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2018 Preseason Top 25

In College Football, General LSU, Preview, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on August 29, 2018 at 2:23 PM

Welcome back. I’ve had a busier than usual offseason, so apologies for not writing anything all that time. I’ll get right to it.

NOTE: I use Phil Steele for numbers of returning starters. He only counts offense and defense. The prior rankings refer to my list from last year as well as my weighted rankings for teams not in the top 25. Coincidentally, none of these teams were in the handful of games that have already been played.

1. Alabama, #1, CFP Champions – Despite very few (10) returning starters, Alabama has been so consistently in the top 2 (or at least top 4) at the end of the season, I can’t put any other team #1.
2. Clemson, #4, CFP Semifinalists – Although Clemson missed the championship game after being there the prior two years, I had to give the Tigers the edge for #2 over Georgia, last year’s runners-up. Seven returning starters on offense and 8 on defense could be scary even from a middling top-20 team.
3. Georgia, #2, CFP Runners-up – Georgia has a similar profile to Wisconsin, so I had to go with the better team from last year. Wisconsin was very good, but the competition throughout the season could have been better.
4. Wisconsin, #3, Orange Bowl Champions
The Badgers got mixed reactions from the major polls. I have to disagree with the coaches. I don’t see Oklahoma back in the Playoff, and despite the returning starters I can’t take Washington seriously as a title contender until proven otherwise.
5. Ohio St., #5, Cotton Bowl Champions
I don’t see why I shouldn’t leave the Buckeyes where they finished last season. They’re similar to Alabama in consistency from year to year (maybe not from game to game) regardless of how many returning starters. I don’t think the Meyer suspension will make a difference. I don’t understand TCU being so highly-rated, and the Buckeyes could probably win the other two games easily if the players drew up the plays themselves. The chances of winning the division are too low to rank Ohio St. higher.
6. Washington, #21
I’m not very excited about this pick, but the Huskies have a good chance to go undefeated or make the playoffs as a 1-loss conference champion. In that scenario, they would most likely finish with a similar result to 2016, but without anyone else to get excited about, I had to go with CFP Bowl experience and 17 returning starters. They could lose to Auburn, but Auburn has so many other potential losses on the schedule, the Huskies will most likely finish higher anyway.
7. Oklahoma, #7, CFP Semifinalists
This spot goes to the Sooners basically by default. Michigan, Michigan St., and Notre Dame weren’t good enough last year. Penn St. doesn’t have enough returning starters (10). Auburn is not especially appealing on either count.
8. Stanford, #18 – Stanford has to go on the road to Oregon, Washington, and Notre Dame, but on the other hand, the Cardinal beat all 3 last year. It’s a matter of not losing to teams like USC (twice) and San Diego St. again though. Other than the first game against the Trojans, Stanford lost each of the other 4 games by a field goal or less. Having 15 starters back can make the difference in games like that.
9. Michigan St., #11 – The Spartans were completely out of their depth against Notre Dame and Ohio St. last year, but the combination of 10 wins last year and 17 returning starters was hard to pass up.
10. Auburn, #12 – I’m a little wary of this pick because the Tigers are usually overrated in the polls, and I’m ranking them where the coaches’ poll has them. But there just isn’t a strong reason not to give them this spot. The Tigers did happen to lose to UCF, but it wasn’t exactly decisive. The only loss by more than one possession last year came against Georgia. A mediocre number of returning starters (13) made it hard to move the Plainsmen any higher though.
11. U. Miami, #13 – I don’t understand why the polls aren’t more skeptical of the Hurricanes. I think you have to do something more in recent years to get into the preseason top 10. Fourteen isn’t a bad number of returning starters, but it’s like we’re pretending they didn’t finish last year on a 3-game losing streak.
12. Notre Dame, #8 – I’ve made no secret of my opinion about the last time the Irish took the field, so I don’t think they were really the 8th-best team. In the first six weeks alone, the Irish will play Michigan, Stanford, and (at) Virginia Tech. If they get through that, we may be looking at a top-10 team or better. Fifteen returning starters give the Irish a decent chance to win each game.
13. Michigan, #26
