Early college football top 25 for the 2018 season

Alabama had a thrilling comeback to win yet another title. It included putting in a freshman quarterback, who hadn’t played a meaningful snap all season long. The game just goes to show that college football is unique and great. While the 2017 season is now over it is time to look ahead to the 2018 season. Here is the early college football top 25 for the 2018 season:

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

While they always lose talent to the NFL, Alabama can replace it. Jalen Hurts or Tua Tagovailoa will lead the offense alongside any of the talented running backs that decide to return to school. Najee Harris found some daylight in the title game and will also be back. The defense will lose a lot more talent to the NFL, but they always step up. A lot of players got experience this season due to injuries.

2. Clemson Tigers

Clemson made a third straight College Football Playoff and will compete for another next season. Kelly Bryant and the talented running backs will be back. Deon Cain and Hunter Renfrow need to make their decisions still, but Clemson can replace them. The defense always reloads and will at the very least have stud defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence to build around.

3. Ohio State Buckeyes

Early college football top 25 for the 2018 season

J.K. Dobbins (Photo by cleveland.com)

J.T. Barrett may be leaving, but Dwayne Haskins looked good in relief against Michigan. Add him with J.K. Dobbins, Mike Weber and the majority of the offensive line returning and it has the makings of a good offense. The defense will still have Nick Bosa and Dre’Mont Jones, which will help make up a good defensive line.

4. Washington Huskies

The Huskies had a young team this season that saw them replace a lot of NFL talent on defense. Jake Browning should return to school to lead the team at quarterback. Myles Gaskin and Dante Pettis could both be lost to the NFL, but if Gaskin elects to return to school, the offense will be solid. The majority of the defense will return, but will have to fill holes left by Vita Vea and some very good linebackers.

5. Miami Hurricanes

Is Malik Rosier the answer at quarterback? Only time will tell. The Hurricanes should have him, Mark Walton and Ahmmon Richards back to make plays. They do lose a lot on the offensive line, but should be able to replace it. Miami should also get most of their defense back, which includes a great back seven of talented linebackers and a good secondary.

6. Michigan State Spartans

L.J. Scott decided to return to school, giving Michigan State almost all their starters back for next year. After winning ten games this season, they should be expected to compete even more next season. Brian Lewerke is a dual-threat that is expected to improve this offseason. The defense was very young and should also get a lot better next season.

7. Georgia Bulldogs

The Bulldogs just played in the National Championship, but are going to lose a lot of talent, especially on their defense. They could lose up to nine or ten players from the defense, which will not be easy to replace. Georgia has some playmakers on offense returning in Jake Fromm, D’Andre Swift and Riley Ridley. Most of their offensive line also returns.

8. Wisconsin Badgers

Wisconsin got a huge win when linebacker T.J. Edwards said he was returning for his senior season. He will give the defense some stability, as they lose a lot this offseason. The offense will be expected to pick up the slack, as Jonathan Taylor had a fantastic freshman season and most of his offensive line will return. The question is: How well can Alex Hornibrook play?

9. Oklahoma Sooners

Lincoln Riley did a fantastic job in his first year as head coach, but now has to move on without Baker Mayfield. Kyler Murray was a highly-touted recruit that Riley can mold. Freshman running back Rodney Anderson also returns after having a great season and Rose Bowl. Add those two to wide receiver “Hollywood” Brown and the offense should be set. Defensively, some talent will move on, but the offense is the strength of the team.

10. Virginia Tech Hokies

Early college football top 25 for the 2018 season

Josh Jackson (Photo by cjonline.com)

Josh Jackson had a fantastic freshman season that resulted in nine wins. His progression is what carries this ranking. Travon McMillan and Cam Phillips, his two offensive weapons at running back and wide receiver, are gone. Young receivers will need to step up and they will also need to replace a few offensive linemen. The Hokies will return about six or seven starters on defense, but will need to replace some NFL-level talent.

11. Penn State Nittany Lions 

Saquon Barkley is gone, but Trace McSorley is back again. He will now have to be the focal point of the offense with a new offensive coordinator. Most of the offensive line returns, but a lot of new faces will have to step up on defense, as they had a lot of seniors getting significant playing time.

12. Auburn Tigers

The Tigers had a great season that resulted with them playing in the Cotton Bowl. Auburn gets quarterback Jarrett Stidham back, while Kerryon Johnson is leaving for the NFL. They will lose some quality players on defense, but will get the majority back for 2018.

13. Stanford Cardinal

Bryce Love is likely going to the NFL. The good news for Stanford is they can seemingly plug in a lot of running backs into their system to be productive. K.J. Costello also showed some flashes of being a very good quarterback. They lose more than half of their defense to seniors, but the returning players are solid.

14. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Both Josh Adams and Equanimeous St. are trying to make it at the next level. Losing Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson deals a significant blow to the offense of Notre Dame. They still have some good offensive linemen, running backs and wide receivers who will step up next season. That only leaves the matter of quarterback. Ian Book and Brandon Wimbush will battle it out in the offseason for the starting role. The seniors leaving the defense will leave a mark, but a lot of players returning have gotten significant playing time due to injuries over the previous few seasons.

15. Boise State Broncos

Boise State has a chance to be in the national spotlight again this year, after fading in the past few seasons. Quarterback Brett Rypien and running back Alexander Mattison return, which should help keep the offense rolling. Losing wide receiver Cedrick Wilson and some offensive linemen will hurt, but they will manage. The defense is young and pretty much all returning next season, meaning they should be dominant.

16. LSU Tigers

The Tigers will have to replace a lot of their offense, but they have some talented recruits waiting to take the team to the next level. Myles Brennan looks to take over at quarterback after seeing action in six games this season. He was a highly-touted recruit that should be able to make plays with another year under his belt. A lot of good players from LSU’s defense will be missing as well, so they’re recruits will need to step up.

17. Michigan Wolverines

Early college football top 25 for the 2018 season

Shea Patterson (Photo by freep.com)

Michigan won the Shea Patterson sweepstakes and the quarterback transfer from Ole Miss. Brandon Peters also showed potential at the position this season. They’ll need skill position players to step up next season. Donovan Peoples-Jones is in store for a big year at wide receiver if the quarterback play is good enough. The defense returns most of its key players. A player to watch is linebacker Devin Bush, who is one of the best in the country.

18. USC Trojans

Sam Darnold helped lead USC back to prominence, but now he is gone. Gone too are running back Ronald Jones and wide receiver Deontay Burnett. Two offensive linemen also graduate, so they will have some big shoes to fill in Los Angeles. A lot of their players on the defensive side of the ball will be testing the NFL Draft waters, so sophomore corner Jack Jones will have to step up and be a leader.

19. West Virginia Mountaineers

Will Grier had a great season for West Virginia and has decided to return to school. With most of his weapons back, Grier should have the Mountaineers in good position to have one of the best offenses in the country once again. While the defense isn’t the strength of the team, a lot of returning players will be good to work with.

20. Florida Atlantic Owls

Florida Atlantic hit a home run when they hired Lane Kiffin. He took a team that was supposed to be very bad and made them a conference championship team. Running back Devin Singletary was one of the most productive running backs in the country this season and will be back for his junior year. A young defense should also improve as a lot more people hop on the “Lane Train”.

21. Kansas State Wildcats

Bill Snyder is back for another season. They won nine games in 2016 and eight games this season with young teams. Now, with a bunch of veterans, the Wildcats are looking to compete more in the Big 12. Wide receiver Byron Pringle will be asked to do a lot for this team, but they will mainly try to run the football. If D.J. Reed decides to return at corner, it should be another solid year for the Wildcats.

22. Northwestern Wildcats

They won ten games this season and will be back for more next season. While their career leading rusher, Justin Jackson, is graduating, they seem to believe freshman Jeremy Larkin can be a workhorse back in his sophomore year. Quarterback Clayton Thorson is also back for next season, but is recovering from a torn ACL in the Music City Bowl. Freshman linebacker Paddy Fisher looks like he will be on of their all-time greats.

