Clemson and Alabama are the big names in college football, but there are other stories around the sport to pay attention to as the 2019 season draws near — many of them with ties to the Carolinas.
Can returning head coach Mack Brown revive North Carolina? Are the Carolinas’ other ACC teams – Duke, N.C. State and Wake Forest – headed for bowl games?
Some observers have used the word “unbeaten” with Appalachian State, but the Mountaineers might have a struggle winning their own division of the Sun Belt Conference.
In the Football Championship Subdivision, Elon is a team on the rise; Wofford is picked again to win the Southern Conference; and North Carolina A&T is aiming at its third straight conference championship.
Two Charlotte-area schools — Lenoir-Rhyne and Wingate — are considered Division 2 powers.
Here’s a quick look at what to expect in the 2019 season.
Favorite: Clemson (overall); Clemson (Atlantic); Miami (Coastal).
Contenders: Atlantic – Syracuse; Coastal – Virginia, Virginia Tech.
Carolinas schools: N.C. State is picked fourth and Wake Forest sixth of seven teams in the Atlantic. Duke is picked fifth and North Carolina sixth in the Coastal.
Top players: RB AJ Dillon (Boston College); CB Bryce Hall (Virginia); WR Tamorrion Terry (Florida State); QB Trevor Lawrence (Clemson); RB Travis Etienne (Clemson); DE Xavier Thomas (Clemson).
What to expect: It’s Clemson’s title to lose. The defending national champions have plenty of returning firepower. Some of the side stories worth watching will be North Carolina under returning head coach Mack Brown and freshman QB Sam Howell … and how Duke, N.C. State and Wake Forest fare with the loss of key offensive personnel.
Favorite: Alabama (overall); Georgia (East); Alabama (West).
Contenders: East – Florida, Tennessee; West – LSU, Texas A&M, Auburn.
Carolinas schools: South Carolina is picked fifth of seven teams in the East, ahead of Kentucky and Vanderbilt.
Top players: QB Jake Fromm (Georgia); QB Tua Tagovailoa (Alabama); WR Jerry Jeudy (Alabama); QB Kelly Bryant (Missouri); S Grant Delpit (LSU); OT Andrew Thomas (Georgia); CB C.J. Henderson (Florida).
What to expect: Experts consider Alabama to be a step above Georgia, and both teams to be a rung above the next-best teams. Side stories to watch: Do Florida, Tennessee and Texas A&M continue improving? Is Missouri a for-real contender? Can head coach Gus Malzahn keep his job at Auburn?
Favorite: Central Florida (overall); UCF (East); Memphis (West).
Contenders: East – Cincinnati, USF; West – Houston.
Carolinas schools: East Carolina is picked fifth of six teams in the East, ahead of UConn.
Top players: QB D’Eriq King (Houston); RB Greg McCrae (UCF); WR Damonte Coxie (Memphis); DE Patrick Johnson (Tulane); LB Bryce Huff (Memphis).
What to expect: UCF is the team to beat. Memphis is 12-2 against teams other than UCF the last two years but 0-4 against the Knights. Can Cincinnati, which rebounded mightily a year ago under new coach Luke Fickell, challenge UCF?
Favorite: Marshall (overall); Marshall (East); North Texas (West).
Contenders: East – Florida International; West – Southern Mississippi, UAB.
Carolinas schools: Charlotte is expected to battle Western Kentucky and Old Dominion for the No. 5, 6 and 7 spots in the East.
Top players: RB Tyler King (Marshall); QB James Morgan (Florida International); RB Benny LeMay (Charlotte); CB Amik Robertson (Louisiana Tech); QB Mason Fine (North Texas).
What to expect: Marshall has its entire offensive line and most offensive skilled players back, but the Thundering Herd might be pushed by Florida International in the East. Southern Mississippi is a team on the rise and could surprise in the West.
Favorite: Appalachian State (overall); Appalachian State (East); Arkansas State (West).
Contenders: East – Troy; West – Louisiana.
Carolinas schools: Coastal Carolina, under new coach Jamey Chadwell, is rebuilding and picked fifth (last) in the East.
Top players: QB Zac Thomas (Appalachian State); DT William Bradley-King (Arkansas State); QB Gresch Jensen (Texas State); DB Kindle Vildor (Georgia Southern); OL Victor Johnson (Appalachian State).
