After nearly eight months of waiting, the 2017 college football season is finally here. Even though we’ve had a handful of games already, we all know that the season doesn’t truly begin until Saturday.
Already we’ve seen ranked teams such as #2 Ohio State, #9 Oklahoma State, #15 Stanford and #19 South Florida roll through their opponents to start the season, but there is still much more to watch for in the opening week of the season.
Aside from what is sure to be one of the best games of the entire season between #1 Alabama and #3 Florida State, there are even more intriguing matchups on week 1’s slate. Tom Herman makes his debut as the headman for Texas as my 23rd ranked Longhorns host an electric Maryland Terrapins offense. #10 Michigan will play #17 Florida in Jerry’s World down in Arlington, although the Gators will be without a bunch of players, including RB Jordan Scarlett and WR Antonio Callaway.
The good matchups don’t end on Saturday. On Sunday we’ll see #21 West Virginia play #22 Virginia Tech in a matchup of two different styled teams. We’ll get to see Florida transfer QB Will Grier against a stout Virginia Tech defense which returns eight starters. Both teams find themselves in the low 20s, but a win in this game will ascend them into the late teens. At the same time, we’ll get to see Texas A&M visit UCLA in a rematch of last year’s Aggies overtime victory. Both teams are vying for a late spot in the top 25.
Opening week of the college football season has never seemed to feature so many compelling matchups. Already we get to see a potential National Championship matchup, along with a handful of other great matchups. As we get hyped for Saturday, take a look at my top 25 below and let me know what you disagree with in the comments below.
*All rankings mentioned in the paragraph above reflective of my top 25 below.
1.) Alabama Crimson Tide
College football’s Goliath suffered defeat in the 2016 National Championship, but there’s no doubt they enter the new season as the consensus #1. Alabama is forced to restock their core yearly, but that doesn’t not stop this team from missing a beat on either side of the ball. Most famous for their nasty, stout defenses, that brand holds true again this year. DT Da’Ron Payne and LB Rashaan Evans have displayed flashes of brilliance in the past, now as starters they’re expected to restore leadership in that storied front 7 and blow up as 1st round draft selections. With a flurry of playmakers on offense, the only real flaw this team has is if Jalen Hurts can improve on last season’s passing inconsistencies. Still, Hurts went on to be named First Team All SEC.
2.) Ohio State Buckeyes
Like the team in front of them, the Ohio State Buckeyes suffered a loss in last season’s College Football Playoff, although their loss ended a bit more embarrassing fashion as they were shutout by Clemson 31-0. With stability under center in QB J.T. Barrett, who has seemingly been in Columbus forever now, plus a head coach in Urban Meyer, the Buckeyes have the foundation to make a title run. Mix in their tough offensive line and a defense with studs at all levels, Ohio State looks to take the Big Ten this season, and much more than just a conference championship.
3.) Florida State Seminoles
If not for painful offensive line play (just ask Deondre Francois), the Seminoles would find themselves at #2 on the inaugural rankings for the 2017 season. However, Jimbo Fisher and the Seminoles are still sitting pretty at #3. With a healthy Derwin James patrolling the safety position, plus Tarvarus McFadden at corner, Florida State has the most dynamic secondary in the nation. Francois had a flashy freshman season and looks to lead this team into the CFB Playoff, while also flirting with a Heisman trophy. Replacing the program’s all-time leading rusher will be no easy task, but RB Jacques Patrick and RB Cam Akers should make it a seamless transition. If the Seminoles can upset Alabama in week one, they control their own fate from there on out.
4.) USC Trojans
The Sam Darnold hype has been in full effect throughout the summer, and now we finally get to see where he can lead USC this season. Darnold looks to build off last season and stamp his case as a #1 prospect. The Trojans enter the season as the Pac 12 favorite with CFB Playoff aspirations, but they will only go as far as Darnold can take them. Will we see more Rose Bowl magic throughout 2017?
5.) Clemson Tigers
As if replacing Tajh Boyd wasn’t a hard enough task, the Clemson Tigers are now faced with the challenge of replacing arguably the best player in program history, Deshaun Watson. The Tigers faithful have high expectations for Watson’s successor, QB Kelly Bryant. Even if there is a noticeable drop off from Watson to Bryant, one of the league’s most ferocious front 7s will keep the reigning National Championships in the playoff hunt.
