OK, so the 2017 season is over, with Alabama winning its fifth title in nine years (and the SEC’s ninth in 12 years).
Here’s a really early look at how the 2018 preseason top 25 could look in August. We have included the biggest personnel loss for each team; if the player is asterisked, that means he is an underclassman who is expected to declare for the draft but has not — at least not yet.
He will be missed the most: DB Minkah Fitzpatrick*
The skinny: Alabama just won its fifth national title in nine seasons. There will be the usual personnel churn, but the Tide still will have the most talented roster in the nation as well as the best college coach ever. Pick against Nick Saban and Alabama at your own peril.
He will be missed the most: DT Christian Wilkins*
The skinny: The defensive line was the best in the nation, and it seems likely that three of the four starters will be gone. But there is ample talent on hand, and the Tigers again will be the class of the ACC. The passing attack must improve, though.
3. Ohio State
He will be missed the most: QB J.T. Barrett
The skinny: Outside of Barrett, the key still-position players will be back. J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber should be an especially potent running back duo. There will be a lot of new starters on both lines, and that could be an issue; at the same time, there is talent aplenty.
He will be missed the most: LB Roquan Smith*
The skinny: There could be as many as eight new starters on defense, but there is talent awaiting an opportunity. RB DeAndre Swift, who will be a sophomore, is a big-timer, and the receiving corps looks good. There’s also QB Jake Fromm, who led the Bulldogs to the national title game as a true freshman, and what should be the best recruiting class in the nation.
He will be missed the most: CB Nick Nelson
The skinny: The Badgers never are going to wow you with flash. But nine starters should be back on offense, including stud RB Jonathan Taylor and all five offensive linemen. The defensive line will undergo a makeover, and Nelson’s early departure to the NFL hurts the secondary. Still, the defense again will be stout.
6. Penn State
He will be missed the most: RB Saquon Barkley
The skinny: QB Trace McSorley returns, as do four of his starting offensive linemen. Miles Sanders will do fine as Barkley’s replacement. The defense won’t be great, but it will be solid. It’s always dangerous to talk about schedules this far in advance, but while Penn State has games against Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin in 2018, all three are at home.
He will be missed the most: DT Vita Vea
The skinny: QB Jake Browning will be a four-year starter, and he and the coaches need to rev up the passing attack. RB Myles Gaskin seems likely to return for his senior season. The defense could be lethal even with the early departure of Vea. Washington clearly looks to be the class of the Pac-12.
8. Michigan State
He will be missed the most: C Brian Allen
The skinny: If the Spartans can find a legit feature back, watch out. Allen is the only offensive starter who won’t be back, and the defense could have nine starters return. QB Brian Lewerke must become more consistent as a passer; if he does, the Spartans easily could win the Big Ten.
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