Everyone in college football worries about the possibility that the weak link on a team’s roster will wind up costing the team a playoff berth, a conference championship, a division title, a New Year’s Six bowl game, or another important prize. Among the top five teams in preseason polls, which are the weaknesses worth monitoring this upcoming season? Where do the top coaches in the land have to mobilize, adjust, and develop players in order to be ready if Week 1 starters don’t perform up to expectations or get injured, or both? Here is a brief survey of this issue:
Odds To Win National Championship: +225
The loss of Minkah Fitzpatrick is substantial; he was the quarterback of the defensive backfield, the player who put his teammates in the right positions and displayed an especially strong ability to defend both the run and the pass. There is also a new position coach in the Alabama secondary, Karl Scott, who will work under a new defensive coordinator, first-year man Tosh Lupoi. The well-traveled Lupoi is replacing Jeremy Pruitt, who is now the head coach at Tennessee. The instability on the Alabama defensive staff could affect the way this relatively new crop of safeties and cornerbacks will perform in 2018.
Ohio State’s Linebackers
Odds To Win National Championship: +600
The Tuf Borland injury in spring practice immediately robs the Buckeyes of a quality player and compresses their depth chart, forcing coach Urban Meyer to look to other players for production and competence. If any more attrition visits the Ohio State linebacker corps, this situation could reach critical levels fairly quickly. The Buckeyes have a very talented offense and own a lot of depth at other defensive position groups, but in the early part of the season, their lack of experience at linebacker could be exposed in matchups against talented opponents.
Odds To Win National Championship: +640
The Tigers have a great defensive line, but they are aware that they will have to get production at some point from a pair of freshmen. Mario Goodrich and Kyler McMichael are elite recruits, but even the best recruits often need a season to get adjusted, and at least several weeks of live repetitions on gamedays. If Clemson plays a souped-up offense in the first half of the season, the Tigers might absorb one loss, which is all it takes to put them in danger of missing the College Football Playoff.
Odds To Win National Championship: +2500
The freshman Brendan Radley-Hiles is going to be on the firing line, forced to grow up quickly, but beyond needing a freshman to be good, the Sooners are also confronting the reality that they were sloppy and very inconsistent last year. They beat Oklahoma State, but they gave up 52 points. They won only because Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield scored 62 points. The Sooners were also torn apart on defense by Georgia in the 2018 Rose Bowl. They didn’t have a good unit in the secondary to begin with, so it’s hard to see how anything will be markedly better this season.
Odds To Win National Championship: +1000
Replacing the excellent Roquan Smith is bad enough. Smith masked so many weaknesses in the linebacker group and made plays all over the field. He’s gone, but two other quality players – outside linebackers Lorenzo Carter and Devin Bellamy – are also no longer in the mix. There is both quality and depth to replace this year, and that’s not an automatic thing.
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