In the past we’ve run a weekly college football poll and for 2017 I wanted to try something different. This year I’m calling it our Top 11+2+3 poll and it’s pretty simple so let me briefly explain. When you combine the playoff teams plus the NY6 bowl games for Power 5 programs there are 11 teams total. I’m also including the next 2 teams in to the top 11. Additionally, the Group of 5 teams will get at least one program in the NY6 bowls and I’m ranking the top 3 in those conferences, as well.
Let’s get started with the 2017 pre-season.
1 Ohio State
From the Big Two I’ll take the Buckeyes as my top team based off their experience, a final ride from quarterback J.T. Barrett, and perhaps the nation’s best defensive line. Their schedule is entirely manageable (two toughest games 10 weeks apart) with the revenge game against Penn State in the middle. Meyer is 39-2 in the Big Ten with Ohio State and essentially plays a 3-game schedule in 2017. I feel like this is a no-brainer.
It’s difficult to predict Alabama to lose. And if they don’t lose they’ll easily be No. 1 over Ohio State. Their schedule is a little trickier than the Buckeyes led by the opener vs. Florida State. They also have one of the country’s best G5 teams in Colorado State in addition to LSU and the finale at Auburn. Some weird hiccup at Texas A&M is the type of game I don’t think exists on Ohio State’s schedule.
Most will have USC as the Pac-12 representative in the playoffs but I’m going with Washington to make a second straight appearance. They don’t have really any room for error, though. Their schedule sucks until late October when they could face all of the top half of their conference, save USC whom they miss in the regular season. In my opinion, one loss anywhere on their schedule knocks them out of the playoffs unless the Pac-12 has a historically strong year.
4 Oklahoma State
Here’s my risky playoff selection, one made even crazier because we don’t know how the Big 12 title game is going to change things when this conference isn’t splitting into divisions like in the past. The Cowboys could have a couple underrated quality wins (Tulsa, @Pitt) in non-conference play but like Washington there isn’t much room for error. For some reason, I have an 11-1 Okie State team losing to Oklahoma and finishing second in the conference, only to turn around and beat the Sooners in the Big 12 title game. You’ll notice the Big 12 moved Bedlam from the last week of the season to avoid a back-to-back rematch in such an event.
How can the Trojans NOT make the playoffs? My prediction is that they sweep a couple tough non-league games (Texas, Notre Dame) but trip up twice within their division due to the grind. That will lead to a 9-3 UCLA team (losing the opener to A&M perhaps?) facing Washington in the Pac-12 championship, losing to fall to 9-4, and not making this Top 11 list by years end. Therefore, the Trojans sit out league title week praying for things to break their way but they do not.
I have the Sooners dropping their game against Ohio State, sweeping through the Big 12, and as mentioned above falling in the league title game. That would give them a pair of losses to playoff teams which should rank them ahead of USC. But, there has to be controversy somewhere, right? In reality if this happens, Oklahoma would probably be ranked 3rd or 4th prior to the league title game and fall to 5th overall.
7 Florida State
Last year the ACC made a strong case for the best conference in the country and for 2017 I think they will take a sizable step back. The Seminoles face Alabama, Miami, Louisville, Clemson, and Florida. If we’re assuming a loss to Bama in the opener it’s going to be a tough ask for FSU to run the table without a loss. As you can see below a 10-2 record with a win over a mediocre opponent from the Coastal division in the ACC championship game isn’t going to get them a playoff berth.
I really like the Tigers this year, if only they could have about 25% better quarterback play and not have to deal with Alabama until the playoffs. They also have to play Florida, unlike Alabama, and it’s in the Swamp too. By some metrics they have the country’s toughest schedule that could feature as many as 5 teams that are Top 30-ish quality. That’s tough sledding but I think they can march to an honorable 10-2.
This is entirely schedule strength related.
