Clemson ranked #1 for 2018 by USA Today, #2 by ESPN

CUTrevor 2018-01-10 09:34:52

The USA TODAY Sports way-too-early Top 25 for next season begins with familiar names. Topping the list are Clemson and Alabama, which recently met for the third time in as many seasons in the Crimson Tide’s Sugar Bowl win. The Tigers and Crimson Tide are followed by Ohio State, the defending Big Ten Conference champions, and Georgia, which will rebuild its offense around sophomore-to-be Jake Fromm at quarterback.

The Big Ten flexes its muscles with four teams in the top 10 and five in the top 20. Following the Buckeyes are No. 5 Wisconsin, No. 6 Penn State, No. 10 Michigan State and No. 16 Michigan.

The SEC is similarly represented, of course, following Monday night’s all-SEC championship game between Alabama and Georgia. Also in the top 25 are Auburn, LSU and Mississippi State.

1. Clemson (2017 record: 12-2)

The Tigers aren’t going anywhere, as Dabo Swinney promised following the Sugar Bowl loss to Alabama. Swinney and his staff will bring back a senior starter at quarterback in Kelly Bryant, will again tout a deep stable of skill talent, will be stronger on the offensive front and will have a slight rebuild on defense behind star defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence. Clemson will be the best team in the Atlantic Coast Conference and a heavy contender to recapture the national title.

2. Alabama (2017 record: 13-1)

The Tide are set to rebuild following an inevitable exodus of talent to the NFL draft. Check that: Alabama’s set to reload. While the cast changes, some constants will remain. One is the continued excellence of a defense due to find another one or two national names. Another is a physical offense that may hit on an offseason quarterback controversy but perhaps be better for it — either Jalen Hurts will take a step forward or sophomore-to-be Tua Tagovailoa will step in.

3. Ohio State (2017 record: 12-2)

The Buckeyes will sorely miss J.T. Barrett’s leadership but should feel confident in Dwayne Haskins’ ability to take the reins of the offense as a sophomore. Like Alabama, OSU will lose a number of major players to the NFL, but the inherent talent base and the addition of former Washington State assistant Alex Grinch as co-defensive coordinator will keep Urban Meyer and his team among the nation’s elite.

4. Georgia (2017 record: 13-2)

Georgia will have to retool its offense to revolve around Fromm, though there are still options in the backfield to replace Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. What’s clear? The Bulldogs are beginning an extended run alongside the premier programs, with last year’s recruiting class set to take on larger roles and an incoming signing class due to include several players capable of an immediate impact.

5. Wisconsin (2017 record: 13-1)

If the biggest issue for Wisconsin is its defense — and with 10 starters back on offense, that’s the question — the Badgers are in good shape. As a program, Wisconsin’s consistency suggests another year battling with Ohio State for Big Ten supremacy.

6. Penn State (2017 record: 11-2)

But the Buckeyes and Badgers are trailed closely by the Nittany Lions, who lose all-everything running back Saquon Barkley but will have a roster that matches up with almost any team in the country. Look for Trace McSorley to be a major factor in the Heisman Trophy race.

7. Oklahoma (2017 record: 12-2)

Few teams can replace a player of Baker Mayfield’s ability and not skip a beat. Oklahoma might not replicate this past season’s success, but with Kyler Murray set to add a different dimension as a runner the offense should remain as potent as you’ll find in the Football Bowl Subdivision. The big question: Can the defense improve and help shoulder the load?

8. Washington (2017 record: 10-3)

After a relatively drab season, all things considered, look for Washington to be a factor in the College Football Playoff race. Chris Petersen’s track record should have the Huskies optimistic about their chances to improve on a 10-win finish in 2017 and carry the flag for the Pac-12 Conference.

9. Miami (Fla.) (2017 record: 10-3)

Miami is still not quite ready to be included among the best of the best, though the program is making obvious progress. It probably will take another recruiting class or two to get this roster’s talent level on par with a Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State or Georgia, but that time is coming. For 2018, look for the Hurricanes to compete for an ACC crown and take another step toward knocking Clemson off the top of the heap.

10. Michigan State (2017 record: 10-3)

Michigan State’s bounce-back 2017 season paints a bright picture for 2018, with an offense built around quarterback Brian Lewerke and a defense that returns the wide majority of this year’s main contributors. Defenders such as linebacker Joe Bachie and lineman Kenny Willekes are set to assume roles as some of the best at their positions in the Big Ten.

