Update: Forgot to slot Michigan in. They've been added now.
As tempting as it is to jump on the pre-season ranking trend I'm going to stay committed to not doing my weekly top-25 until after week 3 of the college football season. So... Don't call this a pre-season ranking! I think pre-season rankings seed significantlly more bias into the system as people tend to treat their pre-season polls as ladders for teams to move up and down on. I've never treated my top-25 as a ladder and instead I was rebuilding it from a list of 30-50 teams each week. As such, this isn't a pre-season top-25! It is instead my best attempt at predicting what the final top-25 will look like. At the end of the regular season I'll do a comparison between this and my final top-25 and we'll see how I did!
Disclaimer: I'm not going to predict bowls or conference championship games because that's entirely dependent upon matchups that aren't knowable at this time.
So, without further ado, let's get to it...
1. Alabama (12-0) - The schedule sets up favorably for them this season. They don't face Georgia (they rarely do); they get LSU, Texas, Ole Miss, and Tennessee at home. Their toughest road games are Auburn and Texas A&M. There's probably a 50% chance they lose one of the two against LSU and Tennessee but I'm going to flip the coin for winning them both.
2. Georgia (11-1) - 8 home games to only 4 road. The road games are Auburn, Vanderbilt, Tennessee (I have this pegged as their lone loss), and Georgia Tech. Oh ya and they miss LSU and Bama. The only AP pre-season ranked teams on their schedule are Tennessee and Ole Miss. This should be a clear and easy path to the SEC CG and a matchup with Bama.
3. LSU (11-1) - That sound you hear is the groans from the audience. #1-#3 are all SEC teams? Yes. you heard it here first. Yet another top flight SEC team with a favorable schedule. They have a very tough opener against FSU but if they can get past that they should be able to win every game except the road contest against Bama. Oh and stop me if you've heard this before but they also don't face Georgia (and rarely do). They miss Tennessee as well. The problem with the SEC is that they play 8 conference games and their best teams from each division rarely play their cross-division rivals. The deck is stacked so heavily in their favor for them to seed 4-6 teams into next year's 12-team playoff that I think the other conferences should just refuse to participate until the SEC goes to 9 conference games.
4. Ohio State (11-1) - I know Michigan is getting a ton of hype again this year but that's still mostly based on last year's results. And last year was a very favorable schedule for the Wolverines. As such, I am picking Ohio State to come out on top this season. But they are going to drop one along the way. They have road games at Notre Dame and Michigan plus a home contest against Penn State. Let's call the ND game a loss but it could be PSU instead. Either way I think they drop one somewhere and win the battle against Michigan at the end.
5. Notre Dame (11-1) - I hate picking this and history says I shouldn't but they get both USC and Ohio State at home. The rest of the schedule is pretty manageable with the exception of the road game at Clemson. Funnily enough I think they win their 3 big contests and drop a stupid game to Stanford or NC State or something. So here we have them at 11-1, ranked 5th, and a lock for the playoff. That'll really upset the Pac-12's attempt to get someone, anyone into the damn thing in the last year of 4 teams.
6. Washington (11-1) - Call it a homer pick but the Huskies have the best offense in the country and the best offensive coordinator in the country. The only person who I think is a better playcaller than Ryan Grubb is Sark and we'll get back to him later. This record is going to be on a knife's edge and I think it's just as likely to be 9-3 as it is 12-0. Let's call it a loss at USC and a narrow win at home against Utah and OSU. And let's say the rivalry games are won pretty handily in the 2nd half by a range of 10-17 points.
7. Florida State (10-2) - I had FSU a lot higher than pretty much everyone last year for the entire season and it was for good reason. They've got a solid talent base and the ACC is a strange conference of a lot of bowl caliber teams but very few good to great teams. I'm expecting a lot of 8-4 and 7-5 ACC teams at season's end. I have them losing the opener to LSU and then dropping another along the way against Clemson. At the end of the year everyone will be saying "but they didn't beat anybody!" and they'll be right. The rest of the schedule has likely 0 ranked teams.
8. Michigan (10-2) - Sorry I forgot to put them on here at first. Their schedule is just as stupidly easy as last season with non-conference home games against East Carolina, UNLV, and Bowling Green. The very definition of cowardice. This year the difference will be that it's 5 road games instead of 4. I'm predicting they snag a random loss somewhere on the road (but it won't be PSU).
