Matt Charboneau breaks down the top 25 teams in The Detroit News' college football preseason rankings. Go HERE if you are having trouble viewing the gallery.
Last season: 14-1 overall, 8-0 SEC; beat Washington, 24-7, in Peach Bowl and lost to Clemson, 35-31, in the national championship game
Coach: Nick Saban, 119-19 in 10 seasons at Alabama, 210-61 overall
Outlook: It should surprise no one that Alabama finds itself back at the top of the preseason rankings, even after losing the national title game to Clemson last season. As usual, the Crimson Tide is loaded thanks to the recruiting machine Nick Saban has built in Tuscaloosa and the offense is full of playmakers. Junior RB Bo Scarbrough might be in the Heisman hunt by the time the season gets rolling and WR Calvin Ridley is a dangerous playmaker. The key will be sophomore QB Jalen Hurts, who struggled in the playoffs and will need to be a more consistent passer for new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. The only real questions come on defense where the Tide lost some playmakers up front but still have plenty of talent ready to jump in as well, as the bulk of their starters returning in the secondary. The schedule is tough, as usual, but there seems little doubt Saban will have his team in the mix for another national title.
2. Florida State
Last season: 10-3 overall, 5-3 ACC; beat Michigan, 33-32, in the Orange Bowl
Coach: Jimbo Fisher, 78-17 in seven seasons at Florida State
Outlook: The schedule is a doozy for the Seminoles, who open against Alabama and also face Clemson and Florida on the road in two of the final three weeks of the season. They also have to replace RB Dalvin Cook and DE DeMarcus Walker as well as plenty of playmakers at wide receiver. But like Alabama and others near the top of the rankings, the Noles recruit well every year and have talent waiting in the wings. Quarterback Deondre Francois won’t have Cook to lean on but a bevy of former top recruits are battling to replace Cook, led by Jacques Patrick, who averaged 5.7 yards a carry last season. Find a way to handle a difficult schedule, and a loss in the opener might not keep FSU from a playoff spot.
3. Ohio State
Last season: 11-2 overall, 8-1 Big Ten; lost to Clemson, 31-0, in the Fiesta Bowl
Coach: Urban Meyer, 61-6 in five seasons at Ohio State, 165-29 overall
Outlook: The Buckeyes return nearly all of their pass rushers on defense and will have plenty of talent to jump in with the back seven, which lost its share to the NFL. However, the way Meyer has recruited at Ohio State, the odds are the Buckeyes will be fine. Getting tougher against the run, however, would be wise after OSU allowed 205 rushing yards to Clemson and 207 to Michigan State. The real questions arise on offense after the Buckeyes were blanked in the playoff loss to Clemson. QB J.T. Barrett is back as is RB Mike Weber (Detroit Cass Tech), but the key will be getting the passing game going and former Indiana coach Kevin Wilson takes over as offensive coordinator to breathe life into the attack.
Last season: 14-1 overall, 7-1 ACC; beat Ohio State, 31-0, in the Fiesta Bowl; beat Alabama, 35-31, in the national championship game
Coach: Dabo Swinney, 89-28 in nine seasons at Clemson
Outlook: Repeating isn’t easy to do and the Tigers will have to do so without the best quarterback in program history as Deshaun Watson is now in the NFL. They’ve also lost RB Wayne Gallman, who ran for more than 1,100 yards and 17 touchdowns, as well as WR Mike Williams, who had 98 catches for 1,361 yards and 11 touchdowns. On the other side of the ball, LB Ben Boulware is gone after recording 131 tackles last season, but junior Kendall Joseph slides into the middle after notching 124 tackles last season, and the secondary has plenty of experience. The schedule sets up well, which means the Tigers will at least have a shot at getting back to the playoffs.
5. Penn State
Last season: 11-3 overall, 8-1 Big Ten; lost to Southern Cal, 52-49, in the Rose Bowl
Coach: James Franklin, 25-15 in three seasons at Penn State; 49-30 overall
Outlook: Penn State has plenty of offensive weapons to once again be in the mix to return to the Big Ten championship game, led by RB Saquon Barkley, QB Trace McSorley and TE Mike Gesicki. On the other side of the ball, ends Garrett Sickels and Evan Schwan are gone but the bulk of the defense remains intact for a unit that was far better at the end of the season than it was at the start. The biggest question for the Nittany Lions seems to be the schedule, which includes a brutal four-game stretch with three of four on the road. It starts with a trip to Northwestern on Oct. 7 followed by a bye, a home game against Michigan and then road games with Ohio State and Michigan State.
