Spring football is in the books, and the next step toward a long summer before the 2017 season officially begins is updating our preseason college football rankings.
Of course perennial powerhouse Alabama is No. 1, but where is defending national champion Clemson in the early rankings? Is the hype around the 2017 USC squad for real? Will the season-opening matchup between Alabama and Florida State qualify as a “Game of the Century?” Where do Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State fit in?
With that in mind, Sporting News updates its preseason college football Top 25 for 2017. It has familiar faces at the top — our top nine teams played in the New Year’s Day Six in 2016 — and that includes all four playoff teams.
September can’t get here fast enough, right? Here’s a look at our preseason Top 25.
Preseason college football rankings: Top 25 for 2017
1. Alabama Crimson Tide
There’s a good chance the Tide opens No. 1 in the AP Poll for the fourth time under Nick Saban. We’re not worried about the Jalen Hurts-Brian Daboll dynamic after watching Hurts pass for 301 yards and a pair of TDs in the spring game. The bigger questions remain on defense. According to BamaInsider.com, nine different players had a sack in the spring game. Will that front seven be as nasty as it was in 2016?
2. USC Trojans
We’re sticking with the Trojans at No. 2. Sam Darnold still is the Heisman favorite and potential No. 1 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, but injuries along an offensive line that already replaces three starters makes us a little nervous. The focus for USC is to get healthy before fall camp.
3. Ohio State Buckeyes
Ohio State will throw the ball more effectively with new offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson. The Buckeyes’ offense looked good in the spring game, and J.T. Barrett has a few new playmakers to work with in running back Demario McCall and receiver Johnnie Dixon. Urban Meyer’s talent accumulation adds up to another run at a playoff spot.
4. Florida State Seminoles
Five-star freshman Cam Akers totaled 102 total yards in the spring game, and that has to make quarterback Deondre Francois smile. The Seminoles will answer questions about Alabama all offseason in advance of the season opener at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. FSU is shooting for a sixth consecutive season with double-digit wins under Jimbo Fisher, but the standard is higher than that for this program.
5. Clemson Tigers
That quarterback battle is going to stretch into fall camp for Dabo Swinney, and the winner has the unenviable task of replacing Deshaun Watson. Odds are it comes down to Kelly Bryant against five-star freshman Hunter Johnson. The good news is the defense, which is loaded with Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence up front, should be defensive coordinator Brent Venables’ best since his arrival in 2012.
6. Penn State Nittany Lions
James Franklin is trying to temper bubbling expectations around the defending Big Ten champions, but that won’t be easy. Offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead’s scheme fits. a 40-points-per-game-type profile with two Heisman Trophy contenders in quarterback Trace McSorley and running back Saquon Barkley. The emergence of 6-foot-4 receiver Juwan Johnson this spring is an added bonus. Cornerback John Reid’s knee injury was the only serious blow in the spring.
7. Oklahoma Sooners
Baker Mayfield’s offseason arrest created another headache for Bob Stoops, but the Sooners found a few new supporting cast mates for what should be the best team in the Big 12 once again. The Sooners open with UTEP, but it’s difficult not to look ahead to the Sept. 9 showdown at Ohio State knowing last season the Buckeyes throttled the Sooners 45-24 in Norman, Okla.
8. Washington Huskies
Jake Browning threw just 10 passes in the spring game, but the news here is he appears to be healthy and ready to build on a season in which he passed for 43 TDs. Dante Pettis looks fill the void left by John Ross, and the secondary showed signs of progress after heavy losses to the NFL. Chris Petersen’s will quietly contend for another Pac-12 championship.
9. Michigan Wolverines
Jim Harbaugh enters his third year with the challenge of returning just five starters, but the team has built on the strength of back-to-back top-10 recruiting classes. The defensive line will dominate with Rashan Gary and Maurice Hurst, but the spring game offered the hint of a fall camp quarterback battle between Wilton Speight and Brandon Peters. It’s a competition worth monitoring heading into the opener against Florida at Jerry World.
10. Georgia Bulldogs
Georgia’s spring game attendance was down a little bit, but the excitement level is up heading into Kirby Smart’s second season. Nick Chubb and Sony Michel both returned to school and are healthy, and that’s good news for Jacob Eason heading into his second season. Of course, Eason is going to be pushed in fall camp by Jake Fromm. These are nice problems to have for a team poised to compete for the SEC East championship.
