2017 college football preview
Seminoles, Gators, Hurricanes all ranked headed into season
With the 2017 college football season set to begin in just a few days, Local10.com previews some of the most anticipated games of the year.
No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 3 Florida State
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Alabama and Florida State will open the 2017 season in the first college football game at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The winner of this game will likely be back in Atlanta for the College Football Playoff National Championship. The loser could very well still be among the four teams playing in the semifinal bowls. There are plenty of storylines between these two storied programs. Where to begin? Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher served as offensive coordinator under Alabama head coach Nick Saban at Louisiana State. Alabama has won four national championships under Saban and is the only school to earn a spot in each of the past three playoffs. The Seminoles won a national championship under Fisher in 2013 and participated in the inaugural CFP. Fisher was born in a small town in West Virginia, about 20 miles from where Saban was born. Fisher's 78 wins since succeeding Bobby Bowden in 2010 are second only to Saban's 86. Former Florida State quarterback Chris Weinke, who won the Heisman Memorial Trophy in 2000, is now an offensive analyst for the Crimson Tide. Conversely, Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt spent the 2013 season at Florida State, where he orchestrated the Seminoles' top-ranked scoring defense under Fisher. Florida State won the last meeting between the schools -- 21-14 in 2007. Fisher was in his first season as offensive coordinator for the Seminoles that season, while Saban was in his first season at Alabama. Former New England Patriots tight ends coach Brian Daboll will be Alabama's third offensive coordinator in as many games after the departures of Lane Kiffin (Florida Atlantic head coach) and Steve Sarkisian (Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator).
No. 11 Michigan vs. No. 17 Florida
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When Florida and Michigan open the season at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, it will be the first time the Gators have left the state for a non-conference, regular-season game since a 31-28 loss at Syracuse in 1991. The 16-year span is the longest of any Southeastern Conference team. So, after nearly two decades of home openers against lesser competition from directional Michigan opponents and other inferior foes, the Gators will finally learn how good (or bad) they are from the beginning when they travel halfway across the country to face the Wolverines. They'll be down seven players who were suspended for the opener. Among them is junior wide receiver Antonio Callaway, who led the Gators in receptions last season. Both teams fielded top-five defenses a season ago, but only a combined four starters return. Senior linebacker Mike McCray is the lone starter to return for the Wolverines' defense, which lost versatile linebacker Jabrill Peppers and defensive end Taco Charlton, both of whom became first-round NFL draft picks. The Gators are rebuilding on the defensive line and their linebacker corps. Senior safety Marcell Harris was one of Florida's three returning starters in the secondary, but he was lost for the season after tearing an Achilles tendon in July. The Gators have played Michigan in three Florida bowl games and lost them all, the last a 41-7 thumping in the 2016 Citrus Bowl.
No. 21 Virginia Tech vs. No. 22 West Virginia
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These former Big East Conference rivals open the season at FedEx Field, home of the Washington Redskins, in Landover, Maryland. Virginia Tech and West Virginia met annually for the Black Diamond Trophy from 1973-2005, but this will be the first meeting between the teams since a 34-17 win for the Hokies in 2005. West Virginia gets an immediate upgrade at quarterback with Florida transfer Will Grier, who led the Gators to a 6-0 start as a freshman in 2015 before his one-year suspension for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. Grier sat out last season as the Mountaineers won 10 games and finished in the top 25. If Grier is as good as he was in 2015, the Mountaineers could be even better. West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen called Grier "as good as advertised" after the spring game. Quarterback remains a question mark for the Hokies after the surprise departure of junior college transfer Jerod Evans, who left early for the NFL after one season and wasn't drafted. Junior college transfer A.J. Bush (a former Nebraska quarterback), redshirt freshman Josh Jackson and early-enrollee true freshman Hendon Hooker are competing for the job.
