College football polls: Week-by-week AP Top 25, FCS, DII and DIII
Curious to see where your favorite team started in the polls and track it as the season goes?
Look no further. For every level of college football (FBS, FCS, Division II and Division III), below is a list of every poll from the 2017 season. We'll update these charts each time a new poll hits the press.
|Week||No. 1 team||Highest riser|
|Week 1||Alabama||Washington State (+4)|
|Week 2||Alabama||Oklahoma (+3)|
|Week 3||Alabama||Mississippi State (+9)|
|Week 4||Alabama||TCU (+7)|
|Week 5||Alabama||Washington State (+5)|
|Week 6||Alabama||Notre Dame (+5)|
|Week 7||Alabama||Oklahoma State, NC State (+4)|
|Week||No. 1 team||Highest riser|
|Week 1||James Madison||New Hampshire (+4)|
|Week 2||James Madison||Richmond (+3)|
|Week 3||James Madison||South Dakota (+9)|
|Week 4||James Madison||Western Illinois (+5)|
|Week 5||James Madison||South Dakota (+4)|
|Week 6||James Madison||Sam Houston State (+2)|
|Week 7||James Madison||Western Illinois, Elon (+5)|
|Week||No. 1 team||Highest riser|
|Preseason||Northwest Missouri State||N/A|
|Week 2||Northwest Missouri State||Minnesota State (+8)|
|Week 3||Northwest Missouri State||Delta State (+7)|
|Week 4||Northwest Missouri State||Arkansas Tech (+5)|
|Week 5||Northwest Missouri State||Slippery Rock (+6)|
|Week 6||Northwest Missouri State||Winona State (+9)|
|Week 7||Northwest Missouri State||West Alabama (+5)|
|Week||No. 1 Team||Highest Riser|
|Week 3||Mary Hardin-Baylor||N/A|
|Week 4||Mary Hardin-Baylor||St. Thomas (+4)|
|Week 5||Mary Hardin-Baylor||Illinois Wesleyan (+7)|
|Week 6||Mary Hardin-Baylor||Wartburg (+5)|
WEEK 7 FBS POLL REACTION
We knew the storm would hit. It was just a matter of when.
When the dust settled, Week 7 was one of the craziest we’ve seen in college football in a long, long time.
Where to begin? Two new teams – No. 4 TCU and No. 5 Wisconsin – enter the top five after Clemson’s loss to Syracuse and Washington’s loss to Arizona State. No. 2 Penn State and No. 3 Georgia were the beneficiaries of the Tigers’ upset.
Nobody saw the Tigers' fall coming. Alabama has been ranked first all season, but Clemson looked like a No. 1-caliber team. Its defense was otherworldly, and while its offense wasn’t as explosive as it was in the Deshaun Watson era, it got the job done.
But starting quarterback Kelly Bryant got hurt on Friday night, and Clemson struggled. Give it up for Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey, too – he hung 27 points on a Tiger defense that made Lamar Jackson look like just another guy and suffocated other attacks.
Clemson is now ranked seventh. Disappointing, sure. But no College Football Playoff champion has ever gone undefeated. The loss happened early enough for the Tigers to beef up the resume in November and December. Clemson is still the highest-ranked ACC school.
Still, had someone told you going into the season that the Tigers would have one loss after Week 7 – and it would be to Syracuse – they would have thought you were crazy. As it turned out, Friday night set the stage for even more wildness through the weekend.
This year’s Apple Cup had the potential to feature two undefeated teams in Washington and Washington State. The Huskies and the Cougars looked dynamite coming into Week 7. Wazzu notched huge back-to-back wins against USC and Oregon, while Washington hadn’t really been challenged.
This weekend, the two schools lost and combined to score 10 points. Washington is now ranked 12th; Washington State is 15th. No. 11 USC is the highest-ranked Pac-12 team. Its Playoff hopes aren’t toast, but the outlook is bleak.
Meanwhile, the SEC has to be loving these rankings. Alabama appears to be immune to the upset bug, as it smothered Arkansas while peering down at the chaos happening around the country. Same with Georgia, coached by Nick Saban understudy Kirby Smart.
