Written by: David Parks – Staff Writing Intern
Forget summer vacations. Forget having to actually plan stuff to do on Saturdays. Starting this Saturday and continuing through January, college football is back.
The most pure form of entertainment on TV returns to write yet another historic chapter in the sport’s history. As is the case every year, certain teams come in stronger than others, specifically those that return double digit starters.
Here’s a look at the Grandstand’s Preseason Top 25
My favorite part of every preseason poll is seeing how many people did NOT vote Alabama number one going into the season. People… Nick Saban has won four national titles in nine seasons. He’s lost Heisman Trophy winners, All-Americans, Coordinators, Position Coaches. And guess what? NONE OF IT MATTERS.
The Tide must replace some key starters including Derrick Henry, Reggie Ragland and A’Shawn Robinson, but…. SPOILER ALERT: It won’t matter. This year’s defense may be one of the best Saban’s had while in Tuscaloosa which is saying something. As long as the defense and running game produce, a tricky road slate shouldn’t derail the Tide as they look to make it three playoff appearances in three years.
Having the nation’s best player always helps. People will point to the lack of returning starters on defense, but Brent Venables had to replace nine starters this time last year and all Clemson did was rattle off the most wins in program history (14). The season (and a potential playoff birth) will come down to a late-October date with Florida State in Tallahassee.
- Florida State
In terms of rosters from top to bottom, FSU is right in the discussion with Alabama, LSU and Ohio State for most stacked roster. The Noles are led by Dalvin Cook and his absurd 7.4 ypc from a year ago. The big question for the Noles will be how redshirt freshman quarterback Deondre Francois plays. If he lives up to his billing, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Florida State in the playoff for the second time in three years. We’ll learn a lot about the Noles early, with games against Ole Miss and at Louisville in the first three weeks of the season.
Part of me wanted to make them number one. Part of me also wanted to leave them out of the top ten entirely.
This team might have the best roster, top to bottom, in the entire country. But once again, LSU is hitching its wagon to both Cam Cameron and Brandon Harris to lead their offense, something that should make every LSU fan break out in a hot sweat at night.
Still, bringing in one of the nation’s best defensive coordinators and returning 18 starters from a year ago is more than enough to warrant a top five preseason ranking.
- Ohio State
Lose 16 starters? No problem!
At least if you’re Urban Meyer, who is an insane 50–4 through four seasons in Columbus. It would be easy to write Ohio State off this year, but the Bucks have recruited as well as anyone over the course of Meyer’s tenure meaning any talk of a rebuild should be replaced with talk of reloading.
Although the Bucks lost a ton of experience and production, part of me feels as though this team will be easier and more fun for Meyer to coach because of the lack of egos on the team, guys hungry to prove themselves and not having upwards of a dozen guys focused on a payday that awaits them come the end of the season. Another point that can’t be discounted — not having a full-blown QB controversy this go round.
Without question the national darling heading into the season. Loads of talent return on both sides of the ball, but where Michigan is strongest is in the trenches. The season will come down to whether or not Houston transfer John O’Korn can duplicate what Jake Rudock did last year for the Wolverines. If he can, there’s no reason Michigan can’t make the playoff this year… Provided of course their punter has learned how to catch and hold onto a snap.
The Vols welcome back 18 starters including their three-headed rushing attack comprised of quarterback Josh Dobbs and running backs Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara. Defensively, new coordinator Bob Shoop should make the unit even better than a year ago with his aggressive blitz packages and deep defensive line rotation to work with.
There’s no question Butch Jones needs to show the ability to close out close games this year. Tennessee is the clear favorite in the SEC East — anything less than a trip to Atlanta will be considered a disappointment.
On paper this is probably lower than they deserve to be. Much like the Vols, the Sooners welcome back a potent backfield trio that should put up plenty of points this fall assuming everyone stays healthy.
Where there is cause for concern with Oklahoma lies in their ability to replace two guys — Sterling Shepard and Eric Striker. Both amassed crazy production over their careers, but it’s the leadership and intangibles both those guys brought to the locker room that will be hard for Oklahoma to replace. Much like Florida State, we’ll learn a lot about Oklahoma early on with games vs. Houston and Ohio State in the first three weeks.
Most coaches have their breakthrough in either year two or three. Heading into his third season in Seattle, Chris Petersen is poised to have his breakthrough season for the Huskies. 17 starters return including Budda Baker and Sidney Jones who make up half of the conference’s best secondary. Washington also welcomes Stanford to its house on a Friday night meaning the Pac 12 North should go through Seattle.
Easily the top ten team with the most question marks. Yes Christian McCaffery is back and yes he’s amazing, but Kevin Hogan is being replaced by a kid who’s attempted nine career passes. The offensive line must replace three starters including Outland Trophy winner Joshua Garnett. The Cardinal did receive a boost when defensive coordinator Lance Anderson opted to return to Palo Alto rather than pursue the BYU opening. There is perhaps no tougher six-game stretch for any team in the country than Stanford’s first six contests: vs. K-State, vs. USC, @UCLA, @UW, vs. Wazzu, @ND.
