I hate doing these rankings before the early entry deadline, but the demand seems to always be high hours after the season to start looking ahead. I will update after the draft entry deadline.
- Ohio State
- USC - I went back and forth between USC and Washington so many times, but USC deserves the preseason upper hand. They finished the season on a hotter streak than the Huskies and beat them in Seattle. Plus, they have a true difference maker at quarterback in Sam Darnold. They have massive losses with JuJu Smith-Schuster, Chad Wheeler, Zach Banner, Stevie T. and Adoree’ Jackson along with some other solid players, but the players replacing these veteran stars have huge potential as well.
- Washington - The Huskies took heavy blows with early entries to the NFL, but we knew that was coming and the Huskies still have as much talent and experience coming back as anyone in the nation. The offense still has Jake Browning, Myles Gaskin, Dante Pettis and a few first-team all-conference-level lineman. On defense, they still have first-team All-American-level talents in defensive tackle Vita Vea who looked like Haloti Ngata late in the season and senior linebacker leader Azeem Victor coming back from injury. The Huskies deserve to keep their spot at the edge of the Playoff Four coming into 2017.
- Florida State
- Penn State
- Oklahoma State
- Stanford - This ranking gives David Shaw and the Stanford system a lot of credit as their isn’t much proven returning on Stanford’s roster to get excited about. The Cardinal really need to find an answer at quarterback and a playmaker or two or three to replicate what Christian McCaffrey did for them and to get a lot of development on their offensive line, but they still have a lot of talent. At worst, Stanford should be a team with a tough, talented and experienced defense and a big offensive line and that should be enough to start them in the Top 20.
- Kansas State
- Texas A&M
- Georgia Tech
On the edge
Houston, South Florida, Utah, Colorado, Washington State, UCLA
These four Pac-12 teams are close to being ranked, but I am not going that far just yet for various reasons.
Utah - The Utes were gutted by graduation and a couple tough early entries (Garrett Bolles & Marcus Williams), but Kyle Whittingham has shown a Stanford-like ability to utilize their trusted system, reload year-after-year and win a lot of games.
Colorado - The Buffs lose just about as much experience as anyone in the country, but Mike MacIntyre looks to have built a steady program in Boulder and should have a couple of really nice offensive pieces back in Phillip Lindsay and Shay Fields along with a quarterback who say plenty of serious time and guided them to huge wins in sophomore Steven Montez.
Washington State - This is all about Luke Falk coming back to me. The Cougars will have a deadly senior at quarterback and he will be throwing behind a veteran offensive line with an underrated defense coming back on the other side of the ball. However, the Cougars finished 2016 poorly and will have to find new dangerous targets at receiver to support Falk with Gabe Marks and River Cracraft graduated.
UCLA - This one is all about Josh Rosen to me. The Bruins were a disaster without him (and honestly around average with him) in 2016 and his injury probably cost them a few wins. The Bruins are probably a Top 25 team if Rosen can fulfill his potential and their talented roster makes some much-needed progressions in the off-season.