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 Ohio State to win national title

Photo via Getty Images

With the regular season rapidly approaching and Spring games over, the debate shifts towards next year’s performance.

Ohio State is in everyone’s thoughts as a potential contender for the national title, and here’s what needs to happen for them to achieve it.

Last Season 

The Buckeyes finished out last season with an 11-2 record losing to the Clemson Tigers in the Fiesta Bowl.

The 31-0 loss was rather embarrassing, but OSU showed the country that they can still play at a high level.

They had impressive wins over Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Oklahoma, as well as a narrow loss at Penn State.

OSU history 

Urban Meyer has brought his team to impressive heights. He went undefeated in 2012 and 2013, as well as only losing a single game in the three seasons after.

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The Buckeyes lost 12 players to the NFL Draft, but they didn’t miss a stride in recruiting new talent. Photo via Ohio State’s official athletic website

Meyer combines consistent recruiting with dedicated coaching, and the results are apparent. The Buckeyes went 11-1 last regular season even after losing 12 players to the NFL draft.

The recruiting slate—defense 

The Buckeyes were able to recruit the second best recruiting class in the nation. What this means is that they nabbed five five-star recruits and fourteen four-star recruits.

The Buckeyes lost Marshon Lattimore to the Saints, Malik Hooker to the Colts, Gareon Conley to the Raiders, and Raekwon McMillan to the Dolphins. Hefty losses, but Meyer didn’t lose sleep over finding replacements.

First among the recruits are two cornerbacks—Jeffrey Okudah, No. 1 cornerback in the nation, and Shaun Wade, the second highest ranked corner in the country.

They also recruited Amir Riep, Marcus Williamson, and Kendall Sheffield, all three four-star cornerbacks.

At safety, the Buckeyes grabbed Isaiah Pryor, a four-star safety out of Florida.

The Buckeyes also recruited what might turn into one of the best defensive-lines in the country. Last year, the Buckeyes ranked at sixth in total defense in the FBS, but in 2017 we will see this number go up because of the incoming class.

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Baron Browning is the top-ranked OLB, and he’ll be a great addition to the Buckeyes D-line. Photo via Scout.com

First is outside linebacker Baron Browning out of Texas, ranked first at his position. Weak defensive end Chase Young, the second ranked player at his position,.

Complimenting them on the line are four-star defensive tackles Haskell Garrett and Jerron Cage.

With this defensive class alone, OSU would be rated higher than most teams for recruiting, and I’m looking forward to seeing one of the absolute best defenses in the nation performing this season.

Does Barrett have what it takes? 

In early January, we found out that J.T. Barrett would be returning to the Buckeyes through his Instagram, shown below:

“I’m Coming back for my senior year,” Barrett said. “Much love to Buckeye Nation and thank God for the blessings.”

There’s no question that Barrett is a great quarterback, but does he have what it takes to bring home the title?

Last season, Barrett threw for 2,555 yards on 233 completions, with 24 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. He also chalked up 845 rushing yards with nine rushing touchdowns—not a small feat, and a powerful statement for the dual-threat quarterback going into next season.

That being said, Barrett struggled with accuracy, completing only 61.5 percent of his passes.

His inconsistency showed through during games against Michigan State, Michigan and Clemson where he only threw for 86, 124 and 124 yards respectively.

Will his struggles prevent the Buckeyes from reaching a national championship once again?

I don’t think so.

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Curtis Samuel signed a $6.4 million contract with the Carolina Panthers. Photo via twitter.com/panthers

While the Buckeyes lose receivers Curtis Samuel, Dontre Wilson, and Noah Brown to the NFL, the upcoming recruiting class holds promise.

None of the three players boast many yards (none more than 500 yards) receiving, and looking at Meyer’s upcoming class, I feel confident that Barrett will have capable targets this season.

Wide Receivers and a new coach 

 First of all, the Buckeyes return three of their freshmen as receivers—Binjimen Victor, Austin Mack, and K.J. Hill. None of them got many playing time, even as the receiver corps consistently underachieved.

