Top 25: 9-5
Trace McSorley is a Heisman trophy favorite and Miles Sanders is going to be replacing one of the most talented college backs this generation has ever seen. There will be a drop-off in production in the backfield, but the offensive line is the best James Franklin has had in his tenure with the Nittany Lions. Juwan Johnson is the top returning receiver and averaged 178 YPG in the last four games of the season. They do, however, lose signal caller Joe Moorhead, who took the head coaching job at Mississippi State. Ricky Rahne, who has been the pass game coordinator at Penn State for the last four seasons takes over the play calling duties.
Defensively, Penn State returns 8 of their top 11 defensive lineman but lose a lot of experience at linebacker and lose four starters in the defensive backfield. However, the starting DB group features three seniors. Despite a tough schedule that has them facing off against every elite B1G team, Penn State should be one of the best teams in the conference.
Notable Games: 9/29 vs. Ohio State, 10/13 vs. Michigan State, 11/3 @Michigan, 11/10 vs. Wisconsin
Baker Mayfield and Obo Okoronkwo are gone, but the Sooners should still be very competitive and even the favorites in the Big 12. Kyler Murray did not impress in the Spring Game but has the wheels that Mayfield didn’t and is an accurate passer. Murray gives Oklahoma a different dynamic from a play-calling standpoint.
It is impossible to expect anybody to replicate or even come close to Mayfield’s production. That, however, does not necessarily mean that the OU offense will take any steps back. Marquise “Hollywood” Brown returns as OU’s leading receiver and CeeDee Lamb enters his sophomore year after a historic freshman year. Rodney Anderson lead the team in rushing with 1,161 yards and Trey Sermon had 744 as his relief. They are both back in 2018 and give the Sooners a more experienced backfield that will be running behind an offensive line with 103 career starts.
On defense they lose a lot, but much will be expected from Big 12 Co-freshman Defensive POTY, Kenneth Murray, and Caleb Kelly. True freshman DB Brendan Radley-Hiles will be an All-American at OU throughout his career and should get the nod as a starter from day one.
Notable Games: 9/1 vs. Florida Atlantic, 10/6 @ Texas, 10/20 @TCU, 11/23 @West Virginia
7. Miami Hurricanes
Miami would have won 11 games in 2017 if not for a cancelation against Arkansas State because of Hurricane Irma. They did that despite losing top WR Ahmmon Richards and star RB Mark Walton for a majority of the season. Malik Rosier was not healthy down the stretch and his inconsistency lead to a three game drought to finish the season with losses coming to Pitt, Clemson and Wisconsin. Despite losing talent on both sides of the ball, Miami actually got more experienced. The three linebackers that came into Coral Gables as true freshman are all juniors now. Their secondary features two All-American caliber guys in Michael Jackson Sr. and Jaquan Johnson.
On offense, Travis Homer is expected to start and be the feature back, but DeeJay Dallas and five-star true freshman Lorenzo Lingard are there to ease the workload. Ahmmon Richards is healthy again and sophomore Jeff Thomas has the potential to blow up. LSU will be a major test to open the year for Rosier and the Miami offensive line, but I expect them to come out of the ACC Coastal for the second straight year.
Notable Games: 9/2 @LSU (Arlington), 10/6 vs. Florida State, 10/26 @Boston College, 11/17 @Virginia Tech
Chris Petersen was a winner at Boise State and he has turned Washington into a perennial power in the Pac-12. It all starts with the quarterback and the Huskies have a great one in Jake Browning. They also have Myles Gaskin, a running back on the verge of becoming a house-hold name nationally. Browning also gets back two of his top three pass catchers from 2017, including sophomore TE Hunter Bryant and an offensive line that returns 97 starts and is expected to be one of the nation’s best groups.
On defense, Washington should field one of the best in the Pac-12. They return their number one, four and seven tacklers from ’17 and are expected to start 10 upper-classman on defense. If they can take care of Auburn in Atlanta, I would watch for the Huskies to make another run at the CFP.
Notable Games: 9/1 @Auburn (Atlanta), 9/15 @Utah, 10/13 @Oregon, 11/3 vs. Stanford
Well, an interesting tid-bit has been developing about Urban Meyer knowing about a domestic violence issue against long-time wide receiver’s coach Zach Smith. Despite that new information, the Buckeyes are once again loaded on both sides of the ball. J.K. Dobbins is one of the most electric players in college football. Dwayne Haskins is expected to help Ohio State transition smoothly out of the J.T. Barrett era. And Nick Bosa is projected to be one of the top defensive players in all of college football. The expectations surrounding Ohio State are always high — as they should be. They were the first national champion in the College Football Playoff era and have been one of a few programs to make the playoff more than once.
The B1G East is Ohio State’s to lose. They do, however, travel to TCU in mid-September and TCU is no slouch — especially at home. Gary Patterson proves time and time again how great he is as a coach and how well he develops the players filtering through Ft. Worth. Do not forget that Ohio State lost a non-conference game against Oklahoma at home in 2017. This time Ohio State will be on the road against another Big 12 powerhouse. It will be a telling game, especially for a defense replacing Sam Hubbard, Tyquan Lewis, Jerome Baker, Denzel Ward and Chris Worley.
Ohio State will be tested early and the drama surrounding the program does not fare well for a team losing a lot of leadership.
Notable Games: 9/15 @TCU, 9/29 @Penn State, 11/10 @ Michigan State, 11/24 vs. Michigan
*Urban Meyer was placed on administrative leave