1. OHIO STATE
Coach: Urban Meyer, 4th year (38-3)
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Last year: 14-1, 8-0 Big Ten, def. Alabama, 42-45, Sugar Bowl SF; def. Oregon, 42-20, CFP championship
Outlook: Whether Meyer chooses QB Cardale Jones, who led postseason title run, or J.T. Barrett, Buckeyes will be offensive powerhouse with RB Ezekiel Elliott (696 rush, 9.2 avg. in 3 postseason games) and WR Michael Thomas. DE Joey Bosa, suspended for opener, might be No. 1 NFL pick. OSU gets Michigan State on Nov. 21 in Columbus.
Coach: Gary Patterson, 16th year (132-45)
Last year: 12-1, 8-1 Big 12, def. Ole Miss, 42-3, Peach Bowl
Outlook: Frogs dropped from third to sixth in flawed final CFP rankings, adding motivation for team with 10 returning offensive starters led by Heisman candidate Trevone Boykin at QB, RB Aaron Green and WR Josh Doctson. Defense lacks starting experience, but Patterson adds frosh LB Mike Freeze and has nation's best rush defense (94.8) in his 15 years.
3. MICHIGAN STATE
Coach: Mark Dantonio, 12th year (93-48)
Last year: 11-2, 7-1 Big Ten, def. Baylor, 42-41, Cotton Bowl
Outlook: Senior QB Connor Cook has 46 TDs and 14 interceptions the past two seasons, has senior WRs Aaron Burbridge and Macgarrett Kings Jr. and adds frosh RB LJ Scott behind vet OL. All-American DE Shilique Calhoun leads tough defense that must rebuild at CB. If Spartans win at home versus Oregon, they can make CFP even if they lose at Ohio State.
4. TEXAS A&M
Coach: Kevin Sumlin, 4th year (28-11)
Last year: 8-5, 3-5 SEC, def. West Virginia, 45-37, Liberty Bowl
Outlook: You read it here first. Aggies have the talent to surprise in brutal SEC West and reach CFP. QB Kyle Allen leads top SEC passing attack (305.5), has brilliant WRs Josh Reynolds and Speedy Noil and RB Tra Carson. Five-star frosh QB Kyler Murray could get in mix. Former LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis revives unit led by DE Myles Garrett.
Coach: Dabo Swinney, 8th year (61-26)
Last year: 10-3, 6-2 ACC, def. Oklahoma, 40-6, Russell Athletic Bowl
Outlook: If QB Deshaun Watson remains healthy after ACL surgery in December, Tigers can surpass Florida State as ACC's best. WRs Mike Williams and Artavis Scott are prolific and freshmen WRs Deon Cain and Ray-Ray McCloud are playmakers. Defense is in rebuild mode but has DE Shaq Lawson and FS Jayron Kearse. Tigers get Georgia Tech, ND and FSU at home.
Coach: Steve Sarkisian, 2nd year (9-4)
Last year: 9-4, 6-3 Pac-12, def. Nebraska, 45-42, Holiday Bowl
Outlook: Trojans again have full scholarships after coming off probation, and Cody Kessler (39 TDs, 5 interceptions) is Pac-12's top QB, has vet OL led by C Max Tuerk and WR JuJu Smith and CB Adoree' Jackson, who plays both ways, are top targets. Freshman RB Ronald Jones II competes with Justin Davis, and frosh DB Iman Marshall adds to defense led by LB Su'a Cravens.
Coach: Gus Malzahn, 3rd year (20-7)
Last year: 8-5, 4-4 SEC, lost to Wisconsin, 34-31, Outback Bowl
Outlook: Tigers lost every big game last season but look for turnaround with QB Jeremy Johnson (.757 completion percentage), JC transfer RB Jovon Robinson and veteran WRs Duke Williams and Ricardo Louis. Addition of former Florida coach Will Muschamp should improve defense that allowed 398.8 yards and 26.7 points per game. Tigers face LSU, Texas A&M on road but Alabama at home.
Coach: Art Briles, 8th year (55-34)
Last year: 11-2, 8-1 Big 12, lost to Michigan St., 42-41, Cotton Bowl
Outlook: Junior Seth Russell follows Robert Griffin III and Bryce Petty at QB in Bears' offense that averaged 581.5 yards and 48.2 points last season. He's surrounded by eight returning starters, including RB Shock Linwood and a pair of 1,000-yard WRs in KD Cannon and Corey Coleman. Defense hasn't been strong suit, but DE Shawn Oakman leads nine returning starters.
