Top 25 for 2017: #21-#25


21. Notre Dame – 2016 was a forgettable year for Irish fans, with the team beginning the season ranked #10 but stumbling to a 4-8 finish. HC Brian Kelly has cleaned house on his staff bringing in a new DC (from Wake Forest) and an OC from Memphis. Both 2016 QBs have either graduated or transferred, but otherwise 15 starters are back. The Irish did have several close losses last season that could fall the other way this year, but a challenging schedule will limit the turn around.

22. Texas – by far the most important “recruit” to Texas was not a player but getting new HC Tom Herman from Houston. Herman was a success from the get-go in his first season with the Cougars, and the Longhorn fans are hoping for some of that magic right away at Texas. It does appear that at least some pieces are in place, including a QB in sophomore Shane Buechele, and a whopping 10 starters back on defense. There always seemed to be more talent under previous HC Charlie Strong than the game day performance showed, but Herman still has his work cut out for him. The schedule is not easy with a non-conference game against USC and a deep conference where each team plays each other.

23. UCLA – the Bruins have not been a reliable pick under Jim Mora and are coming of a dreadful 4-8 campaign in 2016. However the team suffered through a terrible rash of injuries and when QB Josh Rosen went down so did UCLA’s chances. With 9 starters back on offense including a healthy Rosen, I look for a much higher scoring team. A tough schedule though reduces the chances of a really big year.

24. Northwestern – Wisconsin is the big favorite in the Big Ten West, but Northwestern, Nebraska and Iowa will all battle it out for second. The Wildcats feature 15 returning starters, including their starting QB and RB; and have the most favorable schedule – skipping Ohio State and Michigan and OOC schedule includes Duke, Bowling Green and Nevada. If Northwestern can flip some of the close losses from 2016 into close wins in 2017, a top 25 finish is possible.

25. Oregon – The Ducks program took a dramatic dive from the 2014 National Championship game appearance to the 8 loss campaign in 2016, and it cost HC Mark Helfrich his job. In comes Willie Taggart from USF, and he has talent to work with. QB Justin Herbert was solid as a true Fr after taking over the starting job, and should be improved with the extra year of experience. Add in the return of Sr RB Royce Freeman, and the Ducks offense should be very good. The defense struggled last season, but new DC Jim Leavitt did a great job with Colorado’s D the past two years. The Ducks come into the season a much more experienced team than the past two seasons, giving Taggart a great opportunity to get the new era off to a good start.