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NORTHWESTERN
AT STANFORD

Only five times in the 105-year history of the Granddaddy of Them All has a Rose Bowl Game been a rematch of a game that happened in the regular season that year. This matchup, Northwestern at Stanford, has a chance to be the sixth and the first since the 1988 Rose Bowl Game.

Northwestern surprised the college football world in 2018 as the Wildcats won the Big Ten West and earned a trip to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship Game. While key losses on offense may hurt the ‘Cats this year, Northwestern brings back the core of its defense in linebacker Paddy Fischer, defensive lineman Dan Gaziano and safety JR Pace.

But undoubtedly, the most important player for the Wildcats in 2019 will be redshirt sophomore quarterback Hunter Johnson. Johnson was the top-rated quarterback coming out of high school in 2017 and played in seven games for Clemson during the 2017 season before transferring to Northwestern and sitting out the 2018 season. Johnson will have to fill the shoes of Wildcats legend Clayton Thorson, who finished as the program leader in career passing yards (10,731), completions (991), attempts (1697) and touchdowns (61). Johnson will be working behind an offensive line with three new starters, but has the benefit of experienced receivers and a pair of stud running backs in Isaiah Bowser and John Moten IV.

Stanford has been one of the most consistent programs in the country under head coach David Shaw, but 2019 may be his toughest year on “The Farm.” Stanford, by most metrics, has one of the toughest schedules in the nation this year and that starts with Northwestern in week one.

The Cardinal will be without its top running back (Bryce Love) and top three pass catchers (JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Kaden Smith and Trenton Irwin) from 2018, as all four have moved on to the NFL. But what Stanford does return is perhaps the most under-the-radar quarterback in the country, senior KJ Costello, and a consensus NFL first round pick at left tackle, Walker Little.

Defensively, Stanford returns less than half of the starters from a season ago. The strength of the defensive will come from the defensive line, where all three starters return, as well as at the cornerback position, where the Cardinal boast lockdown corner Paulsen Adebo.

This game may prove to be a defensive battle as both teams work through the changes offensively. Stanford may be looking for revenge against Northwestern after the ‘Cats defeated the Cardinal, 16-6, to open the 2015 season. It was one of only two losses for Stanford that season and likely kept them out of the College Football Playoff.

OREGON VS.
AUBURN

A rematch of the 2011 BCS National Championship, Oregon and Auburn meet in the only matchup of ranked opponents in week one.

Last season, under first-year head coach Mario Cristobal, we saw a different type of Oregon team. Gone are the days of the hyper-fast offense, but the results were similar. The Ducks averaged 35 points and 427 yards per game in 2018 and return the majority of their offense in 2019, including senior quarterback Justin Herbert. Herbert lost his top receiver, Dillon Mitchell, to the NFL but returns his entire offensive line and top two running backs from last season. Backs CJ Verdell and Travis Dye, both just sophomores, rushed for nearly 1,800 yards and 14 touchdowns a year ago.

Defensively, the Ducks have the potential to be great. The incoming freshman from the most recent recruiting class have a chance to make a big impact early and the secondary returns to three-year starters at each cornerback spot. Outside linebacker Troy Dye led the team in tackles a year ago and will anchor the defense.

Auburn is set to do something not seen since WWII on “The Plains”, start a true freshman quarterback. Bo Nix, son of former Auburn quarterback Patrick Nix, will start for Auburn in the season opener. Nix was ranked as the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the 2019 class and Mr. Football in the state of Alabama in 2018. Nix will be behind five returning senior starters on the offensive line and have two talented running backs, JaTarvious Whitlow and Kam Martin, to hand the ball to. The Tigers graduated their top two receivers from 2018, but sophomores Anthony Schwartz and Seth Williams combined for 12 touchdowns last year.

Defensively, Auburn has a front four that could be the best in the country. The defensive line has several players that will play in the NFL in the future, but the linebackers are a bit of an unknown. The Tigers will replace all three linebackers from a year ago and several talented freshmen may be leaned on to fill those holes. On the back-end, Auburn returns four of five starters, including safeties Jeremiah Dinson and Daniel Thomas, the team’s leading tacklers from last season.

Both of these teams are headed in the right direction in 2019 and a marquee win in week one may be just what they need to propel themselves into the top-10.

UTAH
AT BYU

Rivalry games are one of the nuances of college football that make it special. It brings a little something extra to the teams, the coaches and especially the fans.

Utah-BYU is known as “The Holy War”. This marks the 100th meeting between the teams, who first met in 1896 and played yearly from 1922 to 2010. While Utah has won the last eight games against BYU, seven of those eight games were decided by eight points or less.

Utah is among the favorites to win the Pac-12 South this season after winning the division a year ago, despite a rash of injuries. Now, with starting quarterback Tyler Huntley and running back Zack Moss back and healthy, the Utah offense should be set to hit the ground running. In addition to the strong rushing attack, the Utes return seven of their eight top pass catchers from last year.

On defense, the Utes are in line to once again be one of the best in the country. An already strong defensive line has been bolstered by Viane Moala, a transfer from Hawaii. In the linebacking corps, Utah lost its top two tacklers from a year ago, but rising sophomore Devin Lloyd will fill one spot, while Penn State transfer Manny Bowen will fill the other. Corner Jaylon Johnson and safety Javelin Guidry Jr. will guide a solid, veteran secondary.

BYU struggled in 2017 to the tune of a 4-9 record but bounced back last year and finished the season with a win in the Idaho Potato Bowl. The rebound was precipitated by now-sophomore quarterback Zach Wilson, who threw for 1,578 yards and had a 12-to-3 touchdown to interception ratio across nine games and seven starts. Running back Lopini Katoa will pace the running backs after leading the team with 5.6 yards per rush and nine scores in 2018.

On defense, BYU was 18th nationally in 2018, but lost their top two players to the NFL and have already been bitten by the injury bug. BYU does have seven of their top eight tacklers back, but will need to find some consistency in its pass rush. The Cougars strength will be up the middle of their defense, with the combination of nose tackle Khyiris Tonga, linebacker Isaiah Kaufusi and safeties Austin Lee and Dayan Ghanwoloku.

When BYU and Utah met late last season, the Cougars led 27-7 with less than five minutes left in the third quarter. The Utes scored the final 28 points of the game, including two touchdowns in the final three minutes, to complete the rally. Expect this game to be another close one with both of these teams on the upswing heading into 2019.