College Football: Power 5 conference power rankings

With the College Football season past the halfway point, it is time to rank the Power 5 conferences from best to worst.

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No. 1, Big 10

The Big 10 has three teams in the Top 10 and five total in the Top 25. There is no doubt that it will get at least one team in the playoff. If Penn St. and Wisconsin are both undefeated going into the Big 10 championship, then it has a very good chance at getting 2 teams.

The elite coaches set the Big 10 apart from the rest as Meyer and Harbaugh are probably among the top five coaches in the game. Behind them, they have James Franklin who is proving to be capable of building a championship contender now that scholarship restrictions are lifted.

The conference has also established consistent winners in Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz and Michigan State’s Mike Dantonio.

Finally, the Big Ten has young up and coming coaches in Minnesota’s P.J Fleck and Purdue’s Jeff Brohm. With great coaches across the board, the Big Ten has the potential to dominate the college football landscape for the foreseeable future.

TUSCALOOSA, AL – SEPTEMBER 28: Head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide walks the field during pregame warmups prior to facing the Mississippi Rebels at Bryant-Denny Stadium on September 28, 2013 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

No. 2, SEC

After ruling the college football world for the entirety of the 2000s, the SEC has taken a step back.

Alabama is still by far the most dominant program in College Football, yet other traditional powerhouses such as LSU, Florida and Auburn have gone from perennial top 10 programs to very beatable teams typically ranked between 15 and 25. These teams still have unbelievable talent on their defensive lines and receiving cores, however, none of them have been able to find a reliable quarterback. Whether this is on the coaches or simply bad luck is unknown.

Until the majority of the SEC teams get championship caliber playmakers at the quarterback position, it will be difficult for them to re-establish themselves as college football’s unrivaled top conference.

Paul Nisely via SN Illustration/Getty Images

No. 3, Big 12

The Big 12 will always struggle to be a great conference with only 10 teams and no conference championship game.

They have earned the No. 3 ranking because they have three teams with a legitimate chance at making the playoff in TCU, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State pending an undefeated finish. The same cannot be said for the ACC or the Pac 12.

The Big 12 has always seemed like the playground of college football, a cute place where everyone throws touchdowns, plays no defense and everyone is happy.

If Tom Herman can turn around Texas, then the Big 12 can return to the feared conference it once was when Michael Crabtree, Sam Bradford and Colt McCoy held dominion over the college football’s top five.

Until then, the Big 12 will be limited by being somewhat top heavy and not having the potential resume builder that a conference championship game provides.

Photo via Gerry Broome/ Associated Press

No. 4, ACC

The ACC is still a very formidable football conference, but it took a major step back in 2017.

The Atlantic Division, arguably the most feared sub-conference last year, has regressed mightily as Florida State and Louisville have fallen entirely out of the top 25.

Clemson is still a national title contender but, with a first-year starting quarterback, they appear much more beatable than they were last year.

On the Coastal Side, North Carolina went from a top 20 team to perhaps the worst team in the ACC after quarterback Mitch Trubisky left for the NFL.

Heading the Coastal is undefeated Miami and Virginia Tech with one loss. Any team in the ACC is not really a threat in the national championship race.

Although it is a down year for the ACC, it should improve when its teams and quarterbacks gain more experience.

Photo via Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

No. 5, Pac 12

Rounding out the Power 5 conferences is the Pac 12, who has had an extremely disappointing year.

Unlike the ACC, the Pac 12 does not have the excuse of having inexperience as USC, Washington and Washington State all returned veteran quarterbacks with legitimate National Championship hopes.

USC’s Sam Darnold, the most exciting player since Matt Leinart and Mark Sanchez has been an immense disappointment throwing countless interceptions and suffering an embarrassing defeat against arch-rival Notre Dame.

Washington’s Jake Browning has been uninspiring this year, crushing their National Championship in a humiliating loss to lowly Arizona State in which they only put up a measly 7 points.

Stanford has been the same team they have been since Andrew Luck left, consistent, and might get a cute bid to the Rose Bowl, but they still lack the all-around skill and speed to dominate a season from start to finish.

In order for the Pac 12 to return to the respected conference they once were, they must establish a dominant team capable of consistently competing with the likes of Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State.

Until then, the Pac 12 will continue to occasionally submit apathetic teams to the playoff that are not truly taken seriously.

The JR Report’s way too early CFB Playoff predictions

Even though the college football season is just four weeks complete, it is never too early to predict who will be the last four teams standing.

Here are the JR Report’s predictions for the College Football Playoff.

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Photo via Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

1. Alabama

There is no controversy when talking about the No. 1 team in college football, the Alabama Crimson Tide.

The Clemson Tigers are a top-tier program and the defending champions, however, Alabama is just that dominant. Their defense is stout, their offense has playmakers in the backfield and Nick Saban is the greatest college football coach ever.

