Breaking down the preseason top 25

Christopher Gibson, Courier Staff

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No. 1 Clemson Tigers: The defending National Champions return essentially their entire offense, including Heisman favorite Trevor Lawrence. The Tigers did lose a lot of defensive talent, but defensive coordinator Brent Venables is among the best in the game, and Clemson recruits at such a high level that everything should be okay by the time December rolls around.

No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide: Don’t let last season’s blowout loss in the National Title game fool you. This team is still extremely talented and has the best wide receiving core in the country led by Jerry Jeudy. On defense, the Tide lose three starters up front, but the Nick Saban recruiting machine has plenty of five stars ready to step in.

No. 3 Georgia Bulldogs: If not for two collapses against Alabama in the last two seasons, Kirby Smart and staff would be talked about more. The Saban Disciple has turned Georgia into a powerhouse in the recruiting game and on the field. Quarterback Jake Fromm is back as is running back D’Andre Swift. That pair behind what may be the best offensive line in the country will lead a potent offense. On defense, the concern is at corner, where the Bulldogs lose Deandre Baker. However, the defensive line and linebacking core are among the most talented in the country.

No. 4 Oklahoma Sooners: In comes another transfer dual threat quarterback for Lincoln Riley to put up points with. Jalen Hurts (previously at Alabama) hopes to replicate the success of Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray. Hurts has plenty of weapons to go around and the offense should not take a noticeable step back. The defense returns nine starters and new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch was a home run hire. The defense will determine whether the Sooners return to the playoffs.

No. 5 Ohio State Buckeyes: New head coach Ryan Day and transfer quarterback Justin Fields (previously at Georgia) hope to continue Ohio State’s dominant run started by Urban Meyer. JK Dobbins returns to anchor the backfield and the offense should be fine. The defense, which finished seventh in the Big Ten in points per game allowed, will look to make a step forward as they return most of their starters.

No. 6 Michigan Wolverines: This feels like a huge year for Jim Harbough. Gone is Urban Meyer and the Big Ten is for the taking. Shea Patterson returns at QB as do most of the skill position players. The defense has a lot of work to do as they lose a lot of production. The schedule is daunting with trips to Wisconsin and Penn State on the horizon as well as the yearly games with Michigan State and Ohio State.

No. 7 LSU Tigers: A lot of talk has been coming from Baton Rouge about LSU’s new offense that will look to be more of a spread offense. Joe Burrow is back to orchestrate this new scheme as his number one target in Justin Jefferson. Dave Aranda is back to lead a top notch defense despite losing Greedy Williams and Devin White. Tough games at Alabama and Texas will decide how this season is viewed by the Tiger faithful.

No. 8 Notre Dame Fighting Irish: The Irish were dynamic on offense when Ian Book took over for Brendon Wimbush, and this year should be no different. Three of Book’s top five receivers are back as are four starters on the offensive line. The Irish on defense, however, took on heavy losses and returning to the playoffs will be tough. Games at Michigan and Georgia loom large for this team.

No. 9. Texas A&M Aggies: Jimbo Fisher and the Aggies showed a lot of improvement last season. Kellen Mond seemed to have finally put all of his skillset together and could be among the best quarterbacks in the SEC. A&M lost a lot at the skill positions but has always recruited well there. To take that next step, the secondary has to improve after finishing 12th in the SEC in pass efficiency. What should give most a pause on the Aggie hype train is an extremely difficult schedule with trips to Clemson, Georgia LSU as well home games against Alabama and Auburn.

No. 10 Washington Huskies: Georgia transfer Jacob Eason will take over for four year starter Jake Browning. Huskie fans hope that Eason’s arm will lead to a more vertical passing attack. The dynamic defense only returns a couple starters, but coach Chris Peterson has recruited well and the cupboard isn’t devoid of talent. The Pac 12 North should run through Seattle.

11. Texas Longhorns: After last year’s massive bowl win over Georgia, Texas appears to be back under Tom Herman. Sam Ehlinger amassed 41 total touchdowns as the quarterback last year and has put himself in the Heisman conversation. He returns four of his favorite targets, though losing Lil’Jordan Humphrey. The Longhorns only return two starters on defense, which will make things tough for coordinator Todd Orlando.

