Nobody knows who I am, but I keep getting the national champions right in every one of my early polls and this year I am picking……….
1. Clemson: I wasn’t going to pick the Tigers, but with 7 starters returning on offense and a whopping 9 on defense, they may be hard to beat. Quarterback Kelly Bryant will have to step up in the spring and the fall for the Tigers to win it all again. The talent on both sides of the ball is there. They return every single starter on the defensive line and it was the best in the nation a year ago, probably.
2. Alabama: The Crimson Tide is always going to be a challenge as long as Nick Saban is running the show. With both quarterbacks returning and 4 starters up front, the offense will be tough. The
defense returns only 3 starters, but you know the talent is always going to be suited up for Alabama.
3. Georgia: I really wanted to pick the Bulldogs to win it all, but with only 3 starters returning on defense, they may not be up to it. The offense returns 7 starters, including sophomore quarterback Jack Fromm. The addition of top ranked dual threat quarterback Justin Fields will make Georgia even harder to beat as will the top recruiting class in the country.
4. Ohio State: The Buckeyes have some big shoes to fill like quarterback JT Barrett, but with 7 starters returning on offense, they will be fine. The defense only has 4 guys coming back, but they are loaded from recent top recruiting classes. Nick Bosa will go off on quarterbacks this season. The Buckeyes still have plenty of speed and talent.
5. Oklahoma: Don’t worry about the Sooners and losing Heisman winner Baker Mayfield. His replacement, Kyler Murray will surprise you and they do return 6 starters on offense. 7 starters return on defense, but not sure that’s a good thing. Murray will surprise everyone next season by his running and passing abilities. He’s a former top dual threat quarterback recruit in the country and there’s a reason for that. The kid can play especially for a guy on the small side.
6. Penn State: Biggest loss on offense is running back Saquon Barkley, but they return a good offensive line, some receivers and quarterback Trace McSorley who is a proven winner. The defense lost a lot more talent than the offense, but James Franklin has built a program here. Watch for running backs Miles Sanders and Ricky Slade and wide receivers Juwan Johnson and Justin Shorter. The Nittany Lions had a magnificent recruiting class in 2018 and Shorter was top receiver in country.
7. Wisconsin: The Badgers have 9 starters coming back including the top freshman rusher of all time in Jonathan Taylor and an established quarterback in Alex Hornibrook. The offensive Line will dominate people and the defense at Wisconsin will be solid again in spite of only returning 4 starters. Wisconsin is the best case in the country for people that say that recruiting is not that important because they always do well with lessor recruits.
8. Miami: The Hurricanes are coming on under the coaching of Mark Richt. He’s had time to build his own program and his team finished 10-3 a season ago. They return plenty of experience off of that team with 8 starters returning on offense and also 8 on defense. Wide receiver Ahmmon Richards was fantastic as a true freshman two years ago and dropped a lot of passes last season. Look for him to rebound this year and the Canes have an experienced quarterback returning which is huge.
9. Washington: The Huskies returned their best two skilled position players in quarterback Jake
Browning and running back Myles Gaskin. They lost their best player on defense in Vita Via, but they do return 8 starters.
10. Florida: The Gators should be more than fine with the coaching change and Mullin coming in. He may be lacking in character, but he knows how to win. Plus, the Gators have always recruited well and they return 10 starters on offense and 9 on defense. If Mullin can get something out of the quarterback position, which is his specialty, the Gators could be a threat. However, it looks now as if Kirby Smart and Georgia have taken over the SEC East.
11. Michigan State: We all know how important the return of a good quarterback is and Brian Lewerke is pretty talented. Plus, the Spartans return everyone but their center from last year. The good thing about that is the replacement at center is last year’s younger brother and he might as well be a twin. Running back LJ Scott surprised most by returning for his senior year. The defense returns almost everyone as well and this could be a better team than last year’s 10-3 squad. Underestimate Spartan coach Mark Antonio at your own risk.
12. USC: The Trojans may never reach the level they were under Pete Carroll again, but they will remain competitive in a weak Pac 12 South at least one more year. But, they need to find a quarterback to replace Sam Darnold. They return enough players on defense to compete. Top tackler and linebacker Cam Smith returns as does top cornerback Biggie Marshall. UCLA and Chip Kelly are coming, but he may need a year or two to build the Bruins, so Chip Helton better get it going this season.
