2017 College Football Season Preview: Who Can Beat Alabama?

There are 128 teams in college football’s FBS division 1. All are fighting for a place in the playoffs. Only four gets in. It will be a thriller.

Cold beer, juicy burgers, and football chants in the sun. The smell of barbeque, ribs and warm asphalt. A parking lot filled with laughter and football jerseys. The pig skin is flying over your head, and everybody is counting down the minutes to kickoff. There’s nothing quite like college football.

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Tailgating. The beauty of American sports.

The Clemson Tigers won the National Championship last year, after a thriller against Alabama Crimson Tide. There are reasons to believe that Alabama will get back in the championship game this season, but Clemson might struggle, and that is what’s great with college ball: It all changes from year to year.

Alabama Crimson Tide

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Division:
SEC
2016 record: 14-1
Head coach: Nick Saban (11th year)
Starting QB: Jalen Hurts (sophomore)
Returning starters: 16

Alabama came close last year, but the amazing last quarter by Clemson QB Deshaun Watson and WR Mike Williams gave the Tigers a revenge for the 2015 game. If Alabama gets back to the National Championship game in 2017, it will be their third in a row. The last team who did that was Florida State in 1998, 1999 and 2000. And it sure looks like they could repeat that, as Alabama is the odds favorite to win it all this season.

A lot of pressure lays on quarterback Jalen Hurts, who probably just scratched the surface in 2016. He looked very calm under pressure, and can hurt you with both his arm and his feet. However, he needs to execute the offense better, and stop making rookie mistakes. But, with some help from his monster running back Bo Scarbrough, this team should play January football this season as well.

They open the season with a bang at Florida State, a game that possibly can decide their playoff fate. Tennessee, LSU, and Auburn aren’t easy games, but the rest of the schedule should be piece of cake for Nick Saban’s team, led by Hurts and Scarbrough on offense – and All-American Minkah Fitzpatrick on defense. Roll Tide!

Predicted regular season record: 11-1

Clemson Tigers

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Division: ACC
2016 record: 14-1
Head coach: Dabo Swinney (10th year)
Starting QB: Kelly Bryant (junior)
Returning starters: 12

 

Clemson had a good run, but replacing Deshaun Watson won’t be easy. Just like the Oregon Ducks a few years ago was great with Marcus Mariota under center – but collapsed without him. Clemson lost all their offensive playmakers to the NFL draft, and the big guys on defense is out too. Christian Wilkins is left on the D-line, and a lot of Clemson’s success lies on his shoulders.

Kelly Bryant is most likely the new starter at quarterback. His 18 pass attempts and 13 completions doesn’t say much, but he should at least know the offense well after sitting behind Watson for two years. I expect big things from wide receiver Deon Cain, but i doubt he can carry this offense himself.

Predicted regular season record: 9-3

Florida State Seminoles

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Division: ACC
2016 record: 10-3
Head coach: Jimbo Fischer (8th year)
Starting QB: Deondre Francois (sophomore)
Returning starters: 14

 

FSU can win the National Championship this year. They haven’t been in it since Jameis Winston left, but things are looking good in Florida. Derwin Jones is being mentioned as one of the top picks in the 2018 NFL draft, and even though Dalvin Cook left for the NFL last year, the Seminoles will have a powerful running attack nonetheless. Jacques Patrick isn’t as good, but he’s a top tier college football tailback.

Deondre Francois will be the one throwing the balls for Florida State, and the sophomore quarterback was impressive in his first year. He should only get better this year, and could skyrocket himself into NFL consideration with another great season.

The opening game versus Alabama will be quite a game, and if the Seminoles could pull off a win there… It will be hard for them to drop out of the top four during the season.

Predicted regular season record: 11-1

Ohio State Buckeyes
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Division:
Big Ten
2016 record: 11-2
Head coach: Urban Meyer (6th year)
Starting QB: JT Barrett (RS senior)
Returning starters: 15

It seems like ages ago since JT Barrett entered the stage for Ohio State. He became the starter when Braxton Miller went down ahead of the 2014 season, but an injury ended his sophomore campaign. We all know the Cardale Jones saga that followed. Barrett was back in charge last year, and threw 24 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. However, Ohio State lost two games, and missed out on the National Championship. The 0-31 loss in the Fiesta Bowl to Clemson should still hurt.

The 2017 season will be Barrett’s last chance to dance, and last chance to show that he is worthy of a spot on an NFL roster – and he will do it under a new offensive coordinator, Kevin Wilson.