No. 12 Utah Utes: This is another team led by defense that returns plenty of starters. Kyle Wittingham has always done a fantastic job coaching up the defense and they should be an electric unit once again. On offense, new coordinator Andy Ludwig has work to do with Tyler Huntley, as the quarterback is coming off an injury. If this offense can get turned around and the defense remains elite, this could be a playoff team.

No. 13 Florida Gators: This season for the Gators was going to come down to Feliepe Franks, and during his first test in Week 0 against Miami, he looked shaky, throwing for 254 yards but also throwing two brutal interceptions. He came up big as the Gators won the game, but coach Dan Mullen can’t be feeling good about his offense. The defense however should be nasty if the pass rush that showed up against Miami continues.

No. 14 Missouri Tigers: Gone is Drew Lock and in comes transfer Kelly Bryant (previously at Clemson). The offense will have to tweak to run heavy under Derek Dooley to complement Bryant and standout running back Larry Rountree. A talented receiving core is led by preseason All-American Albert Okwuegbunam. The defense returns plenty of talent and took a massive step forward last year. The schedule is easy early on, and don’t be shocked if this team is undefeated and in the top ten before a trip to Georgia in November.

No. 15 Oregon Ducks: Potential number one overall pick Justin Herbert is back and ready to make a run at the Pac 12 title. He will need to find chemistry with some new wide receivers, but the offense should be in decent shape. Top recruit Kayvon Thibodeaux will look to improve what was a mediocre defense.

No. 16 Iowa Hawkeyes: Senior quarterback Nate Stanley will have to navigate a tough schedule for Iowa to win the Big 10 West. Even though the Hawkeyes lost two NFL tight ends, there is talent in the receiving core and the offensive line should be outstanding. The defensive line should be solid led by A.J. Epenesa but there are holes to fill at other spots.

No. 17 Wisconsin Badgers: Gone is polarizing quarterback Alex Hornibrook and Jack Coan will step in. Jonathon Taylor returns after a 2,000 yard season but will run behind an offensive line that has to reload. The defense will be strong as it always seems to be and the season will come down to the quarterback position and the ability to make sure defenses can’t key in on Taylor.

No. 18 Auburn Tigers: Freshman Bo Nix has been named the starter at quarterback and Gus Malzahn’s job may depend on how he does. The defensive line is stellar though as are the safeties. With all the new starters on offense it is hard to get a read on Auburn.

No. 19 Penn State Nittany Lions: The Nittany Lions will take a step back this season but James Franklin has had a couple of tremendous recruiting classes. Sean Clifford will take over for Trace McSorely. A tough schedule will hurt the Nittany Lions but 2020 has a chance to be special.

No. 20 Iowa State Cyclones: The Cyclones have really turned a corner under Matt Campbell. They lose David Montgomery and Hakeem Butler on offense but Brock Purdy is good enough to overcome that as the quarterback and all five starters return on the offensive line. The defense will be anchored by a superb front seven.

No. 21 Syracuse Orange: Dino Babers and staff are looking to build off last years 10-3 season. New starter Tommy DeVito has plenty of weapons to go around. Two starters who combined for 20 sacks return on the defensive line as does the entire secondary. There has not been this much hype for Syracuse since Donavon McNabb was slinging it around.

No. 22 UCF Knights: The non power five darlings haven’t lost a regular season game in two years. McKenzie Milton is out for the season but Notre Dame transfer Brandon Wimbush should be able to hold down the fort. The secondary is the best part of the defense and Randy Shannon has some talent in the front seven.

No. 23 Michigan State Spartans: Last year; a dominating defense wasn’t enough to overcome mediocre offense and the Spartans only managed seven wins. Eight starters return from that defense but it will be up to quarterback Brian Lewerke and the offense to see if Michigan State can become a contender in the Big 10.

No. 24 Virginia Cavaliers: Quarterback Bryce Perkins is the best player in the country that most people have never heard of. The standout threw for over 2,600 yards and added almost a thousand on the ground. The defense finished in the top 25 in the country and returns seven starters. Virginia should win the ACC Coastal and play in the ACC Championship.

No. 25 Army Black Knights: Under Jeff Monken Army has won 29 games over the last three years including back to back 10 win seasons. A culture has been established and look for that to continue with a lot of players coming back and a manageable schedule.

Under Consideration: Nebraska, Washington State, Stanford, Northwestern and Mississippi State.

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