With National Signing Day and Draft Declarations out the way, we finally have a pretty good feel for what every roster in America will look like come next fall. With that being said, it seems like a great time for a Way Too Early Top 25.
List compiled by Charlie Wooding and Brian Franklin
You already know the deal here. They bring back a few nice pieces, replace some NFL 1st rounders with future NFL 1st rounders, and we check back in during the playoff. See you then.
The Noles landed the top class in the ACC which includes Marvin Wilson the top defensive tackle in the country. The defense was inconsistent and downright bad last season, Wilson should help stabilize their line. FSU also had the difficult job of replacing Dalvin Cook and were able to a pair of top 40 backs. The biggest key is the return and maturation of Deondre Francois, a step forward could easily vault him into the Heisman talk.
Sam Darnold returns as a Stiff Arm trophy favorite. Sure, the Trojans lost their fair share of talent to the NFL draft, including star WR JuJu Smith and CB/WR/Returner Adoree Jackson, but guys like Ronald Jones III are back, and USC always recruits well, so no reason to be too concerned. With a QB like Darnold the Trojans are clear title contenders.
An overhauled coaching staff, the #2 recruiting class and the return of J.T. Barrett are a good start to a successful 2017 for Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes. Oh, and they return 15 total starters from a playoff team last season. They will need to make up for the loss of Curtis Samuel, who seemed to be the king of big plays for OSU last season.
The dynamic backfield of Trace McSorely and Saquan Barkley returns, giving PSU arguably the best backfield in the country. Multiple offensive starters return along with them, including a couple top targets DaSean Hamilton and DeAndre Thompkins. Watch out for 2016 signee 5* RB Miles Sanders, a backfield of him and Barkley could dominate.
Bob Stoops lost plenty of talent at the skill positions, most notably: Dede Westbrook, Samaje Perine and scumbag Joe Mixon. He does, however, return 7 defensive starters and 8 on offense including Heisman finalist Baker Mayfield. Oklahoma is going to bring in Ju-Co running back Marcelias Sutton and one of the top receivers in the class Marquise Brown. Stoops and co will have plenty to work with as they look to make a playoff run.
Oklahoma State capped off a great 2016 season with an Alamo Bowl win over Colorado, and looks primed for a big 2017 behind the returning duo of QB Mason Rudolph and WR James Washington. Mike Gundy and one of the best returning QB-WR duo’s promises for a big year.
Gus needs to get his head out of his ass this season. Malzahn brings in a top 10 rated class this year. He had multiple chances to make a run at the SEC title and even the playoffs, but couldn’t realize that Shaun White wasn’t the answer to his offensive issues. Enter Jarrett Stidham a Baylor transfer and QB problems are a thing of the past for Gus. They return 9 offensive starters and 8 guys on defense from one of the best units in the country.
No team in the country will have more talent this year than the Georgia Bulldogs in Kirby Smart’s 2nd season at the helm. Georgia returns almost all the important players, including offensive stars QB Jacob Eason, RB’s Nick Chubb and Sony Michel and TE Isaac Nauta. On defense, they bring back young emerging stars DT Trenton Thompson and LB Roquan Smith and Rush Linebacker Lorenzo Carter. I’m not ready to declare this season “Make or Break” for Kirby Smart, but with this much talent, a BCS bowl needs to be the goal.
No love for the reigning champs and for good reason, they lose a TON of talent from that team. Ben Boulware, Mike Williams, Artavis Scott, Wayne Gallman and Deshaun Watson, gone. That’s a whole hell of a lot. Dabo responded with another top 10 class highlighted by quarterback Hunter Johnson and #2 receiver Tee Higgins. 7 returning starters on defense give the Tigers hope to compete for a playoff spot.
Much like Alabama, the names returning aren’t too important. This team is going to play good defense, run the football and win the turnover battle. The potential addition of ND QB Transfer Malik Zaire could really spice things up for the Wisconsin offense, but even without him returning starter Alex Hornibrook should be totally adequate.
Year One of the Coach O era and he had the task of replacing some great talent. He did so by landing the #7 class in the country. And finally, an LSU coach addressed the issue that has hampered them for what seems like a decade, he signed TWO top 10 quarterbacks. This could (hopefully) spell the end for Danny Etling. The defense loses a ton and only returns 5 starters, but dammit is O a motivator. Don’t sleep on the Tigers.
Their defense impressed in their playoff loss vs. Alabama, but sadly most the difference makers from that unit are gone. Between graduation and the draft the Huskies lost Elijah Qualls, Psalm Wooching, Sidney Jones, Budda Baker and Kevin King. The defense just doesn’t promise to be the unit it was in 2016. Lucky for Washington, Chris Peterson is a terrific coach and the Offense looks to be in a great place with the returns of Jake Browning and Myles Gaskin. All in all its tough to see Washington recapturing the magic of 2016.
The Cardinals return Heisman-winner Lamar Jackson, but desperately needed to find a way to protect him as he got absolutely hammered week in and week out. Louisville returns 7 starters from a good defensive unit, but if they can protect Jackson they will absolutely compete in the ACC.
