Alabama, Florida State — Week 1 foes — head 2017 Too Soon Top 10
TAMPA, Fla. — Nowhere in sports is the inane term “game of the year” used more than in college football. We throw it around like beads at a Mardi Gras parade. I’m afraid to look back, but I’m sure if I did I’d find at least two (OK, three) matchups that I referred to with the superlative phrase this season.
And that was before Monday night’s championship rematch of No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Clemson.
But dig this: Nothing less than a (note that’s an “a,” not a “the”) game of the year will get things started in the 2017 season.
There have been over 50 1-vs.-2 meetings since the AP poll started in 1936, but the vast majority of them came in postseason games. Over the last 20 years, you can count the number of regular-season 1-vs.-2 meetings (not counting conference championship games) on one hand. And never has No. 1 faced No. 2 on the opening Saturday of the season.
That’ll be the case on Sept. 2 if Alabama and Florida State, which meet in Atlanta, are the top two teams in the poll — which they very well could be.
And which they are in my 2017 Too Soon Top 10:
1. Alabama: The talent turnstile continues to whirl — we could name some of the stars of 2016 who’ll be plying their craft in the NFL, but why bother? Their replacements easily could be even better. Quarterback Jalen Hurts should be a sharper, more complete player. The running game and defense will be spectacular. What else is new?
2. Florida State: Jimbo Fisher and the Seminoles have an entire offseason to think about why they weren’t ready to roll from the start of 2016. The talent won’t be far off — at all — from Alabama’s. Quarterback Deondre Francois will be a star. A months-long emphasis on toughness at the line of scrimmage is in order.
3. USC: You might as well just accept that I’m going to strong-play the quarterback theme in these rankings. The Trojans’ Sam Darnold is my early pick for the Heisman Trophy. USC played as well over the last couple of months of the regular season as it has since Pete Carroll left. The next step: a Pac-12 title and possible playoff berth.
4. Ohio State: This isn’t as fun a pick for the top of the Big Ten as Penn State would be. It isn’t as Jim Harbaugh-obsessed a pick as Michigan would be. But you know what? The Buckeyes were young in 2016, and they reached the playoff (again). They’ll be experienced and incredibly deep next season — and they’ll have quarterback J.T. Barrett back for one more ride unless he decides to do the graduate-transfer thing instead.
5. Texas: Why not? Somebody has to win the Big 12 (and get left out of the playoff in spite of it). It would be typical Tom Herman to arrive as coach just as the players in the program are ready to make a giant leap forward. Herman’s pretty dang good, too.
6. Penn State: The offense, with quarterback Trace McSorley and running back Saquon Barkley returning, will be hugely dangerous. But you know what? So often this past season, the ball bounced right for the Nittany Lions. That doesn’t often happen two years in a row.
7. Clemson: The loss of Deshaun Watson, the greatest quarterback in school history, has to cost the Tigers at least a game or two. Right?
8. Washington: There’s no reason the Huskies can’t rip through the Pac-12 North again, but the schedule won’t be as friendly as it was in 2016.
9. LSU: The Tigers should be 5-0 heading into October. From there, let’s just see how well Ed Orgeron — in his first full season as coach — and his impressive staff coaches ’em up.
10. Wisconsin: The offensive line — best in the country? — is going to be the key to the whole operation. It’s not far-fetched to say the Badgers could win the Big Ten.
Follow me on Twitter @slgreenberg.