Preseason College Football rankings: Top 25 for 2018
25. Boise State Broncos
The Broncos are coming off their third double digit-win season in four seasons under Bryan Harsin, and there’s no reason to expect any different in 2018. There isn’t a team on Boise State’s 2018 schedule, sans Oklahoma State, the Broncos can’t beat. It certainly helps that quarterback Brett Rypien and running back Alexander Mattison return to lead the offense.
24. Mississippi State Bulldogs
Gone is Dan Mullen, though the Bulldogs have more than enough offensive weapons to succeed in 2018, starting with Nick Fitzgerald at quarterback and Aeris Williams at running back. Bringing in former Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead — the architect of the Nittany Lions’ high-flying offense the past two years — as head coach can only mean good things on offense.
23. South Carolina Gamecocks
Florida and Tennessee are breaking in first-year coaches, so this is a unique opportunity for Will Muschamp to lead the Gamecocks to a breakthrough in the SEC East. Quarterback Jake Bentley is back and should continue to improve with his supporting cast, too. Having a healthy Deebo Samuel will be a huge boost to the Gamecocks’ season.
22. Texas Longhorns
Tom Herman returns after leading the Longhorns to a bowl win in his first season. The nation’s No. 3-ranked recruiting class is heading to Austin. Sam Ehlinger is a quarterback the program can build around. Texas lost to USC, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State by a combined 11 points in 2017. Can the Longhorns close that gap next year?
21. Oklahoma State Cowboys
The Cowboys lose the star connection of Mason Rudolph and James Washington, but Mike Gundy decided to stay in Stillwater despite a push from Tennessee. There will be growing pains, but the Cowboys will figure things out.
20. Florida State Seminoles
First-year coach Willie Taggart inherits a talented team. The Seminoles have a quarterback battle on their hands, but the emergence of star running back Cam Akers should make that transition easier. Will the Seminoles get back to competing for an ACC championship? Those are the expectations Taggart faces every year now.
19. TCU Horned Frogs
Highly touted dual-threat quarterback Shawn Robinson will take over a team capable of making a run back to the Big 12 championship game. An early test against Ohio State on Sept. 15 will be telling.
18. LSU Tigers
Ed Orgeron led the Tigers to a January bowl game, and the quarterback competition among Myles Brennan, Lowell Narcisse and Justin McMillan looks promising. Still, the Tigers have a rough schedule that sees them open against Miami in Jerry World, face East opponents Florida and Georgia in consecutive weeks and take on always-tough division rivals Alabama and Auburn. We’ll know enough about this team before the Tide comes to Baton Rouge on Nov. 3.
17. Virginia Tech Hokies
Justin Fuente didn’t entertain some big-time coaching openings in the offseason, a testament to his commitment to Blacksburg. The Hokies have proven they’re good enough to compete for the ACC championship game again. They’ll have to build around quarterback Josh Jackson — and replace the losses of Tremaine and Terrell Edmunds on defense — to take the next step.
16. UCF Knights
Scott Frost is back at Nebraska, but incoming coach Josh Heupel inherits a fun and talented team, led by quarterback McKenzie Milton. A September showdown against Florida Atlantic will have huge ramifications for the Group of 5.
15. USC Trojans
Sam Darnold is gone to the NFL, so the focus will be on the quarterback battle among JT Daniels, Matt Fink, Jack Sears and Holden Thomas. Running back Stephen Carr should have a breakout season, however, and coach Clay Helton has reestablished a winning culture within the program.
14. Stanford Cardinal
Quarterback K.J. Costello’s continued development is imperative to the continued success of Stanford, though getting Bryce Love back for another season is big in that regard. The Cardinal are always in the mix with David Shaw, but the September schedule is tough, with San Diego State and USC at home, followed by road games at Oregon and Notre Dame.
13. Michigan State Spartans
Brian Lewerke emerged as Michigan State’s quarterback of the future in 2017, and that was the key to another successful season — and remarkable turnaround — in 2017 under Mark Dantonio. Running back LJ Scott is returning, and Ohio State and Michigan must visit East Lansing. As Dantonio likes to say, “It’s never over.”