Now, they have a chance to prove themselves on the field. The Big Ten Network ranks OSU’s receiving corps as the third best in the conference behind Penn State and Indiana, and this is without taking the new recruits into account.

Two impact players to watch are four-star wide receivers Trevon Grimes and Jaylen Harris. Grimes is ranked the fifth-best receiver in the nation, while Harris is ranked No. 30. Not bad for an incoming class.

And now for the wildcard, or maybe secret weapon is a more apt name: Johnnie Dixon.

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Johnnie Dixon has had almost no playing time since 2014, but this is about to change now that he’s finally healthy. Photo via Marvin Fong/The Plain Dealer

Dixon —the fifth-ranked wide receiver in the nation in 2014—only caught six passes in the 2016 season because of injury. He has only participated in 14 total games across his three years at OSU.

Now, he’s back and looking extremely promising. As an eligible junior, he was finally able to play in spring games, where he had six receptions for 108 yards and two touchdowns.

Dixon didn’t expect to be able to return to the team, but right after his spring game he posted on Instagram about his prospects:

Dixon might prove to be the strongest receiver for Ohio State, and I’m predicting a breakout season from him.

And there’s some icing on the cake: Kevin Wilson, the new offensive coordinator and tight ends coach for the Buckeyes, is one of the best OCs in the game, and he’s ready to test his skills in Columbus.

Wilson has a history of success for offenses. He led the Oklahoma Sooners to a historic 11-2 season and Fiesta Bowl berth. As the head coach at Indiana he brought the program from a 1-11 record to a 6-6 record by the end of his tenure five years later.

Urban Meyer knows how good he is for offenses, and he might be just what the Buckeyes need to win the national title.

Why Ohio State will win the national title game 

Ohio State is one of the favorites for the national title this year, along with Alabama. Clemson no longer has the ability to embarrass OSU, and the Buckeyes are by far the better team.

I don’t see many FBS teams with the ability to beat OSU. They’ll face a challenge against Penn State, Oklahoma, and Michigan, but I think they’ll overcome those obstacles.

Add in the absolutely outstanding defensive recruiting class, and you have an all-around amazing team. Greg Schiano, now the sole defensive coordinator for the Buckeyes, led a great defensive program last year after being head coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

If Barrett comes into his own—which he will, considering the strength of his incoming receiving corps—and works well with Kevin Wilson, the Buckeyes have a great chance of winning the title.

What needs to happen for Florida State to win national title

Photo via Associated Press

FSU ended last season ranked eighth in the AP poll, but they’re one of the top contenders for the college football title next season. Under the right circumstances, this year’s FSU team is a recipe for success.

Last Time Out 

Overall, the Seminoles had a successful 2016 campaign, but there were some bumps in the road, with surprise losses to UNC and Louisville. The ‘Noles bounced back and only suffered one more loss against powerhouse Clemson, and then edged Michigan in the Orange Bowl.

Throughout the season FSU had powerful players on both sides of the ball, but the big story is whether they’ll be able to replace RB Dalvin Cook, who just got drafted by the Minnesota Vikings.

Ground Game

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Top ranked running back recruit Cam Akers impressed all at the FSU spring game. Photo via AP Photo/Todd J. Van Emst

It looks like the Noles have an answer to the Dalvin Cook question in freshman running back Cam Akers, who was ranked the No. 1 RB in his class by 247 Sports.

To supplement Akers, FSU is also bringing in the No. 4 ranked running back Khalan Laborn and the No. 15 ranked RB Zaquandre White. Laborn is a five-star recruit out of Virginia, and is ranked No. 1 among all-purpose backs.

With this stacked RB recruiting class, it seems the Seminoles have solved the problem of Cook’s departure for the long term. If Akers, Laborn, and White perform as well as they’re ranked, FSU won’t lose any sleep over running concerns.

Passing Prowess

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Deondre Francois threw for over 3,000 yards in his debut season for the Seminoles. Photo via Wayne McGahee III

Any doubt that people had about Deondre Francois’s passing game is all but gone.

In his first season as FSU’s quarterback, he threw 235 completions for 3,350 yards and 20 touchdowns.

