USA TODAY Sports' Dan Wolken breaks down Clemson's thrilling win over Alabama in the national championship game. USA TODAY Sports
Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois looks to throw against Michigan during the Orange Bowl.(Photo: Jasen Vinlove, USA TODAY Sports)
Even before the clock hits zero in the national championship game in Tampa on Monday, we already have begun thinking about 2017. Though the confetti hasn't even fallen yet on Alabama or Clemson, here’s an early look at which teams will be battling for the College Football Playoff and a championship next season.
The list doesn’t begin with the Tide or the Tigers, though both teams will again be in the hunt. Instead, the top team in the USA TODAY Sports early top 25 for 2017 is Florida State, which has the coaching, talent and experience to return to the top of the Football Bowl Subdivision.
College football bowl schedule, results for 2016-17
Which conference was best, and worst, in the bowls?
1. Florida State (2016 record: 10-3)
The Seminoles stumbled out of the gate this past season before hitting another gear following a loss to Clemson in October. With valuable experience and as much talent as any team in the country, Florida State is the team to beat in the Atlantic Coast Conference and very deserving of the title of preseason No. 1 in August.
2. Alabama (2016 record: 14-1)
Personnel hits are coming for the national championship runner-up, but that’s never derailed Alabama in the past. Quarterback Jalen Hurts will be even better, the offense should be more focused on the running game with a new coordinator and the defense will again rank among the nation’s best. Take note: Alabama and FSU meet in the opener.
3. Ohio State (2016 record: 11-2)
Like the Crimson Tide, the Buckeyes will need to reload after losing several underclassmen to the NFL draft. But there will be far fewer losses this offseason than a year ago, so look for Ohio State to be loaded with talent and experience, not to mention more streamlined and less predictable on offense after some staffing changes.
4. Michigan (2016 record: 10-3)
The Wolverines will be right on the Buckeyes’ heels, as they were in 2016 — and as will be the case for as long as Jim Harbaugh and Urban Meyer are in charge. There is too much to like about Michigan to list here, but begin with the major assets: a wonderful defense despite a few losses in the back seven, a physical and punishing brand of offense, and a sense of unfinished business after two painful losses to end this year.>
Quarterback Sam Darnold will be a key for Southern California in 2017. (Photo: Gary A. Vasquez, USA TODAY Sports)
5. Southern California (2016 record: 10-3)
Let the hype begin for USC and its superb quarterback Sam Darnold, who will begin his sophomore season at or near the top of every Heisman Trophy list. The question: Are the Trojans ready to take the next step? The ability and athleticism are there, but the potential departure of several NFL-ready underclassmen bears watching.
6. Oklahoma (2016 record: 11-2)
The Sooners obviously must improve on defense after a sluggish season, but there’s reason for optimism. Given the likely production of the Baker Mayfield-led offense, OU is simply a defense away from taking the Big 12 and returning to the Playoff. The Sooners have enormous expectations but slightly more question marks than the five teams listed above.
7. Washington (2016 record: 12-2)
Reaching the Peach Bowl showed Washington’s growth, though the loss to Alabama revealed the distance still to travel before the Huskies can win a national championship. Considering Chris Petersen’s history, the 2017 team could be better than this year’s version, even if there will be a number of personnel issues to address as a result of early departures. The Huskies will be the preseason favorites in the Pac-12 and a strong contender for the Playoff.>
Can the Nittany Lions push for the Playoff in 2017? With RB Saquon Barkley, left, and QB Trace McSorley, there's no reason they can't. (Photo: Sean M. Haffey, Getty Images)
8. Penn State (2016 record: 11-3)
The Nittany Lions’ biggest post-regular season development was offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead’s decision to return in 2017. That, along with the return of quarterback Trace McSorley and running back Saquon Barkley, will ensure this offseason will be even better next season. Recapturing this year’s magic won’t be easy, but there’s zero reason to think Penn State is poised to take any step back.
9. Clemson (2016 record: 14-1)
Defending national champion Clemson is among the most intriguing teams in college football entering next season. Deshaun Watson (most likely) won’t be around, and that alone is reason to think the Tigers will begin the year pegged to finish behind Florida State. But this program recruits at an elite level, has an outstanding defensive line, should get improved play on the offensive line and has earned the benefit of the doubt. Still, there will be major weapons to replace on offense and key leaders to replace on defense. This might nonetheless be too low a ranking for Clemson.
10. Oklahoma State (2016 record: 10-3)
To call Oklahoma State a sleeper ignores the fact that this program has been in the national picture for the better part of the decade. But there seems to be something overlooked about the Cowboys, who return the heart of their offense and have enough coming back on defense to be right alongside or just behind Oklahoma on the Big 12 ladder.
