Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence.

College football preseason Top 25: Clemson is still king

College football is almost back. Summer workouts are over, preseason camps start soon and then FBS play opens Aug. 24 with an actually interesting game between Florida and Miami. It’s all enough to inspire me to add my two cents with a preseason Top 25:

1. Clemson 

The defending national champion lost a lot of defensive talent, so Texas A&M might score some points while losing by a couple of touchdowns during its Week 2 visit. Clemson’s schedule is a breeze from then until finishing at South Carolina. 

2. Alabama 

It was shocking to see Nick Saban become so desperate during the CFP national championship game that he called a silly fake field goal. The Crimson Tide will make it back there with Tua Tagovailoa leading another high-powered offense. 

3. Georgia 

The Bulldogs need to find a go-to wide receiver from among an inexperienced group. They have everything else. Now coach Kirby Smart needs to stop with his own silly fake kicks. 

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4. Oklahoma 

Alabama transfer Jalen Hurts is the new quarterback. The Sooners will be hard to stop again. They return nine starters on defense and added new coordinator Alex Grinch from Ohio State, so I guess it can’t be any worse. 

5. LSU 

I underestimated coach Ed Orgeron all last season. I’m a believer now, especially with former Saints assistant Joe Brady on board to modernize LSU’s offense. The schedule is tough (at Texas and Alabama) but the talent base is deep. 

6. Notre Dame 

Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly also deserves some benefit of the doubt. Notre Dame is 22-4 since the 4-8 flop two years ago. Split games at Georgia and Michigan, and the Irish could be back in the CFP. 

7. Michigan 

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh told the truth when he said controversy follows ex-Ohio State coach Urban Meyer. Another truth: Harbaugh was 0-4 against Meyer’s Buckeyes. New offensive coordinator Josh Gattis is a good fit for QB Shea Patterson. 

8. Ohio State 

The Buckeyes will slip without linebacker Nick Bosa (No. 2 overall in NFL draft), QB Dwayne Haskins (No. 15 overall) and Meyer (“retired”). I’m rooting for Georgia transfer QB Justin Fields, but we still don’t know if he can play at this level. 

9. Florida 

The Gators won 10 games in coach Dan Mullen’s first season. He sprinkled some of his “quarterback magic dust” on Feleipe Franks. If Mullen can field a competent offensive line, the Gators can be a real threat to Georgia in the SEC East. 

10. Texas 

The Longhorns’ victory over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl was legitimate. I don’t see them building on it because too many experienced starters are gone from the defense. Coach Tom Herman needs one more class of good recruits for sustained success. 

11. Utah 

Kyle Whittingham’s Utes owned the Mountain West but still are looking for their first Pac-12 title since joining the league in 2011. They could get it this year with mediocre USC as the only real threat in the division. 

12. Oregon 

The Ducks got a big boost when QB Justin Herbert, a top NFL prospect, decided to return. They’ll have a chance at a special season if they beat Auburn in Texas in the opener and win at Stanford in Week 4.

13. Washington 

After Steve Sarkisian rebuilt the Huskies, Chris Petersen has them wining 10-plus games consistently. Three consecutive bowl-game losses are the only knock. 

14. Texas A&M 

The Aggies would be higher on this list if not for the schedule. They are at Clemson, Georgia and LSU and play Alabama at home three weeks after hosting Auburn. 

15. Auburn 

The Tigers will be very good on defense, as usual. But it’s been a long time since Gus Malzahn fielded a great offense and now he has no proven QB. 

16. Central Florida 

The Knights are replacing a lot of talent, including injured QB McKenzie Milton. They’ll still win the American Athletic Conference. 

17. Penn State 

Trace McSorley, a three-year starter at QB, now in the NFL is with the Ravens. The defense is good enough to carry the Nittany Lions until while the young offense sorts itself out. 

18. Iowa State 

Coach Matt Campbell’s Cyclones have won eight games in back-to-back seasons after not reaching that mark since 2000. QB Brock Purdy gives them a chance to do it again despite RB David Montgomery and WR Hakeem Butler heading to the NFL. 

19. Army 

Jeff Monken, the ex-Georgia Southern coach, is 22-5 over the past two seasons at West Point. A weak schedule should offset personnel losses on defense. 

20. Wisconsin 

The Badgers faded last season. They have Heisman Trophy candidate Jonathan Taylor at running back and could make a leap if they can get decent QB play. 

21. Syracuse 

Coach Dino Babers has built the Orange to the point where they may be the biggest threat to Clemson this season in a weak ACC. Syracuse beat the Tigers in 2017 and pushed them at Clemson last year. 

22. Washington State 

The Cougars are a notch below Utah, Oregon and Washington in the Pac-12. That’s too bad because coach Mike Leach is so much fun. 

23. Iowa 

Coach Kirk Ferentz’s program has chugged along for 20 years with pretty good results. The Hawkeyes lost some NFL talent but still have QB Nate Stanley, so they could challenge Wisconsin in the Big Ten’s lesser division. 

24. Stanford 

Coach David Shaw’s program has been in a bit of a rut the past two seasons. The Cardinal have a chance to spring some upsets with home games against Oregon, Washington and Notre Dame. 

25. Northwestern 

The Wildcats have finished with national rankings in three of the past four years. They are posed to do it again because of a typically stout defense.

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About the Author

Michael Cunningham
Michael Cunningham
Michael Cunningham has covered the Hawks and other beats for the AJC since 2010. 
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