AP Top 25 Heat Check: How will top teams fare in 2017?

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The teams that started the season Nos. 1 and 2 finished as the top two of 2016.

Just not in that order.

Clemson was No. 1 in the final AP college football poll , knocking preseason No. 1 Alabama from the top spot when it counted the most. The Tigers beat the Crimson Tide 35-31 Monday night. There was no doubt that the best two teams in college football had played the last game of the season.

The rest of the Top 25 included a big jump by Southern California to No. 3 and four Big Tens in the top 10, just not quite as highly ranked as it seemed like they would be when the bowl season started.

A look at the final AP Top 25 of the 2016 season, with an eye toward how the teams will stack up heading into the 2017. (Note: Early NFL entry could cause additional losses not noted here).

No. 1 Clemson (14-1)

Key losses: QB Deshaun Watson, WR Mike Williams, RB Wayne Gallman, CB Cordrea Tankersley.

Key returnees: DL Dexter Lawrence, DL Christian Wilkins, OT Mitch Hyatt, WR Deon Cain.

Heat check 2017: The Tigers' reload will come with tempered expectations and lower preseason rankings, but Dabo Swinney's team deserves some benefit of the doubt.

No. 2 Alabama (14-1)

Key losses: DL Jonathan Allen, LB Reuben Foster, OT Cam Robinson, TE O.J. Howard.

Key returnees: QB Jalen Hurts, RB Bo Scarbrough, OT Jonah Williams, DB Minkah Fitzpatrick.

Heat check for 2017: Until further notice, Alabama is No. 1.

No. 3 Southern California (10-3)

Key losses: OTs Zach Banner and Chad Wheeler, WR Darreus Rogers, DT Stevie Tu'ikolovatu.

Key returnees: QB Sam Darnold, RB Ronald Jones, DE Rasheem Green, CB Iman Marshall.

Heat check 2017: The Trojans also could lose underclassmen WR JuJu Smith-Schuster and CB Adoree' Jackson, but they look loaded. Get ready for the USC hype.

No. 4 Washington (12-2)

Key losses: WR John Ross, S Budda Baker, CB Sidney Jones, DT Elijah Qualls.

Key returnees: QB Jake Browning, RB Myles Gaskin, NT Greg Gaines, LB Azeem Victor.

Heat check 2017: The Huskies entered national title contention earlier than expected, but should be here to stay awhile.

No. 5 Oklahoma (11-2)

Key losses: RBs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon, WR Dede Westbrook, CB Jordan Thomas.

Key returnees: QB Baker Mayfield, OT Orlando Brown, LB Caleb Kelly, TE/WR Mark Andrews.

Heat check 2017: The favorite in the Big 12 and a preseason top-10 team - again.

No. 6 Ohio State (11-2)

Key losses: LB Raekwon McMillan, S Malik Hooker, H-back Curtis Samuel, CB Gareon Conley.

Key returnees: QB J.T. Barrett, DE Nick Bosa, DE Tyquan Lewis, RB Mike Weber.

Heat check 2017: The Buckeyes' awful last impression is likely to pull down that preseason ranking. Could still slip into top five.

No. 7 Penn State (11-3)

Key losses: DE Garrett Sickels, LB Brandon Bell, WR Chris Godwin, Brian Gaia.

Key returnees: QB Trace McSorley, RB Saquon Barkley, CB John Reid, TE Mike Gesicki.

Heat check 2017: Even if the Nittany Lions lose a few underclassmen to the NFL, few teams will return more production and experience. Could edge Ohio State for highest ranked Big Ten team.

No. 8 Florida State (10-3)

Key losses: RB Dalvin Cook, DE DeMarcus Walker, WR Kermit Whitfield, OG Are Kareem.

Key returnees: S Derwin James, QB Deondre Francois, DE Josh Sweat, WR Nyqwan Murray.

Heat check 2017: The Seminoles open the season against Alabama in Atlanta and it could very well be a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup.

No. 9 Wisconsin (11-3)

Key losses: LB TJ Watt, RB Corey Clement, LB Vince Beigel, CB Sojourn Shelton.

Key returnees: D D'Cota Dixon, TE Troy Fumagalli, LB T.J. Edwards, WR Jazz Peavy.

Heat check 2017: The Badgers often get overlooked or undersold in the preseason. Not this time. The only big question is quarterback. Maybe top 10?

No. 10 Michigan (11-3)

Key losses: 17 senior starters, including TE Jake Butt, WR Amara Darboh, DE Taco Charlton, CB Joudan Lewis.

Key returnees: QB Wilton Speight, RB Chris Evans, LB Devin Bush, DT Rashan Gary.

Heat check 2017: The departure of a massive class of senior contributors means Michigan will have to rebuild with fruits of Jim Harbaugh's highly rated recruiting classes - and start outside the top 10.

No. 11 Oklahoma State (10-3)

Key losses: DT Vincent Taylor, S Jordan Sterns, OT Victor Salako, LB Devante Averette.

Key returnees: QB Mason Rudolph, WR James Washington, RB Justice Hill, LB Chad Whitener.

Heat check 2017: No team gets a bigger bump from the return of a couple players who could have jumped to the NFL as the Cowboys. With Rudolph and Washington, they could be preseason top 10.

No. 12 Stanford (10-3)

Key losses: RB Christian McCaffrey, DT Solomon Thomas, S Dallas Lloyd, OG Johnny Caspers.

Key returnees: DL Harrison Phillips, RB Bryce Love, QB Keller Chryst, CB Quenton Meeks.

