The 2017 college football season is still several months away, but we could not be more excited. With spring practice now in the books, we have a much better idea about how good teams around the country are expected to be. Alabama will be at or near the top of the polls with plenty of returning talent, yet Florida State, USC, Penn State and defending champion Clemson also figure to enter the year as title favorites - but we know the season will provide us with plenty of exciting and unexpected twists and turns. Here's our post-spring practice college football top 25 preseason rankings:
25) Washington State Cougars (8-5 record in 2016)
Biggest losses: WR Gabe Marks, WR John Thompson, FS Shalom Luani
Key returners: QB Luke Falk, OG Cody O'Connell
Luke Falk returns as one of the best quarterbacks in the country, and he'll have Mike Leach's offense playing at a high level again in 2017. With a tough schedule out of the gate, can they avoid the slow start that has plagued them each of the last two seasons?
24) Tennessee Volunteers (9-4)
Biggest losses: QB Joshua Dobbs, DE Cam Sutton
Key returners: QB Jarrett Guarantano
Tennessee is coming off off back-to-back nine-win seasons, but have to replace several big names in quarterback Josh Dobbs and defensive end Cam Sutton. This will be a year of turnover for the Vols, and Butch Jones has recruited well enough to give them the talent to continue to do well.
23) Virginia Tech Hokies (10-4)
Biggest losses: QB Jerod Evans, TE/WR Bucky Hodges
Key returners: WR Cam Phillips, DE Trevon Hill
The Hokies do need to replace quarterback Jerod Evans and top receiver Bucky Hodges, but there is still plenty of talent on the defensive side of the ball. Head coach Justin Fuente also showed that he's capable of getting the most out of his team last year, and there's no reason to think he won't do the same with more talent who is more experienced in his system.
22) Texas Longhorns (5-7)
Biggest losses: RB D'Onta Foreman, WR Jacorey Warrick
Key returners: QB Shane Buechele, LB Malik Jefferson
It may seem weird to see the Longhorns on here - that's how much we think of Tom Herman. Plus, Texas returns virtually everyone on both sides of the ball, making them perhaps the most exciting young team in the country.
21) USF Bulls (11-2)
Biggest losses: RB Marlon Mack, WR Rodney Adams
Key returners: QB Quinton Flowers, WR Deangelo Antoine, WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling
Texas' old head coach, Charlie Strong, has plenty of talent to work with at South Florida. Led by dynamic quarterback Quinton Flowers, the Bulls are the best Group of 5 team going into next season.
20) Miami Hurricanes (9-4)
Biggest losses: QB Brad Kaaya, RB Joseph Yearby, TE David Njoku, CB Corn Elder
Key returners: WR Ahmmon Richards, LB Shaquille Quarterman, CB Malek Young
Miami will be without quarterback Brad Kaaya, but Mark Richt's squad still has plenty of talent everywhere else on the field. Figuring out the quarterback situation is a must. Junior Malik Rosier and sophomore Evan Shirreffs are battling for that job.
19) West Virginia Mountaineers (10-3)
Biggest losses: QB Skyler Howard, WR Shelton Gibson, CB Rasul Douglas
Key returners: QB Will Grier, RB Justin Crawford, WR David Sills, LB David Long
Florida transfer Will Grier will likely be taking over as WVU's starting quarterback, so Dana Holgorsen's offense shouldn't miss a beat. The big question is if the defense can avoid taking a step back, and a few potential stars emerged in the spring.
18) Kansas State Wildcats (9-4)
Biggest losses: WR Deante Burton, DE Jordan Willis, LB Elijah Lee
Key returners: QB Jesse Ertz, WR Byron Pringle
Bill Snyder isn't done yet! Quarterback Jesse Ertz, star wide receiver Byron Pringle and four starting offensive linemen are back for K-State next season, among others. They're a dark horse in the Big 12.