11. Virginia Tech (2017 record: 9-4)

Justin Fuente has the Hokies on a collision course with an ACC title, maybe as soon as 2018. Look for quarterback Josh Jackson to make an enormous leap in his second year as the starter.

12. Stanford (2017 record: 9-5)

Stanford’s hopes do hinge on Bryce Love’s decision regarding the NFL, but the Cardinal will get better play at quarterback and bring back each of their four leading receivers. There are holes to fill on defense, but it’s a similar case to Wisconsin – if Stanford’s biggest worry is that side of the ball, everything should be OK.

13. Auburn (2017 record: 10-4)

Auburn already has been dinged by losses to the NFL, though retaining quarterback Jarrett Stidham is a huge development. An issue is the Tigers’ schedule, which includes first-half dates with Washington, LSU and Mississippi State, and road games in November against Georgia and Alabama.

14. Boise State (2017 record: 11-3)

Boise will be the best team in the Group of Five. The offense is ready to roll behind Brett Rypien, running back Alexander Mattison and a strong front. But the big story for the Broncos is a loaded defense, which looks the part of not just the best in the Group of Five but a top unit nationally.

15. Notre Dame (2017 record: 10-3)

Don’t overlook how hard it will be for the Irish to replace the left side of their offensive line and to replicate the team’s recent level of play on defense. But there is experience back at key spots, including quarterback, and the schedule is on paper one of the friendliest in recent program history.

16. Michigan (2017 record: 8-5)

These are strange times for Michigan, which had enormous hopes upon Jim Harbaugh’s arrival but has yet to crack the upper echelon of the FBS. That may happen in 2018, especially given the Wolverines’ defense, but that’s only half the battle. Can Harbaugh find a quarterback?

17. Southern California (2017 record: 11-3)

The Trojans will move forward without Sam Darnold and face a major position battle during the spring and summer. While the talent is there, the program needs to be finetuned before retaking the field in September — and that starts with the coaching staff.

18. Florida State (2017 record: 7-6)

FSU won’t aim for the moon in Willie Taggart’s debut but should land firmly in the top 25. There’s no doubt about the Seminoles’ talent, obviously, and maybe the fresh voice Taggart brings to the table will breathe life into a tired football facility.

19. LSU (2017 record: 9-4)

This is a top-10 team in pure talent, as is always the case. Whether this current coaching staff can get the Tigers into that class remains up for debate. Another change at offensive coordinator doesn’t breed confidence in that unit’s potential.

20. Kansas State (2017 record: 8-5)

What looks like Bill Snyder’s final season could be a fitting swan song for one of the great coaches in college football history. It will be a pretty typical bunch of Wildcats: physical on offense, explosive in the running game, underrated in the front seven and opportunistic on special teams.

21. Florida Atlantic (2017 record: 11-3)

The second Group of Five team on this list, FAU shouldn’t take a step back in Lane Kiffin’s second season. The offense will have taken even firmer hold and the defense will get a nice influx of talent to keep the Owls at the top of Conference USA.

22. TCU (2017 record: 11-3)

TCU has some personnel issues to address on both sides of the ball, making the 2018 team less experienced than the 2017 version. But while Gary Patterson’s Horned Frogs might have the odd middling season every few years, any major slide out of a national ranking just isn’t in the cards. If not the class of the Big 12, TCU will be a contender for a repeat appearance in the conference title game.

23. Oklahoma State (2017 record: 10-3)

There’s no doubt that losing Mason Rudolph and wide receiver James Washington will be tough for the Cowboys to overcome. So expectations should be tweaked just somewhat: Oklahoma State isn’t a dark-horse Playoff contender but is definitely a threat to take eight or nine games during the regular season. It won’t always be a smooth ride, however.

24. Iowa State (2017 record: 8-5)

This is the next step for Matt Campbell and the Cyclones. After breaking through in a big way this past fall, Campbell has Iowa State destined to become an even bigger thorn in the sides of the established programs in the Big 12. The way Campbell is building ISU is through a culture, and every passing season finds that foundation taking an even more solid hold.

25. Mississippi State (2017 record: 9-4)

A whole lot of optimism greets Joe Moorhead’s first season with the Bulldogs. While Nick Fitzgerald’s availability will remain in some doubt following his leg injury suffered in the Egg Bowl, Mississippi State has a fine backup option at quarterback in Keytaon Thompson. Better yet, the Bulldogs have two reliable backs, several options at receiver, an experienced offensive front and a defense led by new coordinator Bob Shoop, who spent the past two seasons in the same role at Tennessee.

