2018 College Football’s Top 1-20 by Jim Feist

It’s time to kick off a new football season!  College football begins on August 25, so here’s a look at the top teams, finishing with my top 1-21.  I have the odds to win the NCAA Championship next to team name (if they have odds) and the odds to win their respective conference championship next to that.

 

 

 

 

 

 


  1. Central Fla 150/1 NCAA, 7/5 American Conference
    Returning Starters: 12 (6 offense, 6 defense)
    Last Year’s Record: 13-0
    Projected Finish: 12-0
    If not for a weak American West conference and schedule, I would rate this team higher than 20th. However, with just a couple of tough opponents on the schedule, a perfect 12-0 season isn’t out of the question. The Knights finished a perfect 2017 with their impressive win over Auburn in the Peach Bowl.   UCF will have a new Head Coach in Josh Heupel and he will inherit a very good offensive club. QB McKenzie Milton is back after throwing for over 4,000 yards last season.  The defense lost five starters and that will hurt, but they also get Alabama transfer at corner in Aaron Robinson.  It looks like the schedule will be kind and another undefeated season and the American Conference Championship isn’t out of the question.

    19. Florida State 50/1 NCAA, 7/1 ACC
    Returning Starters: 12 (8 offense, 4 defense)
    Last Year’s Record: 7-5
    Projected Finish: 7-5
    Florida State has a new start this season with first-year coach Willie Taggart at the helm. Gone is Jimbo Fisher from Tallahassee, who has departed for Texas A&M.  Taggart inherits a very talented team, but the schedule is going to be tough and his biggest obstacle.  There is a fight for starting QB between Deondre Francois and James Blackmon. However, there are plenty of weapons at running back with Cam Akers and Nyqwan Murray plus some younger players all ready to step in and contribute. The defense has only four returning starters and a new defensive coordinator. The defense will be young and inexperienced, but with Harlon Barnett as the new DC there is hope this unit will rise to the challenge.  I don’t expect to see much improvement in the final record, but this team will only get better as time goes on.
  2. Miami Florida 50/1 NCAA, 3/1 ACC
    Returning Starters: 14 (7 offense, 7 defense)
    Last Year’s Record: 10-3
    Projected Finish: 9-3
    Miami looked like the powerhouse of old last season when they jumped out to 10-0 record and a No.2 ranking in the country. Then the wheels fell off with three straight losses including the Orange Bowl setback to Wisconsin. The Canes still won the ACC, but it had to feel like a very disappointing end to the season. QB Malik Rosier is back, but there are some young QB’s behind him that will press him for the starting spot. Rosier will have one of the best receivers in the country to work with in Ahmmon Richards. Also returning is running back Travis Homer and WR Jeff Thomas. The offense will have plenty of weapons this season. With a schedule that should be very good for Miami, I expect them to be at the top of the ACC again and finish with a near identical record to last season.
  3. Texas 28/1 NCAA, 3/1 Big 12
    Returning Starters: 14 (7 offense, 7 defense)
    Last Year’s Record: 7-6
    Projected Finish: 8-4
    Tom Herman returns for his second season as the head coach of Texas.  Herman’s Longhorns had a very good defense last year that returns seven starters. DC Todd Orlando is also in his second season and is expected to have a top 20 unit with lots of depth.  The offense, well it isn’t so good, finishing 99th last year under OC Tim Beck.  The Longhorns have a favorable schedule and are going to be favorites in likely nine games. That means a 10-win season isn’t out of the question. QB will once again be the question mark for Texas, with both Beuchele and Ehlinger battling it out for the starting spot.  This wasn’t an offense that made the big plays and that needs to change this year. Whichever QB starts, they will have lots of experience in front of them on the offensive line. This offense only must be good, not great for Texas to win 8 to 10 games this year.
  4. Notre Dame: 40/1 NCAA
    Returning Starters: 15 (6 offense, 9 defense)
    Last Year’s Record: 10-3
    Projected Finish: 10-2
    As an Independent, Notre Dame will have a scheduled filled with big name schools. The Irish open the season at home against Michigan and have road games at Virginia Tech, Navy, Northwestern and USC. The issue with this kind of schedule is that you have letdown spots and the Irish must be careful not to lose those games. The Irish have lots of production returning this year, in fact they rank 20th in the country in that category. QB Brandon Wimbush returns as does RB Dexter Williams and WR Myles Boykin. The only issue is the depth at those positions is not very good. The defense returns 10 starters and should be outstanding.  With a favorable schedule, the Irish can easily move up the rankings and have another excellent season.