17) Florida Gators (9-4)
Biggest losses: DT Caleb Brantley, CB Teez Tabor, CB Quincy Wilson
Key returners: QB Luke Del Rio, WR Antonio Calloway, DE Cece Jefferson
The Gators have won back-to-back SEC East titles despite not having great quarterback play. Luke Del Rio returns, but he will be pushed by redshirt freshmen Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask for the starting job. Their usually stellar defense also has to replace Teez Tabor, Quincy Wilson and Caleb Brantley.
16) Louisville Cardinals (9-4)
Biggest losses: WR James Quick, RB Brandon Radcliff, LB Keith Kelsey, LB Devonte Fields
Key returners: QB Lamar Jackson, WR Jaylen Smith, CB Jaire Alexander
Anytime you get the reigning Heisman Trophy winner back, you're going to be in the spotlight. Louisville's improvement may hinge on how much Lamar Jackson improves as a passer, and he took some major steps forward in the spring. Do the Cards have enough depth to replace them and support their star?
15) Michigan Wolverines (10-3)
Biggest losses: TE Jake Butt, LB/S Jabrill Peppers, CB Jourdan Lewis
Key returners: QB Wilton Speight, RB Chris Evans, DL Rashan Gary
Michigan is losing a big - and important - senior class, but head coach Jim Harbaugh's recruiting efforts have put Michigan in excellent position to continue to improve. Quarterback Wilton Speight is back and should make a big leap forward in production, and he will likely be relied on to shoulder much more of the load offensively. The defense faces plenty of questions as all four members of the secondary are gone, but the talent is there to replace them. Michigan's success will be determined by how quickly their young players grow up and how they handle starting roles.
14) Stanford Cardinal (10-3)
Biggest losses: RB Christian McCaffrey, WR Michael Rector, DE Solomon Thomas
Key returners: QB Keller Chryst, RB Bryce Love, CB Quenton Meeks
Although it may not seem like it, the Cardinal will be fine without Christian McCaffrey. Head coach David Shaw's group will have a top defense again, which they will try to ride to another Pac-12 title.
13) Wisconsin Badgers (11-3)
Biggest losses: RB Corey Clement, LB T.J. Watt, LB Vince Biegel
Key returners: QB Alex Hornibrook, WR Jazz Peavy, DE Conor Sheehy, LB Jack Cichy
Wisconsin is 21-6 in two seasons under Paul Chryst, and all three of their losses in 2016 came to teams that finished the regular season ranked in the top six nationally. Quarterback Alex Hornibrook is expected to improve to give this offense an added dimension in the passing game, and the defense will be one of the country's best units again thanks to the return of Chris Orr and Jack Cichy. The Badgers avoid Ohio State and Penn State in 2017, and get Michigan at Camp Randall Stadium, giving them a much easier schedule.
12) LSU Tigers (8-4)
Biggest losses: RB Leonard Fournette, WR Travin Duval, S Jamal Adams, CB Tre’Davious White
Key returners: QB Danny Etling, RB Derrius Guice, DE Arden Key)
Ed Orgeron's first full season at LSU figures to be full of plenty of wins. Running back Derrius Guice will replace Fournette as this team's Heisman candidate, and the defense is loaded with athletes. The big question will be what new offensive coordinator Matt Canada does with the offense - and if Danny Etling can take another step forward, which didn't appear to be the case in the spring.
11) Georgia Bulldogs (8-5)
Biggest losses: WR/KR Isaiah McKenzie, OT Tyler Catalina, C Brandon Kublanow, OT Greg Pyke
Key returners: QB Jacob Eason, RB Nick Chubb, RB Sony Michel
Georgia has a team with a lot of upside in 2017. Running back Nick Chubb returns, keeping their dominant two-headed rushing attack of him and Sony Michel in tact. Jacob Eason should improve by leaps and bounds as a sophomore, and if he does, the Dawgs will be the team to beat in the SEC East.