23. Florida State Seminoles

Early college football top 25 for the 2018 season

Deondre Francois (photo by gridironnow.com)

Willie Taggart did a good job of turning around Oregon in his one season in Eugene. He is a solid coach who will get some talent returning. With Deondre Francois back at quarterback, Cam Akers at running back and a lot of good receivers, they should be solid on offense. The offensive line has struggled in the last few years, they are young and shold improve. A lot might need to be replaced on defense, but they have recruited well.

24. Mississippi State Bulldogs

If Nick Fitzgerald can recover from a gruesome leg injury, the Bulldogs have the makings of a good team. They get most of their team back, which is encouraging, but Dan Mullen left for Florida. Joe Moorehead will try to make Mississippi State’s offense a lot better, just like he did at Penn State.

25. Texas A&M Aggies

Jimbo Fisher is a great haul for Texas A&M. He will have to work with quarterbacks Kellen Mond and Nick Starkel, but they can be successful. Trayveon Willliams returns at running back, along with a lot of the offensive line, but they will have to replace Christian Kirk. A lot of their best defensive players will be playing on Sundays next year, so Fisher has a little bit of work cut out for him on that side of the ball.

 

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NFL Draft prospects in the 2017 Walk-On’s Independence Bowl

Florida State produces a lot of NFL prospects and will match up with the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles. The top prospect for the Seminoles, Derwin James, has elected to sit out this bowl game in order to prepare for the NFL Draft.  Southern Mississippi has produced Brett Favre, but isn’t a regular NFL talent producer. Here are the NFL Draft prospects in the 2017 Walk-On’s Independence Bowl:

Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles

Allenzae Staggers, WR

NFL Draft prospects in the 2017 Walk-On's Independence Bowl

Allenzae Staggers (Photo by hattiesburgamerican.com)

Staggers has played for Southern Mississippi for two years now. This season was a down year for him in terms of production. He has 469 receiving yards and five touchdowns. His junior season he had 1,165 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. He will have a chance to prove what he can do against some elite competition in this bowl game.

He has good size at 6’1″ and 190 pounds. Adding to his frame will be necessary to endure the bump and run coverage in the NFL. The lack of production will cause some concerns, but he still has a chance to get drafted.

Projected draft range: 7th round-undrafted free agent

Ito Smith, RB

Smith ranks 68th all time in rushing yards with 4,444 in his career. He is the model of productivity and durability for a college running back. This season he has 1,321 yards and 13 touchdowns. Smith has also shown a knack for catching the football out of the backfield with 1,420 receiving yards and seven touchdown receptions in his career.

Although he is a bit undersized at 5’9″ and 195 pounds, there is a place for him in the NFL. He can catch passes and be a threat with the ball in his hands, so if a team takes a chance on him, he could be a good third down running back.

Projected draft range: 7th round-undrafted free agent

Florida State Seminoles

Tarvarus McFadden, CB

McFadden is a shut-down corner who has started for two seasons in the Florida State secondary. He has 50 total tackles, eight interceptions and eight passes defended in his career. Last season he had all eight of his interceptions. This season, quarterbacks have thrown away from McFadden.

He has great size for a corner at 6’2″ and 198 pounds, which will help him match up with big receivers on the outside. McFadden will need to prove he can tackle well and keep up with faster receivers, but he has a solid case to be an early draft pick. He is just a junior and may elect to go back to school.

Projected draft range: 2nd round-4th round

Derrick Nnadi, DT

NFL Draft prospects in the 2017 Walk-On's Independence Bowl

Derrick Nnadi (Photo courtesy draftblasters.com)

Nnadi is a senior who has really produced in the last two seasons for the Seminoles. In his career he has 23.5 tackles for loss and 12 sacks. This season he has nine tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. He has shown the ability to get after the passer from the defensive tackle position, which should help his value.

At 6’1″ and 312 pounds, Nnadi has decent size for an NFL defensive tackle. He is likely only going to fit into a 4-3 defense in the NFL because of his size. Nnadi is a prime candidate to be selected on day two of the 2018 NFL Draft.

Projected draft range: 2nd round-4th round

Josh Sweat, DE

He was a highly touted recruit, but Sweat hasn’t totally lived up to the hype yet. In his three years at Florida State, Sweat has 29 tackles for loss and 14.5 sacks. His best season was last year when he had 11.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks. He still has a lot of potential and should not be overlooked.

Sweat has good size for the NFL, standing 6’5″ and 285 pounds. There are some concerns about his durability and his production not meeting his talent level.

Projected draft range: 3rd round-5th round

Trey Marshall, S

Marshall is a two year starter for Florida State. He has 135 total tackles, six tackles for loss, one sack, six passes defended and no interceptions. This season he has 44 total tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss in nine games played. He isn’t the most polished Florida State player coming out of their secondary, but he is a solid prospect.

He is 6’0″and 210 pounds which is good enough for the NFL. One of the biggest issues that will come up with Marshall is the fact that he hasn’t forced a turnover in his Florida State career. If he doesn’t have good ball skills at the college level, it won’t translate well to the NFL.

Projected draft range: 5th round-7th round

 

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2017 Walk-On’s Independence Bowl preview

The 2017 Walk-On’s Independence Bowl is the only game that involves a team that was reportedly bowl ineligible. Florida State was thought to be ineligible due to an obscure rule that states that beating an FCS team only counts towards bowl eligibility if that team is using a certain amount of scholarships. Either way, the Seminoles will be playing the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles in this game. Here is the 2017 Walk-On’s Independence Bowl preview:

Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles (8-4)

2017 Walk-on's Independence bowl preview

Ito Smith (Photo by zimbio.com)

Southern Miss beat three bowl eligible teams and finished with eight total wins. Their big wins were over UTSA, Louisiana Tech and Marshall. They have been a solid program in the C-USA for a while now and have made their third straight bowl game.

Their offense scores 30.5 points per game, which ranks 49th nationally. They have a really good running game that averages 189 yards per game. Ito Smith is a star who has produced for years as a Golden Eagle. Smith has 1,321 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns this season. With his output, Smith ranks 64th for career rushing yards with 4,444.

Kwadra Griggs and Keon Howard have both had time at quarterback for the Golden Eagles. Griggs is the more experienced player and will start in the bowl game. His greatest asset is that he takes care of the football. This season Griggs has 1,793 passing yards, 15 touchdowns and two interceptions. Korey Robertson and Allenzae Staggers are two of the teams talented receivers. Robertson is the better of the two this season with 72 catches, 1,070 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns.

The scoring defense is solid, allowing 23 points per game. Southern Miss ranks 28th against the run and 25th versus the pass. Senior defensive back Tarvarius Moore has been all over the field with 73 total tackles, three interceptions and nine passes defended.

Florida State Seminoles (6-6)

2017 Walk-on's Independence Bowl preview

Cam Akers (Photo by tallahassee.com)

Florida State will be missing a lot in this bowl game. Jimbo Fisher is gone, Derwin James decided to sit the bowl game out for the NFL Draft and Deondre Francois has been out all season. The Seminoles were still able to scrap and claw to six wins. Their two wins over bowl teams came at the expense of Wake Forest and Duke.

The offense has struggled without Francois at the helm with 26.2 points per game. Jacques Patrick and freshman Cam Akers lead the sub-par rushing attack for the Seminoles. Akers leads the team with 930 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, while Patrick has chipped in 687 yards and six touchdowns.

James Blackmon has had a tough first season as a starting quarterback for Florida State. He has 1,557 passing yards, 15 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Nyqwan Murray has been the number one target for Blackmon and has 604 yards receiving and four touchdowns. When he needs a touchdown, Blackmon looks for Auden Tate, who leads the team with seven receiving touchdowns.

