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PIGSKIN PREVIEW - RANKING COLLEGE FOOTBALL'S TOP 10 TEAMS

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PIGSKIN PREVIEW - RANKING COLLEGE FOOTBALL'S TOP 10 TEAMS

By Howard T. Brody

Given there are more than 100 major college football programs in the NCAA, it’s utterly impossible to predict the outcome of every team’s season, unless you somehow have managed to get yourself a flux capacitor-powered DeLorean and a copy of “Gray’s Sports Almanac.”

But, college football forecasters and prognosticators alike don’t need to do that. All they need to is take a look at the top 15 to 20 programs from the year before, carefully examine the changes in their personnel (to see what impact players have graduated or gone to the NFL), study the recruits that were brought on board and finally see if there have been changes to the coaching staff— and if so, determine if it will have a positive or negative effect on the team.

Then, after all that has been analyzed, these forecasters should just close their eyes and roll the dice. Why? Because trying to predict college football isn’t a science; it’s a calculated gamble, and we all know it. Nothing is guaranteed.

And so, like all the others who are out there giving their opinions on the upcoming NCAA college football season, here is STRIPLV’s best guess for 2018.

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

You will be hard pressed not to find Alabama at the very top of anyone’s Top 10 to start the season. Let’s face it: They are in a class by themselves. Not only did they recently set an SEC record by having 12 players taken in the NFL draft, including four in the first round, but in 2011 and 2012 they were the only team to go back-to-back as national champions since the start of the BCS in 1998. Coach Nick Saban may have a quarterback controversy between junior Jalen Hurts and sophomore Tua Tagovailoa— who missed most of the spring with an injury his throwing hand— but he’s working with the same talented stable of skill position players (linemen Isaiah Buggs and Raekwon Davis as well as linebackers Dylan Moses and Mack Wilson to name a few). One possible hiccup: Saban will be working with his third defensive coordinator in four seasons as Tosh Lupoi got promoted after Jeremy Pruitt left for Tennessee.

2. Clemson Tigers

If you don’t believe the Crimson Tide will repeat as national champs, there’s a pretty good chance we might find our pick for number two at the top of the heap when it’s all said and done. Despite the Clemson Tigers losing a few key players such as Deon Cain and Ray-Ray McCloud in the NFL draft, the biggest question mark for Coach Dabo Swinney is whether Kelly Bryant can hold onto his job as starting quarterback from a group of talented underclassmen including Trevor Lawrence (pictured), the No. 1 freshman recruit in the country according to the 247 Sports Composite. Consider that along with running back Travis Etienne as a potential Heisman Trophy winner and a defensive line that features four potential first-round picks in next year’s NFL draft in Austin Bryant, Clelin Ferrell, Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins, and you might find the Tigers at No. 1 come January.

3. Ohio State Buckeyes

While Coach Urban Meyer could potentially face the usual setbacks caused by graduation and the NFL draft (as of this writing, Meyer is currently under investigation at Ohio State for his handling of domestic abuse allegations against former assistant coach Zach Smith)— Jalyn Holmes, Sam Hubbard and Tyquan Lewis to name a few— he’s got a great group of core players to build around. In addition to running back J’Kaylin (J.K.) Dobbins is returning for the 2018 campaign and the Ohio State defensive line looks strong for the season with Nick Bosa, Jonathon Cooper, Dre’Mont Jones and Chase Young. And while Dwayne Haskins won the starting quarterback job for the Buckeyes after a fierce battle, keep an eye out for Las Vegas’ very own Bishop Gorman alumni Tate Martell who is waiting in the wings, ready to take his job, and obviously if Meyer’s gets dismissed, this could throw a huge wrench in this rating.

4. Georgia Bulldogs

The defending SEC champion Georgia Bulldogs were hit hard by graduation and the NFL draft. They lost wide receiver Javon Wims and four starting linebackers including Butkus Award winner Roquan Smith who is now a Chicago Bear. And while their defense will take time to rebuild, as standout sophomore Monty Rice can’t do it alone, never count Coach Kirby Smart out, as he has a strong defensive recruiting class coming in. Meanwhile, Georgia has a potentially explosive offense that can be built around quarterback Jake Fromm as they are deep with receivers including tight end Isaac Nauta and wideouts Terry Godwin, Mecole Hardman and Riley Ridley. Ridley had six catches for a team-high total of 82 yards during last year’s national championship game.

