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College Football Preview: Top Ten

#10: Boise State | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
Boise State has not ranked as a top 25 team at the end of the regular season in back-to-back years for the first time since 2000-01, but there's no reason to panic under coach Bryan Harsin. The Broncos return eight starters this fall, including quarterback Brett Rypien and big-play receiver Cedrick Wilson. Sophomore Alexander Mattison looks like a breakout candidate at running back to replace Jeremy McNichols. Scoring points won't be a problem for Boise State. However, how fast can the defense reload after returning just four starters and suffering key losses at each level?

#9: Stanford | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
The Cardinal might be the toughest team to rank in the North. After Keller Chryst suffered a knee injury in the Sun Bowl, the quarterback spot is a mystery. Redshirt freshman K.J. Costello could stake a claim over Ryan Burns for the starting job this spring. Regardless of which quarterback starts, expect to see plenty of Bryce Love at running back. Love has big shoes to fill in replacing Christian McCaffrey, but he's up to the task after recording 783 rushing yards in 2016. Guard Johnny Caspers is the lone starter gone from the trenches. The defense has been an annual strength under coach David Shaw and should be solid once again despite the loss of standout lineman Solomon Thomas. The secondary is the strength of Stanford's defense for 2017.

#8: Western Kentucky | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
The Hilltoppers might be more vulnerable than they were last season, especially with coach Jeff Brohm off to Purdue and the departure of five first-team All-Conference USA selections. New coach Mike Sanford is one of the offseason's top hires, and the cupboard is far from bare. Needless to say, WKU isn't going anywhere in 2017. Quarterback Mike White returns to lead a dynamic offense, three starters provide a solid foundation up front, and sophomore Lucky Jackson looks like the next standout receiver in Bowling Green.

#7: Florida State | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
The Seminoles will give the Tigers a run for the title, but must win on their turf to get to the top. Quarterback Deondre Francois returns after starting all 13 games and throwing for 3,350 yards and 20 touchdowns as a redshirt freshman in 2016. Running back Dalvin Cook left early for the NFL, but the arrival of five-star freshman Cam Akers and the return of Jacques Patrick will keep the ground game performing at a high level. Left tackle Roderick Johnson and receiver Travis Rudolph departed early for the NFL. After a rough start, Florida State's defense was much better in the second half of the 2016 season. Some of the unit's struggles have to be attributed to a talented slate of quarterbacks faced at the start of the year, along with the season-ending knee injury to safety Derwin James. All signs point to a full recovery for James. He's a huge addition to a secondary that already returns rising star Tarvarus McFadden at cornerback. End DeMarcus Walker is a big loss off the edge, but Josh Sweat is primed for a standout 2017 season, while tackle Derrick Nnadi is a force on the interior. Florida State's path to a playoff spot won't be easy. The Seminoles have to open the season against Alabama, play at Clemson and Florida, and face Louisville and Miami at home.

#6: Western Michigan | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
Western Michigan is the defending champion, but the Broncos lost a significant chunk of talent, and coach P.J. Fleck departed to Minnesota. New coach Tim Lester is a former Western Michigan quarterback and has a good idea of what it takes to win in the MAC. Lester's top priority is to find a quarterback to replace Zach Terrell and rebuild a receiving corps that will miss No. 1 target Corey Davis. While there are some significant personnel losses to overcome, Western Michigan still returns a solid one-two punch at running back with Jarvion Franklin and LaVante Bellamy and eight starters on defense.

#5: Wisconsin | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
After facing one of the nation's toughest schedules in 2016, the 2017 slate is a little lighter for Wisconsin and coach Paul Chryst. A trip to Provo to take on BYU is the toughest matchup in non-conference play, and the Badgers host Michigan and catch Indiana and Maryland in crossover play. That's a lot easier than facing Ohio State at home, taking on LSU in non-conference play and making road trips to Michigan State and Michigan as this team did in 2016. With Bart Houston expiring his eligibility, Alex Hornibrook should assume the full-time job under center. However, the formula for success – a strong rushing attack and offensive line – isn't going to change. Running back Corey Clement departs, but Pitt transfer Chris James, Bradrick Shaw and Taiwan Deal is a capable trio. The loss of tackle Ryan Ramczyk is the biggest concern in the trenches. Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox left to take the head coaching job at California, and this unit must replace standout linebackers T.J. Watt and Vince Biegel. The return of Jack Cichy and Chris Orr from injury should alleviate some of the concerns about the departure of Watt and Biegel.