    15. Mississippi State 14/1 SEC
    Returning Starters: 17 (9 offense, 8 defense)
    Last Year’s Record: 9-4
    Projected Finish: 9-3
    Joe Moorhead is in his first year as head coach of Mississippi State, replacing Dan Mullen.  Moorehead has a lot to work with as nine starters return on offense and eight on defense. He has a very good offense led by one of the best rushing QB’s in the country in Nick Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald has a very good offensive line in front of him and deep running backs behind him.   Fitzgerald did get hurt in 2017, but his backup was freshman Keytaon Thompson who looked great in the TaxSlayer Bowl.  The defense will also be very good, especially on the line where they are being compared to Clemson. This team has tons of experience and could easily be a double-digit win club.

  5. USC 66/1 NCAA, 4/1 PAC-12
    Returning Starters: 13 (7 offense, 6 defense)
    Last Year’s Record: 11-3
    Projected Finish: 9-3
    Clay Helton begins his third season as head coach and will have to see if he can keep pace with his 21 wins over the last two years. The biggest loss for Helton is that of Sam Darnold at QB who went to the NY Jets in the first round. Sophomore Matt Fink and redshirt freshman Jack Sears are likely the duo to battle it out for the starting job. The schedule has some pitfalls this season, mainly road games at Texas, Stanford and Arizona. I don’t believe that Trojans can be as good as last season, especially without a QB the caliber of Darnold. Expect a bit of a drop for the Trojans this year and maybe nine wins.

  6. Penn State 25/1 NCAA, 7/1 Big 10
    Returning Starters: 10 (7 offense, 3 defense)
    Last Year’s Record: 11-2
    Projected Finish: 10-2
    Penn State came two plays away from a perfect 13-0 season last year and likely a spot in the NCAA Championship Playoff field of four. Their loss to Ohio State when leading with under two minutes was tough to swallow. They followed that loss with a loss to Michigan State 24-27 with no time on the clock, their only two losses. Gone is Saquon Barkley who went to the NY Giants in the NFL draft, Offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead and a good portion of the defense. The Nittany Lions do return an excellent offensive line that will having returning QB Trace McSorely back at signal-caller. Enter new OC Ricky Rahne and he’s got another offense that should be loaded, even without Barkley in the backfield.  The schedule looks favorable for a conference title run with just Michigan as a road obstacle. This team may not be as good as last year, but it’s close.

