It’s time to check in with the Land of 10’s Top 25 teams in America, now that all the schools have completed spring practice. There are five Big Ten teams on the list, and probably a couple of others are in the next group that just missed.
For nearly every FBS college football team, there are 16 Saturdays until Week 1 of the 2017 season. Stanford and Rice are getting started a week early in Australia, on Aug. 26, but for everyone else, that’s four more months of offseason workouts and, eventually, training camp.
It’s an especially long wait for players and fans; coaches have recruits to woo and spring practice film to look at for the 12th time.
Outside of a graduate transfer making his decision, there isn’t much good news to anticipate about the 2017 season between now and August. Most of the news will be bad, whether it’s injuries during workouts or players getting into trouble.
Questions after spring camp surround every team. What are the biggest issues for each team — in other words, the things that fans will fret about for the next 16 Saturdays?
Here is Land of 10’s updated preseason Top 25, with the biggest question that those 15 spring practices didn’t answer for each team.
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
Which pass rushers will emerge?
The Crimson Tide had five players from the front seven drafted, including top pass rushers Allen, Williams and Ryan Anderson. They combined for 28.5 of Alabama’s 54 sacks in 2016. Alabama’s depth chart is loaded with blue-chip prospects to replace them, but experience at defensive end and outside linebacker makes it something the Tide will need to sort out.
Oh, the kicker is probably going to be a true freshman, too. Hey, it’s the most talented roster in America so there aren’t many holes. That might matter if Alabama is down by two points and driving in the fourth quarter of the Iron Bowl.
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
Will the Seminoles be consistent enough at wide receiver?
The defense should be outstanding, and there a few strong candidates to replace Cook. The offensive line could end up being young. For Deondre Francois to be an elite quarterback (and solidify the ‘Noles as title contenders), he’s going to need help from an intriguing, but relatively unproven ,corps of wide receivers.
Rudolph, Kermit Whitfield and Jesus Wilson combined for 294 catches the last two seasons. Some combination of Nyqwan Murray, Auden Tate, Da’Vante Phillips, George Campbell and unexpected Orange Bowl hero Keith Gavin will need to provide enough production.
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
Will the Buckeyes be able to throw the ball down the field?
Ohio State’s roster is still loaded, but the Buckeyes have gotten progressively worse at throwing the ball downfield since Cardale Jones’ magical three-game run in 2014. The top three receivers are also gone.
Enter new offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson, and a bunch of potential breakout stars at pass-catching positions. Expect tight end Marcus Baugh, a beacon of experience among a group of potential phenoms, to be leaned on more. But a couple of the young wideouts need to have big seasons. There are plenty of blue-chip options.
Ohio State can win the Big Ten and compete for a national title, but the passing game is going to have to be better.
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
Key losses: CB Adoree Jackson, WR Juju Smith-Schuster, OL Chad Wheeler, OL Damien Mama, NT Stevie Tu’ikolovatu
Can the offensive line stay healthy?
The Trojans lost three starters from last year, including both tackles. At least three potential starters on the line in 2017 either missed spring practice or were injured during it. Sam Darnold, Ronald Jones and pals will score a ton of points and possibly reach the College Football Playoff … if a consistent, dependable offensive line group comes together.
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
Will there be enough pass rushers?
The big development of the spring was an injury to top cornerback John Reid, which reportedly was a serious left knee injury that could cost him the 2017 season. Penn State had 46 sacks two years ago —with the help of three future NFL defensive linemen — and 40 last year, with the help of great work in the secondary.
If Reid cannot play, there are other options to help the Nittany Lions in the secondary. But Penn State also needs to replace three of its top four sack producers. There are several intriguing options at defensive end, and the Nittany Lions will need to pressure the quarterback to alleviate some of the burden on its potentially shorthanded secondary.
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, DB Kevin King, LB Psalm Wooching, DT Elijah Qualls
Will the secondary be able to reload?
Ross was the first Washington player off the board at the 2017 NFL Draft, but the Huskies are going to have plenty of offensive firepower with Jake Browning, Myles Gaskin and Dante Pettis back. Losing three early round picks in the secondary is tough for any program outside of Tuscaloosa, Ala., or Columbus, Ohio, to deal with.
It’s a testament to what Chris Petersen is building that the Huskies might be fine. JoJo McIntosh and Taylor Rapp should be formidable in the middle of the field. Jordan Miller and Byron Murphy could be the answers on the outside.
7. 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, DL Charles Walker, DL Jordan Wade
Will the Sooners defend the pass better?
Oklahoma is losing a trio of star players on offense, but the Sooners have recruited well and added a couple of potential impact transfers at the skill positions. The Big 12 is a pass-happy, points-heavy league, but the Sooners are going to have to defend better if they want to have a shot at the College Football Playoff.
Remember, Ohio State looked like a great passing team against the Sooners early last season. Oklahoma needs to rush the passer better; 25 sacks are way too few for an elite team. That would help a pass defense that was No. 111 in the nation.
8. 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
Who is the replacing the player who had 951 yards against Alabama?