Coach: Nick Saban, 9th year (91-17)
Last year: 12-2, 7-1 SEC, lost to Ohio State, 42-35, Sugar Bowl SF
Outlook: Saban routinely has top recruiting class, but replaces nine starters on offense led by QB Jake Coker and RB Derrick Henry. Defense led by NT A'Shawn Robinson, LB Reggie Ragland and soph CB Tony Brown will make Tide tough out. P JK Scott is best in country. Oh, Saban landed No. 1 WR Calvin Ridley, No. 1 RB Damien Harris.
10. FLORIDA STATE
Coach: Jimbo Fisher, 6th year (58-11)
Last year: 13-1, 8-0 ACC, lost to Oregon, 59-20, Rose Bowl SF
Outlook: No. 1 NFL draft pick Jameis Winston saved many close games last year, but Notre Dame grad transfer Everett Golson should be quality replacement QB. Soph RB Dalvin Cook was acquitted of battery charge and reinstated, but 'Noles need to avoid controversy. Freshmen DE Josh Sweat and S Derwin James should contribute early. Road tests at Georgia Tech, Clemson are key.
Coach: Paul Chryst, 1st year
Last year: 11-3, 7-1 Big Ten, def. Auburn, 34-31, Outback Bowl
Outlook: Gary Anderson's surprise departure to Oregon State led to hiring of former Badgers offensive coordinator Paul Chryst. Senior QB Joel Stave returns, but best move is handing off to RB Corey Clement or passing to WR Tanner McEvoy, who beat him out for QB job last season. Defense features vet secondary led by CBs Darius Hillary and Sojourn Shelton. Opener vs. Alabama.
Coach: Les Miles, 11th year (103-29)
Last year: 8-5, SEC 4-4, lost to Notre Dame, 31-28, Music City Bowl
Outlook: Sophomore QB Brandon Harris is expected to start over junior Anthony Jennings, a 48.9-percent passer last year. Soph RB Leonard Fournette will be prominent in the Heisman race. Tigers will have one of best pass defenses in country with FS Jalen Mills and five-star frosh Kevin Toliver joining Tre'Davious White at CB. Tigers get Auburn, Texas A&M at home.
Coach: Rich Rodriguez, 4th year (26-14)
Last year: 10-14, 7-2 Pac-12, lost to Boise State, 38-30, Fiesta Bowl
Outlook: Soph QB Anu Solomon was top frosh passer in country with 3,793 yards, 28 TDs. Weapons include RB Nick Wilson (1,375 rush, 16 TDs) and WR Cayleb Jones (73, 1,019, 9 TDs). LB Scooby Wright won Lombardi Award and is long-shot Heisman candidate, but pass defense (281.2, 118th) must improve. Cats upset Oregon last year, could roll to Nov. 7 date at USC.
14. GEORGIA TECH
Coach: Paul Johnson, 8th year (59-35)
Last year: 11-3, 6-2 ACC, def. Mississippi State, 49-34, Orange Bowl
Outlook: Junior QB Justin Thomas excelled in the spread option (2,805 total offense, 28 total TDs). There is depth at RB, including Stanford transfer Patrick Skov. Freshman WR Brad Stewart could make splash, and redshirt freshman Qua Searcy will make an impact at A-back. All-senior secondary led by FS Jamal Golden must improve. Daunting road tests at Notre Dame, Duke and Clemson.
15. NOTRE DAME
Coach: Brian Kelly, 6th year (45-20)
Last year: 8-5, def. LSU, 31-28, Music City Bowl
Outlook: Transfer of QB Everett Golson cleared way for junior Malik Zaire, who has a vet OL led by LT Ronnie Stanley and C Nick Martin and top WR William Fuller. RB Tarean Folston is complemented by C.J. Prosise, who also plays slot receiver. Defense returns nine starters plus super CB KeiVarae Russell (2014 academic suspension).
Coach: Mark Helfrich, 3rd year (24-4)
Last year: 13-2, 8-1 Pac-12, def. Florida St., 59-20, Rose Bowl SF, lost to Ohio State, 42-20, CFP championship
Outlook: Things won't be the same without Heisman Trophy QB Marcus Mariota. Replacement Vernon Adams was brilliant at FCS Eastern Washington but takes huge step up. Ducks return skill with RBs Royce Freeman and Thomas Tyner and WRs Byron Marshall and Dwayne Stanford. DE DeForest Buckner and frosh DT Canton Kaumatule lead defense.