Most will scoff at this ranking due to how their season ended (See above). Still though — this team was three points away from beating Michigan State in the Big Ten Title Game and finishing the regular season undefeated.
C.J. Beathard is back, and may just be the Big Ten’s best quarterback. The Hawkeyes averaged 181 yards/game on the ground last year and return three starters on the line in addition to three of their four top backs from a year ago.
Like last year, Iowa benefits from a tremendous schedule, bypassing both Michigan State and Ohio State while drawing the Wolverines at home.
- Notre Dame
Few teams suffered more “quality” losses than did Notre Dame. Gone is Will Fuller, Sheldon Day, Jaylon Smith, KeiVarae Russell and Ronnie Stanley among others. The key for the Irish will be how quickly Brian VanGorder can patch together a defense that was recently dealt yet another blow.
Easily the team I’m most excited to see this coming year. Petrino’s team returns 16 starters including Lamar Jackson. Defensively, DeVonte Fields (remember him?) returns as does Josh Harvey-Clemons and Keith Kelsey to make up for the loss of Sheldon Rankins. Trips to Clemson and Houston will be tough, but the Cardinals do get to play host to Florida State early in the season.
Still not sure how Florida won ten games last season, but it’s a testament to how good of a coach Jim McElwain is. This season figures to be similar to last — Florida’s defense is easily one of the best in the country featuring NFL guys at every level. The key for the Gators will be the play of Luke Del Rio at quarterback, and improving an offensive line that surrendered a nation-leading 45 sacks a year ago.
- Ole Miss
The Rebs are coming off one of the best seasons in school history but face major question marks both on and off the field. Chad Kelly returns, as does a plethora of weapons on the outside. Ole Miss must replace four starters on the offensive line in addition to losing starting running back Jordan Wilkins. Defensively, the Rebs should be solid, but will be relying on two transfers to man the linebacker spots… And they’ll need to learn fast. The Rebs play Florida State, Alabama and Georgia in the first four weeks of the season.
- North Carolina
Losing Marquise Williams may turn out to be addition by subtraction. Mitch Trubisky can be better, whether he will remains to be seen. Elijah Hood is the best player you’ve never heard of and he’ll be running behind a line that returns four starters. “Tehhh Chiz” did wonders in his first year, but run defense (424 ypg/game & 6.6 ypc/game allowed over last 3 games of 2015 season) was exposed toward the end of last season. That’s not good when the first team on the schedule has Nick Chubb.
- Oklahoma State
Should have a top five offense nationally if five returning starters on the o-line can improve from a year ago. If Barry Sanders, Jr. can improve a running game that ranked 114th in the nation last year Oklahoma State, despite road trips to Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma, can win the Big 12.
- Michigan State
Pretty incredible — Michigan State has won 11 games five of the last six years. Connor Cook must be replaced, but the guy replacing him started the game that led to this moment. LJ Scott should be a breakout player nationally. Meanwhile on defense — Malik McDowell and Max Bullough will lead a rugged front seven. “No respect” will be used often as internal motivation.
Everyone knows Ohio State lost the most underclassmen to the draft last year. Few realize UCLA was second on that list with six. Josh Rosen appears to be a stud, be his receiving core and offensive line and virtually brand new. The defense welcomes back Eddie Vanderdoes but he alone won’t be able to fix a run defense that surrendered more than 300 yards to the opposition on three separate occasions last year.
The return of Kenny Trill! The Aggie transfer will inherit good skills guys but a whole new offensive line. Perhaps no team was as ravaged by injuries last year as TCU. The Horned Frogs welcome back four guys whose seasons were cut short by injury last season in addition to seven starters on defense.
- Texas A&M
Kenny Trill’s old team is banking on Trevor Knight in what may be a make or break year for Kevin Sumlin. Knight will have an abundance of weapons at his disposal and maybe the best defense the Aggies have had in Sumlin’s tenure.
- Boise State
Broncos’ annual ritual of threatening to crash the party will once again be in full force. Per PFF, the Broncos return ten guys on defense that played at least 200 snaps last season. Brett Rypien was fun to watch as a freshman, expect him to be even better with the return of Jeremy McNichols and Thomas Sperbeck.
If this team had any semblance of a quarterback they would be top 15. Best front seven in the Pac 12 and maybe a top five unit nationally. Offense must replace a ton of production but does expect to start five upperclassmen along the offensive line.
Uncertain health of Chubb and Michael land Georgia here. Full health? Top 15. Anytime you start a freshman quarterback there’s going to be some serious highs and lows. Expect Georgia to win a game they shouldn’t and lose a game they shouldn’t.
- Washington State
Few things in life better than the late night Pac 12 game when it features Mike Leach. Luke Falk and Gabe Marks will be fun to watch all season. If the Cougs can make any stops at all there’s no reason they can’t contend for the Pac 12 North.