A Look Ahead: CFT’s Way-Too-Early 2018 Top 25

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The last bit of confetti has barely settled onto the Mercedes-Benz Stadium turf and the carcass of the 2017 season isn’t even cold yet, and we’re already rolling out a way-too-early Top 25 for the 2018 season? Yep. Because that’s how we roll. Or were told by our bosses to roll.  Or something.

In our role as preseason Nostradumbass, the first 10 of CFT’s Top 25 consisted of No. 1 Ohio State, No. 2 USC, No. 3 Florida State, No. 4 Alabama, No. 5 Penn State, No. 6 Oklahoma State, No. 7 Washington, No. 8 Stanford, No. 9 Clemson and No. 10 Oklahoma. A little over 4½ months later?

Three of the four playoff participants, Alabama, Clemson and Oklahoma, were in our Top 10; the fourth, Georgia, stood at No. 14.  Ohio State (No. 5), USC (No. 8) and Penn State (No. 9) all currently sit inside of the Top 10 of the College Football Playoff rankings heading into the postseason, while Washington (No. 11), Stanford (No. 13) and Oklahoma State (No. 19) are all in the Top 25.

The biggest swing and a miss was the one that everyone whiffed on: Florida State.  After beginning the year No. 3 in the country in both major polls as well as our little Top 25 contribution, FSU tied for its worst record (7-6 in 2006, 2007, 2009) since 1976, going 5-6 in the second season under Bobby Bowden.

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-too-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.  Not that you need permission to do that, of course.

NO. 1 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.  Or he gets bored with winning and abruptly up and quits.  Neither of those are going to happen, of course, but those are about the only things that could derail the Crimson Tide juggernaut — unless the looming quarterback “controversy” gets away from him.

NO. 2 OHIO STATE
WHY? 12, 12, 14, 12, 11, 12.  Those are the win totals for the Buckeyes since Urban Renewal came to Columbus.  With a No. 2 recruiting class (thus far) this year added to Top Five groups each of the past four years that have added running back J.K. Dobbins, defensive end Nick Bosa and many others, OSU, like ‘Bama, is a perennial playoff contender.
WHY NOT? With eighth-year senior J.T. Barrett‘s departure, it leaves OSU inexperienced under center since Barrett’s first season as the starter back in 1986 (or 2014 if you want to get technical).  Some Buckeye fans, though, despite Barrett’s record-setting production, will view the departure as a positive.  Road trips to Michigan State, Penn State and what’s close to a home game against TCU aren’t exactly optimal.

NO. 3 GEORGIA
WHY? Kirby Smart is Nick Saban Jr., and has taken The Process from Tuscaloosa and brought it to Athens.  Jake Fromm was in his first season as a starter and helped lead the Bulldogs to the national championship game as a true freshman.  And that upcoming schedule?  Middle Tennessee State, UMass and an FCS school along with the annual in-state rivalry game with Georgia Tech make up the nonconference slate, while they get Auburn at home as one of the two crossover conference games (travel to LSU as well).
WHY NOT? In Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, they lose running backs who have combined to rush for nearly 8,300 yards and 77 touchdowns the past four seasons, including over 2,400 yards and 31 touchdowns this season.  Losing the best defensive player in the country, linebacker Roquan Smith, to the NFL draft early won’t help either.

NO. 4 MIAMI
WHY? The Hurricanes seemed poised for a breakout 2018 campaign, then returned to the national stage ahead of projections before crashing and burning in losing its last three games.  With 2018 on the horizon, a significant amount of talent returns to a Mark Richt-led squad that played in its first-ever ACC championship game.
WHY NOT? Richt brought with him to South Beach what pushed him out of Athens: a penchant for building good teams, but teams not quite good enough to contend with the best the conference has to offer.  A neutral-field game against LSU in the opener should be a good gauge for where The U stands moving forward.

NO. 5 WISCONSIN
WHY? The Badgers are the absolute class of the Big Ten West, with no one in that division even in UW’s zip code quite yet.  Jonathan Taylor broke Adrian Peterson‘s single-season FBS freshman rushing record, and will obviously return for another run at feeding the beast that is UW’s running game.
WHY NOT? Unless Scott Frost very quickly turns around his alma mater Nebraska — and don’t count that out given his work at UCF — seemingly the only thing that can prevent the Badgers from a third straight Big Ten championship game appearance and fifth in seven years is myriad injuries.  They do, though, have to travel to Iowa, Michigan, Northwestern and Penn State, so there’s that as well.

