ATLANTA — The next College Football Playoff could have a familiar look, with three of the four teams from this year returning their starting quarterbacks.
Clemson features quarterback Kelly Bryant, and the Tigers bring back the most players, thus earning the nod in this way-too-early Top 25 poll.
Bryant will be looking to establish his own legacy on the heels of other great Clemson quarterbacks before him.
Bryant beat six Top 25 teams in his first season as a starter — five away from home, showing the sort of poise that leads to championships.
Outgoing Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt explained what makes Bryant such a challenge for defenses.
“You’ve got to be able to control Kelly in the pass game because any point and time he can pull the ball down and take off running,” Pruitt said. “But he has the ability to make all the throws and he has playmakers on the outside, so they can stretch you vertically and horizontally. They’ve had one of the best offenses in college football the last five or six years.
Tigers coach Dabo Swinney, whose defense looks to return eight starters including All-America defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence (6-foot-4, 340), said his team has proven it can handle whatever preseason analysis comes its way.
“We were’t supposed to be any good this year, and these ol’ boys didn’t get the memo; they just went to work,” Swinney said in the days leading up to the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. “We only have six scholarship seniors; we’re one of the youngest teams in college football.
“I think we’re gonna have a chance to be pretty good next year if we don’t screw them up.”
Georgia’s Jake Fromm was the FWAA Freshman All-America quarterback selection this season, grasping the offense quickly enough that offensive coordinator Jim Chaney gave him the freedom to change plays at the line of scrimmage.
Then, there’s Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts, a rising junior and the most experienced of the group returning from the playoff this season. Hurts will have already played in two national championship games and won SEC Offensive Player of the Year with two years of eligibility remaining.
Miami, it’s worth noting, snuck in at No. 3 in this poll largely because of record-setting QB Malik Rosier. Rosier, expected to return for his senior season, set the Hurricanes’ quarterback record for touchdowns in 2017.
Here’s a look at my pre-spring session preseason poll:
5. Ohio State
7. Michigan State
8. Virginia Tech
12. Penn State
15. Notre Dame
16. Florida State
18. Boise State
19. Mississippi State
20. West Virginia
25. South Florida