Since most preseason power rankings are mere conjecture, what follows is my attempt at looking into the crystal ball. I’m releasing my preseason Top 25, five names at a time.
15. Texas A & M Aggies
Kevin Sumlin’s training wheels are off now that John Football has left for the NFL and the Aggies have to replace one of the most dynamic players in the history of college football. With inexperience at quarterback (sophomore Kenny Hill and true frosh Kyle Allen), the Aggies will likely rely on the running game and they have another top NFL-prospect in tackle Cedric Ogbuehi. Trey Williams and Tra Carson will handle the running duties and 6-foot-5 receiver Ricky Seals-Jones could replace first-round pick Mike Evans.
Defensively, the Aggies return ten starters from last season, but don’t read too much into that. The Texas A & M defense was atrocious last year and it doesn’t appear that the talent is there to improve even into the top half of the nation.
Every SEC West schedule seems brutal and this is no exception. The Aggies have to break in their new quarterback with a trip to Columbia, South Carolina at one of the toughest venues for visiting teams. After that game, the burgundy and white will be favored heavily until they travel to Mississippi State on October 4th. That begins a string of tough games which include Ole Miss at home, another trip to Tuscaloosa before getting a virtual scrimmage against Louisiana-Monroe. A & M then finishes its schedule with a trip to Auburn followed by home dates against Missouri and LSU. The Aggies have potentially great weapons on offense and will need to outscore their opponents if they’re going to get to a New Year’s bowl or better.
14. Ole Miss Rebels
Head coach Hugh Freeze has stumbled on to the national scene with his top recruiting classes and now it’s time for his Rebels to translate talent into wins. The Rebels offense will rely largely on Bo Wallace who is one of the best returning quarterbacks in the conference. Wallace will lean on sophomore wideout Laquon Treadwell as well as two-headed running back tandem in Jaylen Walton and I’Tavius Mathers.
Defensively, the Rebels are stout as they’re led by sophomore Robert Nkemdiche and defensive end transfers C.J. Johnson and Fadol Brown. The Rebels offense doesn’t figure to be very dynamic and they will have to win a lot of lower scoring grudge matches.
Ole Miss has about as manageable a schedule as the SEC West features. They have a tough non-conference game with Boise State at home, and then their conference slate features manageable road trips at Vandy and Arkansas. Getting both Alabama and Auburn at home is an advantage and it would likely make the Rebels season if they can pull off an upset against one of them.
13. USC Trojans
The Trojans have a new head coach and a new lease on life as the dark clouds (Lane Kiffin and NCAA penalties) that hovered over the program are finally gone. Enter Steve Sarkisian and a somewhat thin but talented roster and USC is expected to compete in New Year’s Day bowl games once again.
Quarterback Cody Kessler is the undisputed signal caller, and although the team lost Marqise Lee to the Jaguars, they still have a stud wideout in Nelson Agholor. Tight end Randall Telfer is expected to be a focal point in Sarkisian’s offense…..Defensively the Trojans are led by All-American lineman Leonard Williams who will anchor one of the best defensive fronts in the nation.
The Trojans are still one of the only teams in the nation to never have scheduled a non-FBS opponent and their schedule certainly has its fair share of challenges. After opening with Fresno State at home, the Trojans travel to “The Farm” to take on Stanford and then a tricky game across the country at Boston College. After a bye week USC returns home to face Oregon State and Arizona State respectively. The schedule softens a bit as the Trojans toughest game in October figures to be at Arizona. USC finishes with a road game across town against UCLA as well as their rivalry date at home against Notre Dame.
12. Arizona State Sun Devils
Todd Graham’s Arizona State Sun Devils could be in for a big season as they have most of the components for not only a Pac-12 title run, but a possible run at the “Final Four”. Talented passer Taylor Kelly is back for his senior season and running back D.J. Foster should step in and replace Marion Grice nicely. The Sun Devils have one of the best receivers in the nation in Jaelen Strong and this offense should be able to score with anyone.
Arizona State has a lot of work to do and questions to figure out defensively as they have to replace not only Will Sutton, but nine starters in total. They will need plenty of younger guys and talented junior college transfers to get acquainted early.
The ASU schedule begins soft with non-conference games against Weber State and New Mexico before traveling to Colorado. After a bye week the Sun Devils play the meat of their schedule as they host UCLA, travel to USC, host Stanford, travel to Washington, then are back home for games against Utah and Notre Dame before visiting Corvallis to take on Oregon State. That stretch of schedule is as tough as any, but most of the tough games are at home and their road trips are against teams that they’ve previously dominated.
11. LSU Tigers
Les Miles hopes to put together another 10-win season but he’ll first have to find a competent quarterback. The competition is between sophomore Anthony Jennings and freshman Brandon Harris and they are polar opposites to last year’s starter, Zach Mettenberger, a pocket statue with a huge arm. LSU will need their recruits to step up early and running back Leonard Fournette and wide receiver Malachai Dupree could be playmakers to watch.
Defensively, the Tigers should be stingy again as they have an ultra-talented front four led by defensive ends Danielle Hunter and Jermauria Rasco. There are still concerns with players changing positions at linebacker but the cornerback position should make their recent NFL draft picks proud, as Tra’Davious White and Rashard Robinson are extremely talented.
LSU always plays a tough non-conference game and this year is no different as they travel to Houston to take on the Wisconsin Badgers. After a few cupcakes, the Tigers host Mississippi State in their first SEC game. After another cupcake (New Mexico State), LSU takes to the road with trips to Auburn and Florida in consecutive weeks. Then they won’t see the road for a month as they host Kentucky, Ole Miss and Alabama. Finally, LSU closes with road trips at Arkansas and Texas A & M. Although they do have the tough non-conference game against Wisconsin, most of LSU’s tougher games are at home and they could rack up some wins if one of their quarterback options works out.