After slapping Vanderbilt into the earth, Alabama looks like a lock for the one seed once again.

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Photo via Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

2. Clemson

In 2016, former Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson, along with a dominant defense, led Clemson to a surprise National Championship victory over Alabama.

Despite Watson’s move to the NFL, the Tigers haven’t taken any steps back.

The lack of a drop-off was apparent when Lamar Jackson’s Louisville Cardinals received a rude awakening in a 42-21 rout.

Current Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant was never expected to replace Watson, but rather just do his best not to be a liability. But the kid can ball and is especially dangerous running the football averaging nearly five yards a carry.

With Florida State crippled under center, Clemson does not have a legitimate threat to the ACC title. Even though the Tigers suffered a scare against Boston College, a betting man should consider the Tigers a playoff lock barring a catastrophe.

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Oklahoma Sooners QB Baker Mayfield (Photo via Getty Images)

3. Oklahoma

Just like Clemson, Oklahoma learned it is better to win ugly than lose pretty. They survived a late-game surge against Baylor to remain perfect on the season.

Baker Mayfield broke the 1,000-yard passing mark and has still not thrown an interception.

The Heisman hopeful leads a powerful Sooners offense which has amassed over 1,000 yards through the air and over 400 on the ground.

Defensively the Sooners are shaky. Baylor, still winless on the season (cough karma cough) torched the Sooners for 461 yards through the air and 41 points.

But still, Big 12 offenses can score with the best of them, so occasionally having a bad defensive night is expected.

Oklahoma State and TCU seem to be the Sooners’ biggest threat but OU still has a clear path to the College Football Playoffs after dominating its out of conference slate.

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Photo via Associated Press

4. Penn State

Iowa is not Baylor or Boston College bad, but still an unranked opponent Penn State was expected to handle. And like Oklahoma and Clemson, the Nittany Lions struggled mightily in an ugly victory.

Penn State has perhaps a Heisman winner on their roster in running back Saquon Barkley. Barkley is averaging an unholy eight yards per carry on 38 attempts. His 211 yards against Iowa furthers his cause to be at the award ceremony in New York.

Trace McSorley has been solid this season with nine touchdowns to only two interceptions.

Moreover, PSU’s defense is elite, pitching two shutouts and still not allowing a team over 20 points.

The Big 10 Championship is probably the hardest to predict this year, but Penn State looks very likely to come out on top of the scrum and earn that coveted playoff spot.


Michael Macon is a contributing writer for The JR Report.

Will non-conference marquee matchups be a thing of the past?

Florida State Seminoles QB Deondre Francois (Photo via Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports)

These first few weeks of college football used to be unwatchable. Now a trend towards scheduling big time out of conference foes has arisen.

For instance, the Alabama Crimson Tide just open up the season against the Florida State Seminoles at a neutral site. Two national championship favorites, two-storied programs, two rabid fan bases. This game had legendary written on all the headlines before the opening kick. And legendary it was, with Alabama eventually claiming victory in a true slugfest.

But was it worth it?

Seminoles quarterback Deondre Francois, Heisman hopeful and star of the team, is hurt. Worse still, the injury ends his season forcing Florida State to start a true freshman quarterback.

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Alabama defensive back Ronnie Harrison (15) hits Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois (12) during the second half of an NCAA football game, Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017, in Atlanta. Alabama won 24-7. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Would Francois have been hurt playing a lesser opponent?

And did playing Alabama help the Seminoles? Alabama? No, it didn’t. Look at Washington last year. Their weak out of conference schedule doesn’t impact their title hopes at all.

At the end of the day, dominant teams have incentives to just go out and find wins in the non-conference schedule. That is because being undefeated in a Power5 conference guarantees a seat at the table.

The committee could prove me wrong on that point but, the least likely scenario is an undefeated champion being left out. So, is it still worth it to schedule these games? Yes, because despite the risks the decision makers who control scheduling have a lot of reasons to keep rolling out these headliner games.

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Oct 11, 2014; Waco, TX, USA; Baylor Bears wide receiver Corey Coleman (1) catches a touchdown pass over TCU Horned Frogs cornerback Ranthony Texada (11) during the first half at McLane Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Tough schedules are pretty much necessary

Barring an undefeated season, which seems to just be getting harder since parity is increasing, teams must schedule hard to have a shot at the College Football Playoff.

TCU and Baylor in 2014 have already proven that. Weak non-conference matchups hurt both teams dearly in 2014 keeping both out of the title hunt.

Branding and co-champion shenanigans also factor in but say TCU or Baylor had played a big brand, solid Power5 football team and won. We would likely be wondering when Urban Meyer will win a title as Ohio State, not praising him for winning one with a third-string quarterback.