No. 7 Oklahoma at No. 2 Ohio State
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Ohio State will be tested for the first time since its 31-0 loss to Clemson in last season's College Football Playoff semifinal at the Fiesta Bowl. Oklahoma was pummeled by Ohio State 45-24 last September, but the Sooners haven't lost since, currently owning the nation's longest winning streak. Can the Sooners keep the streak alive without Bob Stoops? His surprise resignation in June leaves the program in the hands of former offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, who won the Broyles Award in 2015 as the top assistant coach in college football. Riley succeeds the man who resurrected Oklahoma football, winning a national championship in 2000 (and playing for three others thereafter), nine outright Big 12 Conference titles and 10 or more games in 14 of his 18 seasons as head coach from 1999-2016. Oklahoma's biggest question mark is who will replace the record-setting offensive trio of running backs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon and wide receiver Dede Westbrook, who combined for 4,502 yards from scrimmage and 47 touchdowns. It helps to have quarterback Baker Mayfield back for one more season. The fifth-year senior's playing time would have been cut short had it not been for a contentious Big 12 Conference rule change that allowed walk-on transfers to go to another school within the league without losing a year of eligibility. Mayfield, who started his college career at Texas Tech, broke the NCAA record for passing efficiency (196.4 rating) last season, completing 70.9 percent of his throws for 3,965 yards with 40 touchdowns and just eight interceptions. Mayfield has 9,980 career passing yards and 88 touchdowns through the air.
No. 12 Auburn at No. 5 Clemson
Last year's 19-13 victory at Auburn gave the defending national champions an early scare. The Clemson Tigers have won the last three meetings against the other Tigers. Is it Auburn's turn? Auburn welcomes Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham, who was named starting quarterback. Stidham threw for 1,265 yards and 12 touchdowns as a true freshman in 2015, but he was out of football last season after transferring to a junior college in the wake of the Baylor sexual abuse scandal. Sean White, who started last season, gives the Tigers a second viable option at quarterback. Auburn's last trip to "Death Valley" in 2011 resulted in a 38-24 loss.
No. 15 Georgia at Notre Dame
Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly took the blame for his team's poor performance a season ago. The Fighting Irish finished 4-8 in 2016, their worst record since 2007. A 50-47 overtime loss to Texas to begin the 2016 campaign set the tone for all of Notre Dame's shortcomings. Kelly overhauled the coaching staff in the offseason, hiring six new assistants, including offensive coordinator Chip Long and defensive coordinator Mike Elko, and a new strength and conditioning coach. Will Irish eyes be smiling on Notre Dame Stadium on the second Saturday in September? Georgia doubled Notre Dame's win total last season under first-time head coach Kirby Smart. The Bulldogs have two viable options at running back -- seniors Nick Chubb, whose 3,424 career rushing yards are second behind 1982 Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker, and Sony Michel. The only previous meeting between the schools was when the Bulldogs beat Notre Dame 17-10 in the 1981 Sugar Bowl to win the national championship.
No. 5 Clemson at No. 16 Louisville
This was the surprise game of the Atlantic Coast Conference schedule last season. Florida State and Clemson was relegated to the backseat for at least one season as Louisville battled Clemson for ACC Atlantic Division supremacy. The result was an offensive slugfest that favored the Tigers. Clemson rallied for two fourth-quarter touchdowns and stuffed eventual Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson a yard short on fourth down to prevail 42-36. Jackson returns after a sophomore campaign in which he passed for 3,543 yards and 30 touchdowns to go with his 1,571 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns. His performance against Clemson -- 295 yards through the air with a touchdown and 162 yards on the ground with a pair of touchdowns -- caught the eyes of Heisman voters.
No. 18 Miami at No. 3 Florida State
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Incoming freshmen were in fifth grade the last time Miami beat Florida State. Although Miami leads the overall series 31-30, the Seminoles are a perfect 7-0 against Miami under Fisher and 10-3 since the Hurricanes joined the ACC in 2004. An eighth straight win would surpass FSU's record for consecutive victories against the Hurricanes. FSU players haven't felt the sting of defeat to their South Florida adversary since a 38-34 loss in Tallahassee on Labor Day in 2009. It just so happens the rivalry game returns to the capital city this year. Miami was favored going into last year's game, but another epic battle that came down to a kick -- well, an extra point try -- ultimately worked in FSU's favor. DeMarcus Walker won't be around to block any kicks for the Seminoles this time now that the 2016 ACC defensive player of the year has graduated. Although the defense returns nine starters from a unit that led the nation with 51 sacks last season, FSU will miss Walker, whose 21 sacks were second-most in the nation. The Hurricanes have their own problems. Mainly, finding a quarterback is paramount. Brad Kaaya left Miami after his junior season as the school's all-time passing leader, but his performance against FSU left much to be desired. Miami fans are hoping to see better play from whoever is behind center. The job could go to true freshman N'Kosi Perry, but junior Malik Rosier, who started a game in relief of Kaaya in 2015, walk-on junior Vincent Testaverde, 1986 Heisman winner Vinny Testaverde's son, redshirt sophomore Evan Shirreffs and true freshman Cade Weldon, an early enrollee and son of former FSU quarterback Casey Weldon, are also in the mix.