6.) Oklahoma Sooners
Defense certainly isn’t your hallmark when you play in the Big 12, but that just may not be an issue for the Oklahoma Sooners. QB Baker Mayfield, my Heisman pick for the 2017 season, brings the Johnny Manziel effect to the field and has weapons to work with, along with his entire offensive line returning for another year in Norman. The Sooners enter the season with the nation’s longest winning streak (10), and will present a strong bid at the CFB Playoffs.
7.) Washington Huskies
Fresh off an appearance in the College Football Playoff, expectations are higher than ever for the Washington Huskies. Despite losing a major haul of defensive talent to the NFL Draft, UW’s front 7 returns major key pieces, headlined by DL Vita Vea and LB Azeem Victor. With QB Jake Browning and RB Myles Gaskin returning to form arguably the best backfield in the Pac 12, the Huskies will battle with USC for the Conference Championship.
8.) Penn State Nittany Lions
If their offensive showing in the Rose Bowl is any indication of what we’ll see in 2017, Penn State can score at will. Led by Heisman candidate and top draft prospect, RB Saquon Barkley, the Nittany Lions boast one of the most explosive offenses in the nation. With 7 returning starters on defense, including S Marcus Allen, Penn State will bid to repeat as Big Ten champions.
9.) Oklahoma State Cowboys
Headlined by QB Mason Rudolph and WR James Washington, Oklahoma State has the most dynamic QB-WR tandem in the country. With other playmakers in the mix for the Cowboys, they’ll be able to score with anyone; but can a Big 12 defense returning only five starters hang with the big guns?
10.) Michigan Wolverines
Despite returning only one starter on defense, the Michigan Wolverines land inside the top 10. With a tandem of Maurice Hurst and Rashan Gary on the defensive line, the Wolverines will remain stout on the defensive line. The only question mark lies under center as they’ve yet to name a starter despite the return of QB Wilton Speight. If Michigan can overcome the youth, they will be a contender in the Big Ten; National Championship hopes are probably a year or two away.
11.) Georgia Bulldogs
The Georgia Bulldogs return ten starters on defense and a breakout season from former top QB recruit Jacob Eason are expected. This sounds like the recipe for an SEC champion, but the Bulldogs must first prove they can win the tough, close games. With RB Nick Chubb and RB Sony Michel leading the charge out of the backfield, Eason should have no trouble establishing himself as a premier QB in college football. If Georgia can win the tough conference games, they should end the season with an SEC East title.
12.) LSU Tigers
Quarterback play has remained LSU’s Achilles heel for years now. QB Danny Etling made strides last season, but he will need to make strides during his senior season if LSU wants to dethrone Alabama in the SEC. With Heisman candidate in RB Derrius Guice, the running game will again carry the Tigers’ offense. Star pass rusher DE Arden Key headlines what should be another tough LSU defense. If Etling can provide a sturdy presence under the center, the Tigers are a sleeper to hoist the National Championship trophy come January.
13.) Auburn Tigers
With transfer QB Jarrett Stidham arriving in Auburn and eight returning starters on defense, expectations are high for the Tigers. Stidham proved he can ball during his short tenure at Baylor and provides Auburn with their best QB in quite some time as he’s even garnered some early Heisman buzz. Auburn will host Alabama in the final week of the season in a game which is sure to have huge conference implications.
14.) Louisville Cardinals
Aside from reigning Heisman trophy winner QB Lamar Jackson, the Louisville Cardinals will have a lot of new faces on the field in 2017. The Cardinals lose most of their front 7 from last season, but the secondary returns three starters including primed All American in CB Jaire Alexander. Lamar Jackson will have another Heisman caliber season, but Louisville will regress a tad from last season.
15.) Stanford Cardinal
How does a program even attempt to replace a player like Christian McCaffrey? That’s what the Stanford Cardinal will have to do this season. RB Bryce Love inherits a rushing attack that ranked 35th in the nation last season. Love is expected to be the main source of offense for the Cardinal, and the expectations are high for the junior running back. Despite the loss of McCaffrey, the Cardinal return 15 starters from last season, and you know David Shaw will have them competing for a Pac 12 title.
