1. Alabama (13-1 SU/6-8 ATS in 2017)
Pre-Spring Power Rating: 96.83
Returning Starters: 12 (8 offense, 4 defense)
2018 Recruiting Class Rank: #7
It should come as no surprise as to which team tops my 2018 early power ratings. The defending National Champions still have the best coach and best roster in all of college football. The Crimson Tide do return only 12 starters and lost WR Calvin Ridley plus all 4 starters in the secondary including safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. The Tide also lost both their O.C. Brian Daboll to the Buffalo Bills and D.C. Jeremy Pruitt to Tennessee. There will be a QB battle between Tua Tagovailoa (title game star) and Jalen Hurts (2-year starter) but the Tide have plenty of talented play-makers in RB’s Damien Harris and Najee Harris a long with WR Jerry Jeudy and LB’s Dylan Moses and Mack Wilson. Alabama has been favored in 111 of their last 112 games and the Crimson Tide will be favored in all 12 games this year with 10 of those by double-digits. Their two toughest games will be at LSU on November 3rd (likely a TD favorite) and a home game vs Auburn in the finale (likely a 10-point favorite).
2. Clemson (12-2 SU/8-5-1 ATS in 2017)
Pre-Spring Power Rating: 96.22
Returning Starters: 15 (7 offense, 8 defense)
2018 Recruiting Class Rank: #6
Thanks to the return of 15 starters from last year’s ACC Championship season, the Tigers enter 2018 as heavy favorites to win the ACC again and make their 4th straight appearance in the college football playoff. Several underclassmen decided against leaving early for the NFL Draft giving Clemson the best defensive line in college football. Their four returning starters on the DL (Austin Bryant, Clelin Ferrell, Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins) have a combined 535 career tackles, 89.5 tackles for loss and 47 sacks! Kelly Bryant returns at QB but will be pushed by incoming frosh Trevor Lawrence and sophomore Hunter Johnson. Clemson will be favored in all 12 games this year with their two toughest games coming at Texas A&M (Clemson likely a 10-point favorite) and at Florida State where Clemson will likely be a near TD favorite.
3. Ohio State (12-2 SU/7-7 ATS in 2017)
Pre-Spring Power Rating: 95.71
Returning Starters: 12 (7 offense, 5 defense)
2018 Recruiting Class Rank: #2
The defending Big Ten Champs closed 2017 strong with five straight victories highlighted by a 17-point win over Pac-12 champ USC in the Cotton Bowl. While the Buckeyes lose 4-year starting QB J.T. Barrett, his likely replacement Dwayne Haskins has more upside and both RB’s J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber return. Head coach Urban Meyer signed another top-notch recruiting class and also made a great hire in bringing in former Washington State D.C Alex Grinch to co-coordinate the defense with Greg Schiano. The Buckeyes will likely be favored in at least 10 games this year, however road trips to Penn State and Michigan State (a pair of Top 15 teams) will likely decide who comes out of the rugged Big Ten East Division. The Buckeyes will likely be around a FG favorite at Michigan State but could find themselves a very small underdog in Happy Valley.
4. Georgia (13-2 SU/11-4 ATS in 2017)
Pre-Spring Power Rating: 94.56
Returning Starters: 12 (7 offense, 5 defense)
2018 Recruiting Class Rank: #1
The Bulldogs came up just short in the National Title game but 2017 was no “one-year wonder” for Georgia who welcomes back 12 starters and signed the No. 1 recruiting class in the country. The Bulldogs do have several holes to fill including trying to replace two of the Top 5 RB’s in school history in Sony Michel and Nick Chubb a long with rebuilding a LB corps that lost Butkus Award winner Roquan Smith. However, QB Jake Fromm returns after a great freshman season as do four starters on the offensive line. RB D’Andre Swift showed some flashes in limited duty last season. The schedule is also very manageable as the Bulldogs will likely be favored in all 12 games with a road trip to LSU (UGA around a FG favorite) being their toughest game a long with a home game vs Auburn (UGA likely a TD favorite).
5. Auburn (10-4 SU/6-8 ATS in 2017)
Pre-Spring Power Rating: 91.92
Returning Starters: 11 (6 offense, 5 defense)
2018 Recruiting Class Rank: #12
The Tigers had a very disappointing finish to the 2017 season losing the SEC Championship game by three touchdowns to Georgia and Auburn was upset as a 10-point favorite in the Peach Bowl to UCF. Still Auburn exceeded preseason expectations by beating both Alabama and Georgia in the regular season. QB Jarrett Stidham returns along with most of his top receivers as the Tigers should have a better passing attack. The Tigers do have to replace RB Kerryon Johnson (1,391 yards and 18 TD’s) but keep an eye on Baylor transfer Kam Martin and the defense has been one of the best in the SEC under D.C. Kevin Steele. However, the schedule is brutal with road trips to Alabama (likely 10-point underdog) and Georgia (likely TD underdog). Games against Washington (in Atlanta) and at Mississippi State will likely see Auburn as a very short favorite. Overall, this is an Auburn team that is likely Top 5 on paper but could finish the season with three losses.
