Other than a championship rematch, bowl season is in the books, and many fans are already asking: What about next year?
Top 25 rankings are a college football staple, and one of our favorite debates each January involves speculating on what the next preseason top 25 might look like.
Who returns the most talent?
Which teams have momentum?
Interestingly, the top 10 has a bit of a consensus feel amongst notable college football analysts — of course, the order of said top 10 can be rearranged endlessly.
Ranking teams 11-25 is much more murky. But we’ll take a stab at it anyway.
Enjoy the early look at the 2017 preseason top 25, and enjoy the debate that naturally will follow.
The 2017 Preseason Top 25
Alabama has proven that it simply doesn’t matter who leaves for the NFL. The program has practically become too big to fail at this point. So many fantastic players were lost off last season’s national title-winning team. If anything, the Crimson Tide are better this year. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that they’re even better next year, too.
The silver lining of the Fiesta Bowl shutout was the fact that Ohio State was the youngest team in America entering 2016. The Buckeyes will lose some underclassmen and a couple of key upperclassmen to the NFL, but they’ll return a wealth of talent. Urban Meyer isn’t going anywhere.
Florida State loses its two biggest superstars in Dalvin Cook and Demarcus Walker. Cook was arguably the nation’s best running back. Walker was perhaps the country’s most productive pass rusher. But aside from those two, the Seminoles return just about everybody — offense, defense and special teams. While Jimbo Fisher isn’t Nick Saban on the recruiting trail, he’s pretty close and has stockpiled an embarrassment of riches in Tallahassee.
After a rough December, USC (like Penn State) became a darling of college football led by freshman quarterback Sam Darnold. The wild Rose Bowl victory will stay with fans throughout the offseason. The hype will be aplenty for the Trojans as they enter the 2017 season.
The Lions were a field goal from winning 10 consecutive games with wins against three top-10 teams. And that high-powered offense? The Lions could return every player who received an offensive touch in 2016. Kirk Herbstreit already put Penn State in his preseason top five. Don’t be surprised if he’s right.
After an impressive win against Auburn in the Sugar Bowl, Oklahoma fans are already speculating on a great 2017 season as quarterback Baker Mayfield returns. The Oklahoma team has plenty of talent all over the field, and Bob Stoops has them competing for Big 12 championships every year.
The Huskies, led by Chris Petersen, vaulted onto the national scene and made it known that they plan to be a force in college football … even if they suffered a near-blowout loss to the Crimson Tide in the Peach Bowl. Jake Browning is back, and Petersen is one of the more respected coaches football. Expect Washington to battle USC for the Pac-12 title on a regular basis in the years ahead.
Dabo Swinney has the Clemson program rolling in the same fashion as some of the top programs in the land such as Alabama, Ohio State and Florida State, but losing a talent like Deshaun Watson is never easy. Regardless, the Tigers will battle Florida State for control of the ACC in 2017.
It was supposed to be Michigan’s year in 2016. It wasn’t. Still, Jim Harbaugh’s recruits will finally become Michigan’s foundation and the Wolverines will return one of the top defensive lines in the country. Michigan won’t have 2016 hype, but it won’t exactly be rebuilding in 2017.
Remember when the Badgers weren’t supposed to finish 2016 in the top 25? They earned a New Year’s Six bowl win with a young, but talented team. Wisconsin’s preseason ranking could change with the draft decisions of All-Americans Ryan Ramczyk and T.J. Watt, both of whom would be the best players on their respective units. Either way, pencil the Badgers in for double-digit wins again in 2017.
The Cowboys smoked a good Colorado team in the Alamo Bowl, but most importantly, Mike Gundy gets his QB-WR duo of Mason Rudolph and James Washington back in 2017. Expect some big numbers from these two.
Ed Orgeron perhaps got one of the biggest victories of anyone this bowl season in the overwhelming effort against Louisville. LSU always has plenty of talent, and an open quarterback competition this offseason under new OC Matt Canada means LSU is one of the more interesting teams as we approach 2017 kickoff.
The hype started as soon as Nick Chubb and Sony Michel — and two key defenders — announced they were returning for their senior season. No SEC team outside of Alabama — and few anywhere — can match Georgia’s backfield, which includes three eventual NFL players in Chubb, Michel and Jacob Eason. They’ll enter 2017 as runaway favorites in the East, where Florida is still struggling at quarterback and Tennessee is essentially starting over. Eason’s occasional freshman woes were predictable, but he’s still the best pure passing prospect in the SEC. It would be a mild upset if he doesn’t lead the league in yards and touchdowns next season. Preseason rankings are based largely on returning skill position star power — and Georgia has as much of that as anybody.
Lamar Jackson returns, and Louisville will beat up on enough weak teams to be in the mix in 2017. Can they hold up against big boy teams like Florida State and Clemson? It’s doubtful.
Florida enters the 2017 season with more questions than answers. Florida loses several elite players on defense who will be playing on Sundays, and depth at linebacker and defensive line is somewhat thin. Parallel that with no proven starter at quarterback, and Florida has several questions. The Gators have to hope freshman QB Feleipe Franks is the real deal, and while the offense returns RB Jordan Scarlett and WRs Antonio Callaway and Tyrie Cleveland, somebody has to get them the football. Will it be Franks? Jim McElwain sure has to hope that’s the case.
16. West Virginia
20. Georgia Tech
23. Ole Miss
25. Virginia Tech