For once, Ohio State is actually returning quite a few starters. With 14 returning, they have a solid core. Nick Bosa is obviously an interesting name, even though he’s not quite as good as his big brother. Mike Weber is an intriguing running back. They did lose quite a few wide receivers, and now it’s up to Binjimin Victor to haul in touchdowns for the Buckeyes. The secondary got a knock by losing Hooker, Lattimore & Conley – but OSU aaalways finds new talent. Damon Webb is the only returning starter in the secondary, and he will have to be a leader back there.

Predicted regular season record: 10-2

Michigan Wolverines
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Division:
Big Ten
2016 record: 10-3
Head coach: Jim Harbaugh (3th year)
Starting QB: Wilton Speight (RS junior)
Returning starters: 5

 

The Michigan defense is gone. No, really, they return ONE starter. But, this has to be your year, right, Jim? Mr. Harbaugh left the San Fransisco 49ers to take Michigan to new heights, but that hasn’t happened. You kind of have to believe that he is in the hot seat, if it doesn’t work out in his third season either.

They just lost their elusive playmaker Jabrill Peppers and tight end Jake Butt, in addition to a bunch of others. Michigan actually only have five returning starters. Wilton Speight returns as the quarterback, and the 22 year old did look good in 2016. They won nine straight, before the fateful loss to Iowa. There was no coming back from that.

Coming back is what they’re hoping to do this year. The schedule isn’t that bad, and I can see Michigan being undefeated before the season finale against Ohio State. Actually, they probably need to be undefeated to get into the playoffs with that schedule. With 17 new starters, it won’t be easy, but it can be done.

Predicted regular season record: 10-2

UCS Trojans
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Division:
Pac-12
2016 record: 10-3
Head coach: Clay Helton (2nd year)
Starting QB: Sam Darnold (RS sophomore)
Returning starters: 10

 

It’s a good year for college football fans in California. The two big name quarterbacks for the 2018 NFL Draft both plays in Los Angeles. Josh Rosen for UCLA, and Sam Darnold for USC. Darnold is considered to be the top prospect, and should be able to lead his team close to the playoffs this year.

USC has a nine game winning streak going from last year. They have lost quite a few players, but should be able to ride the momentum a bit longer. The schedule isn’t hopeless, they have a star quarterback, and the bookmakers say you’re one of the favorites to go all the way. Let’s see how this ends…

Predicted regular season record: 10-2

Washington Huskies
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Division:
Pac-12
2016 record: 12-2
Head coach: Chris Petersen (4th year)
Starting QB: Jake Browning (junior)
Returning starters: 13

 

Logic says that Washington will have yet another great season in 2017. Jake Browning was a revelation for the Huskies, in a season that got them all the way to the playoffs. Browning returns, one year older. Myles Gaskin is back at RB. The speedster, John Ross, left for the NFL – but Dante Pettis has three years in this offense, and will be productive.

The secondary lost three starters in the draft, and that’s the unit that will need to step up for Washington to go on another playoff run. Taylor Rapp is a good safety, but Washington lacks talent at cornerback right now. Vita Vea will yet again be a force up front, and the linebacker core is very good.

Browning & Gaskin should mean January football for this team, but it’s a long way there. The schedule, however, is not very strong. Yes, they can go undefeated, but only one loss may mean no playoffs.

Predicted regular season record: 12-0

Wisconsin Badgers
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Division:
Big Ten
2016 record: 10-3
Head coach: Paul Chryst (4th year)
Starting QB: Alex Hornibrook (RS sophomore)
Returning starters: 15

 

There’s whispers about Wisconsin potentially going all the way this year. They have a bunch of returning starters, including a fantastic offensive line. Bradrick Shaw ran for 457 yards on 88 attempts behind Corey Clement last year, and 2017 is his season.

Alex Hornibrook (great name) is the quarterback. He completed 106 passes on 181 attempts in 2016, and I do expect him to throw the ball more this season. 9 touchdowns and 7 interceptions is not good enough, especially not when the O-line protecting you is above average.

The defensive line and linebackers are all back for the Badgers, and those guys will have to carry the team towards new heights. The Wisconsin defense has been one of the greatest in the nation for the last couple of years, and should be a force yet again in 2017. The schedule is also friendly, as there’s no Penn State or Ohio State. Michigan will be their biggest task.

Predicted regular season record: 11-1

Penn State Nittany Lions
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Division:
Big Ten
2016 record: 11-3
Head coach: James Franklin (4th year)
Starting QB: Trace McSorley (junior)
Returning starters: 16

 

One of the big underdogs last year, but there’s no flying under the radar in 2017. They return 16 of 22 starters, which makes them a team to look out for. Trace McSorley took over after Christian Hackenberg, and suddenly the offense got way better. And Saquon Barkley at runningback… woah. Barkley ran for 1496 yards in 2016, averaging 5,5 yards per carry. He’s expected to take the step to the NFL this year, and will play his heart out to do that. Chris Godwin was an important wide receiver for them, and McSorley’s passes will have to look for some other pair of hands this time around.

