Early Top 25 college football rankings for the upcoming 2018 season likely will have a familiar name in the No. 1 spot with Alabama.
Alabama defeated Georgia to win the national championship; Alabama has played for the national championship six times in nine seasons. Alabama will be a popular pick to make the College Football Playoff again for the 2018 season.
College football rankings: Early Top 25 for 2018 season
Also considered: Kansas State, UCF, TCU, N.C. State.
1. Alabama (13-1)
The Crimson Tide will be a popular pick to start No. 1. Alabama will see players leave for the NFL, but QB Tua Tagovailoa (if not Jalen Hurts) will be one of the best quarterbacks next season. DB Minkah Fitzpatrick will be probably among those moving to the NFL, but the Crimson Tide defense isn’t going to drop much, even with defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt now the coach at Tennessee.
2. Ohio State (12-2)
QB J.T. Barrett won’t be back for the Buckeyes, plus there will be NFL draft picks in many other spots (Rimington Award winner Billy Price among them). But RBs J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber will be back next season and should form a dynamic 1-2 punch that ranks as one of the best in the country. At quarterback, Dwayne Haskins is favored to take over. Haskins came in for an injured Barrett and led the Buckeyes to a win against Michigan. On defense, DL Nick Bosa will be back and ready to dominate.
3. Georgia (13-2)
The Bulldogs won’t have RBs Nick Chubb or Sony Michel anymore, but D’Andre Swift will step in and be one of the best running backs in the country. QB Jake Fromm will have a season under his belt as a starter and should be ready to shoulder more of the load, if needed. The defense does lose a ton of talent (and Roquan Smith and Deandre Baker could go pro), but DC Mel Tucker has a ton of talent to play with.
4. Clemson (12-2)
The Tigers will go for their fourth consecutive trip to the College Football Playoff. On offense, Clemson will be dynamite. RBs Tavien Foster and Travis Etienne will rock. QB Kelly Bryant is back ― but look out for incoming 5-star Trevor Lawrence. The more pressing questions are probably on defense, with senior standouts gone and Christian Wilkins possibly leaving early for the NFL.
5. Miami (10-3)
Miami slumped with 3 losses to end the season, but the Hurricanes returned to prominence with a 10-0 start and No. 2 ranking with coach Mark Richt. QB Malik Rosier is back, but much of the confidence is thanks to the defense. DB Jaquan Johnson (team-best 96 total tackles, 4 interceptions) announced in December he will be back next season. The linebackers group also returns Shaquille Quarterman and Michael Pinckney.
6. Oklahoma (12-2)
There’s no replacing Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield, one of the most accomplished players in Sooners history. But Texas A&M transfer Kyler Murray will have a chance to shine, plus he’ll have plenty of help. Even if RB Rodney Anderson goes to the NFL, Trey Sermon and Abdul Adams are back. At receiver, CeeDee Lamb and Marquise Brown will be productive. Kenneth Murray will star on defense for second-year coach Lincoln Riley.
7. Wisconsin (13-1)
Wisconsin barely missed making the College Football Playoff, won 13 games and won a New Year’s Six game (again), yet the Badgers seem to still be fighting for more respect. With RB Jonathan Taylor ready for a huge sophomore season and another year of growth from QB Alex Hornibrook, expect Wisconsin to be in the mix again. All the Badgers do is win, with the defense ready to be a force again with the return of LB T.J. Edwards.
8. Washington (10-3)
QB Jake Browning had a relatively disappointing season after a huge 2016 season, but he’ll be back and ready to go for new OC Bush Hamdan. Even if star RB Myles Gaskin decides to declare for the 2018 NFL Draft, coach Chris Petersen has this program rolling. DL Vita Vea won’t be back in Seattle, as he’s declared for the NFL draft, but Ryan Bowman (8 1/2 tackles for loss) and Tyler Rapp (59 tackles) return.
9. Michigan State (10-3)
That 3-9 record from 2016 is a distant memory, as the Spartans and coach Mark Dantonio regrouped to win 10 games. QB Brian Lewerke probably didn’t get the attention he deserved after a strong 2017 season. RB LJ Scott has also already announced he’ll be back for next season. The defense should again be formidable, too. Perhaps most important, Michigan and Ohio State visit East Lansing, Mich., next season.
10. Penn State (11-2)
Yes, do-it-all star Saquon Barkley is off to the NFL. OC Joe Moorhead is now the coach at Mississippi State. But the Nittany Lions won’t drop off too much. QB Trace McSorley is one big game away from firmly planting his name in the 2018 Heisman race, though he won’t have go-to targets DaeSean Hamilton or Mike Gesicki back. But RB Miles Sanders is a breakout candidate. Some defensive talent also won’t be back (LB Jason Cabinda, DB Marcus Allen), but DL Shareef Miller should lead the way. Penn State and coach James Franklin will start to get the benefit of the doubt after consecutive 11-win seasons.
11. Auburn (10-4)
No doubt the season ended in disappointing fashion, as the Tigers were No. 2 in the College Football Playoff rankings before losing to Georgia in the SEC Championship Game and UCF in the Peach Bowl. This ranking is based on QB Jarrett Stidham returning to Auburn, as the offensive line will see turnover and RB Kerryon Johnson is going to the NFL. DL Jeff Holland is also gone.