9. USC (10-2) - Road games at ND and O****n, home games against UW and Utah. I'm calling it a 50/50 split on those games with losses to ND and Utah. Enough to likely play for the conference title against Washington in a rematch that maybe we win? Their defense will be their weakness again for the entire season.
10. Texas (10-2) - Sark teams will always, without fail, play to the level of their opponents. Except this year when Alabama blows them out by 30 points. Their ranking is going to be propped up entirely by a win against Oklahoma and then they're going to drop a game to TCU. In the end I think the blowout loss to Bama makes the difference between them and the other 2-loss teams.
11. Tennessee (10-2) - Outside of Georgia and Bama the schedule is a joke. Not much to say except here's another SEC team that has almost nobody on its schedule and gets ranked highly by virtue of that. Call it losses to Georgia and Bama.
12. Clemson (9-3) - The loss to Notre Dame will be offset by the win against FSU but they'll drop 2 more against conference opponents.
13. Utah (9-3) - Call it losses to Washington, OSU, and UCLA. But they beat USC again and get revenge on Florida and O****n. No backing into the conference championship game by bad tiebreak rules this year, though.
14. Penn State (9-3) - I'm expecting another season in which PSU coasts along with a top 10 ranking for no reason other than they haven't yet lost to both Michigan and Ohio State. The only difference this year being they will finally stop getting lucky and will lose one to someone else.
15-17. Kansas State, TCU, Oklahoma (9-3) - I'm just going to phone it in for these three. Look this is a semi-top-heavy conference where there are 4 or 5 pretty good teams and a lot of average teams. I think these guys all win/lose some against each other with an occasional drop to a rando (like Oklahoma @ Cincy or something). In the end they're all the same team - Good but not playoff or conference title good.
18. Ole Miss (9-3) - Losses to the SEC's top 3 and a win against Tulane. An overrated ranking but I'm also not convinced they'd lose a neutral site game to the other 9-3 teams.
19. O****n (9-3) - USC, UW, and Utah all beat them but hey... they set things right against the Beavs! Let's call it a boneheaded loss against Utah due to another Lanning bad decision and two defeats by USC and UW by at least 2 scores each. Tosh Lupoi gets fired, recruiting takes a hit after the coffee mugs are found to only contain coffee now, and the D**ks proceed to win yet another "off-season natty".
20. North Carolina (9-3) - This is where we start to see what I mentioned above with the ACC. A handful of teams capable of being ranked but nobody is really any good.
21. Iowa (9-3) - They don't play Ohio State or Michigan! Lucky them. Too bad they won't have any wins over any of my other ranked teams or they might be able to be higher.
22. UCLA (9-3) - The weakest 9-3 team in the polls. Their non-conference is Coastal Carolina, at SDSU, and NC Central (who tf?). Losses to USC, Utah, and OSU.
23. Tulane (11-1) - They lose to Ole Miss and sweep the rest. Weeee. Their schedule isn't good enough to warrant being any higher than this.
24. Boise State (10-2) - Rocked by UW and then a narrow loss to UCF. After that they rip off 10 straight.
25. Fresno State (10-2) - Losses to Purdue and BSU. An upset win over ASU. Second best in the MWC.
Next out candidates: South Carolina, Texas Tech, Coastal Carolina, Appalachian State, Troy, Vanderbilt (whaaaat? Yes, that's right), Kentucky, Maryland, Northwestern, Nebraska, Michigan State, Wisconsin... You get the point. This season I think the top 10 will be clearly separated from the 11-25 who will be again separated from 26-40.
Now for my conference championship and playoff picks:
SEC - Alabama
Big-10 - Ohio State
Pac-12 - Washington
ACC - Florida State
Big-12 - Texas
#1 Alabama vs. #4 Notre Dame
#2 Ohio State vs. #3 Washington (committee will shift UW up one to preserve Rose Bowl matchup)
Why do I think this will happen? Because my wife insisted we go on an out of country vacation over New Years so this will of course be the year that UW gets into the CFP and the final traditional matchup Rose Bowl. It is destined to happen because I will be unable to attend. Fucking book it an take it to the bank.