Monday, August 21, 2017

The Color & Pageantry 2017 College Football Preseason Top 25


















The College Football Playoff is really working well, with the previous two seasons of Alabama versus Clemson providing us with games for the ages. Congratulations to Clemson, your 2016 Champions.

It is extremely difficult to win back to back titles, as veteran Florida State, Ohio State and Alabama teams have found out the last few seasons. The run Alabama has been on has been historic, and with some late Clemson heroics, they would have won another title. The Tide usually responds with a vengeance in such season, and we expect 2017 to be no different. To be the man, you got to beat the man. Florida State is first up!

After being the most successful of all the major prognostications in 2013 in the accuracy of the Preseason Top 25, we have fallen short the last three seasons. We really missed with Tennessee last fall, thinking with all the returning talent they had a big season in store and like many others overestimated the Seminoles.

It is a new season, and everyone is undefeated and full of promise. We can't wait for kickoff, and with that we proudly present The Color & Pageantry 2017 Preseason Top 25!

THE COLOR & PAGEANTRY PRESEASON TOP 25


1. Alabama





Like every other season the last decade, things change from season to season, but the Tide always comes in. In 2017, we can no doubt expect the same thing. For two seasons in a row, Alabama fought Clemson for the national title in very competitive epic contests. Alabama won it in 2015, but Clemson came back and took it the buzzer in 2016. In analyzing what Alabama has accomplished over the last decade, it is without question the most dominant run put together since WWII. Nebraska running off at 60-4 with three titles in the 90's is now a distant second to the run Alabama has not only recorded, but is still on.  Therefore, although some other candidates have our attention, we will award it to someone else after either Alabama loses it, or someone takes it from them. Good luck with that. Jalen Hurts emerged and grew his game as a true freshman in 2017, and is the Tide's first returning signal caller in some time.While running for almost 1000 yards, Hurts recorded 23 TD's vs. 9 INT's, quite respectable given the opponents faced. Expect Hurts to improve his game and perhaps vie for the Heisman Trophy. Bama returns two top notch rushers. Damien Harris ran for 1000 yards in '16 with a whopping 7.1 per carry, but provided he can rebound from a knee, look for Bo Scarbrough to ram through opposing defenses. The offensive line returns three. SO OT Jonah Williams is an All America candidate, and C Bradley Bozeman and G Ross Pierschbacher are all conference candidates if not more. No worries about the big uglies for Bama. Calvin Ridley is All America at receiver, but this may be thinnest position for the Tide. However, they do get Robert Foster back from injury, and if healthy, he is dynamic and an honors candidate in his own right. A big hole at tight end is visible. Defensively, well, talent abounds.  Up front, there are losses, but the duo of Da'Ron Payne at nose and Da'Shawn Hand at DE are frightful for opposing offenses. At linebacker, Shaun Dion Hamilton and Rashann Evans are as nasty a pair of hitters inside you will find, both honors candidates. The secondary is stout, led by All America strong safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. All SEC Ronnie Harrison mans a corner spot, flanked by Anthony Averett. Punter JK Scott returns, but Bama seeks a kicker. CB Trevon Diggs is back to return kicks, but they may find another speedster to get involved. This team is nasty. BAMA gets real busy right out of the gate, taking on one of the few teams considered powerful enough to challenge Alabama's supremacy; Florida State. The game is in Atlanta, a true clash of titans. BAMA is favored, but a loss for either is not going to derail a run for the title. Odds of a potential rematch are high. Bama rolls tide until the go to A&M, where the Aggies may have their backs against the wall, but even so Bama would have to beat themselves. Arkansas is a tough out for Bama, but the game is in Tuscaloosa, as is Tennessee the following week. After  a week off, LSU comes to town.  Bama travels to Starkville. So, Bama likely sits 10-1 at worst before traveling to Auburn. That will be a tough game indeed, but betting against Alabama will break many a man. 11-1 or 12-0, and playoff bound.

2. Florida State







Like many other last year, we got it all wrong when it comes to Florida State. With ten offensive starters back, a salty defense led by All America safety Derwin James and a schedule with chief conference competitor Clemson visiting Tallahassee, we selected the Seminoles preseason #1. After a shaky win over Ole Miss, Derwin James was lost for the season in game two and a defense that appeared not performing up to the standards of FSU football, collapsed in his absence. The Seminoles were destroyed at Louisville, and without the ability to stop anyone, got nipped at home by a 60 yard North Carolina field goal. The Seminoles continued to improve, but dropped the aforementioned home contest with eventual national champion Clemson before beating Michigan in the Orange Bowl to finish 10-3.  For many, with a veteran team again returning, it would be reasonable to consider FSU as preseason #1 once again. Much of the optimism for the Seminoles surrounds the return of quarterback Deondre Francois, who put in a stellar performance at the position as a redshirt freshman in 2016 for coach Jimbo Fisher. Francois showed a calmness under center not common for first year starters, and impressed his teammates with his toughness. Francois threw for 3350 YRD's and tossed 20 TD's against only 7 INT's in '16, numbers partially influenced by FSU's reliance on brilliant running back Dalvin Cook. Expect Francois's numbers to improve in '17. The Seminoles suffered losses in the receiving core, but return two of the top three wideouts with respect to receptions. Auden Tate is a tall receiver deadly in the red zone, and Nyquan Murray is a star in the making, buoyed off a stellar Orange Bowl performance. Keith Gavin, George Campbell and DeVante Phillips are expected to emerge within the rotation. Ryan Izzo is a dangerous weapon at tight end for Francois to utilize. With Cook gone, the Seminoles will have to replace a lot of big game breaking plays. Jacques Partick, at 6'2 231, is not the same back as Cook, but is quick, tough and durable. But incoming freshman Cam Akers is similar in size, style and elusiveness to Cook, and received rave reviews from his performance in the spring.  Amir Rasul has looked good as well. The offensive line was spotty a year ago, particularly in pass block, allowing 36 sacks and an onslaught of  punishment for Francois to deal with. They do return 56 total starts up front and there is potential for improvement up front. Rising SO Landon Dickerson was an emerging star at right guard, but while he injured a knee midway through '16, the hope is to have him back better than ever in '17. Alec Eberle is a center and Josh Ball seems to have big potential at LT.  Rick Leonard comes back over from defense to assume a tackle spot. It seems the offensive line is an area FSU will need measurable improvement if they are to win it all. On the stop side, the unit has elite potential. The strength is in the secondary. Derwin James returns from injury at safety, while 2016 All America CB Tarvarus McFadden, who led the nation in interceptions in '16 is also back. Both are All America players. Levonta Taylor is opposite McFadden at corner, while Trey Mathews takes the FS spot. AJ Westbrook, Kyle Myers and the versatile Nate Andrews are ready. Matthew Thomas returns at weakside linebacker, and he is top notch when healthy. Roderick Hoskins and Jacob Pugh are quality players at linebacker as well. Up front, Derrick Nnadi (6 sacks, 4.5 TFL) is an honors candidate at DT, with Demarcus Christmas joining him inside. FSU has a pair of feared pass rushers in JR Josh Sweat (7 Sacks) and SO Brian Burns (9  sacks). All three levels of this unit are exceptional. Both kicking specialists return, but FSU could find more hidden yardage with an improved return game. Perhaps incoming WR DJ Matthews has ability in this area. The schedule is tough, beginning with a clash of titans right out of the gate facing Alabama in Atlanta. They simply do not any tougher than that. The loser will still be in it, but it is a very important game needless to say. Two weeks later, arch rival Miami visits Tallahassee. The 'Canes are getting much better, so an early home matchup with them is favorable. The following week an emerging NC State teams comes in. The Wolfpack are a team that home or way has always given FSU fits, so we will label this game dangerous.  From there, FSU has a home payback game with Louisville before a road trip to Clemson, who although a top ten team, is in a bit of a reload, at least offensively. The Seminoles close at Florida, which although always tough, does not figure to have enough to take out FSU. There has to be at least one loss here. Perhaps losses to Alabama and someone else. Perhaps a loss to BAMA and then a table run. Perhaps a win over BAMA, but getting tripped by NC State. The most important item for FSU is to win the ACC Atlantic. With that accomplished, they are likely in the playoff and can go from there, more than likely as good as anyone. 11-1.
3. Washington







Like many other keen observers around the nation, we knew Chris Peterson would have the Huskies in the thick of not only the PAC 12 Championship, but even a potential National Title as they brought back a veteran bunch with talent in all the right places. Washington made the Final Four, but got dominated by Alabama, joining a very long list. While there are some significant personnel losses, the Huskies are here to stay and should be in position for a return CFP four spot. It starts for them on offense, where a trio of playmakers return, most notably quarterback Jake Browning. In '16, Browning tossed 43 TD's against only 9 picks while netting  3430 yards. That is some serious production.  While the Dawgs lost explosive wideout John Ross to the NFL, Dante Pettis, who had 822 yards and 15 scores, is back to be the premier target for Browning. Chico McClatcher, with 31 balls in '16 is now ready to shine, and some new talent will also get opportunities to shine. Myles Gaskin, who ran for 1373 yards last year, is also back. He is the total package, so expect high production from him with Lavon Coleman backing up. Lethal skill talent. Drew Sample is back at tight end.  Three lineman return up front, led by tackle Trey Adams and center Coleman Shelton. Adams is a potential top ten NFL pick. 40 points per game is not out of the question. The Huskies lost some talent on the stop side, but they will be just fine. Two mammoth players return to anchor the middle of the line in Greg Gaines and Vita Vea, both well over 325 pounds. Jalen Johnson looks strong at end in the 3-4 package. MLB Azeem Victor and Keishawn Bierria are a pair of stout backers, both All PAC players. The secondary took hits, but does return speedy Taylor Rapp at free safety. JoJo McIntosh had 67 stops at SS in '16 while FR Byron Murphy get s shot a corner spot while Jordan Miller figures as well. Corner could be a trouble spot for UW, but the front seven looks plenty ready to assist. Pettis is an electric return weapon, with a pair of scores a year ago. P Tristian Vizcaino returns, and may well be the placekicker as well. Washington's stellar campaign in 2016 was stained by a controlled loss at home to USC, who along with Alabama, seemed able to slow the high powered offense. It is noted Browning had a shoulder injury late in the year, which kept him from 100%. Washington will miss USC in the regular season, and has a schedule to make a run at being undefeated heading into a likely match with the Men of Troy in the PAC 12 Title Game. Washington looks to be favored in every contest. A late trip to Stanford, a well coached physical team, will be a tough game. Rival Wazzu comes to Seattle, as does Colorado and Oregon.  The Huskies will be roaring. 12-0.