They do have a rough schedule, with Ohio State, Michigan and Northwestern back to back, and I don’t think Barkley can win enough games for them on his own.

Predicted regular season record: 9-3

Oklahoma Sooners
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Division:
Big 12
2016 record: 11-2
Head coach: Lincoln Riley (1st year)
Starting QB: Baker Mayfield (RS senior)
Returning starters: 17

 

Baker Mayfield returns for another season under center for Oklahoma. Both Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon is gone though, and the same is Dede Westbrook. That’s three hugely talented players out the door. It will be very hard to replace them. Other than that, Oklahoma returns a bunch of players.

Who’s not returning though, is head coach Bob Stoops. He decided to retire after 18 seasons, and offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley steps in. It will be interesting to see how that pans out.

On the defensive side of the ball, Caleb Kelly is the guy.  He was a 5 star recruit, and 2017 is the season for him to show why.

Ohio State should set them back early in the season, and Baylor’s offense is never easy to overcome. Texas and Oklahoma State are two other difficult games. Other than that – it’s doable.

Predicted regular season record: 10-2

Oklahoma State Cowboys
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Division:
Big 12
2016 record: 10-3
Head coach: Mike Gundy (13th year)
Starting QB: Rudolph Mason (senior)
Returning starters: 12

 

The Sooners isn’t the only team in Oklahoma. Oklahoma State has had two solid seasons, but only returns 12 starters. Mason Rudolph is back under center however, and he is a guy that can become a first round draft pick with another good year. Mason had 28 touchdowns and only four interceptions last season.

Justice Hill is back after a good freshman season (however the depth behind him is thin), and the receiver corps is decent – with James Washington being the big star.

He might not believe in global warning, but Mike Gundy is a great football coach. He’s one of few coaches that hasn’t played college football himself, but his 12 years in Oklahoma shows that doesn’t matter.

They have Baylor, Texas, Kansas State, West Virginia & Oklahoma on their schedule – but if they play like last year, look out for Oklahoma State!

Predicted regular season record: 9-3

Louisville Cardinals
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Division:
ACC
2016 record: 9-4
Head coach: Bobby Petrino (8th year)
Starting QB: Lamar Jackson (junior)
Returning starters: 12

 

Louisville can go all the way this year. Lamar Jackson is special, and if he can keep improving from his Heisman season, it’s a good chance they’ll actually do it. The 2016 season fell apart late, and Louisville hasn’t won for three games straight. They hope to get back up on that horse early this year.

Cornerback Jaire Alexander will yet again be an important piece on defense, and the entire secondary could be heading to the NFL next spring. However, they do have a new defensive coordinator, and you never know how things work out.

What I do know is that I’m excited to watch Louisville this year. North Carolina, Clemson and Florida State are among their opponents this year, but if Jackson shines, they can win them all!

Predicted regular season record: 10-2

LSU Tigers
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Division:
SEC
2016 record: 8-4
Head coach: Ed Oregon (1st year)
Starting QB: Danny Etling (senior)
Returning starters: 11

Despite having an elite running back like Leonard Fournette, the LSU Tigers didn’t stand a chance last year. Due to terrible quarterback play, and two receivers who didn’t live up to their expectations, LSU only won eight games.

QB Danny Etling is still no more than an arm. He takes a bunch of sacks, and can’t find his receivers. Fournette and Guice saved them partly last year, and the latter is back for another season. The 212 lbs runner had 1387 yards as a backup, and expectations is high for him this season.

They lost a bunch of important players as well, and returns only 11 starters. Their secondary was great last year, but I’m not sure that group can keep them in games this season. Arden Key is an awesome player, but that’s it for them on defense. The schedule is rough. I’m sorry LSU fans, but this could be really bad.

Predicted regular season record: 7-5

Auburn Tigers
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Division:
SEC
2016 record: 8-5
Head coach: Gus Malzahn (5th year)
Starting QB: Jarrett Stidham (sophomore)
Returning starters: 15

 

More tigers. The Auburn Tigers isn’t a very good team anymore. It’s been a long time since Gus Malzahn’s 12-2 debut season. Five years in, and he hasn’t been able to get close to that record. 2017 might be his last chance, but the 15 returning starters makes the case for a good season.

Jarrett Stidham was with Baylor last year, an offense known to throw the ball a lot. Auburn is known to run the ball a lot. It will be interesting to see how this pans out, but I definitely think we’ll se a better passing attack than last year. The «Last Chance U» star John Franklin didn’t really give the Tigers anything at quarterback, but could be really special as a kick and punt returner. Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson still makes a great duo in the backfield. This is an offense that will score points!

