Clemson ended Alabama’s reign in college football in a thrilling College Football Playoff national championship game, but the Crimson Tide aren’t quite done being the favorites to win another title.
Nick Saban will bring back a large collection of experienced, talented players to go with his inexperienced, talented players, and Alabama will begin the 2017 season as the favorites to win again. Clemson’s win might give the Crimson Tide less of an aura of invincibility, though.
The Big Ten finished last season with four top-10 teams. It might not begin 2017 with that many, but there are plenty of title contenders in the conference. Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan will continue to lead the way in the Big Ten East, but there are a couple of teams in that division that could take a big step forward.
Wisconsin looks like the class of the Big Ten West, but if Iowa or Nebraska finds a solid quarterback the Badgers could have legitimate competition for a trip to the conference title game.
Here’s a look at Land of 10’s updated top 25 (ok, 40) teams for the 2017 season after players finalized their plans for the NFL draft and the coaching staff carousel has mostly stopped spinning.
1. Alabama Crimson Tide
2016 S&P+ final rank: 1
2014-17 recruiting: 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st
Top 2017 games: vs. Florida State in Atlanta, vs. LSU, at Auburn
Key losses: LB Reuben Foster, DL Jonathan Allen, DL Tim Williams, CB Marlon Humphrey, LT Cam Robinson, TE O.J. Howard
Great, now the Crimson Tide are going to spend an entire offseason angry and motivated to not let a repeat of the 2016 championship game happen. Alabama needs Trevon Diggs or maybe freshman Jerry Jeudy to become a big-play threat. The Crimson Tide need to replace the starting left tackle and six starters on defense, but there are plenty of potential stars to step in.
2. Florida State Seminoles
2016 S&P+ final rank: 6
2014-17 recruiting: 4th, 3rd, 2nd, 6th
Top 2017 games: vs. Alabama in Atlanta, at Clemson, vs. Louisville
Key losses: RB Dalvin Cook, DE Demarcus Walker, LT Roderick Johnson, CB Marquez White, WR Travis Rudolph
Johnson might be the toughest of the three early entry guys (Cook and Rudolph are the others) to replace. Cam Akers is the No. 1 running back in the 2017 recruiting class, and he could compete with Jacques Patrick for the starting job. The defense should be outstanding, especially with a healthy Derwin James joining nine starters returning and the addition of the best 2017 defensive tackle, Marvin Wilson, in the nation.
3. Ohio State Buckeyes
2016 S&P+ final rank: 5
2014-17 recruiting: 3rd, 7th, 4th, 2nd
Top 2017 games: vs. Oklahoma, vs. Penn State, at Michigan
Key losses: DB Malik Hooker, DB Gareon Conley, DB Marshon Lattimore LB Raekwon McMillan, RB Curtis Samuel, C Pat Elflein, WR Noah Brown
So the final damage on the NFL draft early entry list is six players, down from nine a year ago. Losing three-fourths of maybe the best secondary in America is going to hurt, but two of those guys were first-year starters. Ohio State needs pass catchers, and not listed here is recent de-commitment Tyjon Lindsey, who might have been a key figure as a true freshman. The defensive line returns intact and could challenge Florida State’s as the best in the nation given the losses at Alabama, Michigan and Clemson.
4. Southern Cal Trojans
2016 S&P+ final rank: 9
2014-17 recruiting: 10th, 2nd, 10th, 4th
Top 2017 games: vs. Texas, vs. Stanford, at Notre Dame
It’s become something of a tradition for college football pundits to look at USC’s roster during the offseason and expect greatness. Recently, the Trojans underperforming compared to those expectations has also been a consistent thing. Well, this might be the deepest USC team since before the NCAA sanctions, and the Trojans have a favorable schedule (Stanford at home, in Week 2, when Keller Chryst might not be ready to return from a serious knee injury, plus no Washington or Oregon). Sam Darnold also might have the best quarterback in the country in 2017.
