Making the leap: 5 teams poised to break out in 2019
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Which team will be this year's Syracuse?

Last season, the Orange reached heights their program hadn't seen in nearly 20 years by winning 10 games, including a bowl. Syracuse began its 2018 campaign unranked and then finished in the top 15.

Here's a look at five schools that could make similar leaps in the college football hierarchy in 2019:

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Nebraska

Last year: 4-8

The Cornhuskers narrowly missed making the top 25 of the preseason Amway Coaches Poll, coming in at 26th. That shows how much belief there is in a team coming off a losing season during Scott Frost's first year as head coach.

Nebraska is among the favorites in the Big Ten West in 2019 despite its 8-16 record over the last two seasons. A coach who has turned around a program, and the dynamic young quarterback who leads the offense, are the reasons why.

At UCF, Frost went 13-0 in his second season after winning six games during his first campaign.

The task is tougher in a Power 5 conference, but the Cornhuskers were already trending up late last season. Nebraska went 4-3 in its final seven games of 2018, with those three losses coming by a combined 11 points. The team wasn't far off from producing a bowl-eligible season.

A more experienced and healthy Adrian Martinez at quarterback will also make a difference. The former four-star recruit completed at least 66 percent of his passes during six of his final seven games last year.

Nebraska's schedule also sets the team up for success. The Cornhuskers play road games at Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota, Purdue, and Maryland, five teams unranked to begin 2019.

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Utah

Last season: 9-5

Breakout is a relative term here. The Utes did win nine games last season, but in 2019 they can claim a Pac-12 title for the first time. Utah came close last season, reaching the Pac-12 championship game before losing 10-3 to Washington.

The Utes return seven starters on each side of the football in 2019. The defense, which held opponents to 19.4 points per game last year, should be one of the best in the conference.

The offense will go as far as quarterback Tyler Huntley (1,788 passing yards and 304 rushing yards in 2018) and running back Zack Moss (2,269 rushing yards over the past two seasons) take it.

The two biggest dates on Utah's schedule are Sept. 20 and Nov. 2.

On the former date, Utah opens conference play with a Friday night game at USC, a team that should be considered the wild card in the Pac-12 this year. Then on Nov. 2, the Utes travel to Washington to face the squad that beat them twice in 2018. The Huskies own a 12-1 record against Utah all time, and a 6-1 record since the two programs became conference mates in 2011.

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Virginia

Last season: 8-5

Last year could be considered Virginia's breakout season. The Cavaliers won eight games for the first time since 2011 and celebrated their first bowl victory since 2005.

But all that fell under the radar nationally. In the ACC, Clemson's national championship run, Syracuse's 10-win season, and Pittsburgh's Coastal Division title overshadowed Virginia's success.

In 2019, Virginia should be considered the favorite in the Coastal, and Bronco Mendenhall's team could chase down its first 10-win season in 30 years.

A defense that improved by more than a touchdown per game in 2018 brings back eight starters. One of those players, cornerback Bryce Hall, is among the best defensive backs in the country.

On offense, quarterback Bryce Perkins threw for 2,680 yards and ran for 923 yards in 2018. He's a dark-horse Heisman candidate in 2019 because of his ability to fill up the stat sheet.

Virginia doesn't play Clemson in the regular season, which is a gift. The Cavaliers play at Notre Dame and Miami (Fla.) over a three-week span, but their other road tilts come against Pittsburgh, Louisville, and North Carolina.

This team should be playing in Charlotte, N.C. in the ACC championship come December.

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Memphis

Last season: 8-6

Head coach Mike Norvell has built upon what Justin Fuente started at Memphis. The Tigers are 26-14 over his three seasons, and they remain one of the highest-scoring teams in the country.

If there's one thing the Tigers haven't accomplished yet, though, it's reaching a New Year's Six bowl game. Houston, and then UCF, have recently been in the way in the American.

There are plenty of reasons to believe Memphis could be the top program from a Group of 5 conference in 2019.

That starts, of course, on offense, where Memphis has averaged 44.2 points per game over the last two seasons. Quarterback Brady White excelled in his first season as the starter after transferring from Arizona State, throwing for 3,296 yards and 26 touchdowns in 2018.

The Tigers brought in Adam Fuller to be their new defensive coordinator after he spent the last six seasons at Marshall. He needs to improve the unit, and eight returning starters will help.

The Tigers get an early chance to make a statement on Aug. 31 when they host Mississippi.

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Hawaii

Last year: 8-6

The Rainbow Warriors improved from three to eight wins during head coach Nick Rolovich's third season. Now they're a sneaky pick to win the Mountain West in 2019.

Quarterback Cole McDonald threw 36 touchdown passes and ran for 359 yards as a sophomore in 2018. His numbers during Hawaii's wins - 25 touchdowns, four interceptions, and a 63 percent completion rate - were superb.

The team's receiving corps is stacked, even after losing John Ursua (1,343 receiving yards in 2018). Cedric Byrd (940 yards) and JoJo Ward (865 yards) are among the top wideouts in the Mountain West. Hawaii's offense will be worth staying up late to watch.

The Rainbow Warriors' schedule might hold the school back from contending for a New Year's Six bowl, as it begins with three Pac-12 opponents (Arizona, Oregon State, at Washington). But Hawaii should still seriously push Fresno State and San Diego State for the West Division title.

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Making the leap: 5 teams poised to break out in 2019
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