Given how the Crimson Tide and the Bulldogs have played thus far, it’s hard to see them losing before their likely SEC Championship matchup. Then again, we said the same thing about Clemson. And Oklahoma. And Washington. There may not be a conceivable loss on Alabama or Georgia’s schedule. Based on what we’ve seen, that may not matter. The SEC has a great chance to send two schools to the Playoff, but this thing is far from over.
Is there a chance we get two SEC teams and two Big Ten teams in the CFP? It may seem far-fetched, but look at the rankings. Five of the top six schools are in those conferences; TCU is the lone exception. If the Horned Frogs slip up, we could see an all Big Ten-SEC top five. Penn State looks good. So does Wisconsin. Ohio State lost early – and if you’re going to lose, it’s in your best interest to do so in September. We stopped talking about the Buckeyes for a while after they sputtered against Oklahoma.
It’s time to start talking about them again.
Here’s how crazy this week was: No. 8 Miami (Fla.) moved up three spots with a one-point win over Georgia Tech. No. 13 Notre Dame moved up three spots and didn't play. ND will likely crack the top 10 if it can handle USC at home in Week 8. The Fighting Irish’s lone loss, Georgia, is looking better and better. If you’re looking at teams 10 through 15, Notre Dame might inspire the most confidence to make a Playoff run. We don’t know what’s going on in the Pac-12. No. 14 Virginia Tech is solid, but the Hokies don’t have a particularly high ceiling.
Don’t be surprised if Notre Dame makes a run. The running game is awesome, and the defense is good. The quarterback spot is a question mark, sure. But the Irish have athletes at that spot, despite their lack of pocket precision. They’re playmakers. Keep an eye on them.
WEEK 6 FBS POLL REACTION
Just when you think you know who the elite teams are, college football surprises you.
It's just a matter of when. Turned out, Week 6 was full of those surprises.
MORE: Full AP Top 25
Iowa State turned the College Football Playoff picture on its head by upsetting No. 3 Oklahoma 38-31 in Norman. The Sooners fell nine spots to No. 12 after the loss.
This could go down as one of the most memorable upsets in recent memory – the Cyclones were down to their third-string QB, Joel Lanning rewrote the rules of positional versatility, and perhaps most impressive of all… Iowa State did this on the road. Big upsets happen. But usually, the underdog feeds off of its home crowd to stun the heavy hitter. Not this time.
What does this mean for the Big 12? Well, if it’s going to send a team to the College Football Playoff, it will probably be TCU. The Horned Frogs fended off West Virginia 31-24 on Saturday and rose to No. 6 in the rankings. TCU trails one team from the ACC, Big Ten, and Pac-12, and sits behind two SEC schools. If the Frogs run the table, they’ll likely make the Playoff. Key word: likely. Someone ranked ahead of them should stumble, given the unpredictable nature of the sport. Bottom line: the Big 12’s margin for error is small. TCU faces Oklahoma on Nov. 11 in Norman, which figures to be a huge matchup.
The other big Week 6 upset came in Ann Arbor, where Michigan State took down No. 7 Michigan 14-10. For their efforts, the Spartans make their first AP Poll appearance of the year, coming in at No. 21.
The Wolverines, on the other hand, slipped 10 spots to No. 17. Michigan’s defense is still good, but it just can’t seem to figure out the quarterback spot. John O’Korn threw three interceptions and failed to crack 200 passing yards. The running game was anemic, too; it took Michigan 39 carries to reach 100 yards. Essentially, the defense is a force, but the offense doesn’t have an identity.
The Big Ten crown was already Penn State’s to lose, but Michigan’s loss solidified that notion. The Nittany Lions rose to No. 3 after demolishing Northwestern in Evanston. They have a huge stretch coming up – Penn State takes on Michigan at home in two weeks before traveling to Ohio State on Oct. 28. If the Nittany Lions can come out of that unscathed, they’re golden. If not, the Big Ten could find itself in a similar position to the Big 12. If you’re Ohio State, which checks in at No. 9, this thing is far from over.
Elsewhere in the rankings, No. 8 Washington State continues to dazzle. The Cougars easily could have faltered at Oregon after a thrilling win against USC last week. Didn’t happen. Wazzu controlled the game start to finish, and the Cougs are on a collision course with Washington to determine who represents the Pac-12 in the Playoff. The Apple Cup is always exciting, but this year’s version will be the most hyped it’s ever been. The Huskies are ranked fifth and were one of the last four teams standing last season. Football is back in the pacific northwest.