CUTrevor 2018-01-10 10:36:04

From ESPN's Mark Schlabach:

ATLANTA -- The 2017 season closes with Alabama at No. 1 and the 2018 season begins with the Crimson Tide on top as well.

They'll probably have to beat Georgia again if they want to repeat as national champions. The Tide are No. 1 in the Way-Too-Early Top 25 for 2018; the Bulldogs check in at No. 5.

Nick Saban beat his former assistant coach, Kirby Smart, as Alabama overcame a 13-point deficit in the second half to beat Georgia 26-23 in the College Football Playoff National Championship Presented by AT&T.

Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma finish out the top five, but don't be surprised to see the likes of Wisconsin and Miami rise during the offseason.

We'll update the rankings after National Signing Day in February. But as of now, here's your Way-Too-Early top 25 for 2018:

(Returning starters numbers subject to change. The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the NFL draft is Jan. 15.)

1. Alabama

2017 record: 13-1, 7-1 SEC
Returning starters: Nine offense, six defense, zero special teams

Key losses: C Bradley Bozeman, WR Robert Foster, DE Da'Shawn Hand, LB Rashaan Evans, CB Levi Wallace, CB Anthony Averett, S Tony Brown, P JK Scott

Outlook: The 2017 version of the Alabama dynasty probably wasn't as talented and might not have as many future NFL stars as the previous ones. But the Crimson Tide reached the CFP National Championship for the third straight season, and they'll be equally good next season as Nick Saban's "Process" continues.

The biggest question mark for the Tide heading into the offseason is who will start at quarterback. Jalen Hurts was benched at halftime and rising sophomore Tua Tagovailoa should be the favorite after his second-half performance against Georgia. Whoever starts at quarterback might have to find new offensive weapons if leading rusher Damien Harris and leading receiver Calvin Ridley turn pro.

The Tide will lose some key players on defense, including Evans and the entire starting secondary if juniors Minkah Fitzpatrick and Ronnie Harrison leave early, but there are capable replacements waiting in the wings. Look for players such as running back Najee Harris, receiver Jerry Jeudy and linebackers Dylan Moses and Mack Wilson to emerge as key contributors this spring.

The Crimson Tide will also have a new defensive coordinator after Jeremy Pruitt was named Tennessee's new coach.

2. Clemson
2017 record: 12-2, 7-1 ACC
Returning starters: Eight offense, eight defense, two special teams

Key losses: G Tyrone Crowder, G Taylor Hearn, WR Ray-Ray McCloud, LB Dorian O'Daniel, CB Ryan Carter

Outlook: The Tigers lost their rubber match to Alabama, falling 24-6 in a CFP semifinal at the Allstate Sugar Bowl, which spoiled their chances of winning back-to-back national championships. But if we've learned anything the past three seasons, it's that Dabo Swinney's program is here to stay.

Much of the Tigers' offense returns in 2018. One burning question: Can quarterback Kelly Bryant hold off incoming freshman Trevor Lawrence, the No. 1 pocket passer and No. 2 player overall in the ESPN 300?

The Tigers might have to rebuild their defensive front if Clelin Ferrell, Christian Wilkins and Austin Bryant turn pro, but they've signed two of the top five defensive linemen prospects in the 2018 class in Xavier Thomas and K.J. Henry.

Clemson plays road games at Texas A&M and Florida State next season.

3. Ohio State
2017 record: 12-2, 8-1 Big Ten
Returning starters: Seven offense, five defense, two special teams

Key losses: QB J.T. Barrett, DE Sam Hubbard, LB Jerome Baker, S Damon Webb, CB Denzel Ward, OT Jamarco Jones, C Billy Price, DE Tyquan Lewis, LB Chris Worley

Outlook: The Buckeyes fell just short of reaching the CFP for the third time in four seasons, but they finished with a five-game win streak, including a 24-7 victory over USC in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic.

OSU will have a quarterback battle to watch in the spring; Dwayne Haskins is the favorite to replace Barrett, but highly regarded Tate Martellis a talented dual-threat quarterback who might bring more creativity to the offense. With J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber expected back, whoever wins the job will have plenty of help.

Urban Meyer has brought on Washington State's Alex Grinch, a two-time Broyles Award nominee, to be co-defensive coordinator. The Buckeyes will have to survive three difficult road games to stay in CFP contention in 2018: TCU (in Arlington, Texas), Penn State and Michigan State.