16.) Wisconsin Badgers
With nine returning starters on offense, including their entire offensive line, the Wisconsin Badgers are the Big Ten team the media is sleeping on. However, defensive leader LB Jack Cichy will be missed on defense after suffering a season-ending injury. If the Badgers can overcome his absence and keep their tough brand of football going, they will compete for a Big Ten title.
17.) Florida Gators
The Florida Gators have already gotten off to a rough start to the 2017 season as a handful of players will be suspended for their big season opener against Michigan. Standout freshman QB Feleipe Franks was named the starter over transfer QB Malik Zaire. With four returning starters on the offensive line and playmakers in RB Jordan Scarlett and WR Antonio Callaway, this could be the best Gators offense we’ve seen during the Jim McElwain era. The only question is can Franks be the solution at QB; and can they overcome all the youth on defense which returns just two starters?
18.) Miami Hurricanes
Mark Richt was quick to make an impact in Miami as the Hurricanes won their last five games to end the season, including a Bowl win against West Virginia. With Brad Kaaya off to the NFL, junior QB Malik Rosier has high expectations under center. WR Ahmmon Richards is only a sophomore, but he very well could be the best receiver in the conference. With their entire front 7 returning headlined by DE Chad Thomas and DT Kendrick Norton, if the Canes can put points on the board, their defense will be able to hold close games.
19.) South Florida Bulls
Led by sleeper Heisman candidate QB Quinton Flowers, the South Florida Bulls possess one of the nation’s top running games. The Lamar Jackson of the AAC, Flowers rushed for over 1,500 yards last season and was efficient throwing the ball. With nine returning starters on defense, Charlie Strong should have an easy transition during his first season in Tampa.
20.) Washington State Cougars
Electing to return to school, QB Luke Falk remains the engineer of Mike Leach’s air-raid offense. Falk has thrown for over 4,500 passing yards the past two seasons and plays with NFL aspirations this year. A team that is sure to put points on the board, their eight returning starters on defense will provide a huge boost. This is the year for the Cougars to make some noise if they want to challenge for the Pac 12 crown.
21.) West Virginia Mountaineers
Formerly of the Florida Gators, QB Will Grier proves to be the perfect fit in Dana Holgorsen’s spread offense. Grier proved he can sling the rock before being dismissed from Florida during the 2015 season. With a great compliment in RB Justin Crawford out of that backfield, the Mountaineers will have no problem scoring points. Playing in the Big 12 with only three returning starters on defense, the Mountaineers will struggle to put games away.
22.) Virginia Tech Hokies
After a 10 win season in Justin Fuente’s debut in Blacksburg, progression is expected from the Hokies. With eight returning starters on defense, including their entire back 7, their tough, defensive brand of football is in full effect under defensive coordinator Bud Foster. If the Hokies can get contributions on offense from some fresh faces, they’ll be a sneaky ACC contender. Remember, they only lost by seven against Clemson last year in the ACC Championship.
23.) Texas Longhorns
It was another disappointing season in Austin, but expectations are at the highest they’ve been since the Mack Brown prime days for the Longhorns. Tom Herman comes over after building a tremendous program at Houston. With QB Shane Buechele, a plethora of playmakers, the nation’s top offensive tackle in Connor Williams and seven returning starters on defense, the Herman era should get off to a good start. An eight win season is in the cards for the Longhorns.
24.) Kansas State Wildcats
Bill Snyder enters his 26th season in Manhattan, which very well could be his last after turning 78 and battling throat cancer. Last season Snyder had his youngest team ever, yet they still won a Bowl game. With QB Jesse Ertz’s running ability, the experience and the Snyder effect, Kansas State will be the best team no one talks about.
25.) Northwestern Wildcats
With RB Justin Jackson leading the charge, Northwestern is going to represent the Big Ten’s tough brand of football quite well. QB Clayton Thorson returns under center after setting a school record with 22 TD passes. The defense possesses a lot of speed, size and athleticism as they return seven starters. Look for Jackson to throw his name in the Heisman conversation and lead the Wildcats to a great season.