College football preseason 2017 top 25: 15-11

We are down to only a couple weeks before college football starts again. For teams in the top 15 their goal is to make it to the College Football Playoff. This installment features teams that want to get back to their winning ways and have not made it to the College Football Playoff since its inception.

For the last installment of the top 25, click here.

15. Florida Gators

College football top 25

Martez Ivey (photo by gridironnow.com)

Jim McElwain is entering year three as the head man in Gainesville and would rather focus on football than the viral picture of his doppelganger naked with a shark. Last season Florida went 9-4 with losses on the road and in the SEC Championship Game with Alabama. They capped off the season with a win in the Outback Bowl against Iowa. The Gators have 13 returning starters and will be looking to make yet another SEC Championship Game.

The offensive line is the strength of the offense and returns four starters, including the very talented left tackle Martez Ivey. Unfortunately the offense has lacked the playmakers in the past and will need players to step up this season. Jordan Scarlett is the leading returning rusher and averaged 5 yards per carry, but the team ranked 113th in rushing yards last season.

Feliepe Franks will likely take over at quarterback after a solid spring. The redshirt freshman is big and has a strong arm, but still has a lot to prove. The best receiver on the team is Antonio Callaway, who is capable of doing great things, but has some off the field issues going on right now. If he is on the field he is a difference maker and one of the few the Gators have.

Defensively, Florida loses a lot, but they are stocked with talent. The defensive backfield does have depth issues, but their starters are solid. Corner Duke Dawson will be relied upon to have a great season and safeties Marcell Harris and Nick Washington will as well.

There is a lot of inexperience at linebacker, but David Reese was a Freshman All-American playing in place of the injured Jarrad Davis last season. The front four features one returning starter, but a lot of the players have gotten a significant amount of playing time in years past. Cece Jefferson has to step up and get after the quarterback, while Jabari Zuniga needs to add to his sack total of five in 2016. The defense will take a small step back and need the offense to get a little better.

Florida starts their season with a game against Michigan before taking on Northern Colorado, UAB and Florida State in the rest of the non-conference. Challenges in conference will be games against Tennessee, LSU and Georgia. The Gators will bottom out at 7-5, but will likely end up at 8-4 with their challenging schedule.

14. Louisville Cardinals

College football top 25

Lamar Jackson (Photo by sportingnews.com)

Louisville got off to a hot start before losing their last three games to finish 9-4. They lost to LSU in the Citrus Bowl. Bobby Petrino will have his team in the thick of the ACC Atlantic race this season. They have 11 returning starters, but a lot of them provide a lot of value.

The Heisman Trophy winner from last season, Lamar Jackson, returns to lead the offense. He is a very good runner, but needs to prove he can pass better. Even so, he led the Cardinals to the sixth best scoring offense in the country. Jackson led the team in rushing, but will have help this season from Jeremy Smith, who averaged 6.7 yards per carry in 2016.

Former quarterback Reggie Bonnafon and wide receivers Jaylen Smith and Dez Fitzpatrick will need to make plays in the passing game for Louisville. Fitzpatrick and Smith have tremendous talent and will get a chance to make a huge impact this year. Geron Christian and Lukayus McNeil are the only returning starters on the offensive line, that will be expected to protect Lamar Jackson.

Seven starters return on defense, including three of four starters in the secondary. Corner Jaire Alexander had the most interceptions last year out of the returnees with five and will be asked to cover well similarly in 2017. James Hearns returns at linebacker after recording 8 sacks in 2016. Drew Bailey has experience at defensive end and recorded two sacks last season in the Cardinals’ 3-4 scheme.

There are only a few tough games for the Cardinals. They have a game at home against Clemson, on the road at Florida State and a rivalry game at Kentucky to end the season, a team they lost to last season. Due to their easy schedule and the brilliance of Jackson, Louisville will at least finish 9-3, but likely finish 10-2 with a shot at a New Year’s Six Bowl Game.

13. LSU Tigers

College football top 25

Derrius Guice (photo by theadvocate.com)

Ed Orgeron is now the main man for the Tigers and helped lead them to an 8-4 finish last season. They lost only twice after he took over, to Alabama and Florida. He now gets 12 returning starters to help him out in his first year.

The problem for LSU over the years has been the offense and quarterback play. Danny Etling played better as last season went on and will need to be a steady hand in Matt Canada’s offense. Helping him in the backfield is the leading rusher in the SEC from last season Derrius Guice. With Leonard Fournette injured he amassed 1,387 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns.

A lot of talent left the receiving core this offseason, but D.J. Chark has the chance to blossom if the quarterback play is decent. The offensive line took a hit when Maea Teuema was granted his realease from the program. They still return two starters, including center Will Clapp.

