Alabama fans are understandably eager to move on to next season after a heartbreaking 35-31 loss to Clemson in the national title game.
So, we’ve decided to humor them with a projected Top 25 for 2017. Check out our premature selections below:
Also considered: Georgia Tech, West Virginia, Utah, Baylor, Arkansas
This past autumn, the Wildcats produced a winning record in the Big Ten before topping then-No. 23 Pittsburgh in the Pinstripe Bowl. Consistency is key for Pat Fitzgerald, who recently announced his staff will remain 100 percent intact entering next season. Rising redshirt junior quarterback Clayton Thorson leads an “O” with nine returning starters, and second-team All-Big Ten safety Godwin Igwebuike’s recent commitment to another year in Evanston will be a huge boon for an experienced defense.
Plenty of important pieces are headed out — including all four members of the starting backfield. But quarterback Zach Abey looks like a capable replacement for Will Worth, and he still has two seasons of eligibility remaining. The Midshipmen’s leaky defense should be improved, too.
Much has been made of the Vols’ high-profile departures (Josh Dobbs, Alvin Kamara, Josh Malone, Derek Barnett and Cam Sutton), and rightfully so. But the majority of the starters are coming back, and Butch Jones’ red-hot seat means this team knows it needs to win immediately.
Rising senior quarterback Keller Chryst was on fire at the end of the season but reportedly tore his ACL in the Sun Bowl. That opens the door for an unwanted quarterback competition in Palo Alto, and the loss of Christian McCaffrey won’t help.
21. Kansas State
Bill Snyder continues to overachieve. The Wildcats upset Texas A&M in the Texas Bowl to cap a 9-4 year, and next season might be KSU’s chance to sneak back into the Big 12 title race. Quarterback Jesse Ertz — near-perfect against the Aggies — will remind fans of Collin Klein with his bruising style.
All eyes will be on Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson, but voters likely will remember Louisville’s horrible finish more than its scintillating start. It doesn’t help that more than half of the Cardinals’ combined offensive and defensive starters are leaving.
No current Top 25 team’s depth chart will feature as much turnover as Michigan’s. The Wolverines are set to lose their entire starting defense, both boundary receivers, star tight end, starting running back, three offensive linemen … heck, even the do-it-all kicking specialist is leaving. Jim Harbaugh has a treasure trove of young talent, but a Big Ten championship would appear to be a minor miracle at this point.
Departing senior quarterback Sefo Liufau did an excellent job this season, but redshirt freshman Steven Montez was solid enough (1,078 yards, 9 touchdowns and 5 interceptions) to give Buffs fans hope for another run at the Pac-12 title. He’ll return to a loaded offense that will attempt to offset an inexperienced “D.”
The Horned Frogs were supposed to challenge for a New Year’s Six berth in 2016, but slipped into obscurity fairly quickly. Their once high-powered offense will get a chance for redemption with 10 starters returning, and the defense should be formidable (by Big 12 standards).
It’s prove-it time for Kirby Smart. An up-and-down Year 1 finished on a high note with a Liberty Bowl win, and 10 of 11 defensive starters are expected back. On the other side of the ball, All-SEC back Nick Chubb is returning for a final season, and rising sophomore quarterback Jacob Eason figures to improve on a solid first go-round.
15. Washington State
Mike Leach surprised the country and dragged Wazzu back into Pac-12 title contention before the Cougars fizzled out in November. Quarterback Luke Falk will be back for a fifth year, and Washington State’s top two rushers will be, too. The defense — good, not great in 2016 — is expected to return nine starters.
14. Miami (FL)
The hype train will be at full speed by the time Mark Richt’s team kicks off in September. The ‘Canes rebounded well from a mid-season slump and then smashed West Virginia in the Russell Athletic Bowl, 31-14. Losing junior quarterback Brad Kaaya means Miami will have a competition behind center, but bringing back the entire defensive front seven makes up for it.
Running back Derrius Guice surpassed Leonard Fournette in importance as the season dragged on, and will be one of the SEC’s primary Heisman candidates in what figures to be his final season in Baton Rouge. There’s still a big question mark at quarterback for Ed Orgeron, and the front seven will rely on a handful of rising sophomores.
The Gators have fielded an excellent defense and plenty of talent at the offensive skill positions in two consecutive seasons, and 2017 should be no different. Jim McElwain’s missing ingredient has been consistent quarterback play. He’ll be hard-pressed to find it next fall with rising redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks an early favorite to win UF’s starting job.
11. Oklahoma State
An elite offense is sometimes all you need to win the Big 12, and the Cowboys might have the conference’s best in 2017. Mason Rudolph (4,152 total yards) will be back to lead a unit that racked up 38.6 points per game.
If quarterback Baker Mayfield lights up the Big 12 again, he’ll do it without Heisman finalist Dede Westbrook and all-time rushing leader Samaje Perine. Don’t expect the defense to keep scoring low; the Sooners (28.8 points allowed in 2016) are saying goodbye to three key linemen, an inside linebacker and their free safety.
There’s nothing sexy about the Badgers, but that didn’t stop them from nearly capturing the Big Ten title this past season. Expect more of the same in 2017. Wisconsin’s is losing some key pieces (top two running backs, starting receiver, left tackle and both outside linebackers) but none of the departures are fatal for this plug-and-play program.
Sam Arnold’s star was born with an all-time performance in the Rose Bowl, but he’s saying goodbye to two of his top receivers, both of his tackles and his tight end. Plenty of young talent returns on the defensive side.
The Jarett Stidham Era is set to begin, and he’s going to get plenty of help from the Tigers’ elite running back duo of Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson. Auburn has enough overall talent to give Alabama a serious challenge if Stidham — a Baylor transfer — can find his footing in the SEC.
The Huskies are losing four key underclassmen to the NFL, and coach Chris Petersen will be forced to rebuild his secondary. But most of the offense — including All-Pac-12 quarterback Jake Browning — will return for a shot at back-to-back conference titles.
5. Florida State
Good luck to ACC offenses next season. The Seminoles are losing their leader — defensive end DeMarcus Walker — but nine of 11 defensive starters are coming back. Quarterback Deondre Francois needs to take another step forward to compensate for the loss of running back Dalvin Cook and the potential loss of receiver Travis Rudolph. But the Noles have 5-star running back Cam Akers coming in next season.
Might we see the 2016 champion shift to a run-based attack in 2017? Two-time Heisman Trophy finalist Deshaun Watson and halfback Wayne Gallman are off to the NFL, and Watson’s favorite target, Mike Williams, is likely to join them. But Clemson returns four young starters on the offensive line. Roughly 80 percent of the two-deep defensive depth chart is returning, too.
3. Penn State
Star receiver Chris Godwin is departing for the NFL, but the Nittany Lions will bring back all 10 other offensive starters — as well as plenty of depth — after racking up 49 points in the Rose Bowl. The defense will take a minor hit with both defensive ends leaving town, but the linebackers and secondary are still in great shape.
2. Ohio State
Urban Meyer’s revenge tour will be painful for the Big Ten. Heisman candidate J.T. Barrett is returning for his senior season, and he’ll be joined by halfback Mike Weber. The entire defensive line is back, too. It’s going to be an upset if OSU doesn’t claim a College Football Playoff spot for the third time in four years.
Losing the national title game won’t have any effect on the Crimson Tide’s standing next August. Nick Saban’s team will bring back its starting quarterback, top three running backs and top two receivers on offense, and there’s little question that a reloaded defense will be elite again. ‘Bama looks ready to steamroll the SEC for what seems like the millionth time.
Which teams are in your 2017 Top 25? Let us know in the comment section below.