4. Ohio State







Under Urban Meyer, Ohio State has been among the national elite, gaining so much respect, they made the CFP Playoff in 2016 without winning the B1G Championship, won by Penn State who won a head to head matchup in November. Maybe the Buckeyes should have been passed over, as they were embarrassed 31-0 by eventual champion Clemson. Most prognosticators do not place much weight on the prior season's bowl game, but we have to wonder if the Buckeyes were exposed, not for a lack of talent but for the lack of cohesion among the team. Meyer's programs have somewhat of a history of falling off after an initial run of approximately five years. We will find out in 2017, as Ohio State, although having to fill some holes, has areas of strength and a talent pool of youngsters second to very few. On offense, JT Barrett returns, already among the most statistically successful quarterbacks the conference has ever seen. Although Barrett tossed 24 TD's against 7 INTs and ran for 9 more, it seem Barrett left some on the table. As a senior, he should be ready to lay it all out there.  Mike Weber, a rising sophomore who ran for 1000 yards last fall, seems ready for a breakout season. Parris Campbell returns at wideout after 13 catches in '16, but while talent is there, the group is inexperienced. All America candidate Billy Price moves from guard to center for his senior campaign. T Jamarco Jones is a budding star while two other starters return. Marcus Baugh is a fine tight end for Barrett to utilize.  Up front on the stop side, Ohio State may be tops in country. DE Tyquan Lewis (8 sacks) is back for a potential All America campaign. Sam Hubbard flanks Lewis. SO Nick Bosa (5 sacks) will find a way on the field. Dre'Mont Jones, Micheal Hill, Jaylan Holmes and Tracy Sprinkle, back from injury, will shore it up inside. Good luck going against this front. Chris Worley and Jerome Baker form a big pair of nasty inside backers, both honors candidates. Free safety Damon Webb is the lone returning starter in the secondary. Denzel Ward had 9 PBU's in '16, and he will be counted on at one corner spot. As much heat as the front will be applying, the secondary should have time to come together.  The kicking game is sound, with Parris Campbell returning kicks. The schedule is favorable. Oklahoma, who is smarting from getting whipped by the Buckeyes last fall in Norman, comes calling in week 2.  Ohio State goes to Nebraska, but the improving 'Huskers don't appear ready for that challenge. After a week off, the Buckeyes welcome  Penn State in a most important contest. After that, a trip to Iowa, which has tripped up many, is next. Michigan State is imploding leaving only a visit to Ann Arbor to close the season. Ohio State will likely be favored in all their games. The only red flags with the Buckeyes is that they are not always ready to maximize their immense talent. And then there was the embarrassing blowout loss to Clemson. If the Buckeyes bring it weekly, they are a National Title contender. Even it they don't, they should win the B1G East and appear superior to whoever represents the West. So, even a Buckeye squad not running at an optimal level is still a playoff possibility. 12-0.


5. Southern Cal




There were expectations for USC in 2016 with ten offensive starters returning and some elite athletes across the board, but a 1-3 start, with a humbling blowout loss to open versus Alabama, a thumping at Stanford and a close on at Utah, the Trojans were at a crossroads. But a light shined in the Utah game, as a change at quarterback with RSFR Sam Darnold taking the helm led USC on a tear which, including an eye opening win at Washington, left nobody in the country wanting to see them. In fact, even with 3 losses, USC was in playoff consideration. Some are happy they were kept out, and behind stellar play from Darnold, the Trojans won a Rose Bowl thriller over Penn State to close 10-3 and ranked in the top five. Now, with Darnold leading the way, even with significant losses, the Trojans are in the hunt for the playoff. Darnold tossed 31TD's in '16 with 9 INT's, but he figures to improve in 2017. Talented 1000 rusher Ronald Jones II is back at tailback, but the receiving core got hit by attrition. But talent remains, led by Deontay Burnett, who had 3 Rose TD's. Jalen Greene and Michael Pittman are the favorites to land the other spots, but watch for incoming FR Joseph Lewis. TE Daniel Imatorbhebhe is at tight end (17 catches with 4TD's in '16).  The O-line was hit hard, with two starters returning. G Toa Lobendahn will lead a young group. Center Nick Fata and guard Vince Tatamaivao are returning starters. This is an area of concern, because one of the only ways to slow Darnold down is if he is running for his life. DE Rasheem Green had 6 sacks from his DE spot in '16, and leads the effort up front defensively. DT Kenny Biglow returns from an injury. Cameron Smith, who led with 83 stops in '16 as a SO, is back to spearhead an active linebacking core and challenge for national honors. Porter Gustin, and All PAC candidate with 7.5TFL in '16 and Uchenna Nwosu are big and powerful, so mark the linebacking core as the strength of the unit. Iman Marshall, an All America candidate, returns at a corner spot, a big and physical corner. Safeties Marvel Tell and Chris Hawkins are potential All PAC 12. The unit is strong, big but athletic. While there are issues up front on offense, this team has the tools to challenge nationally, and will. Although they avoid Washington, the schedule is tough. A physical Stanford team comes calling in week 2, followed by a talented Texas team under new coach Tom Herman looking to serve notice. The Trojans hit the road to Cal and always tough Wazzu. A home contest against a tough Utah team is followed by road tilts at Notre Dame and Arizona State. USC goes to visit a veteran Colorado team and finishes at home with UCLA. If USC can run through that slate, it would signal their strength is unquestioned. We think they do, and see them meeting Washington in the PAC 12 title game, which may have two undefeated teams vying for a playoff spot. Darnold staying healthy is key, and the offensive line performance against Stanford and Texas, who both have strong defensive fronts, is worth keeping an eye on. 12-0


6. Clemson






Dabo Swinney has had the escalating Clemson Tigers knocking on some prestigious doors in recent seasons and after coming oh so close in 2015, the Tiger culminated the ascension to the top of the college football world, defeating the invincible Alabama Crimson Tide to win the National Championship in another thrilling contest. All is well at Howard's Rock. But now what? Yes, Swinney will talk about his Tigers as hungry and always fighting to get better, but can the Tigers reach a third straight title game? Can they even win the ACC, or their division for that matter. The Tigers are now flash in the pan; Swinney has made them a perennial power. However, there are significant holes to fill beginning on offense where all star signal caller Deshaun Watson must be replaced. Kelly Bryant looks like he will get the chance, but he saw very limited action in 2016. Hunter Johnson is liked by some followers. Deon Cain, an honors candidate, and Ray-Ray McCloud headline the receiving core which suffered major losses. Also gone is versatile back Wayne Gallman. CJ Fuller is next man up, but eyeballs are placed upon Tavien Feaster, who many feel is about turn heads. Thankfully for the Tigers, they return four offensive line starters, many of whom are honors candidates. LT Micah Hyatt and RG Tyrone Crowder are both excellent players. They practice against one of the nastiest front lines in the country, with two tackles each of whom are All America candidates. JR Christian Wilkins (9.5 sacks) and SO Dexter Lawrence will be a force to be sure.  Lookout! Clelin Ferrell returns at end, flanked by Austin Bryant. WLB Kendall Joseph anchors the linebacking core. Emerging Mark Fields and Ryan Carter are the corners, and All ACC hopeful Van Smith is back at safety. Greg Huegel is a good kicker, but the Tigers need a new punter.  Ray-Ray McCloud handles punts, while Feaster will take the kickoffs.  After  a feel good opener, a strong Auburn team comes to Death Valley, and there is a potential upset here as Clemson gains offensive stride. The following week, The Tigers travel to Louisville. If they win both of those, they could be on the way. Midway through the year, an improved Georgia Tech may be interesting, as will a trip to a defensive NC State who is miffed at the win they let get away in 2016. Then Florida State arrives, who we think too much for the Tigers this year. Clemson does go to Columbia for the rivalry with So. Carolina, but they got that.  Although Clemson is young at some key spots, we think 8-4 is the floor. We project a loss to either Auburn or Louisville, and then one to FSU. 10-2.


