Let’s delight in the absurdity of a spring Top 25
The first Associated Press Top 25 poll comes out Monday, and Big Ten teams will be included in the initial rankings despite postponing its season.
Once the season starts, though, the AP will only include teams that are playing this fall — the ACC, AAC, Big 12, Conference-USA, SEC and Sun Belt. So yes, there will be 6-6 SEC teams that are ranked.
Come spring time, the AP is planning on ranking teams, too.
“The AP and our voters have no idea what a spring football season will look like,” said Michael Giarrusso, AP’s global sports editor. “But we are open to adapting and finding a way for our Top 25 voters to be involved in ranking teams if real games are played in the spring of 2021.”
That got me thinking, how bare would a spring Top 25 be? There are 54 teams playing in the spring as of now, and if it’s an actual Top 25, well, you can do the math — it would be comical. Maybe it would only be a Top 10 or Top 15, because putting together 25 teams worthy of being ranked from the Big Ten, Pac-12, MAC and Mountain West is going to be so strange.
Is it ideal? No, but for now, who cares? There’s nothing about this season that’s normal. So, let’s have some fun!
Here’s a snapshot of what it could look like, assuming no more leagues decide to postpone fall football. And for the sake of this exercise, let’s assume that everyone is still going to play (aside from those who have already opted out and some obvious potential opt-outs, like Justin Fields and Penei Sewell). When more players opt out, we can reshuffle.
Uh oh, I promised myself I wouldn’t buy into the Nebraska hype again, and wouldn’t you know, I put them in my preseason Top 25. But maybe I should cut myself a break since the Huskers are technically the 16th-ranked team between the Big Ten and Pac-12 in these rankings, so it’s not like I’ve got them that high. If Nebraska goes .500 in the B1G, it probably will deserve this ranking. And just a hunch: Nebraska comes out fired up this spring after all of the fall drama.
24. Miami (Ohio)
The defending MAC champs bring back QB Brett Gabbert, who started as a freshman. His brother is NFL QB Blaine Gabbert. The RedHawks also return 10 starters on offense and 17 overall. Honestly, they could be higher on this list. The last time Miami was ranked was 2003, which was Ben Roethlisberger’s final season.
The Wolf Pack return 17 starters, including 10 on offense. Sophomore QB Carson Strong leads a unit that also has its top 2 rushers and top 2 receivers back. Nevada hasn’t been ranked since 2010, which was Colin Kaepernick’s final season.
22. Central Michigan
Jim McElwain, after a failed stint at Florida, revived his career by being named MAC Coach of the Year in 2019. The Chippewas have only been ranked once before — in 2009, Antonio Brown’s junior season.
Cal does not have a winning record in conference play in the past decade, so a league-only schedule is probably not the best thing. But the Golden Bears were 7-0 when QB Chase Garbers started and finished a game, so that bodes well. They have 18 starters back.
The Rockets were ravaged by injuries in 2019 and sputtered down the stretch in a rare down year, but they look like MAC West favorites. Jason Candle, the MAC’s highest-paid coach, will be getting a Power 5 job soon.
19. Air Force
The Falcons return just 9 starters from a team that went 11-2 and finished No. 22 in the final AP poll, but that includes QB Donald Hammond and RB Kadin Remsberg.
18. Colorado State
There has been a lot of drama in Steve Addazio’s first year, but the Rams have 15 returning starters, plus several Boston College transfers who will bolster the team’s depth. New OC Joey Lynch ran the No. 16 offense in the country last season at Ball State.
Ohio is one of the top programs in the MAC and it was painstakingly close to a special season in 2019, with all 3 of its MAC losses by 3 points. The Bobcats have won a bowl game 3 years in a row. Continuity helps too with longtime head coach Frank Solich.
Wait, 5 MAC teams in the Top 25? Yup! The Bulls have one of the most experienced teams in the spring with 15 returning starters. But will Jaret Patterson, one of the top RB prospects of the spring teams, play? Lance Leipold has this program on the rise.
I think most agree that the Wildcats will be vastly improved from a disastrous 2019, but just how much? They were slated to return 19 starters, but they will be without stud left tackle Rashawn Slater, who is going to train for the NFL. If Indiana transfer Peyton Ramsey plays like he did for the Hoosiers last year, Northwestern will play good enough defense to be very competitive in the B1G West.