Key losses: CB Adoree Jackson, WR Juju Schuster-Smith, OL Chad Wheeler, OL Damien Mama, NT Stevie Tu’ikolovatu
5. Penn State Nittany Lions
2016 S&P+ final rank: 8
2014-17 recruiting: 24th, 15th, 20th, 15th
Top 2017 games: vs. Pittsburgh, vs. Michigan, at Ohio State
Key losses: WR Chris Godwin, DE Garrett Sickels, LB Brandon Bell, S Malik Golden, C Brian Gaia
Penn State finished pretty strong in recruiting and only lost two of the four juniors who seemed like legitimate NFL draft prospects (Marcus Allen and Mike Gesicki returned). The Nittany Lions probably aren’t going to need many of those freshmen next year, though, because the roster is loaded with talent and experience. The schedule, outside of back-to-back games against Michigan and Ohio State, is pretty favorable. If Penn State is in playoff contention at the end of next season, it might be rooting for teams like Iowa, Michigan State or Pitt to be better than preseason expectations to help bolster the resume.
6. Washington Huskies
2016 S&P+ final rank: 7
2014-17 recruiting: 37th, 27th, 29th, 22nd
Top 2017 games: vs. Oregon, at Stanford, vs. Washington State
Key losses: WR John Ross, DB Budda Baker, DB Sidney Jones, LB Psalm Wooching, DT Elijah Qualls
Losing four underclassmen to the NFL draft is not ideal, but the Huskies are still bringing back 13 starters. Among them are quarterback Jake Browning, running back Myles Gaskin and wide receiver Dante Pettis. That’s a pretty good place for Chris Petersen to start. Washington also has another very favorable schedule, and could be 8-0 before facing those three teams listed above in the final month of the season.
7. Clemson Tigers
2016 S&P+ final rank: 2
2014-17 recruiting: 17th, 9th, 11th, 16th
Top 2017 games: vs. Auburn, vs. Florida State, at Louisville
Key losses: QB Deshaun Watson, WR Mike Williams, RB Wayne Gallman, LB Ben Boulware, DT Carlos Watkins, CB Cordrea Tankersley
The champs are going to have to replace a ton of talent, but Dabo Swinney has built a consistent contender with years of great recruiting and a strong coaching staff. The Tigers will be very young on offense, particularly at quarterback and running back. They have proven they can reload on defense for two straight years now, and there are actually seven starters coming back. Getting Auburn at home and Louisville and Virginia Tech on the road in the first month could be tough, but if Clemson gets to October with only one loss another playoff berth will become a possibility.
8. Oklahoma Sooners
2016 S&P+ final rank: 10
2014-17 recruiting: 14th, 14th, 19th, 8th
Top 2017 games: at Ohio State, vs. Texas in Dallas, at Oklahoma State
Key losses: WR Dede Westbrook, RB Samaje Perine, RB Joe Mixon, LB Jordan Evans
Baker Mayfield and four starters on the offensive line are back. The Sooners need to find answers at the skill positions, but Sterling Shepard and Dede Westbrook have become stars in the past two seasons at wideout since Lincoln Riley arrived as the offensive coordinator. There will be a lot of talent back on defense, and just having an average defense is a big advantage in the Big 12. Given the past transgressions of Mixon and Westbrook, Bob Stoops could really use a year of his players not getting in any trouble as much as another Big 12 title.
9. Georgia Bulldogs
2016 S&P+ final rank: 68
2014-17 recruiting rank: 8th, 5th, 8th, 3rd
Top 2017 games: at Notre Dame, vs. Florida, at Auburn
Key losses: WR Isaiah McKenzie, DB Maurice Smith, OL Brandon Kublanow, OL Greg Pyke
Georgia will begin next season with Tennessee in 2016-type expectations. Jacob Eason could be one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC, plus Nick Chubb and Sony Michel decided to return for another year. The recruiting class is loaded with potential contributors, including the best collection of offensive line talent in the nation. Which is a good thing, because that was UGA’s biggest weakness last year. By the end of next season, Kirby Smart might have Georgia on a path to being Alabama East … or Tennessee South.
