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As bad as the math looks – and it looks really, really bad – the reality of the situation is even worse.
OK, so here goes: College football’s 2017 season ended just over two weeks ago. I’m not sure if you remember, but Alabama beat Georgia. Tua Tagovailoa played well. Most of us can now spell his first and last names. The correct pronunciation is on our offseason to-do list.
But speaking of the offseason … we’re currently about 220 days away from kickoff of the 2018 season. Two weeks down. Approximately a thousand weeks to go.
The first top 10 list of the offseason looks back at the past month to answer the question: Which teams will use a bowl win to vault into the mix for a conference championship, national ranking, major bowl or all the above in 2018?
1. Florida Atlantic (2017 record: 11-3)
The Owls nearly finished in the Top 25 after capping the year with 10 wins in a row, all but one by 14 or more points. Expectations will be even higher heading into Lane Kiffin’s second season. But FAU will have to manage a non-conference schedule of Oklahoma, Air Force and Central Florida, and will have a new starting quarterback in either De’Andre Johnson or Chris Robison.
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2. South Carolina (2017 record: 9-4)
South Carolina’s a trendy pick to put some pressure on Georgia in the SEC East Division. The offense should be stronger but the defense has personnel issues to address up front and along the back end. Will Muschamp’s track record on the defensive side makes that less of a concern.
3. Florida State (2017 record: 7-6)
The Seminoles won’t stay down for long, but can Willie Taggart lead this team back into the ACC hunt in Year 1? The talent will be there, as always, and a healthy Deondre Francois at quarterback could make a huge difference. But road games against Louisville, Miami (Fla.), N.C. State and Notre Dame aren’t helpful.
4. Temple (2017 record: 7-6)
Second-year coach Geoff Collins is bullish on his team’s chances. During a recent interview with USA TODAY Sports, he compared his 2018 Temple team with Mississippi State in 2014. That team won its final three games of 2013 and surged to a 9-0 start and the top spot in the debut College Football Playoff rankings. The Owls won four of their last five in 2017 and are aiming at an American title next fall.
5. Utah (2017 record: 7-6)
Maybe this is by default, since the Utes were the only Pac-12 team to actually win a bowl game. But there are positive signs, including the likely development of quarterback Tyler Huntley and the projected depth on a defense that brings back eight of its 10 leading tacklers from 2017.
6. Kansas State (2017 record: 8-5)
The Wildcats look to be in solid shape heading into what may very well be Bill Snyder’s final season. The offense needs to find a new top threat to replace Byron Pringle. The defense must do a better job against the pass. By and large, however, look for Kansas State to finish among the top four in the Big 12, if not better.
7. Iowa State (2017 record: 8-5)
The Cyclones’ time is coming – it almost seems like a matter of when, not if. Credit Matt Campbell and his staff for doing what some might call the impossible: Iowa State is a contender for a national ranking after a year that included wins against Oklahoma, TCU and Memphis, and featured five losses by a combined 24 points.
8. Army (2017 record: 10-3)
Army is another program headed for Top 25 contention. The Black Knights were in that conversation in 2017, though more for the team’s win total than for a strong résumé of victories. The next step in the program’s development is to again beat its rivals, namely Air Force and Navy, and to take care of business in true road games. Next year’s road slate features Duke, Oklahoma, Buffalo, San Jose State and Eastern Michigan, with the Navy game held in Philadelphia.
9. Iowa (2017 record: 8-5)
There are definitely some substantial losses to overcome. Iowa will need underclassmen to step up at receiver, the interior of the offensive line, running back, linebacker and the secondary. So almost everywhere. But call it a hunch: Iowa tends to pop when most expect otherwise. And there are pieces to really like, including rising junior quarterback Nate Stanley.
10. Texas (2017 record: 7-6)
In a vacuum, Year 2 is when this thing was originally expected to take off. It still might. Texas will add another layer of depth and talent with this recruiting class, will get stronger quarterback play and will benefit hugely from another offseason in Tom Herman’s system. Those ideas point to a leap into the nine-win range. But Texas has work to do before taking that step. While it wouldn’t be shocking to find the Longhorns in a national ranking at some point in 2018, the big turnaround seems more likely to come in 2019 or 2020.
IMAGES FROM THE COLLEGE FOOTBALL BOWL SEASON