13. Michigan: If the Wolverines find steady play at quarterback, they will be tough to beat. They return 9 starters on both sides of the ball which is completely opposite of last season when they returned only about 3 starters on both sides combined. Regardless, or irregardless, of what they do on offense, the defense will be tough once again with guys like Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich at defensive ends and Devin Bush at linebacker. Watch out for defensive tackle Aubry Solomon and Khaleke Hudson is an All American at outside linebacker or safety. Wolverines are still dangerous.
14. Florida State: Writing off the Seminoles could be a huge mistake. They aren’t going anywhere and they may actually improve drastically under first year coach Willie Taggart. The Noles dramatically underachieved last season on a team full of talent. They return 8 starters on offense and only 4 on defense and while they probably won’t win the ACC this season, they may scare some people. Taggart is a proven program builder and Florida State was his dream job.
15. Texas: The Longhorns struggled under first year coach Tom Herman last year, but they qualified for a bowl and roughed up Missouri to finish with a 7-6 record. Herman and staff recruited out of this world this past season and that will show up soon. Their problems were at quarterback and in the offensive line last year, but they return 9 starters on offense and help is on the way. Their defensive coordinator is one of the best in the country and they return 7 starters on that side of the ball. If they don’t start a freshman at quarterback for the 3rd year in a row, they will be significantly better in 2018.
16. Boston College: Call me crazy, but the Eagles look to be much better than in recent seasons in 2018. With 10 starters returning on offense, they will be better there and quarterback Anthony Brown was a raw freshman last season. The Eagles always play stout defense and with 8 starters back on that side of the ball, things should be about the same. Losing defensive end Harold Landry hurts, but the other end, Zach Allen is a monster.
17. Oklahoma State: Like Boston College is on defense, the Cowboys of Oklahoma State are on offense. Losing 4 year starter Mason Rudolph at quarterback will hurt, but coach Mike Gundy always reloads somehow. Either senior Taylor Cornelius, or sophomore Keondre Wudtee will replace Rudolph and Wudtee will bring more mobility to the position than the Cowboys are used to having. Otherwise, this could be a big transition year for Oklahoma State.
18. Auburn: The Tigers upset Alabama in last year’s Iron Bowl and then in turn were upset by Georgia in the SEC Championship game. The Tigers return 6 starters on both sides of the ball and they could be much better than I have them here. Under head coach Gus Malzahn, they have been
somewhat inconsistent which matters in my rankings. Quarterback Jarrett Stidham is back for another go and that could be significant for their offense, but they also have many losses including long term starter at offensive guard in Braden Smith and tough running back Kerryon Johnson.
19. Nebraska: Whoa, it might take more than a season for former Cornhusker quarterback Scott Frost to get his old team back up and running, but it will get done. This blog has been preaching Frost for going on about 3 years now and I firmly believe we will see a return of the Huskers to greatness. It doesn’t even matter that they return 7 starters on offense and 7 on defense. This team has the best fans in America and they will be one of the teams of the next 3 or 4 years. Once Frost restores the image of Nebraska and gets his own guys in place, this team will be scary.
20. Notre Dame: The Irish are usually overrated and this year could be the same. They lost their best two offensive linemen and first round picks Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson, and Nelson may be one of the best offensive guards of all time. Replacing them may be tough. Will the quarterback be Brandon Wimbush, or Ian Book. They may have enough talent to remain a top 20 team, but it will be tough. The defensive side of the ball may be in better shape with 6 returning starters.
21. Kansas State: Bill Snyder may be the best coach in the country that nobody knows much about, but he’s getting up there in age and his Wildcats of late have not been his best of teams. But, this season he returns 10 starters on offense which may help. The defense only returns 6, but Snyder’s teams are going to play defense every season. Snyder’s record at Kansas State is 210-110-1 at a school that was 1-10 pretty much annually before he arrived back in 1989.
