As we inch closer and closer to August 30, 2018, the first Thursday of college football,we’d like to give you our college football pre-season top 25 here at For Whom the Cowbell Tolls.
25. Memphis Tigers
The Tigers will begin the season returning 16 starters (most in AAC) from a 10 win squad in 2017. Losing Quarterback Riley Ferguson and Wideout Anthony Miller will halt some offensive production but there is experience on both sides of the ball in Memphis. The offense will put up points but can Coach Mike Norvell manage an unpredictable defense and the rest of the Tigers to back to back AAC championship game appearances?
24. Texas Longhorns
Unless you’re a Texas A&M fan, many want to see Texas return to be somewhat of a version of its former self. Losing to Kansas won’t help, but things are looking up for the Longhorns. Head coach Tom Herman is entering his second year after going 7-6 in 2017. Texas has a quarterback battle on its hands between sophomore Sam Ehlinger and junior Shane Buechele. If one of them can step up and be the leader Texas needs in order to actually be back, they should have a good year.
On paper, the Gamecocks should be able to challenge Georgia for the SEC East title. Will it actually come to fruition? Who knows. Junior quarterback Jake Bentley will be under center and will have senior wide receiver Deebo Samuel coming back from injury. If their backfield can get things going, South Carolina could turn some heads.
22. UCF Knights
This year is huge for UCF if they truly want the respect from Power 5 schools and quite possibly the College Football Playoff committee. Last season was amazing for the Golden Knights, but now it’s time to see if they can stay competitive after head coach Scott Frost accepted a head coaching gig at Nebraska. Junior quarterback McKenzie Milton is returning after throwing for 4,037 yards and 37 touchdowns. The self-proclaimed National Champions will have to replace Shaquem Griffin, but also have a manageable schedule to replicate last season’s success.
21. TCU Horned Frogs
Gary Patterson will boast a defense that includes sophomore defensive tackle Ross Blacklock and preseason Big 12 defensive player of the year Ben Banogu. If recent seasons are an indicator and if TCU’s defense can shut down high-scoring offenses, then they could be in a position to battle Oklahoma for the conference crown.
Every time Boise State loses key players, new ones pop up and take the spotlight. Replacing wide receiver Cedric Wilson and linebacker Leighton Vander Esch will be tough, but the biggest factor in Boise State’s success is in the hands of senior quarterback Brett Rypien. Will his last season be the one where everything falls in place? Or will he stumble a few times and effectively throw away any chance at a NY6 game?
Charlie Strong may be onto something here. Last year in his first season at the helm, Strong led the Bulls to a 10-2 season, in which they lost on the road in a close game to the UCF Golden Knights, who would go undefeated, and lay claim to the 2017 National Championship. It’s expected that with Scott Frost gone to Nebraska, the Bulls can run the table in the American.
18. LSU Tigers
Every year going into the season, the Tigers are expected to go out and be a serious challenger in the SEC West, but often times, it turns out to be just one big disappointment after another. Patience with Ed Orgeron is running thin in Death Valley. There is certainly enough talent there to get to a New Years’ Six bowl, but it will all come down to how Coach O can rally the troops, and more importantly, save his job.
Purdue is on the way back up, and though the glory days won’t return quite yet, this year should be fruitful for the Boilermakers. With a very favorable schedule, and a fairly low level of expectations, look for the black and gold men of Purdue to be playing a respectable bowl game in late December.
The Irish are certainly on the road to something special, but like Purdue, it won’t be this year that the Irish return to it’s level it reached in the past. Brian Kelly has been hard at work in returning Notre Dame to it’s glory days. But they do face a difficult schedule, and it’s not really known just how they will do against teams favored to beat them.
Northwestern is in for a fantastic season. The Wildcats arguably have the highest ceiling in the Big-10. They are by far the only team that can challenge Wisconsin for the division title. By no means are they the best in the conference, but they could certainly be a contender for a spot in the Fiesta Bowl.
While they have been through the ringer to say the least, Sparty’s got whole lot of promise, as they have a ton of returns. In addition, Michigan State will be lethal on the defensive side of the ball. Look for returning linebackers Joe Boche and Brandon Randle to make an immediate impact, as well as cornerback Josiah Scott. Furthermore, dual threat quarterback Brian Lewerke and power runner LJ Scott will lead an underestimated Spartan offense through the ever-competitive Big-Ten East.