7. Penn State







James Franklin arrived at Penn State talking a big game, with many wondering if his mouth ran ahead of his face.  The detractors, and there were many, felt vindicated when Penn State appeared rivaled within its own state, falling to Temple in 2015 and losing at Pitt in 2016. But, the week after the Pitt loss, the Lions avenged the Temple loss but then were absolutely dismantled at Michigan. Seemingly at a crossroads, Penn State ran the table, scoring a huge home upset win over Ohio State and closing with a bombing of Michigan State at Happy Valley. Then, Penn State beat Wisconsin to win the B1G in the improbable run in many a moon. Although they lost late, Penn State played well against a strong USC team in The Rose Bowl, setting up huge expectations for a veteran returning team. Nine starters are back on offense, starting with junior quarterback Trace McSorely, a real dual threat gamer. Not the prototype at 6'0" 205, while McSorely ran for over 500 YDs, he threw for over 3600, with 29 TD's against only 8 INTs. While the offense will miss playmaker wideout Chris Goodwin, the entire rest of the core returns, led by DaeSean Hamilton and Saeed Blacknall. Juwan Johnson is an emerging star, so he figures prominently. TE Mike Gesicki is back a tight end, a complete player and honors candidate. But the star of the unit is running back Saquon Barkely, who ran for 1500 yards and 18 scores in '16. A sure fire All America and Heisman candidate, Barkley has all the tools, and had 28 catches out of the backfield a year ago. The offensive line returns four starters, others with experience, and figures to be a strength. Defensively, the Lions were stout at times in 2016, but look to be tougher in '17 with six returning starters. S Marcus Allen, among the top in the B1G in stops in 2016, returns to anchor the secondary. Top corner John Reid appears lost for '17 with injury suffered in the spring, but Grant Haley will man a corner spot. Jason Cabinda will return at inside linebacker, with Manny Bowen outside on the weakside. Chris Cothran will be counted upon to plug things up front, along with DE Torrence Brown. Watch Kevin Givens, who may be emerging. Both specialists return, and both are potential All B1G. This is a veteran team. The Lions welcome a slightly down Pitt team before starting the conference at Iowa, also expected to be in slight retreat. A trip to Northwestern could be tricky (the Cats are better than most think) which is followed by the games that will tell the tale; Michigan at home and a trip to Columbus to face a smarting Ohio State. After that, the Lions go to East Lansing, who are waiting to amend the thumping the Lions gave them in '16. Nebraska comes to Happy Valley, but does not look to have enough to score an upset.  Penn State will likely be favored everywhere except at Columbus. They have a the pieces in place, certainly on offense, to get it done. However, although Penn State won the B1G, there were some worrisome games, especially early. Do the Lions have enough on defense to emerge into the Playoff? We will say no, but the schedule may allow it anyhow. 11-1.


8. Oklahoma State







Seemingly for decades, Oklahoma State has been a hard team to get a handle on.  When the have an abundance of talent, they often disappoint. Conversely, when nothing is expected, they become a factor in the conference. While the Pokes ever put it all together?  If they are going to, this could be the year as Okie State should field a very explosive offensive unit. Quarterback Mason Rudolph an All America candidate, returns to unleash aerial assaults on opposing defenses. Rudolph was spectacular in '16, with 28 TDs against only 4 INTs. James Washington, another All America candidate, returns at wideout and is expected to put up enormous numbers, extending upon 16 where he had 1380 yards with 10TDs. Jutice Hill, who ran for just over a 1100 yards in '16, is also back at running back, completing the pieces in the backfield. Jalen McClesky, who caught a team leading 73 catches last fall, is also back. LSU transfer Tyron Johnson, along with Marcel Ateman, and Chris Lacy, give the Pokes perhaps the deepest receiving core in the nation. The offensive line returns plenty of experience, over 100 career starts, led by tackle Zachary Crabtree, who has 34 career starts. This should be a very potent offense, capable of 40 points per game.  Can Okie State stop anyone? OSU gave up about 6 Yards per play, so for the Pokes to challenge nationally, that will have to change. Jarrell Owens is the lone returnee up front defensively, but Jordan Brailford returns from injury. ILB Chad Whitener,the top returning tackler from 2016, is a potential All Big 12 candidate. Strong safety Tre Flowers, perhaps considered Okie State's best defender, returns, with Ramon Richards moving from corner (23 starts) to free safety. Inexperience abounds at corner, but Clemson grad transfer Adrian Baker might step in one spot. Madre Harper appears set for the other spot. Zach Sinor returns at punter, so that looks good, but the Pokes will have a new placekicker. Okie State also will have a new kick and punt returner, but candidates with tremendous speed are available to work with. The schedule is favorable for a title run, if the Cowboys can refrain form what has become a pattern of having  a game go south each season. Last year's loss at home to Central Michigan is a classic example.  The Cowboys go to Pittsburgh early, but the Panthers are breaking in a new signal caller. TCU comes to Stillwater  and a trip to Lubbock follows, which has proven troublesome. Texas may be better, so a trip to Austin could be an issue, but the host Baylor, who is descending. Oklahoma and Kansas State, seemingly among the top challengers, visit Stillwater. Oklahoma State is a contender, but we just do not see them outscoring everybody.  10-2.


9. Auburn






The forecast for 2016 did not anticipate good times on the plains for The Auburn Tigers. There was talent on hand, but without a signal caller worthy of a team competing for an SEC championship, most did  not figure the Tigers in that level of conversation. Out of the age, they played Clemson real tough, losing 19-13. Then came a loss at A&M; however, that was followed by a miraculous win versus LSU. Auburn went on a run before stumbling at Georgia, where they could find no offense.  Then they were thumped at Alabama, but the Tigers ended up in The Sugar Bowl, losing to Oklahoma. Although the Tigers averaged 31 ppg, they could not get it done against the big boys offensively.  That may change in 2017 as they welcome transfer quarterback Jarrett Stidham, via JC formerly of Baylor. Stidham can throw the football, and he could can give Auburn, not only a thriving passing game, but the balance coach Gus Malzan has sought.  The Tigers have a pair to strong backs, led by Kamryn Pettway, who bullied for 1200 yards in '16. Kerryon Johnson ran for another 900, so the Tigers are ready to rock. Three lineman return, led by All America candidate Braden Smith at right Tackle. The other returnees, T Darius James and C Austin Golson are conference honors candidates. Chandler Cox, somewhat of an H-Back, could also be w weapon. Eli Stove assumes the leadership role among the under utilized receiving core. Darius Slayton and Nate Craig-Myers are also in the mix to emerge. Former QB John Franklin is a great athlete and quite fast. Donatvious Russell and Marlon Davidson give the Tigers experience up front, and the team is looking for big things from 5* Byron Cowart. OLB Deshaun Davis had 63 stops in '16, while MLB Tre' Williams had 67. Carlton Davis leads a strong secondary which returns 3 starters.  Tray Matthews is also an honor candidate at S. Auburn only surrendered 17 points per game, so the defense has a chance to be pretty stout under Kevin Steele. Auburn has who most consider to be the nation's top placekicker in Daniel Carlson, but are in search of a punter. Kerryon Johnson is as dangerous return man. After an opener against pesky Georgia Southern, Auburn goes to Clemson. With Clemson breaking in a new QB, an opportunity exists there. The schedule is friendlier until a trip to Baton Rouge, who likely determine who the primary challenger in the west is to Alabama. But after that, the path is dangerous, with a trips to Arkansas and Texas A&M, both winnable but tough. Georgia and Alabama visit with ULM sandwiched in between. Auburn is 0-6 the the last three years against Georgia and Alabama, so the key to raising the level of the program is found right there.  The Tigers must get LSU or Georgia, then think about Alabama. We think they will win at least one, and if they can take out Clemson early it would be huge, assuming no stumble against Arkansas or A&M. We think Stidham is going to give the Tigers some real firepower, so we project Auburn to finish 10-2.

10. Oklahoma






The off-season is often full of surprises, but few rivaled the sudden resignation of Oklahoma head football coach Bob Stoops, who had been at OU for 19 seasons.  Big Game Bob won a ton of games for the Sooners, a multitude of Big 12 Titles and a National Championship. Sure, there were those that thought he under achieved, and that case could be made. But Stoops had OU rolling, and it will sure seem odd without him on the sideline in Norman. Offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, a very young but highly thought of assistant, takes over the helm. Riley (can you imagine storied rivals Oklahoma and Nebraska both have head coaches name Riley?) was a hot commodity and would have been snapped up quickly, so maybe OU knew what they had and wanted to get out ahead of the upcoming sweepstakes. Who knows. But Riley is it. He has a wonderful player at quarterback to build around in Heisman candidate Baker Mayfield.  However, during the offseason Mayfield was arrested for disorderly conduct, so that may slow the start of the season. Perhaps not. Mayfield threw for 40 TD's against 8 INT's last year, so he can fire it with the best of them. But, the majority of OU's skill talent has departed. TE Mark Andrews had 31 catches in 16, but no other receiver had more than 20. Jeffrey Mead figures to land a spot, as does Kentucky transfer Jeff Badet. JUCO Marquise Brown will certainly play. It will be a unit that needs to step up to accentuate the talent of Mayfield. Dependency on a strong running game begins with all lineman starters returning, led by All American T Orlando Brown. Booby Evans and Erick Wren can be All Big 12. A position of wealth in '16, the stable of proven running backs has been left empty. Abdul Adams, who had 53 rushes in '16, appears to get the first chance at the spot, but Rodney Anderson returns from injury and will factor in. Marcellus Sutton may get a look as well. So while there is experience in the line and at signal caller, there is inexperience elsewhere, which will have to step up for OU to repeat at Big 2 champs. Defensively, the Sooners display a load of talent. Up front, rush end Ogbonnia Okronkwo returns to terrorize opposing signal caller, fresh off 9 sacks in '16. DT Matt Rohmar has some snaps, but Okronkwo is the only returning starter up front. Folks think Neville Gallimore is set for a big year inside. OLB Caleb Kelley is an outstanding player. Jon Michael-Terry is inside long with Emmanuael Beal. The secondary appears strong, Corner Jordan Thomas (17PBU) is an honors candidate, as is safety Stephen Parker. Jordan Parker returns at the other corner spot, with Will Sunderland stepping in at free safety. It is an experienced an talented group, but they gave up miles of yardage via the air (Texas Tech hit them for a mind boggling 754 yards).Austin Seibert retains the kicking and punting job having performed very well, so OU solid here, but a new return man is needed, perhaps Marquise Brown. Oklahoma has talent, and it will be interesting to see how they respond to Riley post Stoops. The Sooners are at Ohio State, a team that whipped them in Norman last year, in week two, which looks like a loss. They should roll till facing an upcoming Texas Longhorn team in Dallas. Then begins an interesting stretch; at K-State, Texas Tech at home, at high powered Oklahoma State and home vs. TCU. This will be it, as a home finale vs. West Virginia is a high percentage win. Kansas State is good, but Oklahoma State has a lethal offensive unit and with Bedlam in Stillwater, we are inclined to side with the Cowboys in that one.  On paper, it looks 10-2, but we think 9 as opposed to 11.