11. LSU (2016 record: 8-4)
The Tigers’ impressive bowl win against Louisville provided some early validation for Ed Orgeron. How far LSU goes hinges almost entirely on how quickly new coordinator Matt Canada can turn around the offense.
12. Wisconsin (2016 record: 11-3)
Any doubts of Wisconsin’s ability to remain a national presence should be dismissed after another banner year for Paul Chryst and the Badgers. UW will be just behind the top three of Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State in the Big Ten.>
In what was supposed to be a building year, Justin Fuente led the Hokies to a divisional title and 10 wins. (Photo: Jeremy Brevard, USA TODAY Sports)
13. Virginia Tech (2016 record: 10-4)
In what was supposed to be a building year, Justin Fuente led the Hokies to a divisional title and 10 wins. The future will be even better, beginning with a 2017 team that should repeat atop the ACC Coastal Division.
14. Auburn (2016 record: 8-5)
This is the most intriguing team in the SEC and perhaps in all of college football. Auburn is often hit or miss, but the addition of Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham should kick the Tigers’ offense into a different gear. But will that be enough?
15. Stanford (2016 record: 10-3)
Replacing Christian McCaffrey and finding better quarterback play are the Cardinal’s most pressing questions entering the offseason. This might not be a perfect team, but trust in David Shaw and his staff to pilot Stanford to another season spent in the thick of the Pac-12 and Rose Bowl hunt.
16. Boise State (2016 record: 10-3)
The top-ranked team from the Group of Five ranks will again be a favorite for double-digit wins during the regular season. Look for quarterback Brett Rypien to take another step forward and become a top-10 player at his position nationally.
17. Georgia (2016 record: 8-5)
The SEC East Division will be a toss-up, with Georgia and two other teams soon to appear on this battling for a shot at the conference title. The Bulldogs seem the most likely to take another step forward thanks to quarterback Jacob Eason’s development and the arrival of an outstanding recruiting class.
18. Tennessee (2016 record: 9-4)
But the Volunteers aren’t far behind. Much depends on finding a capable successor to quarterback Josh Dobbs and locating the sort of consistency needed to go from top-25 team to Playoff contender.
19. Louisville (2016 record: 9-4)
There’s always reigning Heisman winner Lamar Jackson, but Louisville’s late swoon raises the issue of whether this team is about more than just a sublime quarterback and offense. While still very much a threat in the ACC, the Cardinals should be placed behind FSU and Clemson in the Atlantic Division.>
Charlie Strong takes over as head coach at South Florida. The Bulls are coming off an 11-2 season. (Photo: Kim Klement, USA TODAY Sports)
20. South Florida (2016 record: 11-2)
Adding a defense-first coach in Charlie Strong to an impressive offense will keep USF in the mix for 10-plus wins and a New Year’s Six bowl in 2017. There are several strong contenders in the American Athletic Conference, but the Bulls are the preseason favorite.
21. Utah (2016 record: 9-4)
Pegging the Utes for a national ranking seems like a safe bet. Whether Utah can do more — such as knock off USC and win the South Division — remains a question, however, particularly with losses at running back, wide receiver and the defensive line.
22. Florida (2016 record: 9-4)
It all comes down to the offense, and whether the Gators’ attack can finally find some momentum under Jim McElwain and produce at the rate needed to compete for a Playoff berth. That’s still a concern entering McElwain’s third season in charge.
23. West Virginia (2016 record: 10-3)
There will be a new quarterback and a different look on defense, especially in the secondary. The Mountaineers are still a threat for a top-three finish in the Big 12 after what may very well be a breakthrough season for Dana Holgorsen.
24. Texas (2016 record: 5-7)
Does Texas have the same potential as Tom Herman’s first team at Houston, which went 13-1 and won the Peach Bowl? Maybe, but probably not. This team won’t win the Big 12, but a change in culture and a huge uptick in production on offense should find the Longhorns at eight or nine wins in 2017.
25. UCLA (2016 record: 4-8)
It almost never pays to have faith in Jim Mora and UCLA, but years of strong recruiting and a healthy Josh Rosen under center should yield a nice rebound after a horrific 2016 season.
ALSO UNDER CONSIDERATION
26. Miami (2016 record: 9-4)
27. North Carolina (2016 record: 8-5)
28. Tulsa (2016 record: 10-3)
29. TCU (2016 record: 6-7)
30. Nebraska (2016 record: 9-4)
31. Kansas State (2016 record: 9-4)
32. Pittsburgh (2016 record: 8-5)
33. Notre Dame (2016 record: 4-8)
34. Brigham Young (2016 record: 9-4)
35. Texas A&M (2016 record: 8-5)
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Source : https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/ncaaf/2017/01/09/college-football-super-early-top-25-teams-2017-season/96119570/