Although the 2017 college football season seems far away in the distance, spring football indicates that we are one step closer. To get the masses talking, let’s decipher the preseason top 25 teams in the country. Are the Clemson Tigers facing a drop out of the top five? Which SEC East team cracks the top 10? Are the Louisville Cardinals still one of the top teams losing a ton of talent? Where will Jim Harbaugh and his young Wolverines place within the poll? Let’s find out.
25. Washington State Cougars (8-5) – The Cougars kicking off the top 25 countdown thanks to having the luxury of fielding a quarterback such as Luke Falk, along with the team’s top three rushers from last season. All three (James Williams, Jamal Morrow, Gerard Wicks) combined for 29 touchdowns last season. However, everything centers around Falk, who is one of the best passers in the entire country.
24. Virginia Tech Hokies (10-4) – The defending ACC Coastal champions lost a lot thanks to graduation/draft. Yet, second-year coach Justin Fuente has a defense to rely with seven returning starters, including their top three tacklers in linebacker Andrew Motuapuaka, safety Terrell Edmunds, and linebacker Tremaine Edmunds. Wideout Cam Phillips is the go-to guy on offense after posting 983 yards and five touchdowns last season.
23. Stanford Cardinal (10-3) – No longer will Christian McCaffrey be the team’s engine at running back. The defense can’t count on defensive end Solomon Thomas, who will be playing football on Sundays. So head coach David Shaw will have his work cut out for him. Thankfully, there is an offensive line that has four starters returning.
22. Tennessee Volunteers (9-4) – With the amount of talent in Knoxville last season, the Volunteers entered the 2016 season with SEC East championship possibilities. While they did not come to fruition, head coach Butch Jones still possesses good talent, even with the amount of talent that is NFL bound. Look for receivers Jauan Jennings, Tyler Byrd, and Josh Smith to be the reliable targets. Safety Todd Kelly Jr. is the leader on a defense that saw major departures.
21. West Virginia Mountaineers (10-3) – Mountaineers faithful will now have their coach long-term with Dana Holgorson receiving an extension in the offseason. There is a new quarterback in town with Will Grier transferring from Florida. Grier has a pair of productive runners in Justin Crawford and Kennedy McVoy to hand off to. If they can shore up the defense, a 10-win season is very possible.
20. South Florida Bulls (11-2) – There’s a new head coach in town in Charlie Strong and he inherits a quarterback in Quinton Flowers who accounted for 42 touchdowns in 2016. With the schedule facing the Bulls (Houston, Temple at home, Illinois is the biggest non-conference opponent) the initial season in Tampa for Strong may very well reach double-digits.
19. Florida Gators (9-4) – On one hand, nine starters return on offense including RB Jordan Scarlett and WRs Antonio Callaway and Brandon Powell. On the other hand, only three starters return on defense. The unit will break in three new starters at linebacker and three new starters in the secondary. Get ready for an interesting season in Gainesville.
18. Miami Hurricanes (9-4) – The Hurricanes ended the season on a five-game winning streak and has eight starters back on defense which includes returning the entire front seven. All eyes are on the quarterback position as the team looks to fill a void left by quarterback Brad Kaaya, who entered the NFL Draft. Head coach Mark Richt will lean heavily on receiver Ahmmon Richards and RB Mark Walton but he also needs other offensive playmakers to take a big step.
17. Colorado Buffaloes (10-4) – The Buffaloes surprised many in 2016 so all eyes will be on the team in 2017. Quarterback Steven Montez takes over the position after the departure of former starter Sefo Liufau. The combination of WRs Shay Fields and Bryce Bobo will make things a little easier for Montez. The defense is where the question marks lie. Only three new starters return as well as a new defensive coordinator in D.J. Eliot.
16. Kansas State Wildcats (9-4) – A sleeper team that can capture the Big 12 Championship, the Wildcats present a quality case to be taken seriously in 2017. Dual threat quarterback Jesse Ertz is back for his senior season but the defensive side of the ball will be the most critical. Cornerback DJ Reed and defensive end Reggie Walker headline a unit that brings back six starters to a unit that was 25th in the nation in scoring defense in 2016.
15. Louisville Cardinals (9-4) – 2016 Heisman winner Lamar Jackson is enough to have the Cardinals ranked alone. Left tackle Geron Christian will be counted on to help protect the team’s prize possession in Jackson. The secondary returns three starters in CBs Trumaine Washington and Jaire Alexander along with safety Chucky Williams. The trio combined for 10 interceptions and 18 pass deflections.
14. Auburn Tigers (8-5) – Head coach Gus Malzahn received a gift wrapped in a bow when former Baylor quarterback Jarrett Stidham transferred to the Tigers in the offseason. Stidham’s talent solves the problem the team had at the position. Running backs Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson provide plenty of playmaking as both combined for 18 touchdowns last season. Eight starters return on defense with corner Carlton Davis leading the way. The addition of Stidham elevates Auburn as a possible SEC West contender.
13. Oklahoma State Cowboys (10-3) – A lethal QB-WR combination in Mason Rudolph and James Washington thrusts the Cowboys to the cusp of the preseason top 10. Fellow receiver Jalen McCleskey led the team in catches with 73 and makes the offense even more dangerous. The Cowboys will have their toughest competition at home this season with Oklahoma, Kansas State, and TCU all coming to Stillwater.