Losing Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams on defense will hurt, but they have some pieces left. Marlon Davidson will have to show more of what he did last year, and Donatavius Russell could be the one to replace Adams. They don’t have a bunch of great tacklers in space, but should be able to win up front.

There is reason to be optimistic about Auburn, who’s finishing the season vs Alabama. That game will decide their faith.

Predicted regular season record: 8-4

Texas Longhorns
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Division:
Big 12
2016 record: 5-7
Head coach: Tom Herman (1st year)
Starting QB: Sam Buechele (sophomore)
Returning starters: 17

 

Texas football is crazy, and no matter how bad the Longhorns is – everybody thinks they are the best in the country. This year they are, well, not among the top, but still pretty decent. What’s most interesting about the 2017 version of Texas is new head coach Tom Herman. He did a hell of a job in Houston, and it was a lot of fuzz about him leaving for Texas last fall. Now he’s here, ready to take this team to new heights.

And that shouldn’t be a problem, as Texas only won five games last season. Hopefully, Herman and his new staff can fix what was their biggest problem in 2016: Awful defense.

However, Herman is first and foremost a quarterback genius, and he will hopefully transform Sam Buechele into something great. He still has his targets, with Dorian Leonard, Colin Johnson and Armanti Foreman. Foreman’s little brother D’Onta was drafted this spring, and Armanti will definitely be looking to walk the same path.

But, we saw last year that a great offense isn’t enough. They switch from a 3-4 to 4-3 defense, and maybe that will do the trick. Still, I can’t see them being a lot better than last year.

Predicted regular season record: 8-4

Florida Gators
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Division:
SEC
2016 record: 9-4
Head coach: Jim McElwain (3rd year)
Starting QB: Felipe Franks (RS freshman)
Returning starters: 14

 

The Florida Gators has won the SEC East two years in a row, and they are going for the hat-trick in 2017. The new starting QB, Felipe Franks, is really promising. At 6-5 and 214 lbs, he’s what you look for in a quarterback.

Malik Zaire is another reason for Gators fans to be excited. The 6-0, 225 lbs. quarterback transfered from Notre Dame, and could challenge Franks for the starting job. Whoever gets the starting job, he will be protected by an experienced O-line with four returning starters. That should also be helpful for junior running back Jordan Scarlett.

Over to the defense, a unit that was one of the best in the country last year. Teez Tabor was a flashy playmaker on cornerback. Quincy Wilson was dead solid on the other side. Both will be missed, and can they be replaced? Not right away. Chauncey Gardner will be moving from safety to corner, but i’m not sure he’s a great fit at the position. He will need time to be fluid at corner.

The schedule is rough, and there is too many questions mark. I predict an average season for the Gators.

Predicted regular season record: 7-5

Georgia Bulldogs
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Division:
SEC
2016 record: 8-5
Head coach: Kirby Smart (2nd year)
Starting QB: Jason Eason (sophomore)
Returning starters: 17

 

Georgia has had some great running backs, but Nick Chubb is one of the best. His 2016 season was «disappointing», and he decided to stay in school instead of declaring for the draft. Georgia will thank him for that, but he’s not the only one who wanted to stay one more year at Georgia. They return 17 starters, the most in the SEC.

Kirby Smart didn’t get a very good start as a Georgia head coach, but his second year should be better. The defense was top 20 in both total yards and passing yards last year – and they’re all back, with the exception of Maurice Smith. The only problem, as I see it, is the o-line. With only two returning starters, we doesn’t quite know what they would get out of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel.

Sophomore quarterback Jason Eason needs to take the next step, but if he does, this is a championship caliber football team. This is the year for Georgia.

Predicted regular season record: 12–0

Notre Dame Fighting Irish
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Division:
None
2016 record: 4-8
Head coach: Brian Kelly (8th year)
Starting QB: Brandon Wimbush (junior)
Returning starters: 15

 

They don’t really belong in this preview, but they get a spot because of the great history. Everybody who’s watched Rudy has a soft spot for this team, and as a Norwegian it’s interesting that the greatest Notre Dame coach ever (Knut Rockne) was Norwegian. South bend is a special place.

The 2016 season was terrible. I can’t believe how bad they did, with a good quarterback like Deshone Kizer under center. Will Fuller (2016 draft) and Kizer (2017 draft) is not on this team anymore, but they do return 15 starters. They are supposed to change their offensive style this season, and hopefully that will help.

The pressure will be on new quarterback Barndon Wimbush, but he has help from a great running back in Josh Adams. The o-line is also solid. I’m shocked if Notre Dame doesn’t win more games than in 2016, but I’m not sure they are a top 25 team just yet.

Predicted regular season record: 7-5

 

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WRITTEN BY MATTIS HOLT, SPORTS AND BETTING WRITER FOR VALUEWINS

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