With less than a month until the official start of the college football (and Oregon State’s) season, we revamped our January edition of our “Way-Too-Early College Football Top 25” to account for all the madness of a wild off-season. To no surprise however, the Crimson Tide are still considered the “team to beat” heading into 2017.
BTD’s College Football Top 25
1. Alabama Crimson Tide
The Crimson Tide came up just short of the school’s fifth National Championship last season, which leaves the ultimate prize as the only goal heading into the 2017 campaign. Alabama will get a brutal early test when they clash with our #2 ranked team, Florida State, at the Georgia Dome in Week One.
2. Florida State Seminoles
Florida State needs to improve their consistency on the defensive side of things and protect quarterback Deondre Francois much better, but the potential within this team is there. The re-insertion of play-maker Derwin James could be the difference for this group, who will need to eliminate giving up some big plays on defense.
3. Ohio State Buckeyes
There’s belief that his could be Urban Meyer’s best squad since 2014, which is high praise considering the Buckeyes lost three defensive backs to the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft alone. Yet, with 3⁄4 of the team’s starters returning to Columbus, Ohio State is projecting as a likely College Football Playoff squad.
4. USC Trojans
The favorites to reclaim their old throne in the Pac-12 for good, head coach Clay Helton will sport the most prototypical USC roster that we’ve seen in years. They have a legitimate Heisman contender at quarterback in Sam Darnold and a bevy of athletes at his disposal. Can USC defend at a high-level will be the question?
5. Oklahoma Sooners
The abrupt departure of head coach Bob Stoops will shake but not rattle a strong Sooners team, that will be ready to go out on top. Oklahoma still has arguably the best offensive line in the conference and one of the best quarterbacks in the country in Baker Mayfield. A Week Two trip to Ohio State should test the moxie of this team early.
6. Penn State Nittany Lions
Trace McSorley at quarterback and Saquon Barkley at running back means Penn State won’t fall far from 2016, where they began to stake their claim once again as “America’s team”. There was no more enjoyable group to watch in the Big Ten and that should be true once again, if the Nittany Lions can sort a few positions out on defense.
7. Washington Huskies
Washington was the ultimate surprise of the 2016 college football season, as the Huskies transformed solid preseason expectations into a College Football Playoff birth. The Huskies get their national recognition from the duo of quarterback Jake Browning and running back Myles Gaskin, but don’t get near the credit they deserve on defense.
8. Wisconsin Badgers
SB Nation’s own Bill Connelly put it best, describing this year’s model of Wisconsin as “the most Wisconsin football team ever”. The Badgers have no interest in straying from the slow churn of their “ground and pound” offense, which led them to a Big Ten title game in Paul Chryst’s second season. The key for this group may be avoiding Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State on their Big Ten schedule.
9. Georgia Bulldogs
The most uncertain team included in the Top 10, Georgia has an equal amount of potential and question marks, as the 2017 season approaches. It’s expected that Kirby Smart’s personality begins to show out more on defense, with a boatload of disruptive talents. On offense, running back Nick Chubb could be the SEC’s best tailback.
10. Oklahoma State Cowboys
To keep with the norm in the Big 12, Oklahoma State won’t be a great defensive football team, as they try and fill voids left by some gifted departures. Yet, Mike Gundy will have arguably his most impressive offensive depth chart since 2012. Mark your calendars now for November 4th, when the Cowboys travel to Norman. It could be one of the best games of the college football season.
11. Clemson Tigers
The Tigers may be the reigning National Champions but they’ll have an uphill battle to fight heading into the 2017 season. Clemson will have to replace their on-field leader and best overall player in quarterback Deshaun Watson and the heart of their defense in linebacker Ben Boulware. Those tasks are much easier said than done.
12. LSU Tigers
Before the brutality of the SEC slate begins, LSU’s most intriguing test could come in Week One against BYU, where the Tigers will debut a much-needed offensive change under new coordinator Matt Canada. LSU’s biggest hurdle may now be the month of October, where they’ll travel to Florida, Ole Miss and Alabama, while also hosting Auburn.
13. Boise State Broncos
The Broncos will be be tested mightily in Week Two at Washington State, as well as in early October at BYU and San Diego State. If they can emerge after six games still with momentum on their side, Boise State may be able to clip an upstart Wyoming team and coast out through the rest of their Mountain West slate.
14. Auburn Tigers
Auburn has been a program under heavy national scrutiny in the past few seasons, mostly due to an 18-14 mark in SEC play, where the Tigers regularly end up on the wrong side of the scoreline in big games. A road trip to Clemson? Mid-October in Death Valley? The Iron Bowl at home? Who knows what to expect of Auburn’s 2017 season?