11. Miami






When the ACC welcomed Miami Fl into the conference establishing the two divisions, the powers that be dreamed of having Miami meet Florida State in a nationally televised tilt for the ACC Title. It has been more likely in hoops, with both teams winning the ACC hoops tourney. While Florida State has been among the nation's elite, the Hurricanes have never won the ACC Coastal. That appears ready to change in 2017 under coach Mark Richt. In fact, if quarterback Brad Kaya, who had started for three seasons had returned, we would have have a team capable of more than just a divisional championship. Even still, the Canes are back. While coaches are excited by true frosh N'Kosi Perry, Malik Rosier is the favorite to take over at signal caller. Rosier has some experience, but not much. It is likely he will need some time to get in a groove. The offensive line should be a strength for the 'Canes. C Nick Linder and G KC McDermott lead the way. LSU transfer George Brown is looking to grab a spot somewhere. Chris Herndon is an honors candidate at TE, with 28 catches in 2016. Ahmmon Richards led the team as a frosh in receiving in '16 and he is back as an emerging talent. Lawrence Cager is a tall target while the Braxton Berrios at 5'9' will get him some. Frosh DeeJay Dallas may fins a spot as well. Mark Walton, who gained 1110 yards  last fall,  is back at tailback for the U. Walton will be expected to carry much of the early load behind the veteran line as the Canes offense develops. Speaking of carrying the load, it will be the stout Miami defense that will keep them in games early, where eight starters return. Joe Jackson, an emerging star, Trent Harris and 5* SR Chad Thomas are all fierce at the ends. Tackles Kendrick Norton and RJ McIntosh had 15 TFL between them. Shaq Quarterman was second on the team in stops in '16 with 8 QBH and 6.5 TFL, an All America candidate. Zac McCloud is back as is Michael Pinckney just makes plays. SS Jaquan Jackson is the salty veteran (38 stops) while FS Sheldrick  Redwine and CB Malek Young are young players with big potential, but the secondary is the Achilles heel of the unit.  True freshman Jhavonte Dean may find the field, as may Citadel transfer Dee Delaney. Micheal Bagley is solid at placekicker, but a new punter is needed.  Braxton Berrios will handle kicks. The 'Canes cannot handle Florida State in week three in Tallahassee, but they could be favored the rest of the way. A trip to Duke after FSU is manageable, as is a homer against Georgia Tech. Then comes the Coastal. The 'Canes visit North Carolina, who is down just a bit here in '17, before a home contest with chief competitor Virginia Tech which will be of vast importance. A visit from Notre Dame follows. before closing at home vs. UVA and at Pitt. Miami can go 11-1, but it will come down to quarterback performance and the play of the secondary.  If those surpass 2016, and they may, then a rematch with FSU is the ACC Championship Game is probable. Then, while the Seminoles would still be favored, anything can happen.  However, while we see the 'Canes in the ACC Championship game, we think they get nicked somewhere and go 10-2.

12. Louisiana State







After recent years of failing to meet extremely lofty expectations, it is a new day in Baton Rouge, or is it? Les Miles was ushered out mid-season last fall, and after seemingly failing to secure big fish like Jimbo Fisher and Tom Herman, LSU landed with fan favorite Ed Orgeron, the famed defensive coach who filled in well as interim coach once Miles was terminated. Coach O is a bayou boy, and considers the job as head coach at LSU his dream job, but while has has been highly thought of as a defensive assistant, he has a forgettable run as coach at Ole Miss a decade or so ago. Orgeron is known as among the top recruiters in the game, and while he will excel in bringing in star studded players to Baton Rouge, it may be his job in recruiting coordinators for 2017 that helps ensure his success. Dave Aranda stays on at defensive coordinator, but then again, defense has not been the issue for the Tigers, who although suffering losses with the top 5 '16 tacklers gone, figure to be strong once again. Arden Key has 12 sacks from his end "buck" position a year ago, but there was some question about his status for 2017, but it appears he is ready to go.  Key will be the, well, key to LSU up front. Christian LaCouture, who missed '16, is coming back to anchor the line. Donnie Alexander and Devin White will step in to lead at linebacker. Donte Jackson and Kevin Tolliver are settled in at corner, with veteran senior John Battle at a safety.  talented FR S Jacoby Stevens appears set to find the field quickly. Offense is the issue, where if settled, could propel LSU to bigger things. First, OC Matt Canada comes over from Pitt, where he did a magnificent job. Danny Etling returns at quarterback, but he was unable to get the offense uncorked.  Canada will have work to do. LSU does bring back All America candidate Derrius Guice at running back. Guice ran wild closing out the year, and he is set to do it again. Three lineman return, led by center Will Clapp. DJ Clark, who had 26 catches in '16 returns at wideout, but this it a thin group, although talented.  A new kicker is needed, while Josh Groden returns at punter (41.4). While there is little question LSU has top talent, beyond Guice and Key, the majority of it is not veteran. The defense will be it's normal stout, but does have holes. Couple that with a average passing game and inexperience at receiver, while Canada will get it going, it is hard to imagine LSU pouring out points. The Tigers get BYU early, which we will call dangerous. Then, after a trip to Starkville where LSU cannot stumble, a difficult stretch comes; at Florida, Auburn, at Ole Miss, at Alabama, Arkansas (rival), at Tennessee and home to A&M. Good grief that looks tough.  We cannot imagine LSU without at least 2 losses, but if they do not get a passing game going, it could be four (or more) losses. We did; however, see them dismantle Louisville in the Citrus Bowl, so with that fresh in our mind, we will say 10-2.


13. Wisconsin






Wisconsin is not flashy, does not have a roster of five star recruits and always seems an afterthought in national title discussions, but the Badgers just go about their business, going 49-19 over the past five seasons, including 11-3 a year ago. Wiscy was on the way to the Rose Bowl leading Penn State 28-7 in Indianapolis, but the wheels came off and the Lions claimed the B1G 38-31 Wisconsin brings back 15 starters from '16, and are the favorites to win the West again.  On offense, the Badgers only averaged 29 ppg in 2016, and need to improve that to going fishing in deeper waters. Signal caller Alex Hornibrook is back, but he must improve after throwing 9 TD's against 7 INT. He has a weapon in Jazzy Peavy to throw to, who led the team in catches and is an honors candidate. Fullback Austin Ramesh is back, but Pitt transfer Chris James will aim to take over at tailback for Corey Clement. But the odds are that Bradrick Shaw win win the job. Shaw ran for 457 in '16. Wisconsin has a gem in TE Troy Fumagalli, who may be the nations best.  He will be a huge weapon for the Badgers. The offensive line is always a strength and returns all four starters. However, there, at least pre-season, is not your usual All America player. C Michael Deiter leads the unit with 27 starts, while G Beau Benzschawel is an emerging honors candidate. It looks like your usual blue collar unit for the Badgers.  The defense returns 7 starters. Up front, Connor Sheehy at DE leads the 3-4 unit. Chikwe Obasih had 4 PBU at the other end spot. Jack Cichy and TJ Edwards are a pair of roving linebackers who are tough. D'Cota Dixon is an honors candidate at strong safety, with 60 stops and 4 INT in '16. Derrick Tindal, with 11 PBU in '16, returns at CB.  Both specialist return. Jazz Peavy returned punts a year ago without strong results, surprisingly.  Natrell Jamerson returns kickoffs. This is not the best Badger team we have seen in recent seasons, but boy howdy, is the schedule favorable. We expect the Badgers to be 2-0 when they travel to BYU, a decent football team. That game could be trouble. Assuming Wisconsin gets out of Provo with a win, they come back to face upstart Northwestern, another decent football team. But Wisconsin should be 4-0 heading to Lincoln. The 'Huskers will be smarting for Wiscy, but the Badgers should be favored. They should waltz (they get upstart Maryland at home) until November when they host Iowa and Michigan back to back before traveling to Minnesota.  Wisconsin could be favored in every game. BYU is important to set the tone, and Nebraska is big for the division.  Michigan is the big cross over. We cannot see Wisconsin going undefeated. In fact, we will call it 10-2.

