College football season is approaching fast and many analysts are starting to put their minds towards projecting potential Heisman Trophy winners.
Looking over the published lists so far, there are several recurrent names, such as Baker Mayfield, Lamar Jackson, Sam Darnold, Saquon Barkley, J.T. Barrett, and Deondre Francois.
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One name that has largely flown under the radar, is USF quarterback Quinton Flowers. If he is mentioned, it is as a longshot candidate. Last year, Flowers led the Bulls to an 11-2 season and posted outstanding stats.
The Bulls only posted losses to the highly ranked Florida State Seminoles and in-conference opponent Temple. In the Birmingham Bowl, they were able to topple the South Carolina Gamecocks in overtime.
Flowers is entering his senior year at USF after passing for 2,812 yards and 24 touchdowns, which alone is impressive—but he also chalked up 1,530 rushing yards and 18 rushing touchdowns. He completed 62.5% of his passes and only threw seven interceptions. With stats like these, Flowers should be getting more national attention—so what’s holding him back?
The answer, quite simply, is his team. The Bulls are often overlooked by being in the AAC. Just last year USF started gaining more attention and all signs point to the USF Bulls having a breakout season. The Bulls are a shoe-in for a top-25 ranking and some projections indicated that they might soon crack the top 10.
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With a plethora of returning players and a postseason ranking of No. 19, incoming head coach Charlie Strong has a whole range of talented players at his disposal.
The Bulls do not play FSU this time around, which means that they have a good chance of having an undefeated season. Their only challenges seem to be against Houston, Temple, and perhaps Tulsa.
An undefeated season could mean a New Years Six bowl game, as well as ending the season ranked in the top 10.
Quinton Flowers will surprise college football by performing even better than last year and putting up Heisman-level numbers. He will lead his team to either a 12-1 or undefeated season which will make it impossible for anyone to ignore the Bulls.
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The 2017 season of college football is already promising to be a good one. With several teams poised to contend for the title and last year’s championship winner Clemson not yet in a position to defend its title, the top 25 looks like it could change at any moment.
With all this in mind, here is the JR Report’s way-too-early college football top 25.
1. Ohio State
Picking Ohio State over Alabama is a bold move, considering the Buckeyes’ last game where they lost 31-0 against Clemson.
With new offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson and both returners and new starters to bolster the offense, OSU is looking better than it has looked in a long time.
The Buckeyes also return seven of their defensive starters, who looked great in spring games. Ohio State has a chance to keep Alabama from winning a title, but will the Buckeyes be the ones to win it?
Even after losing several of their key starters, the Crimson Tide look great. Jalen Hurts looked amazing in the spring games, and so did his potential backup Tua Tagovailoa.
It’s an almost sure thing that the Tide are No.1 in the AP Poll, but it won’t last if they can’t hold up in the season opener against FSU. Their offense needs significant improvement with a better receiving corps and a more consistent pass attack.
Jalen Hurts is more than up to the task, but Ohio State will likely overtake the Tide in the polls.
3. Florida State
The Seminoles are looking great for the preseason. It wouldn’t be surprising if they’re ranked worse, but No. 3 is a good place for them. They will have a lot to prove in their first game against a first or second-ranked Alabama, but they’re ready for a dog fight.
Five-star running back recruit Cam Akers is prepared to take up the job that Dalvin Cook left for him, and safety Derwin James is finally healthy enough to tear up the field.
Quarterback Deondre Francois seems to have improved on the field, and as he gets more and more comfortable in his role, opposing teams have more to worry about.
It’ll be interesting to see if the Trojans live up to all the off-season hype. True, Sam Darnold is a Heisman-caliber quarterback and it’s unlikely that he’ll have a bad season, but the strength of schedule is a recurring question for USC.
USC played the spring game with plenty of injuries, so we didn’t get a good picture of how the offense is shaping up for 2017. The Trojans are a favorite for the college football playoff, but it remains to be seen where they can ascend to despite their poor schedule.
If the Trojans can get over all the injuries and come into the season at 100 percent, No. 4 is the perfect ranking for them.
5. Penn State
There’s no doubt that Penn State and its fans are still unhappy about being edged out of the playoff despite winning the Big Ten title.
