2017 College Football Outlook
Posted By:Brett Haynes - Greenville, SC Tags:
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For the first time in my life, I was able to enjoy the offseason with a proudness that was (and still is 8 months later) hard to contain. The Tigers of Clemson - the team and the school that I have held dear to my heart since I took my first breath of air - had done it. Clemson won the College Football Playoff and brought the national title back home for the 2nd time. I was 3-years old when Clemson won it all in 1981, so I didn't really soak that one in quite as much. But this one? I have enjoyed this thoroughly.
If the Tigers are going to repeat in 2017, it's going to take some work. There are a lot of really good teams out there salivating at the chance to come hard at Clemson post-Deshaun. The teams that come to mind first meet in the very first weekend of the season. Alabama and Florida State will bang helmets in Mercedes Benz Stadium to get the season going in what could very easily be a #1 vs #2 matchup when the polls come out. Another team that has a chance to make the Playoff and make a run at title is Michigan, who will play Florida in week 1 in Dallas.
USC and Washington from the PAC-12, and Ohio State, Wisconsin and Penn State from the Big-10 are other teams that have an excellent shot at having banner seasons.
In the SEC, there is a list of teams that could shoot up the polls if they get off to a hot start. Everyone talks about the gap between Alabama and the rest of the SEC, and at the moment, that is probably a true statement. But LSU, Auburn, Georgia and Florida all have the talent needed to make a run at things should something slip in Tuscaloosa.
That brings us to the Big-12. The consensus choice to make the Playoff year after year is Oklahoma. The Sooners get more preseason love than any program I have ever seen. Are they legit? It's hard to tell. They have talent, but in big games the last few seasons they haven't fared too well. Still, I would say they have the best shot at making the Playoff for that conference. Oklahoma State also has a shot - if they can learn to play defense.
So in the end, who do I see making the Playoff?
Well, the top 5 of the preseason Coaches Poll has Alabama, Ohio State and Florida State in front of Clemson - who beat each of those 3 teams last season...USC is the other team listed in front of the #5 Tigers. And while, yes, it is true that Deshaun Watson and his top target Mike Williams have departed for the NFL, Clemson has a defense that is second to none - even Alabama's - and plenty of other offensive weapons yet to be unleashed. Therefore, I think CU has a very good chance to make it again, but there are 5 really tough hurdles for Clemson: Auburn (home), Louisville (away), FSU (home), Virginia Tech (away) and a would-be ACC Title Game.
If the ACC has a team go, it will most-likely be the winner of the Clemson-FSU game (or whichever of those teams manages to win the Atlantic Division). It is too early to make that call as these two teams don't face each other until mid-November, and you also have to factor in Louisville. The Cardinals have someone named Lamar Jackson who is back for more.
If the SEC has a team go, you would think it will most-likely be Alabama. The Tide have a good returning QB in Jalen Hurts, and obviously Nick Saban has stock-piled talent across his depth chart. Georgia is still a bit of a mystery under Kirby Smart in his second season, so I am not sure there, although the talent level at UGA is always top notch. I think LSU could be the team that surprises people. They have seemed to rally around Coach Ed Orgeron and they have gobs of killer athletes year after year.
In the Pac-12, I am sticking with Washington until someone unseats them. USC is getting an awful lot of love, but I want to see it to believe it. We heard last preseason how the Trojans were going to have a big season, only to be trounced 52-6 by Alabama in the opening weekend. Then again, Alabama also disposed of the Huskies, as well, 3 months later in a Playoff win, 24-7. Stanford and Utah are 2 teams that could also make some noise.
The Big 10 is a crap-shoot. No idea who to pick here. Ohio State is the preseason favorite, but they were exposed in the Fiesta Bowl in a 31-0 drubbing to Clemson. I am not sure how they could be 31 points better now and be the #2 team in the country, in front of the Tigers, but so they were voted. Michigan is right there, too, but we all know that Coach Jim Harbaugh will do something weird as hell in the next few months to knock his team from the national picture. Penn State is legit under Coach James Franklin - they might end up being the team to make it. Wisconsin is strong every year. I have much respect for the Badger program.
MY PLAYOFF TEAMS WAY TOO EARLY:
* Alabama - The Tide have LSU and Tennessee at home, and should breeze through the rest of the schedule (outside of the always tough Iron Bowl - which is in Auburn this year). In fact, if Bama isn't the SEC team to go to the Playoff, keep your eye on Auburn, who could jump the polls quickly if they win at Clemson in week 2.
* Clemson - When typing in Clemson, this is no disrespect to Louisville or Florida State. I realize the Tigers have had their hands full with these 2 teams the last couple of years, somehow going 4-0 against them. But I am picking Clemson based on their defense (nearly everyone returns) and that FSU will be faced in Death Valley. The loss of Deshaun Watson is enormous, but others are drooling to take his place.
* Penn State - On back-to-back weekends in October, PSU will face Michigan (home) and Ohio State (away). It will all come down to those 2 games for the Nittany Lions. I am big on Coach James Franklin and how he is stabilized this program, and I feel Michigan and Ohio State will do something along the way to eliminate themselves (shoot, the fact they play each other will eliminate one of them right there). So in the end, and not having to play Wisconsin in the regular season, I am picking Penn State to find their way into the Playoff for the first time.
* Washington - The Trojans of USC are the top choice to win the Pac-12, but I am sticking with Coach Chris Petersen and his boys up in Seattle. Petersen has done a fantastic job so far and the Huskies' berth last year added fuel to the fire he has going. I am not sure Washington is National Title caliber as of yet, but I think they will win the PAC-12 and make the Playoff.
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