Last season: 11-2 overall, 9-0 Big 12; beat Auburn, 35-19, in the Sugar Bowl
Coach: Lincoln Riley, first season
Outlook: Obviously, the big change for the Sooners is the fact coach Bob Stoops stepped down this summer after winning 10 Big 12 championships and a national title in 2000 during his 18 seasons at Oklahoma. Former offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley takes over and, while his unit lost running backs Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine, as well as WR Dede Westbrook, it still has QB Baker Mayfield — an early Heisman candidate — and the entire starting offensive line returns. The front seven on defense is thin on experience but the back end is solid enough to make the Sooners the favorite to win the Big 12, young coach or not.
7. Southern Cal
Last season: 10-3 overall, 7-2 Pac-12; beat Penn State, 52-49, in the Rose Bowl
Coach: Clay Helton, 16-7 in parts of three seasons with Southern Cal
Outlook: The Trojans enter the season carrying plenty of momentum after winning their final nine games last season, including a shootout over Penn State in the Rose Bowl. QB Sam Darnold took over early last season and sparked Southern Cal’s resurgence. He’ll be counted on to do so again, but will have to overcome the loss of two starters up front as well as wide receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster and Darreus Rogers. The Trojans are solid at linebacker but need to overcome some losses on the defensive line along with losing CB Adoree’ Jackson, last season’s Jim Thorpe Award winner.
Last season: 12-2 overall, 8-1 Pac-12; lost to Alabama, 24-7, in the Peach Bowl
Coach: Chris Petersen, 27-14 in three seasons at Washington, 119-26 overall
Outlook: The Huskies should have no problem scoring points in their quest to get back to the College Football Playoffs. QB Jake Browning, the Pac-12 offensive player of the year, is back, as is the RB tandem of Myles Gaskin and senior Lavon Coleman and a veteran offensive line. The defense should be strong up front but will need to replace three starters in the back end.
9. Oklahoma State
Last season: 10-3 overall, 7-2 Big 12; beat Colorado, 38-8, in the Alamo Bowl
Coach: Mike Gundy, 104-50 in 12 seasons at Oklahoma State
Outlook: The Cowboys should score plenty of points, led by QB Mason Rudolph and WR James Washington. Rudolph has thrown for 300.5 yards a game in his career and piled up 4,091 total yards last season with 28 TD passes and just four interceptions. There are holes to fill on the defensive side of the ball but the talent is there to the point coach Mike Gundy believes this defense can be one of his best with the Cowboys.
Last season: 11-3 overall, 7-2 Big Ten; beat Western Michigan, 24-16, in the Cotton Bowl
Coach: Paul Chryst, 21-6 in two seasons at Wisconsin, 40-25 overall
Outlook: Once again it looks like, on paper, that the Badgers will have plenty of holes to fill and winning a division title in the Big Ten might be a stretch. But every year, there’s Wisconsin in the mix. They’ll need to replace their top two running backs and all their linebackers after Jack Cichy was lost after he tore his ACL in preseason camp, but the Badgers are always solid and should be again.
Last season: 8-4 overall, 5-3 SEC; beat Louisville, 29-9, in the Citrus Bowl
Coach: Ed Orgeron, 6-2 last season at LSU, 22-29 overall
Outlook: Orgeron takes over on a full-time basis and one of his first moves was to spice up the offense by hiring Matt Canada as his offensive coordinator. Canada comes over from Pittsburgh and will have senior Danny Etling at QB and a solid running game, led by junior Derrius Guice. The defense will have some holes to fill at linebacker but tackle Christian LaCouture is back and moves to end while end/linebacker Arden Key should be one of the SEC’s top pass rushers.
Last season: 10-3 overall, 6-3 Pac-12; beat North Carolina, 25-23, in the Sun Bowl
Coach: David Shaw, 64-17 in six seasons at Stanford
Outlook: It looks like QB Keller Chryst has been able to bounce back after tearing his ACL in the Sun Bowl, a welcomed sight considering the Cardinal must replace RB Christian McCaffrey. The man that will step in for McCaffrey is explosive runner Bryce Love, who gained 783 yards last season when spelling McCaffrey. He’ll have the benefit of running behind an offensive line that returns four starters. There’s plenty of talent and depth in the back seven on defense but the pass rush took a hit with the graduation of Solomon Thomas.
