Spring football in the FBS is in the books and it’s time to turn our attention to the start of the 2018 college football season. Plenty of eyes were on last year’s national championship competitors as they kicked off back-to-back on April 21 with people watching the Tua Tagovailoa vs. Jalen Hurts debate play out (without Tua on the field) and also watching Justin Fields to see if he could take over the starting job in the same way Jake Fromm did last season.
There are some great games coming up in week one including: Alabama vs. Louisville (Orlando), Auburn vs. Washington (Atlanta), Michigan at Notre Dame and more. What’s important is who will be ending their season on January 7 in Santa Clara, California in the national championship game.
Who will be ranked #1 when the first week gets here? Who will be severely over-ranked at the beginning compared to the end or perhaps very underrated to start the season?
Here is my way-too-early Top 10 rankings following spring practice. Why only 10 and not 25? Because it’s too early to get into the weeds of who will be #23 in the rankings or which group of 5 team has the chance to jump in to the top 20. All anyone really cares about is who could compete for a chance to play in the college football playoffs. Well here they are:
1. Alabama (SEC)
Last Season Finish: 1
There is no doubt that Tua Tagovailoa will be the quarterback as long as he’s healthy. Jalen Hurts had a chance to prove himself at A-Day with Tagovailoa sidelined, yet he struggled and didn’t look great in comparison to co-MVP Mac Jones who will most likely be the third-string QB.
Tagovailoa is still considered the savior of this Alabama team after coming in and winning the national championship last year. The Tide also return plenty of skill players including Damien Harris, Najee Harris and Josh Jacobs at running back. At the receiver position, Alabama has lost Calvin Ridley to the NFL, but still have Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III and last year’s overtime game-winner receiver Devonta Smith.
The defense will have plenty of talent, despite losing many top players to the draft. Up front, Raekwon Davis, Isaiah Buggs and a whole host of players looked good this spring. Mack Wilson is poised to lead another great group of linebackers, and the secondary has a lot of talent as well.
The big question, as it usually is with Alabama, will be the kicking game. Joseph Bulovas went 5/7 in the spring game, but we’ll have to see what he does in a game situation, especially with the first game away from home.
Opening game: vs. Louisville (Orlando)
2. Clemson (ACC)
Last Season Finish: 4
Clemson could have a QB controversy on their hands if Kelly Bryant doesn’t come out guns blazing. They start easy with an FCS school, but then take on Texas A&M in week 2. We could see Class of 2018 overall #1 recruit Trevor Lawrence get some playing time early and maybe even split time between Bryant and Lawrence. Lawrence is that good, and he ended up going 11/16 for 122 yards with a touchdown in the spring game.
There is no reason to not expect Clemson to win the ACC again and make their way to the college football playoff. Florida State has a new coach, Miami can’t seem to get over the hump, and that’s about it. Their defense, specifically the defensive line, is looked at among the best in college football. They do need to replace some offensive lineman though as well which could hurt the QB battle.
Opening game: vs. Furman
3. Georgia (SEC)
Last Season Finish: 2
Sure, Georgia lost arguably the best running back tandem in the country with Nick Chubb and Sony Michel going to the NFL, but D’Andre Swift is no slouch and has a chance to be even better behind a decent offensive line. Jake Fromm was great in his freshman year and has experience on the biggest stages playing on the road at Notre Dame and in the playoffs against Oklahoma and Alabama going 2-1 in those games and easily could have been 3-0.
Justin Fields comes in as the #1 overall player according to some sites (I use 247Sports Composite which had Trevor Lawrence #1), and he could challenge for some playing time, if not even the starting job. It would be the second year in a row that a freshman would come in and end up being the starter.
You know Kirby Smart and Mel Tucker will have a solid defense, but replacing top tier talent like Roquan Smith will be tough, as he was one of the best defenders in all of college football last year and was the leader of this defense. He’s not the only one as they have to replace three of their top four linebackers.
Opening game: vs. Austin Peay
4. Wisconsin (Big Ten)
Last Season Finish: 7
Wisconsin should have no trouble making it back to the Big Ten title game yet again. My favorite for the Heisman trophy is running back Jonathan Taylor who had a huge season last year as a freshman rushing for almost 2,000 yards. Alex Hornibrook is back at quarterback, although his leading receiver was Troy Fumagalli at tight end and he’s gone to the NFL.
Wisconsin has been known for good defenses, but they have some holes to fill. That will be the biggest question mark on top of Hornibrook’s arm which has never been spectacular. All they need to do is run the table…again, but then win the Big Ten title game and they could make a run at the playoffs.
Opening game: vs. Western Kentucky
5. Washington (Pac-12)
Last Season Finish: 16
Many people look down on the Pac-12 as a whole, but watch out for Washington. They start the season off with Auburn and will most likely come in as the higher ranked team. They do have to travel cross country though.
Jake Browning returns at quarterback, Myles Gaskin returns at running back, their defense returns plenty of players as well and Washington could easily make the playoff as the Pac-12 champion. Dante Pettis is gone at receiver, but you have to trust a veteran quarterback to be able to find a new playmaker.
Don’t sleep on their defense either, they have had one of the better ones in college football the last few years. Two years ago when they made the playoff, they led the league in turnover margin and they have had the top scoring defense in the Pac-12 for three years in a row. The defense did lose lineman Vita Vea who was a top pick in the draft, and linebacker Keishawn Bierria. Those two and Pettis are the biggest questions.