12. Florida State (7-6)
With new coach Willie Taggart on board and QB Deondre Francois back after a leg injury that ended his season in the season-opening game against Alabama, the Seminoles will be a tough out in 2018. The 7-6 disappointment should turn into a 10-win season next season. There will be some fresh faces on defense, but the Seminoles have enough there to be in solid shape.
13. Michigan (8-5)
If things break right, Michigan probably will be underrated going into next season. The Wolverines defense figures to be scary good in 2018. Rashan Gary (11 1/2 tackles for loss, 5 1/2 sacks) and Chase Winovich (19 tackles for loss, 8 1/2 sacks) will frustrate all offenses. But the worry is about the offense. The Wolverines passed for only 9 touchdowns last season. If Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson is granted immediate eligibility, look out.
14. Stanford (9-5)
All eyes are on Heisman finalist RB Bryce Love. If he decides to come back, the Cardinal will be clear College Football Playoff and Pac-12 contenders. QB K.J. Costello will be even better, plus Stanford will have a powerful offensive line (again). The defense will have to get better after taking a step back. But even with DL Harrison Phillips and others gone, Stanford will remain a tough opponent under coach David Shaw.
15. Mississippi State (9-4)
New coach Joe Moorhead has the pieces for a sparkling debut. QB Nick Fitzgerald went down with an injury against Ole Miss, but Keytaon Thompson showed promise in the bowl game, should Fitzgerald be slowed in his return. RB Aeris Williams (1,100-plus yards) is also back. New DC Bob Shoop, who was previously at Tennessee, has a lot of tools to work with, especially with Montez Sweat (15 1/2 tackles for loss,
10 1/2 sacks) back.
16. Notre Dame (10-3)
We’ll know right away what kind of Notre Dame team this could be, as the Irish play Michigan in the first game of the season. There are also NFL departures (OL Quenton Nelson and RB Josh Adams, to start). There’s also a QB situation to watch, as Brandon Wimbush and Ian Book return. Book led the Irish to a 21-17 win against LSU in the Citrus Bowl.
17. LSU (9-4)
LSU has had back-to-back 4-loss seasons. It was a weird 2017 season, as the Tigers lost at home to Troy but also upset Auburn ― within a span of a few weeks. As usual, most concern falls on the offense, particularly now that RB Derrius Guice is going to the NFL. Thankfully for the Tigers, LB Devin White and the defense will be one of the SEC’s best.
18. Boise State (11-3)
UCF represented the Group of 5 in the New Year’s Six this season, beating Auburn to finish unbeaten. Boise State is probably the strongest Group of 5 contender for 2018. The Mountain West champions get back QB Brett Rypien (2,857 yards, 16 touchdowns) and RB Alexander Mattison (1,086 yards, 12 touchdowns). LB Leighton Vander Esch is leaving early for the NFL, but there are nonconference opportunities (at Oklahoma State, at Troy) to make a statement.
19. Virginia Tech (9-4)
The offensive line will have some new starters, but QB Josh Jackson should be better after a strong freshman season (2,991 yards, 20 touchdowns, 324 rushing yards, 6 touchdowns). The defense might lose some familiar names, but there’s no reason to ever doubt DC Bud Foster. Things will get crazy right away, though, as the Hokies play Florida State in Week 1.
20. Texas (7-6)
There should be an opening in the Big 12 after rival Oklahoma. Georgia worked second-year magic with coach Kirby Smart, but while Texas won’t match that level of success, the Longhorns will be better under second-year coach Tom Herman. It’s Texas, so there will be early NFL departures, but QBs Shane Buechele and Sam Ehlinger, RB Daniel Young and talented receivers return.
21. Oregon (7-6)
There’s a new coach in Mario Cristobal, but much optimism can be credited to QB Justin Herbert. He missed time with injury last year but still had 1,983 yards passing with 183 rushing yards and 20 total touchdowns. DC Jim Leavitt should continue to build an improving defense at Oregon. The Ducks allowed 41.4 points per game in 2016 and brought that down to 29 ppg in 2017.
22. USC (11-3)
There are plenty of questions with the Trojans. QB Sam Darnold (4,143 yards) announced he’s going to the NFL. RB Ronald Jones II (1,550 yards) is as well. This will be a big test for coach Clay Helton.
23. West Virginia (7-6)
The Mountaineers offense will be fun to watch, thanks to the return of QB Will Grier (3,490 yards, 34 touchdowns) and WRs Gary Jennings and David Sills (both 1,000-yard receivers). However, for West Virginia to move up even higher, it will have to improve on defense. The Mountaineers allowed 445.5 yards and 31.5 points per game.
24. Florida (4-7)
Sure, last season was a disaster. The offense couldn’t do much, and Jim McElwain was fired. But former Gators OC/Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen should give the offense an immediate boost. The first two road games of Tennessee and Mississippi State will be telling for how much Mullen can do his first season as the leader in Gainesville, Fla.
25. Iowa State (8-5)
With wins against Oklahoma, TCU and Memphis, the Cyclones had a habit of beating ranked teams. For coach Matt Campbell and Co. to find the next step, Iowa State will have to deal with heightened expectations. After finishing 8-5, the next step is to challenge for maybe even a 10-win season.