A few notes from further down in the rankings: No. 16 Notre Dame and No. 20 North Carolina State were a few high risers. The Fighting Irish took care of business against North Carolina on Saturday to improve to 5-1. Notre Dame might have the best ground attack in the country – it ran for 341 more yards in Chapel Hill. Deon McIntosh and Josh Adams combined for 242 of them.
The Wolfpack, meanwhile, handled Louisville and reigning Heisman winner Lamar Jackson with ease Thursday night. N.C. State has two big ACC wins, also downing Florida State earlier. Ryan Finley has been miraculous at QB; he has 10 TD passes and zero interceptions. That’ll play. Ever since their season-opening loss to South Carolina, North Carolina State is averaging 37.4 points per game.
WEEK 5 FBS POLL REACTION
Another week, another set of college football rankings. And USC, which had been flirting with disaster all season, finally got caught on the road against Washington State. That changes the landscape of the Pac-12 -- along with the College Football Playoff picture.
RELATED: Full AP Top 25
First, let’s give it up for the No. 11 Cougars. Wazzu, led by senior QB Luke Falk, is in the midst of one of the most impressive program turnarounds in recent memory. Washington State went 3-9 in 2014, but it’s gained steam ever since. In-state rival Washington, ranked sixth, is most likely to win the Pac-12 with USC’s loss. But Wazzu has a real chance to win the conference and make the Playoff.
Had you told someone that three years ago, they would have looked at you funny. What a job by Mike Leach and his crew. The Apple Cup just became one of the most anticipated games on the college football schedule.
On the flip side, the Trojans fell nine spots to No. 14. USC is supremely talented, but it’s just looked out of sync all year. When the offense plays well, the defense falters, and vice versa. To be fair, USC was underwhelming last September, too, and it made a late Playoff charge. This isn’t over yet for the Trojans. But they’ll need both of the Washington schools to slip up, and with the way they’re playing, that may be unlikely.
Elsewhere in the top 10, Georgia rose two spots – leapfrogging Washington – to No. 5 after its 41-0 pummeling of Tennessee. The Bulldogs are a complete team. Nick Chubb and Sony Michel form one of the top one-two backfield punches in the land. Jake Fromm is an impressive freshman QB. The defense is the scariest in the country outside of Clemson or Alabama.
Speaking of Alabama, the Tide and the Bulldogs look to be on a collision course to meet in the SEC championship game. Could the SEC send two teams to the Playoff this year?
It’s quite possible. Georgia has compiled an excellent resume, beating Notre Dame and Tennessee on the road along with Mississippi State at home. The SEC East isn’t particularly strong outside of the Bulldogs. There may not be another loss on the schedule.
And of course, Alabama is Alabama. Georgia jumping Washington is significant. Yes, there’s plenty of season to go. But if a top-four team falters, the Bulldogs are next in line. Not the Huskies. The nonconference win at Notre Dame is the main reason why. That’s a perk of aggressive scheduling.
Moving down the rankings, there wasn’t much shuffling outside of two new additions – No. 24 NC State and No. 25 UCF.
The Wolfpack burst onto the radar by upsetting Florida State last week. They notched another ACC victory over Syracuse on Saturday. NC State has a tough schedule coming up – Louisville and Notre Dame are two of their next three opponents, so this may be short-lived. Regardless, give it up for a Wolfpack program that hasn’t had a lot to cheer about lately. It would be shocking if someone other than Clemson won the ACC, but they could finish top three in the conference. That’s no small feat for a team than was an afterthought coming into the season.
UCF, meanwhile, becomes the fourth school from The Sunshine State to be ranked in this week’s poll. Scott Frost has done a masterful job with the Knights. In 2015, they didn’t win a game. 0-for-12. In 2017, they’re 3-0 with wins over FIU, Maryland and Memphis. Oh, and none of them have been close. UCF is outscoring opponents 139-40. It has the seventh-ranked scoring offense in the country.
It was the week of the turnaround in college football. Washington State is lurking outside of the top 10. UCF, winless two seasons ago, is ranked.
That said, the big boys are the big boys. Alabama and Clemson look as dominant as ever. The cream of the crop is strong this year, but look hard enough, and there are contenders in unlikely places all over the country.
More entertainment, please. Chances are, college football will deliver. It always seems to.
