Note: These are "Vegas" Power Ratings and not necessarily where I'd rank them if I was doing a preseason AP Top 10 poll.
1. Alabama (14-1 SU/9-4-2 ATS in 2016)
Pre-Spring Power Rating: 98.22
Returning Starters: 6 offense, 5 defense, 1 special teams
2017 Recruiting Class Rank: #1
The Crimson Tide return 11 starters from a team that fell one play short of winning back-to-back national championships. For the first time since 2013, they will have a returning starter at QB in Jalen Hurts but do lose several possible 1st-round draft choices on defense led by DE Jonathan Allen. There was also some major coaching turnover as they lose OC's Lane Kiffin/Steve Sarkisian, OL coach Mario Cristobal and WR's coach Billy Napier. Head coach Nick Saban recently hired Brian Daboll as his new OC. Daboll was a long-time NFL assistant who recently worked for the New England Patriots for the last 4 years. Still the Crimson Tide have the most talented roster in CFB (7 straight No. 1 classes!) and one of the best coaches in the history of the game. Amazingly, the Crimson Tide have been a favorite in 97 of their last 98 games and I currently have them a favorite in all 12 of their games in 2017. In fact, the only games where I do not have them a double-digit favorite is the opener vs Florida State in Atlanta, GA and their final game of the regular season at Auburn.
2. Ohio St (11-2 SU/6-7 ATS in 2016)
Pre-Spring Power Rating: 95.39
Returning Starters: 8 offense, 7 defense, 0 special teams
2017 Recruiting Class Rank: #2
The Buckeyes do lose six players that left early for the NFL Draft but they have grown accustomed to this in recent years. They are much more experienced than last year (only returned 6 starters a year ago) led by QB J.T. Barrett. They also just landed the No. 2 recruiting class in the country which was arguably the best in school history) After the embarrassing 31-0 loss to Clemson in the CFB Playoff Semifinals, head coach Urban Meyer overhauled his staff and made a great hire in bringing in former Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson. Their schedule includes 3 possible Top 10 teams but they host both Oklahoma and Penn St (have a bye before Nittany Lions). While they travel to Ann Arbor in their final game, they are 12-1 straight up vs Michigan since 2003. Currently, I have the Buckeyes favored in every one of their games in 2017 and they are a value bet for me to win it all.
3. Florida St (10-3 SU/8-5 ATS in 2016)
Pre-Spring Power Rating: 94.82
Returning Starters: 7 offense, 9 defense, 2 special teams
2017 Recruiting Class Rank: #6
The Seminoles were my pick to win the National Championship a year ago and while they disappointed me greatly in that regard, we cashed several best bets on them (including my Game of Year). The Seminoles won and covered each of their last 4 games highlighted by the Orange Bowl win over Michigan and they head into 2017 with a lot of momentum. First, they return 16 starters led by QB Deondre Francois and also get back All-American safety Derwin James who missed most of last season with an injury. The Noles signed one of the best recruiting classes in the country and while FSU all-time leading rusher Dalvin Cook will be very tough to replace, they did sign the No. 1 RB in the country in Cam Akers (also signed the best DT). The Seminoles do have an extremely tough schedule as they open up with Alabama in Atlanta, GA (will be around a 4-point underdog) and also have to play at defending National Champ Clemson along with games against Top 20 Miami (FL), Louisville and Florida. Still, I have them favored in 10 of their games and this is a very talented and dangerous team.
4. Oklahoma (11-2 SU/7-6 ATS in 2016)
Pre-Spring Power Rating: 93.73
Returning Starters: 8 offense, 7 defense, 2 special teams
2017 Recruiting Class Rank: #8
The Sooners finished last season with 10 straight wins (7-3 ATS) highlighted by a Sugar Bowl win over Auburn. Despite what many have perceived as a downturn in the Stoops era, the Sooners have won 10 or more games in 6 of the last 7 seasons. This year they do lose their excellent 1-2 punch at RB in Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine a long with All-American WR DeDe Westbrook. However, OU does bring back a very experienced team with 15 starters on offense/defense led by QB Baker Mayfield. They also signed their first Top 10 recruiting class since 2010! They will be around a TD underdog at Ohio St in Week 2 but should be favored in their other 11 games with only a road trip to Oklahoma St being at a FG or less. This looks like another double-digit win season in Norman!
5. Clemson (14-1 SU/7-7 ATS in 2016, *1 game was no contest)
Pre-Spring Power Rating: 92.38
Returning Starters: 5 offense, 7 defense, 1 special teams
2017 Recruiting Class Rank: #16
The defending national champs look like they could take a step back in 2017 thanks to heavy personnel losses led by QB Deshaun Watson and WR Mike Williams. However, I could make a strong case that no coach has maximized his talent level in the last 5 years than Dabo Swinney who is incredibly on a 6-1 SU/7-0 ATS run in post-season action vs Les Miles, Bob Stoops, Urban Meyer and Nick Saban! The QB race figures to be wide open but Clemson will field one of the best DL's in all of college football. The Tigers also have a advantageous schedule getting both Auburn and Florida St at home. Currently, I have Clemson favored in all 12 of their games (5 of those are by a TD or less) meaning they are a legitimate threat to make it 3 straight trips to the CFB Playoff!