14. Stanford








Last season, we began our preview of Stanford stating that "In our eyes, Stanford has the perfect blueprint to put together a powerful college football program.  David Shaw keeps the Cardinal on top with the installation of a physical and mental edge, and a system which allows the team to grow." Nothing has changed. Even with Christian McCaffrey, it was supposed to be somewhat of a rebuilding year on the Farm in 2016, but the Cardinal charges out of the gate, dismantling a decent K-State team, controlling a good USC team and winning large at UCLA.  But then came a thunderclap, with the Cardinal getting thrashed 44-6 at Washington. That loss stung so bad, the Cardinal again got clobbered while soul searching the following week at Wazzu. They regrouped to win at Notre Dame, then fell in a close one to upstart Colorado. Then, Stanford won out beating UNC in the Sun Bowl. Stanford seemed to find stability at quarterback with Kellen Chryst, son of the Wisconsin coach, but Chryst tore an ACL in the Sun Bowl and his effectiveness, particularly early on, is in question. Ryan Burns, who has is experienced but lacked effectiveness, is the backup, but coaches are eager to see what RFR KJ Costello can do. FR Davis Mills is a high ranked recruit, but it would seem unlike Shaw to go with a true frosh. The offensive line may be the best in the nation. Four starters return. Nate Herbig at guard leads the pack and David Bright is a tough tackle. True FR Foster Sarelli may figure in as well, but this unit is stout and deep. Trenton Irwin, who led in catches in '16, returns, as does talented TE Dalton Schultz and WR JJ Arcega-Whiteside. Bryce Love steps in for McCaffrey. Love is talented and ran for 783 with 7.0 ave a year ago.  Harrison Phillips anchors the defensive front from his DT spot. OLB's Joey Alferi, who had 5 sacks in '16, and Peter Kalambayl return. ILB's Kevin Palma and Bobby Okereke return also. Quentin Meeks and emerging Alijah Holder are the corners while Justin Reid, a national honors candidate, and Brandon Simmons are the safeties. Jake Bailey is a strong punter, but the Cardinal are looking for a placekicker, and more importantly, a return man. If Chryst is healthy to start the year, that would be most helpful. But maybe Costello is the real deal?  Stanford opens in Sydney, Australia against Rice. Two weeks later they travel to Southern Cal, who is very strong and did not appreciate the thumping Stanford gave them a year ago. Home games with UCLA and Arizona State should allow Stanford, even with average quarterback play, to sit 4-1 before a trip to always tough Utah.  We'll give it Stanford due to line play. Oregon comes to the Farm, which favors a win. Washington State throws it well, but Stanford has a strong secondary.  Powerful Washington comes to the Farm, as do Cal and Notre Dame to close the season.  Hard to imagine Stanford, who should get better every week, doing any worse than 8-4. However, there appears to be at least 2 losses, so we will split the odds and project the Cardinal to finish up 9-3. But make no mistake, it they get better than average quarterback play, look out.


15. South Florida







With everyone focused on Houston over in the AAC, it was South Florida who raced out of the league, culminating the season holding off South Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl. The Bulls were an offensive machine, finishing 11-2, with a hard fought loss to Florida State and an upset loss at Temple. Behind quarterback Quentin Flowers, USF scored over 30 points in each game, but stopping opposing offenses was tough. The success of the season brought callers for coach Willie Taggart, who bolted for Oregon. But, USF may have actually upgraded by landing dismissed Texas coach Charlie Strong, the former Louisville coach and Gators assistant who has long standing recruiting ties in the state. For Strong, he inherits a loaded squad as 17 starters return, including Flowers. RB Marlon Mack bolted to the NFL, leaving D'Earnest Johnson to fill the void. Last year's leading receiver is gone, but three players who pulled in 20+ catches return, led by Marquez Valdes-Scantling.  Four starters return up front from 2016, led by Jeremi Hall. Tight end Michael Wilcox is stellar at tight end.  The Bulls will be another explosive offensive team, seemingly set for 40+ PPG. Nine return on the stop troops. Everyone comes back in the front four, where Bruce Hector had 6 sacks. All AAC MLB Auggie Sanchez, who led the team in tackles along with 6 sacks, returns set to unleash havoc. The Bulls have are thinking to employ a 4-2-5, with two safeties returning.  Cornerback Deatrick Nichols, who is veteran player with 27 starts, is an All AAC player. The kicking game will house new starters, but USF is not setting out to punt or kick field goals with this offense, at least one would hope. The schedule is very favorable. FSU is gone, Illinois come on. The opener at San Jose State may be interesting if USF is reading the press clippings. Houston is capable to be sure, but that is a home game, as is the Cincinnati game.  USF does close at UCF who is emerging, but it is doubtful the Knights can outscore USF.  While we may not know how good the Bulls are, they should be favored in every game, and with the offense hitting on all gears and a veteran defense with a new well respected defensive head coach, we have to concur with Vegas. The Bulls go 13-0, and get New Years Day Six bid.



16. Michigan





There is an increased level of excitement in Ann Arbor, as favorite son Jim Harbaugh has returned as head coach immediately elevating Go BLUE back to national relevance. In 2016, the Wolverines dropped a heartbreaker at Iowa, then fell at Ohio State before mounting a major comeback and falling against Florida State in The Orange Bowl. While the fans are frothing at the mouth for more, that was a veteran team in 2016, and while the talent level is in ascension, Michigan figures to step back in 2017. Under the best case of shifting players, only six starters return. Offensively, one of them is quarterback Wilson Speight. The statistic machine does not hit bells and whistles with Speight, but he did complete 62 percent of his throws for 2500 yards, with 18 TD's and 7 INTs. His leadership paid dividends for Harbaugh a year ago, and that will be very meaningful this fall. Chris Evans, who ran for 600 YRDS as a freshman in '16, is poised for a breakout season.  Two line return to run behind, most notably, left tackle Mason  Cole. The receiving core is green, with nobody over 20 catches returning.  Grant Perry may be an option, but he ran afoul of the law, so who knows. Freshman Donovan Peoples-Jones figures to play right away.  The defense suffered very heavy losses. Up front, Michigan will look to sophomore phenom Rashan Gary to explode at DE. Gary is 290, but has great footwork and has NFL talent. Maurice Hurst is an All America candidate and Chase Winovich steps in at another tackle spot with some experience, so up front, it looks like Michigan will be fine. Mike McCray is back at inside linebacker, where he had 76 stops in '16. Sophomore Devin Bush, Jr. will jump in inside with Khaleke Hudson outside. Josh Mtellus appears set to man a safety spot, with Lavert Hill at one corner.  The secondary appears an early weakness. Like elsewhere, Michigan will employ new kicking specialists. The schedule is not easy. Michigan opens versus Florida at Jerry's World. The Gators are rebuilding, without a returning QB, so Michigan can get by that one. Descending Michigan State comes to Ann Arbor.  A road game at Penn State looks troublesome, but all else is workable until Michigan closes with a road tilt at Wisconsin and rival Ohio State coming to Ann Arbor. On paper, you could see Michigan 10-2 or even 11-1, but the team seems much too inexperienced to win all games they may be favored in. We will have to think 9-3 for the Wolverines. A win in the opener over Florida would really help.


17. Georgia






Georgia has been among the teams that have recently failed to live up to expectations, which may be the central reason they parted ways with longtime coach Mark Richt. In his first season last fall, with talent on hand, Kirby Smart led the Dawgs to a similar fate. Georgia won a squeaker at Mizzou, then got clobbered at Ole Miss. They lost a heartbreaker to Tennessee, lost between the hedges against Vanderbilt, got controlled by Florida. UGA beat Auburn, but lost to Georgia Tech. 8-5. Smart enters his second year with a ferocious defense, his calling card.  Ten starters return. Up front, Trenton Thompson, the former 5* DT resides, and if healthy, he is a force. On the edge, Jonathan Ledbetter is primed for stardom. Lorenzo Carter is an honors candidate at OLB and has been playing at an NFL level since arriving on campus. LB's David Bellamy and Roquan Smith (2016 leading tackler) and Natrez Aptrick all return. Dominick Saunders leads the talented secondary from his FS spot. All other starters return, including corner Aaron Davis, a very active player. Georgia, a fine defensive unit a year ago, should be among the naton's best. Offensively, the Dawgs will look to capitalize on the continued development of sophomore Jacob Eason.  Thrown into the fire last year as a true freshman, Eason performed well. However, improvement is expected in his completion percentage and touchdown to interception ratio. Gone is talented wideout Isaiah McKenzie, who led the team in receptions and TD/s in '16. Terry Goodwin will step in as the got to man, but no other returning wideout had +20 receptions.  TE Issac Nauta is a potential All America player who we expect to be quite busy, especially early on. T Isaiah Wynn is one of two returning starters on the offensive line. Long a strength of Bulldog teams, this unit is a work in progress.C Lamont Gaillard also returns. Before his gruesome injury, Georgia's RB Nick Chubb was on his way straight to the NFL. It appears Chubb is not what he used to be, but he is still All America and can carry the Bulldogs on his back, particularly when spelled by speedster scatback Sony Michel. These two give Georgia a dynamic backfield tough to game plan for. Frosh D'Andre Smith may back up the duo.  Both specialists return, but the Dawgs will have a hard time replacing the return exploits of McKenzie (1PRTD). After a scary opener against APP ST, the Dawgs travel to South Bend to face Notre Dame, whose coach needs the game in the worst way. It will be tough. Miss. St comes to the hedges before the Dawgs play a must win game at Tennessee. The time to beat Florida in Jacksonville is long overdue, and a must if an SEC East is in play. A seemingly rough trip to Auburn could be trouble ahead of the road finale at Georgia Tech. Even with a swarming defense, and an improving offense, the schedule is rough. There appear to be at least two losses here, perhaps likely three. Georgia must win at Tennessee and against Florida, and if they do, they can will the SEC East. But we will call it 9-3.