NO. 6 CLEMSON
WHY? If Kirby Smart is Nick Saban Jr., Dabo Swinney is Saban’s twin brother from another mother.  In the makeup and building of Clemson into a veritable college football powerhouse, and especially defensively, Swinney’s teams are eerily reminiscent of what Saban has done in Tuscaloosa — albeit with a different offensive lean.  As long as Swinney is in Death Valley, you can go ahead and consider the Tigers a year-in, year-out Top-10 lock.
WHY NOT? Saban leaves for the NFL and Swinney takes over at his alma mater.  That’s about all that will keep Clemson from being a factor on the national stage yet again.

NO. 7 WASHINGTON
WHY? We’ve had Washington at No. 7 in each of the last two Way-Too-Early Top 25 rankings; they ended the 2016 season fourth and are currently ranked 11th.  Chris Petersen has taken a Huskies football program and turned it into one that should be a 10-win team for the foreseeable future.
WHY NOT? Jake Browning‘s mini regression bleeds into another his true senior season.  After throwing for 43 touchdowns and finishing with a 167.5 efficiency rating in 2016, those numbers tumbled to 19 and 152.1 this past season.

NO. 8 MICHIGAN STATE
WHY? The Spartans return a ton of starting talent on both sides of the ball, including quarterback Brian Lewerke, running back LJ Scott — he’s led MSU in rushing each of the past three seasons – and 4/5ths of the offensive line.  MSU also gets Ohio State and Michigan at home, and doesn’t have to face Wisconsin as a crossover divisional opponent.
WHY NOT? 2017’s 10-win season was an aberration after a three-win 2016 season.  Then again, aside from that drop-off-the-cliff record, Mark Dantonio has won 11 or more games in five of six seasons, so 2016 was likely the aberration when it’s all said and done.

NO. 9 STANFORD
WHY? Bryce Love, the 2017 Heisman Trophy runner-up, defies all odds and returns to The Farm for one more year.  After the first month of the season, the Cardinal’s schedule sets up very favorably as well.
WHY NOT? After myriad wooings over the past few years, David Shaw final succumbs and gives in to the NFL’s advances.  Aside from that, Stanford’s September schedule isn’t exactly a walk in pastry park: San Diego State (10-3), USC (11-3), at Oregon (7-6), at Notre Dame (10-3).  In early November, they’ll also have to travel to Washington.

NO. 10 WEST VIRGINIA
WHY? Baker Mayfield gone from Oklahoma and Mason Rudolph out at Oklahoma State leaves Will Grier as the top returning quarterback in the pass-happy Big 12.  Tony Gibson won’t allow a defense that finished second in the conference in total defense in 2016 but slipped to seventh in 2017 to slip again; in fact, they’ll be closer to the season before last than this past one.
WHY NOT? They get what will likely be preseason Big 12 favorite TCU at home, but have tough road tests in Iowa State, Oklahoma State and Texas.

NO. 11 UCF
NO. 12 OKLAHOMA
NO. 13 TEXAS
NO. 14 PENN STATE
NO. 15 VIRGINIA TECH
NO. 16 AUBURN
NO. 17 TCU
NO. 18 USC
NO. 19 BOISE STATE
NO. 20 MICHIGAN
NO. 21 FLORIDA STATE
NO. 22 MEMPHIS
NO. 23 OKLAHOMA STATE
NO. 24 LSU
NO. 25 OREGON

Dabo Swinney says he and Kelly Bryant discussed transferring after QB’s benching

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No. 3 Clemson has formally, finally benched senior quarterback Kelly Bryant in favor of true freshman Trevor Lawrence. Football-wise, it’s the smart decision. Lawrence has thrown 60 passes through the Tigers’ first four games to Bryant’s 54, but Lawrence’s six extra passes have gone for 139 more yards and seven more touchdowns. Plus, Lawrence will be around for the next two-to-three seasons; Bryant will not.

But there is a human element to this equation that made this this obvious decision so gut-wrenching for all involved. Like Jalen Hurts at Alabama, Bryant has been the Good Soldier for Clemson. In fact, the Clemson quarterback conundrum is actually more extreme than Alabama’s. Bryant waited two years behind Deshaun Watson, led Clemson to wins in 16 of his 18 starts, including an ACC championship and a College Football Playoff appearance last season, and still lost his job to a younger player.

It’s no accident this decision came when it did. Thanks to the NCAA’s new redshirt rule, players can now compete in up to four games and not lose their entire season. Clemson is at that point this season. Bryant is a senior, meaning the next game he plays for Clemson clinches this as his last season. Or, if Bryant sits the rest of this year, he could transfer anywhere he wants and get to play his senior year again in 2019.