That’s not an exaggeration. Watson had a combined 825 passing yards and 126 rushing yards against the Crimson Tide in the past two national title games. There are four players competing to replace Watson, but it would be a surprise if it is not redshirt freshman Zerrick Cooper or true freshman Hunter Johnson at quarterback.
Clemson is going to have enough talent at the skill positions, but the Tigers are going to need one of their young quarterbacks to play well to go 3-0 against Auburn, Louisville and Florida State before the season even gets to November.
9. 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
Who is going to catch passes for the Wolverines?
There are questions all over the place for Michigan, which lost 17 starters (not counting kicker/punter Kenny Allen) and a few top reserves. Nearly the entire defense has to be replaced, but there are lots of talented prospects with some experience and arguably the best defensive coordinator in the nation to guide them.
The top three pass catchers from the past two seasons are gone. Will any of the young tight ends be as reliable as Butt was? Can one of the blue-chip freshmen become a consistent producer? Michigan’s offense could scuffle against the top teams in the Big Ten East if the wideouts can’t separate against talented secondaries.
10. 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
Are the Bulldogs going to block anybody?
Georgia has an NFL prospect at quarterback, two elite running backs and a bunch of starters back from a pretty good defense. The Bulldogs need to find a wideout or two to replace McKenzie, but the big issue last season was a porous offensive line.
That’s a recipe for disaster in the SEC, an NFL factory for defensive linemen. Georgia has several blue-chip linemen in the 2017 recruiting class, and the Bulldogs might need a couple of them to be ready. If the line is just competent, the Bulldogs can win the SEC East and … provide Alabama with a tune-up before the playoff.
11. Oklahoma State Cowboys
2016 S&P+ final rank: 22
2014-17 recruiting: 28th, 39th, 44th, 38th
Top 2017 games: at Texas, at West Virginia, vs. Oklahoma
Key losses: DT Vincent Taylor, DB Jordan Sterns, LB Devante Averette, OL Victor Salako
Will the defensive line help the offense get back on the field?
Oklahoma State could have the best offense in the nation in 2017. If the Cowboys are going to be more than just a fun watch that wins eight or nine games, they need to be better against the run. They were 82nd in the country last year, and middle of the pack in a defense-deficient year in the Big 12.
Taylor leaving early for the NFL didn’t help. If teams control the line of scrimmage when they have the ball, it will slow down the Cowboys offense better than most of the defenses they face will be able to.
12. 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
Will the Cardinals be able to protect Lamar Jackson better?
Louisville collapsed in the final three games of the season. Jackson was still great against Kentucky, though the turnovers hurt, but Houston and LSU were able to contain him. The offensive line was a mess and must bounce back.
The Cardinals have key skill players to replace, but Jackson and Bobby Petrino’s track record should combine to make Louisville a potent offense. If the line improves, the Cardinals could challenge for an ACC title.
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 Johnathan Ford, DB Joshua Holsey
Will the Tigers cause enough problems for opposing quarterbacks?
Auburn had 35 sacks in 2010 and 32 in 2013. The Tigers have had 25 or less in every other season this decade. They got to 25 last year, which is the second-most since the national title win in 2010, but Adams and Lawson combined for 13.5 of them. There are also key losses in the secondary.
The offense could be playoff-worthy with new quarterback Jarrett Stidham to complement a terrific rushing attack. The defense was fourth in the conference in points per game allowed in 2016, but those are two big pass rushers to replace.
14. 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
Will the passing attack expand for Alex Hornibrook?
Wisconsin lost a running back, but has two or three potentially great ones on the roster. Hornibrook’s top two targets, Jazz Peavy and Troy Fumagalli, are back. Whether it was Hornibrook or Bart Houston under center, Wisconsin’s offense was run heavy and short-pass heavy.
The Badgers got creative at times, but it was often a misdirection run or screen pass. Wisconsin can win the Big Ten West without throwing the ball downfield much, but it would help against Michigan and whomever the Badgers would encounter in Indianapolis.
15. LSU Tigers
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
Will new offensive coordinator Matt Canada work his magic in year one?
Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: LSU has a Heisman Trophy candidate at running back, future NFL talent all over the defense and serious questions about whether or not the offense can do enough to compete in the SEC West.
Canada is a rising star after turning Pitt into one of the best offenses in the nation. If he could turn Tennessee castoff Nate Peterman into an NFL draft pick, could he facilitate a similar transformation for Purdue transfer Danny Etling? If not, the Tigers might need a true freshman at quarterback, and at that point, finishing in the top three of the division might be tough.
16. 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
Will Keller Chryst be ready by September?
Chryst sustained a serious knee injury in the Sun Bowl on Dec. 30. Coach David Shaw said Chryst could be back during fall camp in August. The Cardinal open the season against Rice in Australia on Aug. 26.
They might not need Chryst for that one, but Southern Cal is up next and UCLA lurks in Week 4. Stanford’s top four offensive outputs in 2016 came in Chryst’s six starts. The Cardinal could miss Chryst more than McCaffrey if he’s not ready for the Trojans.
