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Tuesday March 19th, 2019 1:13PM

AP Top 25 Heat Check: Wrapping up 2018 with eye toward 2019

By The Associated Press
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Clemson beat Alabama for the national championship, but can the Tigers keep the Crimson Tide from reaching another less significant milestone?

Alabama has been preseason No. 1 in the AP poll the last three seasons, matching a record held by Oklahoma, which started No. 1 each season from 1985-87. Another preseason No. 1 in 2019 would make Alabama the first team to ever start four consecutive seasons top-ranked since the preseason poll started in 1950.

Clemson has never been preseason No. 1, but maybe next season.

At the very least expect a second straight season of the Tide and Tigers holding the top two spots to start the season in some order as both teams return star quarterbacks and a bevy of weapons.

The final 2018 rankings were revealed a few hours after Clemson beat Alabama 44-16 Monday night in the College Football Playoff championship game. The final Heat Check of the season looks at how the teams in the final rankings might start next season.

(x-player likely to leave early for NFL)

No. 1 Clemson (15-0)

2019 opener: vs. Georgia Tech.

Gone: DT Christian Wilkins; DE Clelin Ferrell; OT Mitch Hyatt.

Back: QB Trevor Lawrence; RB Travis Etienne; DE Xavier Thomas.

Heat check: The Tigers have some rebuilding to do on the lines. They'll probably start at No. 2.

No. 2 Alabama (14-1)

2019 opener: vs. Duke in Atlanta.

Gone: DT Quinnen Williams-x; OT Jonah Williams-x; S-Deionte Thompson.

Back: QB Tua Tagovailoa; WR Jerry Jeudy; LB Dylan Moses.

Heat check: The beat goes on in Tuscaloosa.

No. 3 Ohio State (13-1)

2019 opener: vs. Florida Atlantic.

Gone: QB Dwayne Haskins; DT Dre'Mont Jones; WR Parris Campbell.

Back: RB J.K. Dobbins; DE Chase Young; S Jordan Fuller.

Heat check: Hello, QB Justin Fields, transferring from Georgia. The post-Urban Meyer era should start in the top five.

No. 4 Oklahoma (12-2)

2019 opener: vs. Houston.

Gone: QB Kyler Murray; QB Marquise Brown; OT Cody Ford.

Back: WR CeeDee Lamb; RB Trey Sermon; C Creed Humphrey.

Heat check: Big losses on offense. The Sooners are likely to be ranked behind Texas among Big 12 teams.

No. 5 Notre Dame (12-1)

2019 opener: at Louisville.

Gone: CB Julian Love; LB Te'von Coney; DL Jerry Tillery.

Back: QB Ian Book; DE Julian Okwara; DE Khalid Kareem.

Heat check: No reason the Irish shouldn't start in the top 10, though the lopsided loss to Clemson might give voters some pause.

No. 6 LSU (10-3)

2019 opener: vs. Georgia Southern.

Gone: CB Greedy Williams; LB Devin White-x; RB Nick Brossette.

Back: S Grant Delpit; CB Kelvin Joseph; QB Joe Burrow.

Heat check: The Tigers are a top-10 team, but still need more consistent play out of quarterback.

No. 7 (tie) Florida (10-3)

2019 opener: vs. Miami in Orlando, Florida.

Gone: DE Jachai Polite; S Chauncey Gardner-Johnson; RB Jordan Scarlett.

Back: QB Feleipe Franks; S Brad Stewart; CB C.J. Henderson.

Heat check: Gators looked ahead of schedule in year one under Dan Mullen and could start next season borderline top-10.

No. 7 (tie) Georgia (11-3)

2019 opener: at Vanderbilt.

Gone: CB Deandre Baker; DE Jonathan Ledbetter; LB D'Andre Walker.

Back: QB Jake Fromm; RB D'Andre Swift; S Richard LeCounte.

Heat check: The Bulldogs should be loaded again to make another run at Alabama in the SEC, starting in the top five.

No. 9 Texas (9-4)

2019 opener: vs. Louisiana Tech.

Gone: DE Charles Omenihul, LB Gary Johnson; RB Tre Watson.

Back: QB Sam Ehlinger; S B.J. Foster; WR Collin Johnson.

Heat check: The Longhorns could start next season in the top 10 and actually deserve it.

No. 10 Washington State (11-2)

2019 opener: vs. New Mexico State.

Gone: QB Gardner Minshew II; RB James Williams; OT Andre Dillard.

Back: S Skyler Thomas; Davontavean Martin; RB Max Borghi.

Heat check: The Cougars will have to prove it with a new quarterback, but there is a lot coming back that could get them ranked in the high teens.

No. 11 UCF (12-1)

2019 opener: vs. Florida A&M.

Gone: WR Dredrick Snelson; LB Pat Jasinski; DE Titus Davis.

Back: RB Greg McRae; WR Gabriel Davis; RB Adrian Killins Jr.

Heat check: The health of QB McKenzie Milton (leg) will determine where the Knights will be ranked in the preseason.

No. 12 Kentucky (10-3)

2019 opener: vs. Toledo.

Gone: OLB Josh Allen; RB Benny Snell; OG Bunchy Stallings.

