ATLANTA — Alabama is the national champ again and the Crimson Tide won the championship with a bunch of freshmen coming off the bunch.
The Tide will keep rolling in 2018 after finishing the 2017 season by beating Georgia to win the College Football Playoff national title . Alabama was voted No. 1 in the final Associated Press college football poll, becoming the first team since Southern California in 2004 to be preseason No. 1 and national champ in the same season. And that’s probably where Alabama will start next season, too.
The last Heat Check for the 2017 season looks at how they teams in the final poll are set up for ’18 and where they might start in the preseason rankings. There are plenty of players still deciding if they will be back for another season or jump to the NFL. Players likely to leave are noted with -x.
No. 1 Alabama (13-1)
Back: QB Jalen Hurts; OT Jonah Williams; DE Raekwon Davis.
Gone: WR Calvin Ridley-x; S Minkah Fitzpatrick-x; LB Rashaan Evans.
Alabama brings back a two-year starting quarterback that has played in two national title games and the backup (Tua Tagovailoa) might be better. The secondary will need a major rebuild.
First test of 2018: vs. Louisville in Orlando, Florida, week one.
Heat check for 2018: Probably preseason No. 1 again.
No. 2 Georgia (13-2)
Back: QB Jake Fromm; RB De’Andre Swift; OT Andrew Thomas.
Gone: RBs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel; OLB Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy.
The Bulldogs are likely to lose a bunch of juniors, like LB Roquan Smith, to the NFL, and could use a year to retrench before Kirby Smart’s excellent recruiting classes develop.
First test of 2018: at South Carolina, week two.
Heat check for 2018: Could be closer to No. 10 than No. 1 depending on early departures.
No. 3 Oklahoma (12-2)
Back: LB Caleb Kelly; RB Rodney Anderson; OT Bobby Evans.
Gone: QB Baker Mayfield; OT Orlando Brown; TE Mark Andrews.
The Sooners’ seasons will likely swing on how well Kyler Murray does as Mayfield’s replacement, though the backfield should be loaded.
First test of 2018: vs FAU, week one.
Heat check for 2018: Back half of the top 10 because of QB uncertainty.
No. 4 Clemson (12-2)
Back: QB Kelly Bryant; RB Travis Etienne; DT Dexter Lawrence.
Gone: DT Christian Wilkins-x; DE Clelin Ferrell-x; DE Austin Bryant-x.
Three-fourths of that monster defensive line could jump to the NFL early, but 2017 showed Clemson is built to withstand high-level losses.
First test of 2018: at Texas A&M, week two.
Heat check for 2018: In contention for preseason No. 1
No. 5 Ohio State (12-2)
Back: DE Nick Bosa; RB J.K. Dobbins; DT Robert Landers.
Gone: QB J.T. Barrett; DE Sam Hubbard; CB Denzel Ward.
The Buckeyes will replace a lot on defense, but the 2017 recruiting class was loaded, and they should be fine at QB with Dwayne Haskins.
First test of 2018: vs. TCU, week three.
Heat check for 2018: Preseason top five, easily.
No. 6 UCF (13-0)
Back: QB McKenzie Milton; RB Adrian Killins; WR Otis Anderson.
Gone: OLB Shaquem Grffin; DE Jamiyus Pittman; LB Chequan Burkett.
Pressure will be on new coach Josh Heupel, who will have the entire offense back.
First test of 2018: at North Carolina, week three.
Heat check for 2018: If Scott Frost was back, the Knights would be preseason top 10. Now? Probably around 15.
No. 7 Wisconsin (13-1)
Back: RB Jonathan Taylor; QB Alex Hornibrook; LB T.J. Edwards.
Gone: TE Troy Fumagalli; CB Nick Nelson; OLB Garrett Dooley.
The Badgers bring back almost an entire offense.
First test of 2018: at Iowa, week four.
Heat check for 2018: Top five. Certainly not much lower than that.
No. 8 Penn State (11-2)
Back: QB Trace McSorley; WR Juwan Johnson; DE Shareef Miller.
Gone: RB Saquon Barkley; TE Mike Gesicki; S Marcus Allen.
The Nittany Lions have been recruiting well under James Franklin, and that will be tested in 2018 because they lose bunch of big-time upperclassmen.
First test of 2018: vs. Appalachian State, week one.
Heat check for 2018: Top 20 team, but maybe fourth best in the Big Ten East.
No. 9 TCU (11-3)
Back: WR KaVontae Turpin; DE Ben Banogu; LB Ty Summers.
Gone: LB Travin Howard; DE Matt Boesen; QB Kenny Hill.
Under coach Gary Patterson, the Horned Frogs tend to do their best work when expectations are low. Might be tough next season.
First test of 2018: vs. Ohio State at Arlington, Texas, week three.
Heat check for 2018: Around No. 15 to start.
No. 10 Auburn (10-4)
Back: QB Jarrett Stidham; DT Dontavious Russell; DE Marlon Davidson.
Gone: RB Kerryon Johnson; OLB Jeff Holland; CB Carlton Davis.
The Tigers will be retooling around Stidham, but have some promising offensive linemen.
First test of 2018: vs. Washington in Atlanta, week one.
Heat check for 2018: Middle of the Top 25 to start.
No. 11 Notre Dame (10-3)
Back: NG Jerry Tillery; CB Julian Love; QB Brandon Wimbush.
Gone: OT Mike McGlinchey; G Quenton Nelson; WR Equanimeous St. Brown.
The offensive line made the Irish go and it needs a major rebuild.
First test of 2018: vs. Michigan, week one.
Heat check: for 2018: Around No. 20.
No. 12 Southern California (11-3)
Back: RB Stephen Carr; WR Tyler Vaughns; LB Jordan Iosefa.
