By Joel Silverberg / @JoelSilverberg
The Associated Press preseason Top 25 poll was released on Monday and, to nobody’s surprise, Alabama begins the season as the nation’s top ranked team. The Crimson Tide are looking for a second straight national championship and sixth in the past decade.
Meanwhile Clemson sits at No. 2 with its sights set on a fourth straight trip to the playoff and second title in three seasons. Last year’s runner-up Georgia, Wisconsin and Ohio State round out the top five. Washington is No. 6 in the poll. Oklahoma is the lowest-ranked playoff team from last year at No. 7. Miami, Auburn and Penn State complete the top ten.
Three of the four playoff teams last season were ranked in the top ten in the AP preseason poll (Georgia began ranked No. 15). It’s a long season, but history would suggest multiple top ten teams in this week’s poll will be among the last four standing in December.
Below is the case for and against each team in the preseason top ten to make the playoff.
The case for the Crimson Tide: Alabama is the only school to make the playoff each year since its inception in 2014 and the only school with multiple national championships in the playoff era. The Tide get Louisville without Lamar Jackson and four of Alabama’s opponents have first-year head coaches. Last season’s only loss, Auburn, is at home this year, too.
The case against the Crimson Tide: Alabama has to go to Baton Rouge in November before getting Mississippi State at home. The Iron Bowl is two weeks later and the SEC West could very well be on the line in the regular season finale for both teams again. The final month of the regular season is most likely where the Tide stumble, if at all before the SEC Championship game, which could be a rematch against Georgia. If Alabama falls in the conference title game it could be on the outside looking in. The committee has yet to put a team into the playoff after losing its conference championship game.
The case for the Tigers: Clemson is loaded with talent and returns its quarterback, its top two running backs and NFL talent on defense.There doesn’t seem to be another school in the ACC that can hold a candle to the defending league champs. The Tigers are a level beyond the rest of the conference.
The case against the Tigers: If Kelly Bryant struggles at quarterback true freshman Trevor Lawrence could be called upon following one of the offseason’s watched quarterback battles. Should Lawrence start games this season the Tigers could fall victim if the talented newcomer hits a freshman wall. A late October trip to Tallahassee shouldn’t be overlooked.
The case for the Bulldogs: Georgia returns its quarterback and has a legitimate sleeper candidate for the Heisman Trophy in running back D’Andre Swift. The Bulldogs don’t have a clear obstacle in the SEC East despite some hype around South Carolina and Florida. After narrowly missing out on the national championship a year ago Georgia is poised to return to the playoff conversation.
The case against the Bulldogs: The defending SEC champs have to replace Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, Roquan Smith and Lorenzo Carter among others. Without Chubb and Michel there will be added responsibility to Jake Fromm even with Swift in the backfield. Georgia also has road trips to South Carolina and LSU. Not to mention the Florida game is rarely a gimme.
The case for the Badgers: Wisconsin is hands down the best team in the Big Ten West. They have a Heisman caliber tailback in Jonathan Taylor and one of the best offensive lines in the country. The Badgers were a win away from breaking into the college football playoff a season ago and are looking for their third straight trip to the Big Ten title game.
The case against the Badgers: Wisconsin blew a huge lead to Penn State in the 2016 conference championship game and couldn’t get the job done against Ohio State last year (and don’t forget the 59-0 shellacking to the Buckeyes in 2014). When it’s been on the cusp of taking the next step Wisconsin hasn’t been able to get over the hump. Last year the Badgers drew Maryland, Indiana and Michigan from the Big Ten East during their 12-0 regular season. This season’s slate includes road trips to Ann Arbor and Penn State, as well as visits to Iowa, Northwestern and Purdue. There are too many hurdles for this team to overcome and an undefeated regular season seems unlikely, giving the Badgers little to no room for error.