    12. Michigan State 40/1 NCAA, 8/1 Big 10

    Returning Starters: 19 (10 offense, 9 defense)
    Last Year’s Record: 10-3
    Projected Finish: 9-3
    Michigan State returns 19 starters, more experience than any other FBS team in the country. If they can’t equal their 10-win 2017 season, then it might be a letdown year with the kind of talent they have back. QB Brian Lewerke is back as are most of his wide receivers.  The running game has been mediocre at best, though they return LJ Scott.  As Big 10 schedules go, this one is not bad and could easily see the Spartans favored in eight or nine games.  Another 10-win season shouldn’t be out of the question.
  7. Michigan 14/1 NCAA, 3/1 Big 10
    Returning Starters: 17 (8 offense, 9 defense)
    Last Year’s Record: 8-5
    Projected Finish: 8-4
    The Big 10 will be tough again this season as the Wolverines are the third favorite to win the conference title behind Ohio State and Wisconsin. Michigan has tough road games at Notre Dame, Northwestern, Michigan State and Ohio State – which could result in their four projected losses. Jim Harbaugh begins his fourth year as head coach, with a 28-11 record in his first three years. QB Shea Patterson returns and could be one of the best since Harbaugh took over the helm. Michigan returns 17 starters and looks like they are going to have another excellent season. The only bad news, the schedule will be tough and that could keep them out of the top 10.
  8. Arizona 18/1 PAC-12
    Returning Starters: 16 (7 offense, 9 defense)
    Last Year’s Record: 7-6
    Projected Finish: 9-3
    What exactly is going to turn a 7-6 team from 2017 into a top-10 rated club?  Head coach Kevin Sumlin inherits a team with 16 returning starters, led by QB Khalil Tate. Tate is one of the more mobile QB’s in the nation and will give Sumlin a lot to work with. Tate rushed for 1,243 yards in 2017 for an average of 9.6 yards per carry and 11 TD’s. Tate could be one of the Heisman candidates for 2018. Tate will also have his top three targets back from last year and plenty of experience on the offensive line. The problem with Arizona is what is always the problem, the defense. This unit ranked 112th last year but the issue has been youth and they return nine on the until this season with more experience. If the defense improves, like I believe it will, then this team has the offense to make them a top-10 club. If it doesn’t, then it’s going to be a long season in Tucson.
  9. Auburn 33/1 NCAA, 10/1 SEC
    Returning Starters: 13 (6 offense, 7 defense)
    Last Year’s Record: 10-4
    Projected Finish: 9-3
    Auburn opens up the season against a top-10 team in Washington. Overall the schedule isn’t too bad though as they play at Georgia in November and then finish with Alabama on November 24. The game before the Alabama matchup is a softball against Independent Liberty, which should be interesting. HC Guz Mazahn is now the second longest head coach in the SEC behind Nick Saban. The Tigers should be favorites in most games this year, apart from maybe the Georgia and Alabama games. The strength of this team will be returning QB Jarrett Stidham and a full contingent of wide receivers. The defense should be a top-10 unit again under DC Kevin Steele.  The Tigers will have a shot at 11 wins, but Alabama and Georgia might have something to say about that.

 

