After another thrilling conclusion to cap off the College Football season, Clemson & Alabama will once again lead the way heading into 2018. However, there will be some new contenders that College Football fans should keep their eyes on.
1) Clemson– Nick Saban got his revenge on Dabo Sweeney this year, but make no mistake, the Tigers are here to stay. With star QB Kelly Bryant returning for his senior season and stud defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence leading the defense, Clemson should once again be heavy favorites in the ACC as they go for a fourth straight trip to the College Football Playoff.
2) Alabama– Coming off their national championship victory, the Crimson Tide will once again be loaded as they look for a repeat next season. The biggest question next season will be who will take snaps under center, as Tua Tagovailoa took over for a struggling Jalen Hurts at halftime and led a historic comeback for the Tide. Alabama is losing some superior talent on both sides of the ball, including leading receiver Calvin Ridley and star DB Minkah Fitzpatrick, but Nick Saban is bringing in yet another star recruiting class, led by Eyabi Anoma. Nick Saban will be looking to pass Bear Bryant with his 6th title next season.
3) Ohio State– The Buckeyes will be playing with a chip on their shoulder next season after being left out of the CFP after winning the Big Ten. While they lose the leadership of QB J.T. Barrett, the Buckeyes are expected to turn to highly rated sophomore Dwayne Haskins next season. With star running back J.K. Dobbins further improving, the Buckeyes will once again be a force. However, the schedule will not be easy, as the Buckeyes travel to TCU, Penn State, and Michigan State.
4) Georgia– That loss will sting for a while but Georgia will be ready to make a run at redemption next season. The Bulldogs will lose some incredible talent in the backfield including Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, but D’Andre Swift and incoming top recruit Zamir White will be ready to take charge. As a true freshman Jake Fromm showed off his incredible talent, and will be ready to once again lead Georgia next season. Fromm is the early leader in odds for the 2018 Heisman trophy.
5) Oklahoma– The Sooners will once again be the favorites in the Big 12 next season. While they lose Heisman trophy winner Baker Mayfield, the Sooners will turn to a very effective QB in Kyler Murray, who transferred from Texas A&M after the 2015 season. The biggest question currently is whether or not breakout RB Rodney Anderson will declare for the NFL draft. Assuming he returns, Lincoln Riley’s squad will be an offensive powerhouse.
6) Wisconsin– After winning a school record 13 games this past season, the Badgers just missed out on the CFP after losing a close battle with Ohio State in Indianapolis. QB Alex Hornibrook should take another step forward, and with RB Jonathan Taylor, who set the freshman record for FBS rushing yards in a season, the Badgers will once again be favorites in the Big Ten West. Wisconsin will travel to Penn State in November. Perhaps this could be a preview of a December showdown in Indianapolis?
7) Penn State- Losing Saquon Barkley to the draft and Offensive Coordinator Joe Moorehead will be challenging, but James Franklin has proven he is one of the nation’s best coaches, as he has brought in another elite recruiting class led by Micah Parsons. QB Trace Mcsorley will be in the Heisman discussion, as the Nittany Lions will once again be a powerhouse in the Big Ten while seeking to get over the hump into the CFP.
8) Michigan State– What 3-9 season? After a horrendous 2016 campaign, Mark Dantonio and his staff proved why they are one of the elites, responding with a fantastic 10-3 campaign, going 7-2 in the Big Ten including wins over Michigan and Penn State. The Spartans return 21 starters, led by QB Brian Lewerke, who had a brilliant year, and the surprise return of star running back LJ Scott for his senior season. The Spartans will be loaded and ready to compete for the Big Ten. The Spartans get Michigan and Ohio State at home, but will have to travel to Penn State.
9) Miami– A tough 3 game losing streak to end the year, but Mark Richt has built a strong foundation at the U. Miami will return lots of talent, led by Malik Rosier at QB, and of course the turnover chain. Miami will once again be ACC and CFP contenders.
10) Auburn– The talent is clearly there. After being left out of the CFP despite beating Georgia and Alabama in the regular season, the Tigers will once again be in the mix for the SEC. Auburn will lose running backs Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway, but will have QB Jarret Stidham returning for his senior season. Coach Gus Malzahn recently signed a new 7 year contract, as he will look to get Auburn back to the SEC title game and into the CFP in 2018.
11) Washington– The Huskies will be the leaders of the PAC-12 next year after getting their second straight double digit win season. With Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen gone at USC and UCLA, Jake Browning will be the best QB in the conference, and Chris Petersen should have his guys at the top once again.
12) Stanford– A tough loss to TCU in their bowl game, but another 9 win season for David Shaw and his crew. K.J. Costello will be back for his junior year at QB, but this ranking depends on the decision of star running back Bryce Love. If he returns, Stanford can very well be a top 10 team and will challenge Washington for the PAC-12.
