PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 02:  Quarterback Sam Darnold #14 of the USC Trojans passes the ball against the Penn State Nittany Lions during the 2017 Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual at the Rose Bowl on January 2, 2017 in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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A Look Ahead: CFT’s Way-Too-Early 2017 Top 25

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The last bit of confetti has barely settled onto the Raymond James Stadium turf and the carcass of the 2016 season isn’t even cold yet, and we’re already rolling out a way-too-early Top 25 for the 2017 season? Yep. Because that’s how we roll. Or something.

In our role as preseason Nostradumbass, the first 10 of CFT’s Top 25 consisted of No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Florida State, No. 4 Clemson, No. 5 LSU, No. 6 Notre Dame (ouch), No. 7 Washington (yeah us!), No. 8 TCU, No. 9 Michigan State (whoops) and No. 10 Tennessee. A little over 4½ months later?

Three of the four playoff participants were in our Top 10; the fourth, Ohio State, was just outside at No. 11. While not No. 1, Oklahoma came into the postseason ranked seventh in the College Football Playoff Top 25, and will likely move up thanks to the 16-point Sugar Bowl win over No. 14 Auburn (not in our preseason Top 25). Florida State (No. 11), LSU (No. 20) and Tennessee (No. 21) were all ranked at least eight spots lower when the postseason began, but all three won their respective bowl games.

On the flip side, TCU, at 6-6, earned a bowl bid… and subsequently lost to finish under .500. And then there was Notre Dame and Michigan State, which combined to win a total of seven games so let’s just forget about that and move on.

The point of this whole review-before-we-look-ahead exercise? Preseason polls are meaningless — but not nearly as meaningless as polls produced nearly eight months ahead of the start of a new season. With that in mind, enjoy this way-to-early Top 25 that will put the “mean” in meaningless. And the “less” in it, for that matter.

Oh, and as always, feel free to complain/whine/moan/bitch away in the comments section below.

NO. 1 USC
WHY? As a redshirt freshman, Sam Darnold emerged as one of the most electrifying playmakers at the quarterback position in college football, and should, to the chagrin of opponents, get even better with a full offseason as the man at the position.  Winning nine straight to close out the season doesn’t hurt either.
WHY NOT? There’s always at least one team that’s way overhyped — hello 2016 Notre Dame — and the hoopla and attention proves to be too much for the young Trojans to bear.

NO. 2 ALABAMA
WHY? Nick Saban + top-ranked recruiting classes year-in, year-out + a burning desire to be the greatest there ever was at this level = a permanent spot inside the Top 10 as long as The Nicktator resides in Tuscaloosa.
WHY NOT? An NFL team (finally) entices Saban to go back and finish what he started — and abruptly ended — in the big boy league of football.  It’s not going to happen, of course, but that’s about the only thing that could derail the Crimson Tide juggernaut — well, that and a Tiger named Deshaun.

Clemson v Florida StateNO. 3 FLORIDA STATE
WHY? The Seminoles are once again loaded with top-flight talent on both sides of the ball and at every positional unit, with Deondre Francois showing flashes in his first season as the starter of being one of the best young quarterbacks in the sport.
WHY NOT? They face Alabama on a (ahem) neutral field to open the season, then travel to Gainesville to face Florida in the regular-season finale.  In between, there’s a trip to Death Valley for their annual ACC Atlantic grudge match with Clemson.

NO. 4 OKLAHOMA
WHY? With Baker Mayfield returning, and the rest of the conference still trying to play catch-up, the Sooners are clearly the cream of the Big 12 crop.
WHY NOT? The twin backfield loses of Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine can’t be overcome and Mayfield has to shoulder too much of the offensive burden. Plus, the road trips to Ohio State, Baylor and Oklahoma State for Bedlam.

NO. 5 WASHINGTON
WHY? They have a talented arm in quarterback Jake Browning, a very staunch defense and a schedule that’s very favorable, with the toughest road game being the trip to Stanford.
WHY NOT? They are losing a significant amount of talent that helped get them to the College Football Playoffs.

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl - Ohio State v ClemsonNO. 6 OHIO STATE
WHY? Given the personnel losses after the 2015 season, 2016 was thought to be a rebuilding year but turned into another playoff appearance.  The target was always the 2017 season for this young Buckeyes team, and a squad loaded with this much talent will be a factor throughout.
WHY NOT? J.T Barrett continues to regress as a quarterback despite Urban Meyer shaking up the top of his offensive coaching staff, and none of the other young quarterbacks are quite ready for prime time.

NO. 7 CLEMSON
WHY? Despite losing a couple of pieces, Brent Venables‘ defense will once again be one of the best in the nation.  The Tigers won 10 or more games in each of the three seasons prior to Deshaun Watson‘s arrival, so it’s far from a one-man show that Dabo Swinney has built.
WHY NOT? Losing Watson, a three-year starter at quarterback, proves to be too much as his replacement simply can’t handle the burden.

