The 2017 college football season is just under 100 days away. While that may sound like a long time, it’s really just a little over three months. The offseason is more than halfway over, so we can look at it from that glass-half-full approach. Before long, teams will convene for preseason practice sessions, which means it’s as good a time as ever to start handicapping the race for the 2018 College Football Playoff Championship.
As you know, Deshaun Watson and the Clemson Tigers staged one of the biggest upsets in recent memory by coming from behind to dethrone the Alabama Crimson Tide in the title game in January. It was Clemson’s second title ever and first national championship since 1981. ‘Bama, meanwhile, has already won four championships since 2009 alone and has appeared in all three College Football Playoffs to this point.
So, will the Tigers make it two straight next season? Or will the Tide come roaring back to make it two titles in three years? Perhaps a new challenger will rise. Bovada has early odds up for a plethora of schools regarding their chances of claiming college football’s top prize. Alabama (of course) is the favorite, but here are a few of the other frontrunners.
Surprise, surprise, Alabama is expected to be a good football team again next year. Stop the presses! No matter how many players Nick Saban loses to the NFL every year – and it’s a lot – the Tide just keep churning out stacked teams on an annual basis. To nobody’s surprise, Saban reeled-in the No. 1-ranked recruiting class last year, according to 247Sports. It’s almost unfair.
It is worth noting, however, that Alabama does have a bit of drama. Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin left on unceremonious terms between the national semifinal and championship game last season and was replaced by Steve Sarkisian. Sark was likely to hold the OC job coming into this season, but he abruptly bolted to do the same job for the Atlanta Falcons. So, Saban hired ex-New England Patriots assistant Brian Daboll to fill the role and become Bama’s sixth different OC since 2007.
The Tide are used to dealing with continuity issues considering they roll out several new starters on both sides of the ball every year. All eyes will be on second-year quarterback Jalen Hurts. He was fabulous last season as a true freshman, and many expect him to take the next step and emerge as a serious Heisman Trophy contender as a sophomore. He really struggled in Alabama’s two playoff games, completing just 20 of his 45 throws for 188 yards.
Another question for this team will be the defense. They allowed just 13 points per game last season, which was the top mark in FBS. Of course, they also lost playmakers like Reuben Foster and Jonathan Allen to the NFL. They still have plenty of talent to replace those guys, but they will miss the veteran leadership. Still, there’s no reason to expect the Tide’s defense to suddenly fall apart next season. They will still be elite on that side of the ball.
Until further notice, they’re the odds-on favorite to bring the title back to Tuscaloosa.
Ohio State (+500)
The Buckeyes’ 2016 campaign ended with a whimper. They were pounded 31-0 by Clemson in the national semifinal, though they’ll be looking to rebound this season and make a third consecutive run into the College Football Playoff. Like Alabama, Ohio State will have some new faces on the sidelines. Kevin Wilson left Indiana and will come aboard as offensive coordinator and tight ends coach, while Ryan Day will take over as quarterbacks coach.
Most recruiting sites rated the Buckeyes’ 2017 recruiting class as the second-best in the nation behind Alabama. As is the case with Bama, OSU will retain its quarterback. J.T. Barrett will be looking to improve upon his stellar 26-4 record as the team’s starter under center, but the Buckeyes’ offense had a tendency to sputter in big situations last season. It’ll be on Wilson and Day to get the very best out of the senior signal-caller.
Rather than play the run-heavy style of last season, the 2017 Buckeyes will run a more up-tempo attack that meshes better with the style that has taken over college football in recent years. Barrett is plenty capable of taking over a game by himself, and his speed should suit that quicker style like a glove.
While they’ll be returning several starters on defense, the secondary will have some new starters. Gareon Conley, Mashon Lattimore and Malik Hooker all left the team for the NFL, which means extra responsibility for the likes of Erick Smith, Damon Webb, Damon Arnette and Denzel Ward. How they respond will be a huge factor in how far the Buckeyes are able to go next season.
Southern Cal (+700)
The Trojans’ 2016 season started with a 52-6 blasting at the hands of Alabama, but they were able to get the wheels back on eventually. USC finished 10-3 in Clay Helton’s first season in charge, and now they’re among the favorites to take the next step and win it all next season. As they were last year, USC will be tested right out of the gates. After opening the season with Western Michigan, the Trojans will face back-to-back tests against Stanford and Texas, both at the Coliseum.
For the Trojans, everything begins and ends with quarterback Sam Darnold. He’s projected by many to be one of the best QBs in the nation next season, and the Heisman hype is already buzzing. He had his coming out party in USC’s crazy Rose Bowl victory over Penn State when he threw for 453 yards with five touchdown passes. It’s been a while since USC has had a true star quarterback, but it appears as though they’ve finally found one in the sophomore Darnold.
Of course, there are some questions about Darnold’s weaponry. The team’s two leading receivers have both moved on, as have the two starting offensive tackles. Deontay Burnett is the leading returning receiver, though the Trojans did add five-star WR Joseph Lewis. Ronald Jones averaged better than six yards per carry out of the backfield, and he’ll be joined back there by another blue-chip freshman in Stephen Carr.
The defense will be a wild card, too. Playmaker Adoree Jackson was drafted in the first round, which means Iman Marshall will step into the No. 1 cornerback role. Other than Jackson, who was first-team all-Pac 12 last year, the defense also lost senior lineman Stevie Tu’ikolovatu, who was named to the second team. Only linebacker Cameron Smith, another second-teamer, will be returning. This is a young defense, but, as always, there’s no shortage of talent here.
The Pac-12 has been one of the more unpredictable conferences in the nation over the last several years, but expectations are highest for Southern Cal.
Florida State (+750)
After several down years following the retirement of Bobby Bowden, Jimbo Fisher has lifted the Florida State program back to national prominence. They have finished in the top-10 five times in Fisher’s seven seasons at the helm, and they won the national title with Jameis Winston in 2013. They have quite the rough start to the season, as the Seminoles’ very first game will come against Alabama at the the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium on September 2nd.
The biggest hole FSU will have to fill heading into next season is at the running back spot. All-world rusher Dalvin Cook moved on to the next level, which means the job is up for grabs heading into training camp. Jacques Patrick is the odds-on favorite to seize the starting gig, but Amir Rasul and Cam Akers will also get chances at replacing Cook. There’s depth here, but asking any of them to replace Cook’s outstanding production is a tall order.
The real questions for the Seminoles will come on the other side of the football. This team allowed 25 points per game last season, which was far from elite and likely cost them a chance at doing more damage. With another year of experience, though, the defense should improve. The only real loss was DeMarcus Walker, who led the team with a whopping 16 sacks a season ago. As is the case at the running back spot, the Noles do have plenty of talent with which to work on defense.
If sophomore QB Deondre Francois can improve upon a very solid freshman campaign, there’s no reason to expect Florida State won’t roll their way through the ACC and find themselves looking at a potential spot in the playoffs.
Those are the four heavy favorites, but below are a few other teams to keep an eye on heading into the 2017 season:
Penn State +1200
Notre Dame +4000
Oklahoma State +5000
Virginia Tech +5000
Taylor Smith has been a staff writer with GamblingSites.org since early 2017. Taylor is primarily a sports writer, though he will occasionally dabble in other things like politics and entertainment betting. His primary specialties are writing about the NBA, Major League Baseball, NFL and domestic and international soccer. Fringe sports like golf and horse racing aren’t exactly his cup of tea, bu ...
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