14. Arizona State
I can’t wait to watch sophomore QB Jayden Daniels. The question is, what do the Sun Devils have behind him? I’ll bet Herm Edwards has them ready to go.
Jimmy Lake can coach defense, and he should have a really good one in his first year as head coach. The battle for the starting job is on between Jacob Sirmon, the No. 13 QB in the 2018 class, and Dylan Morris, the No. 7 QB in the 2019 class.
This is a huge year for Davis Mills, the No. 1 QB in the 2017 class (ahead of Tua Tagovailoa, Jack Fromm and Sam Ehlinger). He probably won’t have stud tackle Walker Little, who will be a first-round pick.
I feel a little bad that the Hoosiers won’t get a fall season to take that next step and win a real bowl game for the first time since 1991. They likely would have been in the real Top 25 at some point this season. They haven’t had any opt-outs yet and will have a really, really good offense, led by QB Michael Penix and RB Stevie Scott.
I almost ranked Indiana ahead of Michigan, and if the Wolverines lose a few more players, I probably will. Michigan had one of the best tackles in the Big Ten (and country) opt out in Jalen Mayfield and now have 0 returning starters on the offensive line. Ambry Thomas, expected to be one of the top defensive backs in the B1G, also opted out. This season will hinge on getting Dylan McCaffrey or Joe Milton to emerge as a quality starting QB.
South Carolina transfer Jake Bentley comes to the Utes with a lot to prove. Utah does too, as it flamed out down the stretch in 2019, getting blown out by Oregon in the Pac 12 title game and Texas in the Alamo Bowl.
It really stinks that we won’t get to watch Rashod Bateman, but such is life in 2020. The Golden Gophers are still going to have a really good offense as they return all 5 linemen. QB Tanner Morgan looks primed to have another big season with new go-to target Chris Autman-Bell.
7. Boise State
It’s going to be tough for anyone in the Mountain West to beat Boise State. The biggest question will be whether QB Hank Bachmeier is the guy who threw for 407 yards against Florida State or who threw for 119 and 2 interceptions in a blowout loss to Washington in the Las Vegas Bowl. USC transfer Jack Sears is there to compete for the starting job.
Iowa below USC? After that beatdown in the Holiday Bowl? Iowa lost a lot from that defense and will need some new guys to step up. Plus middle linebacker Djimon Colbert has already opted out. The Hawkeyes have another squad that would have been around No. 20 in a normal AP poll, with a really good offensive line (provided that Alaric Jackson and Tyler Linerbaum don’t opt to train for the draft) that will help new QB Spencer Petras.
This was going to be the make-or-break year for Clay Helton with 17 returning starters. Even with a few opt-outs (Amon-Ra St. Brown is a likely one), he’ll still have a ton of sophomore talent, led by QB Kedon Slovis. Look out for Texas transfer Bru McCoy and Florida transfer Chris Steele.
The Badgers haven’t had any opt-outs yet and if they have their full roster intact, they’ll be a threat to win the B1G. They have 9 returning starters on defense, with linebacker Jack Sanborn and safety Eric Burrell as the only potential players that would opt out to prepare for the draft.
3. Penn State
The Nittany Lions won’t have Micah Parsons, but they were still going to be a threat in the Big Ten without him. A more pressing question will be whether players like tight end Pat Freiermuth, running back Journey Brown and others will play. Penn State has recruited well, though, and should have the depth to withstand it.
The Ducks will almost surely be without the nation’s top offensive lineman, Penei Sewell, in the spring. But they are loaded with talented young players, particularly on defense. Kayvon Thibodeaux registered 9 sacks as a freshman, and guys like Justin Flowe, Noah Sewell and Dontae Manning are all top-30 national recruits who could play right away on what will be a terrific defense that already returns 8 starters.
1. Ohio State
Here’s a take for you. Ohio State can still win the B1G with C.J. Stroud at quarterback. The No. 2. pro-style QB in the 2020 class will have been on campus for a full year by the time this season starts, so even without Justin Fields, Ohio State should be ready to go. Same with a standout freshmen wide receiver class if Chris Olave opts out, featuring Julian Fleming and Jaxon Smith-Njigba. Same with another potential starter at tackle, 5-star recruit Paris Johnson.
If we are relegated to just the B1G and Pac-12 in the spring, capping it off with Oregon against Ohio State wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. Bring on 2021!