The Woodshed Preseason Top 10: The old familiars take the top spots

From left: Clemson QB Kelly Bryant, Alabama LB Anfernee Jennings, Ohio State DL Nick Bosa and Georgia QB Jake Fromm.

Say it isn’t so, college football season is here. It’s been a long time since we saw Alabama win it’s 17th National Championship, fifth in the BCS era. The first win of this season? Hawaii and it’s helmets:

It’s time to break out that college gear and start sporting it around the office, get the smack talk ready. It’s been going on in our office for a month now thanks to Urban Meyer giving everybody something new to talk about daily. Florida is totally up for grabs as to who the best program is right now. South Floridians and the rankings say it’s Miami right now, but I know one office mate has a pennant for Central Florida as the reigning National Champion.

Thank God football is finally here. I’m not one for preseason polls. I’d rather watch the first 2 weeks of football to see who’s the best team out there. But since there’s an AP poll telling you who the best team is, then the Woodshed needs to argue it against it and give you the skinny on who the best programs are at this point in the season.

If you listen to ESPN, everybody is playing for fourth place behind Alabama, Clemson, and Georgia. I’m pretty sure we’re already hearing talk about how we need two SEC teams in the title playoff again this year. SEC fans, you do remember that UCF took down #7 Auburn by a score of 34-27 right in the Peach Bowl? The same Auburn team that beat #1 Alabama 26-14. SEC fans don’t want to talk about that right? In my opinion, that’s why there needs to be an expanded playoff. How would the Big Ten Champion have looked against Georgia or Alabama?

Eventually we are going to get to a year in which every program has one loss, and one of those teams is Notre Dame, then what the heck does the committee do?

These are the top 10 programs in the Woodshed Top 10!

No. 1 CLEMSON

The Clemson Tigers possess the best defensive line in the country. They will control the line of scrimmage with Preseason All-American defensive end Clelin Ferrell and defensive tackle Christian Wilkins. Guys like that will make it very difficult for anybody to move the ball on them. Dabo Swinney will go with the athletic Kelly Bryant over freshman Trevor Lawrence at quarterback.

Looking at the schedule for Clemson, Texas A&M on the road in week two and at Florida State are the only road blocks before they face Miami in the ACC title game. Don’t sleep on Boston College in November. Always love to see the Southern kids go up and freeze in the elements.

No. 2 ALABAMA

Aug 4, 2018; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa warms up as the Alabama Crimson Tide football team holds practice at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory credit: Mickey Welsh/Advertiser via USA TODAY NETWORK
Advertiser-USA TODAY NETWORK

I think everybody just assumes Alabama is the best team in the nation. Yes, they have some playmakers on offense. I’ve said it for years: Just make Jalen Hurts throw the ball and stop the run, and that’s how you beat Alabama. Welp, I tip my cap to Nick Saban for making the change at quarterback and going with Tua Tagovailoa in the second half of the title game. I think you continue this year with the kid. If not, you’ll be second guessing yourself all season long.

Linebacker Anfernee Jennings is a playmaker. It’s a good thing, too, because the defense this year is suspect. They have a lot of holes to fill. Lucky for Alabama, they don’t really face anybody that will give them a test. Seriously, play somebody in the top 20 please.

The roadblocks are at LSU and, of course, Auburn. But I really don’t see Alabama losing until the SEC title game against Georgia. At some point I’d like to see them punished for choosing a cupcake road to the playoffs.

No. 3 OHIO STATE

Though all the talk has been about Urban Meyer’s three-game suspension to start the season, the Buckeyes have quietly been working over at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center on that offense. Ryan Day steps in as interim head Coach and has so many weapons to unleash on Oregon State.

I would be shocked if Ohio State didn’t put up 70 points on the board with their new quarterback Dwayne Haskins. If you hear air raid sirens in the shoe, it’s because Haskins has a cannon for an arm and isn’t afraid to let it go. The arm will open up running lanes for both J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber. Both are 1000-yard rushers.