18. Florida








You may not realize it, but the Florida Gators have won the SEC East the last two seasons under Jim McElwain. While that is certainly a significant accomplishment, the Gators got pounded by West behemoth Alabama in Atlanta both times, and the Gators winning the division has been viewed as more of a statement about the low level of play in the East rather than the Gators being strong.  For disgruntled fans, and there are many, the Gators expanding fortunes would be enhanced if they could increase their offensive production.  First and foremost, the Gators need improvement from the quarterback position, which has been average at best since Will Grier was suspended. While Grier moved on to West Virginia, the Gators have welcomed graduate transfer Malik Zaire, who lost his starting spot and sought a fresh opportunity to perhaps enhance his potential NFL chances. While many Gator faithful envision RS FR Felelipe Franks stepping under center, make no mistake, Zaire was brought in to start. His experience will serve the Gators well.  Zaire will operate behind a veteran offensive line returning four starters, led by LT Martez Ivey. SO RT Jawaan Taylor is turning heads. Jordan Scarlett has emerged as the feature back, leading he team with 889 yards in 2016, and he is quite versatile. WR Antonio Callaway is a speedster capable of going to the house anytime he touches the ball, most notably as a return specialist. Tyrie Cleveland is another speedster, giving the Gators some playmaking ability that has seemed lacking in recent years.  Tight end DeAndre Goolsby also returns. The Gators have always been salty on the stop side, and while we would expect that again this year, it is worth noting they suffered some significant losses. Only a handful of starters return. Up front, big things are expected from DE Cece Jefferson, but last year DE Jabari Zuniga emerged making some big plays and now in consideration for conference honors. David Resse looked strong filling in for injured Jarrod Davis last fall, and he will be the leader in the middle. Jeremiah Moon is a top athlete and is finally healthy, so he should be a force at OLB, while Vosean Joseph, a ferocious hitter, is also back along with Kylan Johnson. Marcel Harris, the teams leading tackler in '16 is back to patrol the secondary from his SS spot. Nick Washington has made some plays at FS. CB Duke Dawson, getting some All America consideration, is back at corner where he had 7 PBU's in '16. At the other, Chauncey Gardner has great potential. So, while few starters return, the nucleus of another salty stop squad is on hand for RC Randy Shannon.  Johnny Townsend of Orlando Boone is out All America punter, averaging a mind boggling 47.9 a punt. Eddie Peneiro is very solid as placekicker with the ever so dangerous Callaway returning kicks.  Florida has a welcoming schedule as well.  A first for the program, Florida will participate in one of the Kickoff Classic games, taking on Michigan at Jerry's World in Arlington, TX. While the Gators are breaking in new players at a lot of spots, most notably quarterback, Michigan returns very few starters themselves; however, one of which is at quarterback. The game is winnable, and would be important to get the season off mentally, an area where the Gators have exhibited issues in the past. Tennessee comes to Gainesville with a young team, so that game is winnable. A big head after beating the Volunteers could spell trouble at Kentucky, who will field their best team in at least a decade. The Gators could be 3-2, but most likely 5-0 heading into a three game stretch that will tell the tale. Talented LSU is up first at The Swamp, followed by Texas A&M and then the annual tilt in Jacksonville against the Georgia Bulldogs.  The Gators could win each. A trip to South Carolina is winnable, but although a rival game, the contest against Florida State, also at home, looks too much. We think 9-3 is probable.


19. Louisville









Last season, we opened our analysis of Louisville stating "Don't sleep on the Cards, as things could be very exciting in Louisville this season.  Bobby Petrino has been working hard since he arrived back in town and has a team capable of really shaking things up in the ACC." Well, sophomore quarterback Lamar Jackson was brilliant as Louisville broke out of the gate with authority, demolishing Florida State rising up to third in the national polls before falling late at Clemson. Oh, and did we mention, that although is play diminished late in the year, the body of work won Lamar Jackson the Heisman Trophy!  Jackson is back for his junior season, and the Cards fortunes no doubt ride on his back. Three offensive lineman are back, led by guard Geron Christian. The unit was strong early but even with Jackson's elusiveness, gave up a slew of sacks late. Reggie Bonnaton, a former QB, is someone figured to a strong role in the receiving core. Jaylen Smith, Seth Dawkins and Traveon Samuel each had around 20 catches in '16. Redshirt FR Dez Fitzpatrick could be a star player at the position, so keep an eye on his development when fall camp gets going. Jermey Smith takes the spot at running back. Many of the mainstay defenders are gone from 2016.  The secondary will be the strength of the unit, led by corner Jaire Alexander, a national honors candidate. Zykiesis Cannon is back at SS, as are CB Trumaine Washington and S Chucky Williams. Stacy Thomas is the top returning tackler from his ILB spot. The coaches are high SO Amonte Caban. OLD James Hearns should have a big year pursuing the quarterback along with Drew Bailey (7TFL), with new players manning up inside.  After seemingly collapsing late in '16, the Cardinal welcome in a new defensive coordinator. Both specialists return, led P Mason King. Alexander will handle returns. Louisville better be ready to go quick. They open with a neutral game against Purdue, where former Louisville QB Jeff Brohm has taken over and has a decent QB to work with. Look out! But with Jackson, the Cards should escape. A trip to North Carolina, down from '16 but still solid, is up for grabs. Then, Louisville welcomes Clemson. 3-0 would set some things up, but we see 2-1; at best. A midseason trip to NC State could be an issue, and a trip to Tallahassee looks like a loss. The Cards visit Kentucky, who won at Papa Johns last fall. Jackson is special to be sure, and he can win games by himself.  It is not considered good to place heavy weight on the bowl game from last season, but the whipping Louisville took, with seemingly a better team, at the hands of LSU was eye opening. We will project a 9-3 year for the U of L, but we could see 8-4 ahead of 10-2.

20  Notre Dame






Last year, we noted "It is year seven for Brian Kelly at Notre Dame, and quite frankly, most Irish faithful had hoped Notre Dame would be closer to the nation's elite than they appear to be.  Under Kelly, there is no question the Irish have elevated considerably the talent level across the board, but outside of the appearance in the 2012 National Championship, where they were outclassed, more has been expected." Well, we are a year further down the road and are seemingly more distant from the expectations than anyone could have imagined just a year ago. One wonders how Kelly held on, but he did. However, it does appear obvious that things better get popping in South Bend immediately, or Kelly will be out. Kelly has hired new coordinators, Chip Longo n offense and Mike Elko on defense, who may move the Irish from a 4-3 to a 3-4, which seems to better fit the roster. On offense, Kelly hoped for quarterback DeShone Kizer to return, bu he headed to the NFL, seemingly a year early. Brandon Wimbush, who redshirted last fall, appears to be the man to take over. Wimbush is noted as having a big arm, and fleet of foot for his 6'1"226lb frame. Junior Josh Adams led the team in rushing in '16 with just under 1000 yards and is back to kick it up a notch this fall. Equanimeious St. Brown (961yds/9TD's) is back and an honors candidate. CJ Sanders and Kevin Stepherson also return, as does talented tight end Alize Jones, back after sitting out in '16. WR Chase Claypool has turned heads and will factor in. Four return up front, most notably T Mike McGlinchy, who will be on some preseason All America teams. G Quentin Nelson is also an honors candidate. Two additional starters return, so this unit will be very solid, and needed as a new signal caller gains experience. If Wimbush is who the coaches think he is, the offense could be very strong. Seven starters are back defensively. Up front, two who saw extensive time return, but they will need to raise the performance level. End Daelin Hayes is someone the coaches are high on, while Jerry Tillery will be charged to plug it up inside,and the emergence of Jonathan Bonner is expected. Jobs appear open elsewhere, including at one end spot previously held by Andrew Trumbetti. At linebacker, the Irish are stacked. Nyles Morgan, who led the Irish in stops in '16, is back in the middle. Drue Tranquill, second in stops, is back at rover, as is weakside LB Grant Martini and Te'von Conley (4th in stops in '16. Quality backup are available. The secondary returns three of four. Corner Nick Watkins, considered an honors candidate, is back to full speed after an injury filled '16. Opposite Watkins is SO Julian Love, who is ready to rock. Jalen Elliott and Nick Coleman are the safeties. The back end of the unit could be quite special. Both specialists return for the Fighting Irish. CJ Sanders is back to return punts and kickoff, with 2 KOR TD in '16. The schedule for Notre Dame is, as usual, tough. It will be important for the Irish to have success early, as Kelly cannot afford to lose the team if he wants to keep his job. After opening at home against Temple, the Georgia Bulldogs visit in a critical matchup.  The Irish really need it. Trips to Boston College and Michigan State are manageable. Notre Dame visits North Carolina, a game they should win. Then, powerful USC visits South Bend. The following week has NC State coming in, which is no gimmie. Notre Dame visits Miami, a rough one for sure, split between home games against Wake and Navy. finishing up out on the farm against Stanford, which will be tough. It looks like one for sure loss, and three toss ups. An unexpected loss (one of the North Carolina teams), coupled with winning one of the toss ups and a loss to USC looks 8-4. Beating Georgia early would loom large for this team and allow the potential for an 11-1 season. Will 8-4 get it done for Kelly? I think so.