17. PENN STATE
Coach: James Franklin, 2nd year (7-6)
Last year: 7-6, 2-6 Big Ten, def. Boston College, 31-30, OT, Pinstripe Bowl
Outlook: Nittany Lions are free of NCAA sanctions, and have the 14th-rated recruit class, including JC OT Paris Palmer. His addition to vet OL helps QB Christian Hackenberg and offense featuring RB Akeel Lynch and WR DaeSean Hamilton. DT Anthony Zettel heads defense with seven returning starters. Lions could be 6-0 going to Ohio State Oct. 17.
Coach: Mark Richt, 15th year (135-48)
Last year: 10-3, 6-2 SEC, def. Louisville, 37-14, Belk Bowl
Outlook: Soph RB Nick Chubb exploded on scene last year with 1,547 rushing yards and 14 TDs. O-line returns four starters which will help the uncertainty at QB with Brice Ramsey battling Greyson Lambert under new coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Tough Bulldogs defense adds frosh DT Trent Thompson, No. 1 overall prospect.
Coach: Bob Stoops, 17th year (168-44)
Last year: 8-5, 5-4 Big 12, lost to Clemson, 40-6, Russell Athletic Bowl
Outlook: Former Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield won QB job over vet Trevor Knight under new coordinator Lincoln Riley, a former Tech assistant. Sooners' run game could be dynamic with return of suspended RB Joe Mixon to go with Samaje Perine (1,731 rush, 21 TDs). Defense allowed 30-plus points seven times last year.
Coach: Gary Pinkel, 15th year (113-66)
Last year: 11-3, 7-1 SEC, def. Minnesota, 33-17, Citrus Bowl
Outlook: Mizzou shocked with second straight SEC East title last year and returns starting QB Maty Mauk (2,648 yards, 25 TDs, 13 INTs), who must improve .534 completion percentage. RB Russell Hansbrough (1,084 yards, 10 TDs) returns, and Tigers added JC RB Chase Abbington and frosh WR Justin Smith. Five-star frosh DT Terry Beckner Jr. complements DT Harold Brantley.
21. ARIZONA STATE
Coach: Todd Graham, 4th season (28-12)
Last year: 10-3, 6-3 Pac-12, def. Duke, 36-31, Sun Bowl
Outlook: QB Mike Bercovici replaced injured Taylor Kelly and kept Sun Devils' prolific offense cranking (442.3 yards, 36.9 points). Soph RB Demario Richard will be pushed by Kalen Ballage and De'Chavon Hayes, while D.J. Foster moves to WR. Nine starters return on defense. Tough opener vs. Texas A&M in Houston, then USC, UCLA in Pac-12.
Coach: Mike Riley, 1st year
Last year: 9-4, 5-3 Big Ten, lost to USC, 45-42, Holiday Bowl
Outlook: New coach Mike Riley replaces cantankerous Bo Pelini, who had seven straight seasons with at least nine wins. QB Tommy Armstrong Jr., who threw for 2,695 yards and 22 TDs last year, moves to pro-style attack but has top WRs Jordan Westerkamp and De'Mornay Pierson-El. DT Maliek Collins and S Nate Gerry head defense. Huskers get Wisconsin, Michigan State at home.
23. UTAH STATE
Coach: Matt Wells, 3rd year (19-9)
Last year: 10-4, 6-2 Mountain West, def. UTEP, 21-6, New Mexico Bowl
Outlook: QB Chuckie Keeton has suffered season-ending knee injuries two straight years but can lift Aggies past Boise State in MWC if healthy. He has experienced WR Hunter Sharp and incoming JC RB Devante Mays. LBs Nick Vigil and Torrey Green lead 12th-ranked scoring defense (19.7). Boise State visits Logan on Oct. 17.
Coach: Jim Mora, 4th year (29-11)
Last year: 10-3, 6-3 Pac-12, def. Kansas State, 40-35, Alamo Bowl
Outlook: True freshman Josh Rosen might be the most highly touted QB recruited to UCLA, and he starts over junior Jerry Neuheisel. Eight starters return on offense, including RB Paul Perkins (1,575 rush, 9 TDs) and WR Jordan Payton. LB Myles Jack leads eight returning defensive starters.
Coach: Butch Jones, 3rd year (12-13)
Last year: 7-6, 3-5 SEC, def. Iowa, 45-28, Tax Slayer Bowl
Outlook: Vols went 4-1 after Josh Dobbs became starting QB at end of last season, have added JC All-American Alvin Kamara at RB with soph Jalen Hurd and return three starting WRs Pig Howard, Von Pearson and Marquez North. Hybrid DE-LB Curt Maggitt (11 sacks) and LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin key the defense.