On defense, the biggest playmaker is Nick Bosa on the line. Do not sleep on Chase Young. He will be seeing a lot of one-on-ones thanks to Bosa and will take advantage. OSU is young in the secondary, which will be the point of attack for Michigan and Penn State when they see them.

OSU plays in the Big Ten East with games at Penn State and at Michigan State. Meyer won’t be on the sideline when they face TCU in Dallas, either, so I’m not certain OSU can run the gauntlet unbeaten. Strength of schedule is on OSU’s side for sure, as they face five top-20 programs.

No. 4 GEORGIA

Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs made a name for themselves last year by getting to the national title game. The talent is there. Smart has been killing it on the recruiting trail, with 21 five-star players on the roster. The Dawgs return Jake Fromm at quarterback with freshman Justin Fields nipping at his heels.

The biggest question is how to replace more than 2000 rushing yards from last year’s squad with Nick Chubb and Sony Michel gone. D’Andre Swift showed last year he’s more than able to be that playmaker.

Georgia’s schedule is just as light in the SEC East as Alabama’s is in the West. At LSU could be a dream-season killer, and don’t sleep on Florida. It should be Georgia vs Alabama in the SEC title game. Both teams should be unbeaten at that point.

No. 5 PENN STATE

Dec 30, 2017; Glendale, AZ, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Trace McSorley (9) throws during the first half against the Washington Huskies during the 2017 Fiesta Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

To me, quarterbacks and defensive lines win championships. Trace McSorley is this year’s Baker Mayfield. No, Trace won’t go trolling opposing fanbases across America, but he will be bringing his 4,000 yards of offense to a game near you. Yes, they lose that Barkley guy out of the backfield, but junior Miles Sanders can get it done, and true freshman Ricky Slade will turn some heads.

The Penn State defense has some holes to fill. True freshman five-star defensive end Micah Parsons will play at linebacker for the Nittany Lions. They get Ohio State at home in the white out at Beaver Stadium, so that’s a bonus. PSU has a pretty tough schedule with ranked OSU, Michigan State, Wisconsin at home, but they head to Michigan in November.

I honestly don’t see any Big Ten team going undefeated this year. The bonus for PSU is they have a bye week before they face Michigan.

No. 6 OKLAHOMA

The Sooners offense will not skip a beat with Kyler Murray taking over at quarterback. He’s a playmaker who has some weapons to get the ball to. Murray to Marquise Brown will be heard a lot this year during sportscasts across the nation. Brown had more than 1,000 receiving yards to go with 13 touchdowns last season.

Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley will surely miss Heisman Trophy-winner Baker Mayfield, but the offense is in great hands with Murray. Look for Oklahoma to run the Big 12 again this year, Texas will be the bump in the road for them.

DO NOT SLEEP ON FAU. Though the Owls defense won’t be able to contain Murray, it will be able to run the ball on the Sooners defense. Lane Kiffin will have something up his sleeve too. Not sure where the odds are in Vegas, but I’m taking the Owls to make it close.

I can’t believe it, I only mentioned Baker Mayfield twice.

No. 7 MICHIGAN

Jim Harbaugh finally has a great quarterback to run the offense in Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson. The Wolverines offense took a hit this week with losing Tarik Black to a foot injury. Michigan still has to prove it can run the ball and protect Patterson, which has been the reason for the disappointing seasons under Harbaugh.

The defense is one of the best in the nation, with Rashan Gary, Chase Winovich, and Devin Bush Jr. They open the year with Notre Dame and will face five ranked opponents; six if it gets past OSU in Columbus at the end of the year. Don’t sleep on Northwestern as a stumbling block.

Depth is their Achilles Heel; any more major injuries and the season will be lost.

No. 8 MIAMI

Dec 28, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Miami Hurricanes wide receiver Ahmmon Richards (82) celebrates his touchdown against the West Virginia Mountaineers during the first half at Camping World Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Expectations are high in Coral Gables, as the program looks to take another step forward to be a contender in the ACC. Is the swagger back? Only if ‘Canes QB Malik Rosier is better down the stretch than he was a year ago. He has some competition pushing him this year, which will help. The deep ball needs some work, he will get it from some of his weapons in Ahmmon Richards, Travis Homer, and Jeff Thomas.