21. Kansas State






If you have not been watching, Kansas State remains a winning program, recording a 43-22 record aver the last half decade. Last season, the Cats were young, and clawed their way to a 9-4 record, dumping the high flying Texas Aggies in the Texas Bowl. The Cats with more experience hope to build on that performance. On offense, eight starters are back, led by quarterback Jesse Ertz. Eartz did not have exceptional passing numbers (only 9 TD's versus 4 INT's) but he complimented that by running for 1000 yards. His leadership was also valued. Ertz is expected to increase his production in 2017. Alex Barnes and Justin Silman are the leading returning rushers, and Winston Dimel is back as well. The elusive Bryan Pringle, who averaged 16 yards per catch, and Dominique Heath, who led the Cats in receptions in '16, both return. Cal transfer Carlos Strickland is expected to make a significant impact at the position. Four starters return up front, so the offensive line will be a strength. The unit is led by OT Dalton Riser. Defensively, six starters are back for a unit that gave up only 22.3 ppg in the wild Big XII. Three of four up front are back, led by DE Reggie Walker, who had 6.5 sacks last year. Will Geary will clog up the middle and DE Tanner Reed will close the corner. Trent Tanking ready to fill a void at linebacker, with the emerging Da'Quan Patton ready to rock. The secondary is a strength, with corner DJ Reed, an honors candidate, setting the tone along with counterpart DJ Shelley. Kendall Adams is at free safety. JUCO transfer Elijah Walker will fins a spot to patrol in the secondary. Both specialists return, with Bryan Pringle, DJ Reed and Dominique Heath forming a trio of very dangerous return men. Unlike opening at Stanford a year ago, the Wildcats have it pretty easy early. While a trip to Vanderbilt may be dangerous, with a diminished Baylor visiting Manhattan, the Cats should be be 4-0 before beginning a vital stretch by visiting Texas. Are the Longhorns emerging quick enough to derail K-State? If Kansas State wins, there will no time for celebration as TCU and Oklahoma visit in consecutive weeks. If Kansas State can win all three, a special season could be in the works, but we think they would feel great 2-1. West Virginia visits late, but K-State then travels to Oklahoma State before closing at home vs. Iowa State. 10-2 would be really good, but that is a tall order. So we think 9-3 is about right, but the that midseason stretch will let us know.

22. Nebraska






For all his attributes, which were numerous, the departure of three year starting quarterback Tommy Armrstong will present Nebraska to develop an offense more to the liking of head coach Mike Riley and his offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf. Enter junior Tanner Lee, who had 19 starts at Tulane, and is the prototype drop back passer, to engineer and open up the Nebraska offense, which has been lethargic by Husker standards in recent years. Inconsistency and turnover were a large part of the problem. In '16, between Armstrong and his backup Ryker Fyfe, the 'Husker completed only around 50% of their throws with slightly fewer touchdowns than intercepts. That is not good. Lee has all the tools and dazzled the coaches over spring, not only physically but mentally, and his teammates on both sides of the ball took notice.  Big things are expected from Lee, and he seems poised,  pun intended, to improve play at that position dramatically. A slew of backs, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, return for the Big Red. Devine Ozigbo appears the most rounded of the group, able to run tough between the tackles and catch out of the backfield. Tre Bryant, who may start, is the closest to the old 'Husker backs most are familiar with.  Mikhale Wilbon is versatile, and FR Jalin Bradley may find the field.  Stanley Morgan leads the receiving core, and he could challenge for all conference honors.  DeMornay Pierson-El is an electric player who is battling back from injury, and if healthy, could be exceptional. RFR J.D Spielman will be counted on, and true freshman Tyjon Lindsey will factor in. Keyan Williams, Bryan Reimers and Connor Young will see action as well. The 'Huskers figure to utilize the tight end much more this year, with capable players Tyler Hoppes and Matt Snyder ready to roll. The line returns all five starters, but few in Lincoln were excited with their overall play in '16. LT Nick Gates played much of 2016 hurt, but now healthy with an ugly after taste after getting abused in the Music City Bowl, Gates may find those conference honors many find him capable of. G Tanner Farmer at guard has a nasty disposition and figure to also challenge for conference honors. G Jerald Foster is a quality player poised to step up his game. Defensively, new DC Bob Diaco has quickly got everyone's attention, which is welcomed. Nebraska played well at times in '16 , but had trouble stopping people when it counted. Diaco will switch the unit to a 3-4, which does better fit the personnel. Mick Stoltenberg will sit in the middle, with Carlos Davis taking a tackle spot (his brother Kahlil may get in there as well) Freedom Akomoldum is back at DE, but the 'Huskers did little in harassing opposing signal callers and need much more production from the position. At linebacker, the 'Huskers fill strong about Chris Weber, who will be joined inside by Dedrick Young. Young and fellow outside backer Marcus Newby have seen their game stagnate, so they will  be counted upon to reach a new level. Luke Gifford and Alex Davis will take an outside spot, and we think true frosh Guy Thomas of Miami Central has all the tools and may see time. The secondary is the strength of the team. CB Chris Jones of Jacksonville Sandalwood is an All B1G corner, and Joshua Kalu, not firmly entrenched at free safety, is outstanding.  Aaron Williams will be at strong safety, while Lamar Jackson will give it a go at the other corner spot, backed by Eric Lee and Dicaprio Bootle. Kieron Williams and Antonio Reed are backup safeties. Drew Brown is back at placekicker, but Nebraska needs more from Caleb Lightbourne at punter. Pierson-El was among the nations best at returns in '15, but his injury history may keep him from returns, opening the door for JD Spielman, Tyjon Lindsey or even Jaylin Bradley. Nebraska travels to Eugene to take on Oregon in a key early contest and may bring 20K of Husker Nation with them. Winning that game would be most significant. That would set up a pair of back to back home games that in many ways will determine the 'Huskers fate; against Wisconsin and Ohio State. If the Big Red want to win the West, they must beat Wisconsin, and we think they can. Although we recognize the atmosphere in Lincoln, Ohio State appears to talented for Nebraska at this time. Two matchups against upstart teams, Northwestern in Lincoln and at Minnesota, are difficult but winnable. We have Nebraska 8-2 here, with a game at Penn State and at home versus Iowa,who Nebraska has lost to two years running. If Nebraska is in ascension as we think they are, we will say the finish 9-3. However, if they lose grip mentally after a touch loss, as has been the case more than you would think, 8-4 could be the record.  Only four significant players are seniors, and Riley has been recruiting well, so 2018 might find Nebraska inside the Top Ten. But the Big Red have to get here first.

23. Virginia Tech







In his first season with Virginia Tech, Justin Fuentes had the Hokies playing at a level few expected, directing the program to its first 10 win season since 2011. Outside of an inexplicable thumping the Hokies received from Syracuse, Virginia Tech was in every game, even giving Clemson all they could handle in the ACC Championship Game. If those eligible to return did so, we would be discussing a team on the verge of a top ten ranking, but the Hokies had three significant offensive starters leave for the NFL (Memo; only two drafted).  Quaterback Jarod Evans, who came in in '16 as a JUCO and had a great season, left early. Nobody with any meaningful experience is back. Folks think redshirt FR Joshua Jackson will win the job. He is competing with southpaw Nebraska transfer A. J. Bush and early enrolled Henry Hooker. Trayvon McMillian is back at tailback, after running for 671 in '16.  Cam Phillips could break some Hokie receiving records in 2017, but he needs some help. CJ Carroll will compete. but look for Eric Kumah to emerge, with true freshman Caleb Farley perhaps getting involved if the defense does not grab him. TE Chris Cunningham and HB Dalton Keene will try to pick up the production left behind by Bucky Hodges. G Wayne Teller anchors the line, which is veteran. Massive OT Yosuah Nijman returns. Defensively, Tech will again be stout. Ricky Walker will command attention inside along with Tim Seetle. More production from the pass rushers on the end is needed where end Vinny Mihota. who had 5 sacks in '16, aims for more. The linebacking core rivals about anybody. Tremaine Edmunds in an honors candidate from his inside spot, as is Andrew Motuapuaka, who led the Hokies in stops in '16. OLB, Mook Reynolds, a bandit type OLB who paced the Hokies in TFL in '16, is also back. The secondary is loaded. CB Brandon Facyson (11PBU), who started his career looking like a hall of famer, has not played at that level but is an honors candidate, as is counterpart Greg Strolman (10PBU). Adonis Alexander is a quality backup. FS Terrell Edmunds (4INT) also returns. Reggie Floyd and true frosh Devon Hunter will also factor in. Joey Slye was very solid as placekicker, but the Hokies seek a new punter. Expect frosh Caleb Farley to return kicks, although Strolman was superb at it in 2016 with a PRTD. The Hokies have a tough opener to be breaking in a new signal caller as they face West Virginia in Landover.  After three cupcakes where breaking in a QB is ideal, VT heads to Clemson. North Carolina comes in as does Duke prior to a trip to Miami, which may be for the division. Immediately afterward, a dangerous trip to Atlanta to face Georgia Tech follows. Pitt comes to Blacksburg before the Hokies are at UVA. Other than at Clemson, a case could be made Virginia Tech could win the rest.  We think they go 1-1 between WV and UNC, lose at Clemson, and go 1-1 vs. Miami and GT. That puts them at 9-3.

