This year’s blogboll ends, in many respects, where it began: Oklahoma, Alabama, Ohio State in the top four. My preseason prediction of an Alabama-Oklahoma semi and Alabama-Ohio State finals did not come to pass (though Mayfield did deservedly win his Heisman.) They were joined by a senior-laden Georgia team who who must recapture the gumption, talent, and coaching to survive again next season.
Do you want to know the depressing part if you’re on the outside, looking-in? The CFP expressly favors bluebloods and those talented teams who play a lot of quality opponents, recruit at a high level, and have the health or depth to get through a 15-game season. Given the youth movement and recruiting level at many of the nation’s top-tier programs, this year’s playoff participants may take a step back next season, but they’re built to last. We’ll see them in the mix more often than not.
Here’s the Blogpoll season finale and then a way-too early look at the Top 10 for next season. We’ll have a more in-depth preseason look after underclassmen declare and Spring ball is over:
|1||Alabama Crimson Tide||3|
|4||Ohio State Buckeyes||5|
|9||Penn State Nittany Lions||19|
|10||TCU Horned Frogs/USC Trojans||14/6|
|11||Okahoma State Cowboys||15|
|13||Notre Dame Fighting Irish||T 25|
|15||Michigan State Spartans||18|
|19||Mississippi State Bulldogs||21|
|20||NCSU Wolfpack||T 23|
|21||Washington State Cougars||12|
|22||Iowa State Cyclones||--|
|23||Memphis Tigers/Boise State Broncos||16/25|
|25||Fresno State Bulldogs||--|
Preseason Way-Too-Early 2018 Top 10
- Alabama Crimson Tide: Sure, Alabama loses its entire secondary, 40% of the offensive line, Rashaan Evans, Shaun Dion Hamilton, D’Shawn Hand, DaRon Payne, and its best veteran receiver, but this season’s trial-by-fire has pressed the next generation into meaningful action — dramatically so — and they met or exceeded the challenges. The offense will be damn-near unstoppable. Hard to believe that less than a week removed from a national title, and I’m already excited about 2018...we all are.
- Clemson Tigers: Nope. They’re not going anywhere soon. The ACC is in flux with CU’s main challengers still rebuilding (VT) in flux (FSU) or likely still a piece or two away from challenging (Miami.) I think the Kelly Bryant era is over: Hunter Johnson does so much that Bryant cannot in the passing game. Dabo got 2016 Alabama’d this year with a limited offense; I don’t think he lets it happen again. Rebuilding the front seven is the other necessity. The schedule is more difficult in 2018, including three conference road games to ACC opponents, a nasty Georgia Tech kneecapping in Atlanta, and a trip to Texas A&M to meet Jimbo’s new-look Aggies. The home schedule is only slightly easier, where the Tigers face three bowl opponents, including two teams on the uptick — Wake Forest and North Carolina State.
- Oklahoma Sooners: Lincoln Riley is the best offensive playcaller in college football. Full stop. Kyler Murray may not have the fire or physicality of Baker Mayfield, but he has a stronger arm and can do some things in the option game even the mobile Mayfield cannot. He’ll be put in position to succeed. With Oklahoma State facing a rebuild and TCU still limited offensively, the Sooners are again the class of the Big 12. Shoring up the secondary and replacing some key pieces on the offensive line are a must.
- Wisconsin Badgers: A brutal schedule awaits in Madison for a program that is really, really young: at Penn State, at Purdue, at Michigan, at Iowa, at Northwestern. And that’s just the road slate. The West should be a little more competitive this year, but UW’s combination of seasoned vets, an excellent returning running game, and more athletic underclassmen should be enough to offset key losses at least in the division. There’s no better “system program” in the nation; Paul Chryst is earning his paycheck. There’s also some extra motivation this year having just fallen short of serious consideration for the final CFP slot. The biggest question is the passing game: Alex Hornibrook had an excellent bowl game, but is that enough to offset a poor year? And, who do the Badgers now target with the loss of future NFL star Troy Fumagalli? This could be a top 10 team with four losses.
- Washington Huskies: Following key losses to the NFL, the Huskies spent most of 2017 trying to find their way, particularly with a rebuild offensive line. The result for 2018 is that U-Dub, like Wisconsin, enters the season with a nice mix of underclassmen who have significant starts, a veteran group of skills players, and a front-seven/offensive line that have now spent a year learning with one another. The schedule is a little more forgiving next season, with the exception of a roadie to former-Ducks nemesis Chip Kelly and the always-tough trip to Rice-Eccles to face the Utes. The sky may be the limit if this team beats Auburn in the Kickoff Classic and handles Stanford later in October.
- Ohio State Buckeyes. For many reasons, 2017 has to be considered one of Urban Meyer’s poorest coaching jobs. In 2009, he had the returning core of an amazing defense that had dominated the SEC for the better part of four seasons. He had a veteran offensive line, one of the best competitors to ever play quarterback — but UF fell short in a changing of the guard. This season was just a flop, wasting one of the nation’s best front sevens, a veteran secondary, a star-studded offensive line, senior All-American QB, deep stable of running backs, and a favorable schedule. The talent is there again in 2018, and OSU should have an even better offense, but will we see the 2010-ish mail-it-in-Meyer or the focused, dialed-in guy who got his group prepped for the Cotton Bowl? This may be the most important year for the Buckeyes under Meyer yet: institutional rot sets in or the Bucks consistently compete. Fortunately, the schedule is a bit easier than 2017’s slate.
- Georgia Bulldogs: This team won’t completely fall off the map in 2018, despite losing the better part of its front-seven and one of the SEC’s most storied running back tandems: Fromm is the real deal, while Swift/Nata/Holyfield make a very nice backfield unto themselves. Excellent special teams, dynamic younger players, a young-but-veteran offensive line, and a hot mess SEC East should have the ‘Dawgs back into contention. The trips to South Carolina and all-but-certainly a night game in Baton Rouge will test a lot of young nerves.
- Miami Hurricanes: This team needs a quarterback and elite depth. The latter is a function of Mark Richt continuing to recruit at a high level. The former is a question of either Malik Rosier limiting turnovers and playing like a senior or, just as likely, Evan Shireffs developing over the offseason. The ‘Canes weren’t quite ready for prime time in 2017; the moment won’t or shouldn’t overwhelm them this season. We’ll know the answer over Labor Day when they face a deeply-rebuilding LSU in Jerry World.
- Florida Gators: The Gators were down to 53 scholarship players at one point this season. That has resulted in a two-deep that has seen its share of meaningful action, including a rebuilt defense that took its lumps last year. The Gators will go as far as quarterbacking takes it — Feilepe Franks may not be a great running threat, but he’s got the arm to be a good fit for the offense. And, the loss of locker room distraction Antonio Callaway is addition by subtraction. Call it a hunch, but the talent didn’t go anywhere and Dan Mullen can coach. There will be peaks and valleys, to be sure. But this team has the potential to surprise people, especially at home.
- Michigan Wolverines: Like Florida, this one is a hunch. Brandon Peters is the answer at QB until Shea Patterson is eligible in 2019. That certainty at QB is a pleasant surprise. Better yet, UM’s offensive line is in the best shape it’s been in a decade. Add to that a defense that was rebuilt this year and will be monstrous in 2018, and there is a lot to like about the Wolverines. The best thing to like, however, is the hiring of Dan Enos. Enos called some fantastic games at offensively-challenged Arkansas. He’ll wring all the points out that are on the table. The schedule is less forgiving this season, so that may hurt Blue. But, the good news is that UM’s two biggest divisional competitors (Ohio State and Penn State) are facing substantive questions of their own.