The Blogpoll usually takes into account some combination of a power poll, SOS, injuries, derpy playcalling, coaching, recruiting, luck, consistency, and the oh-so-nebulous “eyeball test.” At the beginning of the year, we don’t have a lot of these to work with, but we do have returning starters, coaching shuffles, injuries of note, new QBs, fall camp momentum and the like.
This is one of the most fluid polls out there, so a team that is No. 3 this week can easily drop 10-12 spots over one week — at least until we’re four or five weeks into the season and have a lot more data points.
Without further ado, here are those we suspect will be excellent midmajors, those who were considered but need to prove something, those very good big conference teams that won’t vie for their conference, and others deserving of a ranking...for now.
25. Memphis Tigers: This is the most stable contender with the most returning offense in a wide-open conference. And now the recruiting is picking up in the fertile region. UCF is going to miss Scott Frost — and key defensive contributors — a lot more than people are pretending.
24. FAU Owls: Speaking of wide open, there’s no more lethal offense in the nation than the that one Lane Kiffin has assembled in Boca. Surrounding himself with other young coaches, he has made FAU a destination spot where borderline P5 talent can become maximized and win a lot of games along the way. The beast of the CUSA is being born.
23. Boise State Broncos: 27th year quarterback Brett Rypien is back and his supporting cast has finally caught up in experience. A young defense especially got its act together late last season. With with 16 starters back, the Broncos should vie for a coveted New Year’s Bowl.
22. USC Trojans: Sam Darnold is gone. Ronald Jones III is gone. There is a lot of raw talent on both sides of the ball, but the South just got infinitely more difficult with Sumlin’s arrival in Tucson and Chip Kelly at cross-town Westwood. There is more than a little part of me that simply doesn’t trust Helton to ever get it together as a major coach. He may be good one day, but this job seems above his coaching chops for now. He’s wasted a lot of talent in his two years on the job already.
21. South Carolina Gamecocks: Fresh off a nine-win campaign, and with renewed recruiting success, it’s time for the Gamecocks to be rewarded with a solid season where USCe doesn’t just beat up the dregs of the conference. The passing offense should be excellent, but there’s something about this team I still don’t quite trust...probably the lack of gamechangers in the backfield on the defensive line. The Georgia game in week two is the one people point to, but the season’s success will be made against Florida and Missouri.
20. Utah Utes: The ever-steady Utes will have a salty defense, per usual. And the offense is considerably more experienced — QB Tyler Huntley isn’t a freshman anymore and Zack Moss is a load. The schedule is reasonably forgiveable too: U-Dub, Arizona, USC and Oregon all have to travel to football’s second-highest altitude — 5600 feet above sea level, Rice Eccles is a brutal roadie. That, as much as talent or coaching, may keep the Utes in the race until November. In a wide-open South, that may make all the difference.
19. North Carolina State Wolfpack: It’ll be a tough haul to replace three NFL draft picks along the defensive line, but I like the size and upperclass nature of the down three. Besides, the strength of 2018 lies with a veteran offense and the LB corps, the latter of which may turn out to be the ACC’s best behind Miami. Keeping Dave Doeren also quells uncertainty: I like what he’s building here and how he’s doing it. This program is steadily on the rise. If NCSU can stop the run, another 8-9 win season is possible.
18. Miami Hurricanes: Last year, I was pretty high on the ‘Canes, consistently putting them at or near the Top 10. But, stop me if you’ve heard this one, when the going got tough, a Mark Richt team came up short. They lose a lot of firepower (and a lot of the 44 sacks) along the defensive front. Like South Carolina, this team still feels like it’s missing something else though. QB Malik Rosier may not be able to get the ‘Canes over the hump in Richt’s pro-set offense and a rebuilding OL does them no favors. LSU’s inhuman back seven will be a stiff early test though. Still, by default, this is the Coastal favorite. The Atlantic is stacked; less so it’s sibling division.
17. Penn State Nittany Lions: I’m not buying James Franklin, who is 0-for-ranked teams on the road at State College. Fortunately, Ohio State, Michigan State, and Wisconsin come to Happy Valley. Michigan does not. That’s a tough cross-divisional draw though. I’m not buying Trace McSorely as a balm for the loss of Saquon Barkley, who made everyone look better and especially the passing game.But, I do love the kid. He’s exciting. My biggest concerns though are the odds a +12 turnover margin repeats itself, especially with completely rebuilt defense that already gave up 20 yards per completion. Good team, but I still think 8-4 is more likely than playoff contention.
