25. Mississippi State Bulldogs
Relative Strengths: Quarterback, Offensive Line
Relative Concerns: Passing Attack, Coaching Change
Here’s The Deal: Dan Mullen really was that good, but new head man Joe Moorhead should soon put his stamp on the offense and make it amazing, too. First, he needs QB Nick Fitzgerald to be healthy again, and next he needs the passing game to be far, far more efficient. On the other side of the ball, he’s inheriting a special defensive front.
2017 Final Season Ranking: 22
– Mississippi State 2018 Team Preview
24. Texas Longhorns
Relative Strengths: Receiver, Defensive Line
Relative Concerns: Quarterback, Offensive Line
Here’s The Deal: Yeah, this could be way, way too high if the quarterback play isn’t more consistent. The overall talent level is just okay by Longhorn standards, but Tom Herman has enough returning talent to come up with another good year on the defensive side. The offense has to do its part, and it starts with using the great receiving corps to help out the quarterbacks
2017 Final Season Ranking: 47
– Texas 2018 Team Preview
23. Florida State Seminoles
Relative Strengths: Running Back, Secondary
Relative Concerns: Offensive Line, Quarterback Situation
Here’s The Deal: Did FSU simply fall apart after starting the season with that rough loss to Alabama, or was the team just overhyped and not that good? It was a little of both, but Willie Taggart inherits a team with more than enough in place to turn things around in a hurry. It all starts with an offensive line that has to be better in pass protection.
2017 Final Season Ranking: 55
– Florida State 2018 Team Preview
22. Kansas State Wildcats
Relative Strengths: Quarterback, Offensive Line
Relative Concerns: Secondary, Receivers
Here’s The Deal: Kansas State is about to be all Kansas Statey. It’s going to run the ball well, it’s going to control the clock, it’s going to get great play from the linebackers, and the special teams will be fantastic. Can the secondary slow down anyone’s passing game? If it can, the Wildcats might just end up in the Big 12 Championship.
2017 Final Season Ranking: 42
– Kansas State 2018 Team Preview
21. TCU Horned Frogs
Relative Strengths: Linebacker, Coaching
Relative Concerns: Quarterback, Penalties
Here’s The Deal: Rock-solid all across the board, the Horned Frogs won’t have any major weakness if the quarterback play is great. Shawn Robinson is the exact right fit for what the TCU offense needs, but now he has to prove it in a full-time role. As always, the Gary Patterson defense and special teams will be top shelf.
2017 Final Season Ranking: 11
– TCU 2018 Team Preview
20. Oklahoma State Cowboys
Relative Strengths: Running Back, Linebacker
Relative Concerns: Quarterback, Defensive Line
Here’s The Deal: If you’re expecting a big drop-off, it’s not coming. Of course it’s a big deal to lose QB Mason Rudolph and WR James Washington, but it’s Oklahoma State – the offense is going to move the ball. RB Justice Hill will be amazing behind a good-enough line, and the defense might be just strong enough to carry the team in key moments.
2017 Final Season Ranking: 20
– Oklahoma State 2018 Team Preview
19. Florida Gators
Relative Strengths: Defensive Line, Secondary
Relative Concerns: Quarterback, Offensive Line
Here’s The Deal: It shouldn’t take that much of a tweak to get the Gators back on track again. Dan Mullen has the defense in place to win right away, but he needs the quarterback play to be far better and pass protection has to be there. The talent is there on the O line to be stronger.
2017 Final Season Ranking: 87
– Florida 2018 Team Preview
18. Oregon Ducks
Relative Strengths: Quarterback, Defensive Line
Relative Concerns: Consistency, Coaching
Here’s The Deal: Having a possible No. 1 overall draft pick quarterback in Justin Herbert is a nice way to start, but the rest of the Ducks have talent, too. Mario Cristobal’s defense will be among the best in the Pac-12, the offensive line is solid, and there’s upside at the skill spots. As long as Herbert is healthy, look out.
2017 Final Season Ranking: 51
– Oregon 2018 Team Preview
17. West Virginia Mountaineers
Relative Strengths: Quarterback, Receiver
Relative Concerns: Defensive Line, Punting Game
Here’s The Deal: QB Will Grier and the array of receiving weapons should lead to an explosive season from one of the Big 12’s most dangerous teams. The defensive front isn’t amazing, but the linebacking corps is good enough to make up for it. All the D has to do is hold serve from time to time. Grier and the passing game will take care of the rest.
2017 Final Season Ranking: 63
– West Virginia 2018 Team Preview
16. South Carolina Gamecocks
Relative Strengths: Quarterback, Linebacker
Relative Concerns: Secondary, Ground Game
Here’s The Deal: Getting WR Deebo Samuel back adds some pop and explosion to a passing game that should be far more dangerous. Jake Bentley is a cool, calm veteran passer, but he needs more from the ground game to help out the rest of the O. As always, the Will Muschamp defense and special teams will be strong, but it’ll be the improvement of the of the nation’s 108th-best offense that will make USC a player.