Opening game: vs. Auburn (Atlanta)
6. Ohio State (Big Ten)
Last Season Finish: 5
JT Barrett was a straight up winner for Ohio State throughout his four years in Columbus, but now Urban Meyer has to find his replacement. Dwayne Haskins seems to be the front-runner as a sophomore. They also return Mike Weber and JK Dobbins who have both had 1,000 yard rushing seasons, although there are some questions on the offensive line.
There are plenty of questions with Ohio State, and I could see them not making the playoffs in a decently tough Big Ten. Their defense took a hit when middle linebacker Tuf Borland went out with an Achilles injury. At the end of the day, it’s still Urban Meyer and a squad that has been consistently in the playoff hunt, including making it twice and winning a national title.
Opening game: vs. Oregon State
7. Oklahoma (Big 12)
Last Season Finish: 3
Can Oklahoma replace Heisman winner Baker Mayfield? The answer is an easy “no”. That doesn’t mean they won’t be good though, Mayfield was just an unreal talent that won’t be matched. Kyler Murray is the favorite to replace Mayfield, however, he has been playing baseball this season for Oklahoma and is a potential first-round pick in the draft this season. Murray transferred from Texas A&M a couple of years ago and the race is between him and sophomore Austin Kendall. If Murray is drafted, Kendall might be the guy, and we don’t know much about him.
The Big 12 is not known for defense, and Lincoln Riley is an offensive guy. Can they build a defense to stop some of the high powered Big 12 offenses? I’m not convinced they can, but still, there is plenty of talent on this team to make a potential run at the playoff again.
Also, don’t sleep on Florida Atlantic in the first game throwing a big wrench into their season.
Opening game: vs. Florida Atlantic
8. Miami (ACC)
Last Season Finish: 13
Miami returns Malik Rosier at quarterback, who set a school record last season with 31 total touchdowns. The Hurricanes had a good season last year, but fell apart at the end after big wins over top ranked Virginia Tech and Notre Dame, and lost three straight to end the season. Granted, two of those were top teams in Clemson and Wisconsin, but it shows that they aren’t at all ready to compete with the big boys…yet.
They start off with a game against LSU that is winnable, especially with plenty of questions surrounding the Tigers. They don’t have to play Notre Dame or Clemson in the regular season, and get Florida State at home. They end with a tough final stretch which includes road games at Virginia, Boston College, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech.
Miami is not hurting for talent, and the upside for Miami is high. However, they haven’t shown that they can truly compete with Clemson or any of the other top teams in the country yet.
Opening game: vs. LSU (Dallas)
9. Auburn (SEC)
Last Season Finish: 10
Auburn was killed by injuries this spring, leaving many questions about the team. Two receivers are out for at least the beginning of the season, and starting quarterback Jarrett Stidham had surgery on his non-throwing shoulder. Stidham should be ready for the regular season, but there are also questions about the people protecting him on the offensive line.
Auburn also lost some talent to the NFL with running backs Kerryon Johnson and Kam Pettway along with Carlton Davis and Jeff Holland on the defense. At the running back position, Kam Martin looks to be the starter, but JaTarvious Whitlow and Alabama Mr. Football Asa Martin look to help as well. We could also see a little from Harold Joiner as a freshman also.
The defense dominated in the spring game, but a big part of that was the injuries to the offensive line and lack of some other skill players. Expect Auburn to continue to have one of the best defenses in college football, but there are too many questions about the offense to have them higher than their rivals Alabama and Georgia.
Opening game: vs. Washington (Atlanta)
10. Michigan (Big Ten)
Last Season Finish: NR
If not now, when? This is the motto I had with Michigan last year. I’ll keep it this season as they pick up Shea Patterson who had a decent career at Ole Miss, a team that was plagued with NCAA sanctions. Patterson is immediately eligible and is probably the best quarterback option Harbaugh has had so far.
Patterson can’t be the savior alone, he’ll need help. Michigan has had some really good recruiting classes under Harbaugh, but it’s time for those players to step up and actually provide for this team. On defense, they have been fairly solid and should continue down that path. Last season, they held all of their opponents under 31 points except Penn State, but lost some tough games to talented teams in the Big Ten. This season will be tough as they have to travel to Notre Dame, Northwestern, Michigan State and Ohio State, plus take on Wisconsin and Penn State at home.
Opening game: vs. Utah State
10 teams who are just outside but could make some noise this season (alphabetical order):
Michigan State (Big Ten)
Mississippi State (SEC)
Notre Dame (Independent)
Penn State (Big Ten)
South Carolina (SEC)
TCU (Big 12)
Texas (Big 12)
Virginia Tech (ACC)
West Virginia (Big 12)
Early SEC Predictions
2. South Carolina
3. Mississippi State
4. Texas A&M
7. Ole Miss
Early conference championship predictions
ACC – Clemson over Miami
Big Ten – Wisconsin over Ohio State
Big 12 – Oklahoma over West Virginia
Pac-12 – Washington over USC
SEC – Alabama over Georgia
Early playoff predictions
(1) Alabama vs. (4) Washington
(2) Clemson vs. (3) Wisconsin