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Alabama will open the 2017 college football season with the best odds of an undefeated season, but the Crimson Tide may well lose their season opener against Florida State.
Should they falter immediately, who has the next-best odds of entering December without a loss?
One important thing to note before we dive in: Conference championship games were not taken into consideration for this exercise. We're solely interested in which teams are most likely to get to 12-0.
This means that Wisconsin has the best odds among Big Ten teams, even though it would almost certainly be the underdog against either Ohio State or Penn State in the B1G championship. It also means it's possible for multiple teams from the same conference to rank in our top five, as is the case for USC and Washington, who won't face each other prior to a potential showdown in the Pac-12 title game.
On each slide, we'll look at each team's biggest weakness, its most likely loss and the one trap game that could be a problem. As teams like Michigan (lost to 8-5 Iowa) and Clemson (lost at home to 8-5 Pittsburgh) demonstrated last season, those trap games can be bigger pitfalls than the ones national media circle as can't-miss affairs.
Four noteworthy teams that we're not including and the reasons why:
- Florida State faces Alabama at a neutral site, plays road games against Clemson and Florida and has home games against Louisville and Miami. The Seminoles should be great, but that's arguably the most difficult schedule in the nation.
- Oklahoma has road games against Ohio State, Oklahoma State and Kansas State. The Sooners might be the best team in the Big 12, but their chances of running the table are slim to none.
- Michigan opens the season with a neutral-site game against Florida before a Big Ten slate that includes at Penn State, at Wisconsin and vs. Ohio State. That's a few too many hurdles for our liking.
- LSU has a relatively favorable schedule, but a road game against Alabama is a quick way to get excluded from this list.
Those teams didn't quite make the cut, but here are a bunch that did.
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Preseason Ranking: Not Ranked
Biggest Weakness: Home Run Plays
No one is going to confuse Appalachian State with Navy or Georgia Tech, but the Mountaineers want to run the ball at least 40 times per game. And when Taylor Lamb does drop back to pass, slants and short routes are the preferred mode of transportation. Opponents that are comfortable with packing eight or nine men in the box are a problem for App State.
Most Likely Loss: at Georgia (Sept. 2)
If the Mountaineers can survive the season opener, they'll immediately become the favorite to run the table. But that is one massive "If," as they start out with a road game against a potential top-10 team in Georgia. Appalachian State almost upset No. 9 Tennessee in Week 1 of the 2016 season, though, so let's not entirely rule out the possibility of a road win over a SEC contender.
Trap Game: at Texas State (Sept. 16)
The Bobcats are just 5-19 over the past two seasons, including a 35-10 loss to App State last November. But the timing is what makes this one interesting. If the Mountaineers beat Georgia, they'll still be riding high from that win while looking forward to their second-biggest challenge of the season—a home game against Wake Forest on Sept. 23. With an early strike or two, Texas State could catch them napping.
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Preseason Ranking: No. 10
Biggest Weakness: Passing Defense
"Elite pass defense" and "Big 12" don't typically go hand-in-hand, but the Cowboys need to at least move in that direction if they're going to run the table. Nine of 13 opponents completed at least 60 percent of their passes against Oklahoma State this past season. In their three losses, the Pokes gave up 11 passing TDs with just two interceptions and allowed an average of 347.7 yards.
Most Likely Loss: at Texas (Oct. 21)
The top four teams in the Big 12 will likely be Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Texas. The Cowboys get the Sooners and Wildcats at home and obviously don't face themselves, leaving the road game against the Longhorns as arguably the biggest hurdle to clear. If sophomore QB Shane Buechele has the type of Heisman-candidate season that some are anticipating, he could tear this OK State defense to shreds.
Trap Game: at West Virginia (Oct. 28)
In the textbook definition of a trap game, Oklahoma State faces West Virginia directly in between two huge showdowns with Texas and Oklahoma. The Cowboys will likely lose at least one of the games in this three-week stretch, and it may well be the middle one. Worse yet, the Mountaineers desperately want revenge against OK State for ending their quest for an undefeated 2016 season.
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Preseason Ranking: No. 4
Biggest Weakness: Passing Offense
Ohio State ran most of its 2016 opponents into the ground, averaging better than 245 rushing yards per game. With another year of J.T. Barrett and Mike Weber, the Buckeyes ought to do the same in 2017. But if push comes to shove and they need to move the ball through the air, that could be a problem. In six of 13 games last season, they threw for fewer than 155 yards. Barrett's combined line over the final three games was 44-of-87, 3.9 YPA, one TD, three INT.
Most Likely Loss: at Michigan (Nov. 25)
The Buckeyes will likely play three games against top-10 opponents, hosting Oklahoma and Penn State before the season-ending road game against Michigan. Last year's battle was an instant classic with Ohio State controversially escaping at home in double overtime. Perhaps things go a bit differently this year in the Big House, even though Ohio State has won 12 of their last 13 meetings.