6. USC (10-3 SU/8-5 ATS in 2016)
Pre-Spring Power Rating: 91.77
Returning Starters: 6 offense, 8 defense, 2 special teams
2017 Recruiting Class Rank: #4
There may not have been a hotter team in the country down the stretch last season than USC who closed the season with 9 straight wins (7-2 ATS) after a poor 1-3 start. Obviously, the highlight being their dramatic come-from-behind win over Penn St in the Rose Bowl. This year's team does lose a couple of top playmakers in WR JuJu Smith-Schuster and all-everything Adoree' Jackson while also losing 3 key starters on the OL. The big news will be the return of QB Sam Darnold who is currently tied with Louisville QB Lamar Jackson and Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield as the favorite to take home the Heisman Trophy (7/1 odds). The Trojans signed a Top 5 recruiting class, to no surprise thanks to all of the late season momentum. Currently, I have USC favored in all 12 of their games in 2017 and 9 of those are by double-digits! However, I am a bit concerned about their overall depth and they are the only Power Five conference team to not have a bye this season!
7. LSU (8-4 SU/6-6 ATS in 2016)
Pre-Spring Power Rating: 91.22
Returning Starters: 7 offense, 5 defense, 1 special teams
2017 Recruiting Class Rank: #7
After firing Les Miles after Week 4, the Tigers went 6-2 SU/ATS under Ed Orgeron and he ended up getting the full-time gig. Orgeron and the Tigers were able to keep DC Dave Aranda and they have massively upgraded at OC with the hire of Matt Canada. He might have been the best play-caller in all of CFB last year at Pitt. The Tigers return 12 starters and the loss of RB Leonard Fournette will be over-stated. He wasn't even the best RB on the team last year (wasn't 100% healthy at any point). Derrius Guice who did lead them in rushing is a Top 5 RB in all of CFB. They do lose a stud at S in Jamal Adams and one of the best pass rushers in the SEC Arden Key recently took a leave of absence from the team. His return will be a necessity. As far as their schedule goes, they will be an underdog in only one game...at Alabama. Road trips to Florida and Tennessee will be difficult but as of right now, it looks like a double-digit win season in Baton Rouge.
8. Penn St (11-3 SU/10-3-1 ATS in 2016)
Pre-Spring Power Rating: 90.8
Returning Starters: 9 offense, 7 defense, 2 special teams
2017 Recruiting Class Rank: #15
Like Oklahoma and USC, the Nittany Lions finished the 2016 season on a tear as they went 8-1 SU/9-0 ATS in their last 9 games with only a heart-breaking 3-point loss vs USC in the Rose Bowl standing in their way of a Top 3 finish. The Nittany Lions are probably the most experienced team on this list as they return 16 starters on offense/defense led by QB Trace McSorley and RB Saquon Barkley. Their schedule sets up nicely and they will probably be favored in 11 of their 12 games with only a road trip at Ohio St being their clear underdog role (Nittany Lions host Michigan and get a bye prior). The only concern I have is how will they handle all the preseason hype and expectations as they figure to have their highest preseason AP Poll ranking since 1999!
9. Washington (12-2 SU/7-7 ATS in 2016)
Pre-Spring Power Rating: 90.23
Returning Starters: 7 offense, 7 defense, 1 special teams
2017 Recruiting Class Rank: #23
Last year the Huskies had their best season since 2000 as they won the Pac-12 and qualified for the CFB Playoff. This year looks like it will be another ultra-successful season in Seattle for head coach Chris Petersen. The Huskies do lose some studs on defense led by safety Budda Baker and also lose their deep threat on offense in WR John Ross. They do return 14 starters led by their 1-2 punch at QB/RB in QB Jake Browning and RB Myles Gaskin. I'd have to consider the Huskies as a possible CFB National Title "sleeper" as they will be favored by at least a TD in 11 of their 12 games (very weak non-conference schedule and they avoid USC)! Currently, I have their road trip to Stanford power-rated around "pick" so they won't be a sizable underdog in any game!
10. Auburn (8-5 SU/8-4-1 ATS in 2016)
Pre-Spring Power Rating: 89.9
Returning Starters: 9 offense, 8 defense, 1 special teams
2017 Recruiting Class Rank: #10
Last season Auburn started off the year 7-2 SU/ATS but injuries to QB Sean White and RB Kamryn Pettway hurt them down the stretch and they lost to Alabama and Oklahoma in their final two games. Some of you might be shocked not to see Michigan in my Top 10 but the Tigers get the nod here because they return 17 starters (Michigan only returns 5). This looks to be a make or break season for head coach Gus Malzahn. The Tigers return 17 starters and they signed a Top 10 recruiting class. The biggest incoming player is JUCO QB Jarrett Stidham (former Baylor QB) who is the favorite to start under center. The schedule is difficult as the Tigers have road trips to Clemson and LSU and I have them an underdog in 3 games (none by more than a TD). While I probably wouldn't put Auburn in my preseason AP Top 10, they are a Top 10 team based on a pure "Vegas" power rating.
Just Missed the Cut: Wisconsin, Michigan, Stanford, Louisville and Oklahoma St.
Let me know if you have any feedback or any questions on other teams,