The defense has had to deal with the lack of offense, but still allows just 21.9 points per game. Florida State ranks 34th against the run and 36th against the pass. With Derwin James out the rest of the secondary will need to step up. Tarvarus McFadden is a shut down corner and opposing quarterbacks don’t like throwing it his way. He doesn’t have an interception, but he does have eight passes defended.

Prediction

Florida State may be missing a lot, but they still have more NFL-level talent than Southern Miss. The Seminoles will feed Cam Akers and it will be too much for the Golden Eagles. Florida State’s athleticism on defense will shine.

Florida State Seminoles 36 Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles 23

 

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Five things we learned in college football week 6

Week six didn’t have the greatest slate of games, but that allowed for some crazy upsets that will shake things up. There are a lot of things that we learned, but here are five of the most relevant:

1. Iowa State is Baker Mayfield’s “Daddy”

College football week 6

Joel Lanning (Photo by newsok.com)

Iowa State got a big upset win in Norman over the number three rated Sooners. The Cyclones didn’t have their starting quarterback Jacob Park, who was on medical leave, but were still able to come away with the victory. This marks the biggest upset of the season and has made a lot of people rethink their CFP picks.

The real star of the game was Joel Lanning. He was a quarterback his first two years at Iowa State, but moved to linebacker, so that the Cyclones could start Jacob Park. With Park out, Lanning played his usual linebacker position, but also split time at quarterback. Lanning finished with eight tackles, a sack and a recovered fumble on defense and came in to help move the ball on offense.

After the big upset, the Cyclones decided to troll Baker Mayfield, much like Mayfield had done to previous opponents. They planted the state flage of Iowa at midfield and several players were caught on the microphones saying, “Who’s your daddy?”. After a home loss to Iowa State, Oklahoma doesn’t have much room for error the rest of the way.

2. Miami can beat Florida State

The Seminoles had won seven straight against Miami and had never lost the rivalry game with Jimbo Fisher as head coach. That all changed Saturday. Florida State has struggled without starting quarterback Deondre Francois, but Miami fans still had little hope that this would be the year they broke the streak.

Florida State scored a touchdown with just over a minute left and it looked dire for Miami. Malik Rosier, however, led the Hurricanes on a game winning touchdown drive that concluded with a 23 yard pass to Darrell Langham with six seconds left. In a series that commonly comes down to the final plays to decide the winner, Miami was able to score very late to stay unbeaten.

Miami now looks to be one of the biggest threats to Clemson in the ACC. If they can keep winning, they may face the Tigers in the ACC Championship Game.

3. Overreactions on Orgeron?

Last week LSU lost to Troy at home. Troy is a good football team, but LSU should’ve been able to defend their home turf a lot better, as they were physically dominated at the line of scrimmage. A lot of fans and media members were clamoring for LSU to fire head coach Ed Orgeron, but this week he came up with a big win over Florida.

The Tigers still didn’t look great in this game, but came away with the win in The Swamp. They were able to win the game because Florida missed an extra point, but in games like this it doesn’t matter how much you win by, just that you win. This isn’t the greatest win of all time, but it was a tough win on the road.

While Orgeron didn’t deserve a $12 million buyout in his contract and may have not even deserved the job in the first place, firing a coach so early in his tenure is a bit unfair. Orgeron isn’t out of the hot seat yet, but took a good step this weekend.

4. Michigan isn’t elite

College football week 6

Mark Dantonio (Photo by sbnation.com)

In a rainy game in Ann Arbor, Michigan lost a close game to their in-state rival, Michigan State, 14-10. The Wolverines turned the ball over five times, which allowed Michigan State to grind out the win. It is still unknown how good both these teams truly are, but Michigan isn’t an elite team.

The Wolverines were without starting quarterback Wilton Speight, but he wasn’t playing particularly well anyways this season. It is evident that Michigan just has had too replace too much talent from last year’s roster and needs some time to develop their young players. While Michigan may end up being a very good football team, it is not likely they will be able to compete with Ohio State or Penn State for the Big Ten East.

5. TCU is for real

With Oklahoma losing to Iowa State, TCU is currently the best team in the Big 12. This week the Horned Frogs were able to hold off West Virginia to win 31-24.

TCU now has wins over the Mountaineers and Oklahoma State, two of the biggest contenders in the Big 12. With the revamped Big 12 Championship Game this season, the Horned Frogs are in a great position to make it. The Horned Frogs could even be fortunate enough to afford a loss to Oklahoma later in the season and still make the Big 12 Championship Game. If they make it that far, there is a good possibility they can win and make the CFP.

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Five things to watch for in college football week 6

This week may not feature the greatest matchups, but there is still going to be a lot of good football played. Here are five things to watch this weekend:

1. Lamar Jackson vs. NC State’s Defense

College football week 6

Bradley Chubb (Photo by nbcsports.com)

Lamar Jackson has had another great start to the season and leads a Louisville team that still has just one loss. They travel to Raleigh to take on the NC State Wolfpack on a tricky Thursday night game.

Jackson has 1,636 passing yards, 13 touchdowns and just three interceptions. He has also been completing passes at a higher rate this season with a mark of 64%. While he got knocked off the Heisman race a little bit with his early loss to Clemson and other players stepping up, he is still an electric player. If Jackson is on, he is hard to stop.

NC State’s defensive line boasts one of the best players in the country Bradley Chubb. Chubb already has 11 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks on the season. He will be a lot to deal with for the Cardinals’ front. The Wolfpack have only given up 428 yards on the ground and with there good pass rush, should create a pretty good challenge for Jackson.

A lot is on the line for both teams, as Louisville still only has one loss and NC State just jumped into the AP rankings this week.

2. Big 12 Shootout

College football week 6

Will Grier (photo by roanoke.com)

Two of the most high powered offenses will be facing off against each other this weekend. TCU and West Virginia are both trying to make the Big 12 Championship Game this season and this game could have a lot to say about it.

The Horned Frogs have Kenny Hill at quarterback who has had a bit of a resurgence this season. He is the main reason that TCU is averaging 47.8 points per game. He has dual-threat abilities and a completion percentage of 76.2%. They bring a solid balance of running and throwing the ball that can make any defense struggle.

West Virginia does most of its damage through the air. They are seventh in the country in passing yards per game and second in points per game. Quarterback Will Grier is deserves some thanks for that. Grier already has 1,374 passing yards and 13 touchdowns. He spreads the ball around well, making the offense difficult to stop.

With two offenses like this going at it, look for turnovers to be the key factor in the game. Be careful when changing the channel on Saturday, because if you hop off of this game, you may miss a couple scores.

3. Rivalry Games

College football week 6

Jim Harbaugh (Photo by usatoday.com)

While rivalry week is still a long ways off, there are a few rivalries that are going on this weekend. The extra emotion that comes with these games can make the games closer than they should be. Never underestimate any result when it comes to rivalries.

Florida State versus Miami was rescheduled due to Hurricane Irma and will now take place this weekend. Miami is on a roll, having just come off a big win over Duke. Florida State got their first win of the season over Wake Forest. The Seminoles have owned Miami in recent years, but this year it could change. Florida State hasn’t looked particularly well since losing starting quarterback Deondre Francois for the season. With all that being said, this could be Miami’s year to do some damage.

This weekend also features the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry that has produced some crazy finishes in the past. Michigan State still looks like a team that needs some work, but are already doing better than last year. Michigan looks shaky on offense, but the defense has some real playmakers. John O’Korn will get the start at quarterback, while Wilton Speight is injured. This game might end up being low scoring, but the intensity will be there as always.

4. Can Bryce Love keep it up?

College football week 6

Bryce Love (Photo by ruleoftree.com)

Bryce Love has had a fantastic start to the season and could win the Heisman if he keeps it up. He is averaging 11.1 yards per carry on the season and is a force to be reckoned with. No one has been able to contain him thus far.

