Excitement rising for coming college football season
It’s the last weekend of college baseball’s regular season, and while it’s more prudent for fans to focus on the coming postseason tournaments and the College World Series, it’s tough not to gaze ahead to the coming season of college football. Keeping concentration on the here and now got a lot harder this week when ESPN released its post-spring practice Top 25 rankings.
Southeastern Conference fans noticed the mothership had six of the league’s schools included in their rankings – (1) Alabama, (6) LSU, (11) Tennessee, (13) Georgia, (14) Ole Miss, and (21) Texas A&M.
Coming off of another national title, the Alabama Crimson Tide remain in the top spot despite not having a clear-cut starter at quarterback. The Tide return 14 starters overall (seven offense, five defense, two special teams), and are looking for their fifth title under head coach Nick Saban.
LSU is looking to bounce back in 2016 after fading during the second half to last season. The Tigers lost three games down the stretch to close last season and almost sent head coach Les Miles packing. With 19 returning starters (nine offense, nine defense, one special teams), LSU returns almost their entire team. New defensive coordinator Dave Aranda will have a lot of talent to coach as he installs a 3-4 scheme, but the Bayou Bengals will need more production from Heisman Trophy candidate tailback Leonard Fournette, quarterback Brandon Harris and receiver Malachi Dupre to ensure LSU fans are satiated. The end of last season and the will-they-or-won’t-they fire Miles escapade was embarrassing for all involved. Another three-loss season, and LSU’s administrators will not be nearly as hesitant to make a change.
One of the biggest surprises is the inclusion of Tennessee at No. 11. With 19 returning starters (9 offense, 8 defense, 2 special teams), the Volunteers are the prognosticators’ trendy pick to rise up this year. But it’s been a while since the Vols were on this stage. With Florida and Georgia not as strong as usual, they may be able to win the SEC East, but I’m not quite sure they’re ready to meet the expectations being placed upon them.
I don’t know how or why it took former Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart to land a head coaching job, but he finally got the gig at the University of Georgia. Rather than taking over a cellar dweller and rebuilding, maybe he wanted to wait for what he felt was the best opportunity to succeed. If so, taking over a team that won 10 games last year and returns 14 starters (seven offense, six defense, one special teams) was worth the wait. Much like LSU with Fournette, the Bulldogs will go as far as running back Nick Chubb, returning from a knee injury, and their defense can carry them.
Ole Miss enjoyed their most successful season in decades last year, winning 10 games overall (six in the SEC), earning a postseason trip to New Orleans and winning the Sugar Bowl for the first time in more than 40 years. The Rebs lost a ton of talent, including NFL first-round picks offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, and receiver Laquon Treadwell. They only return 10 starters (4 offense, 4 defense, 2 special teams), but they have the conference’s top returning quarterback in Chad Kelly. Head coach Hugh Freeze has punched above his weight since he’s been at the helm in Oxford. This season will be a big test for him and Ole Miss.
With 13 returning starters (6 offense, 7 defense), Texas A&M rounds out the SEC’s Top 25 teams. Despite the preseason ranking, head coach Kevin Sumlin is on the hot seat and will be coaching for his job this season. The Aggies have been marginal for the past couple seasons, losing five games twice. That’s not up to par in College Station, where the expectation is to compete for SEC crowns. Most of the Aggies expectations rely on defensive coordinator John Chavis whipping his unit into a dominant force.
ESPN College Football Top 25
This week ESPN released it’s post-spring practice Top 25. The SEC has six teams included (in bold & italics), with four coming from the SEC West.
Rank Team Returning starters
1 Alabama 7 offense, 5 defense, 2 special teams
2 Clemson 8 offense, 3 defense, 2 special teams
3 Michigan 8 offense, 6 defense, 1 special teams
4 Florida State 11 offense, 6 defense, 1 special teams
5 Oklahoma 7 offense, 7 defense, 2 special teams
6 LSU 9 offense, 9 defense, 1 special teams
7 Baylor 5 offense, 5 defense, 2 special teams
8 Stanford 6 offense, 5 defense, 2 special teams
9 Notre Dame 5 offense, 5 defense, 2 special teams
10 Ohio State 3 offense, 3 defense, 2 special teams
11 Tennessee 9 offense, 8 defense, 2 special teams
12 USC 9 offense, 5 defense, 1 special teams
13 Georgia 7 offense, 6 defense, 1 special teams
14 Ole Miss 4 offense, 4 defense, 2 special teams
15 Oklahoma State 10 offense, 7 defense, 2 special teams
16 Michigan State 3 offense, 6 defense, 2 special teams
17 Washington 8 offense, 7 defense, 1 special teams
18 Houston 7 offense, 5 defense, 1 special teams
19 North Carolina 7 offense, 7 defense, 2 special teams
20 Oregon 6 offense, 5 defense, 2 special teams
21 Texas A&M 6 offense, 7 defense
22 UCLA 5 offense, 9 defense
23 Iowa 6 offense, 7 defense
24 Miami 9 offense, 7 defense
25 Louisville 9 offense, 8 defense