NO. 8 MICHIGAN
WHY? For all of his well-publicized off-field antics, Jim Harbaugh is simply one of the best head coaches in the sport and will settle for nothing less than getting his beloved Wolverines back into the national title discussion on an annual basis.  Wilton Speight was a breakout star in 2016 and should flourish despite the loss of his quarterbacks coach, while Don Brown continues to be one of the best defensive minds in the game.
WHY NOT? Too much talent was lost to the NFL, and Harbaugh simply hasn’t gotten the requisite time to completely restock the cupboard in Ann Arbor to compete with the Ohio States of the college football world.

Oklahoma State v BaylorNO. 9 OKLAHOMA STATE
WHY? One of the best quarterback-wide receiver tandems in the country, Mason Rudolph and James Washington, eschewed an early shot at the NFL and returned for one more season in Stillwater.
WHY NOT? A defense that was 53rd in scoring as it was loses nearly half its starters, plus OSU will have to play at Pittsburgh, Texas and West Virginia.

NO. 10 PENN STATE
WHY? They return a bunch of talent from their Big Ten-winning squad, including Heisman contenders in quarterback Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley, and get Michigan, Nebraska and Pittsburgh in Happy Valley.
WHY NOT? They lost a very talented wide receiver in Chris Godwin and have to play at Iowa, Michigan State and Ohio State.

NO. 11 STANFORD
NO. 12 AUBURN
NO. 13 TEXAS
NO. 14 LSU
NO. 15 WISCONSIN
NO. 16 LOUISVILLE
NO. 17 GEORGIA
NO. 18 WEST VIRGINIA
NO. 19 SOUTH FLORIDA
NO. 20 FLORIDA
NO. 21 KANSAS STATE
NO. 22 COLORADO
NO. 23 WASHINGTON STATE
NO. 24 SAN DIEGO STATE
NO. 25 OREGON

Reports: Oklahoma RB Joe Mixon declares for 2017 NFL Draft

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 02:  Joe Mixon #25 of the Oklahoma Sooners reacts after a touchdown against the Auburn Tigers during the Allstate Sugar Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 2, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
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To the surprise of nobody, Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon is moving on from Norman and is headed to the 2017 NFL Draft.

Reports from The Oklahoman and ESPN both reported the news on Thursday night ahead of an official announcement by the school.

The controversial tailback was the star of the team’s romp over Auburn in the Sugar Bowl, rushing for 91 yards and two touchdowns to go along with his game-high five receptions for 89 yards. Mixon wraps up his two year career with the Sooners with 2,027 rushing yards and 894 receiving yards on 65 receptions.

While Mixon was one of the best running backs in the country between the lines, his actions off the field largely defined his reputation. Just after arriving on campus as a five-star true freshman, Mixon punched a woman in a 2014 incident that forced him to take a plea deal with prosecutors and caused him to miss the entire season as a school-imposed punishment.

Fellow back Samaje Perine already announced his intentions to declare for the draft, giving Oklahoma two departures from the backfield in as many days. Rising sophomore Abdul Adams is expected to take over as the top option in the ground game for what should be a somewhat thin position for the defending Big 12 champions.

Joe Mixon stars as No. 7 OU overpowers No. 14 Auburn in Sugar Bowl

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 02:  Joe Mixon #25 of the Oklahoma Sooners scores a touchdown over Joshua Holsey #15 of the Auburn Tigers during the Allstate Sugar Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 2, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
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Oklahoma’s stars shined as the seventh-ranked Sooners pulled away from an overmatched No. 14 Auburn, cruising to a 35-19 Sugar Bowl victory on Monday night.

The Sooners were led by Joe Mixon, the center of attention both on and off the field throughout the night. Trailing 7-0 early in the second quarter and facing a 3rd-and-22 (one play after a Carl Lawson offsides penalty negated what would have been an Auburn stop), Mixon hauled in a 32-yard reception to extend the drive. Baker Mayfield tied the game five plays later on a 13-yard touchdown pass to Mark Andrews.

After a Daniel Carlson field goal nudged Auburn back in front, Mixon gave Oklahoma (11-2) a lead it would not relinquish when he plunged in from three yards out to put the Sooners up 14-10 with 3:37 to play in the first half. Mixon later added a 4-yard touchdown run and finished the night rushing 19 times for 91 yards and two touchdowns with a game-high five grabs for 89 yards.

That’s not to say Mixon was the only star of the night for Oklahoma, though. Mayfield (19-of-28 passing for 296 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, four rushes for 34 yards) connected with Dede Westbrook six times for 59 yards and a 7-yard touchdown strike on the first drive of the third quarter. Needing 83 yards to top Billy Sims‘s all-time rushing record of 4,118 yards (including bowl games), Samaje Perine carried 16 times for 86 yards and a 2-yard touchdown. He finishes his third season in Norman with 4,121 career rushing yards.