This week Stanford has a tough road game at Utah. If the Cardinal want to make it to the Pac-12 Championship Game, they likely need to win out. The Utes have a good defense that allows just 17.8 points per game and 87 rushing yards per game.

Love will have to bring his “A” game for Stanford to win because the quarterback play hasn’t been great. If he keeps up at this pace, he could break a lot of records.

5. Washington State in their first road game

College football week 6 preview

Luke Falk (Photo by seattletimes.com)

The Cougars are 5-0 and up to 11 in the AP rankings. With a weird schedule this season, Washington State hasn’t had to play a road game yet. A lot is known about the Cougars, but they can’t be true competitors for the CFP until they prove they can win on the road.

On Saturday they travel to Eugene, Oregon to take on the Ducks. Oregon was looking like a much improved team, but then starting quarterback Justin Herbert got injured. He is out four to six weeks with a broken collarbone. This game might not be as good as a result, but with the Cougars not having proven anything on the road yet, it could still be close.

This game gives Washington State a chance to be 2-0 in Pac-12 play and get on a roll before they have to face the likes of Stanford and Washington.

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Five things we learned in week 4 of college football

There were a lot of good games this week in college football, which makes it look like this season is going to be crazy for its entirety. Some of the top teams survived, some dominated and some got upset. At some point all teams will be tested and have their challenges, so if teams struggle and get the win, it still goes a long way. With all that said, here are the things we learned from this weekend:

1. Saquon Barkley is in the thick of the Heisman race

Barkley didn’t get himself into the Heisman talk last season because he didn’t have huge games against solid opponents. This year, however, he stepped up big time in Penn State’s first prime time game of the season. The Nittany Lions played Iowa and Barkley had over 300 all-purpose yards and a touchdown.

In addition to the stats he put up, Barkley had some highlight spin moves, jump cuts and broken tackles, along with some key plays in key moments. With the bright lights on, Barkley made his case to move in the front of the Heisman talk with Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield.

It will be hard to catch Mayfield with his impressive start to the season, but Barkley will have a few more chances to prove what he is worth. The Nittany Lions still have to play Michigan and Ohio State, with the possibility of a Big Ten Championship at the end of the game.

2. Alabama is going to be hard to stop in the sec

Five things we learned college football week 4

Damien Harris (Photo by timesnewpress.com)

Alabama played a team with a tough defense in Vanderbilt, but they made it look like Vanderbilt was an FCS team, winning 59-0. They look like the clear dominant team, in the SEC West with their offense and defense both clicking. Without many legitimate challengers at the moment, Alabama needs to make sure they don’t beat themselves.

Part of this equation is how the rest of the SEC has looked. Auburn and LSU both have had their disappointments as possible contenders to Alabama. Mississippi State looked like a team that could challenge in the SEC West, but they stumbled pretty badly at Georgia.

At this point of the season it looks like Georgia could be the biggest threat to Alabama and they won’t even meet unless both teams make the SEC Championship. If you have some money to lay down, put it on Alabama to make the CFP.

3. Florida State isn’t the same without Francois

Five things we learned week 4 of college football

James Blackman (Photo by tomahawknation.com)

When Deondre Francois went down for the season against Alabama, most knew Florida State was at risk of not making the College Football Playoff or winning the ACC. Unfortunately for the Seminoles it looks like it might get worse than that. This weekend they lost at home to NC State.

The Wolfpack are a solid team, but Florida State has more talent. Now the Seminoles are 0-2 and go into  a tough stretch of play. They have games at Wake and Duke and home contests with Miami and Louisville in their four weeks. It is unlikely that they will win them all, leaving them with a tough mountain to climb to get to another 9-3 season.

In order to salvage the season (by Florida State’s standards) they need to get James Blackman to progress at the quarterback position quickly.

4. Oklahoma State needs a defense

Five things we learned week 4 of college football

Gary Patterson (Photo by sportsrants.com)

Oklahoma State had a chance to keep themselves in the top ten, but lost to TCU 44-31. Gary Patterson’s Horned Frogs were ready to play and showed a nice balance of good offense and defense, which was the difference in the game. Now the Cowboys are going to slide out of the top ten and TCU will likely slide in.

The Cowboys may be able to outscore most teams, but when they come up against another competitive team, the defense needs to step up. Their toughest opponent for the remainder of their schedule will be Oklahoma. If they lose that game they are in real danger of missing the Big 12 Championship Game.

Maybe the lesson here is to never doubt Patterson and TCU, but if the Cowboys want to do something serious this year, their defense needs to step up.

5. It’s going to get crazy

With the exception of Alabama, every team has shown visible flaws and had some close calls. Clemson (until the 4th quarter), Oklahoma, Penn State, USC, Michigan, Florida, San Diego State and LSU are all top 25 teams that had a hard time pulling away from unranked competition. With Oklahoma State, Mississippi State, Florida State and Oregon all losing, the top 25 will be more of a revolving door than in years past.

There a lot more big games to come that will shake things up. Some of these games are coming up this week. Here are the ones worth noting: 2 Clemson at 12 Virginia Tech, Duke at 14 Miami, 5 USC at 16 Washington State, Northwestern at 10 Wisconsin, Vanderbilt at 21 Florida, 7 Georgia at Tennessee and 24 Mississippi State at 13 Auburn.

Get locked in and ready, because the good games are still coming.

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College football week one picks

The college football season is about to have it’s big kickoff weekend. Like last season Joe DiTullio and Rob Doerger of the DiTullio and Doerger College Sports Show will be making their picks for every FBS college football game this season. Records will be kept track of to see who picks better by the end of the season. Let’s take a look at the picks:

Away Home Location Rob Joe
Florida Intl UCF Bright House Networks Stadium, Orlando, FL UCF UCF
Presbyterian College Wake Forest BB&T Field, Winston-salem, NC Wake Wake Forest
Austin Peay Cincinnati Nippert Stadium, Cincinnati, OH Cincy UC
Buffalo Minnesota TCF Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, MN Minnesota Minn
Tennessee State Georgia State Georgia State Stadium, Atlanta, GA Georgia St Ga State
Elon Toledo Glass Bowl, Toledo, OH Toledo Toledo
Rhode Island Central Michigan Kelly/Shorts Stadium, Mount Pleasant, MI C. Michigan CMU
Tulsa #10 Oklahoma State Boone Pickens Stadium, Stillwater, OK OK St Ok St
Holy Cross Connecticut Rentschler Field, East Hartford, CT Uconn Uconn
North Dakota Utah Rice-Eccles Stadium, Salt Lake City, UT Utah Utah
#2 Ohio State Indiana Memorial Stadium , Bloomington, IN Ohio St OSU
Florida A&M Arkansas War Memorial Stadium , Little Rock, AR Arkansas Arkansas
Louisiana Monroe Memphis Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, Memphis, TN Memphis Memphis
Sacramento State Idaho Kibbie Dome, Moscow, ID Idaho Idaho
New Mexico State Arizona State Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, AZ Arizona St ASU
Fordham Army Michie Stadium, West Point, NY Army Army
Charlotte Eastern Michigan Rynearson Stadium, Ypsilanti, MI EMU EMU
Central Connecticut Syracuse Carrier Dome, Syracuse, NY Syracuse Cuse
#8 Washington Rutgers High Point Solutions Stadium, Piscataway, NJ Washington Washington
Navy Florida Atlantic FAU Football Stadium, Boca Raton, FL Navy Navy
Colorado State Colorado Sports Authority Field, Denver, CO Colorado St CSU
Utah State #9 Wisconsin Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, WI Wisconsin Wisconsin
Boston College Northern Illinois Huskie Stadium, DeKalb, IL NIU BC
Kent State #5 Clemson Memorial Stadium , Clemson, SC Clemson Clemson
Akron #6 Penn State Beaver Stadium, University Park, PA Penn St Penn St
Maryland #23 Texas Royal Texas Memorial Stadium, Austin, TX Texas Texas
Ball State Illinois Memorial Stadium , Champaign, IL Illini Illinois
Wyoming Iowa Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City, IA Iowa Iowa
Bowling Green Michigan State Spartan Stadium , East Lansing, MI Mich St MSU
Missouri State Missouri Memorial Stadium/Faurot Field, Columbia, MO Mizzou Mizzou
California North Carolina Kenan Stadium, Chapel Hill, NC UNC-CH UNC
Bethune-Cookman #18 Miami Hard Rock Stadium, Miami, FL Miami Miami
Youngstown State Pittsburgh Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA Pitt Pitt
Portland State Oregon State Reser Stadium, Corvallis, OR OSU Oregon St
VMI Air Force Falcon Stadium, Usaf Academy, CO Air Force AF
NC State South Carolina Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC NC State NC State
UTEP #7 Oklahoma Memorial Stadium , Norman, OK Oklahoma Oklahoma
Margin of victory 37 46
#11 Michigan #17 Florida AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX Michigan Michigan
Temple Notre Dame Notre Dame Stadium, Notre Dame, IN ND ND
Nevada Northwestern Ryan Field, Evanston, IL NW NW
William & Mary Virginia Scott Stadium, Charlottesville, VA UVA Virginia
Alabama A&M UAB Legion Field , Birmingham, AL UAB UAB
Troy Boise State Albertsons Stadium, Boise, ID Boise Boise
Stony Brook #19 South Florida Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, FL USF USF
Eastern Washington Texas Tech Jones AT&T Stadium, Lubbock, TX TTU TTU
Kentucky Southern Mississippi M. M. Roberts Stadium, Hattiesburg, MS Southern Miss UK
Charleston Southern Mississippi State Davis Wade Stadium, Starkville, MS Miss St Miss State
Western Michigan #4 USC Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, CA USC USC
NC Central Duke Wallace Wade Stadium, Durham, NC Duke Duke
James Madison East Carolina Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, Greenville, NC ECTC ECTC
Albany Old Dominion S.B. Ballard Stadium, Norfolk, VA Old Dom ODU
Appalachian State #15 Georgia Sanford Stadium, Athens, GA Georgia Georgia
Miami (OH) Marshall Joan C. Edwards Stadium, Huntington, WV Miami (OH) Miami
Lamar North Texas Apogee Stadium, Denton, TX N Texas N Texas
Houston UT San Antonio Alamodome, San Antonio, TX UTSA Houston
Eastern Kentucky Western Kentucky L.T. Smith Stadium, Bowling Green, KY WKU WKU
Northwestern State Louisiana Tech Joe Aillet Stadium, Ruston, LA La Tech La Tech
Stephen F. Austin SMU Gerald J. Ford Stadium, Dallas, TX SMU SMU
UMass Coastal Carolina Brooks Stadium, Conway, SC Coastal Coastal
Liberty Baylor McLane Stadium, Waco, TX Baylor Baylor
SE Missouri State Kansas Memorial Stadium , Lawrence, KS Kansas Kansas
Hampton Ohio Peden Stadium, Athens, OH Ohio Ohio
SE Louisiana Louisiana Cajun Field, Lafayette, LA ULL ULL
Houston Baptist Texas State Bobcat Stadium , San Marcos, TX Texas St Texas State
Central Arkansas #20 Kansas State Bill Snyder Family Stadium, Manhattan, KS K State K State
Georgia Southern #12 Auburn Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn, AL Auburn Auburn
#16 Louisville Purdue Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, IN Louisville Louisville
South Alabama Ole Miss Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, Oxford, MS Ole Miss Ole Miss
Cal Poly San José State CEFCU Stadium – Home of the Spartans, San Jose, CA SJSU San Jose
#3 Florida State #1 Alabama Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, GA Alabama Alabama
Abilene Christian New Mexico Dreamstyle Stadium, Albuquerque, NM New Mex NM
Arkansas State Nebraska Memorial Stadium , Lincoln, NE Nebraska Nebraska
Jackson State TCU Amon G. Carter Stadium, Fort Worth, TX TCU TCU
Northern Iowa Iowa State Jack Trice Stadium, Ames, IA Iowa St Iowa St
Vanderbilt Middle Tennessee Floyd Stadium, Murfreesboro, TN MTSU Vanderbilt
Grambling Tulane Yulman Stadium, New Orleans, LA Tulane Tulane
Southern Utah Oregon Autzen Stadium, Eugene, OR Ducks Oregon
UC Davis San Diego State Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, CA SDSU SDSU
Howard UNLV Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas, NV UNLV UNLV
BYU #13 LSU Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, LA LSU LSU
Incarnate Word Fresno State Bulldog Stadium , Fresno, CA Fresno Fresno
Montana State #24 Washington St Martin Stadium, Pullman, WA Wash St WAZZU
Northern Arizona Arizona Arizona Stadium, Tucson, AZ Arizona Arizona
Western Carolina Hawai’i Aloha Stadium, Honolulu, HI Hawai’i Hawaii
#22 West Virginia #21 Virginia Tech FedExField, Landover, MD VT VT
Texas A&M UCLA Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA A&M TAMU
#25 Tennessee Georgia Tech Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, GT GT
Gameday Guest Picker (Atlanta) Matt Ryan Julio Jones

 

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Five things to watch for in the first week of college football

The college football season is officially under way. Five games are in the book from the opening weekend, but now comes the official first weekend of college football. As we look to a great Labor Day weekend of football, here are five things to watch:

1. Derwin James’ return

Five things to watch in the first week of college football

Derwin James (Photo by zimbio.com)

The biggest matchup of the weekend is Florida State and Alabama in Atlanta. College Football Playoff implications are already on the line in this game.

James missed most of last season with injury, but might be the best player in all of college football, if healthy.Not only will he have to play big for Florida State, but he will have to be at 100%. He could be the X-factor in this monumental event.

Nick Saban has said he regrets not letting Jalen Hurts air it out more last season and feels like that may have cost them the National Championship. That means Saban will try to get the ball rolling early with Hurts. Hurts isn’t the greatest thrower, so James needs to step in and make plays when passes go awry. He will also have to show up in run support, as Alabama will likely control the line of scrimmage.

If Florida State has any chance to beat Alabama, James has to prove he is the best player in the country. Even if he does it may not be enough. No matter the result, both teams could be destined to meet again in the College Football Playoff.

2. Danny Etling against BYU

Five things to watch in week one of college football

Danny Etling (Photo by tigerrag.com)

LSU has a big game against BYU this weekend. It may not be as big as many thought after the Cougars struggled to show their supremacy against Portland State. Even so, they are a decent test for an LSU team that needs to find out if their offense is improved from the past few years.

Coach Orgeron named Danny Etling the starting quarterback after finding a little success with him last year. Etling is not a game changing player, but did help LSU finish the season out strong.

With playmakers Malachi Dupre, Travin Dural and Leonard Fournette gone, Etling will need to step up this season to make the LSU offense good. He will have help from running back Derrius Guice and wide receiver D.J. Chark.

While he hasn’t been the best quarterback in the past, Etling is getting his first chance at a full season as a starter. Ultimately this game can give everyone a clue on how well Etling and the Tigers will play this season and if they can compete for a playoff spot. If Etling does not show proficiency at the quarterback position, LSU will top out at eight wins for the season.

3. How will Florida deal with suspensions?

Five things to watch for in college football week 1

Antonio Callaway (Photo by seccountry.com)

Michigan and Florida open the season against one another in Arlington. Both teams have a lot of players to break into their line ups the game should show us how talented (or not) these teams are.