That’s an embarrassment of a schedule. pic.twitter.com/xsBISCfZV5
— Eric Murtaugh (@EMMurtaugh) August 13, 2017
Let’s say Michigan has already lost twice prior to meeting Wisconsin and then the Wolverines lose to Ohio State to finish 9-3. Let’s also say Wisconsin finishes 12-0. Are they even close to the playoff discussion? I could see a situation where they’re maybe right around this spot just inside the Top 10 and the committee basically says, “Okay, go beat Ohio State in the Big Ten title game and then we’ll consider you.”
Three SEC West teams in the Top 10!?? The SEC is back ya’ll! As many have stated elsewhere this is almost all contingent on quarterback Jarrett Stidham blossoming in year one under Malzahn. If he does, the Tigers are in the national title picture. However, their schedule has some major land mines. Road games at Clemson, LSU, Arkansas, and A&M plus home dates with Georgia and Alabama. This might be a 9-3 team that finishes 6th overall in S&P+ during the regular season.
11 Penn State
I have the likes of Oklahoma State and Washington a lot higher than most which naturally pushed some teams back in the pecking order. Once I got to this point though I was not super confident. The offensive combination of McSorley and Barkley should get to 8 wins without much of a sweat–the Nittany Lions shouldn’t be challenged out of conference. They should be much more explosive than Michigan, win that game and a 10-win season is very attainable.
I’m putting the Tree in here by default. They’ve earned the right with their recent past and ability to overcome their weaknesses. Still, their schedule looks pretty crazy and I’m not sure anyone should be advocating for them to be higher than this.
I had to pick someone from the SEC East and here are the Dawgs. We’ll get to see them early but overall I think they’ll be fine in league play. They miss Alabama and LSU and their defense should hold up pretty well for the whole season. It’s tempting to pick Florida but a second year of development by Jacob Eason has to be better than whatever the Gators are going to throw on the field–and that includes a pissed off Malik Zaire who probably isn’t winning the job out of fall camp.
G5 Top 3
If I had to provide a summary for this pre-season poll it would be that I think the ACC is going to have a down year and the Group of 5 teams are going to be a scraggly looking bunch that won’t impress all that much. USF is the overwhelming popular choice here, so I’ll go chalk. They’re bringing back a ton of production and we’ll see if Charlie Strong messes it up or not.
I’m already hating this pick but the Cougars are the favorites in the division opposite South Florida and also bring back a ton of talent. However, they’ll miss quarterback Greg Ward, Jr. and unlike USF they face a pair of Power 5 teams in non-league play. Major Applewhite as head coach feels like a big gamble at this high of a ranking, too. I wouldn’t be surprised if Houston’s division is all bunched up with 4 or 5-loss teams.
3 Appalachian State
If the Mountaineers upset Georgia to begin the season, watch out. They could go 12-0 and should be as favored as anyone to run the table. If you want to place some good money in Vegas any of App State, Arkansas State, or Troy to crash the Group of 5 major bowl bid from the Sun Belt are smart choices.
Using my pre-season rankings the post-season would look something like this:
Rose (OSU vs. Oklahoma State)
Sugar (Alabama vs. Washington)
Orange Bowl: Florida State vs. Auburn
Cotton Bowl: Oklahoma vs. LSU
Peach Bowl: Penn State vs. USF
Fiesta Bowl: USC vs. Wisconsin
The first thing that jumps out to me is that we’d be seeing an Alabama-Washington re-match in the semi-finals which really no one nationally has any desire to see come to fruition. Do you think Chris Petersen would get really frustrated with his ceiling in Seattle (18th in recruiting right now and finished 22nd coming off a playoff appearance) and start looking at other jobs? I’m going to write it into reality.
It’d be fun to see Oklahoma State in maybe their biggest bowl game ever. Does America agree? My pre-season picks suck, don’t they? Looking at this lineup I’m sure everyone would be yawning until Ohio State and Alabama met in the title game.
I really like the Orange and Cotton bowl matchups and the Peach and Fiesta a lot less so. The non-playoff bowl games are all so at-large heavy that any number of matchup combinations could be possible. Although, these bowl games tend to stick to their “close to home” for the higher seeds selection process which I tried to adhere in this post.