13) Notre Dame– Brian Kelly cooled the hot seat for the time being with a 10 win season for the Fighting Irish this year. Notre Dame will lose their two studs on the offensive line including Mike McGlinchey and Quenten Nelson. However, Notre Dame should have the offensive power to compete next year, but questions remain as there is an expected QB battle between Brandon Wimbush and Ian Book, who played well in the Citrus Bowl win over LSU
14) TCU– Gary Patterson put together another 11 win season for TCU, but there will be holes to fill. QB Kenny Hill and RB Kyle Hicks are now gone, but highly touted prospect Shawn Robinson is expected to take over at QB. The Horned Frogs led the Big 12 in total defense this year and will need to remain consistent. TCU will be tested early at home against the Buckeyes in September.
15) USC– Sam Darnold may be going to the NFL, but expectations will still be high. The talent is there, but questions will need to be answered, specifically who will have the hard task of replacing Darnold. Matt Fink is expected to battle Jack Sears. This will be an interesting offseason for Clay Helton.
16) Virginia Tech– Justin Fuente is off to a solid start in his first two seasons, going 19-8. Freshman QB Josh Jackson has special talent that should elevate him to one of the best QB’s in the nation next year. With a great defense led by Bud Foster, look for Virginia Tech to take a leap in the ACC race.
17) Michigan– The heat is officially on Jim Harbaugh in Ann Arbor. After another disappointing season capped off by an inexplicable collapse against South Carolina in the Outback Bowl, Michigan found themselves at 8-5 and 4th in the Big Ten East while going 0-3 against Michigan State, Penn State, and Ohio State. Simply put, Jim Harbaugh was brought in to be better than this. The talent is there, with 9 starters returning on defense. However, this ranking is dependent on eligibility from Ole Miss QB transfer Shea Patterson, who if eligible, would give the Wolverines a desperately needed boost at QB. If not, expect Brandon Peters to get the nod. The schedule gods are not on the Wolverines side however, with trips scheduled to Notre Dame, Michigan State, and Ohio State in a critical year for the program.
18) Boise State– After a Mountain West title and 11 win season, the Broncos will be high favorites for a NY6 bowl game. QB Brett Rypien returns for his 4th year along with 9 starters on the defensive side of the ball. A tough matchup looms in September at Oklahoma State, which will set the tone for the year.
19) UCF– Scott Frost may be gone, but most of the undefeated roster from 2017 returns. 9 starters including stud QB McKenzie Milton will be back as first year coach John Heupel will look to aim for another trip for a NY6 bowl and hopeful CFP consideration, or in their minds, repeating as national champions.
20) Florida State– It can’t get any worse for the Seminoles, can it? An overall mess of a 2017 year which started with Deandre Francois going down for the year opening night was finished when Coach Jimbo Fisher left for Texas A&M. The Seminoles quickly responded with two solid hires, snagging Willie Taggart from Oregon as their head coach and Harlon Barnett from Michigan State as their defensive coordinator. Francois should be healthy, and Cam Akers will have an even more experienced OL to run behind. Florida State has the potential to bounce back quickly.
21) South Carolina– A 9-4 season in Will Muschamp’s second campaign has set the foundation for a program returning 9 starters on offense. QB Jake Bentley gets back WR Deebo Samuel who missed most of the 2017 season with an injury. Don’t be surprised if South Carolina ends up challenging Georgia for the SEC East.
22) Oklahoma State– Another 10 win season for the Cowboys, and with Mike Gundy at the helm there is no reason to believe they won’t be as competitive next year. Mason Rudolph departs for the NFL, but running back Justice Hill returns. The Cowboys get Boise State, West Virginia, and Texas at home, but have a tough road matchup in the Bedlam rivalry at Oklahoma.
23) Texas– While most Longhorn fans expected a national championship year 1, Tom Hermann winning 7 games in his first year is pretty significant. While they did lose 6 games, most of them were rather close, including an OT loss at USC. Sam Ehlinger seems to have a grasp on the QB position, and the program should continue to improve as Herman starts getting more out of his recruits.
24) Iowa St– Year 2 of the Matt Campbell era brought Iowa State back to relevance, as they completed an impressive 8-5 season including wins at Oklahoma, vs TCU, and Memphis in their bowl game. Running back David Montgomery had a very impressive sophomore year. Campbell will look to keep the momentum going in year 3.
25) LSU– The first full season of the Coach O era saw the Tigers go 9-4, including a win vs Auburn. Orgeron parted ways with offensive coordinator Matt Canada after one season, so that position is still in the air. The Tigers do have talent on both sides of the ball, but lose both star LB Arden Key and RB Derrius Grice.
Teams to keep an eye on
Purdue– What a remarkable first year for Jeff Bhrom at Purdue, taking a 3 win team to a 7-6 record with a bowl win. Purdue does lose leading receiver Anthony Mahoungou, but they should be competitive once again.
Boston College– Head coach Steve Addazio has rather quietly laid a solid foundation for the program, capturing back to back 7 win seasons. True Freshman AJ Dillon was one of the best running backs in the nation and QB Anthony Brown was playing well until his season ending injury. A healthy Boston College will look to shake up the ACC next year.
West Virginia – Will Grier returns from injury for his senior season along with All American WR David Sills. They will score points, but the Mountaineers will have to improve their defense in order to compete in the Big 12.
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