Top 25 for 2017: #11-#15

11. Florida – The Gators have two seasons under HC Jim McElwain and have an SEC East championship to show for it in each year. But the limitations of the Gator offense were noticeable in the blowout losses to FSU and Alabama at the end of both seasons. Redshirt Fr Feleipe Franks was in the lead to win the starting job over 2016’s starter Luke Del Rio, coming out of the spring… but now that Florida was the destination of former Notre Dame QB Malik Zaire the race has come much more interesting. The Gators return 9 starters on offense and with the talented Zaire and highly recruited and now more vocal and experienced Franks competing, surely the offense can take a big step forward. The schedule isn’t easy, opening with Michigan and closing with FSU, but the Gators don’t play Alabama and after the SEC’s poor handling of the Hurricane Matthew rescheduled game, get LSU at home. Florida has won back to back East titles without consistent QB play and has an opportunity to have their best season yet under McElwain.

12. Auburn – so the big question for offensive guru HC Malzahn is: when are the the Tigers going to get great QB play again? Well it could be in 2017, when former Baylor QB Jarrett Stidham makes his debut. Stidham was excellent in his time with the Bears and should have even better talent around him now. The defense finished in the top ten in the country in scoring, a big improvement over recent years. This is the Tigers best chance to make noise in the SEC West and maybe give Alabama a run in the West for the first time since the infamous Kick Six game in 2013.

13. Michigan – a significant rebuilding year for HC Jim Harbaugh with nearly every defensive starter departing Ann Arbor. The starting QB Wilton Speight returns, but the Wolverine passing attack ranked only 85th in the nation in ’17. For all the bluster around Harbaugh, the Wolverines were upset by Iowa, finished 3rd in their own division and went 1-3 to close the season (although each loss was very close). This is a very inexperienced team, but Harbaugh has dramatically improved the talent in just two short years. Michigan will still be in contention in the Big Ten in 2017 but I think the big year comes in 2018.

14. LSU – so the Ed Orgeron era begins as the interim label has been removed for the now permanent head coach. Orgeron did have success at LSU as interim, and also did at USC in the same position, but his record as a head coach is poor. He clearly loves the school, understands the culture and will likely recruit well, but whether he can dramatically improve the QB play remains to be seen. Orgeron did bring in OC Matt Canada from Pitt, but not sure if the talent is there on at the QB position. It is there at the RB position, as Derrius Guice may not make Tiger fans et Leonard Fournette, but he looks almost as good. Still looks to me like the Tiger teams of recent vintage – strong athletic defense and a solid running game but a average passing attack that will put a ceiling on the potential success.

15. Georgia – a rough first year for new HC Kirby Smart, highlighted (or lowlighted) by an uncompetitive loss to Florida and a loss to Vandy. But Smart played more freshman than any other team in the nation and that should pay dividends in ‘17. Fr QB Jacob Eason has another year of experience, but more important than that is both UGAs star RBs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel decided to return to Athens. Meanwhile, the Dawgs bring back a whopping 10 starters on defense after finishing in the Top 20 in total defense last year. It sure looks like the division will come down to Georgia and Florida – can the Dawgs get past the Gators to take a big leap forward in Smart’s second year?