#4: Oklahoma | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
The Sooners have a few holes to fill, but the Sooners are in good shape to claim the Big 12 title in 2017. After setting a new NCAA quarterback rating record (196.4), Baker Mayfield should be one of the frontrunners to win the Heisman next fall. Mayfield's supporting cast experienced some turnover after running backs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon declared for the NFL Draft and standout receiver Dede Westbrook expired his eligibility. The Sooners have options at running back with Abdul Adams and Rodney Anderson the expected frontrunners for carries, and junior college recruit Marquise Brown should help right away at receiver. In addition to Mayfield, the strength of the offense should be a line that returns all five starters from the Sugar Bowl and guard Cody Ford is back from injury. Although the transition to a new set of skill players won't be easy, the biggest concern for Oklahoma remains on defense. Can this unit take a step forward after losing linebacker Jordan Evans, linemen Jordan Wade and Austin Roberts and safety Ahmad Thomas? The losses aren't too heavy, especially with rush linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo returning and the emergence of Caleb Kelly. As a freshman linebacker, Kelly finished with 36 tackles and ended the year by recording 12 in the win over Auburn in the Sugar Bowl. Jordan Thomas is back to anchor one side of the secondary, with Jordan Parker (eight starts as a freshman) expected to handle the other side. Safety Steven Parker should contend for All-America honors.

#3: Ohio State | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
Even though Ohio State reached the CFB Playoff in what was considered a rebuilding year, coach Urban Meyer wasn't content this offseason. The Buckeyes are making significant and needed changes on offense. Former Indiana coach Kevin Wilson was brought in as the play-caller, and Ryan Day was hired from the NFL to coach quarterbacks. The combination of Day and Wilson should provide a huge boost for Ohio State's offense and help get quarterback J.T. Barrett back to the level he played at as a freshman in 2014. The ground game is set with the return of running back Mike Weber, but the Buckeyes need to develop playmakers at receiver with the departure of Curtis Samuel and Noah Brown to the NFL. For the second year in a row, Ohio State's defense was hit hard by early departures to the next level. However, just as the Buckeyes did in 2016, this unit should rank as one of the best in college football next fall. The line is loaded with depth and talent, while finding replacements for linebacker Raekwon McMillan and defensive backs Malik Hooker, Gareon Conley and Marshon Lattimore will be the top priority for coordinator Greg Schiano.

#2: Alabama | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
Alabama enters another season as the team to beat in the SEC. Coach Nick Saban's team has its share of personnel losses on both sides of the ball, but the Crimson Tide continue to recruit at an elite level and won't suffer much of a drop off in their overall play. The nation's best defense from 2016 must replace linemen Jonathan Allen and Dalvin Tomlinson, linebackers Ryan Anderson, Tim Williams, Reuben Foster, and cornerback Marlon Humphrey. That's a deep group of talent departing to the next level, but the next wave of standouts is ready to emerge. In the trenches, tackle Da'Ron Payne and end Da'Shawn Hand anchor the line, while Rashaan Evans looks to build off a strong close to the 2016 season. The secondary could be the strength of the defense with the return of safety/cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick. The Crimson Tide also have top recruit Dylan Moses (linebacker) and touted junior college prospect Isaiah Buggs on campus for spring workouts. Even if the defense takes a small step back, the offense should be ready to pick up more of the slack in 2017. Quarterback Jalen Hurts has a full offseason to develop under coordinator Steve Sarkisian's watch, and the Crimson Tide feature one of the nation's deepest backfields with the return of Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris. Tackle Cam Robinson, receiver ArDarius Stewart and tight end O.J. Howard leave big shoes to fill on offense.

#1: Clemson | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
The Tigers lost several key players from their national championship team, but should be in position to repeat. Quarterback Deshaun Watson, running back Wayne Gallman and receivers Mike Williams and Artavis Scott are all gone as well as center Jay Guillermo and tight end Jordan Legget. The offense still has a lot of firepower: Tavien Feaster is expected to be the lead at running back, and left tackle Mitch Hyatt is one of the best in the nation. Vying to replace Watson under center will be junior Kelly Bryant, true freshman Hunter Johnson and redshirt freshman Zerrick Cooper. The defense loses tackle Carlos Watkins, linebacker Ben Boulware, cornerback Cordrea Tankersley and safety Jadar Johnson. But coordinator Brent Venables is one of the best in the nation and should have this unit performing at a high level early in the 2017 campaign. End Christian Wilkins and tackle Dexter Lawrence are two of the top returning linemen in college football next year.

D1SportsNet



July 27, 2017