17. TCU Horned Frogs
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: DE Josh Carraway, SS Denzel Johnson, DT Aaron Curry, RT Aviante Collins
Will Kenny Hill develop better chemistry with his wide receivers?
TCU needs to replace a couple of key defensive linemen, but the Horned Frogs took a big step backwards on offense in 2016. After two years of Trevone Boykin piloting TCU’s new and effective offense, Hill struggled at times last season and threw 13 interceptions.
None of the receivers caught more than 39 passes. There were too many drops. There were too many errant throws. If the Horned Frogs are going to get back to competing for the Big 12 title, the passing game has to improve.
18. Oregon Ducks
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
Where does everyone fit into new defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt’s defense?
Oregon has to be better on defense — much better to end up as a top-25 team. The Ducks have had one of the two worst scoring defenses in the Pac-12 each of the past two seasons. They were top-3 in the league three times in the previous four seasons.
There is lots of returning experience and defensive lineman Scott Pagano is a huge pickup as a graduate transfer from Clemson. Leavitt is going to switch to a 3-3-5, which means new roles for some returning players. Expect a couple of freshmen to squeeze into big roles as well.
19. North Carolina State Wolfpack
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
Will Nyheim Hines be the answer at tailback?
Hines caught 43 passes last year, but with Dayes gone and a couple of other options injured he moved to his natural position at tailback. N.C. State’s offense has its quirks — Jaylen Samuels is a versatile weapon as a fullback/h-back/tight end. Hines has had 63 catches and 61 rushing attempts in his first two seasons.
Replacing Dayes could be the key to a very productive offense. Ryan Finley is one of the four best returning quarterbacks in the ACC, and there are lots of seniors on a defense that was among the best in the league in 2016.
20. Appalachian State Mountaineers
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
Will the Mountaineers be strong enough at linebacker?
Appalachian State had the best scoring defense in the Sun Belt last season. The defensive line and secondary could both be great in 2017, but there are big holes to fill in between them. Gilchrist and Law were among the team leaders in tackles, and Dezmin Reed was second on the team with 6 sacks.
If the Mountaineers find help for Eric Boggs and Devan Stringer, they could win the Sun Belt and challenge the Group of Five for a spot in a New Year’s Six Bowl game.
21. Memphis Tigers
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
Are there enough answers in the secondary?
Memphis struggled against the run in 2016, finishing 104th in Bill Connelly’s rushing S&P+ ratings. There needs to be improvement, obviously, but the bigger issue could be the secondary. Leading tackler Jonathan Cook is back, but six members of the defensive back rotation are gone.
Riley Ferguson and the offense will light up scoreboards and give the Tigers a chance to win the American Athletic Conference. If the rebuilt secondary scuffles, Memphis is going to need to win a bunch of shootouts to make that happen.
22. Nebraska Cornhuskers
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
Are the Cornhuskers going to be able to run the dang ball?
Nebraska hasn’t had a 1,000-yard rusher for two consecutive seasons, and the consternation level about the Cornhuskers’ scuffles in that department is high. Tanner Lee is almost certainly locked in at quarterback, but who will replace Newby is a competition that likely will spill into fall camp.
The offensive line, with a lot of experience returning, should improve. The Cornhuskers don’t need to run the ball like it is 1995, but better balance would help Lee and could make Nebraska the top competition for Wisconsin in the Big Ten West.
23. Tennessee Volunteers
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
How much can Bob Shoop’s defense improve in Year Two?
Shoop had great defenses despite scholarship limitations at Penn State. Tennessee had injury limitations in 2016 — too many for the defense to handle. The Vols finished ninth in the SEC in Connelly’s defensive S&P+ ratings.
Lots of young players who earned extra playing time because of the injuries are coming back. One area of concern: 75 percent of the sacks from last season (22.5 of 30) are not. The first two SEC games are against Florida and Georgia. The Vols could know if they can reach the SEC title game by the end of September.
24. Texas Longhorns
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
Will the running backs balance out new coach Tom Herman’s offense?
Quarterback Shane Buechele is a good athlete and can run. He’s not Greg Ward of Houston or J.T. Barrett of Ohio State. Texas needs a replacement for Foreman, but the top options were injured at different points during the spring.
Chris Warren missed a chunk of last season and then was injured again during spring camp. Kyle Porter had, by all accounts, a strong spring but missed the game because of an ankle injury. Freshman Toneil Carter missed part of the camp but did lead the team in rushing in the game. Buechele could be great with Herman’s tutelage, but the Longhorns are going to need a running back or two to emerge.
25. Boise State Broncos
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
Will the offensive line work itself out?
The Broncos are losing two stars on offense (McNichols and Sperbeck), but the biggest question heading into 2017 is probably the offensive line. Three starters from last season are gone. The other two did not participate in spring camp because of injuries.
Brett Rypien can be one of the best quarterbacks in the nation, but the Broncos will need to protect him. Boise State will be the team to beat in the Mountain West, but Wyoming is not far behind.