Last season: 10-3 overall, 7-2 Big Ten; lost to Florida State, 33-32, in the Orange Bowl
Coach: Jim Harbaugh, 20-6 in two seasons at Michigan, 49-27 overall
Outlook: The Wolverines lose a slew of players to the NFL on both sides of the ball, but the hit to one of the nation’s top defenses might be the biggest. Outstanding recruiting, however, means there’s talent waiting in the wings, led by sophomore end Rashan Gary while tackle Maurice Hurst put off the NFL and returned for his final season. The offense loses plenty of playmakers at WR but has young talent for QB Wilton Speight to throw to, that is, if Speight holds on to the starting job.
Last season: 9-4 overall, 6-2 ACC; beat Iowa, 30-3, in the Outback Bowl
Coach: Jim McElwain, 19-8 in two seasons at Florida, 41-24 overall
Outlook: The offense has had its issues the past few seasons and it will again be a question mark headed into 2017. Former Notre Dame QB Malik Zaire will get the call in the opener against Michigan and he’ll be counting on wide receivers that are untested and just a decent running game. The big issues are on defense where the Gators need to replace eight starters from a unit that has been among the nation’s best for the better part of a decade.
Last season: 8-5 overall, 5-3 SEC; lost to Oklahoma, 35-19, in the Sugar Bowl
Coach: Gus Malzahn, 35-18 in four seasons at Auburn, 44-21 overall
Outlook: The Tigers will have some new faces on offense, including coordinator Chip Lindsey and transfer Jarrett Stidham, the former Baylor quarterback. They’ll both have the benefit of a solid running attack that includes Kamryn Pettway, the SEC’s leader in rushing yards per game, and the versatile Kerryon Johnson. The defensive line loses a couple starters but has plenty of young talent while the back seven is good enough to have the Tigers thinking they could make a run in the SEC West.
Last season: 8-5 overall, 4-4 SEC; beat TCU, 31-23, in the Liberty Bowl
Coach: Kirby Smart, 8-5 in one season at Georgia
Outlook: The Bulldogs will lean on a defense that was ranked in the top 20 in the nation last season and returns all but one starter. The front seven should be especially tough, led by tackles Trenton Thompson and Jonathan Ledbetter along with ends Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy, who both opted to wait on the NFL and return to Georgia. The offense has had its struggles, but if the Bulldogs can block even a little bit, it would be big for RB Nick Chubb and second-year starting QB Jacob Eason.
Last season: 9-4 overall, 7-1 ACC; lost to LSU, 29-9, in the Citrus Bowl
Coach: Bobby Petrino, 67-22 in seven seasons at Louisville, 109-43 overall
Outlook: Heisman winner Lamar Jackson is back at quarterback but he is only one of four returning starters on offense for a team that lost three straight to close out last season. The defense gets a new coordinator -- Peter Sirmon, who comes over from Mississippi State – and it will led by a strong secondary that returns all four starters, including CB Jaire Alexander, who led the Cards with five interceptions a season ago.
18. Kansas State
Last season: 9-4 overall, 6-3 Big 12; beat Texas A&M, 33-28, in the Texas Bowl
Coach: Bill Snyder, 202-105-1 in 25 seasons at Kansas State
Outlook: Snyder continues to lead one of the most consistent programs in the country and has the benefit of entering the season with dual-threat QB Jesse Ertz, who threw for 1,755 yards and nine touchdowns last season while running for 1,012 yards and 12 touchdowns. He is among eight returning starters on offense for the Wildcats while the defense has bigger questions. Pass rush star Jordan Willis is gone as are the top three linebackers from last year. The secondary has experience with both starting corners and one safety back.
Last season: 9-4 overall, 5-3 ACC; beat West Virginia, 31-14, in the Russell Athletic Bowl
Coach: Mark Richt, 9-4 in one season at Miami, 154-55 overall
Outlook: The early departure of QB Brad Kaaya to the NFL hurts, but the Hurricanes will still likely compete for the Coastal Division title in the ACC. Junior Malik Rosier will get his shot as the starter in the opener and he’ll have the benefit of handing the ball to RB Mark Walton, who rushed for 1,117 yards and 14 touchdowns last year, and throwing the ball to WR Ahmmon Richards, who led all freshman nationally last season with 934 receiving yards. The entire front seven returns for an improved defense that hopes to take a jump in the back end.
