Last season I predicted Florida State, Oregon, Ole Miss and Baylor to make it to the first ever Final 4 playoffs. I had Alabama ranked #5 and Ohio State ranked #6 as the two teams, on the outside looking in.
Here is my Top 25 pre-season preview.
#1 Ohio State Buckeyes- What do you do for an encore after winning the National Championship? You bring back all three starting quarterbacks. Urban Meyer has compiled a 38-3 record in Columbus. I think it is safe to say, he has surpassed Nick Saban as the best college football coach in the country. The Buckeyes bring back a ton of experience and talent to last year’s championship team. Their only challenge will come on November 21st, when they host the Michigan State Spartans. Barring a colossal upset, Ohio State should go undefeated in a weak conference. Look for them to go a second straight college football playoff.
#2 Baylor Bears- Art Briles has turned the Baylor program into a national powerhouse and they are the Oregon Ducks of the south. With their high tempo offense and spread formation, they have become a nightmare matchup for any defensive coordinator in the country. Losing Bryce Petty to the NFL will hurt them but if Seth Russell can get better as the season goes along, Baylor could be in the hunt for a national championship. The defense needs to be more consistent, but bringing back defensive end Shawn Oakman, a likely preseason All-America pick, should give the unit a huge boost.
#3Auburn Tigers- To get through the SEC you have to beat Alabama, how do you do that? If you look at the teams that have given Alabama problems over the years… Auburn, Texas A&M and Oklahoma. They all used a unique offense to spread Alabama out. Gus Malzahn has become the master of this. Adding defensive guru and former Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp as defensive coordinator, can only make a stronger case that the Tigers will be the SEC Champs.
#4 USC Trojans– This is my sleeper pick. Because of limited scholarships, USC doesn’t have tremendous depth. But, they have a plethora of NFL talent on both sides of the ball. Losing defensive lineman Leonard Williams to the NFL (4th overall pick in the Draft, NY Jets) will hurt but quarterback Cody Kessler should dominate the PAC-12. Last season Kessler had 39 touchdown passes and only 5 interceptions. That coupled with the fact that Oregon and UCLA lost their QB’s to the NFL… this should bode well for the Trojans.
#5 TCU Horned Frogs- Quarterback Trevone Boykin, is coming off a tremendous year. He threw for 33 touchdown passes and completed 61.2% of his passes. He leads a Horned Frog team that returns almost all their starters. They are talented and fun to watch. But, they have a brutal schedule, they play at Kansas State, at Oklahoma State, at Oklahoma and close the season hosting Baylor. To win those three road games will be a monumental task.
#6 Oregon Ducks- How do you replace a living legend? Marcus Mariota won the Heisman Trophy last season, led the Ducks to a national championship game and statistically had the best season of any quarterback in the history of college football. This is the 3rd season without Chip Kelly in Eugene. Some of the players he recruited are still on the team. Head coach Mark Helfrich is 24-4 in two years. That is pretty impressive, but this program is now 100% his. It will be interesting to see who starts at quarterback for the Ducks. The easiest choice would be redshirt junior Jeff Lockie. He doesn’t have the skill set Mariota has but he is a veteran of the program and can be a consistent passer when given time. If Lockie is not the answer look for Eastern Washington transfer Vernon Adams as the Oregon Ducks Fall Camp begins in a few weeks. Sophomore running back Royce Freeman rushed for 1,365 yards, scored and scored 19 total touchdowns as a freshman. He is my pre-season pick for the Heisman Trophy winner.
#7 Alabama Crimson Tide– Alabama lost three of their best skill players on offense. Quarterback Blake Sims, running back T.J. Yeldon and All-America wide receiver Amari Cooper. Nick Saban doesn’t rebuild he reloads but any team in the country would be hard pressed to replace that offensive talent. The good news for Crimson Tide fans is that Lane Kiffin is now in his 2nd year as the offensive coordinator. Kiffin may not be a great head coach, but he knows offense, he is the Norv Turner of college football.
#8 Michigan State Spartans- Quarterback Connor Cook must carry this team to the next level. Last year he had a fine season, 24 touchdowns and only 8 interceptions. But, The Spartans will need him more than ever if they want to compete for a national championship. If MSU wants to defeat Oregon on September 12th and Ohio State on November 21st they are going to have to outscore them. That means Cook will have to be the best player on the field.
#9 Arizona Wildcats- To think Michigan let Rich Rodriguez go. Some people’s garbage is another person’s treasure. Rodriguez has found a home in Arizona and led a young team to the PAC-12 championship game. Sophomore quarterback Anu Solomon continues to develop and he’ll be joined in the backfield by sophomore running back Nick Wilson and a gifted crop of receivers. Arizona is a top 10 team and on the rise.
#10 Florida State Seminoles- As a program you can’t keep having off the field issues and expect long term success, eventually it will wear on the team and the program. Jimbo Fisher has a young team and must replace Jameis Winston. Having Winston on your team is like dating a stripper. It leads to a lot of excitement but long term, it never works out. Addition by subtraction can be a good thing here. Winston became bigger than the program and that is never a good thing. FSU has become a minor league farm system for NFL Talent. That coupled with a weak ACC conference should help the Noles bounce back quickly.
#11 Oklahoma Sooners- you rarely see a Bob Stoops team win 8 games. Coming off an 8-5 season I expect them to win 10 plus games
#12 Georgia Bulldogs –Every season Mark Richt wins a game he is not supposed to, but loses a game he is not supposed to. He has had a fine career but may never win a national title.
#13 Arizona State Sun Devils – 16 returning starters should make a 10 win team better in a tough PAC-12 conference.
#14 Clemson Tigers- Deshaun Watson-led offense will be the ACC’s best.
#15 Ole Miss Rebels- wide receiver Laquon Treadwell will come back from injury and be a real candidate for the Heisman Trophy.
#16 Arkansas Razorbacks – Head coach Bret Bielema is finally turning that program around. I look for them to have a 9 maybe 10 win season.
#17 Notre Dame Fighting Irish- Any time Brian Kelly is on the sidelines, his team has a chance to win.
#18 Oklahoma State Cowboys- Did this young team gain enough experience last year?
#19 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets- Head coach Paul Johnson’s offense always gives teams trouble and gets better as the season goes on. They are coming off an 11 win season.
#20 LSU Tigers- It seems like every year Les Miles loses a dozen players to the NFL… yet the last few years they have struggled going 10-3, 8-5 and 8-5. If the Tigers don’t get to 10 wins this year, Miles may be on the hot seat.
#25 Boise State
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