  1. Wisconsin 25/1 NCAA, 5/2 Big 10
    Returning Starters: 13 (9 offense, 4 defense)
    Last Year’s Record: 13-1
    Projected Finish: 11-1
    The biggest and latest news isn’t good for Wisconsin, which lost one of its top wide receivers in the country in the person of Quintez Cephus. Cephus has taken a leave of absence from the team because of charges due to an unspecified crime. That means the returning starters for the offense drops to eight and because of this off-field distraction, I have dropped Wisconsin a few rungs in my rankings. The good news for the Badgers is that there is no Ohio State on the schedule.  Their toughest games are road stints at Michigan and Penn State.  HC Paul Chryst has QB Alex Hornibrook back and maybe the best in the conference.  The offense has nine starters back, which is great news. If Cephus can return, this team will be even better. Eleven wins are not out of the question.
  2. Oklahoma 16/1 NCAA, 1/1 BIG 12
    Returning Starters: 12 (6 offense, 6 defense)
    Last Year’s Record: 12-2
    Projected Finish: 10-2
    Gone is Baker Mayfield as he departed for the NFL’s Cleveland Browns. Still, this is the best team in the Big 12 and even money to win the conference title. The offense will revolve around RB Rodney Anderson. QB Kyler Murray has the legs to be a great QB, but the arm is questionable. The defense returns only six starters, but that’s ok since there were a lot of young players on last year’s squad that will step into starting roles this season.  This is the team to beat in the conference, but they won’t be as good as last year without Mayfield behind center. I still see a 10-win season, but I doubt a final four spot at the end is in the cards.
  3. Stanford 66/1 NCAA, 6/1 PAC-12
    Returning Starters: 15 (9 offense, 6 defense)
    Last Year’s Record: 9-5
    Projected Finish: 9-3
    Stanford is a top 10 team this year, but they have a tough schedule with road games at Washington, Notre Dame and Oregon. Add home games vs USC and Utah and the road ahead will be tough. However, four PAC-12 North crowns in six years shows that head coach David Shaw is doing many good things with the Cardinal. If Stanford can solidify a QB, then this team can be great and not just good. KJ Costello will try and do just that this year. RB Bryce Love is one of the most explosive backs in football and he’s back for 2018. This offense will revolve around Love and that means Costello doesn’t have to be great, just good enough. Love finished 2nd in the Heisman voting last year and is the odds on favorite this year for the trophy. I look for another excellent season out of the Cardinal.
  4. Ohio State 10/1 NCAA, 2/1 Big 10
    Returning Starters: 12 (7 offense, 5 defense)
    Last Year’s Record: 12-2
    Projected Finish: 11-1
    The only thing keeping me from giving Ohio State a 12-0 record is the fact that they play in the Big 10 and that’s always tough. Plus, in addition to the usual opponents, they play TCU and Texas this year. Still, 12-0 is possible as this team is loaded with talent. Dwayne Haskins will take over at QB for J.T. Barrett and of the two, Haskins is the purer passer. The line is loaded, a full contingent of great receivers are back as is RB J.K. Dobbins. Head Coach Urban Meyers received a 3-game suspension for his role in domestic abuse claims of an assistant coach that has now been fired. However, even without Meyer, this is a well-oiled machine that will finish at or near the top four in the country.
  5. Georgia 9/1 NCAA, 3/1 SEC
    Returning Starters: 13 (8 offense, 5 defense)
    Last Year’s Record: 13-2
    Projected Finish: 12-0
    The SEC schedule doesn’t look bad at all for the Bulldogs, who play at LSU as their only real road test. With eight home games, Georgia could easily go undefeated this season and be right back in the final four come playoff time. Kirby Smart is in his third year as head coach and came within one play of a national title last season.  QB Jake Fromm is back but may be pushed for the starting role by Jacob Eason who was hurt last season vs Appalachian State. RB D’Andre Swift will be the feature back and should have a monster season. It appears anything less than a return to the NCAA Championship game will be a letdown for this team in 2018.
  6. Washington 12/1 NCAA, 5/7 PAC-12
    Returning Starters: 17 (8 offense, 9 defense)
    Last Year’s Record: 10-3
    Projected Finish: 10-2
    Chris Peterson is in his fifth year as the head coach of the Washington Huskies. The most difficult game on the schedule is going to be their opener at Auburn. After that road game, running the schedule at 11-0 is a good possibility. QB Jack Browning is back at signal-caller as is RB Myle Gaskin in the backfield. The Huskies also have a great receiver in Chico McClatcher. The club has 17 returning starters to a team that was very good last year. The defense should be a top-10 unit again this season. I like Washington to be in the final four at year’s end.
  7. Alabama 2/1 NCAA, 5/7 SEC
    Returning Starters: 10 (5 offense, 5 defense)
    Last Year’s Record: 13-1
    Projected Finish: 11-1
    Reigning National Champion Alabama beat Georgia in the College Football Playoff National Championship last season. The Crimson Tide returns just 10 starters, five on each side of the ball. However, that hasn’t kept the oddsmakers from installing the Tide as the favorite to win the NCAA Championship and a huge favorite to win the SEC. The SEC schedule looks to be almost a cakewalk for the Tide with only a home game against Auburn and a road games at LSU and Tennessee as even potential challenges. The one issue plaguing head coach Nick Saban is the inability to keep coaches on his staff. Saban is on his seventh coordinator in the last four years. Georgia is a big challenge to the crown of Alabama, though they wouldn’t meet until the SEC Championship. Will Alabama be as good as last year? I don’t think so, but they shouldn’t have much difficulty with this schedule and a return to the NCAA Championship.
  8. Clemson 3/1 NCAA, 5/9 ACC
    Returning Starters: 15 (7 offense, 8 defense)
    Last Year’s Record: 12-2
    Projected Finish: 12-0
    Clemson finished last season losing to Alabama in the College Football Playoff semifinals. Almost all of this club’s 2017 production returns as 15 starters are back, seven on offense and eight on defense. Last year they weren’t supposed to be as good as they were, but still made the College Football Playoffs and won the ACC. Back is QB Kelly Bryant who has a lot of weapons returning at wide receiver, including Hunter Renfrow. However, the backbone of this team will once again be the defense.  The return of both tackle Christian Wilkins and DE Austin Bryant was huge to this team. They ranked 7th last year and will be even better this season. I believe Clemson has the best defense in the country this year and they will ride this defense to a National Championship.  My pick for the overall top team in the country is the Clemson Tigers.