I started doing my own personal Top 25 about a year ago just because I have always been a college football junkie — not just a die hard Hurricane. I love the sport as a whole and the impact that a single program can have on a specific region. It’s awing to me how over a hundred thousand people can gather for a game decked out in all white in Happy Valley or in the Big House to watch Michigan. There is a chord that college football programs strike with people that make it unique to anything else.
I have learned in my time ranking teams that pre-season rankings are tough. There is little to go on other than experience, star power, strength of schedule, recruiting rankings and quality of coaching staffs. We haven't seen any of these teams play a single snap. In a lot of places, we can’t even be sure of who is going to be playing quarterback.
I formulate my own opinions although I am inspired by Phil Steele’s yearly college football magazine which is so deeply detailed that it helps me lock in on the information that I need to come to the conclusions that I come to. I also watch a lot of college football. Like a lot. And I always have. These rankings are my own opinions and thoughts based on what I have read and watched. There are teams that I personally like a lot based on returning talent, experience and my belief that they can play better than a lot of people have them playing. A team with a third year QB, a solid running back, an experienced offensive line and eight starters returning on defense may be ranked higher than a traditional powerhouse that lost ten starters.
There are teams that I believe are going to turn the corner this year. It may be a team that I feel has recruited really well for the past couple of years and may put all of that talent together in 2018. There are teams that struggled to win close games that I believe can turn three-point road losses in ‘17 into 10-point home wins in ‘18.
The beauty of the college football game is the need to develop what you have. Only so many teams get the blue-chip guys. The most interesting and respectable programs are the ones who make it work and go toe-to-toe with the giants. I do this for you guys. And now, without further ado:
Top 25: 25-20
25. Utah Utes
The Utes always surprise people in the Pac 12. They may not always get to where they want to go, but they are consistent in at least giving the conferences elite a very tough time. They lost to Stanford, USC and Washington by a combined seven points last year and were a few plays away from potentially finishing 10-3 rather than 7-6 — similar to Texas.
2017 was the Utes worst season since going 5-7 in 2013. In the years following ‘13 ,Utah improved to 9-4 in ’14, 10-3 in ’15, then back to 9-4 in ’16 before dropping to seven wins again a year ago.
Tyler Huntley returns at quarterback following a solid sophomore year where he completed 63.8% of his passes. RB Zach Moss is also back and is expected to improve upon his 1173 yard 2017 season running behind a line that returns four starters.
On defense they return six starters and that should help turn some of those close losses into big wins. I also can’t talk about Utah without mentioning their special teams play that features K Matt Gay, first-team All-American and Lou Groza Award winner, and P Mitch Wishnowsky, a second-team All-American.
Notable Games: 9/15 vs. Washington, 10/6 @Stanford, 10/20 vs. USC, 11/24 vs. BYU
Will Grier has developed into one of college football’s premier quarterbacks and he has the luxury of throwing to second-team All-American WR David Sills V (18 TDs in 2017) and Gary Jennings (1096 yards in 2017) for another year. Not to mention an offensive line that returns four starters. West Virginia is going to be must-see TV in a conference notorious for sub-par defenses.
Speaking of defense, the Mountaineers lost their top two tacklers from 2017. However, they have a lot of returning experience and more returning starters than any of the last three years for DC Tony Gibson.
Getting to November unscathed has to be the goal for Dana Holgorsen. In November, WVU plays Texas, TCU, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma one after the other.
Notable Games: 9/1 vs. Tennessee (Charlotte), 11/3 @Texas, 11/10 vs. TCU, 11/23 vs. Oklahoma
23. Oregon Ducks
The Ducks averaged over 52 points per game when Justin Herbert was under center and just 15 without him in 2017. The biggest concerns for this Ducks team is that they have their third head coach in three years and that RB Royce Freeman (1475 yards and 16 TDs in ’17) is gone.
Oregon should be strong on the defensive front seven with second-team All-Pac 12 DE Jalen Jelks and star LB Troy Dye back. If the Ducks can find a way to beat Stanford in Eugene in week four, they could potentially reach Washington as a 5-0 team and coming off a bye week and playing at home.
Notable Games: 9/22 vs. Stanford, 10/13 vs. Washington, 10/27 @Arizona, 11/10 @Utah
I mean it when I say that Boston College might be the most underrated team in the entire country. They have an elite RB in A.J Dillon, their top six receivers back, 139 career starts on the offensive line (#2 in FBS) and a mobile QB that has plenty of room to improve on his 52% completion percentage. This could be one of the sneakiest offenses in the ACC.
Defensively, DE Zach Allen (25.5 career TFL) and Lukas Denis (7 INT’s in 2017) lead a defense that brings back six starters. The Eagles should start the season 5-0 and before getting into the heart of ACC play where they will eventually start a four week stretch in which they play Miami, Virginia Tech, Clemson and Florida State. A hot start could spark confidence and create a truly dangerous Eagles team that could easily surpass their seven-win 2017 campaign.
Notable Games: 10/6 @NC State, 10/26 vs. Miami, 11/3 @Virginia Tech, 11/10 vs. Clemson, 11/24 @Florida State
21. UCF Knights
QB McKenzie Milton returns to lead the self-proclaimed national champions of the 2017 college football season. But replacing do-it-all LB Shaquem Griffin, first-rounder CB Mike Hughes and, most importantly, Scott Frost is going to be tough. Especially from a school that feeds off of the second and third tier of recruits around Florida.
The offensive firepower should still be there, but they are going into 2018 with a target on their back.
Notable Games: 9/15 @North Carolina, 9/21 vs. Florida Atlantic, 10/13 @Memphis, 11/23 @South Florida
20. TCU Horned Frogs
TCU loses a lot of experience from last year’s team and facing Ohio State and Texas early may not help them get their feet under them quick enough. However, you can’t ever count out Gary Patterson and what he has been able to accomplish year in and year out in Ft. Worth. Their defense should be in very good shape with three returning on the line, including Freshman All-American Ross Blacklock and senior Ben Banogu. In addition, their defensive backfield features five starting upperclassmen.
The development of a new quarterback and an inexperienced offensive line will determine the Horned Frogs success. They won 11 in ’17 and I’m not sure they can match that, but this will still be one of the top teams in the Big 12.
Notable Games: 9/15 vs. Ohio State (Arlington), 9/22 @Texas, 10/20 vs. Oklahoma, 11/10 @West Virginia