Ten players have been suspended for Florida for this game. This includes top-notch offensive players in wide receiver Antonio Callaway and running back Jordan Scarlett. The Gators are really going to be relying on one of their quarterbacks to step up in this game. Florida will also be without a lot of their depth in this game, meaning that the players need to stay fresh and uninjured.

This game has shifted from one that was supposed to be a toss up, to now being in Michigan’s favor, even though they return just five starters from last year. Jim Harbaugh’s recruiting will be tested, but not as much as if Florida players had stayed out of trouble.

4. Can Virginia Tech find a quarterback?

Five things to watch in college football week 1

Josh Jackson and Justin Fuente (Photo by virginiatech.sportswar.com)

The Hokies play against West Virginia on Sunday this weekend and have a lot of returning talent. They expected to have more coming back, but Jerod Evans decided to go pro early. He went undrafted and probably should still be leading the Hokies.

If Virginia Tech wants to be successful this season they need to find a quarterback. They have a quality team that is capable of making the ACC Championship Game, but need that one void in their roster filled in order to do so. There has been a three man quarterback race between Josh Jackson, Hendon Hooker and A.J. Bush.

Freshman Josh Jackson looks to be the front-runner to take over the job, but A.J. Bush, the Nebraska transfer, also could be the guy. Both players have the potential to be dynamic playmakers and both will get their shots to take the reins.

Justin Fuente did a good job of getting Evans ready to play last season, so if he can do the same with these quarterbacks, the sky is the limit for the Hokies.

5. Butch Jones on the hot seat

Five things to watch in college football week 1

Butch Jones (Photo by rockytopinsider.com)

It’s no secret that Jones will be fired if Tennessee has a sub-par season. Last year they were hyped up to have a great team, but ended up disappointing with a 9-4 record. If quarterback Josh Dobbs was’t there to bail the Volunteers out of a few games, they could have been eerily close to .500.

Now the Volunteers must move on without Dobbs. The offense also lost Alvin Kamara, Jalen Hurd and Josh Malone. Defensively Derek Barnett is gone along with a few other key players from last year’s team.

While Jones won’t be fired after the first week of the college football season, this could be the start of the season that results in his termination. Tennessee plays Georgia Tech on Monday and better be ready for a fight in Atlanta. The Vols will be without Darrin Kirkland Jr. most likely who suffered a knee injury in practice last week.

Georgia Tech have kicked Dedrick Mills off the team. He was the leading returning rusher this season. This will have some impact on the game, but overall the triple option attack of the Yellow Jackets will still be strong.

If Jones can’t find a way to win this game, it could be a long season in the SEC for the Volunteer fans.

 

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Ten best non-conference games for college football in 2017

The college football season is just about to start and most teams will start with non-conference games to start their seasons. There are some great non-conference games this season that not only feature matchups of teams with a lot of history, but also games that will impact the College Football Playoff. Here are the ten best non-conference games for the 2017 college football season:

10. 22 West Virginia vs. 21 Virginia Tech (Landover,MD), Sep. 3

Best Non-conference games

(Photo by manhattanhokies.com)

This is on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend to help kick off the college football season. There will be no NFL games to compete against, so this game will have a lot of viewers.

Both teams came out in the AP Top 25 poll that was recently released. This game may be a little overshadowed by some other big games in the opening weekend, but it will have a huge impact on the college football season.

West Virginia finished last season with a 10-3 record and get new life at the quarterback position in Will Grier. In the first year of the new Big 12 Championship Game, the Mountaineers could beat out Oklahoma or Oklahoma State for a spot. With a win in the non-conference against a good team like Virginia Tech, the Mountaineers can catapult their way to the College Football Playoff if a lot of things go their way.

Virginia Tech won the ACC Coastal Division last season and will likely do so again this season. They have a great back seven of the defense, which will be challenged by Grier. The offense will give us the first view of Josh Jackson who will be a good dual-threat quarterback for the Hokies.

9. Notre Dame at 14 Stanford, nov. 25

Best Non-conference games

One of many close games in the Stanford-ND rivalry happened two season ago. (Photo by youtube.com)

Notre Dame may have missed out on the AP Poll for the Preseason, but have a lot of intriguing games considering their history and talent. They still received 65 votes, which means if they win in week one they will be in the top 25. This rivalry game happens on the last weekend of the regular season, so Notre Dame will have to win some games to help earn this spot on the list.

It is a make it or break it year for Brian Kelly. If the season is going poorly this could be his last game at Notre Dame. If the Fighting Irish can play up to their potential and only have two or so losses heading into this game, a win in this game could get them into a New Year’s Six Bowl Game. For Stanford they could be in a position where they have won the Pac-12 North and this game comes before the Pac-12 Championship game, or they could be trying to make their resume look better because they lost the Pac-12 North.

This game features a good offensive line at Notre Dame against a very good Stanford defense, that ranked 18th in the country in scoring last season. If all goes as planned for both schools, some of the bigger names on the team could be fighting for draft position or for postseason awards. Mike McGlinchey can cement his status as a top tackle in the NFL Draft, while Bryce Love of Stanford can rack up more rushing yards.

8. 15 Georgia at Notre Dame, Sep. 9

Best non-conference games

Notre Dame Stadium will be packed for the Georgia game. (Photo by und.com)

SEC teams don’t often play Notre Dame, but two staffers met at a seminar and now we have two historic teams playing once this year and once in 2019 in Athens. If both teams win in week one, this will be a game between ranked opponents, making it even bigger.

Georgia is on a quest to win the SEC East and doing so is very possible. If they get to the SEC Championship with only a loss or two they could be in a “win and you are in” situation for the College Football Playoff. That is easier said than done, but a win at Notre Dame would be a nice feather in their caps. Jacob Eason, Nick Chubb and the Georgia offense will have a chance to light up a Notre Dame defense that struggled last season. The defense can help set the tone on what could be a great season.

The Fighting Irish will likely be in the AP poll in the second week and be tested with a very good Georgia team. Brandon Wimbush will be thrown into the fire against a Bulldog defense that returns 10 starters. The matchups to watch in this game are endless for a variety of different reasons: How many yards can the Georgia offense get? How will Wimbush fair against a good Georgia defense? How will the NFL talent on the Notre Dame offensive line do against the NFL talent in the Georgia front seven?

Even if this game becomes a blowout for one side or another, it will give fans a good idea of where each program is headed this season.

7. 4 USC at Notre Dame, oct. 21

best non-conference games

No matter what side you root for, everyone remembers the “Bush Push”. (photo by insidesocal.com)

USC will take a break from their Pac-12 schedule to play this rivalry game with Notre Dame. Yes, Notre Dame is in a third straight game on this list, but they do play a great non-conference schedule with their 12 games to fill.

The Trojans want to make the College Football Playoff this season, that is for sure. Sam Darnold could be the next in a long line of Heisman Trophy winners out of USC. He has a chance to light up the scoreboard at Notre Dame Stadium and do it in front of a national audience.

After the Georgia game, the Fighting Irish have a chance to go on a win streak. They play Boston College, Michigan State, Miami (OH) and North Carolina before their two weeks to prepare for USC. Optimally they would be 6-0 at that point, but they have more talent than everyone, but Georgia. If they are 5-1 with a loss to Georgia this game would have huge implications. If their record is anything less than 4-2 at this point of the season, Kelly is likely looking at a new job.

One interesting battle to watch from this game is Iman Marshall and Jack Jones covering Equanimeous St. Brown of Notre Dame. All will be playing on Sundays in a few years and will like the challenge of playing against one another.

6. 23 Texas at 4 USC, Sep. 16

USC certainly didn’t take it easy in the non-conference schedule. They get a rematch of the BCS National Championship Game, arguably the greatest one of all time, when Vince Young ran in the game-winning touchdown and unofficially ended the USC dynasty under Pete Carroll.