LSU returns one of the best players in the country in Arden Key. The pass rushing star finished last season with 12 sacks. Christian LaCouture will need to transition to a 3-4 defensive end, but will likely do well. At linebacker the team will be as thin as they have been in years and will need players to step up.

The Tiger secondary has been a strength of the team fro years and this year should be no different. Kevin Tolliver and Donte Jackson are both good corners and John Battle also returns at safety. They helped LSU finish fifth as a scoring defense in the country and should help them be very good once again.

There are a number of difficult games in the LSU schedule in 2017. They have tough games against: BYU, Florida, Auburn, Alabama and Tennessee. If the defense plays up to par, LSU should be able to finish 9-3 in a very difficult SEC West.

12. Wisconsin badgers

college football top 25

Jack Cichy (photo by uwbadgers.com)

The Badgers had a tough schedule and did well in 2016, only losing to the top teams in the Big Ten East and winning the Cotton Bowl against Western Michigan. Paul Chryst has only lost six games in his first two seasons as head coach and will be able to keep the losses minimal this year. There are 15 returning starters that will make this team successful in 2017.

Alex Hornibrook shared quarterback duties with Bart Houston last season, but now brings some experience in his sophomore season. His numbers will need to improve, but he showed flashes of being a good college quarterback. The running back duties will be split between Pittsburgh transfer Chris James and sophomore Bradrick Shaw. Both of them haven’t proven much in their young careers, but have potential.

The wide receiving core is anchored by Jazz Peavy and one of the best tight ends in the country Troy Fumagalli. Fumagalli will be an early draft pick and really exploded in the Badgers’ win over Western Michigan with some great catches. The offensive line will be a strength of the team, as they return a lot of experience with four starters.

Wisconsin had the fourth best scoring defense in the country last season and return six starters. Their rush defense will be good once again with Chikwe Obasih and Conor Sheehy returning on the defensive line. Jack Cichy was lost for the season with a torn ACL, but the other linebackers returning are talented. T.J. Edwards had 89 tackles last year, which is the most out of anyone on the team coming back for this year.

The secondary didn’t perform as well as the front seven, but that was hard to do. They were still good enough to rank 30th against the pass last season. D’Cota Dixon and Derrick Tindal bring back a ton of experience. Dixon recorded four interceptions for the Badgers last season and will need to help them get turnovers again this year. In 2016 they had a turnover margin of +16.

The schedule sets up very favorably for the Badgers this season. They only play one of the three Big Ten East powers in Michigan and their next toughest games are against Northwestern, BYU and Iowa. There is a possibility they run the table, but they will likely end the season with a loss or two before heading to the Big Ten Championship Game.

11. Auburn Tigers

college football top 25

Jarrett Stidham (photo by oanow.com)

New life has been found for the Auburn Tigers after finishing last season 8-5. They lost to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl, but return 16 starters from that team. Gus Malzahn was on the hot seat, but made it through the season and now has a chance to make some noise with this year’s squad.

Jarrett Stidham will likely be taking the vast majority of the snaps at quarterback for the Tigers after finding some success at Baylor. He will be asked to have a high completion percentage like he did when he was in Waco. Auburn found a running back last year in Kamryn Pettway. Pettway is a bruising running back that showed his power with 1,224 yards and nine touchdowns in 2016.

The offensive line returns three starters and should help make the rushing attack dynamic like they were last year when they ranked sixth in the country. While they don’t have a good go-to-guy at receiver, they have a lot of young talent that is capable of stepping up with Stidham at quarterback this season.

The defense ranked seventh in the country in scoring last year and returns eight starters. Carlton Davis leads the secondary from his corner position. Behind him are two senior safeties in Tray Matthews and Stephen Roberts that have a lot of experience and will make for a good unit.

Rushing the passer has to be an emphasis this season, as their returning leader is Andrew Williams who had three. There are plenty of good pass rushers on the team who will need to step up, including former highly-touted prospect Byron Cowart. The linebackers have experience as well as speed to make them a great unit.

The schedule is pretty difficult to manage, but that hasn’t hampered the high expectations for this team. They have tough matchups with Clemson, LSU, Georgia and Alabama, along with some other tricky games along the way. Auburn has enough talent to win 10 games, but may fall to 8-4 with the very tough schedule they face.

Featured image by nola.com

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Best 2018 NFL Draft prospects: Cornerbacks

Cornerbacks were a hot commodity in the 2017 NFL Draft and the 2018 NFL Draft could offer some more quality players at the position. Here are the top cornerbacks in the 2018 NFL Draft class as of now:

Adonis Alexander, Virginia Tech

Alexander is one of the bigger corners in this class at 6’3″ and 193 pounds. He needs to add some weight to fill out his frame, but offers great length to shut down some of the taller NFL wide receivers.

