The 2017 college football season wrapped up on Monday night (actually, early Tuesday morning) with the Alabama Crimson Tide's thrilling 26-23 OT win over the Georgia Bulldogs in the National Championship Game, and while the season may be over, it's never too early to look ahead to 2018. Every other program in the country is already looking ahead to next fall, and so are we. As broken down by our College Football Daily crew in the video above (and below), here's our way-too-early look at next year’s top 25:
25) Texas Longhorns (7-6 - 2017 record)
Key Returners: QB Shane Buechele, WR Collin Johnson, S Brandon Jones
Texas finished strong in their first season under head coach Tom Herman, winning four of their final six games to finish with a winning record. Both Shane Buechele and Sam Ehlinger return to lead an offense that should be better in 2018, while the defense will remain as one of the Big 12's best units.
24) South Carolina Gamecocks (9-4)
Key Returners: QB Jake Bentley, WR Deebo Samuel, CB Jamyest Williams
The Gamecocks won nine games in head coach Will Muschamp's second season and are poised for a big 2018 campaign. 70 percent of their roster this past season was comprised of freshmen and sophomores, meaning this group will be one of the more experienced in the country and should build on their success. They do, however, need to replace two of their best players in tight end Hayden Hurst and linebacker Skai Moore.
23) Mississippi State Bulldogs (9-4)
Key Returners: QB Nick Fitzgerald, RB Aeris Williams, DE Montez Sweat
As long as Nick Fitzgerald is healthy and under center, the Bulldogs will be just fine. They're not good enough to compete with the top tier in the SEC West in Alabama and Auburn, but it will be interesting to see how their offense does in new head coach Joe Moorhead's system.
22) Florida State Seminoles (7-6)
Key Returners: QB Deondre Francois, RB Cam Akers, DE Brian Burns
FSU will be good in Willie Taggart's first year. Quarterback Deondre Francois figures to get his starting job back from James Blackman and running back Cam Akers is a dark horse Heisman candidate. Will the defense be good enough to return them to elite status?
21) Oregon Ducks (7-6)
Key Returners: QB Justin Herbert, WR Dillon Mitchell, LB Troy Dye
When Justin Herbert was healthy, Oregon went 6-2 in 2017. When he was hurt, the Ducks went just 1-4. The offense will look the same with offensive coordinator Mario Cristobal taking over as head coach, and as long as Herbert stays on the field, the Ducks will be a dark horse in the Pac-12.
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20) West Virginia Mountaineers (7-6)
Key Returners: QB Will Grier, WR David Sills, LB David Long
When Will Grier and David Sills announced they were returning for another season in Morgantown, West Virginia immediately cemented themselves as a top 20 team with plenty of offensive firepower. If their defense can improve, WVU could be a dark horse in the Big 12.
19) UCF Knights (13-0)
Key Returners: QB McKenzie Milton, RB Adrian Killins, LB Pat Jasinski
The self-proclaimed national champions lose a lot, specifically head coach Scott Frost, but return a lot of offense that will keep them in the mix for the Group of 5's bid into a New Year's Six bowl. The differentiating factor for them could be Milton's progression and development as a passer.
18) USC Trojans (11-3)
Key Returners: WR Tyler Vaughns, LB Porter Gustin
With no Sam Darnold or Ronald Jones in 2018, the Trojans face plenty of questions. Clay Helton has recruited to a level that should keep USC at the top of the Pac-12, but plenty of new faces will be seeing significant playing time for the first time. Will they sink or swim?
17) TCU Horned Frogs (11-3)
Key Returners: RB Darius Anderson, WR Jalen Reagor, DE Ben Banogu
TCU will need to replace quarterback Kenny Hill (which four-star QB Justin Rogers may do), yet much of the rest of their offense remains intact. Given Gary Patterson's history of coaching successful defenses, the Horned Frogs will be tough to beat if they get consistent quarterback play.
16) LSU Tigers (9-4)
Key Returners: WR Russell Gage, LB Devin White
Speaking of consistent quarterback play, LSU hasn't gotten any in a while and will have an open competition to replace Danny Etling, the starter for the past two years. The Tigers also need to find a way to replace Derrius Guice in the backfield. We assume they will - and will have a quality defense to boot - because of their recent recruiting classes, but time will tell.
15) Michigan Wolverines (8-5)
Key Returners: QB Brandon Peters, DL Rashan Gary, LB Devin Bush
Michigan's defense was one of the best in the country in 2017 and should be even better in 2018 thanks to them returning a large majority of the unit. The question with the Wolverines is the offense, specifically the play of their quarterback. Either Brandon Peters needs to improve drastically or Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson (who needs to be ruled immediately eligible) needs to meet expectations for them to compete for a playoff spot.
14) Virginia Tech Hokies (9-4)
Key Returners: QB Josh Jackson, RB Deshawn McClease, DT Ricky Walker
The Hokies fell apart late in the year when their competition stiffened, but there is reason for optimism in 2018. Josh Jackson is back with a year of experience under his belt and their defense will be one of the country's better units again.