The Trojans are a little bit ahead of the Longhorns right now in terms of getting back to a National Championship, but this game will be big nonetheless. With their aspirations to make it to the College Football Playoff, USC needs to take care of business out of conference. A key to this game is that they play Texas a week after Stanford and will likely be banged up from a physical game.

Texas has hired Tom Herman to get them back to their winning ways. They have the talent on the roster, but needed a man in charge to get them where they want to go. Shane Buechele will get a chance to show his improvement against a USC defense that should be pretty solid. Malik Jefferson is a star at linebacker for the Longhorns and will want to play well against a good offensive unit like USC to improve his NFL Draft stock.

5. 17 Florida vs. 11 Michigan (Arlington, Texas), Sep. 2

Best non-conference games

Jim Harbaugh and Jim McElwain will square off in week one. (photo by youtube.com)

The second best game of the opening weekend features two teams that finished with nine wins last season and two teams that struggled on offense. Both will try to have their defenses lead them to victory again in 2017.

Florida made the SEC Championship Game last year and have the capability to do it this year as well. They have talented players on their defense, but only four returning starters, so new stars will get their chance in a big game. The offensive line returns four starters, but the thing that they have lacked is a quarterback as Feleipe Franks tries to give them one. They will have to deal with seven players being suspended for the misuse of financial aid, including star wide receiver Antonio Callaway.

The Wolverines have problems of their own to worry about. They only have one returning starter on defense and four on offense, which struggled against good competition last year anyways. Their hope is that Jim Harbaugh’s recruiting pans out. Wilton Speight needs to take a step forward on offense, while the defense needs star recruits like Rashan Gary to step up.

This game will provide the chance to get to know a lot of the new faces on both of these teams and also allow fans to see if these teams have what it takes to win their divisions.

4. 3 Florida State at 17 Florida, Nov. 25

Best non-conference games

Florida State celebrating after a victory over Florida (Photo by cbssports.com)

At this point in the season, Florida State may be trying to stay in contention for the College Football Playoff, while Florida may be getting ready as the SEC East representative in the SEC Championship Game. Whether this rivalry game has as much riding on it as we expect is unknown, but it will be a good way to cap off the regular season for both teams.

The Seminoles may have one or two losses at this point in the season, but could still make the College Football Playoff. Deondre Francois will have already been tested by the defenses of Alabama, Clemson and Louisville, so this will provide him with another opportunity to see what he can do.

Florida lost to Florida State last year in this game and then had to prepare for the SEC Championship the next week. They will have a good defense again, but will need Franks to step up in this game especially. The Gators will need him to have a career day against the likes of Tarvarus McFadden and Derwin James.

This game will likely have a lot riding on it, as it did last season and will also feature a lot of talented players going up against each other once again.

3. 12 Auburn at 5 Clemson, Sep. 9

Best non-conference games

Gus Malzahn and Dabo Swinney will square off again. (Photo by seccountry.com)

Clemson’s first big test as reigning champs is taking on Auburn, a team that has a lot of high expectations themselves. Auburn is looking to get back in the National Championship picture and can use this game to show people that they are for real.

The Clemson defense will likely be very good again with seven returning starters and a lot of good recruits waiting to fill in. Offensively Deshaun Watson will be replaced by Kelly Bryant (or Hunter Johnson), an this will be the first time to shine for a new quarterback. It won’t be an easy task for the new quarterback because Auburn was seventh best scoring defense in the country in 2016 and returns eight starters.

Auburn looks to Jarrett Stidham to get them back to their high-scoring ways on offense. He was successful at Baylor before transferring. With six starters on offense back, he should have a lot of the tools he needs to make things happen. The defense will be good again and will be trying to force an inexperience quarterback into turnovers.

The fun part of this game to watch is Stidham and the Auburn offense against the talented Clemson defense. If Stidham can live up to the hype, it could be a great game.

2. 7 Oklahoma at 2 Ohio State, Sep. 9

Best non-conference games

Baker Mayfield and J.T. Barrett will go head to head a second time. (Photo by thefootballbraniacs.com)

This game last year featured a lot of trash talk leading up to it, but Ohio State escaped Norman victorious, 45-24. With both teams having legitimate College Football Playoff aspirations, it makes it easy to call it one of the top two non-conference games of 2017. This will give fans a chance to see how Lincoln Reilly does in his first big game as head coach of the Sooners.

Ohio State lost a lot of talent to the NFL, but returns 15 starters and a lot of talent. J.T. Barrett will try to get back on track with new offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson. He had a great game against the Sooners last year and will likely do so again in 2017. The defense has an inexperienced secondary that will be tested by Baker Mayfield.

Mayfield should put up points, but needs new weapons to step it up after losing a lot of key players to the NFL and graduation. His offensive line returns to protect him, which is a huge factor in this game. Defensively, Oklahoma isn’t great and needs that to improve for this game in particular. They have talented players, but because they can’t stop that many teams, they need to force turnovers.

The players to watch in this game are the ones in the trenches. Oklahoma features a good offensive line, including Orlando Brown. Ohio State has a good defensive line with Sam Hubbard, Tyquan Lewis and Nick Bosa. A lot of NFL talent will be going at it in this game.

While this game doesn’t rule a team out of College Football Playoff contention, Ohio State’s margin for error would be less and Oklahoma would have a lot of help needed with a loss.

1. 3. Florida State vs. 1 Alabama (Atlanta,GA), Sep. 2

Best non-conference games

Deondre Francois and Jalen Hurts. (photo by sbnation.com)

This is a game that we could be seeing again in the College Football Playoff. Both teams are that good. It is the perfect way to kick-off the season and both teams will be trying to make a statement.

Alabama is coming off of a loss to an ACC team in the National Championship Game. Nick Saban is going to try to make the ACC pay in this one. Jalen Hurts is back, but won’t be able to run as much on this very athletic Florida State defense. He will have to use his arm, which was average at best last year. He will have help from Calvin Ridley on the outside. The defense will continue to plug in players like they do every season and will once again be elite.

Florida State has a lot of tough games this season, so winning this one would be a huge relief and give them a chance to make a mistake later on in the season. The offensive line will be tested by the good Alabama defense. They have to protect Deondre Francois long enough for him to make good throws. On defense the Seminoles will try to make Hurts beat them with his arm, which will be tough with McFadden and James in the secondary.

Watching Calvin Ridley and the Alabama receivers try to get separation from the Florida State secondary will be fun to watch in this game.

Thank the football gods for this game. It is a great game in week one and should get everyone hyped for a great season.

 

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College football preseason 2017 top 25: 5-1

The college football season is about a week away and even the things that most fans take for granted can’t come soon enough. Good guard play, a gunslinger quarterback, hook and ladders and craziness are all things that need to happen sooner rather than later. The rest of the rankings are out and we are down to the top five teams, who will all be trying to make the college football playoff.

For the last installment of the rankings: click here.

5. Penn State Nittany Lions

College football top 25

Saquon Barkley (Photo by youtube.com)

Penn State surprised everyone by going 11-3 and making the Rose Bowl in James Franklin’s third season as the head coach. The good news for the Nittany lions is that they return 16 starters from that team and should be a force in the Big Ten again this season.

Saquon Barkley is one of the best players in college football and returns at running back. He totaled 1,496 rushing yards last year and will produce again this season. Four of his offensive linemen return to help pave the way for him. With that, Barkley should be in the thick of the Heisman race if he can have some big games against good competition.

The quarterback position is filled by Trace McSorley, who was a catalyst to taking their team to the Rose Bowl last season. He threw for 3,614 yards, 29 touchdowns and eight interceptions in 2016, but will need to improve his efficiency. He also provides an extra running threat for Penn State. He has plenty of good targets returning in DaeSean Hamilton, Saeed Blacknall and Mike Gesicki. Gesicki is one of the best tight ends in the country.