He has six career interceptions and 13 passes defended in his two seasons in Blacksburg. While his length and cover skills are good, he needs to make sure he runs a good 40 yard dash time at the 2018 NFL Draft Combine to insure that a team will take him with a high pick.

Virginia Tech will play West Virginia, Clemson, North Carolina, Miami and Pitt. Alexander will face a handful of good receivers against Clemson, including Deon Cain.

Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama

Minkah Fitzpatrick NFL

Minkah Fitzpatrick (Photo by: seccountry.com)

Alabama always has good secondary players, but Fitzpatrick was able to break into the starting lineup as a freshman and hasn’t left. He is 6’1″ and 203 pounds and should follow other Crimson Tide defensive backs who have been selected in the first round.

In is two seasons at Alabama, Fitzpatrick has eight interceptions and 17 passes defended. He has all of the physical tools to make it at the next level, but does need to work on his positioning and technique before he gets to the next level.

Alabama plays Florida State, Texas A&M, Tennessee, LSU and Auburn. When the Crimson Tide play Texas A&M, Fitzpatrick will have to guard Christian Kirk, one of the best receivers in college football. If he is able to shut down Kirk, Fitzpatrick can prove once again that he can shut down NFL-level receivers.

Iman Marshall, USC

Marshall was a highly sought after recruit and has played across from the great Adoree’ Jackson the last two seasons. He is a good corner in his own right and could end up going first round too with a good season. He has decent size at 6’1″ and 200 pounds.

So far at USC, Marshall has six interceptions and 17 passes defended. Marshall does need to work on his run support and tackling ability, but he can cover, which is the most important thing.

This season USC will face Stanford, Texas, Washington State, Utah, Notre Dame and UCLA. The games against UCLA and Washington State will pit Marshall against some of the best quarterbacks in college football, Josh Rosen and Luke Falk.

Tarvarus McFadden, Florida State

McFadden got his first taste of major action in 2016 and showed some great flashes of potential. He has good size standing 6’2″ and 198 pounds, which should help him be one of the first corners selected in the 2018 NFL Draft.

He tied for the NCAA lead with eight interceptions in 2016, demonstrating his great ball skills. One of his problems was he totaled only 19 tackles and needs to do better in run support to enhance his draft stock.

The Seminoles will play a lot of big games in 2017 including: Alabama, Miami, Louisville, Clemson and Florida. The games against Clemson and Alabama will give McFadden a chance to go up against Deon Cain and Calvin Ridley, two good receiver prospects.

Jordan Thomas, Oklahoma

Jordan Thomas NFL

Jordan Thomas (Photo by: newsok.com)

When a player seems like he has been around forever, that usually means they have been great. Thomas has tons of experience and will get another full slate of games this season. He is decently big, at 6’0″ and 192 pounds.

Thomas has seven career interceptions and 25 passes defended. He is a physical, cover corner who usually doesn’t have too many balls thrown his way. He did get beat more in 2016 than in 2015, but still had a solid season last year overall.

Oklahoma will play a lot of good offenses this season, which should test Thomas. The Sooners play Ohio State, Texas, Oklahoma State and West Virginia. Against Oklahoma State Thomas will have to go up against a great duo in quarterback Mason Rudolph and wide receiver James Washington. He will also look to get redemption against Ohio State, who he played badly against in 2016.

Kevin Toliver, LSU

Toliver is another big time recruit that LSU signed to be a part of their great legacy. He has gotten playing time since his freshman year for the Tigers. He had a variety of injuries that held him back last season. At 6’2″ and 193 pounds he has great size and length.

In 18 games played for the Tigers, Toliver has just one interception and six passes defended. Now that he is healthy those numbers will increase drastically. He shows the ability and desire to help in the run game. The biggest key for Toliver is staying healthy long enough to put up good tape in 2017.

LSU plays BYU, Florida, Auburn, Alabama, Tennessee and Texas A&M. Like other players on this list, his toughest assignments will be against Kirk of Texas A&m and Ridley of Alabama. With a productive season, Toliver can put himself among the top 2018 NFL Draft prospects.