2017 Final Season Ranking: 31
– South Carolina 2018 Team Preview
15. Penn State Nittany Lions
Relative Strengths: Quarterback, Defensive Front
Relative Concerns: Offensive Line, Offensive Coordinator
Here’s The Deal: Saquon Barkley is gone as is offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead, but QB Trace McSorley is back along with a slew of great skill players to make the attack roll. Can the line give everyone time to work? The defense has some new young stars with a front seven that will dominate at times.
2017 Final Season Ranking: 8
– Penn State 2018 Team Preview
14. LSU Tigers
Relative Strengths: Offensive Line, Linebacker
Relative Concerns: Quarterback, Offensive Pop
Here’s The Deal: This is a better team than it’ll get credit for. LB Devin White and CB Greedy Williams are two of the nation’s best players for a defense that should finish in the top ten. There’s no Derrius Guice in the backfield, but the line is fantastic and Ohio State QB transfer Joe Burrow should be good enough to do more for the LSU passing game.
2017 Final Season Ranking: 37
– LSU 2018 Team Preview
13. Auburn Tigers
Relative Strengths: Quarterback, Defensive Line
Relative Concerns: Kick Coverage, Pass Protection
Here’s The Deal: A complete team with the pieces in place to potentially go back to the SEC Championship, Jarrett Stidham is one of the nation’s top quarterbacks to go along with the always strong ground game. It’s the defense that will be the star at times, with a great line – especially on the inside – anchoring a group that should finish in the top ten.
2017 Final Season Ranking: 13
– Auburn 2018 Team Preview
12. Stanford Cardinal
Relative Strengths: Running Backs, Offensive Line
Relative Concerns: Quarterback, Wide Receiver
Here’s The Deal: It’s not just Bryce Love for the great running game. Cameron Scarlett will take some of the pressure off the main man behind a line that should be among the nation’s best. QB KJ Costello has to be healthy and effective, and the downfield passing game has to be there. The special teams are great and the defense good enough, but the team will go as far as Love can carry it.
2017 Final Season Ranking: 30
– Stanford 2018 Team Preview
11. USC Trojans
Relative Strengths: Pass Rush, Offensive Line
Relative Concerns: Quarterback, Running Back
Here’s The Deal: Can JT Daniels really step in and shine as a true freshman quarterback? If he can, USC should be even better thanks to a defense that will have among the nation’s most dangerous pass rushes. It’s USC, so there’s going to be talent at the skill spots, but it might take a while for it all to come together. The defense will get the job done until then.
2017 Final Season Ranking: 14
– USC 2018 Team Preview
10. Oklahoma Sooners
Relative Strengths: Running Game, Offensive System
Relative Concerns: No Baker Mayfield, Kick Coverage
Here’s The Deal: The offense will revolve more around the ground game, with Rodney Anderson and lightning-fast QB Kyler Murray about to make the attack explode, but in a different sort of way. There’s enough on defense to hold up just fine in a Big 12 season full of shootouts, but it’s up to the offensive backfield to carry the team back to the conference championship.
2017 Final Season Ranking: 4
– Oklahoma 2018 Team Preview
9. Michigan Wolverines
Relative Strengths: Defensive Line, Young Skill Talent
Relative Concerns: Proven Passing Game, Offensive Line
Here’s The Deal: It’s easy to use Michigan as a punching bag after last year’s issues, but this should be the best team yet under Jim Harbaugh. Now the offense has a quarterback in Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson, and the young receivers are going to be special. The defense that finished third in the nation and first in pass D will be every bit as nasty around DT Rashan Gary and DE Chase Winovich.
2017 Final Season Ranking: 44
– Michigan 2018 Team Preview
8. Miami Hurricanes
Relative Strengths: Linebacker, Secondary
Relative Concerns: Passing Game, Offensive Line
Here’s The Deal: Starting with a brilliant pass rush that led the nation last year in sacks, and should be every bit as nasty, the defense will be suffocating all season long. Now the offense has to do its part, and it starts with needing more from the passing game on a consistent basis. The line has to give everyone more time to work, and the quarterback play has to be better and the receivers have to blow up.
2017 Final Season Ranking: 17
– Miami 2018 Team Preview
7. Michigan State Spartans
Relative Strengths: Offensive Backfield, Defensive Front
Relative Concerns: Receiver, Return Game
Here’s The Deal: It might be putting too much unreasonable pressure on a team, but this could be the best defense yet under Mark Dantonio. It’s a loaded group that allowed under 300 yards per game last season – it led the nation in run D – and gets most of the top pieces back. QB Brian Lewerke and RB LJ Scott are the stars of an offense that needs a more efficient passing game, but should be able to run well. It might not be the most explosive team, but it’ll be rock solid across then board.