22. Florida Atlantic: While Lane Kiffin may spend way too much trolling time on twitter, the man can apparently coach and FAU is located in the middle of the most talent infested area of the country. The year before Kiffin arrived, the Owls produced a 3-9 record. His first FAU Owl team went 11-3. After an unimpressive 1-3 start, the Owls won 10 straight to finish their season. They return 6 starters on offense and 10 on defense, so they may be a solid team again this season.
23. TCU: Patterson is too good of a coach to worry about only 2 starters returning on offense and 6 on defense. Sophomore Shawn Robinson may be the future at quarterback, but their defense may have to carry them early on. They should have enough talent to win at least 9 to 11 games this season. Gary Patterson is another coach that will usually be competitive year in and year out.
24. Missouri: Tiger coach Barry Odom was on the hot seat very badly early on last season, but the team rose up and saved his job. Maybe he coached up and saved his job, either way, the team began
playing well against good competition. Quarterback Drew Lock was on fire under offensive coordinator and former Oklahoma quarterback Josh Heupel. Since then, Heupel left to take over for Scott Frost at UCF and the Tigers have hired former Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley. We will see how that goes, but on the brighter side, they do return 9 starters on offense and 6 on the defensive side.
25. Stanford: The Cardinal return 7 starters on offense including the nation’s top running back, Bryce Love. They also return some real talent up front in the offensive line and quarterback KJ Costello. The biggest problem that Stanford will have is on defense where they have to replace 8 starters including their heart and soul, Harrison Phillips. But, also other talents like Justin Reid and Bobby Okereke. But, David Shaw has a solid system in place and they should be tough as usual.
LSU: I thought firing Les Miles was a mistake and the Tigers may suffer for it. But, time will tell. They only return 4 on offense, but 7 returnees on defense is a positive. I think the wheels come off soon.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies return 6 on offense including sophomore quarterback Josh Jackson. Losses like the Edmunds brothers on defense will be tough, but they do have 5 starters coming back and Justin Fuente is a dangerous coach.
Minnesota: The Gophers under first year coach PJ Fleck were a slight disappointment in 2017, but rowing your boat is going to be a more well known slogan soon. Watch for the Gophers who return 7 starters on each side of the ball.
Texas A%M: First year coach Jimbo Fisher may have his hands full in his first season at College Station, but to help him he returns 7 starters on offense and another 7 on defense. But, the Aggies
Ole Miss: The Rebels had their problems and their moments last season and with 9 starters returning on offense and 5 on defense they may surprise some folks this year. Offensively, they should be strong.
Miss State: Losing head coach Dan Mullins has to hurt, but the Bulldogs hired Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead could help lessen the pain. However, he is a New Yorker and how will that fit in Starkville, Mississippi? That is my question, but the Bulldogs return 9 starters on the offense and 8 on the defense, so they may be good.
Iowa: The Hawkeyes are generally tough under head coach Kirk Ferentz and with quarterback Nate Stanley returning and 7 other starters on offense, Iowa could be good. Stanley might be the best Iowa quarterback since Chuck Long before he is done and he has 2 more seasons if he wants them. The defense lost it’s main man in linebacker Josey Jewell and replacing him will be no easy chore.
Northwestern: The Wildcats lost 4 year starter and one of college football’s all time most consistent backs in Justin Jackson, but they do return 8 starters on offense and 3 year starter at quarterback, Blake Thorson. The defense is led by more than solid linebacker Paddy Fisher.
Purdue: The Boilermakers might should be ranked this season because they are an up and coming team under head coach Jeff Brohm. Watching them last season was almost shocking in their improvements over the previous season. In his first season at Purdue, Brohm led them to a bowl game, but being in the same conference and division as Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State is a tough task. The Boilers return 9 starters on offense and 4 on defense. Watch this team.
West Virginia: With 8 starters including quarterback Will Grier and touchdown maker David Sills on offense and 7 returners on defense, the Mountaineers probably deserve a spot on the rankings. But, it’s early and they can play their way in.
UNT: Who, you say? North Texas returns record breaking quarterback Mason Fine and a total of 10 starters on offense and 8 on defense from a 9-5 team. They could be really good, but not quite there.
Kentucky: The Wildcats return 7 starters on offense and 10 on defense which could make them a contender in the SEC East.