4. Oklahoma
2017 record: 12-2, 8-1 Big 12
Returning starters: Seven offense, six defense, two special teams

Key losses: QB Baker Mayfield, TE Mark Andrews, OT Orlando Brown, C Erick Wren, DE D.J. Ward, DE/LB Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, LB Emmanuel Beal, FS Will Johnson, SS Steven Parker

Outlook: The unexpected transition from Bob Stoops to first-year coach Lincoln Riley couldn't have gone much better, as the Sooners won their third straight Big 12 title and reached a CFP semifinal for the second time in three years.

OU can only hope that the transition from Mayfield to Texas A&M transfer Kyler Murray goes as smoothly. Murray played sparingly behind the Heisman Trophy winner this past season, but he possesses many of the same dual-threat skills. He'll have several playmakers around him, especially if tailback Rodney Anderson decides to return for another season.

The bigger question for Oklahoma this season is how much of a makeover, if any, the defense will see this season?

5. Georgia
2017 record: 13-2, 7-1 SEC

Returning starters: Seven offense, five defense, one special teams

Key losses: RB Nick Chubb, RB Sony Michel, OT Isaiah Wynn, LB Lorenzo Carter, LB Davin Bellamy, NT John Atkins, CB Malkom Parrish, S Dominick Sanders, CB Aaron Davis

Outlook: The Bulldogs will have to replace a lot of star power in their backfield and defense, but there are enough key pieces in place for them to make another run at a second straight SEC championship.

Replacing Chubb and Michel won't be easy, but freshman D'Andre Swiftand sophomore Elijah Holyfield were productive in limited roles this past season. Quarterback Jake Fromm is the undisputed starter after leading the Bulldogs to the CFP title game as a freshman. Where will incoming freshman Justin Fields, the No. 1 player overall in the ESPN 300, fit in the mix?

The Bulldogs' most pressing needs will be potentially replacing each of their starting linebackers (if star Roquan Smith turns pro, as expected) and two starters in the secondary. The good news: There's help coming in the No. 1-ranked recruiting class.

6. Wisconsin
2017 record: 13-1, 9-0 Big Ten
Returning starters: Nine offense, five defense, one special teams

Key losses: TE Troy Fumagalli, FB Austin Ramesh, DE Alec James, DE Conor Sheehy, CB Nick Nelson

Outlook: The Badgers won a school-record 13 games this past season, and they're bringing back a record-setting tailback and each of their five starting offensive linemen, which is usually a recipe for success.

Running back Jonathan Taylor set the FBS freshman record with 1,977 rushing yards and will be a leading Heisman Trophy contender in 2018. Quarterback Alex Hornibrook will also be back, along with most of his top targets besides Fumagalli.

The Badgers will have more holes to fill on defense, especially in the secondary, where three of four starters are departing. Both starting defensive ends and outside linebackers are also leaving, but inside linebacker T.J. Edwards announced that he is coming back.

Wisconsin's schedule will be more difficult this coming season, with road games at Iowa, Michigan, Northwestern and Penn State.

7. Miami
2017 record: 10-3, 7-1 ACC
Returning starters: Eight offense, nine defense, one special teams

Key losses: WR Braxton Berrios, OT KC McDermott, G Trevor Darling, DT Kendrick Norton, RB Mark Walton

Outlook: In Mark Richt's second season back at his alma mater, the Hurricanes returned to national relevance with their first 10-win season since 2003, introduced us to the Turnover Chain and played in the ACC championship game for the first time. However, their three-game losing streak to close the season showed that the "U" isn't yet all the way back.

If Miami is going to be better in 2018, quarterback Malik Rosier will have to avoid the mistakes and turnovers that plagued him in his first season as a starter. Wide receiver Berrios and two starting offensive linemen will be missed. Sophomore Ahmmon Richards might be Miami's next star if he recovers from a knee injury.

Richt and his staff will have to continue to build depth through recruiting to catch Clemson in the ACC. They're off to a great start in doing so.

8. Washington
2017 record: 10-3, 7-2 Pac-12
Returning starters: Seven offense, nine defense, one special teams

Key losses: DT Vita Vea, WR Dante Pettis, G Andrew Kirkland, C Coleman Shelton, TE Will Dissly, LB Keishawn Bierria

Outlook: The Huskies look like the class of the Pac-12 in 2018, and they might even be CFP contenders if tailback Myles Gaskin decides to return to school. Even without him, Washington is expected to bring back all but four starters on offense and two on defense.

Jake Browning will become the league's best quarterback with USC's Sam Darnold, UCLA's Josh Rosen and Washington State's Luke Falkdeparting. The offense returns some key contributors who were lost to season-ending injuries, including left tackle Trey Adams, tight end Hunter Bryant and receiver Chico McClatcher.