24. Oregon





After a decade or so hanging out on the elite national stage, Oregon suffered a horrendous 4-8 season. Although, like many other team, the Ducks were ravaged by injuries, the brass felt the issue was more significant than that and parted company with  coach Mark Helfrich. While looking in on the outside the Ducks recent success under Helfrich seem to be tied to talented quarterback Marcus Mariota, the issues that in our mind plague the Ducks are on the defensive side of the ball. Oregon gave up an astonishing 41 points per game, and you are not going to dream of winning doing that. Enter Willie Taggart from South Florida, where he had the Bulls going strong. Taggart is well respected and expectations after his arrival have understandably risen.  A few of the coaches originally brought along ran a foul of some ethics, but it all got resolved. Taggart did bring in Jim Leavitt from Colorado to be his defensive coordinator. Leavitt can coach up some D, and, incidentally enough, was coach at USF back in the day.Nine starters are back for Leavitt, so you would certainly expect some level of improvement based on experience, and another level with Leavitt in charge. DE Henry Mondeaux returns up front. Scott Pagano takes a tackle spot coming in from Clemson. Troy Dye is back at inside linebacker, the defensive MVP in '16 and leading tackler. He was a busy guy. In the 3-4, Justin Hollins has an OLB spot (6.5TFL). AJ Hotchkins is also back inside with either Jimmie Swain or Jonah Moi perhaps handling the other OLB. With the 3-4 switch, some guys are moving and others are getting a new opportunity. Arrion Springs (12PBU) returns as an honors candidate oat corner. Fotu Leiato will get a safety spot, where he may shine. Kahlil Oliver is a veteran at safety with true frosh Deommodore Lenoir perhaps getting significant playing time. Over on offense, SO Justin Herbert is the signal caller, and he looks good. In 2016, Herbert threw 19 TD's versus only 4 INT's. The Ducks did lose WR Darren Carrington, who got booted off the team and ended up at Utah, but return Charles Nelson, who led the team with 52 catches last year. Dillon Mitchell will need to step up in Carrington's absence. Royce Freeman, an All America candidate, is back at running back, Massive Tyrell Crosby has a tackle spot while G Calvin Trockmorton and C Jake Hanson anchor inside as all up front return. In the past, Oregon has refrained from kicking, but under Taggart that figures to change. PK Aidan Schnieder returns but a new punter is needed. Charles Nelson is as dangerous return man as there is in the country. The Ducks host Nebraska week 2, which has the feel of a must win. It will be a toss up game, but is at home. A trip the following week to Wyoming is dangerous and the visit to Arizona State the next week could be wild. A murderous stretch then comes midseason, with road tilts at Stanford, UCLA and Washington with Wazzu and Utah visiting Eugene. Wow, that is brutal. We think at best Oregon is 9-3, but more likely 8-4. An early win over Nebraska may hold the key to success, or send the Ducks waddling.


25. NC State







It was only a few years back we labeled NC State as descending, appearing at least from where we sat that perhaps the hiring of Dave Doren as head coach may not have been the right fit. But, NC State really turned the corner. Last season, the Wolfpack was a respectable 7-6, clobbering Vanderbilt in the Independence Bowl. But, NC State should have won at Clemson, missing a chip shot field goal as time expired before falling in OT, and took Florida State late. Oh, what could have been. Losses to East Carolina and Boston College were as disappointing as wins over Notre Dame and North Carolina were exciting. Seventeen starters return, and there is palpable optimism settling in at Raleigh. JR Ryan Finley is back at quarterback to lead the offense (18TD-8INT), and even though talented back Matt Dayes has departed, Finley has plenty of talent to work with. One area of concern is replacing the aforementioned Dayes, with Nyheim Hines, Jr., who only had 13 carries in '16, looking the heir apparent. Reggie Galasby had 49 carries a year ago, and perhaps Dakwa Nichols may get snaps.  Jaylen Samuels, an H-Back, is a very dangerous weapon for NC State. Samuels caught 55 balls in '16 with seven scores and ran for 200 more. He commands attention from opposing stop troops. Stephen Louis Jr., the leader in pass receptions in '16, returns. Kevin Harmon and Michael Ramos are others returning. Four starters return up front, led by OT Will Richardson and OG Tony Adams who anchor the right side. Both players are All ACC candidates, and veteran line will be a strength. On defense, it all starts up front where potential All America DE Bradley Chubb resides. Chubb notched 10.5 sacks and 11.5 TFL, simply stellar numbers. Kentavious Street, who had 5.5 sacks, returns opposite Chubb. BJ Hill and Justin Jones form a wall inside. Jerod Fernandez and Airius Moore were second and third in stops last year, and are back seeking to raise their game. Germaine Pratt is also in there. Shawn Boone is the main returnee, anchoring the secondary from his strong safety spot. The Pack like the group, with Mike Stevens and Nick McCloud in at corner and Freddie  Phillips at nickel. Jarius Morehead and Dexter Wright are battling at free safety. Make no mistake, this is an experienced and hungry group. AJ Cole returns to punt, but the Pack is auditioning placekickers, a spot which lost them a key contest in the aforementioned effort at Clemson. Nyheim Hines, Jr handled returns last year, but with him stepping in a tailback, someone else may get a shot. NC State gets a chance to flex some ACC muscle opening in a neutral site contest with South Carolina, seemingly a must win. They will get it. NC State will be 3-0 traveling to FSU. The Wolfpack have always played well, and have won, in Tallahassee, so an opportunity exists. May be too much though. Call NCS 4-1 before going to Louisville, who gave NC State a beat down in 2016 (was week after Clemson letdown). Payback? Trips to Pitt and Notre Dame follow before Clemson pays a visit. N. C. State should handle road dates at BC and WF before UNC at home in the finale. The Wolfpack are no slouch, and could well bite somebody. We are thinking 8-4, but this is team to keep and eye on as a darkhorse.

THE NEXT FIVE

Texas Christian
-Seventeen starters return, but Frogs need improved QB play and face a rough road slate.

Tennessee
-Promising, veteran team grossly underachieved in '16. Talent abounds, but new QB, rough slate and mindset questions


Washington State
-Sixteen starters return including  QB Luke Falk, but the Cougs lost most of the their top skill people.

Texas
-Horns have plenty of talent; 10 back on defense, but holes at the skill positions temper enthusiasm. 

Brigham Young
-The Cougars return QB Tanner Mangum, most of  O-line and back end of defense. Tough slate (Wiscy, Utah & LSU). 

POTENTIAL BREAKTHROUGHS:  West Virginia, Georgia Tech, UCLA, Texas A&M, Colorado, Kentucky, Northwestern, Utah, Iowa, Minnesota, Boise State, North Carolina, Memphis, Arkansas and Pittsburgh.

ASCENDING: Miami, Minnesota,  Kentucky, Nebraska,  South Florida and Maryland.

DESCENDING: Michigan State, Tennessee, Mississippi and Baylor (for now).

COACHING HOT SEAT:  Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M, Todd Graham, Arizona State, Jim Mora, UCLA, Brian Kelly, Notre Dame, Butch Jones, Tennessee.

2017 Preseason All America Team

OFFENSE

Offensive Player of the Year
Sam Darnold, QB, USC
Photo/YouTube














ALL AMERICA OFFENSE

WR       Calvin Ridley, Alabama
WR       James Washington, Oklahoma State
WR       Christian Kirk, Texas A&M
WR       Dante Pettis, Washington
TE         Mike Gesicki, Penn State
OT        Orlando Brown, Oklahoma
OL         Braden Smith, Auburn 
OL         Mason Cole, Michigan
OL         Frank Ragnow, Arkansas
OL         Billy Price, Ohio State
OL         Mike McGlinchy, Notre Dame  
OT         Connor Williams, Texas 
QB         Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma 
RB         Saquon Barkley, Penn State       
RB         Derrius Guice, LSU    
RB         Royce Freeman, Oregon
RB         Nick Chubb, Georgia

Defensive Player of the Year
Derwin James, S, Florida State
Photo/Orlando Sentinel





















ALL AMERICA DEFENSE

DE         Tyquan Lewis, Ohio State
DL         Ed Oliver, Houston
DT         Maurice Hurst, Michigan
DL         Christian Wilkins, Clemson
DE         Harold Landry, Boston College
DE         Bradley Chubb, N. C. State
OLB      Arden Key, Louisiana State
ILB        Nyles Morgan, Notre Dame
ILB        Azeem Victor, Washington
ILB        Josey Jewell, Iowa
OLB      Travin Howard, Texas Christian  
CB         Tavarius McFadden, Florida State
DB         Duke Dwason, Florida
S           Derwin James, Florida State
S           Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
DB        Quinn Balding, Virginia
CB        Jaire Alexander, Louisville

SPECIALISTS

K          Daniel Carlson, Aubrun
P           Johnny Townsend, Florida
KR        Quadree Henderson, Pittsburgh
AP        Christian Kirk, Texas A&M

NEWCOMERS

ONC       Cam Akers, RB, Florida State
DNC       Darnay Holmes, CB, UCLA

TOP FIVE OVER THE LAST FIVE

1. Alabama
2. Ohio State, 61-6
3. Clemson, 60-9
4. Florida State, 59-9
5. Oklahoma, 51-14

Source: Street & Smith's