No team in these rankings loses more than Michigan heading into 2017. The vaunted defense that carried them for most of the year is all but gone, and the majority of their o-line and receiving core also departs. The good news? Their QB is back, Harbaugh is still the coach, and he has recruited exceptionally well. Look out for rising sophomore Rashan Gary to have a huge season, and 5* Freshman Donovan Peoples-Jones to become the new go-to target after the departure of Jake Butt.
Gone is Christian McCaffrey, but the Cardinal return 16 (!!) starters total including 9 on defense. Plenty of talent left in Palo Alto for David Shaw to make a run at the Pac-12 title. Stanford adds a top-15 class to the mix highlighted by some of the best linemen in the class.
Charlie Strong’s new team might just be better than his old team this year. That plus a fat buyout should make for an enjoyable 2017. Look, the Strong hire at USF seems to be a match made in heaven. Strong kills it recruiting Florida, and the media frenzy he endured at Texas shouldn’t be such a problem at Florida’s 4th biggest football program. You would be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t thing Strong is going to make USF a perennial New Years day contender. But the time to jump on the train is right now, because this 2017 team could seriously be special. It all starts with the QB, Quinton Flowers, who has spent the last 2 years dominating the AAC and should seriously see his name of some Heisman watch lists. USF is without question the favorite to earn a spot in a New Years 6 bowl game.
Kenny Trill returns as the starter for the Frogs and they desperately need consistency from him because when he’s good, he’s one of the best quarterbacks in the country. And believe it or not, the defense should be the anchor and strong point for this team next season. A good defense in the Big 12 is nice, but you have to have a potent offense if you want to compete.
Tom Herman’s first year at Houston went about as well as you could ever hope for, but things might not be as perfect at Texas. First, star RB D’Onta Foreman is gone, and so goes the workhorse of the Longhorns offense last year. Second, the Talent level at Texas just isn’t what it used to be, and Herman’s first recruiting class didn’t do much to help that. And finally, the QB situation is still very unsettled, with sophmore Shane Buechele the likely starter. There’s still tons of potential on this team, and having guys like Malik Jefferson and Connor Williams back is a nice start, but a BCS bowl in Herman’s first year would be a huge win.
K-State was quietly 9-4 last season and returns quarterback Jesse Ertz who ran and threw for 1,000+ yards last season. The Wildcats return 4 of 5 starting linemen from last season and all but Deante Burton from their receiving corp. The recruiting class was nothing to write home about, but there is plenty of talent for Bill Snyder to work with.
New Year, New Notre Dame coaching staff. Seriously, this coaching staff went through a Kentucky Basketball type turnover, as the Irish found new coordinators in DC Mike Elko and OC Chip Long. Brian Kelly is still in charge, but 2017 is looking like a make or break year for him. In terms of the actual players, RS Sophomore Brandon Wimbush will take over for likely 1st round pick DeShone Kizer. Wimbush has been a practice superstar for 2 years now and finally will have the chance to show off his prodigious arm and legs. All reports are he will be able to more than replicate Kizer’s production, so the offense will hopefully keep humming behind him, a sturdy offensive line, returning WR Equanimous St. Brown and recently un-suspended TE Alize Jones. On defense, the Irish have to hope Mike Elko can turn around what was a pretty brutal unit in 2016. Lucky for Elko Notre Dame does bring back star LB Nyles Morgan, but the Talent level surrounding him probably isn’t where it needs to be for a big time bowl game.
Luke Falk is back along with 9 defensive starters and this is a dangerous Washington State team for Mike Leach. Leach brought in a class heavy with receivers and offensive linemen looking to surround Falk with as much talent as possible. He also landed the #9 dual-threat quarterback in the country Connor Neville to prep for Falk’s departure. There is a lot to like about this Cougar team and it starts with Falk.
Florida has transformed from the Tim Tebow-Urban Meyer days and is now the un-sexy SEC East team who seemingly finds a way to go 9-3 and get killed by Alabama in the SEC title game every year. If they ever want to take that next step it’s going to take some offensive firepower, so hopefully QB Luke Del Rio can improve on his previous seasons. If not, look out for rising sophomore Feleipe Franks to possibly inject something into this offense. The Gators do lose their star CB’s Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson, but recruiting talent to the defense has never been a problem for the Gators. Until the QB situation changes, however, get ready for another 8-4 or 9-3 year for Florida.
The Canes lose Brad Kaaya but return 6 offensive starters and 8 on the defensive side of the ball. Mark Richt’s class was full of linemen on both sides of the ball. The biggest question mark is the quarterback replacement, they have about 4 guys fighting for the job, with Sophomore Malik Rosier tabbed as the favorite.
Dana Holgerson entered 2016 on the Hot Seat and went out and had one of WVU’s best seasons since the Pat White days. While they lost their fair share of talent from that team, Florida Transfer Will Grier is primed to take over at QB, and top playmakers Shelton Gibson and Justin Crawford both return. With those 3 in place look-out for a possibly dynamic WVU offense in the Big 12 this season.