Baylor played the worst of the worst to start the season 3-0, leaving them as an afterthought in the playoff discussion when they were downed by West Virginia. Washington this past year took a weaker schedule and waltzed into the playoffs. But they benefited from the Big12 champion having two losses.

If Oklahoma had beaten Houston, one could basically guarantee we would have seen the Sooners making another playoff appearance.

Conferences have pushed for mandating their teams to play tougher matchups to boost conference prestige. Perception of conference weakness hurt TCU and Baylor badly in 2014 and has scarred the Big12 for the last several years. On the other side, the SEC used this perception to its advantage for years which has shown a significant impact on the committee.

These games also generate an incredible amount of money as the attendance will always he high consistently leading to sellouts and millions will tune in to watch. Therefore, making ESPN richer and the schools as well.

As always, money talks in collegiate athletics.


Michael Macon is a contributing writer for The JR Report.

College football quick hits: AP top 25 preseason poll

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Earlier this week, the first AP top 25 Poll of the college football season was released. While a lot of the poll went according to expectation, there are a couple surprises later in the rankings.

While Alabama dominated the rankings and Ohio State took what many believed to be the obvious second, there was some debate over who should take third place.

In the end, FSU took third and USC took fourth, much to the dismay of Trojans fans.

The Crimson Tide are looking to start and end the season at No.1, with a championship to boot, a feat not accomplished since 2004 when USC took the trophy.

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The SEC remains dominant, but by a less significant margin than in previous years—they sport six teams in the top 25, while the Big 12 and ACC have five apiece and the Big Ten and Pac-12 following them up with four. USF, the poster child of the AAC, is its sole representation.

Below are official AP Poll rankings with some commentary by The JR Report.

Photo via USA Today Sports

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  1. Alabama (52 votes)

Alabama seems to be impenetrable, although their pass defense leaves something to be desired. Anyways, the Crimson Tide deserve the top spot.

  1. Ohio State (3 votes)

There was little debate over who should be No. 2 in the rankings. Ohio State has shown that they deserve the ranking, and they’re the favorite for the championships in many people’s minds.

  1. Florida State (4 votes)

This wasn’t a surprising choice, but a good amount of projections had USC in the No. 3 slot. The Seminoles have an extremely strong-looking team, and they’ll be tested in Week 1 against Alabama, where the Noles are a heavy underdog.

  1. USC (2 votes)

USC fans are undoubtedly bitter, but the placement makes sense. It will be interesting to see how their season goes, because with a relatively easier schedule than the other three teams at the top, USC has little room for error.

  1. Clemson

No surprise Clemson isn’t No. 1 coming off their championship win. In fact, the JR Report had Clemson a No. 6 behind Penn State. Clemson lost a ton of talent, including Deshaun Watson, and it will be interesting to see how well they can handle themselves after this.

  1. Penn State

If Penn State wasn’t No. 5, they deserve this ranking at least. Fans believe they should’ve gotten a chance at the playoff last year, and now they have another chance. The Nittany Lions have an all-star offense, so it isn’t hard to project them clinching a spot in the playoff.

  1. Oklahoma

Clearly, the AP Poll thinks that legendary coach Bob Stoops’s retirement isn’t as much a cause for concern as the JR Report does. While we have them at No. 9, the AP Poll is a little bit more generous. As it is, the offense led by quarterback Baker Mayfield is absolutely explosive.

  1. Washington

Washington doesn’t have the toughest schedule, but they deserve this ranking for now. Time will tell if they have the strength to be a serious late-season contender, but they’ll most likely win the Pac-12.

  1. Wisconsin

It’s an interesting decision to put Wisconsin in front of Auburn, Michigan, and Oklahoma State. They’re a solid pick, and the AP Poll sees promise in incoming defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard. Along with a tough offense and a not-too-strenuous schedule, it will be interesting to see where the Badgers end up.

Photo via Getty Images
  1. Oklahoma State

The Cowboys have created the team that might be able to take down the Sooners for the first time in three years. Although the Cowboys have a dominant offense, all signs point to them having a rather mediocre defense.

  1. Michigan

Both the AP Poll and the JR Report have Michigan hovering just outside the top 10. The Wolverines lost 18 starters, enough to scare any team, but Jim Harbaugh is a stellar recruiter and next year’s Michigan team will be exciting to watch.

  1. Auburn

The Tigers have an amazing running back duo and a reloaded defense. Is it enough to win the classic Iron Bowl? Auburn deserves a slightly higher rating—we have them at No. 10—but will quickly prove they deserve to be a top 10 team.

  1. LSU

There’s a lot of optimism surrounding the LSU offense, with incoming offensive coordinator Matt Canada and star running back Derrius Guice. The SEC has another powerhouse this year, and LSU might contend for the conference championship.