With the trio of quarterback Trace McSorley, running back Saquon Barkley, and redshirt sophomore receiver Juwan Johnson, the Nittany Lions will once again be a contender for the Big Ten championship.
The Nittany Lions have a lot to prove if they want to show that they deserve a place in the college football playoff, but this year’s team makes it look possible.
Although the Tigers lost star quarterback Deshaun Watson, they have some good players fighting for the position. In addition, the Clemson defense is one of the best defenses in the team’s history and will contend with Alabama for the best defense in the nation.
Clemson’s early schedule will be the perfect testing ground for the young team with games at Auburn and Louisville—there, we will see if the Tigers’ offense is reloaded enough to be a serious threat to FSU in the ACC.
Washington had a couple hiccups in the offseason like quarterback Jake Browning’s shoulder surgery and losing wide receiver John Ross to the NFL, but they are back and ready to compete.
Although the Huskies face tough opponents like Colorado, Stanford, and Washington State, they won’t face serious challenges beyond these teams until they play in the Pac-12 title game. Until then, they’ll stay on top of their side of the Pac-12 and likely in the top 10 nationally.
8. Oklahoma State
The offseason was the perfect storm for Cowboys fans: their biggest rival Oklahoma lost both legendary coach Bob Stoops and outstanding running back Joe Mixon.
In addition, quarterback Mason Rudolph and his receiving corps are one of the best offenses in the nation. With returning receiver James Washington and LSU transfer wide receiver Tyron Johnson, the Cowboys are prepared to take on the Sooners’ offense better than they have in a good number of years.
If the Cowboys can bolster their mediocre defense and stay dominant offensively, this could be the year that they beat Oklahoma for the Big 12 crown.
Despite Oklahoma’s recent misfortune, they’re still Oklahoma. Legendary coach Bob Stoops announced his surprise retirement last week, and many are wondering what this means for the Sooners.
Although star quarterback Baker Mayfield returns with his entire offensive line, the Sooners lost a lot of other offensive depth, such as wide receiver Dede Westbrook, running back Joe Mixon, and running back Samaje Perine.
The offense should still be explosive headed by Mayfield and Oklahoma will still have a good chance of winning the Big 12—now, they just have to try a little harder.
Auburn fans are excited this season, and rightly so—some are saying this is the Auburn team that can beat Bama for the first time since 2013.
Quarterback Jarrett Stidham has been performing well in practice and in the spring game. With running backs Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson behind him, the Tigers offense is ready to go.
With a stellar recruiting class and a reloaded defense, the Tigers will be a big contender in the top 10, even if they lose the Iron Bowl.
With the arrival of offensive coordinator Matt Canada, Tigers fans are cautiously optimistic about the 2017 season. A lot of this optimism stems from hopes about running back Derrius Guice. Guice is set up to be one of the best running backs in the nation next year.
The Tigers don’t have a running problem, and they definitely won’t have a defense problem after completely turning around the defense under defensive coordinator Dave Aranda.
The main problem for LSU going into next season is quarterback Danny Etling. If he can show improvement next season, the Tigers will be another thorn in Alabama’s side in the SEC.
Jim Harbaugh’s team will likely be good once again, but the important question is whether they have the talent to be a top-10 team. With the way things are looking now, the answer is not quite.
Michigan lost 18 starters, but Harbaugh excels in turning a team of rookies into a high-caliber team. The Wolverines boast one of the top recruiting classes in the nation which has convinced many that while Michigan will be a different team next year, they will still be great as long as Harbaugh is in charge.
Wisconsin is a solid pick to play well every year. The Badgers, under new defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard, look to dominate the Big Ten West via defense.
The Badgers also have the duo of solid quarterback Alex Hornibrook and wide receiver Jazz Peavy, so there is still the potential to make a major impact offensively.
Wisconsin won’t have a particularly difficult schedule, either. They only face Michigan as far as powerful Big Ten teams go, which should go as a big advantage for them staying on top of their division and staying ranked all season.
The well-known running back duo of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel return for the Bulldogs along with the passing attack from sophomore quarterback Jacob Eason.