The big question mark is the defensive line. Those turnovers were nice last year with pressure in the quarterback’s face. The turnover chain was one of the best new traditions in all of football. The first game of the year against LSU is going to throw gasoline on the fire like the Notre Dame game did last year. I actually think LSU may have the edge in this one.

Regardless, I expect the ‘Canes to face Clemson in the ACC title game at the end of the year.

No. 9 WASHINGTON

Chris Petersen needs to have his Huskies ready to go in Week 1 if they want to make the playoff. Washington faces off with No. 9 Auburn to start the year. That’s one of three ranked opponents they may face this year.

Though the Pac 12 maybe down, Washington has an elite quarterback in Jake Browning and a speedy running back in Myles Gaskin. The Huskies are the team to beat in the west and should be looking at a playoff berth if they can get by Stanford.

The Huskies have the talent to run the table.

No. 10 WISCONSIN

Some experts have the Badgers as the best team in the Big Ten. I am hearing the fans chant overrated…clap, clap, clap-clap-clap…overrated! They have the best offensive line and a wrecking ball in Jonathan Taylor, but that’s it.

Wisconsin has a pretty easy schedule with the exception having to go to both Michigan and Penn State. The defense has led the way the past couple years, but they have to replace a lot of talent on that side of the ball. Taylor will have to beat eight men in the box a lot this year and put up some serious points on the board to be victorious.

The Badgers won’t run the table; look out for Iowa and/or Northwestern.

SUNSHINE TEAMS TO WATCH:

FLORIDA

Jan 2, 2017; Tampa , FL, USA; Florida Gators running back Jordan Scarlett (25) runs with the ball against the Iowa Hawkeyes during the second half at Raymond James Stadium. Florida Gators defeated the Iowa Hawkeyes 30-3. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

There is a new sheriff in Gainesville, and his name is Dan Mullen. Mullen named Feleipe Franks his starting quarterback, but Gators fans kind of feel they’ve seen this movie before. Franks can lean on running back Jordan Scarlett, who will be an elite SEC back. Trevon Grimes should excite fans on the long ball when he sees the field.

The Gators bring in defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, who should feature a 3-4 attack base. The Gators still have a long way to go, they have a pretty easy schedule with the exception of ranked opponents in Georgia, Mississippi State, and LSU.

That FSU game will be interesting; it will be a showcase in future recruiting battles.

FSU

Deondre Francois is the starting QB against Virginia Tech under new coach Willie Taggart. Francois has two of the best running backs in the ACC in Cam Akers and Jacques Patrick to lead the offense.

Derwin James no longer is anchoring the secondary, and it will be tested as the weakness of the defense. They are ranked 19th, and they have some five-star talent on the roster so you can’t count them out in the ACC.

FAU

Lane Kiffin’s Owls won the Conference USA title in his first year in Boca Raton. Kiffin has one of the best running backs in the nation in Devin Singletary, who ran for just under 2000 yards last season.

The Owls open up with Oklahoma, and an upset isn’t out of the question. The big bragging-rights game will be against UCF later in the season.

UCF

Nov 24, 2017; Orlando, FL, USA; UCF Knights quarterback McKenzie Milton (10) throws a pass on the run during the second quarter as South Florida Bulls cornerback Ronnie Hoggins (19) defends in at Spectrum Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Gone is Scott Frost and Shaquem Griffin. Griffin is almost impossible to replace on the defense. QB McKenzie Milton returns behind center and will be just as deadly on the offensive side of the ball.

The difference in this year’s team vs last year’s is the playmakers on defense. Defense wins championships.

The WOODSHED PLAYOFF PREDICTION:

No. 1 CLEMSON

No. 2 ALABAMA

No. 3 OHIO STATE

No. 4 WASHINGTON

I have everybody losing at least a game this year, and everybody will be screaming to expand the playoff.

THE WOODSHED picks of the week:

I like Michigan, LSU, and Washington.