000 yards on the season. Add in running back Gerrid Doaks, who hasn't played this season because of a groin injury, and the offense should be even better next year. Meanwhile, a strong core on a defense ranked No. 6 in the nation is also set to return. The arrow is firmly pointed up for the Bearcats. -- Adelson


No. 25 Boise State

Broncos fans must live in a state of perpetual optimism. This is a team that has been ranked at some point in every season dating back to 2002, hasn't finished with a losing record since Houston Nutt was the coach in 1997 and has 12 bowl wins in the past 19 years. It would take a wild unforeseen development for the Broncos not to be among the favorites to win the Mountain West and serve as one of the primary Group of 5 candidates to land in a New Year's Six bowl. -- Bonagura