Alabama, USC, Penn State lead Way-Too-Early College Football Top 25

2:17 | College Football
A way-too-early look at the 2017 college football landscape
Monday January 9th, 2017

We're less than a day removed from watching Clemson celebrate the national championship inside Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., but it's not too soon to look ahead to 2017. A lot will change between now and the start of next season: Recruits will bolster depth charts and shake up competitions at certain positions, and transfers will change teams hoping to log significant playing time right away. Still, we have a pretty good sense of which programs should be in the running for the College Football Playoff, as well as which programs look more likely to fall short of bowl eligibility and finish near the bottom of their respective leagues. We'll put out another ranking of teams after spring practice wraps up and then adjust those rankings before Week 1, but for now, here's how we think the nation's top squads stack up:

College Football
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  • 1
    1Alabama Crimson Tide

    Until the Crimson Tide stop reloading, we should assume they will do it every year.


  • 2
    2USC Trojans
    Quarterback Sam Darnold is presiding over a renaissance in Troy.


  • 3
    3Penn State Nittany Lions
    Three years into a full allotment of scholarships, the Nittany Lions will be deeper and better.

  • 4
    4Florida State Seminoles
    Quarterback Deondre Francois grew up this year, and the return of safety Derwin James from injury will solidify the defense. 

  • 5
    5LSU Tigers
    Ed Orgeron’s first full season in Baton Rouge is built for success considering he returns one of the best defensive coordinators in the game, Dave Aranda, and one of the nation’s best running backs, Derrius Guice.

  • 6
    Even with Deshaun Watson leaving, Clemson is now built to compete year-in and year-out.

  • 7
    New coordinator Kevin Wilson should invigorate the offense, but Penn State and Michigan remain problems.

  • 8
    Quarterback Baker Mayfield could lead the Sooners to three Big 12 titles in three seasons.

  • 9
    The Huskies have a lot to replace in the secondary, but Chris Petersen is just getting started.

  • 10
    The Big Ten East remains college football’s toughest division at the top.

  • 11
    11wisconsin badgers
    Alex Hornibrook has to continue to grow, but the best news for the Badgers is that their 2017 Big Ten schedule is much easier.


  • 12
    oklahoma state cowboys
    The Mason Rudolph-to-James Washington connection will be used frequently in 2017, and the Cowboys should have a strong ground game with running back Justice Hill returning, too.

  • 13
    Reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson is back, and that’s all you need to know. 

  • 14
    14auburn tigers
    Quarterback transfer Jarrett Stidham, formerly of Baylor, is immediately eligible and he’ll get help on the ground from the Tigers’ running back duo of Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson.

  • 15
    15Georgia Bulldogs
    The return of quarterback Jacob Eason and running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel is huge for the Bulldogs, who will be an early favorite in the SEC East. 

  • 16
    16Tennessee Volunteers
    Fans in Knoxville are running out of patience with Butch Jones, but maybe a new offensive coordinator makes the difference for the Vols.

  • 17
    17Stanford Cardinal
    Four starters on the offensive line are back in 2017 for coach David Shaw, who has maintained one of the most consistent programs in the country the last five years. The off-season status of quarterback Keller Chryst, who injured his right knee in the Sun Bowl, is unknown.

  • 18
    18Texas longhorns
    First-year coach Tom Herman was gifted plenty of talent on both sides of the ball— most notably quarterback Shane Buechele and linebacker Malik Jefferson — though the Longhorns will miss running back D’Onta Foreman. 

  • 19
    It’ll be a battle in spring ball amongst quarterbacks, with Luke Del Rio feeling pressure from two redshirt freshmen, Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask. The Gators have a lot to replace defensively, but have won back-to-back SEC East titles.

  • 20
    With Florida quarterback transfer Will Grier running the offense, the Mountaineers should contend for the Big 12 championship after a 10-win campaign in 2016.

  • 21
    Don’t doubt the wizardry of Bill Snyder. The Wildcats return quarterback Jesse Ertz, running back Alex Barnes and four offensive linemen, plus 2016 Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the year D.J. Reed, a cornerback who broke up 16 passes in his first season on campus.

  • 22
    Oregon DUCKS
    First-year coach Willie Taggart’s most impressive recruiting win so far came when he convinced running back Royce Freeman to return to school. He’ll get to run behind an experienced line (four of Oregon’s starting offensive linemen were redshirt freshmen in 2016) and play with a sophomore quarterback, Justin Herbert, who had a terrific freshman season. 

  • 23
    Replacing quarterback Brad Kaaya is priority No. 1 in Coral Gables, but an experienced defense can help the Hurricanes, who won five in a row to end the 2016 season.

  • 24
    ucla bruins
    Is this the season the Bruins finally live up to the hype? A healthy Josh Rosen (shoulder surgery midway through 2016) will be key to challenging USC for the Pac-12 South title. 

  • 25
    First-year coach Charlie Strong pairs with dynamic quarterback Quinton Flowers, a darkhorse Heisman candidate, to lead the early Group of Five favorite. 

Also considered: Washington State, Boise State, TCU, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame

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