Back: QB Terry Wilson; WR Lynn Bowden; OLB Jamar Watson.

Heat check: The Wildcats were building to this season and are likely to fall back next. They might sneak into the bottom of the preseason rankings.

No. 13 Washington (10-4)

2019 opener: vs. Eastern Washington.

Gone: QB Jake Browning; LB Ben Burr-Kirven; S Taylor Rapp.

Back: QB Jacob Eason; OL Trey Adams; WR Ty Jones.

Heat check: The Huskies are saying goodbye to most of a good defense, but former five-star Eason should put Washington in the low teens.

No. 14 Michigan (10-3)

2019 opener: vs. Middle Tennessee.

Gone: DE Rashan Gary; LB Devin Bush; RB Karan Higdon.

Back: QB Shea Patterson; DE Kwity Paye; WR Donovan Peoples-Jones.

Heat check: Some rebuilding on defense likely leaves the Wolverines in the 8-10 range.

No. 15 Syracuse (10-3)

2019 opener: at Liberty.

Gone: QB Eric Dungey; WR Jamal Custis; LB Ryan Guthrie.

Back: S Andre Cisco; RB Moe Neal; QB Tommy DeVito.

Heat check: The Orange have several defensive linemen they are hoping to get back. If they do, they should start ranked for the first time since 1998.

No. 16 Texas A&M (9-4)

2019 opener: vs. Texas State.

Gone: RB Trayveon Williams; TE Jace Sternberger; DT Daylon Mack.

Back: QB Kellen Mond; WR Quartney Davis; DE Justin Madubuike.

Heat check: The offense has big potential while the defense rebuilds. Jimbo Fisher's second year will likely start ranked.

No. 17 Penn State (9-4)

2019 opener: vs. Idaho.

Gone: QB Trace McSorley; DE Shareef Miller; RB Miles Sanders.

Back: DE Yetur Gross-Matos; LB Micah Parsons; WR K.J. Hamler.

Heat check: The Nittany Lions will start in the back of the Top 25, but some new stars could emerge from strong recruiting classes.

No. 18 Fresno State (12-2)

2019 opener: at Southern California.

Gone: QB Marcus McMaryion; LB Jeffrey Allison; CB Anthoula Kelly.

Back: RB Ronnie Rivers; DE Mykal Walker; S Mike Bell.

Heat check: Huge losses on offense, but the Bulldogs might get benefit of the doubt after 22 wins the last two seasons, and a ranking in the 20s.

No. 19 Army (11-2)

2019 opener: vs. Rice.

Gone: FB Darnell Woolfolk; LB James Nachtigal; LB Kenneth Brinson.

Back: QB Kelvin Hopkins; LB Cole Christiansen; RB Kell Walker.

Heat check: The Black Knights have won 21 games the past two seasons, but will probably need to prove it again to get ranked next season.

No. 20 West Virginia (8-4)

2019 opener: vs. James Madison.

Gone: QB Will Grier; LB David Long; WR David Sills V.

Back: RB Kennedy McKoy; DL Dante Stills; QB Jack Allison.

Heat check: Major rebuild and new coach Neal Brown's first West Virginia team will start unranked.

No. 21 Northwestern (9-5)

2019 opener: at Stanford.

Gone: QB Clayton Thorson; CB Montre Hartage; WR Flynn Nagel.

Back: QB Hunter Johnson; RB Isaiah Bowser; LB Paddy Fisher.

Heat check: With a former five-star transfer QB in Johnson, Wildcats might be better next season and ranked to start it.

No. 22 Utah State (11-2)

2019 opener: at Wake Forest.

Gone: RB Darwin Thompson; Ron'quavion Tarver; TE Dax Raymond.

Back: QB Jordan Love; LD David Woodward; DE Tipa Galeai.

Heat check: Losing coach Matt Wells will make voters tentative, but bringing back Love should make them take notice.

No. 23 Boise State (10-3)

2019 opener: vs. Florida State in Jacksonville, Florida.

Gone: QB Brett Rypien; RB Alexander Mattison; CB Tyler Horton,

Back: S Kekoa Nawahine; LB Curtis Weaver; WR John Hightower.

Heat check: With Rypien gone, Boise State will probably start the season unranked but with potential.

No. 24 Cincinnati (11-2)

2019 opener: vs. UCLA.

Gone: DT Cortez Broughton; DT Marquise Copeland; WR Khalil Lewis

Back: QB Desmond Ridder; RB Michael Warren II; S James Wiggins.

Heat check: One of the best turnaround teams in the country in 2018 and might sneak into the bottom of the rankings to start 2019.

No. 25 Iowa (9-4)

2019 opener: vs. Miami, Ohio

Gone: TE Noah Fant; S Amani Hooker; DL Parker Hesse.

Back: QB Nate Stanley; DE A.J. Epenesa; TE T.J. Hockenson.

Heat check: The Hawkeyes have only been ranked in the preseason once in the last eight years. Outside chance they buck that trend in 2019.

Unranked teams likely to start 2019 ranked: Oregon; Auburn; Iowa State.

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at https://podcastone.com/AP-Top-25-College-Football-Podcast

___

More AP college football: https://apnews.com/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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