WEEK 4 FBS POLL REACTION
A new week brings a new set of college football rankings. And though the top five didn’t change, there was some important shuffling in the bottom half of the top 10.
How about the Georgia Bulldogs? UGA jumped four spots to No. 7 after mashing Mississippi State, which had just blown out LSU, by 28 points. The Bulldog defense is legit – it allowed just three points and 280 yards against a hot offense. In an SEC East that’s confusing at best and underwhelming at worst, Georgia clearly looks like the best team in the division.
Jake Fromm only threw 12 times on Saturday, but he still managed to pass for more than 200 yards. The true freshman is going to be a good one. Nick Chubb and Sony Michel are two of the best running backs in the conference. For years, the issue with Georgia was this: they could just never put everything together at the same time. If the offense was rolling, the defense stumbled, or vice versa.
This season, both units have looked great against quality competition. What a job Kirby Smart has done in Athens.
The same thing could be said about No. 9 TCU, which scored the most impressive victory of the weekend, hanging a 44 spot on Oklahoma State in Stillwater. Of course, temper your expectations – Kenny Hill dominates every September. Remember his game against South Carolina when he was at Texas A&M?
But this was a total team effort. Darius Anderson ran for 160 yards and three touchdowns. The Horned Frogs ran for 238 as a team. The defense was good – teams aren’t usually doing cartwheels after allowing 31 points, but when the opponent is Oklahoma State on the road, cartwheel at your leisure. Mason Rudolph threw for 398 yards, but he barely completed half of his passes and threw two picks. TCU held Justice Hill to 4.1 yards per carry.
TCU and Oklahoma have the two best defenses in the Big 12 – by, like, a lot. Obviously, this one stings for the Cowboys, who slipped to No. 15. The Pokes were a sneaky Playoff candidate. While we knew TCU would be tough, at home, that’s a game Oklahoma State should win. Bedlam was supposed to be the roadblock.
The Cowboys aren’t done yet. But their margin for error the rest of the way – in Playoff terms – is zero.
RELATED: Full NCAA.com football coverage
A lot of college football discussion revolves around conferences. Which one is the best? Is the SEC overrated? Is the ACC underrated?
This season, we may have to cool off the takes a few degrees. Because frankly, there’s a lot of parity among Power 5 conferences. Here’s the breakdown of schools in the top 25.
|Conference||Number of teams|
While the SEC has the edge, two of its teams are No. 24 and 25, so ‘6’ doesn’t tell the whole story. Truth is, every conference is pretty good this season. None are dreadful. None are dominant. That’s made for an interesting early portion of the year. There should be some intriguing league battles the rest of the way.
A few new schools joined the fray this week. Notre Dame comes in at No. 22 after dominating Michigan State on Saturday night. The Fighting Irish backfield continues to dazzle, combining for 182 rushing yards as a team. Brandon Wimbush wasn’t asked to do much, but he delivered when necessary. The first-year starter threw for 173 yards on just 20 attempts.
Meanwhile, West Virginia returned to the Top 25 for the first time since the preseason rankings, coming in at No. 23. The Mountaineers took care of business against Kansas. Their lone loss came against No. 12 Virginia Tech, which is rolling. As usual, West Virginia has an explosive offense. The question marks are all on defense. They allowed 34 points to the Jayhawks, which doesn’t bode well for their chances against Oklahoma, TCU or Oklahoma State. Regardless, it’s nice to be ranked again. The the ‘Eers are a blast to watch.
A game that promises to shake up next week’s rankings is Clemson vs. Virginia Tech. A win for Clemson would mean victories over Auburn, Louisville and the Hokies — which is far more than any other team has on its resume. While Alabama has done nothing to deserve relinquishing its top ranking, a Clemson win would have to make voters think about it.
If Tech can pull off the upset, they could land in the top five. The game is in Blacksburg. You have to love such meaningful action in late September.
This week was tame, in college football-adjusted terms. Just prepare yourself for the craziness. It’s coming.
WEEK 4 FBS POLL REACTION
An unforgettable college football Saturday resulted in some shuffling at the top of the AP Poll. Most notably, two College Football Playoff contenders switched spots.
RELATED: AP Top 25 Poll
You have to be frustrated if you’re Oklahoma, which beat Ohio State handily last week, took care of business in Week 3…. and dropped from second to third. The frustration may be justified. But based on Clemson’s ridiculous Saturday night showing, it’s hard to argue with the Tigers vaulting to No. 2.