Trap Game: at Iowa (Nov. 4)
If the Buckeyes get to 8-0 with a win over Penn State on Oct. 28, all eyes will immediately point toward the aforementioned showdown with the Wolverines. But as Michigan demonstrated last November, it's never a good idea to overlook a road game against Iowa.
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Preseason Ranking: No. 6
Biggest Weakness: Passing Defense
The last time we saw the Nittany Lions, they were torched through the air by USC in the Rose Bowl, allowing 453 passing yards and five touchdowns. Plugging those holes was their primary goal in this year's recruiting class, adding 5-star CB Lamont Wade and three other 4-star players in the secondary.
Most Likely Loss: at Ohio State (October 28)
Penn State blocked a field goal and returned it for a touchdown last season against Ohio State. It was the only thing standing between the Buckeyes and a perfect regular season, and it was the reason Penn State represented the Big Ten East in the Conference championship game. The Horseshoe is always a hostile environment for road teams, but the Nittany Lions will be walking into a hornet's nest in Columbus.
Trap Game: at Northwestern (October 7)
The final three weeks of Penn State's October consist of a bye week, a home game against Michigan and a road game against Ohio State. It might be tempting to overlook Northwestern prior to that slate, especially if the Wildcats enter the game licking their wounds from a blowout loss at Wisconsin the previous week.
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Preseason Ranking: No. 5
Biggest Weakness: Inexperience
Clemson loses QB Deshaun Watson, RB Wayne Gallman, WR Mike Williams, TE Jordan Leggett, WR Artavis Scott and LB Ben Boulware, and it did not add a single 5-star recruit in this year's class to help plug those gaps. There's plenty of reason to believe head coach Dabo Swinney will have the Tigers back in the CFP hunt, but the first few weeks of the season ought to be an interesting transitional period.
Most Likely Loss: at Louisville (Sept. 16)
While Clemson is figuring out who its playmakers are, everyone knows reigning Heisman winner Lamar Jackson is the stud for the Cardinals. He accounted for 457 yards from scrimmage in an exhilarating 42-36 game against the Tigers last October. Look for Jackson to do something at least that impressive in Louisville's first home game of the 2017 season.
Trap Game: at N.C. State (Nov. 4)
The Wolfpack were a missed chip shot away from handing Clemson its first loss of the 2016 season, and this is their chance to avenge that failed opportunity. Moreover, this is the only home game N.C. State plays between Oct. 6 and Nov. 24, so the fans should be even more amped up than usual. For Clemson, this is also the final game before the big showdown with Florida State, so there are a lot of trap factors in play here.
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Preseason Ranking: Not Ranked
Biggest Weakness: Passing Defense
In eight games against opponents that won at least six games in 2016, Western Kentucky allowed an average of 380.0 passing yards. The Hilltoppers gave up 22 TDs in those games while tallying just five interceptions. Each of those eight opponents had a QB rating of at least 134. This has been one of the highest scoring teams in the country over the past three years, but it also lost a game last season in which it scored 52 points in regulation.
Most Likely Loss: at Vanderbilt (Nov. 4)
Western Kentucky has one of the easiest schedules in the nation, but it does still need to deal with a pair of road games against Power Five teams—though, both of those teams (Illinois and Vanderbilt) posted a sub-.500 record in 2016. With almost all of the primary pieces of last year's offense returning for another season, the Commodores should be in good shape for a track meet against WKY.
Trap Game: vs. Louisiana Tech (Sept. 16)
Defense isn't even an option when these two teams battle. In each of their last three games, both Louisiana Tech and Western Kentucky scored at least 38 points. Even though it's a home game for the Hilltoppers, it could be their most dangerous hurdle.
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Preseason Ranking: No. 9
Biggest Weakness: Deep Ball
Washington gets back a ton of its talent from last season, but losing John Ross, Sidney Jones and Budda Baker as early draft departures will negatively impact its ability to both throw and defend the deep ball. Ross ranked second in the Pac-12 in receiving yards, and Jones, Baker and departed senior Kevin King were the only Huskies who recorded more than two passes defended last season, according to Sports-Reference.
Most Likely Loss: at Stanford (Nov. 10)
In what was supposed to be one of the best games of the 2016 season, Washington ran a freight train through Stanford in a 44-6 blowout. But the Cardinal are expected to be the top challenger to the Huskies in the Pac-12 North, making this road game the toughest one before a likely showdown with USC in the Pac-12 championship.
Trap Game: at Arizona State (Oct. 14)
Washington has a back-loaded schedule, finishing the season with five straight against UCLA, Oregon, Stanford, Utah and Washington State. Right before the bye week to prepare for that stretch, though, the Huskies have a road game against an Arizona State team that could put a lot of points on the board if play in the secondary is a legitimate concern for Washington.