What to expect: The Mountaineers have most starters back from the Sun Belt championship team, but having a new head coach (Eli Drinkwitz) is the question mark. Troy has 12 starters back, and the Thanksgiving weekend Appalachian State-at-Troy game likely will decide the East.
Favorite: Kennesaw State.
Contenders: Monmouth, Charleston Southern.
Carolinas schools: Campbell is picked fourth of seven teams, with Gardner-Webb fifth and Presbyterian seventh.
Top players: QB Benji Bahar (Monmouth); LB Bryce Armstrong (Kennesaw State); DL Damien Dozier (Campbell); RB Juwon Farri (Monmouth); DL Zack Evans (Charleston Southern).
What to expect: Two-time defending champion Kennesaw State is loaded and is the overwhelming preseason favorite. Charleston Southern could push Monmouth for a possible second postseason playoff berth from the Big South. Campbell and Gardner-Webb are potential surprise teams.
Favorite: James Madison
Contenders: Towson, Maine.
Carolinas schools: Elon is picked fourth of the league’s 12 teams, and the Phoenix have enough talent to land a playoff berth.
Top players: QB Ben DiNucci (James Madison); DT Ron’Dell Carter (James Madison); QB Tom Flacco (Towson); QB Davis Cheek (Elon; a Butler High product); DL Maurice Jackson (Richmond).
What to expect: With 19 of 22 starters back from a 9-4 playoff team, James Madison is the overwhelming Colonial Athletic pick.
Favorite: N.C. A&T.
Contenders: Bethune-Cookman, Florida A&M.
Carolinas schools: N.C. Central is picked fifth of nine teams, with S.C. State sixth.
Top players: QB Caylin Newton (Howard; he’s the brother of Cam Newton); LB Brian Cavicante (Delaware State); DB Franklin McCain III (N.C. A&T); OL Marcus Pettiford (N.C. A&T); RB Isaiah Totten (N.C. Central).
What to expect: The Aggies are aiming for their third straight MEAC crown. Reigning Coach of the Year Sam Washington has much of the defense back for the title run.
Favorite: San Diego.
Contenders: Dayton, Drake.
Carolinas schools: Davidson is picked fifth of 10 teams — the highest it has been picked in several years.
Top players: RB Wesley Dugger (Davidson); WR Michael Bandy (San Diego); DL Nick Friedel (San Diego); DL Gavin Dineen (Drake); LB Andrew Lutgens (Dayton).
What to expect: Three-time defending champion San Diego is the only Pioneer team in the FCS preseason top 25 (the Toreros are at No. 24). Davidson’s explosive offense could put the Wildcats in the title race.
Contenders: Furman, East Tennessee State.
Carolinas schools: The Citadel is picked seventh of nine teams, with Western Carolina, led by QB Tyrie Adams, eighth.
Top players: QB Tyrie Adams (Western Carolina); OL Justus Basinger (Wofford); LB Adrian Hope (Furman); DL Nasir Player (East Tennessee State); RB Quay Holmes (East Tennessee State).
What to expect: Wofford returns much of the ground-oriented offense that has carried the Terriers to two straight Southern titles. Furman’s explosive offense could put the Paladins in the FCS playoffs again.
Favorite: Bowie State (overall); Bowie State (North); Fayetteville State (South).
Contenders: North – Virginia Union, Chowan; South – Winston-Salem State.
Carolinas schools: Livingstone and Johnson C. Smith are picked to finish fifth and sixth of the six North teams.
Top players: QB Bryce Witt (Chowan); WR Montez Clay (Bowie State); RB Tabyus Taylor (Virginia Union); DL Joshua Pryor (Bowie State); LB Devon Hunt (Shaw, and Richmond Senior High).
What to expect: Bowie State is the big favorite, but Witt could carry Chowan into title contention.
Contenders: Wingate, Carson-Newman.
Carolinas schools: Catawba is picked sixth of nine teams, with Mars Hill seventh and Limestone eighth.
Top players: RB Nijere Peoples (Wingate; a Butler High product); QB Grayson Willingham (Lenoir-Rhyne, and Weddington High); WR B.J. Mickelvene (Wingate); DB Kyle Dugger (Lenoir-Rhyne); DL Montel Presley (Carson-Newman).
What to expect: Lenoir-Rhyne went into the third round of the NCAA Division II playoffs last year and is loaded again. But the Bears will get a run from Wingate, behind head coach Joe Reich (brother of Indianapolis Colts’ coach Frank Reich).