11. Auburn Tigers
Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham’s emergence in new offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey’s offense is the biggest reason for optimism on The Plains for Gus Malzahn. The tandem of running backs Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson doesn’t hurt. If the Tigers add a consistent down-field passing game to all that, then they’ll be a worthy challenger for Alabama in the SEC West.
12. Louisville Cardinals
Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson returns, and despite a late-season slide this is going to be a prolific passing game. The Louisville Courier-Journal pointed to receiver Dez Fitzpatrick as a potential breakout player in the offense, but the defense will need to be more consistent under new defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon.
13. Wisconsin Badgers
The Badgers are 21-6 the last two seasons under Paul Chryst and have a no-doubt starter at quarterback in Alex Hornibrook. The competition at running back among Bradrick Shaw, Chris James and Taiwan Deal will be interesting. Will the Badgers find a consistent back to replace Corey Clement, who rushed for 1,375 yards in 2016. The Badgers remain the favorite in the Big Ten West, and with good reason.
14. LSU Tigers
The offense didn’t exactly produce rave reviews under new offensive coordinator Matt Canada in the spring game, but Ed Orgeron’s first full season will revolve around some familiar themes. LSU will have a power running game built around an excellent offensive line and Heisman Trophy contender Derrius Guice. It’s on Danny Etling to come through at quarterback in Canada’s new scheme. The talent is always there.
15. Florida Gators
This might be a disservice to the Gators given Jim McElwain has guided the team to back-to-back SEC East championships. Feleipe Franks looked the part of a starting quarterback in the spring game, and the defense should be more aggressive with new defensive coordinator Randy Shannon. Florida can make a statement — and is capable of doing so — in the season opener at Jerry World against Michigan.
16. Oklahoma State Cowboys
The connection between Mason Rudolph and James Washington will be key for the Cowboys’ Big 12 championship hopes, and it’s worth knowing the Bedlam Game against Oklahoma will be bumped up to Nov. 4. Expectations are high for the Cowboys, and they can meet those if the defense can take a few more steps forward after allowing 26.5 points per game in 2016.
17. Kansas State Wildcats
The Wildcats have all the makings to make their own run at the Big 12 championship under Bill Snyder, who is coaching while undergoing treatment for throat cancer. Quarterback Jesse Ertz returns along with four offensive linemen, and Kansas State hosts West Virginia and Oklahoma. The schedule is set up to make that run.
18. Stanford Cardinal
Christian McCaffrey is gone, but David Shaw has a stable of running backs to work with in Bryce Love, Trevor Speights, Cameron Scarlett and Dorian Maddox. There will be a battle between Ryan Burns and Keller Chryst, who is coming off a knee injury suffered in the Sun Bowl, for the starting quarterback job in fall camp.
19. Miami Hurricanes
Mark Richt should enjoy better results in his second season, but that starts with a quarterback battle between Malik Rosier and Evan Shirreffs. Miami didn’t have a true spring game, but the talent through recruiting is building. This program still is looking for that first ACC championship.
20. West Virginia Mountaineers
Two interesting stories emerged in the spring. Will Grier looks like he’s finally ready to return as a starting quarterback in the FBS. Grier’s top target in the spring game was David Sills, who began his career at West Virginia but played quarterback in junior college last season. An opener against Virginia Tech will be a good early-season test for the Mountaineers.
21. Texas Longhorns
Collin Johnson enjoyed a monster spring game with 117 yards and two TDs, and that’s good news for sophomore quarterback Shane Buechele. Tom Herman will make an instant impact on this program in Year 1, but the question is whether the Longhorns are ready to compete for a Big 12 championship. Isn’t that always the question?
22. South Florida Bulls
Will this be Charlie Strong’s revenge? Quinton Flowers is the quarterback who could take the Bulls through to the Group of 5 bid in the New Year’s Day Six, and Strong should be motivated after the fallout at Texas.
23. Washington State Cougars
Luke Falk decided to return for another season, and that should keep Mike Leach’s pass-happy offense in business in the Pac-12 North. The Cougars have a history of slow starts the last two seasons, and they face Boise State and USC in September.
24. Pittsburgh Panthers
Pittsburgh had an up-and-down season in 2016, but keep in mind they beat Penn State and Clemson. Pat Narduzzi’s third season should bring better results, and the addition of USC transfer Max Browne at quarterback is exciting. The Panthers must be more consistent to stay on here.
25. Tennessee Volunteers
This is a pivotal season for Butch Jones, who has danced from hot seat and high expectations through his time on Rocky Top. The Vols have a lot of talent to replace, and that starts at quarterback. Quinten Dormady and Jarrett Guarantano will continue to sort that out at fall camp.