12. Wisconsin Badgers (11-3) – The Badgers have considerable losses this season with linebacker T.J. Watt, corner Sojourn Shelton, and running back Corey Clement all departing for NFL pastures. However, the Badgers have another hard-nosed linebacker in Jack Cichy returning from injury. The Badgers also avoid Ohio State and Penn State while have Michigan, Northwestern, and Iowa at home in Camp Randall Stadium.
11. LSU Tigers (8-4) – For many, the departure of running back Leonard Fournette is a significant blow. However, Derrius Guice is a Heisman candidate and capable of being the electric playmaker at running back for the Tigers. Although the Tigers had major turnover on defense, there is still an abundance of talent that will give the Tigers one of the best defenses in the country. Ed Orgeron will open his first full season as head coach in Baton Rouge. He hopes to rely on Danny Etling at quarterback.
10. Georgia Bulldogs (8-5) – The Georgia bandwagon may have some space outside of the locals but Kirby Smart has a really good team entering his second season as coach. Running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel is an elite one-two punch in the backfield and the defense returns 10 starters including another athletic combo at linebacker in Davin Bellamy and Lorenzo Carter. Jacob Eason is the team’s starter at quarterback and will look to build off a nice true freshman season (2,430 yards, 16 touchdowns, eight interceptions).
9. Oklahoma Sooners (11-2) – Having Baker Mayfield return helped the Sooners tremendously and places them as the clear favorite to win the Big 12 championship and a possible College Football Playoff contender. Incoming freshman Trey Sermon takes over at running back and the offensive line will be one of the nation’s best behind left tackle Orlando Brown and center Johnathan Alvarez. Corners Jordan Parker and Jordan Thomas stabilize the secondary and outside linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo is a prime candidate for Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.
8. Michigan Wolverines (10-3) – Another team that experienced great turnover due to graduation and NFL aspirations. Yet, coach Jim Harbaugh is one of the best recruiters in the country and still has one of the best rosters in all of college football also. Linebacker Mike McCray was second on the team in tackles for loss with 13.5 and is the captain of the talented Michigan defense. Leading returning rusher Chris Evans is the team’s lead back and freshman receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones is a five-star talent that will be relied on early.
7. Washington Huskies (12-2) – Head coach Chris Peterson and his Huskies surprised a few this past season and entering 2017, the roster is filled with enough talent to possible capture another Pac-12 title. Quarterback Jake Browning is a possible Heisman candidate and running back Myles Gaskin returns after being the conference’s second leading rusher last season. Linebacker Keishawn Bierria earned second team All-Pac 12 honors and is one of the best defenders in the conference. The Huskies enter the season as the clear favorite in the Pac-12 North division.
6. Clemson Tigers (14-1) – It’s not often the defending national champion is out of the preseason top five but Clemson lost a ton of talent after their magical 2016 season. Thanks to presence of defensive linemen Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence, and Clelin Ferrell, Clemson will again put plenty of pressure on opposing offenses. Receiver Deon Cain is the team’s leading returning receiver (38 catches, 724 yards, nine TDs) but who throws to him at quarterback is the team’s biggest question entering the season with the legendary Deshaun Watson moving on to the NFL.
5. Penn State Nittany Lions (11-3) – Eight straight wins and a Big Ten Championship gave the citizens of Happy Valley plenty to cheer about. Now coach James Franklin must met the standard set by last season’s team. He has the talent to do so with running back Saquan Barkley being one of the best players in the entire country. Circle October 28th as a key date. The Nittany Lions head into Columbus with a possible Big Ten East title on the line.
4. Florida State Seminoles (10-3) – No Dalvin Cook is a significant blow even with the talent returning to Tallahassee. Quarterback Deondre Francois played quite well in 2016 and gives the Seminoles reliable stability. The defense will appreciate the return of safety Derwin James, a versatile athlete who has the talent to be a possible Heisman candidate. Defensive end Josh Sweat is a big play waiting to happen and defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi provides even more pressure from the interior. Freshman Cam Akers is viewed as the next big thing at running back and has big shoes to fill.
3. Ohio State Buckeyes (11-2) – Unexpectedly, the Buckeyes were dealt a big defeat by Clemson in the CFP with a 31-0 loss. So the chip on the shoulder of the Buckeyes is greatly large. Quarterback J.T. Barrett is back for his senior season and will look to close out his career on top. He needs targets at receiver and freshman wideout Trevon Grimes appears to be a great candidate. Defensive ends Tyquan Lewis and Sam Hubbard gives the defense a stout foundation and linebacker Jerome Baker is a star in the making.
2. USC Trojans (10-3) – The comeback Rose Bowl victory over Penn State placed the Trojans on a pedestal for the upcoming season. The defense will be without dynamic defensive back Adoree Jackson but eight starters return with corner Iman Marshall being the top corner and player on defense. Coach Clay Helton can trot out Sam Darnold at quarterback who had a 2016 season that makes the 2017 a possible Heisman one. Helton will also have to find a way to get freshman Stephen Carr on the field with a rotation at running back in Ronald Jones and Aca’Cedric Ware.
1. Alabama Crimson Tide (14-1) – What a luxury. Lose in the National Championship game and start the next season as preseason #1. That’s what happens when you have elite talent on the roster from top to bottom. Running back Bo Scarborough may be the scariest man in college football after an 812 yard, 11 touchdown campaign. Sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts should improve as a starter. The defense is once again, loaded. Middle linebacker Rashaan Evans is on the verge of being a household name and defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick is an All-American candidate. Kicking off the season against Florida State may set the stage for another historic season.