The Huskies will miss Vea, the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, and Bierria, their emotional leader on defense.

Washington opens the season against Auburn in Atlanta and plays Pac-12 road games at Utah, UCLA, Oregon, and Washington State.

9. Michigan State
2017 record: 10-3, 7-2 Big Ten
Returning starters: 10 offense, nine defense, two special teams

Key losses: C Brian Allen, DE Demetrius Cooper, LB Chris Frey

Outlook: After winning at least 10 games for the sixth time in the past eight seasons, the Spartans' 3-9 disaster in 2016 seems like a distant memory. With 19 starters coming back in 2018, Michigan State might be poised to challenge Ohio State in the Big Ten East.

Brian Lewerke was dramatically better in 2017, becoming the first MSU quarterback to pass for more than 2,500 yards and run for more than 500. Tailback LJ Scott is also coming back, along with breakout receiver Felton Davis III.

Cooper and Frey are the only starters leaving from a defense that ranked in the top 10 nationally in run defense and total defense.

Another reason for optimism: MSU gets to play both Michigan and Ohio State at home in 2018.

10. West Virginia
2017 record: 7-6, 5-4 Big 12
Returning starters: Seven offense, seven defense, two special teams

Key losses: RB Justin Crawford, WR Ka'Raun White, G Kyle Bosch, LB Al-Rasheed Benton, LB Elijah Battle, S Kyzir White, CB Mike Daniels Jr.

Outlook: As soon as quarterback Will Grier and All-American receiver David Sills V announced they were returning for their senior seasons, West Virginia became Oklahoma's biggest threat in the Big 12. There's no doubt that the Mountaineers are going to score a lot of points this coming season. With Sills, Gary Jennings and Alabama transfer T.J. Simmons, the Mountaineers might have the best receiving corps in the country in 2018.

But West Virginia has to continue to improve on defense to become a legitimate Big 12 title contender. The Mountaineers open the season against Tennessee in Charlotte, and they play Kansas State, TCU and Oklahoma at home in Big 12 play.

11. Penn State
2017 record: 11-2, 7-2 Big Ten
Returning starters: Seven offense, three defense, one special teams

Key losses: RB Saquon Barkley, WR DaeSean Hamilton, G Brendan Mahon, TE Mike Gesicki, DT Curtis Cothran, LB Brandon Smith, LB Jason Cabinda, CB Christian Campbell, FS Marcus Allen, SS Troy Apke

Outlook: After struggling in his first two seasons as Penn State's coach, James Franklin has guided the Nittany Lions to 11-win seasons and New Year's Six bowl appearances in back-to-back seasons. Now the real work begins, as Penn State will have to replace Barkley, offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead (now Mississippi State's head coach) and eight defensive starters.

Passing game coordinator Ricky Rahne took over playcalling duties and had an impressive debut in a 35-28 win over Washington in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl. The Nittany Lions might rely on quarterback Trace McSorley even more next season, and he'll be one of the top Heisman Trophy candidates if he delivers.

Penn State's schedule gets a little more difficult with games against Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin, but it will play all but the Wolverines in Happy Valley.

12. Auburn
2017 record: 10-4, 7-1 SEC
Returning starters: Six offense, five defense, one special teams

Key losses: RB Kerryon Johnson, RB Kamryn Pettway, CB Carlton Davis, LB Jeff Holland, OT Austin Golson, C Casey Dunn, G Braden Smith, OT Darius James, LB Tre' Williams, SS Stephen Roberts, FS Tray Matthews

Outlook: What an aggravating season for the Tigers, who twice beat the No. 1-ranked team in the country and then watched those teams (Alabama and Georgia) play for the CFP National Championship on Monday night. Auburn's resurgence was enough to land coach Gus Malzahn a seven-year contract extension after Arkansas tried to hire him as its new coach.

The Tigers will miss Johnson, who ran for 1,391 yards and 18 touchdowns this past season, and Pettway, who also is turning pro. They'll also have to replace four of five starters on the offensive line. With quarterback Jarrett Stidham returning, along with most of his top wideouts, the Tigers should have a potent passing game.

On the other side of the ball, defensive coordinator Kevin Steele has built one of the better units in the SEC, but they'll miss Holland's pass-rushing skills and Davis' coverage skills.