10. Michigan Wolverines
2016 S&P+ final rank: 3
2014-17 recruiting: 20th, 37th, 6th, 5th
Top 2017 games: vs. Florida in Dallas, at Penn State, vs. Ohio State
Key losses: CB Jourdan Lewis, LB Jabrill Peppers, DE Taco Charlton, TE Jake Butt, WR Amara Darboh, CB Channing Stribling, OT Ben Braden, OT Erik Magnuson
There are 10 starters gone on defense, and the only team that loses more production on that side of the ball in the nation, according to SB Nation’s Bill Connelly, is Air Force. There’s plenty to replace on offense as well. Landing 5-star running back Najee Harris might have improved the Wolverines offense enough to contend for a Big Ten title, but he chose to stick with Alabama. It’s a tough schedule, opening with Florida and then having Wisconsin the week before Ohio State. Going 9-3 or 10-2 with such a young team would be outstanding at most places, but Michigan fans expect Jim Harbaugh to deliver titles. They might need to be patient for one more year.
11. Louisville Cardinals
2016 S&P+ final rank: 12
2014-17 recruiting: 45th, 32nd, 38th, 32nd
Top 2017 games: vs. Clemson, at Florida State, at Kentucky
Key losses: WR James Quick, DT DeAngelo Brown, LB Devonte Fields, TE Cole Hikutini
In a normal year, having the Heisman Trophy winner returning on offense and most of the defense would be a pretty safe team to place in the top 10. There are a lot of teams with a lot of talent coming back in 2017, and the Cardinals lost three straight to finish 2016. That said, Bobby Petrino finished 12-1 and 11-2 in his fourth season the two other times he’s lasted four years in one place, and the schedule is very manageable.
2016 S&P+ final rank: 4
2014-17 recruiting: 2nd, 6th, 3rd, 7th
Top 2017 games: at Alabama, vs. Auburn, at Tennessee
Key losses: RB Leonard Fournette, DB Jamal Adams, DT Davon Godchaux, LB Kendell Beckwith, WR Malachi Dupre
Ed Orgeron added a great offensive coordinator in Matt Canada, but the Tigers are still going to be playing a Purdue transfer or a freshman at quarterback next season. Derrius Guice should be one of the five best running backs in America, and there probably won’t be five guys on defense better than Arden Key. This remains the same from a few weeks ago and it will be the same in September: Better quarterback play and LSU will challenge Alabama. Without it, the Tigers will win eight to 10 games and feel disappointed by it.
13. Auburn Tigers
2016 S&P+ final rank: 13
2014-17 recruiting: 6th, 8th, 9th, 9th
Top 2017 games: at Clemson, at LSU, vs. Alabama
Key losses: DE Carl Lawson, DT Montravius Adams, DB Jonathan Ford, DB Joshua Holsey
Gus Malzahn and new offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey should have an exciting offense, with Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham joining the backfield duo of Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson and a young group of wide receivers. There are significant losses on defense, but four straight top-10 recruiting classes tend to help answer some questions. The Tigers will face one of the toughest schedules in the country.
14. Stanford Cardinal
2016 S&P+ final rank: 23
2014-17 recruiting: 13th, 24th, 16th, 14th
Top 2017 games: at Southern Cal, vs. Washington, vs. Notre Dame
Key losses: RB Christian McCaffrey, DE Solomon Thomas, SS Dallas Lloyd, OLB Peter Kalambayi, WR Michael Rector
Not only does Stanford have to replace McCaffrey, but starting quarterback Keller Chryst sustained what is believed to be a torn ACL in the bowl game. He might be ready for the start of the season. One guy who could fill in, 5-star freshman Davis Mills, is also recovering from a torn ACL. If Chryst is ready by October, the Cardinal might be able to get to 4-1 without him, relying on K.J. Costello at quarterback, a heavy dose of tailback Bryce Love and lots of production returning on defense. Two 5-star offensive linemen, Foster Sarell and Walker Little, could also help immediately.