Quarterback Josh Jackson has been getting a lot of buzz, as he is due for a breakout season. Though he may not be Michael Vick, Jackson is sure to make his case as the ACC’s best signal caller, already drawing comparisons to former Louisville superstar Lamar Jackson. On the other side of the ball, defensive coordinator Bud Foster will have his group ready, willing, and able. But perhaps Tech’s biggest advantage is its crowd. A game at Lane Stadium (especially at night) is a one of a kind experience and only two words can describe the madness... ENTER SANDMAN, enough said.
Feeling the Love? With the return of arguably the nation’s top running back, Stanford has a huge advantage in and out of conference. The defense will be top notch and quarterback K.J. Costello seems to be the real deal. Never doubt David Shaw and look for Stanford to make a huge run with a sure Heisman contender.
Mississippi State may just be the most underrated team in the top 25. With a combination of raw talent, experience, and strong leadership, the Bulldogs are in a great position. There is balance on both sides of the ball and new coach Joe Moorhead has set a new standard. Whether it be the return of superstar quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, the 1-2 punch of running backs Aeris Williams and Kylin Hill, the offensive line, linebacking corps, etc... Mississippi State is one of the most complete teams in the nation. Who’s to say the Bulldogs can’t make an SEC statement and beyond?
Have they won the Big 10 in recent memory? No. Have they beaten rival Ohio State in recent memory? No. But both are sure two change, as Jim Harbaugh has his most talented bunch since he took the job in Ann Arbor. Quarterback Shea Patterson will take over and show out, as well as, a defense that is set to take the conference by storm. With the unfortunate circumstances surrounding the Buckeyes, Michigan is perhaps the new favorite to become the face of the Big-10 East this season and for years to come.
Ohio State has the talent to be one of the top 5 listed on this list... but can they overcome the imminent coaching change? The off-field drama may or may not lurk onto the field and cause for a roller-coaster of a season. But if they do overcome the challenges, its because of that defense led by Nick Bosa. They do have some questions at QB and offensive line, but if defenses truly win championships, this is a team with some serious talent and depth.
You can say what you want about Mark Richt, but he is one of the more underrated coaches in college football. Success has followed him wherever he has been and this year might be one of his more talented teams. The ACC, behind Clemson, is wide open. The hype behind this program and the Turnover Chain, might just have Miami sneaking into a championship conversation.
Saquon Barkley going pro is a big blow for this team, but a wide open Big 10 helps cover the ground. Trace McSorley gives them a strong foundation to build on, and gives them a chance to compete against most teams in the country. The defensive line was always good, but looks to be as strong as it has been in years. If the offense and defense can both get on the same level, Penn State is a sleeper team to grab that 4 seed.
It is hard to say that Georgia will take a step back, but with the loss of Roquan Smith on defense and the two headed beast that was Chubb and Michel, they might not be as strong. I do believe they will be talented and win the East, but I don’t see them as true title contenders. The SEC is going to be much tougher this year, which will make the path for a Dawg Title much, much tougher.
This team took a big loss when Baker Mayfield was picked #1 in the NFL Draft. Baker was the perfect QB for College Football, but they might have a close second in Kyler Murray. He has true speed and a talented arm that fits Coach Riley's scheme perfectly. They have a stable of running backs, a strong offensive line, and one of the best receivers in football in Hollywood Brown. This team is built to beat more physical teams like Alabama and may be poised to do just that this year.
We know this team had nothing to play for in this past year’s Peach Bowl game against UCF. The whole country knows they’re a better team than they showed that particular day. Returning Junior QB, Jarrett Stidham, has the potential to be one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC. The Tigers backfield will be fairly young with departing of Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway. On the defensive side you will see an extremely experienced front-seven that will scare many O-lines in the SEC.
The leader of the Pac-12. This team has a legitimate chance to make the College Football Playoff this year and I think we may know after they’re first game of the season... The Auburn Tigers. With QB, Jake Browning returning for his senior season, he looks to up his game from last year’s subpar junior season.
I don’t see how Clemson won’t be sitting in the College Football Playoff for the fourth year in a row. With a weak schedule and the departure of Jimbo Fisher, the ACC should be somewhat of a walk-through for the Tigers. With Coach Swinney at the helm, I don’t see this program suffering anytime soon.
Yep. Alabama needs to be ranked #1. Now I do see the Tide as beatable this season. With the SEC West being as strong as it is, the Tide may come out with another loss at the end of the regular season. We know little about Tua Tagovailoa, except that this kid can make plays. With many predictions, we still have no clue who will step in as the starting QB with Jalen Hurts still on the depth chart. With a lot of uncertainty at Alabama (returning fewer starters on defense than any other SEC team) we know one thing is for certain and that’s Nick Saban is the GOAT.