13. Michigan
2017 record: 8-5, 5-4 Big Ten
Returning starters: Seven offense, eight defense, two special teams

Key losses: OT Mason Cole, C Patrick Kugler, OT Juwann Bushell-Beatty, QB John O'Korn, NT Maurice Hurst, LB Mike McCray

Outlook: When Michigan brought Jim Harbaugh back to his alma mater in 2014, he was supposed to be the coach who could catch Ohio State. Now, after the Wolverines have dropped eight of their past 17 games, U-M fans might be wondering whether he can stay ahead of Michigan State.

The Wolverines were supposed to take a step back this season, but no one expected their offense to be so bad. Michigan threw nine touchdown passes, its fewest since 1975, when it attempted only 125 passes while running the triple option under Bo Schembechler.

Michigan's newest savior is former Ole Miss quarterback Shea Patterson, who has already enrolled in classes but hasn't yet been ruled eligible by the NCAA. If Patterson can play in games this coming season, the Wolverines should be much better on offense. If he isn't eligible, Brandon Peters and Dylan McCaffrey will battle for the job. One of them will have to bring life to Michigan's offense, with road games looming at Notre Dame, Northwestern, Michigan State and Ohio State in 2018.

14. Virginia Tech
2017 record: 9-4, 5-3 ACC
Returning starters: Seven offense, six defense, one special teams

Key losses: WR Cam Phillips, G Wyatt Teller, C Eric Gallo, RT Kyle Chung, DT Tim Settle, LB Deon Newsome, LB Andrew Motuapuaka, CB Brandon Facyson, CB Greg Stroman

Outlook: Quarterback Josh Jackson seemed to hit the freshman wall in the second half of the 2017 season. The Hokies struggled right along with him, losing three of their final five games. Jackson should be even better as a sophomore, after passing for 2,991 yards with 20 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

Deshawn McClease and Steven Peoples emerged as productive runners, and the Hokies will have to replace three of their five starting offensive linemen.

Defensive coordinator Bud Foster's unit loses a couple of key pieces, such as Motuapuaka and Facyson, but there's plenty for him to work with. The Hokies will play Notre Dame, Miami and Georgia Tech at home in 2018.

15. USC
2017 record: 11-3, 8-1 Pac-12
Returning starters: Seven offense, five defense, two special teams

Key losses: QB Sam Darnold, WR Deontay Burnett, RB Ronald Jones II, C Nico Falah, LB Uchenna Nwosu, NT Josh Fatu, SS Chris Hawkins

Outlook: The Trojans won at least 11 games for the first time since 2008 and won their first Pac-12 title in nine years. But given their lofty expectations last summer, the season felt a little empty, especially after a 17-point loss to Ohio State in the Cotton Bowl.

Replacing Darnold, a potential No. 1 pick in the NFL draft, will be USC's biggest priority in the offseason. Rising sophomore Matt Fink, redshirt freshman Jack Sears and incoming freshman J.T. Daniels will battle for the unenviable job of succeeding him.

The Trojans will play at Stanford, Texas, Utah and UCLA next season.

16. TCU
2017 record: 11-3, 7-2 Big 12
Returning starters: One offense, six defense, two special teams

Key losses: QB Kenny Hill, WR John Diarse, WR Desmon White, WR Ty Slanina, OT Joseph Noteboom, C Patrick Morris, G Austin Schlottmann, OT Matt Pryor, RB Kyle Hicks, DT Chris Bradley, DE Mat Boesen, LB Travin Howard, CB Ranthony Texada, S Nick Orr

Outlook: The Horned Frogs are coming off another 11-win season, their third in four years, and another thrilling comeback in a bowl game. But TCU faces major face-lifts on both sides of the ball heading into 2018. They'll lose Hill, Hicks, Diarse and four of their five starting offensive linemen. The personnel losses are deep on defense as well, with Howard, Texada, Boesen and Orr leaving.

Shawn Robinson and Justin Rogers will battle for the quarterback job, and whoever wins will have some playmakers to help. Running backs Darius Anderson and Sewo Olonilua and receivers Jalen Reagor and KaVontae Turpin are expected back.

The Horned Frogs will play a difficult nonconference game against Ohio State in Arlington, Texas, and they'll host Oklahoma, Kansas State and Oklahoma State during Big 12 play.

17. Boise State
2017 record: 11-3, 7-1 Mountain West

Returning starters: Seven offense, nine defense, two special teams

Key losses: WR Cedrick Wilson, C Mason Hampton, OT Archie Lewis, TE Jake Roh, LB Gabe Perez, LB Leighton Vander Esch

Outlook: With quarterback Brett Rypien and all but one defensive starter coming back in 2018, the Broncos should be the preseason favorites among Group of 5 teams to grab a New Year's Six bowl berth. Rypien threw for 2,877 yards with 16 touchdowns last season. He'll miss Wilson and Roh, but almost everybody else is returning.