2017 Final Season Ranking: 19
– Michigan State 2018 Team Preview
6. Washington Huskies
Relative Strengths: Quarterback, Both Lines
Relative Concerns: Receiver, Downfield Passing Game
Here’s The Deal: With QB Jake Browning and RB Myles Gaskin back behind a fantastic offensive line, the Huskies have the basics for an offense that should be consistent, efficient and effective. Now it needs a deep threat receiver to emerge to stretch the field. The defense will take care of the rest after getting almost everyone back from a group that allowed just 16 points per game.
2017 Final Season Ranking: 16
– Washington 2018 Team Preview
5. Wisconsin Badgers
Relative Strengths: Offensive Line, Running Game
Relative Concerns: Quarterback, Secondary
Here’s The Deal: The Badger defense might have to replace a slew of key parts of the secondary, but the front seven will be a brick wall once again. TJ Edwards is one of the nation’s top linebackers, leading a D that should be among the best in the country against the run again.
The biggest difference this season is an improve passing game. The young receivers of last year started to show what they can do in the Orange Bowl, and while he might not be Aaron Rodgers, Alex Hornibrook is deadly when he’s in a groove. Of course, it’s Wisconsin – Jonathan Taylor and the nation’s best offensive line will crank out another dominant season for the ground game.
2017 Final Season Ranking: 6
– Wisconsin 2018 Team Preview
4. Georgia Bulldogs
Relative Strengths: Quarterback, Secondary
Relative Concerns: Offensive Line, Key Leader Losses
Here’s The Deal: There’s no glaring weak spot for a team that was brutally close to winning the national championship. There’s no Roquan Smith, Sony Michel, or Nick Chubb, but the young talent is there from a few years of great recruiting classes to make up for it. It’s all about the quarterback situation, with no wrong answer between Jake Fromm and Justin Fields, and with enough young skill stars to do even more for an O that was a little too skewed to the ground game.
Defensively, the Dawgs have a loaded secondary for a pass D that finished eighth in the nation, but the linebacking corps needed a few new parts to rise up and rock behind another great line. There won’t be much of a step back – if any – after allowing 295 yards per game.
2017 Final Season Ranking: 3
– Georgia 2018 Team Preview
3. Ohio State Buckeyes
Relative Strengths: Running Back, Pass Rush
Relative Concerns: Quarterback Experience, Penalties
Here’s The Deal: The Buckeyes can be every bit as good as they were last year on defense and running game along, but if Dwayne Haskins can grow into the dangerous passer he’s expected to be, they’ll be right back in the Big Ten Championship. The running back tandem of JK Dobbins and Mike Weber is as good as any in the country, and the receiving corps is devastating.
Nick Bosa and the pass rush will dominate for a defense that allowed just 301 yards and 19 points per game. There are a few new parts of the back seven puzzle, but the talent – as always – is next-level good. As long as the front four it living behind the line again, all will be fine.
2017 Final Season Ranking: 5
– Ohio State 2018 Team Preview
2. Alabama Crimson Tide
Relative Strengths: Offensive Backfield, Linebacker
Relative Concerns: Quarterback Controversy, Kicking Game
Here’s The Deal: The talent, depth, and expectations are there to win it all again – duh, it’s Alabama. But the quarterback battle between Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa can’t take the focus away from The Process, and there are a few big replacements needing to be made in the secondary and D line. As always, though, the Crimson Tide defense will finish in the top five, if not No. 1 overall.
The running game will be devastating. Damien Harris and Najee Harris lead an all-star cast of backs behind future top ten overall NFL draft pick Jonah Williams and another great line. The young receiving star talent should boost up the passing game, especially if and when Tagovailoa gets the starting gig.
2017 Final Season Ranking: 2
– Alabama 2018 Team Preview
1. Clemson Tigers
Relative Strengths: Defensive Line, Quarterback
Relative Concerns: Special Teams, Quarterback Controversy
Here’s The Deal: No pressure, but the defensive line should be among the best of all-time for a defense that will camp out in opposing backfields all season long. The spotlight will be on the front four, but the linebacking corps and secondary are rock-solid, too.
A few new receivers have to emerge, and the running game needs to be great behind one of the ACC’s best lines, but the offensive focus is all about the quarterback situation. Kelly Bryant is a terrific incumbent who’s good enough to lead the way to another ACC title and the College Football Playoff, but superstar recruit Trevor Lawrence could be the instant fix for a passing attack that was among the worst in the nation in yards per completion.
2017 Final Season Ranking: 7
– Clemson 2018 Team Preview