Top 25 for 2017: #6-#10

6. Oklahoma State – Cowboys had a great season, but can only wonder what it could have been if it wasn’t for the controversial loss to Central Michigan early in the year. HC Gundy got an unexpected gift when both the star QB Mason Rudolph and WR James Washington announced they were returning to Stillwater, ensuring the high powered offense will continue. The bigger questions come on defense especially the ability to contain the rival Sooners offense on the annual bedlam game. The combination of experience and talent on offense and the challenges OU faces with a coaching change, opens the door for the Cowboys to take the Big 12 title.

7. Clemson – it all came together for the Tigers in 2016. They overcome several close calls and an upset loss to Pitt to win the program’s first national title since ‘81. HC Dabo Swinney had his skeptics when he took over for the ousted Tommy Bowden, but he has built the program to an elite level… elite enough to withstand the loss of the generational player in QB Deshaun Watson, plus the other stars on offense in RB Wayne Gallman and WR MIke Williams. But with 7 starters back on defense, the team can give time for a new QB to develop, and maybe in time for hosting FSU November 11. The game with the Seminoles has determined the division and the conference, and 2017 should be no different.

8. Washington – Huskies finally had the breakout season under HC Chris Petersen, and with Heisman candidate QB Browning back, can keep the success going. Browning threw for nearly 3500 yards with an eye popping 43 TDs to just 9 INTs. His top target departs, but the running game has a chance to improve. UW plays another easy OOC schedule and avoids USC from the other division, so a repeat of last season’s PAC 12 North Division championship is very doable.

9. Oklahoma – the Sooners went 9-0 in the Big 12, and defeated an SEC team in the Sugar Bowl. But, two early season non-conference losses kept OU out of the national picture for most of the year. With only 1 tough out of conference game on the schedule (against Ohio State) and Heisman candidate QB Baker Mayfield among 10 starters back on offense, the Sooners would be in the mix for a playoff spot in ‘17. But the stunning retirement of HC Bob Stoops now brings some uncertainty to the program. New HC Lincoln Riley is whip smart and highly regarded. He should maintain continuity, but first year head coaches always have to deal with issues they’ve never faced before. While the transition should go about as smooth as it could, it is still a big step up to become head coach of a major program for the first time.

10. Wisconsin – the Badgers jump-started two main themes of the 2016 regular season, the resurgence of the Big Ten and the struggles of the SEC (outside of Alabama), when UW upset LSU in Lambeau Field in the opener. Even with a very difficult schedule, Wisconsin finished with 10 wins and a top ten ranking. The Badgers return 9 starters to an offense that should improve on ‘16’s ordinary passing numbers, and just needs to hold the fort with 6 starters back on a Top 10 defense. An improved offense, a continued solid defense and no Ohio State or Penn State on the schedule and the Badgers could enter the Big 10 Championship game undefeated with a shot at the playoffs.