5. Washington Huskies

Coach Chris Petersen has built a consistent winner at Washington. However, the clear No. 1 team in the Pac-12 will certainly be tested in the season opener as four-year starting quarterback Jake Browning and his go-to wide receiver Aaron Fuller will lead the Huskies into Atlanta to battle against the Auburn Tigers. But they’re not going at it alone. Standout running back Myles Gaskin (pictured) is back in Seattle for his senior year (which could turn out to be one of the most substantial NFL draft decisions ever made) and the Huskies’ defense is strong with young lion like safety Taylor Rapp, and defensive backs Elijah Molden, Byron Murphy and Keith Taylor. A lot is riding on the season opener for this football program.

6. Miami Hurricanes

Last year’s surprising 10-0 start and an ACC Coastal Division title, allowed Coach Mark Richt’s Hurricanes to muscle their way into the CFB playoff picture a year earlier than most predicted. And they are in good shape to do it again. Despite losing R.J. McIntosh, Kendrick Norton and Chad Thomas to the NFL draft, seeing linebacker D.J. Johnson transfer to Oregon and watching defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski head to Alabama, the defense is still strong with standout Shaquille Quarterman holding down the middle while play-making safety Jaquan Johnson patrols the backfield. On offense, Miami is all set at running back with DeeJay Dallas and Travis Homer as well as a 6-foot, 195-pound five-star freshman out of Orange City, Florida named Lorenzo Lingard.

7. Oklahoma Sooners

Lincoln Riley simply could not have done a better job in his first year as head coach. But will his sophomore season at Oklahoma be as successful as his freshman year? Believe it or not, a lot hangs on the decision of baseball draftee. After the Sooners lost Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield to the NFL and several others through attrition, the focus was put on redshirt junior Kyler Murray who brings a dual-threat skill set that is perfect for Oklahoma’s fast-paced offense. But a funny thing happened on the way to Owen Field. Murray got picked ninth in the June MLB draft by the Oakland Athletics and is weighing a contract that could potentially be valued at $4.75 million according to ESPN’s Jake Trotter. Regardless of what Murray decides, there will be a lot of eyes on sophomore quarterback Austin Kendall and freshman defensive back Brendan “Bookie” Radley-Hiles, who, according to the 247 Sports Composite, was a top-40 high school recruit from Bradenton, Florida’s IMG Academy.

8. Michigan Wolverines

Coming off a disappointing five-loss season, many would write off Michigan, but remember, predictions are a gamble— and we’re gambling that the Wolverines will crack the Top 10. Defensive coordinator Don Brown once again has one of the Power Five toughest defenses with linebackers Devin Bush (pictured) and Khaleke Hudson and defensive lineman Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich. Add a new-look offense to that nasty defense, and that spells trouble for opponents. With quarterback Shea Patterson coming in from Ole Miss as a transfer, former Ohio State offensive coordinator Ed Warriner in as offensive line coach and former Florida head coach Jim McElwain now coaching wide receivers, head coach Jim Harbaugh should be able to prove the naysayers wrong even with a schedule that has road games at Michigan State, Notre Dame and Ohio State.

9. Wisconsin Badgers

Without a doubt, Wisconsin was the class of the Big Ten West last season, and unless a catastrophe happens, that should be the case again this season. With quarterback Alex Hornibrook, star running back Jonathan Taylor, wide receiver Quintez Cephus and all five offensive line starters returning, the Badgers look solid on offense. And coach Paul Chryst should be happy about his defense too as nose guard Garrett Rand moves to the outside while 6-foot 7-inch, 297-pound Isaiahh Loudermilk digs in at defensive end. Now, if only Wisconsin can win the Big Ten championship, which they haven’t done since 2012, then they can finally go to the playoffs.

10. Michigan State Spartans

When Brian Lewerke came into his own as the Spartans’ quarterback last season—  2,793 yards passing for 20 touchdowns and 559 yards rushing with five touchdowns on the ground— it was one of the key factors in Michigan State’s amazing turnaround and another successful season under Coach Mark Dantonio.  Considering that 19 of the team’s 22 starters are coming back, including tailback L.J. Scott, and a couple of freshmen in Kalon Gervin (cornerback) and Xavier Henderson (safety) are likely to come into their own on defense, you can expect the Spartans to improve on their 10-3 overall record from last season and challenge for a playoff spot.

While Auburn, Texas Christian and Notre Dame just missed our Top 10 rankings, who’s to say they won’t be right in the thick of things when the playoffs come around and the BCS starts doing their match-making?

That’s our Pigskin Preview and Top 10 picks for the 2018 NCAA College Football campaign. We think the Alabama Crimson Tide will take the No. 1 spot at the end of the season earning them back-to-back national championships for the first time since doing it in 2011 and 2012.

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