The Dawgs’ defense is also nothing to joke around about. With 10 returning starters, the Georgia defense will be one of the best in the league. Along with Auburn and LSU, the Bulldogs are among the SEC teams with the capability of finally beating Alabama.
The only thing different between this year’s Miami team and last year’s will be the quarterback. With Brad Kaaya’s departure, the Canes are choosing between three potential replacements.
The Hurricanes have an impressive receiving and running game, as well as a stellar defense. If the quarterback choice meshes well with the rest of the offense, Miami will clinch the ACC Coastal division.
Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson returns to Louisville this season, and every season that he’s on the team is a season where the Cardinals will be good.
The biggest concern for the Cardinals is protecting Jackson. If they can improve their offensive line, Jackson won’t need to be worried about being sacked 46 times again this season.
Louisville may have a similarly disappointing season to last year’s 9-4 finish, but they will certainly start off strong.
With quarterback Keller Chryst injured and hoping to return before next season, the Cardinal have put some confidence in backup quarterback Ryan Burns. The Cardinal will have an uphill battle to remain relevant in 2017 with an early game against USC.
Stanford isn’t worried about things on the other side of the ball, and will tout one of the best defenses in the Pac-12.
USF is the AAC team receiving the most hype coming into the 2017 season led by dark horse Heisman Trophy candidate and star quarterback Quinton Flowers.
Charlie Strong has made great strides as the incoming coach for the Bulls making the offense is stronger than it has ever been. More importantly, the defense is also looking strong.
With the way things are going and the rise of the AAC, it wouldn’t be surprising to see USF as a top-10 team by the end of the season.
19. West Virginia
Florida transfer quarterback Will Grier already seems to be finding more success at West Virginia than he ever did for the Gators. He performed well during spring games and the hype is building in Morgantown.
Grier will benefit from a solid running back and wide receiver corps, so the offense isn’t the main worry for the Mountaineers.
The main concern is the defense, and if WVU can find its defensive stride they will be a contender for the Big 12 championship.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Feleipe Franks has made some waves in Gainesville after he won the quarterback battle.
The Gators hope to clinch the SEC East, but they will face stiff competition from Georgia and a surprisingly strong Tennessee team.
21. Kansas State
The Wildcats are shaping up well, and all three avenues of offensive playmaking are wide open. Dual-threat Jesse Ertz should be cleared after his shoulder surgery, and he’s got a deep corps of receivers and running back Alex Barnes as options.
Kansas State also returns a significant amount of defenders, and they will prove to be a force to be reckoned with in the Big 12. They’re an outlier like West Virginia and TCU, but they have upset potential for opponents such as Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
2016 was a year of disappointment for the Ducks after they dipped below five wins for the first time since 1991 and had their first losing season since 2004. It was a wakeup call for Oregon, and with incoming coach Willie Taggart the Ducks are looking to climb their way back to the top again.
Oregon is an iffy choice for the top 25 at this point, but they have the tools they need to stage a comeback in 2017. With a surprisingly strong recruiting class, the Ducks will rack up at least seven wins and will remain hovering around the rankings all season.
23. Washington State
The Cougars look great coming into the 2017 season headed by quarterback Luke Falk. Falk has a great spread of receivers to pass to, as well as a strong running corps.
Washington State should field a good defensive line as well, and the Cougars are set up to be good competition for their in-state rivals, Washington.
Vols quarterback Quinten Dormady shined during the spring game, and Tennessee is looking good on both sides of the ball for 2017.
Tennessee faces stiff competition in the SEC East against Georgia and Florida. They have upset potential, however, and will be looking to try for the SEC East crown.
After a disappointing decline for the Longhorns’ football program, head coach Tom Herman is looking to turn it around with a complete program overhaul. Herman’s recruiting and redesigning has brought new life to Austin.
The Longhorns are looking to retake their place as one of the strongest college football programs, and although a change like that doesn’t happen overnight, they will be contenders to edge into the top 25 next season.
“26”. TCU, Virginia Tech, Boise State
These three teams are right on the edge of the top 25, and could very well see their names on the list when the first polls are published.
Recently, the American Athletic Conference has become more and more a part of the national conversation. The AAC commissioner sees this as a great thing, as he wants to be seen as a “Power Six” conference.