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Preseason Ranking: No. 15
Biggest Weakness: QB Play
As far as 3-star, redshirt freshmen quarterbacks go, Alex Hornibrook had a solid debut as the left-handed portion of a platoon with Bart Houston. Now that Hornibrook is the primary slinger for the Badgers, though, they need better than 58.6 completion percentage and a 9:7 TD-to-INT ratio.
Most Likely Loss: vs. Michigan (Nov. 18)
One year removed from playing six games against AP Top 10 teams, Wisconsin's only game (prior to a presumed spot in the Big Ten championship game) against a team in the preseason Top 25 comes at home against Michigan. Better yet, it comes late in the season, just one week before Michigan's game against Ohio State. But if the Badgers are still undefeated at that point in time, you better believe Jim Harbaugh's bunch will be properly motivated for the win.
Trap Game: at BYU (Sept. 16)
After home games against Utah State and Florida Atlantic, the only thing standing between Wisconsin, its bye week and the start of Big Ten play is a road game against BYU. Trying to contain mobile QB Tanner Mangum will be the first real test in determining how the Badgers look on defense after losing T.J. Watt to the NFL draft.
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Preseason Ranking: No. 2
Biggest Weakness: Rush Defense
The Trojans had a few great performances in the defensive trenches, including holding then-undefeated Washington to just 17 rushing yards on 27 attempts. But Alabama, Penn State and Stanford each stomped a mud hole through USC's front seven. The hope is that incoming freshman defensive tackles Jay Tufele and Marlon Tuipulotu will help in that department.
Most Likely Loss: at Notre Dame (Oct. 21)
The Trojans avoid both Washington and Oregon in the cross-over games and get Stanford, Utah and UCLA at home. As a result, there's a better-than-decent chance they'll run the table in Pac-12 play. But their nonconference tilts come against Western Michigan, Texas and Notre Dame, each of which is likely headed for a bowl game. The road game against the Fighting Irish figures to be the toughest of the bunch, even with DeShone Kizer declaring for the NFL draft and Malik Zaire transferring.
Trap Game: at California (Sept. 23)
USC has won 13 consecutive games against California, which is precisely what makes it a trap game. Sandwiched between more interesting games against Stanford, Texas and Washington State, USC might be tempted to take its first road game of the season for granted.
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Preseason Ranking: No. 20
Biggest Weakness: Overall Defense
With dual-threat QB Quinton Flowers running the show, South Florida scored at will in 2016, putting up at least 30 points in every game. However, the Bulls couldn't stop anyone, allowing 482.0 yards of total offense per game. New head coach Charlie Strong will help in that department, but can he turn things around in one summer?
Most Likely Loss: vs. Houston (Nov. 4)
The toughest game on USF's schedule comes at home against a team that might not receive a single vote in the preseason AP Top 25. Good luck finding a better candidate to represent the Group of Five in the New Year's Six Bowls.
Trap Game: at UCF (Nov. 24)
South Florida only plays one road game against a team that won more than four games in 2016, and it's this regular-season finale against UCF (6-7). The Knights put up a fight against the Bulls in the 2016 finale, keeping things interesting until midway through the fourth quarter. Playing at home against a potentially 11-0 USF, look for McKenzie Milton and Tre'Quan Smith to put on a show for UCF.
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Preseason Ranking: No. 1
Biggest Weakness: QB Consistency
Alabama wins most of its games with rushing prowess and non-offensive touchdowns, but the late-season struggles of QB Jalen Hurts cannot go unmentioned. Between the SEC championship and the two games in the College Football Playoff, Hurts completed 47.7 percent of his passes for fewer than 110 yards per game and accounted for a total of three touchdowns. The Crimson Tide need him to be more reliable as a sophomore.
Most Likely Loss: vs. Florida State (Sept. 2)
The biggest game of the entire 2017 college football season might be on opening weekend when Alabama and Florida State battle for No. 1 in the polls in Atlanta, Georgia. One way or the other, one of the favorites for the 2018 national championship is going to enter Week 2 with a loss.
Trap Game: vs. Ole Miss (Sept. 30)
Excluding bowl games, Alabama is 37-2 over the past three seasons. Both of those losses came at the hands of Ole Miss. The Rebels were also the only team to come within one possession of beating the Crimson Tide this past season. Even though Ole Miss isn't expected to be a title contender this year, there's no denying Hugh Freeze has been a thorn in Nick Saban's side lately.
Stats are courtesy of Sports Reference. Recruiting information courtesy of Scout.com.
Source : http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2703711-college-football-teams-with-best-shot-to-go-undefeated-in-2017