Top 25: 19-15
19. Mississippi State Bulldogs
Mississippi State showed some flashes last year, such as dominating #12 LSU 37-7 in Starksville. They bring back their entire defensive line featuring Jeffery Simmons and Montez Sweat, who jumped on the scene as a JuCo transfer in 2017.
One thing you can’t teach is experience. QB Nick Fitzgerald and RB Aeris Williams are two senior workhorses for new head coach Joe Moorhead who was a fantastic play caller for Penn State’s potent offense. If the SEC wasn’t such a deep conference Mississippi State could be a legitimate threat.
Notable Games: 9/8 @Kansas State, 10/6 vs. Auburn, 10/20 @LSU, 11/22 @Ole Miss
In no way, shape or form do I expect Florida State to go anywhere near 7-6 again. This is an extremely talented group with a solid group of RBs led by Cam Akers, an experienced OL bringing back 90 starts and two quarterbacks who have had plenty of playing time.
Their defensive line should be one of the best units in all of CFB with Brian Burns, former five-star Marvin Wilson, Demarcus Christmas and the 6-7 Joshua Kaindoh. They replace a lot of talent behind the front four, but years of high level recruiting by Jimbo Fisher should help this transitioning period go smoothly.
Notable Games: 9/3 vs. Virginia Tech, 10/6 @Miami, 10/27 vs. Clemson, 11/10 @Notre Dame, 11/24 vs. Florida
17. USC Trojans
IF, and I mean IF, USC can get through games at Stanford and Texas in back-to-back weeks early on then I could seriously see the Trojans make a run at another Pac 12 title and potentially a playoff run. The quarterback situation is less than ideal. Matt Fink, rFr. Jack Sears and true freshman JT Daniels are still battling it out. Many expect Daniels, a kid that should be a senior at Mater Dei High, to win the job. It is hard to imagine USC getting a kid to reclassify just to sit him down. It doesn’t hurt that he was the California Player of the Year as a junior in high school a year ago.
Defensively, they have All-American LB Cameron Smith to lead a group that brings back four with at least seven career starts. They also field one of the top defensive backfields in the country highlighted by S Marvell Tell III and CB Iman Marshall. This Trojans defense is good enough to carry USC, but the inexperienced offense will determine how far they go.
Notable Games: 9/8 @Stanford, 9/15 @Texas, 10/20 @Utah, 11/24 vs. Notre Dame
The Broncos have a veteran QB in Brett Rypien complimented by a 1000-yard rusher in Alex Mattison. They won 11 games in 2017 despite having their worst rushing season in 20 years. They can only go up from there.
On defense, they return 16 of their top 18 tacklers and nine starters, including first-team All-MW CB Tyler Horton. This should be head coach Bryan Harsin’s best team thus far in Boise and the favorite to end up in a NY6 bowl game of any of the schools outside of the power 5.
Notable Games: 9/1 @Troy, 9/15 @Oklahoma State, 9/29 @Wyoming, 10/19 vs. Colorado State
The Cardinal return four offensive lineman that earned All-Pac 12 honors to block for Bryce Love, who ran for over 2000 yards last year. That alone makes Stanford one of the most dangerous offenses in the entire country.
They do play Notre Dame, Oregon and Washington on the road, but if they can get through that stretch unharmed they could potentially be Pac 12 and maybe even national title contenders.
Notable Games: 9/8 vs. USC, 9/29 @Notre Dame, 10/6 vs. Utah, 11/3 @Washington
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