  1. Stanford

This is a surprisingly high ranking for Stanford. The JR Report had them at No. 17, on account of the quarterback worries and some unclear aspects of their incoming team. Their defense looks strong and should come out strong in the Pac-12.

  1. Georgia

This ranking is pretty close to accurate. The Dawgs return most of their defense, and return their all-star running duo, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. They’ll be another strong contender in the SEC.

  1. Louisville

The JR Report had Louisville as No. 16 as well. Heisman winner Lamar Jackson is back to prove that he’s still relevant, but the team’s main concern is their lacking offensive line.

  1. Florida

Yet another strong SEC coming into the year, the Gators are headed by untested quarterback Feleipe Franks. The Gators most likely will not retain a ranking in the top 20 for long, but they may just surprise us.

  1. Miami

The Hurricanes are impressive on both sides of the ball, and their only concern is whether the quarterback replacement will be up to the task of keeping Miami relevant.

  1. South Florida

We had the Bulls at No. 18, so it seems we weren’t far off from what the AP Poll had in mind. The Bulls have a ton of talent, a new coaching staff, an underrated quarterback star, and a thirst to prove themselves.

Photo via Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports
  1. Kansas State

The Wildcats have a quality quarterback and a potential to upset the big names in the Big-12 like Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.

  1. Virginia Tech

There was some ambiguity as to whether Virginia Tech would be ranked (we had them as “just missing” the top 25). The Hokies will have a tough run in a surprisingly strong ACC, but if they hold up on their end we could see them in the conference championship against FSU or Clemson.

  1. West Virginia

Will Grier, the quarterback transfer from the University of Florida, is already turning heads in Morgantown. WVU is strong on the offensive side of the ball, but if they can’t keep their defense up to snuff they won’t be ranked for long.

  1. Texas

The Longhorns have been disappointing lately, but it looks like Tom Herman has been turning it all around. We have them at No. 25, because it’s really unclear as to whether it’s all show or if we can expect great things in the next couple years.

  1. Washington State

Quarterback Luke Falk is shaping up to be a great quarterback, and the Cougars should make the game against Washington a good one. They have quality upset potential.

  1. Tennessee

Tennessee has a lot of work to do if they want to climb in the rankings—not because they’re not a good team, but because the competition in the SEC East is stiff this year. We’ll see if they can challenge regional rivals Georgia and Florida.


Nicholai Babis is a lead contributor for The JR Report. For more news and JR Report updates follow him on twitter @nibabis.

Crimson Tide vs. Seminoles: CFB opener of the century

Photo via Chris Kirschner/ SEC Country

The college football season draws inexorably closer, and the hype is mounting for what some are calling the season opener of the century: Alabama Crimson Tide vs Florida State Seminoles.

Most predict that the Crimson Tide will be ranked No. 1 in the AP Poll when it comes out, and most estimates put the Seminoles at either third or fourth. Regardless of their actual rankings starting out the season, nobody can deny that this will be one of the biggest games of the year.

FSU is considered the underdog coming into the contest, but you can’t rule out Jimbo Fisher’s squad and their prowess.Alabama has to wash the bad taste of their national championship loss to Clemson out of its mouth, while FSU has to prove they have what it takes to be considered for the CFB playoffs. Although the game isn’t the end of the world for the loser, it shows the college football world who the clear powerhouse will be for much of the season. Whoever wins will have one of their hardest-fought victories of the entire season out of the way early.

Alabama has to wash the bad taste of their national championship loss to Clemson out of its mouth, while FSU has to prove they have what it takes to be considered for the CFB playoffs. Although the game isn’t the end of the world for the loser, it shows the college football world who the clear powerhouse will be for much of the season. Whoever wins will have one of their hardest-fought victories of the entire season out of the way early.

Here’s some ways that either team can win.

Why Alabama will win

Alabama is a clear favorite to win this one in many people’s minds. The Alabama team is as powerful as ever, and Saban’s incoming recruiting class is one of his best.

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Quarterback recruit Tua Tagovailoa might give Jalen Hurts a run for his money. Photo via ROBERT SUTTON / ALABAMA ATHLETICS

The Tide bring in running back Najee Harris, a 6-foot-2, 224 pound powerhouse. They also bring in 5-star quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, a native Hawaiian who some say might be able to challenge Jalen Hurts for quarterback dominance. Along with these two guys, the Alabama team brings in a whole slew of other talent.

As far as opening games go, Nick Saban has a pretty hard record to beat at Alabama. In fact, he hasn’t lost a single one and is 10-0. Additionally, the Crimson Tide don’t just have history on their side: their defense is the best in the nation every year.

Although Alabama lost six of their best defensive players, the incoming recruiting class looks promising, and whispers from Saban’s closed practices suggest that this year’s defense might be even greater than last year’s.

