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

Wisconsin launches early Heisman campaign for RB Jonathan Taylor

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The Heisman Trophy has generally been synonymous with the best quarterback on one of the best teams in recent years but there have been a few running backs who have broken through to win the most prestigious award in all of college football.

Hoping to become the next tailback to break the signal-callers’ grip on the stiff arm? That would be Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor, who appears to have a budding campaign for the trophy that was launched by the school on Thursday:

Herschel Walker. Ron Dayne. Ricky Williams. Adrian Peterson. LaDainian Tomlinson. Dominant running backs. Legendary names. Unrivaled production … until now,” one tagline reads. “There’s a new kid on the block and he’s “Bringing Running Back,” back into the spotlight, just like those that came before him. And his name is Jonathan Taylor.”

The website goes through all of the notable stats that Taylor has piled up in just two seasons in Madison and while it doesn’t explicitly say everything is designed to raise the junior’s awareness ahead of Big Ten Media Days and the upcoming 2019 campaign, it does note that his fellow Wisconsin Doak Walker Award winners have all been finalists in New York at some point in their career.

i.e. hint, hint media this guy is pretty good.

And nobody is debating that after he has set numerous records during his first two years on campus. Key to actually making it to New York though might be how Taylor’s team does around him. If the Badgers can get back to being in contention for the Big Ten title once again in 2019, chances are high that the tailback’s play will play a bigger part in getting him the attention he deserves than a website and a hashtag.

Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy headlines 2019 Biletnikoff Award Watch List

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Media Day season is also Watch List season and the latest to surface for the 2019 campaign comes out of Tallahassee in the form of the Biletnikoff Award Watch List. The award, given annually to the nation’s most outstanding receiver, includes the defending winner in Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy and fellow semifinalist Tylan Wallace out of Oklahoma State, as well as a number of other talented pass-catchers from around the country.

Here’s the full list, which is a good general overview of the best wide receivers and tight ends for the upcoming season even if a few names can gripe about being left off:

Lynn Bowden, Jr. (Kentucky)

Rico Bussey, Jr. (North Texas)

Cedric Byrd (Hawaii)

Grant Calcaterra (Oklahoma)

Damonte Coxie (Memphis)

Gabriel Davis (UCF)

Bryan Edwards (South Carolina)

D’Wayne Eskridge (Western Michigan)

Aaron Fuller (Washington)

Antonio Gandy-Golden (Liberty)

KJ Hamler (Penn State)

Adrian Hardy (Louisiana Tech)

Damon Hazelton (Virginia Tech)

Tee Higgins (Clemson)

K.J. Hill (Ohio State)

Isaiah Hodgins (Oregon State)

Justin Jefferson (LSU)

Jerry Jeudy (Alabama)

Tyler Johnson (Minnesota)

Collin Johnson (Texas)

CeeDee Lamb (Oklahoma)

Ty Lee (Middle Tennessee State)

Kalija Lipscomb (Vanderbilt)

McLane Mannix (Texas Tech)

Kirk Merritt (Arkansas State)

Riley Miller (Ball State)

Denzel Mims (Baylor)

Darnell Mooney (Tulane)

Rondale Moore (Purdue)

Albert Okwuegbunam (Missouri)

K.J. Osborn (Miami)

Dezmon Patmon (Washington State)

Jared Pinkney (Vanderbilt)

Michael Pittman, Jr. (USC)

James Proche (SMU)

Jalen Reagor (TCU)

Jared Rice (Fresno State)

Sean Riley (Syracuse)

Reggie Roberson, Jr. (SMU)

Justyn Ross (Clemson)

Henry Ruggs III (Alabama)

Laviska Shenault, Jr. (Colorado)

JD Spielman (Nebraska)

Amon-Ra St. Brown (USC)

Marquez Stevenson (Houston)

Tamorrion Terry (Florida State)

Jaylen Waddle (Alabama)

Tylan Wallace (Oklahoma State)

JoJo Ward (Hawaii)

Quez Watkins (Southern Miss)

Ryan Day isn’t going to name Justin Fields as Ohio State’s starting QB just yet

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Almost as soon as Justin Fields’ waiver to play right away in 2019 was approved, the Georgia transfer was pegged as Ohio State’s starting quarterback.

Ryan Day, however, is picking up this whole being a head coach at media day thing pretty good because the new leader of the Buckeyes offense declined to anoint Fields as the starter despite ample evidence that he’s the guy for the job.

“It’s an interesting situation. Whoever is playing in that first game will be the first time. Justin and Gunnar (Hoak) are going to compete like heck to go win the job,” Day said from the podium at Big Ten Media Days on Thursday. “At the end of the day, it’s going to come down to who can play the game.”

Hoak, who grad transferred over from Kentucky, was a key pickup for the program in the offseason not just to provide some competition for Fields but to provide much-needed depth after a host of quarterbacks left for other schools. While he has experience playing in five games last year with the Wildcats, there’s a gap in terms of natural talent between him and Fields.

Day seems likely to stick to his timetable of naming the starter a few weeks into camp but it still seems pretty clear as to who eventually will take over for Dwayne Haskins under center for the scarlet and gray.

Still though, you have to hand it to the rookie for going full on coach-speak when it came to his signal-caller at his very first media day in charge.

Big Ten’s Jim Delany upset with College Football Playoff Selection Committee

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Thursday marked the final Big Ten Media Days press conference for outgoing commissioner Jim Delany.

While his appearance was fairly low-key all things considered, the longtime college athletics stalwart didn’t hold back when it came to discussing his league and the College Football Playoff, lobbing some critical comments towards the Selection Committee in particular.

“I wish we had a little more continuity. I wish they would demonstrate as well as state the stronger commitment to strength of schedule,” Delany said. “We should be playing comparable schedules and if we’re not, there should be somewhat to differentiate that.”

The Big Ten has missed out on the playoff the past two seasons and saw its champion be skipped over in another year for a divisional runner-up.

Delany also voiced support for something suggested by Big 12 counterpart Bob Bowlsby to require all teams to play at least 10 Power Five opponents in a season, helping even out the difference between eight and nine conference slates.

“I’ve been disappointed, quite honestly, about the strength of schedule,” he added. “We’re not going to change. There may be pressure to change, but I think that’s short-selling our fans, our players, our TV partners. I’m hoping that the committee catches up with the intent of the founders.”