Why wait until January to see the top two teams in the nation square off in Atlanta when you can see the top two teams in the nation square off in Atlanta on Saturday night of Week 1? Alabama and Florida State’s season-opening meeting isn’t just the first milestone in 2017’s chase for the College Football Playoff; it's also a matchup of No. 1 vs. No. 2, if the rankings of the writers and editors at Sports Illustrated are to be believed. The top dogs in this year’s preseason Top 25 should be no surprise: After shipping off another crop of elite talent to the NFL, Alabama is the clear favorite to win its second national championship in three years.
But college football loves chaos too much to ever resign itself to a one- or two-horse race. Will Ohio State’s offense be up to the task in veteran QB J.T. Barrett’s final season (and coordinator Kevin Wilson’s first) in Columbus? Could Penn State and USC’s thrilling Rose Bowl matchup be a precursor for a reunion in the CFP semifinals in Pasadena? Are we closing the book on Clemson’s national title defense too soon?
What follows is SI’s preseason Top 25, led by our picks to join the Crimson Tide and the Seminoles in the College Football Playoff field: Ohio State and Oklahoma State. Below each team’s spot in the rankings, you’ll find an extended breakdown of one player you need to get familiar with before he becomes an X-factor in 2017, along with a quick look at how tough each team’s road to the playoff looks to be. And don’t forget to grab a hard copy of SI’s 2017 college football preview issue for yourself—this year’s four regional covers feature a special augmented reality experience presented by Holiday Inn Express, which you can access by downloading the Life VR app on your phone and using the app’s AR mode to scan the cover.
For now, the pecking order is set. Let the debate begin—and then let the games begin.