Vander Esch, the Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Year, decided to turn pro, but he's the only defensive player departing from the unit that started in the Broncos' win over Oregon in the Las Vegas Bowl. Boise State's nonconference schedule in 2018 includes trips to Troy and Oklahoma State.

18. Stanford
2017 record: 9-5, 7-2 Pac-12
Returning starters: Eight offense, nine defense, two special teams

Key losses: G David Bright, DT Harrison Phillips, LB Peter Kalambayi, TE Dalton Schultz

Outlook: After losing five games for the second time in four seasons, the Cardinal might be in position to bounce back this coming season, especially if record-setting tailback Bryce Love decides to return for his senior season. Love ran for 2,118 yards and set an FBS record with 13 carries of 50 yards or more.

Even if Love decides to turn pro, the Cardinal should continue to improve on offense as quarterback K.J. Costello grows. He'll have four of five starting offensive linemen coming back, as well as top receivers JJ Arcega-Whiteside and Trenton Irwin.

Stanford's defense allowed almost 6 yards per play last season, so it will need to improve on that side of the ball. It won't be easy if junior safety Justin Reid and cornerback Quenton Meeks go pro.

Stanford's road schedule will be arduous in 2018, with trips to Oregon, Notre Dame and Washington.

19. Mississippi State
2017 record: 9-4, 4-4 SEC
Returning starters: Eight offense, eight defense, one special teams

Key losses: OT Martinas Rankin, LB Dezmond Harris, CB Lashard Durr, CB Tolando Cleveland, P Logan Cooke, WR Donald Gray, WR Gabe Myles

Outlook: Moor cowbell? Former Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead takes over for Dan Mullen, who left to become Florida's new coach. Moorhead helped Penn State's offense rank among the best in the FBS, and he might have similar success in year one if quarterback Nick Fitzgerald returns from the broken ankle he suffered in the Egg Bowl.

Former Tennessee defensive coordinator Bob Shoop inherits a much-improved unit that brings back all but three starters, including both cornerbacks.

The Bulldogs play a nonconference game at Kansas State and SEC road games at LSU, Alabama and Ole Miss next season.

20. Notre Dame
2017 record: 10-3
Returning starters: Six offense, nine defense, two special teams

Key losses: RB Josh Adams, WR Equanimeous St. Brown, OT Mike McGlinchey, G Quenton Nelson, TE Durham Smythe, LB Nyles Morgan, LB Greer Martini

Outlook: The Fighting Irish bounced back from a 4-8 disaster in 2016 to win 10 games for the second time in three seasons. The Irish have been hit already by early departures for the NFL draft -- Nelson, St. Brown and Adams have declared, and tight end Alize Mack might do the same. The Irish must replace defensive coordinator Mike Elko, who left for the same position at Texas A&M.

Notre Dame figures to have a competitive quarterback battle during the offseason. Brandon Wimbush accounted for 30 total touchdowns this past season, but he struggled to throw the ball down the field, which seemed to frustrate coach Brian Kelly. Sophomore Ian Book replaced Wimbush in a 21-17 win over LSU in the Citrus Bowl and completed 14 of 19 passes for 164 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.

Notre Dame's schedule next season includes road games at Virginia Tech, Northwestern and USC and home games against Michigan, Stanford and Florida State.

21. UCF
2017 record: 13-0, 8-0 AAC
Returning starters: Nine offense, seven defense, two special teams

Key losses: OT Aaron Evans, G Chavis Dickey, DE Jamiyus Pittman, DE Tony Guerad, LB Shaquem Griffin, LB Chequan Burkett

Outlook: The Knights declared themselves national champions after they were the only FBS team to finish unbeaten following their 34-27 win over Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Former Missouri offensive coordinator Josh Heupel takes over for Scott Frost, who left to become Nebraska's new coach. Heupel and his staff will have to replace a couple of key players on defense, including Griffin, but almost everyone else is expected back on offense.

Quarterback McKenzie Milton is coming back after throwing for 4,037 yards with 37 touchdowns, along with the top five rushers and five of the top six pass-catchers.

UCF's schedule includes nonconference games against Florida Atlantic, Pittsburgh and North Carolina, and it will be an overwhelming favorite to repeat as AAC champion.

