Top 25 — 14-10
14. Auburn Tigers
Auburn will have a good team in 2018, no doubt. However, they play Washington, Alabama and Georgia away from home. Last year, they beat Alabama and Georgia in a three-week span. Can Jarrett Stidham lead an Auburn offense — that lost their top two rushers and four starters on the offensive line — and still beat the two teams that played for National Championship in a three-week span again? I doubt it, but time will tell.
On defense they lose a lot of experience in the defensive backfield and third team All-American DE Jeff Holland. It’s not an easy task for any team to deal with.
Notable Games: 9/1 vs. Washington (Atlanta), 10/6 @Mississippi State, 11/10 @Georgia, 11/24 @Alabama
13. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Junior RB Josh Adams got some terrible, terrible advice and declared early for the NFL Draft and went undrafted. The Irish would love to have him back for 2018, but that’s just how it goes sometimes. Deon McIntosh was dismissed and that leaves Dexter Williams and Tony Jones as the top backs for Notre Dame this year. If Brandon Wimbush can improve on his despicable 49.5% completion percentage, this could be a pretty good offense. They do lose three of their top five WRs, but, again, if Wimbush can improve as a passer the unit may see an improvement.
Notre Dame’s biggest loss probably comes on the offensive line with the departures of two first round picks, but they still bring back 65 starts.
Where the Irish are strong is on defense. Drue Tranquill and Te’Von Coney make up one of the best LB groups in the country and CB Julian Love is one of the nation’s elite corners.
Notable Games: 9/1 vs. Michigan, 9/29 vs. Stanford, 10/6 @Virginia Tech, 11/10 vs. Florida State, 11/24 @USC
12. Michigan State Spartans
The Spartans have the most experience of any competitive team in the B1G. They also have the most favorable schedule – they only play one team with a winning record on the road. They do not play Wisconsin and host both Michigan (won four of last five matchups) and Ohio State. Their defense returns six of the top eight defensive lineman, five of their top seven linebackers and every defensive back, including the conference’s leading returnee in interceptions and three of four backups with starting experience.
Brian Lewerke had the most total yards by a sophomore in MSU history. As long as he’s taking snaps, the Spartans should be one of the nation’s best teams and potentially improve on their 10-win campaign from a year ago.
Notable Games: 10/13 @Penn State, 10/20 vs. Michigan, 11/10 vs. Ohio State, 11/17 @Nebraska
11. Texas Longhorns
At some point the two top-ten recruiting classes from 2015-16 need to live up to their hype. Last year, Texas lost to three top-15 teams in USC, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State by a combined 11 points, so they were a few plays away from finishing 10-3 rather than 7-6. They have one of the best defenses not only in the Big 12, but in the entire country. Their D-line loses just one player, although that player is Poona Ford, who was the Big 12 defensive linemen of the year. Their linebackers return three of the team’s top four tackler’s, including Gary Johnson Jr. whose speed is compared to some of the fastest receivers on the team. They take a hit in the secondary with the departures of DeShon Elliot and Holton Hill (both left early for NFL).
Offensively, quarterbacks Sam Ehlinger and Shane Buechele flip-flopped at the position for a variety of reasons (mostly injury related) and combined for 3,320 yards (60.5% 18-11 TD/INT ratio). The running game struggled -- Ehlinger lead the team with 381 yards. Daniel Young led the running backs as a true freshman with 373 yards, despite not getting a carry for the first five games of the season. Blue-chip Mr. Texas finalist Keaontay Ingram should compete for playing time in the backfield. It also helps that Rice grad transfer Calvin Anderson chose to join the Longhorns giving them much more experience up front and pushing their returning starts to 102 on the offensive line. This is a high ranking, but I believe this is the year the Longhorns turn the corner.
Notable Games: 9/15 vs. USC, 9/22 vs. TCU, 9/29 @Kansas State, 10/6 vs. Oklahoma (play all four of these games back-to-back)
10. Michigan Wolverines
The only thing Michigan has been missing since Jim Harbaugh arrived in Ann Arbor is a quarterback. Shea Patterson is under center now and that should be more than enough to help carry a Michigan offense that has been stagnant for years. They field one of the best defenses in the country featuring Devin Bush Jr. and Lavert Hill. Hill along with David Long and Utah grad transfer Casey Hughes (11 starts in 2017) make up one of the best defense back units in the country. Their schedule may hold them back from coming out alive in a brutal B1G conference.
Notable Games: 9/1 @Notre Dame, 10/13 vs. Wisconsin, 10/20 @Michigan State, 11/3 vs. Penn State, 11/24 @Ohio State