Simply put, Clemson is a complete team. Kelly Bryant has looked awesome taking over the spot once occupied by Deshaun Watson.
And then there’s the defense. Oh my, that defense. Clemson held reigning Heisman winner Lamar Jackson and company to 21 points. To his credit, Jackson played pretty well. He just didn’t have much time to throw. That’s a credit to the Tigers’ overwhelming front seven, which sacked Auburn 11 times in Week 2 and put a similar amount of pressure on the Cardinals.
Oklahoma didn’t do anything to deserve to slip in the rankings. But Clemson did everything to deserve to move up. Bottom line: if both of these play like this for the rest of the season, they’ll make the College Football Playoff. Heck, they might even square off against one another. Two other top-five teams flip-flopped, as well; that would be Penn State and USC. The No. 4 Nittany Lions continue to dominate, while the No. 5 Trojans continue to make things… well, more interesting than they’d like. USC survived high-wire acts against Western Michigan and Texas. It hasn’t yet, but that could come back to bite it.
Oklahoma’s in-state rival is singing a different tune today. That would be Oklahoma State, which balled out against Pittsburgh yesterday; the Cowboys jumped from No. 9 to No. 6 with their 59-21 throttling of Pittsburgh.
Oklahoma State doesn’t have the defense of an Alabama or a Clemson. But it has as much offensive firepower as anyone. Mason Rudolph threw for 497 yards and five scores on Saturday – and didn’t even play the whole game. James Washington, perhaps the fastest man in college football, reeled in five passes for 124 yards. Justice Hill scampered for 91 yards and two scores. Everywhere you look on the Oklahoma State offensive depth chart, there’s a stud – or maybe even two or three – at each position. Bedlam is always fun, but it could be extra meaningful this November.
The middle of the rankings were relatively stagnant, but we’ve got some notable new arrivals. Welcome to the AP Top 25, Mississippi State.
Well, welcome to the top 17 would be more accurate – yes, the Bulldogs landed firmly inside of the top 20 after manhandling then-No. 12 LSU by 30. Mississippi State was unranked a week ago.
The Bulldogs are generally underrated, so it’s nice to see them get the credit they deserve. Of all high-major games that have been played in the first few weeks, this might be the most surprising outcome of all. It’s not just that Mississippi State won. It’s how easy the Bulldogs did it. They piled up 285 rushing yards against what we all thought was a fierce rushing defense. They held Derrius Guice, a darkhorse Heisman contender coming into the season, in check. Impressive, impressive stuff, Mississippi State.
Three more new arrivals made their way into this week’s rankings: No. 22 San Diego State, No. 23 Utah and No. 24 Oregon. The Aztecs took down Stanford after knocking off Arizona State in Week 2. Utah continues to do Utah things – in other words, win football games without garnering much chatter. The Utes are 3-0 and haven’t allowed more than 20 points in a tilt this season. Oregon looks explosive once again – the Ducks hung 49 on Wyoming to improve to 3-0. The Pac-12 has some depth this season.
A few of the biggest fallers: Louisville, which slipped five spots to No. 19. It’s not just that the Cardinals lost. It’s how they lost. A close game in which Louisville looked like it could play with Clemson probably would have left them in a similar spot. Didn’t happen. Whether this is more of a credit to Clemson or an indictment of Louisville, the former looked like it belonged on a different field than the latter on Saturday.
LSU is still ranked – barely. The Tigers fell 13 spots to No. 25 after the loss to Mississippi State. LSU seems to do this on a yearly basis – they’ll lose some games they shouldn’t early, people will forget about them, and they’ll finish the year strong. That’s nice if you want to be considered a respectable program year in, and year out. But if you have College Football Playoff hopes, it’s tough sledding. We’ll see if the Tigers can back bounce during the rest of the SEC slate.
More of the same next week, please, college football. Crazy stuff is happening already. And yet, it feels like the craziest of the crazy still awaits.
WEEK 2 FBS POLL REACTION
No crazy upsets went down in Week 1, at least among ranked teams, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at the latest set of college football rankings. The Top 10 went through a shuffle, and while it’s too early to make bold proclamations, the movement may affect how we view these teams the rest of the season.