And it appears Clemson will leave that option open for him.

“Certainly if he walked in here today and said, ‘Hey coach, I don’t want to play the rest of the year unless you’ve got to have me,’ well ‘Ok, if that’s what you want to do I’m all for it.’ I love Kelly,” Dabo Swinney told The State. “I would be disappointed in that because we need him. But I wouldn’t judge him for that.”

Clemson quarterbacks coach Brandon Streeter broke the news to Bryant on Sunday, and Bryant had a long conversation with Swinney on Monday, after which the head coach gave his quarterback the rest of the day off.

And Swinney confirmed, in so many words, that transferring was part of that long discussion.

“We talked about lots of things. It was a deep, long, emotional conversation,” Swinney said. “It’s something that we needed to talk through and go from there.”

If indeed Bryant sits the rest of this season and transfers, his name will shoot to the top of the quarterback transfer market for 2019.

Penn State loses RB Mark Allen to season-ending injury

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While not nearly as big of a name as its upcoming opponent, Penn State too has suffered a sizable personnel loss.

At a media briefing Tuesday, James Franklin announced that Mark Allen will be sidelined for the remainder of the season because of injury.  The running back did not play in last Friday night’s win over Illinois.

Per the head coach, Allen suffered the unspecified injury during practice in the week leading up to the Week 4 game against the Fighting Illini.

As Allen is a fifth-year senior, the injury could very well be career-ending, at least at the collegiate level.  He could apply for a sixth season of eligibility with the NCAA, although it’s uncertain if that’s a tack he’ll ultimately take.

This season, Allen is fourth on the Nittany Lions with 99 yards rushing and a pair of rushing touchdowns.  In the week prior to suffering his injury, Allen ran for a career-high 62 yards in a Week 3 blowout of Kent State.

All told, Allen has rushed for 353 yards and four touchdowns during his time in Happy Valley.

SEC fines Kentucky $100,000 after fans stormed field following win over Mississippi State

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Here’s to guessing this is one six-figure check Kentucky won’t mind cutting.

Following the win over then-No. 14 Mississippi State Saturday night, a win that pushed the now-No. 17 Wildcats to 2-0 in SEC play for the first time since 1977, joyous fans of Big Blue Nation stormed the field at Commonwealth Stadium in celebration.  Tuesday afternoon, the SEC announced that, as expected, UK has been fined $100,000 for a violation of the league’s access to competition area policy that was enacted in 2004.

It was the football program’s second such violation of that policy, with the first coming after a win over South Carolina in 2014.  A third violation, and any subsequent violations for that matter, would result in a fine of $250,000 for the university.

The money generated by the fines, incidentally, is placed into the SEC’s Post-Graduate Scholarship Fund.

“The Conference has unanimously approved a policy requiring fines be applied when spectators enter the playing field after a game,” said SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said in a statement. “Fans are expected to remain in the stands and avoid the safety concerns associated with rushing on to the playing field. We want exciting experiences around SEC games, but also seek to maintain a safe environment for student-athletes, coaches, spectators and officials.”

In addition to the best start in conference play in over four decades, their 4-0 record to date is also its best start to a season since 2008.  Of course, earlier this year, they also beat Florida to snap a 31-game losing streak to the Gators.

Sunday, Kentucky entered the Associated Press Top 25 for the first time in a decade.

San Diego State to be without leading rusher for up to six weeks

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The spate of big-name running backs going down with a significant injury continues unabated, with San Diego State the latest FBS program to suffer such a fate.

During the second quarter of SDSU’s win over Eastern Michigan this past Saturday, Juwan Washington went down with some type of upper-body injury.  While head coach Rocky Long was initially optimistic that the injury wasn’t too severe, a team official confirmed to the San Diego Union-Tribune that the running back has been diagnosed with a broken clavicle.

The injury is expected to keep the junior sidelined for up to six weeks.

SDSU is on a bye in Week 5, so such a timeline means Washington would likely miss games against Boise State (Oct. 6), Air Force (Oct. 12), San Jose State (Oct. 20), Nevada (Oct. 27) and New Mexico (Nov. 3).  He would then, again based on the six-week timeline, be healthy enough to play in the Nov. 10 game against UNLV.

Through four games for the 3-1 Aztecs, Washington leads the team with 513 rushing yards and has scored five of their six touchdowns on the ground.  Chase Jasmin (233 yards) is their second-leading rusher, and has scored the only other rushing touchdown.