An unfortunate aspect of their consideration as a conference is that football will be the major deciding factor here, but of course, if the AAC is included in a new “Power 6” metric other sports will be included.
Traditionally there are five power conferences: the ACC, SEC, Big 12, Big Ten, and the Pac-12. Many college football fans and the programs of the AAC itself hope to rally behind the younger conference and establish it as a power conference.
The major problem is the balancing game that the AAC knows it’s playing. If the teams get too good for the conference, they will likely jump ship to a P5 conference if given the chance. But if the teams do not continue to improve and generate more revenue, then the conference will never be considered as a new power conference.
Last year, the Big 12 considered adding some AAC teams to their ranks, but ultimately passed. Conference commissioner Mike Aresco was more than relieved—even though many perceived insult in the Big 12’s decision—when he realized he wasn’t losing his best teams.
With the AAC teams locked in (for now), their most important task is elevating themselves in the eyes of their peers and “earning” placement among the power conference teams. The two most important ways of achieving this, wins and money.
Is the AAC winning enough games?
The AAC makes a compelling case to be included among the power conferences when one looks at the recent upward trends of their teams’ performances. As the AAC is comprised of younger teams with fewer resources, they cannot consistently have top 10 teams, but this will continue to change as the conference fields more and more impressive teams each year.
Let’s consider 2015, a year in which signified the beginning of the AAC’s possible breakthrough. Houston spent the entire year climbing in the rankings, first breaking through in Week 6 and continuing until it was ranked No. 8 in Week 15.
The Cougars beat all three of their P5 opponents: Vanderbilt, Louisville, and Florida State. They beat FSU in the Peach Bowl when FSU was ranked No. 9 in the nation and their only loss was against Connecticut.
Usually, around now the argument is made that they had an easy schedule and this isn’t an accurate representation of a truly powerful team, but this was not the case in 2015.
Temple was ranked for the second half of the season, and ended their season at 10-4. They had an outstanding win against Penn State, as well as a narrow loss to Notre Dame.
Navy ended the year ranked at No. 18 after an 11-2 season with a great win against Pitt in the Military Bowl.
Memphis hovered around the middle of the rankings midseason in 2015 and got up to No. 15, ultimately ending the season at 9-4 and losing to Auburn in the Birmingham Bowl.
Was this a one-off year?
Did these teams drop off the face of the earth after 2015? No, and some other teams began performing just as well.
Memphis ended the season at 8-5 with a P5 win over Kansas.
Navy enjoyed a successful 9-5 season while hovering around the rankings and entering them for four of the weeks.
Temple had narrow losses to both Wake Forest and Penn State, ending the season at 10-4 having been ranked during the season at least once. Houston ended the season at 9-4 with wins over San Diego State, Louisville once again, and the Oklahoma Sooners.
The USF Bulls had a breakout season, going 11-2 with a high-profile win over South Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl. They ended the season ranked No. 19 in the AP Poll.
Tulsa also ended its season positively, with a 10-4 record and hopes of cracking the rankings in 2017.
Navy, Houston, Tulsa, USF, and Temple are all expected to have impressive seasons next year as well. In the last few years, five of these AAC teams have enjoyed being ranked at some point.
In 2016, seven of the Pac-12 teams were ranked at some point, with five of them ending the season ranked. The Big Ten hosted six ranked teams as well. The Big 12 only had four teams that held rankings in 2016, and TCU dropped out early and ended their season at 6-7.
It is clear that the AAC deserves consideration. They’ve been winning games against P5 opponents consistently and have been ranked. USF is already being predicted as an outlier for the New Year’s Six bowls.
If the conference can continue this trend of winning—and there is no indication that they won’t—we are doing them a disservice by continually discounting their achievements and refusing them higher status as a conference.
Is there enough money in the conference?
In a perfect world, the amount of money the teams could put into the industry wouldn’t have to matter for consideration, and the article would end here. Unfortunately, revenue plays a considerable role in gaining access to the P5 group.
“Pillar 4” is entitled “Branding, Marketing, Communications, and Public Relations” and Pillar 5 is entitled “Revenue Generation.” Read the plan for a more detailed view on how the conference will attain and maintain the finances and revenue of a P5 team.