RELATED: Full AP Top 25
We’ll start with Clemson, which throttled Kent State by 53 on Saturday and rose to No. 3. Kelly Bryant was so good he made us ask, “Deshaun wh ...?” (Yeah, that sentence was so preposterous we’re not even going finish it.) That said, Bryant was really good on Saturday. We won't dub him The Next Big Thing just yet. It was Kent State, after all. But playing very well against Kent State is better than playing poorly against Kent State. Bryant averaged a healthy 10.7 yards per pass attempt and notched over 10 yards per carry.
Outside of quarterback, there are no questions about Clemson. If Bryant is a solid starter, the Tigers are a legitimate national championship contender.
Clemson knocked an ACC rival out of the No. 3 spot. That's Florida State, which had one of the roughest opening weeks of any college football power in recent memory. In a brutal loss to Alabama, Florida State’s offense was anemic (though its defense looked as stout as expected).
The loss of quarterback Deondre Francois was especially crushing. That probably has more to do with Florida State slipping all the way to No. 10 than the loss to Alabama. Francois was a sophomore leader for the Seminoles. He was poised to have a big year. Their playoff hopes weren’t doomed with a season-opening loss, especially to a team of Alabama's caliber. But the combination of an 0-1 start and losing your star quarterback? That's going to be tough to bounce back from. True freshman James Blackman will get the nod under center now. By all accounts, he’s a talented player. Again, though, he’s a true freshman. Florida State could still have an excellent season, but it’ll be fighting an uphill battle.
Another team that fell in the rankings: USC, which tumbled from fourth to sixth. The Trojans struggled against Western Michigan for three quarters before pulling away in the fourth. The Broncos gashed USC on the ground to the tune of 263 yards.
The good news for USC: It still has Sam Darnold, it still has Ronald Jones II (perhaps the most underrated running back in America) and the defensive ability is there, even if we didn’t see it on Saturday. The bad news: If the Trojans are as bad against the run against Stanford as they were against Western Michigan, they’re in for a rude awakening in Week 2. The Cardinal ran for about three miles in their season opener against Rice (OK, 287 yards). Stanford’s biggest strength is USC’s biggest weakness.
A quick aside: It’s interesting to see how USC struggled to beat Western Michigan, which won 13 games and made a Cotton Bowl appearance in 2016, and dropped two spots. Louisville, meanwhile, had similar troubles against Purdue, ultimately pulling out a seven-point victory due almost entirely to Lamar Jackson’s brilliance, and fell only one spot. The Boilermakers have won nine games in the past four seasons combined.
Perhaps there’s a distinct divide between schools in the Top 10 and schools in the 11-20 range. There just isn’t much room for error if you’re contending for a playoff spot. Plenty of worthy candidates lurk in the shadows.
RELATED: Jackson aiming for a Heisman repeat
Two new schools joined the fray this week: TCU and Notre Dame. The No. 23 Horned Frogs notched a 63-0 win against Jackson State. The No. 24 Fighting Irish smoked Temple, which won the AAC last year, by 33 points.
Yes, the Owls lost head coach Matt Rhule, along with many of their best players. But this was a big win for Notre Dame, a program that, simply put, just needed some good vibes after last year’s 4-8 stinker. Brandon Wimbush was steady under center. Tailback Josh Adams was better than steady, running for 161 yards and two scores on 19 totes. Dexter Williams was better than steady and good, picking up 124 rushing yards on just six attempts.
Too often in the past, Notre Dame has fallen in love with the passing game. But with such an impressive offensive line and stable of running backs, the Fighting Irish don’t need to get cute. Trust the talent, and they’ll win plenty of games. A big Week 2 showdown with No. 15 Georgia awaits.
Week 1 was loads of fun. There was the UCLA comeback over Texas A&M. There was Tennessee’s massive win over Georgia Tech.
And yet, it feels like the best is yet to come. Buckle up, college football fans.
WEEK 1 FBS POLL REACTION
Another year, another inaugural set of college football rankings. And for the second straight season, Alabama begins as the No. 1 team in the land.
RANKINGS: Full AP Top 25
Granted, Nick Saban probably cares as much about a preseason No. 1 ranking as he does about Monday’s solar eclipse (spoiler alert: not very much). But voters can’t really go wrong with slotting the Crimson Tide above the rest. They’re the safe pick; for every Derrick Henry that moves on to the NFL, there’s a Bo Scarbrough ready to replace him. Everyone tries to reload. Alabama is just better at it than everyone else.