Overall, Oklahoma rushed 43 times for 228 yards (5.3 a carry) and rolled up 524 total yards on 7.38 yards per play.

Auburn (8-5) started the game extremely well, opening with a ground-based 14-play, 75-yard touchdown drive punctuated by a 3-yard Chandler Cox touchdown plunge on a 4th-and-2. But quarterback Sean White reportedly broke his arm on a rush one play before that and, though he would go on to play most of the first half, was ultimately replaced by John Franklin III. Franklin led Auburn to a second Carlson field goal to pull the Tigers within 14-13 at the half but did not dent the scoreboard in the second half before leaving with an injury of his own. Jeremy Johnson finished the game for Auburn; the three signal callers combined to complete 12-of-26 passes for 153 yards with an end zone interception tossed by Johnson. Kamryn Pettway led all rushers with 24 carries for 101 yards, and Kerryon Johnson rushed nine times for 33 yards. Johnson also tossed a 1-yard jump pass touchdown to Jalen Harris on the final play of the game, a play Auburn coach Gus Malzahn called two timeouts to set up with his team trailing by 22 at the time.

The win extends Oklahoma’s winning streak over the hated SEC to four games, its overall winning streak to 10 and, equally important in this College Football Playoff era, pushes the Big 12 into 2017 with a 4-2 overall bowl record, including two wins over the SEC in three tries.

VIDEO: Joe Mixon motions for more noise as Auburn fans chant ‘He hits women!’

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 02:  Joe Mixon #25 of the Oklahoma Sooners reacts after scoring a touchdown against the Auburn Tigers during the Allstate Sugar Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 2, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
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Monday night’s Sugar Bowl represents Joe Mixon‘s first game since video of the Oklahoma running back punching a female OU student in 2014 finally surfaced last month.

Mixon has previously used the incident for motivation, dedicating the 2015 season “to (his) haters” in a since-deleted tweet, and appeared to have done so again Monday night. While it’s impossible to know what Mixon and Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield heard on the field, it’s a fact that both players motioned for the crowd to make more noise as ESPN cameras captured Auburn fans chanting “He hits women!”

That wasn’t the only unfortunate response to the event, as Brent Musburger addressed the incident as if Mixon was overcoming a failed class or a turned ankle.

Musburger later addressed those comments after, apparently, being told he was now trending on Twitter.

As those issues swirled around the field, Mixon is in the midst of a standout night on the Superdome turf. At press time, Mixon had carried 11 times for 52 yards and a touchdown with a game-high four receptions for 80 yards as Oklahoma enjoyed a 21-13 early third quarter lead over Auburn.

Oklahoma leads Auburn as Sean White heads to locker room

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 02:  Joe Mixon #25 of the Oklahoma Sooners runs with the ball against the Auburn Tigers during the Allstate Sugar Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 2, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
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The combination of Baker Mayfield and Joe Mixon has shined, and Oklahoma holds a 14-13 lead over Auburn midway through the Sugar Bowl. The Tigers are playing without starting quarterback Sean White; ESPN’s Kaylee Hartung reported White had his right forearm examined by Dr. James Andrews inside the Superdome.

Auburn posted the only score of the first quarter, a vintage Gus Malzahn-Auburn drive. The Tigers moved 75 yards in 14 plays over nearly six minutes, running on all but two of those 14 snaps — including a 3-yard Chandler Cox plunge on 4th-and-2.

Oklahoma tied the game early in the second quarter, trudging 90 yards in 14 plays with major help from Auburn defensive end Carl Lawson. The Sooners were momentarily forced off the field after not converting a 3rd-and-27 from their own 34, but an offside penalty provided OU another shot, and Mayfield made the most of it with a 30-yard completion to Mixon. Mayfield completed the drive with a 13-yard scoring strike to tight end Mark Andrews.

After a 49-yard Daniel Carlson nudged Auburn back ahead with 7:16 left in the second quarter, Oklahoma grabbed its first lead with a 75-yard drive keyed by a 26-yard strike from Mayfield to Dede Westbrook on 4th-and-4 from the Auburn 29. Mixon plunged in from three yards out one play later to hand Oklahoma a 14-10 lead with 3:37 left in the frame. Mixon finished the half carrying 10 times for 45 yards and a score with three receptions for a game-high 73 yards. Mayfield has hit 8-of-14 passes for 145 yards and a touchdown.

John Franklin III entered for White on Auburn’s final drive of the half and hit 2-of-4 passes for 21 yards while adding two rushes for nine yards. More importantly, Franklin guided Auburn 63 yards in 10 plays to set up Carlson for a 39-yard field goal with 41 seconds left in the half. Kamryn Pettway has led the Tigers’ attack with 18 carries for 79 yards; as a team, Auburn has rushed 29 times for 123 yards.

Oklahoma will receive to open the second half.