13) Stanford Cardinal (9-5)
Key Returners: QB K.J. Costello, OT Walker Little, LB Bobby Okereke
Bryce Love hasn't officially declared for the NFL Draft yet, but that's only a formality - he's expected to leave. If he returns, the Cardinal will be a top 10 team. If not, they'll need quarterback K.J. Costello to really step up in his first full year as the starter.
12) Washington Huskies (10-3)
Key Returners: QB Jake Browning, OT Trey Adams, S Taylor Rapp
Wide receiver Dante Pettis is gone and running back Myles Gaskin is expected to join him in the NFL Draft, but quarterback Jake Browning is still in Seattle and ready to lead the Huskies for the third straight season. Washington is the favorite in the Pac-12 because of that.
11) Notre Dame Fighting Irish (10-3)
Key Returners: QB Brandon Wimbush, LB Te’von Coney, CB Julian Love
The Irish had to deal with plenty of youth last season, yet still found a way to win 10 games. Running back Josh Adams and wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown are gone, so the offense is counting on quarterback Brandon Wimbush to really develop. However, their defense will return a majority of their starters.
10) Penn State Nittany Lions (11-2)
Key returners: QB Trace McSorley, DE Shareef Miller, CB John Reid
The Nittany Lions were just four points away from being undefeated in 2017, and while Saquon Barkley will be gone, Penn State has plenty of talented returners that figure to keep them near the top of the Big Ten, headlined by quarterback Trace McSorley.
9) Auburn Tigers (10-4)
Key returners: QB Jarrett Stidham, WR Ryan Davis, DT Derrick Brown
Auburn's late-season success - which including wins over Alabama and Georgia - showed what the Tigers can be when quarterback Jarrett Stidham is playing his best. The defense will be great again in 2018, and if Stidham can start playing with more consistency, they'll be a College Football Playoff threat next season.
8) Michigan State Spartans (10-3)
Key returners: QB Brian Lewerke, RB L.J. Scott, WR Felton Davis III
Michigan State is coming off a 10-win season and will return all of their major offensive players. We know head coach Mark Dantonio's squad will always play good defense, and if the offense can play at an elite level, the Spartans could be making a return to the College Football Playoff.
7) Oklahoma Sooners (12-2)
Key returners: RB Rodney Anderson, WR CeeDee Lamb, LB Caleb Kelly
Losing Heisman winner Baker Mayfield is going to hurt the Sooners, but former five-star recruit and Texas A&M transfer Kyler Murray should keep Oklahoma's offense playing at a very high level. With the rest of their major offensive contributors back, OU will be the Big 12 favorite again.
6) Miami Hurricanes (10-3)
Key returners: QB Malik Rosier, RB Travis Homer, LB Shaquille Quarterman, CB Malek Young
Miami's rise to national prominence in 2017 was stunning because of how young the team was. Virtually everyone - with a few exceptions - will be back as the Canes try to improve upon their 10-win campaign in 2017. They'll also be bolstered by a top recruiting class.
5) Wisconsin Badgers (13-1)
Key returners: QB Alex Hornibrook, RB Jonathan Taylor, LB T.J. Edwards
Wisconsin is coming off their first 13-win season in school history and returns 2018 Heisman favorite Jonathan Taylor and quarterback Alex Hornibrook, who will be in his third year as the Badgers' starting quarterback. As long as they play their patented brand of tough defense, the Badgers could be headed towards another 13-win season.
4) Georgia Bulldogs (13-2)
Key returners: QB Jake Fromm, RB D'Andre Swift, WR Mecole Hardman, WR Terry Godwin
Running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel will not be back for the Dawgs, but Georgia returns so much that they'll be among the favorites to return to the College Football Playoff. D'Andre Swift will lead a running game bolstered by their top recruiting class and quarterback Jake Fromm will be back - along with his best receivers. Head coach Kirby Smart will have the defense playing well and has recruiting to fill the void left by any players who leave for the NFL.
3) Ohio State Buckeyes (12-2)
Key returners: RB J.K. Dobbins, DE Nick Bosa, S Jordan Fuller
Ohio State has proven that they have the talent and depth to re-tool all of their losses and have two talented quarterbacks in Dwayne Haskins and Tate Martell who will be battling to replace J.T. Barrett. However, whoever wins will spend most of his time handing off to J.K. Dobbins, who may rush for over 2,000 yards in 2018.
2) Clemson Tigers (12-2)
Key returners: QB Kelly Bryant, RB Travis Etienne, DT Dexter Lawrence
Clemson endured several major personnel losses last offseason and still finished the regular season as the No. 1 team in the country. All of those young players will be back with an extra year of experience. They should run through the ACC again and should very well be in the playoff - especially if quarterback Kelly Bryant improves as a passer.
1) Alabama Crimson Tide (13-1)
Key returners: QB Tua Tagovailoa, OT Jonah Williams, LB Mack Wilson
Surprise, surprise. All the Tide do is reload - and they really don't have to do that much of it next year. Championship game hero Tua Tagovailoa figures to have full control of the starting quarterback job in 2018 and he will be joined in the backfield again by Najee Harris and potentially Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris. The big changes will come on the defensive side of the ball, but we've seen this team re-tool time and time again. They deserve this ranking.
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