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The Detroit News college football preseason top 25 rankings

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Jalen Hurts

Matt Charboneau breaks down the teams in The Detroit News college football preseason top 25 rankings.

1. Alabama

Last season: 13-1 overall, 7-1 SEC; beat Clemson, 24-6, in Sugar Bowl and beat Georgia, 26-23, in national championship game.

Coach: Nick Saban, 132-20 in 11 seasons at Alabama, 223-62-1 overall.

Outlook: The quarterback battle will dominate the discussion when it comes to the Crimson Tide, but when you’re deciding between Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa, it’s pretty tough to make the right choice. Hurts is the veteran while Tagovailoa simply came in as a freshman in the second half of the national championship game and rallied Alabama to a win over Georgia. They’ll have their usual stable talent on both sides of the ball in Tuscaloosa, making a fifth straight playoff appearance likely.

2. Clemson

Last season: 12-2 overall, 7-1 ACC; lost to Alabama, 24-6, in Sugar Bowl.

Coach: Dabo Swinney, 101-30 in 10 seasons at Clemson.

Outlook: The Tigers will be outstanding on both sides of the ball once again as the defense is led by a front four that all are likely to be high draft picks in the NFL. On the offensive side, the top two rushers – Travis Etienne and Tavien Feaster – are back, as is quarterback Kelly Bryant. However, there is at least some intrigue there as true freshman Trevor Lawrence will push for playing time with many expecting him to eventually overtake Bryant as the starting quarterback.

Jake Fromm

3. Georgia

Last season: 13-2 overall, 7-1 SEC; beat Oklahoma, 54-48, in Rose Bowl and lost to Alabama, 26-23, in national championship game.

Coach: Kirby Smart, 21-7 in two seasons at Georgia.

Outlook: The Bulldogs have some holes to fill as several key players are now in the NFL, but top-level recruiting for the better part of the last five years has them in position to fill spots quickly and take on a fairly challenging schedule. The quarterback position will be an interesting one to watch as Jake Fromm is back after taking Georgia to the national title game as a freshman while Justin Fields, the No. 2-ranked player in the 2018 recruiting class, will push for playing time. However it shakes out, the Bulldogs will be in good position to win the SEC East.

4. Washington

Last season: 10-3 overall, 7-2 Pac-12; lost to Penn State, 35-28, in Fiesta Bowl.

Coach: Chris Petersen, 37-17 in four seasons at Washington, 129-29 overall.

Outlook: Petersen has turned the Huskies into a defensive power and this season’s group could be his best, led by a secondary that returns five starters from a unit that allowed just 10 touchdown passes last season. The offense should be solid, as well, with Jake Browning at quarterback and Myles Gaskin at running back, both entering their fourth season as a starter. If some newcomers spark the receiving corps, the Huskies could get back to the playoffs.

5. Ohio State

Last season: 12-2 overall, 8-1 Big Ten; beat Southern Cal, 24-7, in Cotton Bowl. 

Coach: Urban Meyer, 73-8 in six seasons at Ohio State, 177-31 overall.

Outlook: As usual, there’s tons of talent in Columbus, but until the investigation into Urban Meyer’s handling of accusations of domestic violence against former assistant Zach Smith is complete, it’s hard to focus on much else. If Meyer keeps his job, the focus turns back to whether Dwayne Haskins can take over for J.T. Barrett at quarterback by using a bevy of weapons and leaning on a stout defense. If Meyer is gone, it’s hard to gauge the effect it might have on this season.

Jonathan Taylor

6. Wisconsin

Last season: 13-1 overall, 9-0 Big Ten; beat Miami, 34-24, in Orange Bowl.

Coach: Paul Chryst, 34-7 in three seasons at Wisconsin, 53-26 overall.

Outlook: The Badgers will look familiar in 2018 with a physical offensive line leading the way for a dominant running back. Jonathan Taylor ran for nearly 2,000 yards as a true freshman last season and will again be the focal point of the offense after the Badgers were unbeaten in the 2017 regular season. The next step for Wisconsin is getting over the hump in the Big Ten championship game, the final hurdle before reaching the playoffs.

7. Oklahoma

Last season: 12-2 overall, 8-1 Big 12; lost to Georgia, 54-48, in Rose Bowl. 

Coach: Lincoln Riley, 12-2 in one season at Oklahoma.

Outlook: Things went about as well as they could for first-year coach Lincoln Riley, leading the Sooners into the College Football Playoff. Getting back this season will be a challenge as quarterback Baker Mayfield became the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft. A fairly difficult schedule also awaits as Oklahoma faces UCLA and Florida Atlantic in non-conference play.

8. Auburn

Last season: 10-4 overall, 7-1 SEC; lost to Central Florida, 34-27, in Peach Bowl.

Coach: Gus Malzahn, 45-22 in five seasons at Auburn, 54-25 overall.

Outlook: Malzahn is back with a hefty extension after the Tigers won the SEC West in 2017, however, getting the same results in 2018 will be no piece of cake. In fact, it might be the toughest task in the nation as Auburn plays Washington early in the season before taking on Alabama and Georgia – the two teams that met in the national championship game – in two of the last three weeks of the season. Oh, and both games are on the road.

