The season is finally upon us, and September delivers some big match-ups to crank up 2018. Alabama and Clemson sit atop almost every poll.
The offseason had tragedy at Maryland, a scandal with Urban Meyer and Ohio State and some serious tone deafness. The Big Ten East is stacked. A lot of eyes will be on the Dawgs for an encore. Washington-Auburn is very big in Atlanta.
1. Alabama – The big question is Tuscaloosa is “what’s going on at QB?” But Bama is again loaded and the heavy favorite in the SEC West, which was won, as was the Iron Bowl, by Auburn a year ago. Alabama’s O-line and LBs, in particular, are deep and talented.
2. Clemson – That defensive line is literally NFL caliber. Three sure-fire first-round picks, highlighted by Christian Wilkins, returned for their senior seasons. There will be a lot of talk about the QB race, but that defense will set the tone.
3. Ohio State – With scandal hovering over the program and Urban Meyer’s three-game suspension, there are a lot of distractions in Columbus. Ohio State has an extremely talented roster, but the Big Ten East is rugged and the Buckeyes wear a bullseye.
4, Washington – Jake Browning is back at quarterback and Chris Petersen is one of the best coaches in the business. That opener with Auburn In Atlanta is huge for PAC-12 playoff credibility and could set the table for a great Huskies season.
5. Georgia – There is a tremendous amount of talent in Athens for young ace third-year coach Kirby Smart. There is talent, experience and leadership to replace, but this is a reload in Athens. Surviving tough early road tests will key whether the Dogs are again in playoff mix.
6. Wisconsin – This could be the best Badgers team yet. Their bounce-back Orange Bowl blasting of Miami after the heart-breaking loss to Ohio State put a big stamp of legitimacy on the program for the national stage. The O-Line is outstanding.
7. Texas – This is Year two for Tom Herman, and the Longhorns are looking for that magic. The Big XII appears to be wide open and Texas should have as good a shot as anyone. The schedule is tough and includes a visit from Southern Cal.
8. Michigan State – The Spartans figure to be typically tough in the rugged Big Ten East. So much comes down to when you catch the contenders. The October 20th showdown with Michigan in Lansing could be an all-timer in terms of stakes in the rivalry.
9. Boise State – The original “BCS Buster” looks like it is back in top form. Boise State has put together so many memorable wins and moments, the goal this year is to duplicate what Central Florida did last season and make it to the “New Year’s Six.”
10. Auburn – The Tigers are playing a third straight game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and hope to turn the tide. Washington heading south makes for an intriguing opener. Auburn is superb at QB and on the D-Line. The Tigers have to go to Athens and T-Town in November.
11. Michigan – Shea Patterson is extremely talented and could be that elite quarterback to push Michigan to the Big Ten Championship Game. The schedule is bookended by Notre Dame and Ohio State, and Michigan draws Wisconsin and a roadie at Sparty back to back.
12. Virginia Tech – The season-opener on Labor Day Night in Tallahassee could certainly set the tone for the Hokies. It is far from a must win, but Virginia Tech is the favorite on its side of the ACC and a big start could ramp up those aspirations.
13. Stanford – Bryce Love is back at tailback and the Cardinal’s impressive 2017 recruiting class should pay dividends this season. The road schedule is very difficult with visits to Oregon, Notre Dame and Washington.
14. Oklahoma – The Sooners have an all-timer to replace in Baker Mayfield. Kyler Murray takes over before moving on to the Oakland A’s. Bob Stoops left Lincoln Riley a gold mine a year ago. Let’s see if the Sooners are vulnerable this season.
15. Notre Dame – It all begins with old rival Michigan on Labor Day weekend in South Bend. The schedule is tough, with big tests by the Golden Dome and on the road. Back-to-back trips to Navy and Northwestern will be tough before a visit from Florida State.
16. Iowa – The Hawkeyes are the sleeper in the Big Ten West. Iowa garnered a great deal of national attention with its blowout of Ohio State last season. A September 22 visit from Wisconsin will go a long way towards determining who plays for the Big Ten crown.
17. TCU – Gary Patterson has done an incredible job in Fort Worth. This program was bleak, but the Horned Frogs are now regulars in the polls and have secured some signature victories. No doubt, they figure to be in the hunt for a Big XII title game date again.
18. Mississippi State – Nick Fitzgerald is back at quarterback and Mississippi State should have one of the best defensive lines in the SEC. Joe Moorehead inherited a talented team. The September 29 visit from the Gators will be circled.
19. Florida Atlantic – This will likely be Lane Kiffin’s final season with the Owls. He would love to follow up what Central Florida did last season and crash the party, then parlay that into another major college job. FAU opens at Oklahoma.
20. Miami – It’s a mighty big opener with LSU in Arlington. Miami has questions on the offensive line, but returns enough and catches the schedule breaks to contend for a spot in the ACC Championship Game.
21. Florida – The Gators could be one of the most improved teams in the country, as Dan Mullen takes over in Gainesville. The key is improved quarterback play. After a trip to Tennessee, the Gators go to Mississippi State, then host LSU.
22. Arizona – QB Khalil Tate is one of the country’s best players, and a favorable schedule has the Wildcats missing Washington and Stanford. The PAC-12 South is a wide open race, and Tate could be the difference maker that delivers a title game berth.
23. Missouri – After a horrid start last season, the Tigers rallied to win six straight, led by Drew Lock’s passing and an explosive offense. Derek Dooley takes over as offensive coordinator. The second half of the schedule is manageable for Mizzou.
24. Southern Cal – There are big question marks at Southern Cal, and the Trojans have a tough start to the season. Three of their first five games are on the road at Stanford, Texas and Arizona. Clay Helton has had the Trojans in major bowls the last two seasons.
25. South Carolina – The Gamecocks will be eyeing an upset of Georgia in the second week of the season. The schedule, including successive September trips to Vandy and Kentucky could be challenging. The ‘Cocks go to Ole Miss, Florida and Clemson in November.