If this is the case, FSU is going to have a hard time getting anything through the Alabama line. Unless the incoming FSU offensive talent is as good as it can be, the Tide defense is going to keep the Seminoles to quite a low score during the game. Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick makes a case for being one of the best in the league at his position, and this game gives him the perfect opportunity to show what he’s got.

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DB Minkah Fitzpatrick is the key to the Alabama defense this year. Photo via Rolltide.com

In addition, there are still some questions surrounding the FSU offense. The team still isn’t 100 percent clear who they’re fielding at running back, and much of their receiving corps is untrained.

This year there is much to be said about the 2017 Tide offense. Although a lot of it is hype, Jalen Hurts has matured since we saw him last. He has another offseason under his belt and has a great offensive unit to back him up once again. The offense has a lot going for it, but will it be enough in the face of FSU’s surprisingly strong defense?

Why Florida State will win

Last year’s FSU team would have lost to last year’s Alabama team. This year, however, it’s a lot more difficult to make the same argument. Although many do not want to get their hopes up, FSU’s team this year has the chance to bring down Alabama.

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After missing almost all of the 2016 season, Derwin James has a lot to prove in the upcoming season. Photo via Greg Oyster / 247 Sports.

The hopes and dreams of the Nole nation ride not on the offense, but on the defense: specifically, on safety Derwin James. He’s being hyped up by virtually every college football commentator, and it’s easy to see why. In his true freshman season back in 2015, James racked up 91 tackles with 4.5 sacks. Last season, he was injured for all but two games.

If he lives up to the hype, he might very well stop Jalen Hurts and his offense in their tracks. Along with the rest of the Seminole defense, James will own the night when they go up against Alabama.

A victory from the Seminoles also comes down to how well quarterback Deondre Francois can deliver. He’s top ten in almost all “Heisman prediction” lists, and is predicted as being one of next year’s best quarterbacks.

Heading into his second year, you can tell that he’s confident in himself in his abilities. His teammates point to him having taken on a key leadership role after the departure of Dalvin Cook. He needs to, now that passing power might be FSU’s greatest strength.

Against Alabama, who has put up an iron grid against run plays, effective passing is a must.

The FSU defense is up to the challenge, but is the offense?

The winner is…

Alabama. It’s hard to predict against them, and this time FSU just doesn’t have the steam. It’ll be a close game, but Francois won’t be able to locate his targets often enough. It’s the season opener, his first chance of the season to test his chops, and it’s against the best team in the nation.

In the end, the Crimson Tide can perform just a bit better offensively in spite of FSU’s defense.

Alabama 14 FSU 10


For a more in-depth analysis of the game, check back on the JR Report a couple days before the big game.

Nicholai Babis is a lead contributor for The JR Report. For more news and JR Report updates follow him on twitter @nibabis.

Ohio State Buckeyes top way-too-early college football top 25 rankings

Photo via Getty Images

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.

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JT Barret will need to have his best season yet for Ohio State to take the number 1 place. Photo via Getty Images

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?

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Jalen Hurts had an amazing rookie season, and is looking to do even better in his sophomore year. Photo via Getty Images

2. Alabama

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.

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Deondre Francois has some more improvement to do if he hopes to be considered for the Heisman. Photo via Bobby Ellis / Getty Images

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.

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Sam Darnold is already being projected as the 2018 NFL No.1 draft pick. Photo via Otto Gruele Jr. / Getty Images

4. USC

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.

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Running back Saquon Barkley is undoubtedly one of the best backs in the game right now. Photo via USA Today Sports

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.

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Head coach Dabo Swinney has a lot of rebuilding to do if he hopes to keep the Tigers on top. Photo via Getty Images

6. Clemson

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.

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Jake Browning should be healthy by the start of the season after his shoulder surgery. Photo via Otto Gruele Jr. / Getty Images

7. Washington

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.

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Mason Rudolph is looking to make a splash in the Big 12 this season. Photo via Sue Ogrocki / AP Photo

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.

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Legendary coach Bob Stoops recently announced his retirement–how much will this impact the Sooners’ 2017 season? Photo via CBS Sports

9. Oklahoma

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.

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Baylor transfer quarterback Jarrett Stidham seems to be a good fit for the Tigers. Photo via Peter G. Aiken / Getty Images

10. Auburn

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.

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Derrius Guice is the perfect running back answer to LSU’s offensive problem. Photo via Bill Feig / The Advocate

11. LSU

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.

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Jim Harbaugh has a lot of rebuilding to do to shape Michigan into a team like last year’s. Photo via Getty Images

12. Michigan

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.

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Alex Hornibrook is a more than adequate quarterback for a solid Badgers squad. Photo via Jeff Hanisch / USA Today Sports

13. Wisconsin

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.