10) Auburn Tigers (8-5)
Biggest losses: DE Carl Lawson, CB Joshua Holsey
Key returners: QB Jarrett Stidham, RB Kamryn Pettway
Quarterback play has also held Auburn back each of the last few seasons, but that shouldn't be a problem this time around. Baylor transfer and former five-star recruit Jarrett Stidham is taking over the offense with running backs Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson also carrying the load.
9) Oklahoma State Cowboys (10-3)
Biggest losses: DT Vincent Taylor, CB Ashton Lampkin
Key returners: QB Mason Rudolph, RB Justice Hill, WR James Washington
Both quarterback Mason Rudolph and wide receiver James Washington decided to forgo the NFL Draft to return to school, and with running back Justice Hill coming back as well, this offense will continue to play at an extremely high level. They also get Baylor, Oklahoma and Kansas State at home.
8) Washington Huskies (12-2)
Biggest losses: WR John Ross, CB Sidney Jones, S Budda Baker
Key returners: QB Jake Browning, RB Myles Gaskin
Much like Michigan, the defending Pac-12 champions have to replace a lot of talent on both sides of the ball. Ross, Jones, Baker and defensive lineman Elijah Qualls all left to go to the NFL. However, quarterback Jake Browning does return after throwing 43 touchdowns last season, and running back Myles Gaskin is also back to help shoulder the load. Washington also has an easier schedule (avoids USC; hosts Oregon, Utah and Washington State) that should give them a good chance to return to the College Football Playoff.
7) Oklahoma Sooners (11-2)
Biggest losses: RB Samaje Perine, RB Joe Mixon, WR Dede Westbrook
Key returners: QB Baker Mayfield, LB Caleb Kelly
All of the big playmakers from Oklahoma's explosive offense are gone, but the leader, quarterback Baker Mayfield, is back for one last run at a national championship in Norman. Offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley will have to find a way to replace those two talented backs, but the defense should be better. Linebacker Caleb Kelly looks like he'll be a superstar next year, and pass rusher Ogbonnia Okoronkwo is ready for be a real impact player. The toughest part of the season for Oklahoma is the schedule - they have road trips at Ohio State, Kansas State and Oklahoma State.
6) Clemson Tigers (14-1)
Biggest losses: QB Deshaun Watson, WR Mike Williams, LB Ben Boulware
Key returners: QB Kelly Bryant, DT Dexter Lawrence, DT Christian Wilkins, S Van Smith
The defending national champs are bound to take a small step back in 2017 after back-to-back national championship game appearances, simply because they lose Deshaun Watson. Head coach Dabo Swinney's squad have a tough schedule to try to break in a new quarterback (Bryant is the favorite to take over at this time), but they have the depth to be fine everywhere else. Clemson has six straight seasons with at least 10 wins, showing that they're kind of Alabama-like in their ability to plug in players and not see a big drop off in play. Expect that to continue next year, especially on defense.
5) Penn State Nittany Lions (11-3)
Biggest losses: WR Chris Godwin, OL Brian Gaia
Key returners: QB Trace McSorley, RB Saquon Barkley, S Marcus Allen
Toughest games: vs. Michigan (Oct. 21), at Ohio State (Oct. 28), vs. Nebraska (Nov. 18)
The Nittany Lions are fresh off the Big Ten title and a Rose Bowl berth, but they have their sights set on bigger and better things - and they should. Star running back Saquon Barkley, quarterback Trace McSorley and tight end tight end Mike Gesicki all return from one of the country's most explosive offenses, and they will likely be the same in 2017. Their defense does need to improve, but they aren't losing anyone of real significance.
Penn State will likely be a sexy pick in the Big Ten. They have all the momentum coming from their end of season run that resulted in a nine-game win streak, and head coach James Franklin has a ton of returning talent. That two-game stretch in October against Michigan and Ohio State will determine if this team makes the playoff or not.
