2017 NCAA Football Preview

By Demarco Williams

Atlanta's sparkling new Mercedes-Benz Stadium is hailing its September 2 season kickoff between Alabama and Florida State as "The G.O.A.T." or "The Greatest Opener of All Time." With both college football powerhouses as consensus top five preseason selection (and tickets selling at an unprecedented clip), the declaration more than holds up.

The winner of the heavyweight bout will undoubtedly walk the easier path to the national title game slated for the very same venue on January 8, 2018, but a one-loss Crimson Tide or Seminoles squad won't necessarily be out of contention. It'll just be that the 18 other teams mentioned in this preview will make it their jobs to ensure their journeys are arduous.

But such is the tumult-filled life of a college football team. Preseason favorites will rise and crumble. Darkhorses nobody outside the schools' campuses saw coming will flex some muscle. The media will root them on until they've covered every possible story angle. Then, and only then, will they truly voice their desire for an Alabama-Florida State rematch. We're going to cut to the chase and declare that the squads competing in the "G.O.A.T." will have another go at it in the title game.

1. Alabama
The Tide was one quarter away from their third title in the last five seasons. Thankfully for Tuscaloosa, Clemson's Deshaun Watson is gone but Alabama's talented young crop of defenders and dual-threat QB Jalen Hurts have returned even hungrier.

2. Florida State
Super sophomore Deondre Francois (3,350 yards, 20 TDs in 2016) has the potential for greatness. If he (and equally gifted RB Cam Akers) shows it versus Bama in the opener, they'll have to keep it going through a bumpy road schedule that includes visits to Duke, Clemson and Florida.

3. Clemson
Obvious statement of the year: Kelly Bryant (or whomever takes Watson's QB spot) has massive cleats to fill. Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney just hopes his scary, Dexter Lawrence-anchored defense can keep things in order until that day comes.

4. Ohio State
Did you forget about the Buckeyes' embarrassing 31-0 loss in the Playoff semifinals? Urban Meyer is hoping his J.T. Barrett-led team, which got to the tournament a year ahead of schedule, has a short memory, too.

5. USC
With the Trojans' relevancy and the Rams and Chargers' relocations to L.A., all of a sudden, the City of Angels has become a pigskin heaven. When QB Sam Darnold takes his 7-0 Trojans to Notre Dame on October 21, SoCal is praying for a Heisman-caliber performance.

6. Georgia
Kirby Smart's first body of work between the hedges was a head-scratching 8-5 campaign. This season's trajectory will be determined by Jacob Eason's arm and Nick Chubb's ankles.

7. Penn State
The long-suffering Nittany Lions can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel, and the shape its glow is making bears a striking resemblance to quarterback Trace McSorley handing the ball off to running back phenom Saquon Barkley.

8. Oklahoma
Bob Stoops is out and Lincoln Riley is in as head coach. Though we don't feel the shift is quite as seismic as others, we understand that it may take a year before the Sooners regain their footing in the Big 12.

9. Washington
By making it to the Playoff, the Huskies proved they were no fluke. Jake Browning won't have to repeat his 43-touchdown season to prove his worth to NFL scouts, but it will certainly only help his case.

10. Louisville
If the first-half-of-2016 Lamar Jackson outfoxes the sluggish second-half version, these Cardinals will soar for the whole 2017 season.

11. Florida
We love that the underrated Randy Shannon has taken over the defensive coordinator duties in Gainesville. We'll get back with you after the September 16 tilt against Tennessee with our thoughts on Feleipe Franks under center.

12. Wisconsin
Like Charlize Theron in Hollywood, these Wisconsin Badgers are models of consistency without the clamoring. Going 32-9 over the past three years, Wisconsin, which is sparked by budding star QB Alex Hornibrook, may be ready for its close-up in 2017.

13. Michigan
We have to respect the talent Jim Harbaugh is able to reel into Ann Arbor every year. But until his team figures out to finish strongly (Wolverines lost three of their last four in '16), any hopes of contending for a national championship are mere fish tales.

14. Oklahoma State
Cowboys stud wideout James Washington can do just about everything with a football. We'll see if "getting OSU out from under Oklahoma's wide shadow" can be added to his glowing resume.

15. Auburn
These Tigers went a forgettable 8-5 a year ago. But if you think you can keep fiery coach Guz Malzahn (or RB Kamryn Pettway) down for long, you're only fooling yourself.

Rounding Out The Top 20: LSU, South Florida, Stanford, Tennessee and Texas.

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