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Nick Chubb has been a celebrity in Athens for his years at UGA. Photo via Dale Zanine / USA Today Sports

14. Georgia

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.

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Miami head coach Mark Richt is hard at work figuring out a replacement for quarterback Brad Kaaya. Photo via Luis M. Alvarez / AP Photo

15. Miami

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.

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Lamar Jackson, one of the best quarterbacks in the league, leaps over a Syracuse defender. Photo via Rich Barnes / USA Today Sports

16. Louisville

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.

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Keller Chryst suffered an injury late last season, but hopes to return for 2017. Photo via Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

17. Stanford

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.

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Quinton Flowers has put the USF Bulls in position for a breakout season. Photo via USF Athletics

18. USF

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.

There’s a lot of hype surrounding transfer quarterback Will Grier. Photo via Kelsie VanderWijst / BGS

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.

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There are a lot of questions surrounding the Gators this year, and a lot of their success rests on Feleipe Franks. Photo via David Bowie / Gator Country

20. Florida

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.

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Wildcats quarterback Jesse Ertz battled injury last year, but will most likely be healthy for 2017. Photo via Bo Rader/ the Wichita Eagle via AP Photo

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.

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Former USF coach Willie Taggart is ready to revamp the Ducks’ football program. Photo via Chris Pietsch / The Register-Guard

22. Oregon

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.

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Washington State quarterback Luke Falk is underrated coming into 2017, but he’ll prove himself quickly. Photo via USA Today Sports

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.

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Volunteers’ quarterback Quinten Dormady is raising hopes in Tennessee. Photo via Andrew Bruckse / Tennessee Athletics

24. Tennessee

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.

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There are already noticeable changes in the Texas program under new head coach Tom Herman. Photo via the Associated Press

25. Texas

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.

 

Predicting the winner of every power 5 college football conference, plus one

Photo via Ty Russell / SoonerSports.com

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.

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Deondre Francois is set up for a standout season as the head of the Seminoles’ offense. Photo via Wayne McGahee III

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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At only 18 years old, Jalen Hurts surprised everyone with his level-headed approach to the QB position. Photo via AP Photo / Brynn Anderson

SEC: Alabama

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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J.T. Barrett announced that he would return for his senior season, and the Buckeye has something to prove before he goes pro. Photo via Art Foxall / UPI

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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Sam Darnold is a prime candidate for the next Heisman Trophy. Photo via Otto Greule Jr / Getty Images

PAC-12: USC

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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Legendary Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops announced his retirement recently, but will this be a barrier for the Sooners going into next season? Photo via USA Today Sports

BIG-12: Oklahoma

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.

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Quinton Flowers impressed many last season with his dual-threat approach to the quarterback position. Photo via AP Photo

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.

What needs to happen for USC to win national title

Photo via Getty Images

Led by Sam Darnold, quarterback and Heisman contender, USC is one of the favorites to win the college football title. Here’s what needs to happen for the Trojans to take home the title this upcoming season.

Last Season

It seemed like USC was going to have one of the worst seasons in the program’s history this past season. They lost 52-6 to Alabama in their season opener, and won only one of their first four games (Utah State).

The Trojans bounced back, though, and didn’t lose a single game the rest of the season, finishing at 10-3.

Biggest obstacle: Schedule strength

If they’re going to contend for a title, USC could definitely have issues with their schedule strength–it’s just not hard enough. Being in the Pac-12 was useful last year as they were only challenged in a few of their games, allowing them to climb in the standings despite a rough start.

The Trojans have to stay on top of their game the whole season and beat (most likely) Washington in order to contend for the title.

Quarterback excellence, with a little help

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Darnold has shown his stoicism and confidence throughout his tenure at USC, and fans know he’ll only get better. Photo via Otto Greule Jr / Getty Images

USC is looking to dominate on offense next season. It starts with Darnold, who totaled 3086 yards on 246 completions, and threw for 31 touchdowns with only nine interceptions last season.

Here’s a video from SB Nation on Twitter showcasing one of Darnold’s many impressive passes.

Considering he didn’t start until the team’s fourth game and threw for over 3,000 yards, USC’s offense looks rock solid. Darnold also threw for 453 yards in the Rose Bowl. Barring any abnormalities, he will continue to play well.

An outstanding O-line did play a huge role in his success last season, though, and the Trojans lost three of their best linemen to the draft. Zach Banner went to the Colts, Damien Mama to the Chiefs, and Chad Wheeler to the Giants.

One of USC’s top priorities is to replace these guys. So far, it looks like they’re doing a good job of it. The Trojans have four O-line players poised to take over: four-star offensive tackle Austin Jackson, four-star offensive tackle Alijah Vera-Tucker, and four-star center Brett Neilon.