Heat check 2017: Even in an ''off year'' the Cardinal won 10 games. A knee injury to Chryst means uncertainty at quarterback, but pencil Stanford in for another top-15 preseason ranking.

No. 13 LSU (8-4)

Key losses: RB Leonard Fournette, CB Tre'Davious White, S Jamal Adams, DE Davon Godchaux.

Key returnees: RB Derrius Guice, LB Arden Key, OG William Clapp, S Donte Jackson.

Heat check 2017: The Tigers will have to replace another haul of NFL talent and find a quarterback. There will be far less hype for LSU heading into 2017 than there was in 2016.

No. 14 Florida (9-4)

Key losses: CBs Quincy Wilson and Teez Tabor, LB Jarad Davis, DT Caleb Brantley.

Key returnees: RB Jordan Scarlett, WR Antonio Callaway, OG Martez Ivey, DE CeCe Jefferson.

Heat check 2017: The Gators will probably squeeze into the preseason rankings, but skepticism about the offense will remain high.

No. 15 Western Michigan (13-1)

Key losses: QR Corey Davis, QB Zach Terrell, OT Taylor Moton, coach P.J. Fleck.

Key returnees: QB Jarvion Franklin, WR Carrington Thompson, LB Robert Spillane, S Justin Tranquill.

Heat check 2017: The Broncos will be MAC favorites, but they will probably start life after Rowing the Boat outside the top 25.

No. 16 Virginia Tech (10-4)

Key losses: QB Jerod Evans, WR Isaiah Ford, TE/WR Bucky Hodges, DE Ken Ekanem.

Key returnees: RB Travon McMillan, WR Cam Phillips, S Terrell Edmunds, LB Mook Reynolds.

Heat check 2017: Evans being one-and-done hurts, but year one under Justin Fuente should bring much confidence and a preseason ranking to start year two.

No. 17 Colorado (10-4)

Key losses: QB Sefo Liufau DBs Chidobe Awuzie and Tedric Thompson and LB Jimmie Gilbert.

Key returnees: RB Phillip Lindsay, WR Shay Fields, OT Aaron Haigler, LB Rick Gamboa.

Heat check 2017: The Buffaloes renaissance was built on an experienced defense. With lots of that gone, along with Liufau, Colorado will probably start the season in back half of top 25- at best.

No. 18 West Virginia (10-3)

Key losses: QB Skyler Howard, CB Rasul Douglas, C Tyler Orlosky; DT Darien Howard.

Key returnees: WR Shelton Gibson, RB Justin Crawford, LB Al-Rasheed Benton, LB David Long.

Heat check 2017: The Mountaineers are losing a load of upperclassmen. West Virginia is likely to start next season out of Top 25.

No. 19 South Florida (11-2)

Key losses: RB Marlon Mack, WR Rodney Adams, LB Nigel Harris, coach Willie Taggart.

Key returnees: QB Quinton Flowers, RB D'Ernest Johnson, LB Auggie Sanchez, WR Marquez Valdes-Scanting.

Heat check 2017: With new coach Charlie Strong, USF will be next season's Houston, a talented and trendy Group of Five team. And probably ranked to start.

No. 20 Miami (9-4)

Key losses: QB Brad Kaaya, CB Corn Elder, TE David Njoku, S Rayshawn Jenkins.

Key returnees: LBs Shaquille Quarterman and Michael Pinckney, WR Ahmmon Richards, RB Mark Walton.

Heat check 2017: QB questions will relegate an otherwise good-looking Miami to a double-digit ranking to start next season.

No. 21 Louisville (9-4)

Key losses: OLB Devonte Fields, TE Cole Hikutini, DT DeAngelo Brown, S Josh Harvey-Clemons.

Key returnees: QB Lamar Jackson, CB Jaire Alexander, RB Jeremy Smith, LB James Hearns.

Heat check 2017: Another team losing a lot of key upperclassmen. Jackson's presence will get the Cardinals a preseason ranking, maybe in the high teens.

No. 22 Tennessee (9-4)

Key losses: QB Josh Dobbs, DE Derek Barnett, WR Josh Malone, CB Cameron Sutton.

Key returnees: RB Alvin Kamara, LD Darrin Kirkland Jr., DT Jonathan Kongbo, OT Drew Richmond.

Heat check 2017: The Vols were one of those trendy picks to take a big step forward this season. They won't be next season. But they could still be preseason ranked.

No. 23 Utah (9-4)

Key losses: RB Joe Williams, OT Garett Bolles, DE Hunter Dimick, S Marcus Williams.

Key returnees: QB Troy Williams, DT Lowell Lotulelei, RB Zack Moss, WR Raelon Singleton.

Heat check 2017: As usual, the Utes will probably have to prove themselves to get ranked. They lose a lot of experience along their stout lines.

No. 24 Auburn (8-5)

Key losses: DT Montravius Adams, DE Carl Lawson, OT Robert Leff, CB Joshua Holsey.

Key returnees: QB Jarrett Stidham, RBs Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson, CB Carlton Davis.

Heat check 2017: Stidham, the Baylor transfer, could fix Auburn's biggest issue. The Tigers are likely to start the season ranked, but not too highly.

No. 25 San Diego State (11-3)

Key losses: Donnel Pumphrey, OG Nico Siragusa, DE Alex Barnett, CB Damontae Kazee.

Key returnees: QB Christian Champman, RB Rashaad Penny, LB Ronley Lakalaka, DB Baldwin Parker.

Heat check 2017: Coach Rocky Long loses a star in Pumphrey, but it might be time to recognize San Diego State has at least caught up to - if not past - Boise State as the best program in the Mountain West.


Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP


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