1. Alabama Crimson Tide
Alabama is back at it again after recruiting the No.2 class in the country. The key to all of Nick Saban’s success is top talent and depth at every position. There is no school in the country with more talent than the Crimson Tide. The Tide plays Tennessee and LSU on the road, but besides that all their tough games are at home. Alabama will need to shake off the Rebel jinx and continue to dominate other SEC foes as they have in the past in order to stay perfect, which I think is a strong possibility.
2. Clemson Tigers
Clemson boasts the top quarterback in the nation in Deshaun Watson. A Heisman finalist last season, I look for Watson to lead what I believe to be the best offense in the country into battle this fall. There are questions about key defensive pieces that departed early from Dabo Swinney’s program for the draft, but look for Clemson to heavily outscore its competition on the way to another playoff berth.
3. LSU Tigers
Leonard Fournette is the most complete back in the country and serves as the face of the Tigers this season.
Les Miles, surviving a coup-d’etat led by some influential alumni, will be reinvigorated. And he has nine returning starters on each side of the ball.
The key to success will be whether QB Brandon Harris can improve enough to change the Tigers’ one-dimensional offense into a well-balanced machine. They’ll have to make it through Alabama if they want to make the Playoff.
4. Florida State
With 17 returning starters, the Seminoles are poised to pick up where they left off, near the top of the rankings. Florida State has plenty of talent and depth as well, having recruited top-three classes in the past three years. Dalvin Cook has back-to-back 1000-yard rushing seasons and will look to break 2000 this coming year. Clemson will be the toughest matchup on the books, with Ole Miss early and North Carolina threatening as well. Good news for the Seminoles: all three of those games are at home.
5. Ohio State Buckeyes
A lot of people are calling for Michigan to win the Big 10, but don’t sleep on Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes. He has recruited four straight top-10 classes and has vast talent at his disposal. Not to mention J.T. Barrett returning at QB having played most of last season he has grit and experience which puts him in the running for the best quarterback in the Big 10 this season. The good news for the Buckeyes this year is that they have Michigan at home. A tough non-conference matchup against Oklahoma looms early, but I like OSU to get it done in the Big 10.
1. Oklahoma Sooners
When Oklahoma has been ranked inside the top-10 over the last five seasons, it’s finished 15 or worse. I expect this season to be no different. The Sooners have an extremely tough non-conference schedule playing Houston and Ohio State right out of the gates. In early October the Sooners will have a tough conference run playing on the road at TCU, then the Longhorns in Dallas at the Cotton Bowl. I have my doubts the Sooners can win the Big 12, much less make the playoffs.
2. Michigan Wolverines
The hype has gone too far. They had a strong showing in last year’s Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl thrashing Florida 41-7. I remember the loss to Ohio State more clearly. A 42-13 beat-down on their home turf. I don’t think this team is ready for the top-5 just yet, which is where they will be ranked to begin the season.
Harbaugh’s system will need more time to take hold, and they lack the speed and creativity to compete with high-powered offenses like Ohio State’s.
They play Michigan State, Iowa, and Ohio State on the road. I doubt they make it out of their schedule without two conference losses.
3. Ole Miss Rebels
After a brilliant start last season the Rebels crumbled in a mid-year skid. This year, the fall will be much earlier. The Rebels play Florida State and Alabama in their first three games this season. After which they have Arkansas, LSU and Texas A&M on the road. If the schedule wasn’t bad enough, the team will be dragged down by allegations of widespread NCAA violations.
The locker room has soured on coach Hugh Freeze, and Ole Miss will take a back-seat in the SEC West because of it.
4. Baylor Bears
Another nasty locker room situation. The Bears look to overcome a tumultuous few months and the exit of coach Art Briles. Quarterback Seth Russell returns from a neck injury suffered at the halfway mark last season. Russell had thrown for 29 TDs before shutting down for the remainder of the season. He won’t be enough to save the Bears from a brutal conference run. The Bears’ seventh game is in Austin to face Texas, after which they have Oklahoma at home followed by TCU on the road. I don’t see Baylor making it out without two losses.
5. Texas A&M Aggies
After losing Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray, head coach Kevin Sumlin is in trouble. The Aggies were able to pick up former Oklahoma starter Trevor Knight, but that doesn’t stop me from wondering what the heck is going on over in College Station? Sumlin is hailed an offensive genius, but has failed to make it work since the departure of Johnny Football. The schedule doesn’t do him any favors either. The Ags play Alabama and Auburn on the road and have late games against Ole Miss and LSU.