The college football season is about a month and a half away and it can’t come soon enough. As rosters are finally completed with transfers (thank you Malik Zaire) and spring ball all wrapped up, it’s time to look forward to the fall. Who will be the top 25 teams in college football this season?
25. Kansas State Wildcats
Bill Snyder is back for another season as the head man of Kansas State. He had his youngest team ever last season and still finished 9-4. This year should show improvements for the Wildcats, but the record will likely be similar. They will grind out games in typical Snyder fashion.
Jesse Ertz will be back to lead the offense at quarterback with his dual-threat abilities. He led the Wildcats in both rushing and passing last year and looks like he will do the same this season.
A few running backs will get a chance to help him out on the ground, including Alex Barnes and Justin Silmon. Byron Pringle and Dominique Heath are good wide receivers on the outside, and will have to make the most of their opportunities, as Ertz only threw for 1,755 yards last season.
The bulk of the offensive line is back including center Reid Najvar and tackles Scott Frantz and Dalton Risner, which should help create more than the 32.2 points per game last year.
Defensively, the Wildcats will have to replace the pass-rushing ability of Jordan Willis, who is off to the NFL, but they do return the other three starters from the defensive line. They help make this defense great at stopping the run which ranked 11th in the country.
The linebackers will be all new starters this year, but keep an eye on Da’Quan Patton who was one of the best JUCO linebackers last season.
Three out of four starters from the secondary return to a unit that needs to improve from its 114th ranking against the pass a year ago.
With an easier non-conference schedule this season, the Wildcats should be undefeated heading into conference play. Their big games at home will be TCU, Oklahoma and West Virginia, while they will be on the road to face Texas and Oklahoma State. With these games posing problems, Kansas State should be able to get out of the regular season with a maximum of four losses by grinding out games and winning the turnover battle.
24. Northwestern Wildcats
Northwestern had a solid 7-6 season last year that was capped off with a win over Pittsburgh in the Pinstripe Bowl. This season they return a lot of key players that should help them compete for the Big Ten West.
The backfield is stacked with talent for the Wildcats, featuring three-year starter Clayton Thorson at quarterback and the man who will likely be the school’s all-time leading rusher at year’s end, Justin Jackson at running back. Both can run the ball really well and Thorson improved significantly as a passer from his freshman to his sophomore year. With his natural progression he can make Northwestern’s scoring offense one of the best in the Big Ten.
Four starters return on the offensive line, but they will need to replace Big Ten leading receiver Austin Carr from last year’s squad.
Defensively the Wildcats are best in the secondary, with Godwin Igwebuike and Kyle Quiero, who are two of their best players and are paired with two other returning starters.
They lose Anthony Walker from their linebacking core, but feature a lot of capable replacements. There isn’t much depth on the defensive front, but their starters are solid. The defense lost its best player in Walker, but there is no reason why they should take a step back this year after ranking 24th in the country in scoring defense.
The schedule matches up favorably for Northwestern. They travel to Wisconsin and play Penn State at home in back to back games, but the rest of the games on their schedule should be manageable. The Wildcats will be going to a bowl game and expect at a very minimum eight wins.
23. Washington State Cougars
Winning the Holiday Bowl would have been a nice way to cap off the season, but the Cougars fell to Minnesota to finish with an 8-5 record. Mike Leach got the team rolling and won all eight games in a row, including seven of them being in conference. Washington State got the most important player to return to school for one more year, which will give them another solid season.
Luke Falk could’ve gone to the NFL Draft, but elected to come back to Pullman for his senior season. Falk has two-straight 4,000-yard passing seasons and has a touchdown to interceptions ratio of over three to one. He will have another big year, even though he loses key receivers River Cracraft and Gabe Marks.
Multiple wide receivers are capable of stepping up, but Tavares Martin Jr. is the big play guy. Three returning starters on the offensive line will help protect Falk and the Cougars are also very deep at running back.
Last season, Washington State ranked in the top half of the country in scoring defense, and with that offense humming that’s all they really have to do to make the team successful.
The passing defense is awful and they lost Shalom Luani which hurts. They do return four starters from the secondary, two linebackers and two defensive linemen. Peyton Pelluer is a great linebacker who brings back a lot of experience with 233 career tackles. They will need the secondary and pass rush to get a lot better to be a successful defense.
Washington State has it’s fair share of tough games in 2017 including: Boise State, USC, Stanford and at Washington. Having three of those key games at home is a huge boost to the Cougars. They should be able to beat Boise State at the very least. Getting USC in the crossover game is tough, but Washington State could max out at 10 wins or bottom out with eight, assuming they don’t lose to an FCS opponent for the third year in a row.
22. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
There is no doubt that Brian Kelly’s seat is hot after finishing 4-8 last season. He brought in new coordinators so now the onus is totally on him. No Notre Dame team should ever go 4-8, especially given their schedule. A lot of players need to step up this season, but the talent is there.
Notre Dame will be breaking in a new quarterback in Brandon Wimbush. He was a highly-touted recruit, but he didn’t play well in the spring game. The key for Wimbush’s development is the great offensive line he has in front of him. Four of the linemen are returning starters and two, Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson, could have been drafted very early in the 2016 NFL Draft.
A lot of the wide receivers are inexperienced, but Equanimeous St. Brown (along with being one of the coolest names in college football) is blossoming into a star. Durham Smythe and Alize Mack (formerly Alize Jones), provide good targets at tight end.
Running the ball is a versatile player who is capable of running and catching out of the backfield, Josh Adams.
The Fighting Irish have been decimated with injuries the past few seasons on the defensive side of the ball and don’t return many starters. The good news is that a lot of players have gotten experience over the last few years. The bad news is they didn’t play particularly well.
This season they need to get better at stopping the run. Nose tackle Jerry Tillery and linebacker Nyles Morgan will do what they can, but will need help. The secondary and defensive lines are shaky overall, but the linebackers are talented and will have to lead the team.
As always, Notre Dame does have some marquee games this season. They host Georgia and USC and travel to Miami and Stanford. Other games on the schedule are tricky, but those are the bigger games. Their matchup with Georgia in week two will let everyone know if the Fighting Irish are bouncing back or not. Notre Dame should win eight games during the regular season and if they don’t Kelly likely won’t be on the sidelines anymore.
21. Virginia Tech Hokies
Justin Fuente rejuvenated the Hokies last year and got them a 10 win season after they defeated Arkansas in the Belk Bowl. They lost some key players, but with Fuente, Virginia Tech will be able to figure it out.
Jerod Evans surprisingly left for the NFL Draft and went undrafted, so the Hokies will likely turn to Josh Jackson, who has great playmaking ability. Isaiah Ford and Bucky Hodges also left school early, but Cam Phillips will be a great target for Jackson. Other receivers need to produce as well.
Travon McMillan saw his production slip during his sophomore season, but is a solid running back and should have a good junior season. Three returning offensive linemen will help the Hokies move the chains.
The defensive front has one starter returning in Viny Mihota, but the back seven brings back a lot of experience. Their secondary should be one of the best in the country with Terrell Edmunds, Brandon Facyson and Greg Stroman. Tremaine Edmunds will stand out as the best linebacker in the ACC. Virginia Tech was good on defense last year, but should be able to take it to another level in 2017.
The schedule shouldn’t be too rough on the Hokies, but they do have a few big games. They play a neutral site game against West Virginia, Clemson at home, at Miami, at Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh in Blacksburg. Virginia Tech should be able to win most of those games. The Hokies can win anywhere between nine and 11 games in the regular season and can get back to the ACC Championship Game.
Featured image: mysanantonio.com
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