12. Michigan Wolverines
Too high? The confirmed status of of Shea Patterson in 2018 could be the missing piece that allows Jim Harbaugh to silence the critics after a disappointing five-loss season. To be honest, we wanted to go higher, but the Wolverines’ schedule — which features road games at Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State — leaves them with a lot to prove.
11. Miami Hurricanes
Mark Richt and the Hurricanes arrived earlier than expected this year, and — despite three losses to end the season — should be back in ACC contention with Malik Rosier and a core that includes running back Travis Homer and a strong defense. Miami’s nonconference schedule features a monster opener against LSU at Jerry World and a road trip to Toledo.
10. Penn State Nittany Lions
The Nittany Lions were four points away from an undefeated season in 2017. James Franklin continues to build through recruiting. Penn State, however, must deal with the loss of Saquon Barkley. But new offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne called a great game in the Nittany Lions’ Fiesta Bowl win. How will that affect quarterback Trace McSorley going forward?
9. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
A November that saw the Irish go 2-2 overshadowed a 10-3 season, and the offensive line must replace two top-10 NFL Draft picks in Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey. Brandon Wimbush has a talented group of receivers with which to work, and that’s an area of development that could put Notre Dame over the top in 2018.
8. Auburn Tigers
Gus Malzhan opted to stay at Auburn, and with good reason. There’s enough talent on both sides of the ball to repeat as SEC West champions, and perhaps finish the job this time around. Jarrett Stidham is back, but leading rushers Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway are gone, as are Jeff Holland and Carlton Davis on defense. The Tigers also have to travel to Tuscaloosa and Athens this time around.
7. Washington Huskies
Chris Petersen has built a consistent winner at Washington. That will be tested when the Huskies and four-year starter Jake Browning take on Auburn in the season-opener in Atlanta. This is a huge game for the entire Pac-12; not just the Huskies.
6. Wisconsin Badgers
Wisconsin returns quarterback Alex Hornibrook and star running back Jonathan Taylor. Paul Chryst continues to improve the skill positions while following a familiar pattern with the offensive line and defense. The next step is finishing the job at the Big Ten championship game. If the Badgers can do that for the first time since 2012, then they’ll finally make the playoff.
5. Oklahoma Sooners
Lincoln Riley couldn’t have done a better job replacing Bob Stoops in Year 1, but the Sooners lost Baker Mayfield and a few other key pieces to the NFL. Kyler Murray and Co. struggled somewhat in the spring game, but should be ready to take the job. Early tests against Florida Atlantic (yes, really) and UCLA accelerate that learning curve.
4. Ohio State Buckeyes
Dwayne Haskins, Joe Burrow and Tate Martell are in the middle of a fierce quarterback battle in Columbus, and Urban Meyer faces the usual attrition to the NFL Draft. J.K. Dobbins and Nick Bosa are back, however, and Ohio State is still the team to beat in the Big Ten despite trips to TCU, Penn State and Michigan State.
3. Georgia Bulldogs
The Bulldogs were one of the big winners at the NFL Draft entry deadline last year. The defending SEC champions now have holes to fill, but the offense can build around sophomore Jake Fromm. Kirby Smart has an all-time recruiting class coming in, and the Bulldogs are in great position in the SEC East.
2. Clemson Tigers
Business as usual for Dabo Swinney. The Tigers suffered a few losses to the NFL Draft, but running back Travis Etienne is a value pick for the Heisman Trophy and the defensive line features four potential first-round picks in Dexter Lawrence, Christian Wilkins, Austin Bryant and Clelin Ferrell. The arrival of five-star freshman Trevor Lawrence has shaken up the quarterback battle, but that only reinforces the point: Clemson isn’t going anywhere.
1. Alabama Crimson Tide
Yes, we put Alabama at No. 1 again. Chances are it will be atop the preseason polls that come out in August. Nick Saban may have a quarterback controversy between Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa, but he’s working with the same talented stable of skill position players. One possible concern: Saban will be working with his third different defensive coordinator in four seasons, after Jeremy Pruitt left for Tennessee.
Others receiving votes: Texas A&M, Memphis, Louisville, Florida Atlantic, Arizona