16. West Virginia Mountaineers: This will be the best passing attack in the Power Five; easily one of the best combinations of returning quarterback and returning playmakers on the outside. The question as always will be the defense and turnovers. The ‘Eers were -7 last year: they came at awful times and especially down the stretch. And the defensive front was absolutely gashed in a variety of ways — including allowing 300+ rushing to Oklahoma. Teams didn’t throw very much; they didn’t have to. The grad transfers from Clemson and Penn State will have to step up immediately and in a big way for this team to be in the discussion beyond Halloween. They should destroy Tennessee in the opener though. Go ‘Eers.
15. Michigan State Spartans: Every few years, Mark Dantonio slowly rebuilds his defensive prodigy in Lansing. Solid running game, oodles of returning starters, protoypical NFL quarterbacking, and a nasty-if-thin-and-kind-of-undersized defense. This year is no different. The Spartans return a ridiculous 19 starters. The schedule is sneaky tough though. While Sparty gets Ohio State and Michigan at home, and ducks Wisconsin from the West, there are a ton of potential landmines waiting: always-weird Indiana, silently-decent Northwestern, Brohm’s (now-good) Purdue team in West Lafayette, and a Nebraska squad playing in its final home game of the season with a full season of Scott Frost behind them. Those six games decide Sparty’s fate. And I suspect they lose two of them.
14. TCU Horned Frogs: Significant losses on both sides of the ball, to be sure. But the passing offense looks to be excellent again, and veterans are scattered across all three levels of the defense, which may mitigate the impact somewhat. You do worry about a new offensive line, especially in the interior. The schedule sets up perfectly though: reeling Ohio State in Arlington early in the season is a great test, sure. And while the Frogs travel to Austin and West Virginia, they get Okie Lite, the Dirt Burglars, the Red Raiders, and Iowa State in Fort Worth. This team may stumble somewhere in games 3-6 but should start strong and finish well.
13. Oklahoma Sooners: NEVER. THROW. A. FORWARD. PASS. Seriously, just don’t. With Rodney Anderson and Trey Sermon, there’s no need to. Kyler Murray is no Baker Mayfield, but he shouldn’t have to be either. The right side of the line should gash people for days. The putrid secondary had to be rebuilt and the LBs aren’t special. The Sooners defense really gives me pause, especially the corners. The talent just isn’t there. The Land Thieves only generated 26 sacks last year, which is a bad combination with the lack of playmakers on an island in a passing conference. Tough road trips to West Virginia, Lubbock, Ames, and Fort Worth also await. Don’t forget the Red River Shootout in Dallas and a neat early-season matchup with Chip Kelly’s Bruins. Still, this team got the easiest schedule in the Big 12 (gee, I wonder why.) So 10-2 or 9-3ish and a spot in the B12CG seems about right.
12. Stanford Cardinal: Man, I really like this team. The defense will be fine, as usual. The offense returns nearly everyone, including a deep running back corps led by Bryce Love. KJ Costello was thrown into the fire the second half of his freshman season, and did quite well. He will be even better this year. The road schedule sets up terribly though: at Notre Dame, at Washington, at Oregon, and The Game is in Berkeley too. But, alas, the Cardinal haven’t been consistently able enough in conference play to ever get over the hump into the BCS/CFP picture, falling short with both Andrew Luck and Kevin Hogan. I suspect this year is similar: A PAC 12-North contender, but not a national one. David Shaw is an excellent coach but may never be a championship one. That’s not a bad thing, guys.
11. Auburn Tigers: Jarrett Stidham is winning this year’s August Heisman. And, that’s fine. It’s also fair to say that in a fluid West the Tigers and Bulldogs are probably vying for divisional runner-up. But, and it is a big damned but, the offense lost 60% of its line and 1500 rushing yards from Kerryon Johnson. There’s no one in KJ’s class behind him either. So, tap the brakes on Stidham for now. Also, half of the back seven is gone. No matter how good the down linemen are, and they’re pretty stout, the passing defense will likely take its lumps — just as the offense does when it lines up against monstrous defensive linemen in a conference that wins titles based on defensive line play. There’s also the matter of the rotational schedule which sees the Tigers travel to Starkville, Tuscaloosa, and Athens every other year. Toss in a visit by LSU and the Aggies, and an opener against Washington, and you can easily see the Barn going 7-5...or 10-2...or anywhere in between. For now, I’ll give them a small benefit of the doubt, even if they crater in November away from Jordan Hare.