22. Florida State
2017 record: 7-6, 3-5 ACC
Returning starters: Nine offense, four defense, two special teams

Key losses: OT Rick Leonard, NG Derrick Nnadi, WR Auden Tate, DE Josh Sweat, CB Tarvarus McFadden, LB Ro'Derrick Hoskins, LB Jacob Pugh, FS Nate Andrews, SS Trey Marshall, FS Derwin James, TE Ryan Izzo

Outlook: The Seminoles collapsed after losing quarterback Deondre Francois in their season-opening loss to Alabama, and then things worsened after former coach Jimbo Fisher decided to depart for Texas A&M. Former Oregon coach Willie Taggart takes over, and he'll have a better chance to succeed in Year One if Francois bounces back from a torn patellar tendon in his left knee.

Cam Akers ran for 1,024 yards as a freshman, and four of five starting offensive linemen and leading receiver Nyqwan Murray should be back. The FSU defense will need a makeover, especially in the secondary, where James and McFadden have already decided to turn pro.

FSU's road schedule in 2018 is going to be very difficult, with trips to Notre Dame, Louisville, NC State and Miami. Ouch.

23. LSU
2017 record: 9-4, 6-2 SEC
Returning starters: Six offense, eight defense, two special teams

Key losses: WR D.J. Chark, OT K.J. Malone, QB Danny Etling, WR Russell Gage, LB Arden Key, DE Christian LaCouture, NT Greg Gilmore,

Outlook: The Tigers were up and down in coach Ed Orgeron's first season, beating Auburn and falling to Mississippi State (by 30 points), Troy (at home) and Notre Dame (in the Citrus Bowl). LSU's issues in 2017 were the same as they were under former coach Les Miles: The Tigers struggled to pass the ball and score. It won't be any easier in 2018, with Etling departing and junior tailback Derrius Guice probably turning pro.

Orgeron made a change at offensive coordinator, parting ways with Matt Canada after one season, and Orgeron might turn to tight ends coach Steve Ensminger to be his OC in 2018. At least LSU secured defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, who received a four-year, $10 million contract, the highest ever for an FBS assistant, after Texas A&M tried to hire him away.

The Tigers will play a nonconference game against Miami in Arlington, Texas, next season, along with road games at Auburn, Florida and Texas A&M.

24. Texas
 2017 record: 7-6, 5-4
 Returning starters: Eight offense, five defense, one special teams

 Key losses: LB Malik Jefferson, OT Connor Williams, S DeShon Elliott, P Michael Dickson, CB Holton Hill, WR Lorenzo Joe, OT Tristan Nickelson, TE Kendall Moore, NT Poona Ford, LB Naashon Hughes, SS Jason Hall

Outlook: The Longhorns lost six games in coach Tom Herman's first season, which was disappointing. But four of them were games decided by five points or fewer, including losses to USC, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Can the Longhorns learn to win close games in year two? If they do, they might enjoy a second-year bounce like Georgia and Miami had this past season.

Herman is going to have to figure out whether Shane Buechele or Sam Ehlinger is going to be the quarterback moving forward. The offensive line is going to have to do a better job protecting the quarterback, too, after allowing a whopping 34 sacks in 2017.

Defensive coordinator Todd Orlando upgraded the unit this past season, but he'll miss Jefferson, Elliott and Hill, three of his better players. UT plays USC, TCU and West Virginia at home, along with the annual contest against Oklahoma in Dallas.

25. South Carolina
2017 record: 9-4, 5-3 SEC
Returning starters: Nine offense, four defense, two special teams

Key losses: LB Skai Moore, TE Hayden Hurst, C Alan Knott, G Cory Helms, DE Dante Sawyer, DT Ulric Jones, S D.J. Smith, S Chris Lammons, CB JaMarcus King

Outlook: The Gamecocks were dramatically improved in coach Will Muschamp's second season, which ended with a come-from-behind 26-19 victory over Michigan in the Outback Bowl. Muschamp seems to have learned from his mistakes in his first head-coaching stop at Florida; he dismissed offensive coordinator Kurt Roper after the South Carolina offense averaged only 24 points per game.

Co-offensive coordinator/receivers coach Bryan McClendon will take over the job full-time after calling plays in the bowl game. Quarterback Jake Bentley gets back top target Deebo Samuel, who missed the final 10 games with leg and foot injuries (he scored six total touchdowns in the first three games).

The Gamecocks will have to replace two starters on the defensive line, Moore and three starters in the secondary. Linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams also returns after missing most of 2017 with a shoulder injury.