 

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Four Teams That Will Make The College Football Playoff

The college football season has just kicked off, which begins the season long quest for teams to make it to the playoffs that conclude the season. The first two years of the College Football Playoff has produced great results and this year might have more anticipation for the Playoff than any other. Could their be a rematch between some of the teams involved in last year’s playoff? Here are the four teams that will make the College Football Playoff:

1.Clemson Tigers

Deshaun Watson looks to lead Clemson to a second straight College Football Playoff appearance. (Courtesy cbssports.com)

The Tigers finished as the runner-up in college football last season and return a lot of players, which have Clemson fans ready to kick-off the season. Quarterback Deshaun Watson threw for over 4,000 yards and rushed for over 1,000 yards last season and should be more efficient this season, with more talented receivers suiting up this year. Wide Receiver Mike Williams, who missed most of last season with a neck injury, is back and should provide another great receiver for Watson to throw too. The other great receiver is Artavis Scott, who led the Tigers in receiving yards last year. Clemson also returns tight end Jordan Leggett, who will be playing on Sundays soon. Wayne Gallman will man the running back spot, after rushing for over 1,500 yards last season. He is one of the most underrated players in the country because Watson overshadows him. The offense does lose a few offensive lineman, but Clemson recruits enough to fill the void left on the offensive line. Last season the Tigers averaged 38.5 points per game last season and that should increase this season.

Defensively, the Tigers lost a lot from last season. Ben Boulware and Cordrea Tankersley are the players who started last season who will have to lead the team this year. The pass rushers are inexperienced, but Clemson has a knack of producing top-level pass rushers. With the offense being so good this season, the defense just has to be average and timely for the Tigers to win the ACC this season.

Key Games: Oct. 1 Louisville, Oct. 29 at Florida State

2. LSU Tigers

Leonard Fournette is going to have another great season for the Tigers. (Courtesy bleacherreport.com)

LSU has the most talented team from top to bottom in the country. Everyone knows what you are getting from Leonard Fournette, a possible 2,000 yard rusher this season. The offensive line should be great on the interior and solid on the outside, which will be capable of opening up holes for Fournette and pass protecting.The top two receivers from last season in Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural, who are both long and lengthy, return and can be threats on the outside of the offense. The problem is they don’t have a lot of depth at the position. To help though, Colin Jeter, their tight end, should be able to help over the middle. The x-factor for this team is Brandon Harris at the quarterback position. He has a strong arm, but isn’t very accurate. He needs to complete passes to keep defenses honest and not completely focused on Fournette.

The secondary of the Tigers is the best in the country. Tre’Davious White, Kevin Toliver, Jamal Adams and Rickey Jefferson will make it hard for any offense to throw against them. The defensive line will also be stacked on the interior and the exterior. Their defensive line is huge and should help plug running lanes. Arden Key will rush the passer with his great length and speed from his outside linebacker position. Kendall Beckwith is the leader in the middle and will rack up a lot of tackles. The defense allowed 24.3 points per game last season, but they should be one of the best in the country this season.

Key Games: Oct. 22 Ole Miss, Nov. 5 Alabama

3. Oklahoma Sooners

Baker Mayfield does a little bit of everything for the Sooners. (Courtesy usatoday.com)

The Sooners will make a run to the College Football Playoff, much like last year, thanks to Baker Mayfield. he can throw the ball with accuracy, he completed 68% of his passes last season, and run the ball to keep the defenses on their toes. His partner in the backfield, running back Samaje Perine, will run over people and create a dynamic duo that will create havoc for defenses. The problem for the Sooners is the wide receiving core. Losing Sterling Shepard to the NFL hurts a lot. They really need Dede Westbrook to step up and be the go-to receiver this season without Shepard. The offensive line has a lot of experience returning and should be solid to set up the skill position players for great seasons.

Defense will be the key for the Sooners, much like Clemson. Last season they allowed just 22 points per game, but need to replace a lot of players. The secondary is the most experienced group and Jordan Thomas should be a dynamic player for Oklahoma at corner back. He will be able to shut down most of the Big 12’s best receivers.The rest of the defense will need to step up in some of their close games. If the Sooners have a weakness, it will be stopping the run, which could cost them in a few games.

Key Games: Sep. 3 vs. Houston (NRG Stadium), Sep. 17 vs. Ohio State, Oct. 1 at TCU

4. Ohio State Buckeyes

J.T. Barrett is the unquestioned leader of the Buckeyes this season. (courtesy cbssports.com)

J.T. Barrett returns as the full-time starter and will have a lot of new pieces to fit in with. The good news for Barrett is the two other returning starters on offense are offensive linemen Billy Price and Pat Elflein. The skill position players will need to step up, but the Buckeyes are one of the few university’s that just reload.

The Buckeyes lose a lot on defense this year, but get a player returning on each level of the defense. Defensive end Tyquan Lewis returns after recording eight sacks last year. Sam Hubbard also had experience from the defensive end position, and will need to have an improved season. Raekwon McMillan is the best inside linebacker in the country and should be considered for Big Ten defensive player of the year after the season. Gareon Conley played well last season, but will need to lead an inexperienced secondary that could be the defense’s weak point.

Ohio State can afford to lose to Oklahoma in week three if they sweep the rest of their schedule.

Key Games: Sep. 17 at Oklahoma, Nov. 19 at Michigan State, Nov. 26 vs. Michigan