This version of the Tide is different in one sense, though: for the first time since the A.J. McCarron era, Alabama enters the season with a proven quarterback.
Jalen Hurts was a pleasant surprise as a freshman in 2016, racking up 2,780 passing yards and 36 total touchdowns. Sure, Blake Sims and Jake Coker were productive in 2014 and 2015, respectively. But Hurts is a different beast. The word "dynamic" comes to mind. Combine sound QB play with Alabama’s perennially ridiculous defense and running game, and the No. 1 ranking is easy to justify.
Taking a look at the rest of the Top 10, a theme jumps out: Good quarterback play is vital. Yes, that’s a little like saying, “in order to win, you must score more points than the opponent.” But check out some of these quarterbacks in the top eight.
J.T. Barrett enters his fourth year at No. 2 Ohio State and has thrown more than three times as many touchdowns as interceptions (69-21). Oh, and he’s a better runner than he is a passer. Deondre Francois threw for 3,350 yards as a freshman for Florida State. Sam Darnold, the signal caller for No. 4 USC, is college football’s personal embodiment of “Limitless.”
No. 6 Penn State’s Trace McSorley almost edged Darnold in last year’s Rose Bowl, dropping a 52-49 shootout that was one of the most entertaining games of the past 10 years. McSorley may not have a big arm, but he puts the ball where it needs to go, when it needs to be there. He threw for almost 4,000 yards in 2016. Jake Browning led No. 8 Washington to last year’s College Football Playoff behind 34 touchdowns (and only nine picks). And while Baker Mayfield isn’t as naturally gifted as some of the folks mentioned above, has any active player accomplished as much on the college level as the Sooner QB? Mayfield is 20 passing yards shy of 10,000 for his career. Oklahoma must replace most of its talent on the outside, but Mayfield elevates his supporting cast.
There’s seven of your top eight quarterbacks in the preseason AP Poll. Think it’s going to be a fun year?
The lone team we didn’t mention: No. 5 Clemson, which must replace the all-world Deshaun Watson. The Tigers return the bulk of their national title-winning defense, and Dabo Swinney is approaching Saban levels of talent development prowess. Kelly Bryant figures to get the nod behind center on opening day for the Tigers. He’s unproven, but he’ll have a loaded roster flanking him. If Bryant is decent, Clemson will be great.
As usual, the SEC is well represented. It has six teams in the Top 25, best in the country.
Here are a few more teams to keep an eye on.
No. 13 LSU: The Tigers have Derrius Guice – one of the most electrifying runners in the country – in their backfield. And yet, the biggest reason to tune into LSU on a Saturday afternoon might be to see what the coach does (or says).
Name a more entertaining college football character than Ed Orgeron. I’ll wait. Orgeron led the Tigers to a 6-2 record once he took over last season, with Guice starring. He averaged 7.6 yards per carry.
LSU’s ground game is always good. So is its defense. As usual, quarterback play is the question. Is Danny Etling the answer? He was unspectacular in 2016, but the Tigers went 8-3 in his starts. If Etling can take a leap forward, LSU could challenge Alabama for the SEC West crown.
No. 16 Louisville: The Cardinals have Lamar Jackson. Remember him? The 2016 Heisman winner? With flashy names like Darnold and Josh Rosen owning much of the quarterback conversation, Jackson is (strangely) flying under the radar. But a quick reminder of his Heisman-winning absurdity: 3,543 passing yards, 30 passing touchdowns, 1,571 rushing yards (!), and 21 rushing touchdowns (!!). Louisville struggled down the stretch last year – it dropped its final three games. Still, with No. 8 in the fold, don’t be shocked to see these guys land in the Top 10 by season’s end.
No. 23 Texas: AP voters must love UT coach Tom Herman. The Longhorns, who went 5-7 last season, lost D’Onta Foreman to the NFL. Foreman ran for more than 2,000 yards as a junior. The rest of the offense was anemic.
But Malik Jefferson returns to lead a defense that should be one of the top units in the Big 12, and Shane Buechele showed flashes behind center as a freshman. Still, ranking the Longhorns inside of the Top 25 is a huge vote of confidence for Herman. Considering the magic he worked at Houston, it may be justified.