This is some mix of how I rank the teams now before the 2017 season, and how I see it ending up … which should line up more than it sometimes does in these kinds of lists. Some folks will be like, “I rank Clemson No. 1 because they’re defending champs even though I predict them to lose five times this year.” This is not that … I want this to reflect this year, not last.
Anyway, here’s how I see it.*
* Most of this will be comically inaccurate, but that’s part of the fun. I know this going in.
1. Alabama — I don’t believe in putting Alabama at No. 1 automatically, but I also don’t typically get faced with the prospect of them returning a beast at quarterback along with their usual stockpile of 5-star talent. I think there’s a decent chance they get nipped by Florida State and/or Auburn, and I suppose they could get upset somewhere else and somehow miss the playoff … but I’m not going to waste energy trying to will it into happening. The deck is stacked, and more likely than not, this is the team that will emerge with all the money at the end of the night.
2. Florida State — There’s a lot to like here, from the quarterback to the coaching to the return of Derwin James to the overall talent level. The running game will be fine … not as good as last year, but still better than literally a hundred other teams. The defense has the chance to be dominant. Where I begin to have doubts is in the pass blocking, which seems to be annual tradition at this point … and that schedule is damn unforgiving. They’ll be great, but will the record reflect it? I say yes, but I’m not super cocky about it either.
3. Washington — Technically, this would make them better than they were last year, but that isn’t outlandish given the fact they return an experienced & elite quarterback. The secondary has to be sorted out, but I’m a firm, firm believer in what Chris Petersen has built here and they’re the safest pick in the Pac 12 to me (USC is too mercurial and Stanford isn’t explosive enough).
4. Penn State — They led a charmed life last year, so it’s fair to wonder if that won’t be a problem for them this year. But good lord, that offense is fun to watch and returns basically intact. They’re not going to be easy to knock off this year, even though most people seem to be assuming OSU is up to the challenge. I’m more inclined to believe Franklin can use that as motivation to keep his team focused on improvement.
5. Ohio State — You might be detecting a theme by now: Do I trust the coach? If I trust the coach, do I trust the quarterback? My top 5 is my best possible answer to those two questions. I put the Buckeyes below the other four because I don’t like how much talent they keep losing every year … that can catch up with you eventually.
6. Oklahoma — I’d probably have them in my Top 3 if Bob Stoops were back, but that coaching transition can be a real bitch sometimes. They do have, in my humble opinion, the best OL/QB combination in the country. That can cover a lot of warts.
7. USC — Not ready to buy in fully. That’s pretty much the extent of it. Been burned too many times by these guys.
8. Clemson — They’re going to be just fine; in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they somehow make another playoff run this fall. But I’m always taking the team with the better QB in FSU-Clemson, and I’m usually going to be right.
9. Stanford — This team is probably going to be sneaky good. People will look up and see them with 0-2 losses in November and think, “Hey, Stanford is pretty good this year.” Yes, they are.
10. Auburn — I’m a hair away from picking these guys to beat Alabama, but I’m not sure it will even matter for them in terms of the conference/playoff race. They’ve gotta stay within striking distance. They can do it, but some real landmines to clear first.
11. Oklahoma State — They’ve really wilted against OU the past couple of seasons, and I have no indication whatsover that they’ve improved their defense … so they’re a clear step below Sooner for me.
12. Kansas State — I like this team an awful lot and wouldn’t be surprised to see them winning the Big 12, but to do that, they’ve probably got to win in Stillwater or beat OU at home and either of those things is a pretty tall order.
13. LSU — I’m in wait-and-see mode on whether this experiment will pan out or blow up spectacularly. We probably won’t get a firm answer on that in Year 1 regardless, as there’s enough talent/coaching onhand to ensure a decent showing. I do think the quarterback position limits their upside.
14. Wisconsin — The Big 10 didn’t show me a lot during bowl season, but it’s tempting to read too much into that anyway … and besides, Wisconsin was one of the few teams to show well last winter. They’re in that group with LSU, K-State and Stanford as being salty teams you don’t want to face, but probably not having enough to make a legitimate playoff push.
15. Louisville — Given how hot and cold they were last year, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if they overachieve or underachieve relative to this ranking. They’ll perhaps do both in the same season, if last year is any indication. Let’s call them the ranking’s biggest wild card.
16. Michigan — The cult of Jim Harbaugh is keeping them in the Top 10 amongst pollsters thus far, but they’ve got nothing else to recommend them for such lofty status right now. Next year is their year.
17. Georgia — They seem a good bet for 8-9 wins, but I have literally no clue if that wins them the SEC East. Regardless, that kind of win total gets you ranked in the SEC, so here they sit.
18. Miami — Find a quarterback and they’ll rank much, much better than this. I think they’ll fumble around a bit trying to figure it out though.
19. Texas — Count me among the people who will laugh at Texas’ annual preseason ranking being so high … but I’m also going to buy into this particular edition anyway. Herman will make sure they’re salty in Year 1.
20. Florida — The offense is probably going to be better … just in time for them to watch the defense lose a few steps.
21. Notre Dame — Yeah, they won something like negative three games last year. Their metrics suggest a major rebound this year. (Fwiw, if they DON’T rebound, I’ll join the “Fire Kelly” bandwagon … he’s got the pieces to do it.)
22. South Florida — Their schedule won’t allow them to rise much higher than this, but they’re going to be good, and more importantly for my purposes anyway, they’re going to be fun to watch.
23. Utah — I’ll just say go ahead and reserve this spot for whoever finishes second in Pac 12 South. Colorado and UCLA are also reasonable possibilities.
24. NC State — They’re super experienced and have been quite decent in the ACC for awhile now. Mark them down as a spoiler now.
25. Washington St. — Let’s give the pirate his due: he’s going to throw a lot, and he’s going to win a lot. 2017 won’t be any different.