5. Ohio State
The case for the Buckeyes: Urban Meyer is only getting a three game suspension, meaning if Ohio State can survive the week three test against TCU Meyer will be back two weeks before the Buckeye’s first road game at Penn state. After last season’s blowout loss to Iowa last year the defending Big Ten champs won’t be overlooking anyone this season.
The case against the Buckeyes: The offseason media circus will bleed into the regular season causing Ohio State to trip up against a team it probably shouldn’t. TCU is a legitimate test early in the season without Meyer. The Buckeyes also have road trips to Penn State, Purdue and Michigan State. As evidenced by the past two playoff selections a conference title isn’t enough in the Big Ten if said champion has multiple losses.
The case for the Huskies: Chris Petersen is one of the best coaches in the country and making the playoff is nothing new to the Huskies. Jake Browning returns at quarterback for Washington along with running back Myles Gaskin. Safety Taylor Rapp anchors a defense that finished fifth in total yards a year ago. Last season’s 10-3 team suffered three one-score losses. All away from home. The Huskies should win the Pac-12 North and be in the playoff conversation late.
The case against the Huskies: Losing to Auburn in week one puts the Huskies on thin ice early. They have back-to-back road games against Chip Kelly at UCLA and in Autzen Stadium at Oregon. They get Stanford at home, but visit Washington State in the annual finale.
The case for the Sooners: Texas is getting better, but the Longhorns competing for the Big 12 in Tom Herman’s second year is a tall order. TCU is talented, but has yet to breakthrough on the playoff picture since joining the Big 12. West Virginia has an elite offense, but a mediocre-at-best and inexperienced defense. Even without Baker Mayfield the Sooners will be able to ride Kyler Murray to another league title and a playoff berth.
The case against the Sooners: Losing Baker Mayfield will be too much to overcome. The Sooners will be good, but replacing a Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 draft pick isn’t easy. Oklahoma visits Iowa State, which beat the Sooners last season, and also visits TCU and West Virginia. If there are growing pains for Murray early then early non-conference games against FAU and UCLA are far from guaranteed.
The case for the Hurricanes: LSU is coached by Ed Orgeron, Florida State is at home and Virginia Tech is winnable on the road. Miami may have stumbled against Pittsburgh late last year, but the Hurricanes were still in a win-and-you’re-in ACC title game against Clemson a year ago. Returning quarterback Malik Rosier and leading rusher Travis Homer should make the offensive more productive.
The case against the Hurricanes: Miami flirted with disaster too often last year and it caught up with them against Pittsburgh before the wheels came off in the ACC Championship. Getting past the Hokies again will be a tough test in Blacksburg, but even with a win last season’s loss to Clemson suggests the Hurricanes are still a step below the top dog in the league.
The case for the Tigers: One could argue Auburn is being slightly overlooked behind Alabama and Georgia. Jarrett Stidham returns at quarterback to lead a top-15 offense from a year ago and could be a contender for the Heisman. The Tigers have a balanced attack on offense and held opponents to 17 points per game on defense.
The case against the Tigers: Auburn gets a tough test right out of the gate against Washington in what feels like a must-win game for the Tigers to have any shot at making the playoff. Auburn stubbed its toe last year against LSU. A road trip to Mississippi State could see a similar result. Not to mention the visits to Georgia and Alabama in a three-week span. Auburn hasn’t beaten Georgia in Athens since 2005 and the Tigers haven’t won in Tuscaloosa since 2010 when some guy named Cam Newton was playing quarterback.
10. Penn State
The case for the Nittany Lions: The schedule isn’t friendly, but Penn State gets Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin all at home. Trace McSorley shows the offense was more than Saquon Barkley and the Nittany Lions return a top-20 defense from last year. Someone has to emerge from the Big Ten East. Why not Penn State?
The case against the Nittany Lions: Here’s why. Penn State gets the Buckeyes and Spartans in back-to-back weeks, has to go to the Big House and then returns home to host Wisconsin. The gauntlet is too much for a team losing its best player to have a one-loss or better record at season’s end.