15. Michigan Wolverines
On paper, it would seem that 2017 is the transition year for the Wolverines, who will lick their wounds from the massive departures into the NFL Draft and look ahead towards the 2018 campaign. However, a Michigan transition year still fields a Top 25 caliber type of season, assuming they solve what seems like a never-ending quarterback battle.
16. South Florida Bulls
South Florida may have the best college football player you’ve never heard of in quarterback Quinton Flowers, that should also have a strong pool of talent surrounding him at the many different skill positions. Giving new head coach Charlie Strong nine returning starters on defense is a scary reality to the rest of the AAC.
17. Stanford Cardinal
The Cardinal seem to figure into the conference race each season in one way or another, regardless of what kind of roster turnover seems to be stacked against them. David Shaw has somehow quieted expectations for this group, despite the fact they’re probably Washington’s biggest challengers in the Pac-12 North, along with Washington State.
18. TCU Horned Frogs
If the receiving core can stop dropping passes at a somewhat historic rate, TCU has all the pieces in place on both sides of the ball to take the leap in 2017. The Horned Frogs return the most on-field production of any Power-5 team, which can only signal an upward trend from last year’s 6-7 outing. Consider them the darkhorse in the Big 12.
19. Miami (FL) Hurricanes
The Hurricanes bounced back in the debut campaign of Mark Richt, which at-times looked like either a perennial conference contender or a squad struggling to find their footing. The main question mark for this group in 2017 is at quarterback, where a serviceable incumbent to Brad Kaaya is desperately needed, with a tough schedule in tow.
20. Louisville Cardinals
Bringing back the reigning Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Lamar Jackson should be enough to keep Louisville in the mix in the ACC, despite the fact that the Cardinals lose starters at running back, wide receiver and tight end. However, Louisville looks like a one-man show for another year, with an even less-impressive defense.
21. Texas Longhorns
New Longhorns head coach Tom Herman may make his stand on the offensive side of things but it could be Texas’ defense that takes the cake in 2017, led by 10 returning starters on that side of the ball. Herman also has likeable pieces at his disposal on offense, which may be able to develop into one of the most surprising units in the Big 12.
22. Florida Gators
After years of making their stand on the defensive side of things, Florida has the depth chart to be one of the stronger offensive teams in the SEC, pending they can win the battle in the trenches. For Jim McElwain, the focus of this group will shift to the defensive side of things, where Florida will need to plug holes at every level.
23. Virginia Tech Hokies
The challenger to Miami (FL) in the Coastal Division of the ACC, Virginia Tech could very well be the ones that end up playing Florida State (or Clemson or Louisville) in the league’s championship game. The Hokies need to improve ten-fold in the trenches but Justin Fuente made some serious strides in year one. Things are trending in Blacksburg.
24. Washington State Cougars
The biggest hindrance to Washington State having a successful 2017 could be their schedule, where the Cougars will see Boise State early and then meet with USC and Oregon (away) in back-to-back weeks. Wazzu also will end the season with Stanford, Utah (away) and Washington (away). Not a likeable slate for a consistently inconsistent program...even one that does return 16 starters across the board.
25. Navy Midshipmen
The return of Ken Niumatalolo from another summer on the coaching rumor mill leaves the Midshipmen right where they’ve always been heading into 2017. Despite Navy collapsing down the stretch last season, the Midshipmen have adjusted well to the quality of opponents in the AAC and have the tools to be a contender once again.
Five More To Watch
One of the wilder teams in college football a season ago, it’s hard to comprehend that BYU was literally eight points away from a perfect season, with four losses to their name. What a strange first go-round for Kalani Sitake. Without getting into the specifics, it should more of the same hard-nosed, blue-collar football from the Cougars.
Kansas State Wildcats
A boatload of question marks return on the depth chart defensively for Kansas State, who may not be able to field a reliable defense, even in the offense-happy Big 12. While legendary head coach Bill Synder has the bulk of his offense back in the Little Apple, quarterback Jesse Ertz will have to be electric from the get-go.
Pat Fitzgerald’s program has historically been a quick starter but they flipped the script in 2016, stumbling out to a 1-3 start before finishing 6-3 down the stretch. The Wildcats should be more sound offensively, still reliable defensively, more explosive on special teams and simply a better football team across the board.
Pitt will be hoping their developing status as a “giant killer” will continue into 2017, with match-ups against Penn State and Oklahoma State on their out-of-league slate. A strong showing to start the season could help them in the long-term, against a favorable ACC draw that doesn’t include Clemson, Florida State and Louisville.
South Carolina Gamecocks
The Gamecocks were a much improved team last season when they turned the quarterback reigns over to then-true freshman Jake Bentley, who could make South Carolina a solid offensive team. It’s now the rest of the pieces that need to fill in. While the schedule is concerning, the Gamecocks are already favored in six games.