No. 23 Texas at No. 4 Southern California
This is a rematch of the epic 2006 Rose Bowl that gave Texas its first national championship since 1969. That historic game pitted Texas quarterback Vince Young against a pair of Heisman winners in Southern California quarterback Matt Leinart and running back Reggie Bush (who later had to vacate the award). The Longhorns ultimately prevailed 41-38, thanks in large part to Young's athleticism and his game-winning touchdown run with just 19 seconds remaining, but the Trojans could have easily won if they had more time. Everyone is hopeful for another gridiron classic, but it may not be ripe yet. USC once again has a signal caller of Heisman-caliber in sophomore Sam Darnold, who took over as starter last season after a 1-2 start and led the Trojans to a 9-1 finish. The Longhorns have 10 returning starters on defense, but that's not saying much. Last year's Texas team ranked 94th nationally in total defense.
No. 25 Tennessee at No. 17 Florida
Tennessee finally got over the hump last year, defeating the Gators 38-28 to snap an 11-game losing streak to its Southeastern Conference Eastern Division rival. But it almost didn't happen. The Volunteers had to rally from a 21-3 halftime deficit, scoring 38 consecutive points to secure the comeback win. Tennessee notched a 34-31 win against Georgia the next Saturday, seemingly putting the Volunteers in position to reclaim the East for the first time since 2007. Then along came three straight losses to Texas A&M, Alabama and -- perhaps the dagger -- lowly South Carolina, which all but ended any hope the Volunteers had of a division title. Instead, it was the Gators who capitalized, earning a second consecutive trip to Atlanta to play for the SEC championship. The Volunteers come to Gainesville looking for their first win there since 2003. Despite scoring more offensive touchdowns than any other team in the SEC last season, Tennessee ranked 104th nationally against the run and allowed at least 590 yards to five opponents. The defense must improve. The Volunteers are also searching for a quarterback to replace Josh Dobbs, who set school records for career rushing yards (2,160) and rushing touchdowns (32) at the position. The battle for the job in the spring was between junior Quinten Dormady and redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano. The Gators welcome Notre Dame graduate transfer Malik Zaire, who is eligible to play immediately and will compete for the starting quarterback job.
No. 8 Washington at Colorado
This is a rematch of the 2016 Pacific 12 Conference title game, which Washington won 41-10 on its way to a berth in the College Football Playoff. Pac-12 offensive player of the year quarterback Jake Browning returns for his junior season after passing for 3,430 yards, 43 touchdowns and only nine interceptions last season. Browning suffered a late-season injury to his throwing shoulder that required surgery, but he is expected to be ready for the start of the 2017 season. Browning is one of seven returning offensive starters for the Huskies, along with junior running back Myles Gaskin, who rushed for 2,675 over the last two seasons. Mike MacIntyre broke through in his fourth year as Colorado head coach, navigating a miraculous turnaround for a team that improved from 4-9 in 2015 to a 10-4 record and the Pac-12 South Division championship last season. That said, Colorado can't be as good as it was in 2016, not with the loss of quarterback Sefo Liufau and nine starters from a defense that ranked 19th nationally. MacIntyre must replace Liufau's career 9,746 passing yards and 60 touchdowns. He'll turn to sophomore Steven Montez, who threw for 1,017 yards and nine touchdowns in three starts in place of an injured Liufau last season. The Buffaloes were 6-0 at Folsom Field in 2016.
No. 5 Clemson at No. 21 Virginia Tech
How does Clemson replace departed quarterback Deshaun Watson? That is the lingering question heading into the season for the Tigers. Watson accounted for five touchdowns in last year's 42-35 win against the Hokies to claim the 2016 ACC championship. With Watson off to the NFL, three players battled in the spring to replace him -- junior Kelly Bryant, redshirt freshman Zerrick Cooper and early enrollee Hunter Johnson. Bryant finished the spring as the favorite to start in 2017. Virginia Tech is also starting over at quarterback, so whoever has settled into the role by late September will likely have the edge.