If this new class can pick up where Banner, Mama, and Wheeler left off, Darnold will have all the help he needs. Also, if Darnold does slip up for some reason, four-star recruit Jack Sears will be right behind him.

Ground game

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Jones’s run game will be an integral part of the Trojans offense next season. Photo via AP Photo / Gus Ruelas

The Trojans are returning an outstanding group of backs, and there’s some new talent coming in, too.

Rising junior running back Ronald Jones II was the team’s best option last year, running for 1,082 yards and 12 touchdowns. He hopes to retain the starter position this year in face of incoming five-star running back Stephen Carr.

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Carr could challenge Jones as the team’s top RB. Photo via Scout.com

A California native, Carr is the third ranked RB recruit in the nation. The two will make an imposing duo. Dominic Davis and Aca’Cedric Ware, who supplemented Jones well last year, are returning, too.

Outstanding recruiting class

Excluding the run game and the O-line, USC has an all around good recruit class.

The Trojans defense is shaping up to be much better than last year’s, which was ranked No. 36 in total defense.

This season, they recruited five four-star players to strength their defense, including DTs Marlon Tuipulotu and Jay Tufele.

The other big recruiting story besides Carr is five-star receiver Joseph Lewis IV. Lewis indicated his desire to play at USC in January on Twitter. If he clicks with Darnold, the Trojans will have some formidable offensive firepower.

Why USC will win the national title game

Many are projecting USC as an outside candidate for the playoffs this year, and their reasons are sound. USC’s schedule isn’t nearly as hard as some of the other contenders.

If the Trojans can dominate their conference, though, they should maintain a strong position in the rankings. If they beat Stanford, Texas, Notre Dame, and Colorado, they’ll be hard to ignore.

Darnold is a top contender for the Heisman. Supplemented by some amazing running and receiving talent, he should be unstoppable.
While the Trojans aren’t my top choice for the title, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them win it. They will definitely make the playoffs over Washington this year.

What needs to happen for the Alabama Crimson Tide to win national title

Photo via Getty Images

Given the right circumstances, the Crimson Tide will retake their place at the top of the college football world.

Sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts showed intelligence and talent last season, giving fans a lot to look forward to as Hurts matures as a player. 

Here is why Hurts and the rest of the Tide will be National Champions in 2018.

Top-flight recruiting class

Nick Saban is bringing in one of the most talented recruiting classes in Crimson Tide history.

The biggest story for the Tide is incoming running back Najee Harris. He’s 6-foot-2, 224 pounds and is ranked as the third best RB in the 2017 class.

His story is interesting, having been homeless for a portion of his life and moving from place to place. More on his past can be found here.

Five-star offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood and 5-star offensive linebacker Dylan Moses, as well as four 4-star offensive linemen will start this year at Bama.

Alabama also brings in an impressive young receiving corps, headed by WR Jerry Jeudy, a five-star recruit out of Florida, and three 4-star wide receivers and a 4-star tight end.

JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM Saint Louis slotback Tosh Kekahuna-Kalawe (4) tries to elude Punahou defensive back Aaron Woo (12) and defensive back Marist Liufau (7)  during the second half.
There’s a lot of buzz surrounding incoming quarterback Tua Tagovailoa–will he be able to challenge Hurts? Photo via Jamm Aquino/jaquino@staradvertiser.com

Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, a 5-star recruit out of Hawaii, will challenge Hurts at his own game, and there’s nothing wrong with a little competition from the two to decide who is the better quarterback.

Can the Crimson Tide reload on defense?

Bama only allowed 13.7 points per game, the best in the FBS. They also had 11 defensive touchdowns last year, as well as 54 team sacks. They were one of the best defensives of all time last season, proved by this ESPN article. 

There’s only one problem, a lot of this talent left for the NFL draft this year.

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DE Jonathan Allen will be hard to replace, after 69 tackles and 10.5 sacks in his senior season. Photo via USA Today Sports Images

They’re losing a couple of their best defensive players: Washington Redskins defensive end Jonathon Allen, Baltimore Ravens linebacker Tim Williams, Redskins linebacker Ryan Anderson, Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey, Chicago Bears safety Eddie Jackson and New York Giants defensive tackle Dalvin Johnson.

Despite the losses, it looks like the Tide will reload on defense. Outside linebackers Christian Miller, Anfernee Jennings, and Terrell Hall return to the team and will look to replace the defensive talent from last year. 

Da’Shawn Hand, a backup senior defensive end, looks to take over Allen’s spot. He played a supporting role for most of his career to date, but looked productive during his playing time. 

Alabama’s weakness: pass defense

It’s hard to find weaknesses with the Alabama team, but Alabama has shown the inability to defend the pass during stretches.

The Tide gave up over 400 yards against both Ole Miss and Arkansas, both teams that shouldn’t have been much of a threat.