On defense, Penn State returns seven starters and brings a little experience back at every level of the defense. Two new starters will be needed at defensive end, but Parker Cothren and Curtis Cothran return at defensive tackle. They will be tasked with stopping the run, which they did at an average rate last season.

Jason Cabinda thought about leaving for the NFL draft, but elected to return for his senior season. He is a great linebacker, who will lead the defense this season. Marcus Allen, a safety, also considered leaving early for the NFL, but came back and is the leading returning tackler. With Grant Haley and John Reid returning at the corners, Penn State’s defense should improve this season.

Penn State plays in one of the toughest divisions in all of college football, the Big Ten East, which results in a tough schedule. In all, their tough games will be against Pittsburgh, Iowa, Northwestern, Michigan, Ohio State and Nebraska. While the schedule does have some tough opponents on it, the Nittany Lions should be able to get through the regular season with only a loss or two and put themselves in the conversation for the College Football Playoff.

4. Washington Huskies

College football top 25

Jake Browning (photo by si.com)

The third year at a school must provide some magic, because Chris Petersen took Washington to the College Football Playoff in just his third season as the head coach. Although they lost to Alabama, they have a lot of talent returning this season, which could result in them getting back to the College Football Playoff this season.

Jake Browning is back at quarterback and should have gotten more consideration for the Heisman last season. He threw for 3,430 yards and 43 touchdowns. While John Ross is on to the NFL, Dante Pettis is a good receiver in his own right and will step up. The speedster Chico MClatcher also returns to provide a unique weapon for Browning.

Three offensive line starters return from last year’s team and should be a good unit. Behind them, Myles Gaskin was able to rush for 1,373 yards and 10 touchdowns. He will produce again this season, making Washington’s offense multi-faceted and dynamic.

Only five starters return on defense, but a lot of these players have experience. Greg Gaines returns on the defensive front, while Vita Vea has the potential to be a star at nose tackle and had five sacks last season. Azeem Victor and Keishawn Bierria are both talented linebackers who are returning.

The “Death Row” secondary needs to be revamped with the departures of Sidney Jones, Kevin King and Budda Baker. JoJo McIntosh and Taylor Rapp both have experience at safety, while Byron Murphy and Jordan Miller will need to play well at corner. Murphy was redshirted last season after being a solid recruit and should have the tools to be a lock-down corner.

Washington plays no one outside of the Pac-12 that is worth noting, but do play Stanford, Oregon, UCLA, Colorado and Washington State in conference. All in all that is a pretty lousy schedule, which will allow the Huskies to escape with only a loss or two before likely heading to the Pac-12 Championship Game.

3. Ohio State Buckeyes

College football top 25

J.T. Barrett (Photo by sportingnews.com)

The Buckeyes were good enough to get to the College Football Playoff last season, but got blown out by Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl. Urban Meyer continually loses talent to the NFL, but has 15 returning starters this season. The goal for Ohio State every season should be to get to the College Football Playoff.

J.T. Barrett is back for what seems like his tenth season at Ohio State. He’s a senior now and has completed 63% of his passes over his career for 6,381 passing yards. The problem is that the people he is throwing to don’t have too much experience. Parris Campbell and Marcus Baugh return, but need to step up their production, while others will need to succeed early in their careers.

Four of five offensive linemen return and are a great unit. Billy Price is a good lineman could have gone pro, but decided to stay on for his senior season. Mike Weber will be a sophomore at running back and had a solid freshman season. He finished 2016 with 1,096 yards and nine touchdowns and will build on that this season.

The front four starters all return and features a lot of talent. Sam Hubbard, Tyquan Lewis and Nick Bosa are all very good players and are fighting for playing time at the defensive end positions. Lewis led them in sacks with eight. Dre’Mont Jones and Michael Hill return at the tackle position.

Jerome Baker and Chris Worley both are back at linebacker. Baker had 83 tackles last season. The only returning starter in the secondary is Damon Webb at safety. The defense was the third best scoring defense in the country last season and will be great again this season.

Oklahoma, Nebraska, Penn State, Iowa and Michigan are all going to be tough games for the Buckeyes. With Urban Meyer as head coach and a talented roster returning, Ohio State should be able to get out of the regular season with at most two losses, but could go undefeated if they reach their potential.

2. Florida State Seminoles

College football top 25

Derwin James (Photo by zimbio.com)

Florida State finished last season at 10-3 and won a thrilling Orange Bowl against Michigan. Jimbo Fisher has a lot of returning talent including some of the best players in all of college football. They have a tough schedule, but should still be able to make the College Football Playoff.

Deondre Francois had a good freshman season, despite bad offensive line play in front of him. He threw for 3,350 yards and 20 touchdowns. Ryan Izzo returns as a starter at tight end, but no starters are back at wide receiver. Nyquan Murray did have 441 receiving yards and five touchdowns last year and will be the go-to-guy this season.

The offensive line only returns two starters, but that may not be such a bad thing given how poorly they played last season. The hope is that Fisher’s recruiting will pay off. Jacques Patrick and Cam Akers will split time in the backfield for the Seminoles. Patrick is a junior and Akers is one of the best freshman in the country.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Seminoles have a lot of key players that should help them improve immensely. Josh Sweat, Derrick Nnadi and Demarcus Christmas all return on the defensive line, but Brian Burns, who didn’t start last year, comes back with 9.5 sacks. Their front four will make plays all year. The linebackers aren’t as talented as in year’s past, but they do have experience with three starters back from last year’s team.

The secondary always produces NFL-level talent. Derwin James sat out most of last season with an injury, but is back this season. He not only is a great NFL Draft Prospect, but if healthy, could be the best defensive player in college football this season. Tarvarus McFadden returns at corner and will be a high draft pick himself.

Florida State should be a team that has the offense and defense take a small step forward from last season. Their schedule is brutal and will give them challenges. They have games against Alabama, Miami, Louisville, Clemson and Florida. The Seminoles should be able to get out of the regular season with only a loss or two, which should put them in the ACC Championship Game, if things fall their way.

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

College football top 25

Minkah Fitzpatrick (Photo by draftblaster.com)

Losing in the National Championship Game has left a sour taste in Alabama’s mouth. Nick Saban is ready to lead his team back to prominence again this season and they will have another great season.

Jalen Hurts led the team to the title game last season and will be attempting to throw the ball better this season. Saban has admitted that he should’ve let Hurts throw more last season and it may have cost them. He did manage to throw for 2,780 yards and 23 touchdowns. O.J. Howard and ArDarius Stewart are gone, but Calvin Ridley returns. Other playmakers on the outside need to live up to their recruiting ranking this season.

The offensive line has three starters coming back and will be solid again with all the good recruiting Saban does. Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough return at running back to provide an elite one-two punch. Harris is shiftier, while Scarbrough runs with power. They create a great dynamic.

The defense has five starters that are returning for this season, but Alabama always has talented replacements waiting. Da’Ron Payne returns on the defensive line and will be flanked by Da’Shawn Hand and Josh Frazier. All of which will stop the run well. Shaun Dion Hamilton is back in the middle of the defense to patrol things as the next man in line to be Alabama’s top inside linebacker. Rashaan Evans had four sacks last season from his outside linebacker position.

Minkah Fitzpatrick can do anything in the secondary, but will line up safety this year. Ronnie Harrison will be at the other safety and is the leading returning tackler with 86. Anthony Averett and Trevon Diggs will be the corners and will need to prove to Saban, a former defensive backs coach, that they are up to par with previous Alabama secondary players.

Alabama too has a very tough schedule. Their tough games are against Florida State, Texas A&M, Arkansas, Tennessee, LSU and Auburn. While predicting anyone to go undefeated in today’s college football is tough, Alabama should be able to get out of the season with a maximum of two losses and a minimum of none. Either way they will be in the SEC Championship Game and will be in contention for the College Football Playoff.

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