9. Notre Dame

Last season: 10-3 overall, beat LSU, 21-17, in Citrus Bowl. 

Coach: Brian Kelly, 69-34 in eight seasons at Notre Dame, 122-56 overall.

Outlook: The Fighting Irish overcame a rough start in 2017 to put together a 10-win season, improving their win total by six from the year before. It will be a challenge to match that number this season as Notre Dame opens with Michigan before road games against the likes of Virginia Tech, Northwestern and Southern Cal, while also hosting Stanford and Florida State. With RB Josh Adams off to the NFL, finding a replacement in the backfield will be critical.

Brian Lewerke

10. Michigan State

Last season: 10-3 overall, 7-2 Big Ten; beat Washington State, 42-17, in Holiday Bowl. 

Coach: Mark Dantonio, 100-45 in 11 seasons at Michigan State, 118-62 overall.

Outlook: The Spartans can’t sneak up on anyone after a seven-win turnaround in 2017 and returning 19 of 22 starters from a team that took second in the Big Ten East. Quarterback Brian Lewerke leads an offense that features senior running back LJ Scott while the defense ranked seventh in the nation in total defense a season ago. The Spartans also get Ohio State and Michigan at home while avoiding Wisconsin in crossover games from the West.

11. Penn State

Last season: 11-2 overall, 7-2 Big Ten; beat Washington, 35-28, in Fiesta Bowl.

Coach: James Franklin, 36-17 in four seasons at Penn State, 60-32 overall.

Outlook: Back-to-back losses last season to Ohio State and Michigan State by a total of four points kept the Nittany Lions from potentially going unbeaten. They’ll try to make up for that this season but will do so without running back Saquon Barkley, who is off to the NFL. However, quarterback Trace McSorley is back as the Nittany Lions get a bit of a break with the schedule, hosting Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin while traveling to Michigan in early November.

12. Miami

Last season: 10-3 overall, 7-1 ACC; lost to Washington, 34-24, in Orange Bowl. 

Coach: Mark Richt, 19-7 in two seasons at Miami, 164-58 overall.

Outlook: The Hurricanes got off to a 10-0 start in 2017 before the defense faltered late as Miami lost its last three games, including a blowout loss to Clemson in the ACC Championship game. The season-opener against LSU in Dallas should give an indication if the Hurricanes will once again push for an ACC title as the defense looks to regain the swagger it had from early last season.

Matt Fink

13. Southern Cal

Last season: 11-3 overall, 9-1 Pac-12; lost to Ohio State, 24-7, in Cotton Bowl. 

Coach: Clay Helton, 27-10 in four seasons at Southern Cal.

Outlook: Back-to-back double-digit win seasons have the Trojans faithful thinking big once again, even with quarterback Sam Darnold off to the NFL. Obviously, who replaces Darnold will be the big news, and the battle will continue throughout preseason camp between sophomore Matt Fink, redshirt freshman Jack Sears and true freshman JT Daniels. Fink is the only one with any experience but Daniels comes in with plenty of expectations.

14. Stanford

Last season: 9-5 overall, 7-3 Pac-12; lost to TCU, 39-37, in Alamo Bowl. 

Coach: David Shaw, 73-22 in seven seasons at Stanford.

Outlook: The Cardinal have no issues in the backfield as Bryce Love is back for his senior season. All he did is rush for 2,118 yards as a junior and score 19 rushing touchdowns with an 8.1 yards per carry average. However, quarterback K.J. Costello will need to find more consistency in his second year as a starter. He’ll have his share of weapons to throw to and an experienced offensive line that should allow him to take advantage of Love.

Shea Patterson

15. Michigan

Last season: 8-5 overall, 5-4 Big Ten; lost to South Carolina, 26-19, in Outback Bowl. 

Coach: Jim Harbaugh, 28-11 in three seasons at Michigan, 57-32 overall.

Outlook: With one of the top defenses in the nation, the Wolverines should be in every game they play. However, the schedule is a doozy with an opener at Notre Dame followed by trips to Ohio State and Michigan State while also hosting Penn State and Wisconsin. If Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson is the answer at QB and the offensive line takes a step, it could be the year Jim Harbaugh finally leads the Wolverines to the conference championship game.

16. TCU

Last season: 11-3 overall, 7-2 Big 12; beat Stanford, 39-37, in Alamo Bowl. 

Coach: Gary Patterson, 160-57 in 18 seasons at TCU.

Outlook: The Horned Frogs will have a shot to reach the Big 12 title game if dual-threat quarterback Shawn Robinson can prove he’s the answer as the starter. He was inaccurate in limited action last season, but he’s got experienced, talented receivers and a solid running game buoyed by an improved TCU defense that looked more like a Gary Patterson unit in 2017 thanks to defensive end Ben Banogu, who had 8.5 sacks.