Like Miami, the Wolverines also finished last season with 3 losses. In their defense, Wisconsin and Ohio St. were two of the five best teams in hindsight. South Carolina was probably just a letdown. The only loss to really hang their heads over was the blowout at Penn St. The middle of the top 25 seems like a realistic goal for a team with 17 returning starters despite not looking very good on paper last year.
14. USC, #10 – The Trojans have some experience (13 returning starters), but not at the QB position. #14 for a defending Power-5 conference champion is as low as I was willing to go in these circumstances.
15. Penn St., #9, Fiesta Bowl Champions – The Nittany Lions are 22-5 over the last two seasons, and 4 of those losses were by a field goal or less. I think they’re going to take a step back with only 10 returning starters, but no one should be checking them off as an easy win.
16. Mississippi St., #19 ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..
17. Florida, #63
I’m really looking forward to the Dan Mullen Bowl on September 29. In 2012, the Gators shocked many of their own fans by starting 11-1 (before losing the bowl game to Louisville) after going only 7-6 the year before. I can see a similar turnaround here except I think the ceiling is a little lower. They just went off the rails after losing home games against LSU and Texas A&M by a combined three points in an 8-day period. I did give Mississippi St. the edge based on last year’s results though. Florida has the most returning starters in the SEC with 19, and the Bulldogs tied with Arkansas for second with 17.
18. Boise St., #25
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19. Fresno St., #34
The Broncos might just be the most likely team in this list to go undefeated. Fresno St. is the only team on the schedule who beat them last year (although the Broncos won the rematch). Both have a high number of returning starters, 15 for Fresno, 16 for Boise. The Bulldogs did lose 4 games last year, but they also played Alabama and Washington.
20. UCF, #6, Peach Bowl Champions
Staying in the G5 conferences, I think the Knights deserve some recognition after going undefeated last year. They only have 12 returning starters, but that’s tied for fifth-best in their conference. Three of those teams with more returning starters finished .500 or worse in conference, so there is a very good chance UCF will repeat. On the other hand, there are a few possible losses out of conference.
21. TCU, #15
The Horned Frogs are last in the Big XII in returning starters (11), so only falling six spots is rather optimistic. It’s just hard to find teams to feel good about at this point. Other than the two losses to Oklahoma, the only loss from last year was by a touchdown at Iowa St. I’ve seen Patterson credited with knowing “how to rebuild,” but he also knows how to have a losing record in a rebuilding year.
22. Memphis, #24
When I mentioned UCF, Memphis was the one team in the conference with more returning starters who had a winning record in conference last year. The Tigers’ only regular-season losses were to UCF. In the first matchup, the Tigers lost by 27, but they improved enough during the year to require two overtimes before falling in the American Championship game. Memphis lost to Iowa St. by 1 in the Liberty Bowl.
23. South Carolina, #23 – The Gamecocks have won 6 games in a row that were not against top-3 opponents. This included wins over Florida and Michigan. South Carolina returns 14 starters including the quarterback, so keeping them at the same spot they finished made sense.
24. LSU, #20 – It’s hard for me to pick a team that’s tied last in its conference in returning starters to improve, especially without a tested quarterback or offensive coordinator. As for the OC, Steve Ensminger did do a good job in relief of Cam Cameron a couple of years ago, but having some success against mediocre teams with an offense that hadn’t been working well is different from running the offense throughout the offseason and preparing the players. He also had help from Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice. There is a plus side to the uncertainty (catching opponents off guard etc.); but in preseason, uncertainty is usually bad.
25. Oklahoma St., #22 – The Cowboys played well in the loss to Oklahoma last year, but that’s probably about the best they can expect this year as well. In the last six games last season, Okie St. won three games against ranked teams, two on the road and one in the bowl game. With only 12 returning starters and also a new quarterback to break in, it may be hard for the Cowboys to stay ranked.

Out of rankings: (14) Northwestern, (16) North Carolina St., (17) Iowa

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