15. Wisconsin Badgers
2016 S&P final rank: 11
2014-17 recruiting: 33rd, 40th, 32nd, 40th
Top 2017 games: at BYU, at Nebraska, vs. Michigan
Key losses: LB T.J. Watt, LB Vince Biegel, RB Corey Clement, OT Ryan Ramczyk, CB Sojourn Shelton
The Badgers are losing their top two offensive players and several standouts on defense. They also lost their defensive coordinator for a second straight year. On the plus side, Alex Hornibrook should develop more without needing to split reps at quarterback, and Bradrick Shaw could be the next great Wisconsin running back. A more manageable schedule plus plenty of questions at Iowa, Nebraska and Minnesota make the Badgers the easy choice as Big Ten West favorites.
16. Oklahoma State
2016 S&P+ final rank: 22
2014-17 recruiting: 28th, 39th, 44th
Top 2017 games: at Texas, at West Virginia, vs. Oklahoma
Key losses: DT Vincent Taylor, DB Jordan Sterns, LB Devante Averette, OL Victor Salako
Quarterback Mason Rudolph, wide receiver James Washington and running back Justice Hill are going to make Oklahoma State one of the best offensive teams in the nation. The defense was decent, by Big 12 standards, last season but loses a lot of experience. This could be a breakthrough season for the Cowboys, who have been really good but not quite great a few times in the past five years.
2016 S&P+ final rank: 74
2014-17 recruiting: 21st, 16th, 27th, 19th
Top 2017 games: vs. Nebraska, at Stanford, at Washington
Key losses: TE Pharaoh Brown, LB Johnny Ragin, OL Cameron Hunt
Having players end up in the hospital because of offseason workouts is not a good start for Willie Taggart at Oregon, but there are plenty of other reasons to believe the Ducks will return to national relevance in 2017. They return the third-most production in the nation, behind only Florida International and TCU in Connelly’s rankings. The defense was historically bad last season, but replacing Brady Hoke with Jim Leavitt is one of the biggest upgrades on any staff in America. The offense should still be great with Royce Freeman back. One interesting note: Washington and Oregon haven’t both been really good, like competing for the Pac-12 title good, at the same time since they finished tied for first in the Pac-10 in 2000 and 1-2 in 2001.
2016 S&P+ final rank: 47
2014-17 recruiting: 43rd, 42nd, 22nd, 31st
Top 2017 games: at Arkansas, at Oklahoma State, at Oklahoma
Key losses: RT Aviante Collins, DE Josh Carraway, SS Denzel Johnson DT Aaron Curry
Speaking of returning production, the Horned Frogs have the most in the Power 5 conferences. TCU also had a very strong 2016 recruiting class and some blue-chip prospects could be ready for more playing time in Year 2. Gary Patterson does need to replace three starters on the defensive line, and there are four tough road trips with a trip to Kansas State included. If Kenny Hill is more consistent at quarterback, the Horned Frogs could go to Norman, Okla., on Nov. 11 with the Big 12 title on the line.
19. N.C. State
2016 S&P+ final rank: 25
2014-16 recruiting: 34th, 31st, 50th, 52nd
Top 2017 games: vs. Clemson, vs. Florida State, at Louisville
Key losses: FS Josh Jones, RB Matthew Dayes, CB Jack Tocho, CB Dravious Wright
It was a weird year in 2016 for the Wolfpack. They had eventual national champion Clemson defeated but missed a short field goal and lost in overtime. They lost by four points to Florida State, but also to East Carolina and Boston College. Dave Doeren has now gone to three straight bowl games but is also 9-23 in ACC games in four years. This could be his chance for a breakthrough, with 3,000-yard quarterback Ryan Finley and eight of the top 11 tacklers on defense back. Those last two recruiting rankings aren’t a great sign for the future, and anything less than 8-4 could be a big problem for Doeren’s job security.
20. Appalachian State
2016 S&P+ final rank: 40
2014-16 recruiting: 86th, 115th, 119th, 109th
Top 2017 games: at Georgia, vs. Wake Forest, vs. Georgia Southern
Key losses: RB Marcus Cox, TE Barrett Burns, LB Kennan Gilchrist, LB John Law
The Mountaineers are going to have a chance to show they are a New Year’s Six bowl game contender on opening day with a trip to Georgia. They almost beat Tennessee last year and finished with 10 wins. Even better, quarterback Taylor Lamb, 1,400-yard rusher Jalin Moore and a bunch of talented players are back on defense. This season could be a huge opportunity for the Sun Belt, because Troy and Arkansas State could also be really good teams as well.