In short, they have been making impressive steps in recent years with media partnerships, stadium renovations, and pumping more money into their football teams. They aren’t there yet and they know it.
If they can take the steps outlined in the plan, then the AAC will look much better for consideration to be in the exclusive P5 group.
Two possible outcomes
The AAC starting to look more and more desperate, trying to sit with the cool P5 kids at lunch. There are two possible outcomes for the conference: gaining admittance to the P5 is the obvious favored choice as it has the teams, the potential, and the drive to do so.
The other outcome is detrimental to the AAC. The better teams in the AAC keep trying to gain admittance to the P5 conferences, and they start biting. The AAC loses its best teams and becomes much like the rest of the Group of Five conferences. It becomes another Mountain West or Sun Belt conference: they have one or two good teams, but won’t ever be that much a part of the national conversation.
So whatever happens, the AAC has to act quickly. They clearly deserve the consideration, and these next few seasons are vital. If the teams can go above and beyond expectations, they may find themselves in a good position for bargaining their place among the big boys.
It’s never too early to think about the winners of the Power Five conferences in College Football. In addition, the American Athletic Conference is turning some heads as a potentially powerful conference for next season. This year will prove to be an exciting year, as several of the potential winners aren’t last year’s champions.
As such, it should prove to be an exciting year, as several of the last season’s winners are not expected to repeat.
ACC: Florida State
Usually, the ACC is one of the toughest conferences to predict, but it often ends with the Clemson Tigers or Florida State Seminoles representing the Atlantic Division.
This year, however, Clemson will downgrade significantly at the quarterback position. With no clear replacement for quarterback Deshaun Watson, they won’t pose any threat offensive threat to the Seminoles.
Quarterback Deondre Francois has developed significantly since starting on the team, and with the top-rated running back recruit in the nation Cam Akers and a crop of new receivers, the FSU offense will have the strength to take down any ACC team.
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The Crimson Tide return this year stronger than ever. With an outstanding recruiting class and developing quarterback Jalen Hurts, the Tide have already proved they’re national championship material.
Alabama returns most of its defensive prowess as well, and the only teams in the SEC that even stand a chance against them are LSU, Georgia, and Florida.
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Big Ten: Ohio State
The Big Ten, maybe the most competitive conference in the country, will end with Ohio State taking the crown narrowly with Penn State, Wisconsin, and Michigan all close behind.
That being said, the Buckeyes will be one of the best teams in all of college football. They put together one of the best defenses in the country and return Heisman-hopeful quarterback J.T. Barrett.
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USC, a college football playoff favorite, is the heavy favorite in the PAC-12.
Quarterback Sam Darnold is one of the biggest reasons for the team’s success after throwing for 3,086 yards and 31 touchdowns last season while not starting until the team’s fourth game.
In addition to Heisman-contender Darnold, USC has the extremely talented five-star running back Stephen Carr to add a new dimension to the Trojan offense.
USC’s main competition, Washington, will have a tough time catching the Trojans as the Huskies have a much tougher schedule and has to play Colorado, Washington State, Oregon, Stanford, and Utah.
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Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield will once again have an outstanding season with their new and skilled recruiting class. As such, they’ll take the BIG-12 throne once again.
One thing to cause them worry—and one thing that will probably be a barrier between them and anything beyond the conference title—is the fact that Bob Stoops retired last week.
Oklahoma’s only real threat is offense-heavy Oklahoma State, and at the end of the day, the Sooners should have an easy time getting past their contender in the conference championship game.
American: University of South Florida
The AAC has been one of the most exciting conferences to follow for the last few seasons. With breakout teams such as Houston, Navy, and Temple, the AAC is a surprisingly stacked conference.
Temple will lose 16 of its starters and is projected to fall behind in USF’s division, leaving the Bulls an open trip to the conference championship.
Houston, Navy, and Tulsa will all battle for the AAC West title, with no clear favorite.
Quarterback Quinton Flowers has been gaining national attention for the last year or so as one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the country. Flowers chalked up 2,812 passing yards and 1,530 rushing yards during his junior season.
Under head coach Charlie Strong, the Bulls will continue to improve. Their roster remains strong from last year and they should find no serious conflict in their schedule besides games against Houston and Tulsa.