Last season: 6-7 overall, 4-5 Big 12; lost to Georgia, 31-23, in the Liberty Bowl
Coach: Gary Patterson, 149-54 in 17 seasons at TCU
Outlook: The Horned Frogs are hoping for a bounce-back season from QB Kenny Hill, the former transfer from Texas A&M who struggled mightily in 2016. He threw a Big 12-leading 13 interceptions but was plagued by a receiving corps that couldn’t hang on to the ball. The defense hopes to get stronger after getting pushed around at times last season. The linebackers are solid with the return of the Big 12’s leading tackler, Travin Howard, who has had more than 100-tackles in each of the last two seasons.
21. West Virginia
Last season: 10-3 overall, 7-2 Big 12; lost to Miami, 31-14, in the Russell Athletic Bowl
Coach: Dana Holgorsen, 46-31 in six seasons at West Virginia
Outlook: The Mountaineers had their best season under Dana Holgorsen in 2016 but return just seven starters on the entire team. They’ll expect to get a spark from QB Will Grier, the transfer from Florida who was 6-0 in his brief career with the Gators before a suspension ended things. He’ll have to make it happen behind a suspect offensive line but will be joined in the backfield by RB Justin Crawford, who ran for 1,184 yards last season. The linebackers and secondary are solid, but all three defensive line starters must be replaced.
22. Virginia Tech
Last season: 10-4 overall, 6-2 ACC; beat Arkansas, 35-24, in the Belk Bowl
Coach: Justin Fuente, 10-4 in one season at Virginia Tech, 36-27 overall
Outlook: The offense lost its share of players to the NFL, including QB Jerod Evans and WR Isaiah Ford. In the race to be the new starting QB, redshirt freshman Josh Jackson gets the call but the receiving corps doesn’t have a lot of depth and the running game is far from spectacular. However, the Hokies should be strong up front. The defense has tons of experience in the back seven and the linebackers lead the way with Andrew Motuapuaka (114 tackles and Tremaine Edmunds (19 tackles for a loss) the best of the bunch.
23. South Florida
Last season: 10-2 overall, 7-1 American; beat South Carolina, 46-39, in the Birmingham Bowl
Coach: Charlie Strong, first season at South Florida, 53-37 overall
Outlook: Charlie Strong couldn’t get it done at Texas but now he’s tasked with taking over for Willie Taggart, who parlayed his success with South Florida into the Oregon job. Strong and the Bulls lose RB Marlon Mack but senior QB Quinton Flowers is a dual threat who ran for more than 1,500 yards and 18 touchdowns last season. Seven of the top nine tacklers return from last season as new defensive coordinator Brian Jean-Mary plans to shake things up for a unit that allowed 482 yards a game in 2016.
24. Washington State
Last season: 8-5 overall, 7-2 Pac-12; lost to Minnesota, 17-12, in the Holiday Bowl
Coach: Mike Leach, 29-34 in five seasons at Washington State, 113-77 overall
Outlook: Fifth-year senior QB Luke Falk is back after completing 70 percent of his passes for 4,468 yards and 38 touchdowns with eight interceptions last season. And as important as the QB is in Mike Leach’s offense, the Cougars have a strong running game as Gerard Wicks, Jamal Morrow and James Williams combined to run for 1,635 yards and 22 touchdowns last season. Defensively, the Cougars aren’t big along the line but have speed and athleticism at linebacker and lots of playmakers in the secondary.
25. Boise State
Last season: 10-3 overall, 6-2 Mountain West; lost to Baylor, 31-12, in the Cactus Bowl
Coach: Bryan Harsin, 31-9 in three seasons at Boise State, 38-14 overall
Outlook: There are plenty of starters to replace but the Broncos should still move the ball and be the favorite to win the Mountain West. Junior Brett Rypien is back at QB and he’ll need to find some consistency after losing Thomas Sperbeck, Boise’s all-time leading receiver, however senior WR Cedrick Wilson is back after catching 56 passes for 1,129 yards and 11 touchdowns. The defense was second in points allowed in the conference last season and will need to be more consistent up front while relying on a deep and talented secondary.