The College Football season is dead. Long live the College Football season.
It doesn’t matter that the season ended on Monday’s night classic between Georgia and Alabama — it’s never too early to start predicting what will happen next season. We still have a half-cycle of recruiting, the NFL Draft, the transfer market, and all of spring and summer before college football resumes, but I think we can still take a crack on what the Top 25 will look like in 2018.
After Monday night, this much is obvious. Freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa may be praying to himself after his miraculous performance. As great as Alabama has been over the last decade, they have never had a truly great QB. Can you imagine how good they will be with that throwing the ball?
Even after having a top seed in the College Football Playoff, Clemson should be better next year. Offensive stars Kelly Bryant and Travis Etienne will be back, as will most of their fearsome defense, including the legendary Dexter Lawrence.
As you may have heard, Jake Fromm is just a freshman. As you may have noticed, Georgia grows All-SEC running backs in their backyard. Perhaps more importantly than any other their superstar underclassmen coming back, the Dawgs’ best player is a redshirt sophomore, and though he could potentially declare and find a warm home in Jacksonville or Tampa Bay, Rodrigo Blankenship will be back to win a national title.
The key to these early rankings is to look at how many great freshman and sophomores each team has, so the Buckeyes fit here thanks to the play of Mike Webber and Nick Bosa. OSU loses J.T. Barrett to graduation, but they have an able replacement in Dwayne Haskins, who will helped develop by a solid group of returning wide receivers.
Speaking of absurdly good freshmen running backs in the Big Ten, Jonathan Taylor is coming back for the national championship, the Heisman and Ron Dayne’s rushing records, all in that order. People need to stop sleeping on the Badgers because they’re always excellent.
The big question at OU is whether or not Kyler Murray can adequately replace Baker Mayfield. Murray obviously won’t have the legend’s accuracy or pure magic, but he’s a superb talent who will be propped up by returning running backs Rodney Anderson and Trey Sermon. The Sooners’ defense could be suspect without Ogbonnia Okoronkwo and others, but they have plenty of blue-chippers on that side to step up.
Auburn will lose star running back Kerryon Johnson, but there literally hasn’t been a time in my lifetime Auburn hasn’t had a great back, so I’m confident they will have someone step up. Meanwhile, Jared Stidham will return, as will all of his receivers from this past year. I don’t watch SEC football enough to tell you about their defense, but I’m assuming it will be as good as always.
The Seminoles just had one of the weirdest seasons you could imagine, but that should prove to be fluky in every way. It helps that Jimbo Fisher left for Texas A&M and FSU found a replacement in noted rebuilder Willie Taggert. In just one season at Oregon, he took a team from a disastrous 4-8 record to a solid 7-6; just imagine what Taggert will be able to do with a quarterback like Deondre Francois and a better fan base.
9. Miami Hurricanes
The swaggiest team in college football should be good again next season. QB Malik Rosier should be better, their defense is still terrifying, and the turnover chain will be back.
This is probably the first surprise team on this list, depending on how you feel about FSU. But make no mistake, VT is good. Josh Jackson is just a freshman and he will be a dual-threat nightmare in no time at all. That Hokies defense is plenty good as well.
11. UCF Golden Knights
Your 2018 National Champions lost coach Scott Frost, but they’re returning a ton of talent, most notably the people’s Heisman, McKenzie Milton. Even without the Coach of the Year, UCF will be fired up to make a run at the Playoff.
12. USC Trojans
Assuming Sam Darnold is a Cleveland Brown next season, USC will have to figure out what to do without their iconic folk hero. I’m confident they’ll find some to lead a talented team, but only because early Top 25 rankings can’t exist without USC ranked too high.
Assuming Josh Adams is a Cincinnati Bengal next season, Notre Dame will have to figure out what to do without their iconic folk hero. I’m confident they’ll find some to lead a talented team, but only because early Top 25 rankings can’t exist without Notre Dame ranked too high.
This is the part of the rankings where I’m just going to repeat what I’ve read and pretend like it’s original content, so here it goes: Trace McSorley is good.
I’m not sure who will be Stanford’s next Heisman runner-up, but that guy will have his team where they are in every ranking since the don of time.
The Huskies lose arguably their four best players in Vita Vea, Azeem Victor, Myles Gaskin and Dante Pettis, but even those players were all once replacements to departed stars. The Huskies will have answers on defense — especially with Taylor Rapp ruining everyone’s weekend — and Jake Browning should do enough to lead a respectable offense.
17. TCU Horned Frogs
Fun fact: College football is always more fun when TCU is good. They lose a ton of talent, most notably Kenny Hill and Mat Boesen, but they should still be a well balanced team capable of making noise in a down year for the Big 12.
Did you know Michigan was secretly hot garbage this past season? Did you know they didn’t have a 1,000-yard passer, and that they rotated between three wildly mediocre quarterbacks? Did you know the last decent offense Jim Harbaugh coached was led by Colin Kaepernick being a super hero?
Most of the Way Too Early Rankings you will find have the Spartans in the Top 10. But as a someone who has put in all the effort to never watch Michigan State play, those writers are severely overrating the ugliest, slowest, Big Tenniest team to ever exist. Let me know if Michigan State recruits another Le’Veon Bell, but until then, I will be doing literally anything other than watching them slog.
20. Mississippi State Bulldogs
Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald is basically Dak Prescott without the Spring Break DUIs, so the Bulldogs should be fine next season, especially with former Penn State OC Joe Moorhead at the helm instead of classic SEC coach Dan Mullen.
21. Iowa State Cyclones
David Montgomery will be back and Matt Campbell will continue to work magic in Ames. More so than anything, I’m excited for Iowa State to be the third best team in the Big 12 because Cyclones fans deserve nothing but the best.
22. Arizona Wildcats
Assuming Arizona can find a good replacement for the recently fired Rich Rodriguez, expect the ‘Cats to be dangerous with a full season of Khalil Tate as their starting QB. If Tate averages 10 yards per carry again, Arizona just needs to be decent everywhere else to be a contender in the Pac-12 South.
23. Utah Utes
Speaking of contending the Pac-12 South, Utah has still never won the division, but they will be vying for it next season. They lose a bit of talent on the defense, but they’re college football’s secret NFL factory. If they stay healthy and Tyler Huntley improves in his junior year, the Utes will be good.
Colorado will only improve next season. They lose Phillip Lindsay and their senior receivers, but just about every other position will improve with more experience, even the receiving corps if Juwann Winfree and Laviska Shenault continue to impress. The Buffs are also improving significantly on the sidelines and that could unlock the potential of this team. And hey, CU might find a suitable replacement for Lindsay on the JuCo market.
25. Florida Gators
We can’t just not have Florida in our Top 25.