The 2017 College Football season has arrived and there are those sweet feelings of hope, excitement, and anticipation. The four teams that have won the last six national championships are all in the mix again. Who will be the top challengers to the two key figures in college football in the 21st century, those two guys that have won so big, so consistently, who currently reside Tuscaloosa and Columbus.
1. ALABAMA – In eight of the last nine regular seasons, Alabama has gone either 11-1 or 12-0, and the remarkable recruiting of Nick Saban has allowed the Crimson Tide to reload like no other program. Look at the other coaching situations in the SEC West, who is going to supplant them in Atlanta?
2. FLORIDA STATE – Jimbo Fisher has the Seminoles rolling. As sweet as the 2013 national title was, an 8-0 record against Miami and the Gators the last four years is a great source of pride. If Cam Akers can step in for Dalvin Cook, they are the second best playoff bet.
3. OHIO STATE – Since 2003, Urban Meyer and Saban have combined to coach four programs to eight national championships. He has predictably done a tremendous job in Columbus, and Meyer has the walloping Clemson put on the Scarlet and Gray in the playoffs as motivation.
4. CLEMSON – The Tigers must replace the greatest player in school history, but Dabo Swinney has done an outstanding job recruiting and Clemson figures to again be right there in the ACC. He and the Tigers beat Meyer and the Buckeyes and Saban and the Tide for the title. Impressive.
5. OKLAHOMA STATE – The Cowboys and Texas are the two schools happiest with the retirement of Bob Stoops. There is a guaranteed rematch in the Big XII Championship Game and the ‘Pokes are a good bet to make it.
6. WISCONSIN – The Badgers certainly got the lucky draw on their side of the Big Ten. The schedule is favorable, and Wisconsin is the best bet to make the league title game against the Buckeyes, Penn State, Michigan or Sparty. They seem to finally have the right coach after Barry Alvarez with Paul Chryst.
7. SOUTHERN CAL – Clay Helton, after a couple of interim stints, got the head job and the Trojans started 1-3. Well, USC won out and then took a thrilling Rose Bowl over Penn State. They are the consensus favorite of west, but the schedule is tough and they have a target on their chest.
8. OKLAHOMA – The retirement of Bob Stoops was the most stunning news of the summer. His record is one of the most impressive in college football – highlighted by complete domination of the Big XII. Lincoln Riley inherits a talented team, and once again the offense has terrific promise.
9. WASHINGTON – Chris Petersen is one of the best in the business. He did a magnificent job at Boise State and now has Washington back amongst the elite out west. USC is the chic pick in the PAC- 12, but Jake Browning is back and Petersen is a proven winner.
10. SOUTH FLORIDA – The Bulls are the best bet to run the table this season. Charley Strong inherits a lot of talent, a slew of returning starters and an extremely manageable schedule.
11. FLORIDA – The Gators have been to the last two SEC Championship Games, but lost eight games. The record is in tune with Florida football history, save the remarkable Steve Spurrier 1990s and Meyer’s brief but stellar tenure. Malik Zaire transfers in at QB. The Gators haven’t had an all-star behind center since Tim Tebow.
12. STANFORD – It should be a good battle in the PAC-12 North with Stanford and the Huskies at the top of the heap. Though he has had some serious clock management issues in big games, David Shaw has done an outstanding job on the Farm. Their physical, tough style is a hard matchup for most of the league.
13. AUBURN – Jarrett Stidham is the quarterback that the Tigers are pinning their hopes on. Like the rest of the SEC last season, Auburn had a record typical for a middle of the pack team. They went from 7-2 to losses to Georgia, Alabama and in the Sugar Bowl to Oklahoma, finishing 8-5.
14. TEXAS – Tom Herman inherits a talented team. Charley Strong and Texas just wasn’t a successful marriage. But with Stoops retirement and what the ‘Horns have at QB, Herman could have a quick ascension to the top of the Big XII.
15. LOUISVILLE – The Cardinals have Heisman winner Lamar Jackson back at quarterback and big expectations. The schedule is tough, but Louisville has the firepower to contend for the ACC title.
16. GEORGIA – Kirby Smart and the Bulldogs bring in a tremendously talented recruiting class. Combine that with the return of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel at TB and the Georgia faithful are bullish on both the future and 2017. The schedule is very difficult, starting with a visit from Appalachian State.
17. VIRGINIA TECH – Justin Fuente had a highly successful first season in Blacksburg, as the Hokies went to the ACC Championship Game and had a comeback win over Arkansas in Charlotte. It’s a tough opener, as West Virginia comes to town Sunday.
18. MIAMI – Mark Richt has big shoes to fill at quarterback, but a manageable schedule. The Hurricanes side of the ACC is softer, but it is still highly competitive. Almost everyone is in play, and that includes the ‘Canes.
19. LSU – The talent is there for LSU. & It almost always is. But the schedule is extra tough – remember the Florida deal with the hurricane, and there are so many questions about Coach O.
20. APPALACHIAN STATE – The Mountaineers appear headed for another big season, with QB Taylor Lamb and TB Jalin Moore the headliners. App. State nearly won in Knoxville to open last season, and now has eyes locked in on the Dawgs.
21. TCU – The Horned Frogs figure to be in the mix in the tough Big XII. One big edge TCU has in the offensively prolific league is Gary Patterson loves good defense.
22. PITT – Here is the key for Pitt – the Panthers don’t play Florida State, S Clemson or Louisville from the other side of the ACC. Pat Narduzzi is a very good coach, and he has the talent and schedule to contend for a spot in the ACC Championship Game.
23. KANSAS STATE – Bill Snyder just keeps on rolling. The Big XII is a tough league and, remember, they all play one another. The Wildcats again figure to be right in the mix, and this season there is a championship game.
24. TENNESSEE – The Vols offensive line figures to be one of the best in the SEC. Tennessee lost a lot of front line talent off of last season’s squad, but figures to be stout in the line of scrimmage. The schedule is front-loaded, as always.
25. WEST VIRGINIA – There isn’t the front-runner in the Big XII this season with Bob Stoops retiring, so West Virginia is right there with half the league trying to fill that void. The opener in Blacksburg is a biggie.
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