6. Washington (10-3 SU/7-6 ATS in 2017)
Pre-Spring Power Rating: 91.83
Returning Starters: 17 (8 offense, 9 defense)
2018 Recruiting Class Rank: #13
After notching back-to-back seasons with at least 10 wins, the Huskies are the most experienced of all the Top 10 teams with 17 returning starters. The Huskies have a great 1-2 combo in QB Jake Browning and RB Myles Gaskin who are both 3-year starters already. Washington also brings back several players who were lost for the 2017 season because of injury including LT Trey Adams and WR Chico McClatcher. They do lose their best WR in Dante Pettis and the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year in DT Vita Vea but Washington signed their best recruiting class in the Chris Petersen era. The schedule is manageable as the Huskies are likely to be favored in 11 games this year. The opener vs Auburn (in Atlanta) will see the Huskies as likely FG underdogs and in Pac-12 play, the toughest games will be road trips to Utah, Oregon and a home game vs Stanford. However, the Huskies are likely to be TD favorites in all three.
7. Oklahoma (12-2 SU/8-6 ATS in 2017)
Pre-Spring Power Rating: 91.64
Returning Starters: 13 (7 offense, 6 defense)
2018 Recruiting Class Rank: #9
The Sooners came up just short in the Rose Bowl to Georgia, but still it was a very successful first season for head coach Lincoln Riley as Oklahoma won their third straight Big 12 title and made the college football playoff for the second time in three seasons. While Oklahoma has to replace Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield at QB, his replacement Kyler Murray already has starting experience from his days at Texas A&M. Murray was also one of the top-rated players coming out of high school. The Sooners do lose TE Mark Andrews and OT Orlando Brown but break-out star Rodney Alexander returns at RB. The defense will have to improve despite losing some of its best players including DE/LB Ogbonnia Okoronkwo. The schedule could see the Sooners favored in all 12 games this season. Their four toughest games come at Iowa State, vs Texas (in Dallas), at TCU and at West Virginia in the regular season finale.
8. Penn State (11-2 SU/8-5 ATS in 2017)
Pre-Spring Power Rating: 91.24
Returning Starters: 10 (7 offense, 3 defense)
2018 Recruiting Class Rank: #5
It’s remarkable to think that in the middle of 2016, head coach James Franklin was on the hot seat. However, the Nittany Lions are now 20-3 SU/18-5 ATS in their last 23 games highlighted by a Fiesta Bowl win over Washington last year. Franklin will have his work cut out for him this year as Penn State returns only 10 starters and loses arguably the most talented player in college football in RB Saquon Barkley. Penn State also lost a gifted offensive play-caller in Joe Moorhead to Mississippi State but QB Trace McSorley returns and Penn State signed one of the best recruiting classes in school history. While Penn State could be favored in 10 of their 12 games this season, life in the Big Ten East division will not be easy including home games vs Ohio State (likely pick-em), Michigan State (likely TD favorites) with a road trip to Michigan being the Nittany Lions toughest test of the season (likely FG dogs).
9. Wisconsin (13-1 SU/9-5 ATS in 2017)
Pre-Spring Power Rating: 89.74
Returning Starters: 14 (9 offense, 5 defense)
2018 Recruiting Class Rank: #44
The Badgers are coming off one of the best seasons in school history as they won a school-record 13 games highlighted by an Orange Bowl win at Miami, FL. This year the Badgers bring back their starting QB Alex Hornibrook, a Heisman contender at RB in Jonathan Taylor who rushed for an FBS freshman record 1,977 yards and all five starters on the offensive line. There are more question marks on the defense especially in the secondary where the Badgers lose three starters. The schedule is much more difficult than last year where the Badgers were favored in all 12 regular season games. This year the Badgers will most likely be favored in 10 games with road trips to Michigan (+4) and Penn State (+7) seeing them in the underdog role.
10. Notre Dame (10-3 SU/8-5 ATS in 2017)
Pre-Spring Power Rating: 89.05
Returning Starters: 15 (6 offense, 9 defense)
2018 Recruiting Class Rank: #10
Last year the Fighting Irish bounced back from a disastrous 4-8 season to win 10 games for the 2nd time in three seasons. While Notre Dame loses their leading rusher (Josh Adams), leading receiver (Equanimeous St. Brown) and a pair of likely first round NFL draft choices on the OL in OT Mike McGlinchey and OG Quenton Nelson, the Irish are still very experienced with 15 returning starters. QB Brandon Wimbush (30 total TD’s) returns and the Irish have one of the most experienced defenses in the country. The schedule is still pretty difficult starting with a home game vs Michigan (around a FG favorite) in the opener. The Irish also have home games vs Stanford and Florida State along with road trips to Virginia Tech and USC. Still Notre Dame could be favored in as many as 10 games this year.
Just Missed the Cut: Michigan, Michigan State, Miami (FL), Stanford and Mississippi State.