The 2016 season is over. Thus, it’s time for the traditional 2017 “Way Too Early” Top 25 rankings.
We use a simple methodology for these. A weighted three-year SRS formula using Sports Reference data provides the basis. Teams were adjusted for standard factors that could affect progression: coach hiring/departures, returning starters, returning quarterbacks, etc. Future schedules are noted where relevant but were not factored into the rankings (because that would be dumb).
Here are the Top 25 teams. Argue at will.
1. Alabama Crimson Tide
No surprise here. Alabama has a proven development plan. They bring in the nation’s best recruiting class every year. Sending five players to the first round of the draft would be just another year. They either win the national title or come really darn close. Alabama does have to replace a historically, even by Alabama standards, talented and deep defensive front. But, of course, Alabama’s offense has Jalen Hurts and Bo Scarborough coming back … and potentially improving …
2. Ohio State Buckeyes
Ohio State may have been the nation’s least experienced team in 2016, after a “historic draft class.” That team finished 11-1 and went to the College Football Playoff. Yes, the Buckeyes need to get better at passing. But, we’re still talking about a senior QB J.T. Barrett who is 26-4 as a starter. Besides finding wideouts, Ohio State will have to fill holes on defense. The Buckeyes lose their most productive pass rusher, best linebacker, and three players from the secondary who may be early round draft picks.
3. Clemson Tigers
Clemson’s defense should not have been this great in 2016. Their scary defensive front was young. The sophomores and freshmen who were key contributors will return and get better. Their offensive line should mature as well and be less of a liability. The Tigers retain ample offensive skill talent. However, Deshaun Watson moves on to the NFL. His dynamic play has made the difference between “very good” Clemson and “national title winner” Clemson.
4. Washington Huskies
Washington is just getting started under Chris Petersen. Quarterback Jake Browning should be among the Heisman favorites as a junior. Myles Gaskin and much of the 2016 team are back as well. Though, the Huskies do lose WR John Ross and DB Budda Baker, their biggest playmakers on offense and defense respectively. The 2017 schedule looks light in the difficulty department.
5. USC Trojans
Any reason to hype USC is bound to cause a frenzy. Cue the dramatic Rose Bowl win. Quarterback Sam Darnold will be among the top Heisman contenders entering 2017 and may live up to the billing. The Trojans, you won’t believe, have recruited a lot of talent around him. If you’re concerned for the immediate future, it’s the probable losses of Juju Smith-Schuster and Adoree' Jackson and the significant offensive line turnover.
6. LSU Tigers
Les Miles has left. But, the offseason song, for LSU, remains the same under Coach O. The Tigers will pay their customary toll to the NFL Draft, will still have a lot of talent on campus, and will be a strong bet to put forward an intimidating defense and a power rushing attack with Derrius Guice. LSU will feast on bad teams. But, will the Tigers be able to pass when it counts?
7. Oklahoma Sooners
Bob Stoops has been winning big games in conference. The Sooners have reached “clear favorites in the Big 12 until proven otherwise” status. Baker Mayfield returns. But, will Oklahoma have the pieces around him? The Sooners lose both 1,000-yard rushers Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine as well as WR Dede Westbrook, a 1,500-yard receiver. That triumvirate combined for 47 touchdowns on offense and special teams last season.
8. Florida State Seminoles
Florida State should have a scary defense with a veteran, aggressive front, another year of experience in the secondary, and healthy DB Derwin James. There’s a lot to like with QB Deondre Francois returning for his second year. Though, the Seminoles lose Dalvin Cook to the draft and still have issues to sort out on the offensive line.
9. Michigan Wolverines
Michigan was loaded for 2016. 2017 will be different. The Wolverines lose a ton of seniors and multiple first round draft picks. The upperclassmen classes, Brady Hoke’s small 2014 class and Jim Harbaugh’s cobbled together 2015 crew, are light in numbers. Michigan should get better QB play, be it Speight or the young gun who beats him. The underclassmen have upside and attitude. But, any injuries along the offensive and defensive lines could be devastating.
10. Wisconsin Badgers
Wisconsin should be well equipped to do Wisconsin stuff. The Badgers’ young offensive line should develop for 2017. That should ease matters for Alex Hornibrook and whoever replaces RB Corey Clement. The Badgers return most of a strong defense and are deep enough at linebacker to weather losing Watt and Biegel. Those looking for impediments on the schedule will find few. Wisconsin plays one team in our Top 25, Michigan, at home in November.