Top 25 for 2017: #1-#5

1. Alabama – True Freshman QB Jalen Hurts was not a great deep ball passer, but ran for almost 1000 yards and nearly led his team to another national championship except for a phenomenal performance by Clemson QB Deshaun Watson. The run game will be nearly unstoppable with the Tide’s stable of backs plus Hurts ability to run. Bama’s D was number 1 in the nation in nearly every category last year, including a whopping 50+ sacks, but the line does need reloading. But this is an area Saban’s extraordinarily talented and deep teams do well, so not many worries there. The schedule isn’t easy, and opens with FSU in Atlanta. The Tide has elevated themselves above the rest of the SEC and the loss in the title game adds extreme motivation to an already elite program.

2. Ohio State – the Buckeyes overcame the upset loss to Penn State to make the playoffs, but laid an egg on the big stage in the 31-0 loss to Clemson. One of the least experienced teams in the nation last season, OSU still went 11-2. The offensive struggles late in the year (including scoring 0 points in the playoff loss to Clemson) led HC Urban Meyer to bring in former Indiana head coach and offensive guru Kevin Wilson. Meyer is 61-6 at Ohio State and gets the two Top 10 opponents on their schedule (OU and Penn State) at home. More explosiveness on offense coupled with what should be a great front wall on defense should get the Buckeyes back to the playoffs, with a more successful performance in the offing.

3. USC – a slow start last year for the Trojans turned into a blockbuster season with a 7 game winning streak and a thrilling win in the Rose Bowl. The key to the turnaround was starting QB Sam Darnold, who threw for over 3000 yards and 31 TDs as a Freshman. USC has recruited well, and is far enough removed from the NCAA sanctions to field one of the most talented teams in the country. Expectations are very high given the finish, but is HC Helton the man to see them fulfilled?

4. Penn State – the Nittany Lions likely would have entered ‘17 on a long winning streak, but ran into the only team hotter than them in the Rose Bowl game vs USC. PSU started slow but came around on both sides of the ball by late in the year, highlighted by the win over Ohio State, followed by dominating wins vs the rest of the schedule. With a Heisman candidate at both QB (Trace McSorley, 3600+ passing yards in ‘16) and at RB (Saquon Barkley – nearly 1500 yards rushing in ‘17) the offense should be a top 3 all time in school history. And 7 starters back on defense should lead to improvement on that side of the ball. Ohio State is the favorite in the Big Ten, but the Lions are legitimate playoff contenders.

5. Florida State – the Noles started slow in 2016 (it doesn’t get much “slower” than trailing 61-10 as FSU did vs Louisville), but wins over their rivals Miami and Florida and a heart-stopping victory over Michigan in the Orange Bowl has Seminole Nation excited about 2017. Fr QB Francois was inconsistent but a tough leader, and he should be better in the 2nd season under HC Fisher. RB Dalvin Cook is a big loss, but the cupboard isn’t bare, including the top incoming Fr RB in the nation, Cam Akers, who’s already enrolled. The defense was terrible to start the season, but gets back all everything S Derwin James, ranked as the best player in the country by ESPN and SI. The challenge is the production hasn’t always matched the talent on defense under DC Charles Kelly and outside of QB Francois the offense is very young… can FSU escape the opener vs Alabama and key conference games against Miami and NC State in the first 4 weeks with no more than 1 loss?