Francois has been working consistently to become a better team leader, and he thinks he’s doing well. “I feel like I’ve gotten better this spring,” he told ESPN in an interview. “I will never be pleased with myself internally, but as a team and as an offense, I am very pleased with how we’ve been doing.”

One thing that Francois did struggle with was protection – he was sacked 37 times last season, and if changes aren’t made to the O-line the ‘Noles have a problem.

O-Line Issues

The main culprit for all these sacks is the rest of the offense. Francois was also tackled for a loss 86 times and was hurried 28 times, terrible numbers for a top-10 team.

The bottom line is, if Francois doesn’t receive better protection, he’s going to continue to get sacked, which will impair FSU’s ability to reach the title game.

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Offensive tackle Roderick Johnson leaves a gaping hole in the O-Line for the Noles. Photo via Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

All-American offensive tackle, Roderick Johnson, recently left for the draft, leaving yet another hole in the Seminole O-Line. For a line already plagued by injury, losing a player like Johnson is a recipe for mediocrity. If FSU is going to have a strong offensive line, their young players are going to have to step up.

Josh Ball, a 6’8″ 287 pound offensive tackle out of Virginia, might help the Noles answer some questions. He redshirted last season and comes into this season as a freshman. Redshirt freshman Jauan Williams, a four-star offensive tackle, and Baveon Johnson, a four-star center, also hope to supplement the struggling line.

Sense a trend here? It looks like FSU had a lot of talent in reserve last season. If this group of promising players pans out, FSU looks good for the post-season.

Top-Notch Recruiting, as Usual

Ranked as the sixth-best recruiting class in the nation, the Noles have an impressive group of young talent coming in on both sides of the ball. Besides the obvious with Akers at running back, the Seminoles have some quality offensive players for the upcoming season.

FSU’s receiving corps added eighth-ranked wide receiver D.J. Matthews. He’s joined by wide receiver Tamorrion Terry, and tight ends Tre’ McKitty and Alexander Marshall.

It seems like FSU put more focus on the defense this year, though. Defensive end Joshua Kaindoh, a five-star recruit out of Florida, is the third-ranked WDE in the country and ranked ninth in the nation overall.  He’s joined by four-star cornerback Stanford Samuels and four-star safeties Cyrus Fagan and Hamsah Nasirildeen.

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Five-star defensive tackle provides a backbone to the growing FSU defense. Photo via Miller Safrit/ESPN

The Seminoles also recruited five-star defensive tackle Marvin Wilson, who is the No. 1 ranked defensive tackle in the nation.

Add four-star defensive tackle Ja’len Parks, and FSU looks strong on defense for the upcoming season.

Why Florida State will win the college football title game

FSU has played well consistently since 2012, and last season was no exception. This year they come back with a more mature quarterback and a stellar ground game, as well as a defense that’ll be tough to beat.

The most important thing for the Seminoles to focus on right now is their opening game against Alabama. It could prove to be their toughest game of the year, and the Crimson Tide won’t hold back.

It will be interesting to see the Hurts-Francois matchup, since so many people have compared them this offseason. FSU will also be going up against one of the best offenses and defenses in the nation.

Even with an opening day loss, the ‘Noles won’t completely lose their spot. It would be an important win for Francois’s confidence and their ranking, though.

The new receivers will have to learn how to work with Francois as he develops, and his offensive line will need to make sure he has time to get rid of the ball.

If those two things happen, the Seminoles will be a hard team to beat, and will most likely make the title game.

College football playoff will now have big-name halftime show

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In a move to depart from the typical marching-band style halftime show, the College Football playoff has decided to have a more commercial show, much like the Super Bowl.

The new halftime show will debut in 2018, according to the Associated Press. The concert will be at Centennial Olympic park, right down the street from Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz stadium, where the game will be held.

Expect a big name to headline this show.

ESPN and the CFB Playoff crew has an interactive experience with screens showing the game in tandem to the concert for those who need a break from the stands.

They are obviously hoping to recreate the NFL halftime show, and they definitely have the budget to do it.

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

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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.