#5- Notre Dame: One of the best recruiters in the history of college football, Notre Dame is in the conversation nearly every year. This year they will be coming off a horrid 4-8 season. Brian Kelly will look to rebound, and hiring new Memphis OC, Chip Long, gives a new look for the season. Notre Dame’s 2017 recruiting class ranked in the top 20 overall. They will tout a strong offensive and defensive lines. Keeping the returning players on the offensive line will be crucial to the success of the both the run and pass game. ESPN projects the Fighting Irish to finish 8-4. To punch their ticket, they will need big wins at home against Georgia, USC, and NC State. On top of that, they will be facing North Carolina, Miami, and Stanford on the road. These are all winnable games for the Irish, but they will need consistent play from the quarterback to get to the playoff.
#4-Tennessee: The Vols have been primed for a big season since the 1998 Fiesta Bowl. Tennessee hasn’t won a conference title since 1997. Their recruiting classes have been strong every year. Butch Jones will come into the season still high off an incredible performance in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl. Their journey back to the top of the mountain will be difficult, seniors Josh Dobbs and Derek Barnett have departed for the NFL. Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Missouri, and LSU all appear to be potential losses on paper. Perhaps the best thing the Vols have going for them is the unknown. They don’t really know if the Junior, Quinten Dormady, will take over the reins at QB. It’s conceivable that Freshman, Will McBride,steal the job and run away with it. With their schedule, Tennessee’s path to the playoffs will likely be a controversial one. There is no chance they will escape the regular season without a loss.
#3-Nebraska: On the surface, Nebraska doesn’t scream contender, after losing several key offensive players this past year. Most notably, senior QB Tommy Armstrong. ESPN currently has the Cornhuskers going 6-6 in 2017. With a career record of 15-11 at Nebraska, Mike ‘nice guy’ Riley, has yet to make any kind of a splash in Lincoln. Coming off a 6-7 and 9-4 seasons respectively, Mike Riley has yet to prove himself. This surely is a make or break year for the former Oregon St. football coach. Nebraska has yet to shy away from letting a coach go, they have now had four coaches since 2003 (Pelini, Callahan, Solich). However, the word is out on transfer quarterback, Tanner Lee, and by all accounts he is going to be talented. Archie Manning raved about Nebraska’s quarterback before he ended up in Lincoln. He also had a strong showing in the team’s spring game. Many have drawn comparisons between Lee, and the former number one overall pick, Jared Goff.
#2-Texas: Out of everyone on the list, why not Texas? They are Texas, and that is big name college football. They have not had a winning season since Mack Brown in 2013. This is a team that had 9 double digit win seasons from 2001-2009. Charlie Strong wasn’t the answer. In walks, Tom Herman, head coach from Houston. After going 13-1 last year with the Cougars, Herman could be just what the Longhorns need. ESPN currently has them projected at 8-4. The Longhorns will look for improved QB play from Buechele, who is poised to make a major leap. They will have tough opponents when they play USC, Oklahoma, Baylor, TCU, and West Virginia. They have some talent on both offense and defense, and it’s really going to come down to the coaching transition. If the coach can get the team to buy in, and buy in early, Texas has a really good shot this year.#1-Wyoming: It might be shocking to see the Cowboys here, but two big things stand out. One is redshirt sophomore Josh Allen. Who is currently projected to go
#1 overall in the 2018 NFL draft. Last year, Allen had over 3,000 yards in the air, 500 rushing yards, and 35 total touchdowns. Two is the coach, Craig Bohl. Most notably known for building the powerhouse that is North Dakota State. At North Dakota St., Bohl went 104-32, and won 3 FCS titles on his way out. ESPN has Wyoming going 6-6. They are expected to lose week 1 at Iowa, and week 3 at home versus Oregon. The other four losses could be debated. ESPN might not be so bullish on Wyoming, but crazier things could happen than a few early upsets. Iowa and Oregon had bad seasons one year ago. Oregon is bringing in a new head coach, and Kirk Ferentz is arguably on the hot seat in Iowa. 12-0 is attainable.