2016 S&P+ final rank: 44
2014-17 recruiting: 78th, 78th, 62nd, 59th
Top 2017 games: vs. UCLA, at Houston, at Tulsa
Key losses: DB Arthur Maulet, DB Chris Morley, OT Christopher Roberson
Memphis brings back quarterback Riley Ferguson, the top three running backs and the top three receivers. Among the seven teams that went to a bowl from the AAC last year, five are 87th or worse in Connelly’s returning production rankings. The other team besides Memphis that isn’t, South Florida, has a new coach. The Tigers lost their offensive coordinator, Chip Long, to Notre Dame and have several key players to replace on defense, but Memphis is going to be exciting to watch and a favorite to win the AAC.
2016 S&P+ final rank: 28
2014-17 recruiting: 7th, 4th, 14th, 17th
Top 2017 games: at Alabama, at Florida, vs. Georgia
Key losses: DE Derek Barnett, LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin, CB Cam Sutton, QB Josh Dobbs, RB Jalen Hurd, RB Alvin Kamara, WR Josh Malone
It wasn’t a great 2016 for Tennessee, starting with the Title IX lawsuit and then an extremely disappointing season when the Vols were clear favorites to win the SEC East. This year could have started better, because the only player returning with more than 21 catches last year, wideout Jauan Jennings, was cited for possession of marijuana while driving the wrong way down a one-way street. The Vols do have a potential star in running back John Kelly, but key players to replace all over the field and a defense that collapsed last year after several injuries. Fans in Knoxville will get pretty restless if the Vols spend another year closer to the middle of the pack than the top of the SEC.
2016 S&P+ final rank: 36
2014-17 recruiting: 16th, 10th, 7th, 26th
Top 2017 games: at Southern Cal, vs. Oklahoma in Dallas, vs. Oklahoma State
Key losses: RB D’Onta Foreman, OL Kent Perkins, DB Dylan Haines
Tom Herman didn’t have a huge finish with his recruiting class, and adding a former Art Briles assistant to his staff continues to look like a very questionable decision. The Longhorns do return a lot of talent, though replacing one of the best running backs in the nation won’t be easy. Herman will have a chance to make a huge splash in Week 3 with a trip to the L.A. Coliseum, but road trips later in the year to TCU and West Virginia might be tough.
2016 S&P+ final rank: 46
2014-17 recruiting: 36th, 30th, 25th, 23rd
Top 2017 games: at Oregon, vs. Wisconsin, vs. Ohio State
Key losses: RB Terrell Newby, QB Tommy Armstrong, WR Jordan Westerkamp, DB Nathan Gerry
The Cornhuskers finished strong during the recruiting process, and Mike Reilly earned praise for his coaching staff shuffling. Bob Diaco needs to fix a defense that got shredded by Ohio State, Iowa and Tennessee. It’s possible that a couple of freshmen could help on offense, particularly at receiver with Keyshawn Johnson Jr. and Tyjon Lindsey. Nebraska needs a new quarterback as well, and the Cornhuskers play Oregon, Wisconsin and Ohio State by mid-October. That opener against Arkansas State will be tricky as well.
25. Boise State
2016 S&P+ final rank: 19
2014-16 recruiting: 68th, 57th, 70th, 62nd
Top 2017 games: vs. Troy, at Washington State, at BYU, at San Diego State
Key losses: RB Jeremy McNichols, WR Thomas Sperbeck, DE Sam McCaskill, DB Chancellor James
Boise State has won at least eight games for 18 straight seasons and hit double-digits in 12 of the past 15. McNichols was one of the best running backs in school history, but Brett Rypien is en route to being one of the best quarterbacks and he’s back in 2017. The Broncos, as usual, aren’t messing around in the nonconference. They face Troy, Washington State, Virginia and BYU.
26. Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish went 4-8 in 2016 but lost several close games and upgraded at offensive coordinator with Chip Long from Memphis. If Brandon Wimbush lives up to his recruiting pedigree, Notre Dame can make a quick return to relevancy.
27. Troy: The Trojans return a 3,000-yard passer (Brandon Silvers), a 1,200-yard rusher (Jordan Chunn) and all of Silver’s top receiving targets. Neal Brown could be one of the top coaching candidates for a Power 5 opening after next year, because Troy could be one of the best Group of 5 teams in the country.
28. Washington State: Luke Falk is coming back, which means the Cougars will have one of the best quarterbacks in the country. Returning nine starters from an improved defense will help, and Mike Leach will find ways to score lots of points and provide lots of entertaining sound bites.
29. Florida: The Gators are losing six starters on defense, and coordinator Geoff Collins took the head coaching job at Temple. Florida’s offense has been a mess for a year-and-a-half since Will Grier was suspended, and there still isn’t an obvious candidate to play quarterback next season.
30. Miami: The Hurricanes need to replace quarterback Brad Kaaya and are among the bottom teams in the nation in returning production. Mark Richt put together a pretty strong recruiting class and has already played several 2016 prospects, but it might be another year before the Hurricanes become a legitimate threat in the ACC.
31. Arkansas: Austin Allen should be one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC, and the Rawleigh Williams-Devwah Whaley tandem had nearly 2,000 yards rushing last year. The Razorbacks need to find some guys who can catch the ball and get much better at stopping the run on defense.
32. Iowa: The Hawkeyes should have a slightly different look next year on offense with Brian Ferentz in charge, but maybe not as much as some fans might have wanted after the end of the Greg Davis era. Akrum Wadley and Matt VandeBerg will need to help a new quarterback a lot if the Hawkeyes are going to contend in the West.
33. West Virginia: Running back Justin Crawford and three of the top four receivers are back, but the Mountaineers are losing eight starters from the best defense in the Big 12. Skyler Howard will not be back at quarterback, and how soon Florida transfer Will Grier will be eligible to replace him remains to be seen. It might be at the start of the season, but it might also not be until halfway through the campaign.
34. Texas-San Antonio: Former LSU assistant Frank Wilson finished second in the Conference USA West division in his first season and then signed the second-best recruiting class in the league. The Roadrunners have 16 starters back, including quarterback Dalton Sturm, and could win the league. Wilson’s stock is going to keep rising, too.
35. South Florida: Charlie Strong inherits plenty of talent from Willie Taggart, including one of the top quarterbacks in the nation. There are some holes to fill around Quinton Flowers, but in a league with five new coaches, Strong looks to have the best setup for immediate success.
36. Navy: The Midshipmen kept their coach, but did lose their all-senior backfield. They do have several guys coming back with plenty of experience. Also, there’s almost 15 years of evidence that this coaching staff is quite adept at reloading and rolling on.
37. Georgia Tech: Speaking of the coaching staff at Navy, Paul Johnson just won nine games and is going to return nine starters on offense. Quarterback Justin Thomas is gone, but five of the top six rushers are back and all of the receiving options are as well. Defensive end Patrick Gamble will be missed, but seven starters should be back on defense.
38. Indiana: New Hoosiers coach/former defensive coordinator Tom Allen has the most production on that side of the ball returning in America. They will be stingy. Richard Lagow is back at quarterback but needs to cut down on the turnovers. Indiana could be a surprise team in the Big Ten, and the Hoosiers might spring an upset of Michigan or Wisconsin at home.
39. Michigan State: For the second straight year, the Spartans don’t bring back a lot of production, according to Connelly’s numbers. Obviously Mark Dantonio’s track record suggests 2016 was just a blip, but Michigan State has plenty of questions to answer for next season to be more than just an average team or worse.
40. Kentucky: The offense with quarterback Stephon Johnson and tailback Benny Snell should continue to be very prolific, even without Boom Williams. That defense, well, that’s the issue with trusting the Wildcats. If the defense improves, this could be the year that Mark Stoops makes a real run at the SEC East. If it doesn’t, his job security could become a popular topic in Lexington.
Almost in the top 40