Nick Saban Alabama

No surprising in the first poll, the preseason one, for the 2017 college football season. Alabama, Ohio State, Florida State and USC seem like the favorites to reach the College Football Playoffs, while defending national champions Clemson, Big Ten champions Penn State and the Big 12 champions Oklahoma are hoping to prove everyone wrong over the course of this fall.

1. Alabama Crimson Tide (52 first place votes): With 16 returning starters on offense and defense and the usual crop of impressive recruits, it’s no surprise the Tide are this high. Last season they won the SEC and lost to Clemson in the title game, finishing #2 on the polls.

2. Ohio State Buckeyes (3): The Buckeyes didn’t win the Big Ten but still playing in the playoffs only to get crushed by Clemson, finishing the season at #6 with an 11-2 record. Bringing in perhaps the most talented recruiting crop in college football, along with bringing back almost everyone, it’s no surprise they’re huge favorites to win the Big Ten and get back in the playoffs.

3. Florida State Seminoles (4): The Seminoles finished 10-3 last season, but finished the season with 5 straight wins, including beating Florida and Michigan in the Orange Bowl. Deondre Francois is back, and so are most of his starters, which should be enough to give FSU the ACC title again.

4. USC Trojans (2): The hype is back in Los Angeles after the Trojans won 9 games in a row to finish last season, including beating Penn State in the Rose Bowl. Sam Darnold looks like a Heisman candidate, coming back along with 22 other starters.

5. Clemson Tigers: Coming off a 14-1 season in which they won the national title by beating Alabama, Clemson are hoping to do well in the post-Deshaun Watson era.

6. Penn State Nittany Lions: Big expectations out of Penn State, who went 11-3 last season, winning the Big Ten and going to the Rose Bowl, only to lose against USC. Bringing back almost their entire offense will help.

7. Oklahoma Sooners: No Bob Stoops for the first time in the 21st century, but Oklahoma are hoping their terrific finish to last season, winning 10 consecutive games including the Sugar Bowl (beating Auburn) will mean good things in 2017 and another Big 12 title.

8. Washington Huskies: After winning the conference championship (first since 2000) and losing in the college football playoffs to Alabama, the Huskies are carrying big hopes into 2017, with a relatively comfortable schedule adding to their hopes.

9. Wisconsin Badgers: An 11-3 season, including losing in the Big Ten title game and winning the Cotton Bowl (against Western Michigan), is the minimal expectation for the Badgers, who don’t have to play Ohio State next season while hosting Iowa and Michigan.

10. Oklahoma State Cowboys: The Cowboys had another 10-win season under Mike Gundy, ending with an impressive win over Colorado in the Alamo Bowl. 

11. Michigan Wolverines: Michigan’s season fell apart at the end, losing 3 of their final 4 games, including to Ohio State, at Iowa and the Orange Bowl to Florida State. This season should be more difficult, with some changes in key positions it’ll take time to get over.

12. Auburn Tigers: Auburn finished last season ranked #24, going 8-5 (including 5-3 in the SEC), losing 3 of their final 4 games, including the Sugar Bowl to Oklahoma. 

13. LSU Tigers: LSU are heading into their first season with Ed Orgeron as the full-time head coach, hoping that their 6-2 record under him, including a Citrus Bowl win over Louisville, is only the beginning of good things to come.

14. Stanford Cardinal: Stanford were only 3rd in the Pac-12 North last season, but did finish 10-3 and the #12 ranking, winning their final six games, including a win over North Carolina in the Sun Bowl.

15. Georgia Bulldogs: The Bulldogs had a disappointing first season under Kirby Smart, finishing 4-4 in the SEC and 8-5 overall, losing to Tennessee, Florida and Georgia Tech, but did win their bowl game against TCU for a sweet way to close the season.

16. Louisville Cardinals: After a 9-1 start, the Cards fell apart in the final 3 games including losing their bowl appearance to LSU. Things won’t be easier in 2017, with a game in North Carolina and hosting Clemson in weeks 2 & 3.

17. Florida Gators: Florida won the SEC East (6-2), got crushed by Alabama in the SEC title game and then beat Iowa comfortably in the Outback Bowl. Winning the SEC East is a rational expectation. Anything further? Only if Alabama are far weaker than anyone imagines.

18. Miami Hurricanes: The ‘Canes finished with a #20 ranking last season after going 9-4, winning their final 5 games including the bowl game against West Virginia. This year, fans and the school want Mark Richt to go a bit higher than the Russell Athletic Bowl.

19. South Florida Bulls: The Bulls will begin their first season under Charlie Strong, following a 11-2 year with a #19 ranking. 

20. Kansas State Wildcats: The Wildcats went 9-4 last season, including 6-3 in the Big 12, and might be a dark horse candidate to upset the Big 12. They won their last four games last season, including their bowl game against Texas A&M.

21. Virginia Tech Hokies: The Hokies could have had a much bigger season if it wasn’t for some sloppy play early on. The lost the ACC title game to Clemson, but won the Belk Bowl against Arkansas to close out the season at 10-4, building big expectations for Justin Fuente’s second season.

22. West Virginia Mountaineers: West Virginia had their best season in the Big 12, going 7-2, before losing their Bowl game to Miami. However, playing at both Oklahoma and Kansas State means it won’t be easy competing for the conference title.

23. Texas Longhorns: Tom Herman will coach Texas for the first time, hoping his era starts off more smoothly than Charlie Strong’s did, although it will be Strong recruits doing most of the work.

24. Washington State Cougars: A terrific season, going 7-2 in the Pac-12, isn’t something that happens often in Pullman. Starting the season with 5 home games is a great way to build momentum, but the 5 road games in 7 weeks is a brutal finish.

25. Tennessee Volunteers: It seem the hype around the Vols has subsided after losing almost every big game once again (4-4 in the SEC, 9-4 overall). Butch Jones needs a good season before the seat he’s on starts shaking.

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