Fourth of July 2019: College football players, offenses, nonconference games poised to produce fireworks
Let us usher in the Independence Day weekend with reasons to be excited for the 2019 season
Your Independence Day weekend will be filled with many things, including a list of the following (probably): hot dogs/hamburgers/barbecue, beer, above-ground inflatable pools and/or water sports, American flags draped everywhere (and I mean everywhere) and fireworks, both of the professional and amateur variety. It will not (probably) include college football.
With the Fourth of July officially here, we thought we'd usher in the holiday weekend with some fireworks of our own -- college football style., here are four players, offenses and nonconference games that should create fireworks in the upcoming 2019 season. Obviously, there are more than four acceptable answers for each category, but, you know, themes and whatnot. Also, regarding the players: you already know players like Tua Tagovailoa and Trevor Lawrence are going to light it up this fall anyway, so let's move past the typical names and get to some others you need to keep an eye on.
Let's get right to it!
1. Houston quarterback D'Eriq King: After infamously leaving him off my quarterback tiers in 2018, I've now completed my glorious transformation into a D'Eriq King fan account. He accumulated 50 touchdowns -- which, at the time, was the most in the FBS -- before missing the final two games with a knee injury in 2018. If he comes back healthy and ready to go, he's arguably the most productive scorer in the game. And, man, is he a lot of fun to watch.
2. Oklahoma State wide receiver Tylan Wallace: This man is the truth. Oklahoma State churns out big-time wideouts all the time, and Wallace is the next great one. He should be on the short list for the Biletnikoff Award again after racking up 1,491 yards receiving and 12 touchdowns. He was excellent all last season, but he was particularly unstoppable against Texas and Oklahoma, grabbing a combined 20 passes for 442 yards and four touchdowns (in fact, his stats in those games were nearly identical). Say what you will about Big 12 defenses, but he gets open all the time.
3. Colorado wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr.: He tore through defenses in the first six games of last season before being sidelined with a toe injury. He came back after a three-game absence against Washington State but sustained a torn labrum the following week against Utah. Though he clearly wasn't the same, he still caught seven passes for 65 yards in the season-ending game vs. Cal. In all, he tallied 86 grabs for 1,011 yards and 11 total touchdowns in nine games, eclipsing 10 grabs and 100 yards receiving five times. And he was only healthy for six games. The dude is a warrior.
4. Clemson running back Travis Etienne: Almost all of the focus on this year's Clemson team will be on Lawrence, and to a lesser extent, his connection with Justyn Ross. However, Etienne was the oil that made the Tigers offense hum last season. He rushed for 1,658 yards at 8.13 yards per attempt (with more than 200 touches) and 24 touchdowns. He was a first-team All-ACC selection a year ago, and while he won't get the Heisman pub that Lawrence will, he'll garner some Doak Walker love.
Honorable mentions: Alabama wide receiver Jerry Jeudy, Oklahoma running back Kennedy Brooks, North Texas quarterback Mason Fine, Hawaii quarterback Cole McDonald, Utah State quarterback Jordan Love, Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor.
1. Alabama: Maybe it was the late Heisman run by Kyler Murray. Maybe it was the crushing loss to Clemson in the national championship game. Maybe it was his late-season injury. But it feels like Tagovailoa has gone a bit ... unnoticed this offseason. That's not to say he isn't still regarded as one of college football's top quarterbacks. He is. But with Saban saying in May that Tagovailoa needed to "challenge himself," there's a bit of intrigue in whether the lefty can replicate his efficiency from last year. However, he still has Jerry Jeudy leading a talented wide receiver corps around him, and any time you even slightly overlook the Crimson Tide, they make you regret it. I bet this offense reminds a lot of people of that in 2019.
2. Oklahoma: Jalen Hurts is not the same player that Kyler Murray or Baker Mayfield was, but that's not an indictment nor is it a prediction that the Sooners will take any real step back. Hurts brings something that is very much his own to the Sooners offense, namely leadership and efficiency. Coach Lincoln Riley can work with those things, for sure. Add in Brooks, Trey Sermon and CeeDee Lamb, and the Sooners are going to field a devastating offensive unit once again.
3. Clemson: Considering Lawrence, Ross and Etienne have already been mentioned, it's a good bet that the Tigers are going to have one of the top offenses this fall. The depth at wide receiver, even without Hunter Renfrow, is particularly impressive. Clemson's offense averaged 47 points per game once Lawrence took the reins five games into last season, and as a true freshman, he continued to get better every single week.
4. Oregon: With Justin Herbert eschewing the NFL Draft for another season in Eugene, Oregon has the chance to be the best offense out west. But it's not just Herbert making the difference. Running backs CJ Verdell and Travis Dye, who ran for a combined 1,757 yards and 14 touchdowns last season as freshmen, are as good a one-two punch as any. The Ducks also return their entire offensive line. If the receiving corps does its job, this offense is going to be a whole ton of fun.
Honorable mentions: Nebraska, Ohio State, Georgia, Utah State, Memphis
1. Auburn vs. Oregon (Aug. 31): At least in recent years, Auburn hasn't exactly lit up the scoreboard in these major early-season nonconference games. I wouldn't be surprised if that changes against Oregon in JerryWorld. The indoor, fast track against Herbert and Co. might even dictate it. This is actually a tremendous matchup in the trenches between Oregon's O-line and Auburn's D-Line, but if Tigers coach Gus Malzahn finds his quarterback and throws in a few wrinkles, this game's entertainment value has a high ceiling.
2. Texas A&M at Clemson (Sept. 7): I don't suspect this will be the highest-scoring game on the list, but between Lawrence and Aggies quarterback Kellen Mond, there should be plenty of highlights once the clock hits zero. A&M had the Tigers on the ropes a season ago in College Station, and while Death Valley is a tough place in its own right, Mond vs. Clemson's rebuilt defense will be so much fun.
3. Washington State at Houston (Sept. 13): Oh, hell yes. Give me Mike Leach vs. Dana Holgorsen every day of the week. There will be a palpable buzz between Houston and Oklahoma in Week 1, but this one presents a better opportunity for a Houston win. There is no way this game doesn't last at least four-and-a-half hours, and the over/under will reach 80. King will be the big name coming into this game, but don't underestimate what Leach will have drawn up with his team.
4. Texas Tech at Arizona (Sept. 14): If the Khalil Tate experience is back and indeed fully realized, this will be college football acid. Texas Tech should be much better off if quarterback Alan Bowman is his old self again, and a shootout certainly seems likely. I am 100 percent here for an average touchdown drive of four plays over 69 yards (nice).
Honorable mentions: LSU at Texas, Notre Dame at Georgia, Houston at Oklahoma
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