Those were the only two games where an opponent got more than 14 points on the board in the regular season, but the slip-ups are telling. Saban knows he has to close the gap quickly if he hopes to get a season-opening win over Florida State. 

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Alabama’s toughest game might be the season opener against FSU, especially after Francois’s performance against Michigan in the Orange Bowl. Photo via Jasen Vinlove/USA Today Sports

Can Alabama overcome their tough schedule?

Alabama always has a tough schedule, but this year should prove to be especially challenging. Their season opener is against a very strong FSU team, and momentum is everything for the Tide. FSU is projected to be one of the best teams in the country and anything can happen on opening day.

An opening day slip-up would force Alabama to win out if they want to make it to the playoffs.

Even after the first game, Bama goes up against Tennessee, always tough rival LSU, Auburn, and whoever they play in the SEC title game (most likely either Florida or Georgia).

Why Alabama will win the college football title game

Betting that Alabama will be in the title game is always a safe move. There’s plenty of teams that have the skill to challenge the Crimson Tide this year, but, like always, Alabama finds their way into the title game.

Alabama’s incoming offense is one of the best in the country, and as Hurts matures he’ll find that he has a ton of talent to challenge defenses.

Alabama will continue to have a dominant defense with their new recruits, but that won’t be the reason for them winning a championship this season.

Hurts’ improvement in his second season will make them that much better offensively and push them over the hump to winning another national title.

Way-too-early SEC power rankings

Photo via Getty Images

With recruiting almost over and Spring games at a close, it’s time to take a critical look at the SEC and decide who will be winners and losers in both divisions.

East Division

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RB Nick Chubb has proved an invaluable asset to the Bulldogs. Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

1. Georgia

Even after an 8-5 season last year, the Bulldogs will dominate the East Division. Sophomore QB Jacob Eason had 2,430 yards in his freshman season, and threw for 16 touchdowns.

With Nick Chubb and Sony Michel returning for the 2017 season, the UGA ground game will be in full force. Chubb had 1,130 rushing yards last season, while Michel had 840.

The Dawgs also had an outstanding recruiting class, nabbing 21 4-star recruits and two 5-star recruits; rated second best by Campus Insiders.

2. Florida

The Gators showed promise during last year’s season, finishing 9-4. The offense remains strong with a slew of returners, and a new quarterback ready to take the reins, Felipe Franks. He threw for 2,766 yards and 35 touchdowns in his senior year of high school and is rated No. 5 at his position. Franks should do well with a strong receiving and running corps.

3. Tennessee

The Volunteers come into this season after losing two key defensive players, DE Derek Barnett and CB Cameron Sutton. They also lose QB Joshua Dobbs, although they have two promising quarterbacks vying for the spot.

Four-star recruit Jarrett Guarantano will battle Quinten Dormady, a junior backup who has completed 24 of his 39 total passes. The Vols add five-star OT Trey Smith, as well as four-star RB Ty Chandler to bolster the offense.

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Gamecocks QB Jake Bentley had an impressive 2016 season. Photo via Jeff Blake/USA TODAY Sports

4. South Carolina

USC returns 16 starters, including sophomore QB Jake Bentley, who impressed Gamecocks fans last season with 1,420 yards and a 65.8% completion rate.

South Carolina is picking up plenty of talent on both sides of the football, but the most important aspect of their recruiting is the offensive line.

The Gamecocks gave up 41 sacks last year, but they performed much better than in 2015, where their record was 3-9.

Muschamp was able to turn around the program to a bowl run in one year, so we’ll see how much he can turn them around after two seasons.

5. Kentucky

The most important thing for the Wildcats this season is improving their defense. They only racked up 21 sacks last season, and allowed 228.2 rushing yards a game.

However, Kentucky’s offense should be impressive, as they return both QB Stephen Johnson and RB Benny Snell, who ran for 1,091 yards last season.

The SEC is such a tough conference to compete in, and the Wildcats will struggle to hold their own against much better opponents.

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RB Ralph Webb will be part of the Commodores’ recipe for success. Photo via Jim Brown/USA TODAY Sports

6. Vanderbilt

The Commodores aren’t looking bad for the 2017 season. Despite losing linebacker Zach Cunningham to the NFL, Vandy returns RB Ralph Webb, who rushed for 1,283 yards last season, as well as most of the offense. If QB Kyle Shurmur performs with his considerable offensive depth, the Commodores will make it to a bowl game again.

7. Missouri

Mizzouri isn’t looking great for the 2017 season. After a 4-8 2016 season, they lost almost all of its defensive starters, only returning three players, and this after last season when they gave up 31.5 points per game.

The offense returns 10 players headed by QB Drew Lock, who had 3,339 passing yards with 23 touchdowns last season.

(West Division on next page below)