David Sills

17. West Virginia

Last season: 7-6 overall, 5-4 Big 12; lost to Utah, 30-14, in Heart of Dallas Bowl. 

Coach: Dana Holgorsen, 53-37 in seven seasons at West Virginia.

Outlook: The Mountaineers should have no trouble scoring points as quarterback Will Grier is coming off a 2017 in which he threw for 3,490 yards and 34 touchdowns. He has a stable of receivers, including All-American David Sills. The big question: Can Dana Holgorsen get his defense up to par after it finished better than only Baylor and Kansas in total defense last season in the Big 12?

18. Virginia Tech

Last season: 9-4 overall, 5-3 ACC; lost to Oklahoma State, 30-21, in Camping World Bowl. 

Coach: Justin Fuente, 19-8 in two seasons at Virginia Tech, 45-31 overall.

Outlook: The Hokies have made their name on coordinator Bud Foster’s defense, but they’ll face the challenge of replacing six starters this season. That will put plenty of pressure on the offense, where Michigan native Josh Jackson is back at quarterback. After opening the season at Florida State, the schedule sets up well as they face Notre Dame and Miami at home in an effort to reach the ACC title game.

19. Florida State

Last season: 7-6 overall, 3-5 ACC; beat Southern Mississippi, 42-13, in Independence Bowl. 

Coach: Willie Taggart, first season at Florida State, 47-50 overall.

Outlook: The Seminoles have a new coach as Willie Taggart takes over after one season at Oregon. He’ll inherit plenty of talent, including running back Cam Akers, who ran for 1,025 yards as a freshman. Who will be under center is the bigger question for Taggart’s up-tempo approach. Defensively, the Noles must replace all three starting linebackers but are plenty talented up front and in the secondary.

20. Mississippi State

Last season: 9-4 overall, 4-4 SEC; beat Louisville, 31-27, in TaxSlayer Bowl. 

Coach: Joe Moorhead, first season at Mississippi State.

Outlook: Plenty of experience returns for the Bulldogs, including quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, who is back after an ugly ankle injury suffered late last season. He’ll run an offense led by first-year coach Joe Moorhead, who comes from Penn State, where he coordinated the Nittany Lions’ potent offense. The defensive line might be among the best in the nation with all four starters back as the Bulldogs begin life after Dan Mullen, who won 69 games in nine seasons before leaving for Florida.

McKenzie Milton

21. UCF

Last season: 13-0 overall, 8-0 American; beat Auburn, 34-27, in Peach Bowl. 

Coach: Josh Heupel, first season at UCF.

Outlook: Scott Frost left for his alma mater, Nebraska, after leading the Knights to an unbeaten season and a self-proclaimed national championship, but don’t expect first-year coach Josh Heupel to let things crumble. He’ll have the luxury of quarterback McKenzie Milton leading the way. As a sophomore in 2017, Milton threw for 4,037 yards and 37 touchdowns while running for 613 yards and eight scores.

22. LSU

Last season: 9-4 overall, 6-2 SEC; lost to Notre Dame, 21-17, in Citrus Bowl. 

Coach: Ed Orgeron, 15-6 in two seasons at LSU, 31-33 overall.

Outlook: The Tigers will have to establish a new running back after Derrius Guice left for the NFL, but there’s plenty of buzz around the offense thanks to the transfer of quarterback Joe Burrow from Ohio State. The schedule is tough, as usual for a team from the SEC West, but add in a non-conference matchup with Miami to open the season in Dallas and the road will not be easy.

23. Boise State

Last season: 11-3 overall, 7-1 Mountain West; beat Oregon, 38-28, in Las Vegas Bowl. 

Coach: Bryan Harsin, 42-12 in four seasons at Boise State, 49-17 overall.

Outlook: The Broncos return their quarterback and their top running back as they look for double-digit win for the fourth straight season. The schedule gives them a good shot to do that and win the Mountain West, however, taking over the mantle as the top team from the Group of Five will be a tall task as they must replace linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, the conference’s defensive player of the year who had 141 tackles.

24. South Carolina

Last season: 9-4 overall, 5-3 SEC; beat Michigan, 26-19, in Outback Bowl. 

Coach: Will Muschamp, 15-11 in two seasons at South Carolina, 43-32 overall.

Outlook: There’s plenty of change for the Gamecocks, but there is an opportunity to make a push in the SEC East. The defense must replace its share of starters but has been the team’s most consistent unit. The hope is that new offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon’s up-tempo style will breathe life into an offense that ranked near the bottom in the SEC each of the last two seasons.

25. Oregon

Last season: 7-6 overall, 4-5 Pac-12; lost to Boise State, 38-28, in Las Vegas Bowl. 

Coach: Mario Cristobal, first season at Oregon, 27-48 overall.

Outlook: The Ducks will look to re-establish themselves as a player out West under first-year coach Mario Cristobal, who takes over after serving last season as Willie Taggart’s offensive coordinator. That unit played well when healthy last season, and if Cristobal can score some early recruiting victories as well as a few on the field, the Ducks could be making noise again soon in the Pac-12.