4) Florida State Seminoles (10-3)
Biggest losses: RB Dalvin Cook, DE Demarcus Walker
Key returners: QB Deondre Francois, S Derwin James
Toughest games: vs. Alabama (Sept. 2), at Clemson (Nov. 11), at Florida (Nov. 25)
The best running back in school history is gone in Dalvin Cook, but it seems like the Seminoles are replacing him with freshman Cam Akers, who looked like a star in the spring. Quarterback Deondre Francois is another guy who is expected to make "the leap" as a sophomore in 2017, yet struggled in spring ball.
Defense will be the calling card for the 'Noles next season. All-American safety Derwin James will be back from injury to lead a supremely talented unit, with defensive ends Josh Sweat, Brian Burns and cornerback Tarvarus McFadden ready to turn into stars.
2016 was about a year of growth for the wealth of young talent on FSU's roster, all building towards the 2017 season. They will enter as the ACC favorites with the expectation of making the College Football Playoff. Even though the ACC hasn't released their conference schedule yet, we will get a look at just how good the Noles are in their season opener against Alabama.
3) USC Trojans (10-3)
Biggest losses: WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, OT Zach Banner, CB Adoree Jackson
Key returners: QB Sam Darnold, RB Ronald Jones, DL Rasheem Green, CB Iman Marshall
Toughest games: vs. Texas (Sept. 16), at Notre Dame (Oct. 21), at Colorado (Nov. 11)
For as hot as Penn State closed the season, USC was hotter (shown by them beating Penn State in the Rose Bowl). Quarterback Sam Darnold took over after a slow start and led the Trojans to a 9-0 record down the stretch, throwing for over 3,000 yards and 31 touchdowns. While new receivers will have to step up with Smith-Schuster and Darreus Rogers now in the NFL, Ronald Jones emerged as one of the best running backs in the country during that win streak. USC's defense also has a very reliable core of players in place.
Darnold will enter the season as one of the premier Heisman challengers to Lamar Jackson, and with Clay Helton firmly establishing his culture in Los Angeles, the Pac-12 is expected to run through USC.
2) Ohio State Buckeyes (11-2)
Biggest losses: WR Curtis Samuel, C Pat Elflein, LB Raekwon McMillan, CB Gareon Conley, S Malik Hooker
Key returners: QB J.T. Barrett, DL Tyquan Lewis, DE Joey Bosa
Toughest games: vs. Oklahoma (Sept. 9), at Nebraska (Oct. 14), vs. Penn State (Oct. 28), at Michigan (Nov. 25)
Ohio State was one of the youngest teams in the country this past season, so it's not surprise that they have plenty of returning star power. Finding replacements (again) in the back seven will be difficult with major contributors going to the NFL, but everyone from the defensive line returns. Samuel and Noah Brown are also the only major offensive players leaving. J.T. Barrett will be one of the best quarterbacks in the country (again), and running back Mike Weber could become a Heisman candidate.
All in all, this Ohio State team is going to be as talented as any Urban Meyer has had in Columbus. However, they also play one of the most difficult schedules. A Week 2 matchup against Oklahoma is no picnic, and road trips to Nebraska and Michigan will be tough.
1) Alabama Crimson Tide (14-1)
Biggest losses: OT Cam Robinson, DL Jonathan Allen, LB Reuben Foster, LB Tim Williams
Key returners: QB Jalen Hurts, RB Bo Scarbrough, DB Minkah Fitzpatrick
Toughest games: vs. Florida State (Sept. 2), vs. LSU (Nov. 4), at Auburn (Nov. 25)
Surprise, surprise. All the Tide do is reload - and they really don't have to do that much of it next year. Jalen Hurts is back, and he will be throwing to Calvin Ridley again. He will also be joined in the backfield - again - by Bo Scarbrough, Joshua Jacobs and Damian Lewis. The big changes will come on the defensive side of the ball, but come on - six straight No. 1 recruiting classes mean you're replacing five-star recruits with other five-star recruits.
There may be some changes with the offense under Brian Daboll, but he has plenty of talent to work with. Hurts is another young quarterback who's expected to become a star, and have a relatively easy schedule (stressing the word relatively) after opening the season against FSU.Back to the NCAA Newsfeed