Gone: QB Sam Darnold; DE Uchenna Nwosu; RB Ronald Jones II.
Matt Finks is next quarterback in line, but the big question is can the offensive line take a big step forward?
First test of 2018: at Stanford, week two.
Heat check for 2018: Top 15.
No. 13 Miami (10-3)
Back: WR Ahmmon Richards; LB Shaquille Quarterman; DE Joseph Jackson.
Gone: DE Chad Tomas; WR Braxton Berrios; TE Christopher Herndon IV.
The Hurricanes head into 2018 with a three-game losing streak, but the arrow is pointing up after an ahead-of-schedule season. QB Malik Rosier likely faces a battle for the starting job.
First test of 2018: vs. LSU at Arlington, Texas, week one.
Heat check for 2018: Just outside top five.
No. 14 Oklahoma State (10-3)
Back: RB Justice Hill; WR Jalen McCleskey; LB Calvin Bundage.
Gone: QB Mason Rudolph; WR James Washington; WR Marcell Ateman.
The Cowboys need a quarterback.
First test of 2018: vs. Boise State, week three.
Heat check for 2018: At best, the Cowboys squeeze into the Top 25.
No. 15 Michigan State (10-3)
Back: QB Brian Lewerke; RB L.J. Scott; LB Joe Bachie.
Gone: C Brian Allen; LB Chris Frey; DE Demetrius Cooper.
The Spartans could return more players who contributed heavily this season than any in the country.
First test of 2018: at Arizona State, week two.
Heat check for 2018: Could sneak into the top 10.
No. 16 Washington (10-3)
Back: QB Jake Browning; DT Greg Gaines; S Taylor Rapp.
Gone: DT Vita Vea; WR Dante Pettis; LB Keishawn Bierria.
The Huskies will get some key players back from injury (OT Trey Adams, WR Chico McClatcher) and Chris Petersen seems to have the Huskies primed to contend yearly.
First test of 2018: vs. Auburn at Atlanta, week one.
Heat check for 2018: Pac-12 favorite and the conference’s only preseason top-10 team.
No. 17 Northwestern (10-3)
Back: LB Paddy Fisher; QB Clayton Thorson; RB Jeremy Larkin.
Gone: RB Justin Jackson; S Godwin Igwebuike; DT Tyler Lancaster.
Thorson coming back healthy from a bowl game knee injury is key to season.
First test of 2018: at Purdue, week one.
Heat check for 2018: Strong finish could put Wildcats into the bottom of the Top 25.
No. 18 LSU (9-4)
Back: LB Devin White; CB Adraez Williams; DT Rashard Lawrence.
Gone: RB Derrius Guice; WR D.J. Chark; DL Christian LaCouture.
Where does LSU coach Ed Orgeron go now for an offensive coordinator with Matt Canada leaving?
First test of 2018: vs. Miami at Arlington, Texas, week one.
Heat check for 2018: LSU always has top-20 talent so it will be a top-20 team.
No. 19 Mississippi State (9-4)
Back: DT Jeffrey Simmons; QB Nick Fitzgerald; DE Montez Sweat.
Gone: OT Martina Rankin; LB Dezmond Harris.
Dan Mullen left new coach Joe Moorhead the makings of a really good team.
First test of 2018: at Kansas State, week two.
Heat check for 2018: Buzzy team for next season, could slip into top 10 if Fitzgerald is in good health.
No. 20 Stanford (9-5)
Back: QB K.J. Costello; TD Kaden Smith; OG Nate Herbig.
Gone: DT Harrison Phillips; LB Peter Kalambayi; OG David Bright.
Does Heisman Trophy runner-up Bryce Love return? How about DBs Justin Reid and CB Quenton Meeks?
First test of 2018: vs. San Diego State, week one.
Heat check for 2018: With Love 18-20. Without, 21-23.
No. 21 South Florida (10-2)
Back: WR Tyre McCants; CB Mazzi Wilkins; LB Nico Sawtelle.
Gone: QB Quinton Flowers; DT Deadrin Senat; RB D’Ernest Johnson.
The Bulls lose a ton of talented leaders, including the best player in program history in Flowers.
First test of 2018: vs. Georgia Tech, week two.
Heat check for 2018: Unranked.
No. 22 Boise State (11-3)
Back: QB Brett Rypien; RB Alexander Mattison; S Kekoa Nawahine.
Gone: LB Leighton Vander Esch; WR Cedrick Wilson; TE Jake Roh.
The Broncos bring back most of a good defense and maybe the best quarterback in the Mountain West.
First test of 2018: at Troy, week one.
Heat check for 2018: Should start no worse than 20th.
No. 23 North Carolina State (9-4)
Back: QB Ryan Finley; WR Kelvin Harmon; RB Nyheim Hines.
Gone: DE Bradley Chubb; TE Jaylen Samuels; DT Justin Jones.
The Wolfpack missed a chance to have a really special season in 2017. Most of the offense returns, but a talented defensive line is gone.
First test of 2018: vs. West Virginia.
No. 24 Virginia Tech (9-4)
Back: QB Josh Jackson; DT Ricky Walker; DT Tim Settle.
Gone: CB Greg Stroman; WR Cam Phillips; LB Tremaine Edmunds-x.
Year three under coach Justin Fuente will be the first for Hokies with an experienced QB. Expectations should be high.
First test of 2018: at Florida State, week one.
Heat check for 2018: Top 15.
No. 25 Memphis (10-3)
Back: RB Tony Pollard; RB Darrell Henderson; NT O’Bryan Goodson.
Gone: QB Riley Ferguson; WR Anthony Miller; LB Genard Avery.
Replacing two of the best players in school history will be difficult.
First test of 2018: TBD (AAC schedule not released yet).
Heat check for 2018: Likely to start unranked.