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
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
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
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
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
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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