No. 13 Louisiana State at No. 17 Florida
Louisiana State travels to Gainesville, where this game was supposed to be played last year. Controversy ensued after the game was rescheduled because of Hurricane Matthew. LSU athletic director Joe Alleva balked at playing the game away from home in late November, thereby having to give up the scheduled non-conference game at Tiger Stadium. After the SEC threatened to block a potential league title game appearance if the teams didn't play, the Gators and Tigers were forced back to the negotiating table. With the SEC East title looming, Florida gave in and agreed to play an unbalanced schedule, making a second consecutive trip to Baton Rouge and losing a non-conference home game. The Gators prevailed 16-10 after stuffing Derrius Guice at the 1-yard line in the final seconds and will now host the Tigers in back-to-back seasons. Speaking of Guice, the junior running back should pick up where first-round NFL draft pick Leonard Fournette left off. As a backup to Fournette, Guice led SEC running backs in rushing yards (1,387) and rushing touchdowns (15) last season. Guice started in place of Fournette at the Citrus Bowl, rushing for 138 yards, scoring on a 70-yard run and 1-yard reception and earning the most valuable player award in the 29-9 win against Louisville.
No. 7 Oklahoma vs. No. 23 Texas
One thing is for certain: Tom Herman knows how to beat Oklahoma. His 33-23 win as Houston head coach last September no doubt caught the attention of the Texas faithful. Herman is now their head coach. Meanwhile, Oklahoma begins a new era with Riley. This year's "Red River Showdown" at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas will be the first time since 1947 that both Texas and Oklahoma play each other with first-year head coaches. The Longhorns and the Sooners have split the last four meetings. Oklahoma won 45-40 last season, improving Stoops' record to 11-7 versus the Longhorns, but Texas owns a 61-45-5 all-time advantage. Herman already has a head start against the Sooners, courtesy of last year's season opener with his former team.
No. 16 Louisville at No. 3 Florida State
Louisville's 63-20 drubbing of Florida State last September put the nation on notice that the Cardinals were ACC contenders. The Seminoles started off 3-2 through their first five games of 2016. One reason was the absence of safety Derwin James, who missed most of last year with a knee injury that ended his season after just six quarters of action. James was helpless against Jackson and the Cardinals, who shredded FSU's defense. Jackson ran for four touchdowns and threw for another as the Seminoles allowed the most points in school history. That's not likely to happen again. The Seminoles have one the best defensive backfields in the country with the return of James and junior cornerback Tarvarus McFadden, who tied for the national lead in interceptions with eight last season. James received a medical redshirt last season, so he'll have three more seasons of wrecking offenses in the backfield, provided he sticks around that long. The Seminoles will have to do a better job protecting sophomore quarterback Deondre Francois. Florida State's offensive line gave up 36 sacks last season, and it didn't get any better in the spring game, when the Seminoles gave up 12 sacks. The Cardinals haven't won in Tallahassee since 1952.
No. 11 Michigan at No. 6 Penn State
The Wolverines pounded Penn State 49-10 last season, handing the Nittany Lions one of only three losses. It would be the last time the Nittany Lions lost to a Big Ten Conference foe. Penn State reeled off nine straight wins against Big Ten teams, culminating with a 38-31 victory against Wisconsin in the conference championship game. Penn State returns nine offensive starters from last season's team, including junior running back Saquon Barkley, the 2016 Big Ten offensive player of the year, and junior quarterback Trace McSorley, who was named most valuable player of the Big Ten title game. Barkley rushed for 1,496 yards and 18 touchdowns last season, while McSorley set school records for passing yards (3,614), touchdown passes (29) and total offense (3,979). This time they'll host Michigan at Beaver Stadium, where the Nittany Lions were a perfect 7-0 last season.
No. 6 Penn State at No. 2 Ohio State
Penn State beat Ohio State 24-21 last season, blocking the Buckeyes from playing for the Big Ten championship. That didn't matter to the CFP selection committee, who chose Ohio State over Penn State. Don't think Penn State players will forget the snub. Sure, the Buckeyes only lost one regular-season game and defeated four ranked teams in 2016, but they still lost the head-to-head battle. The Nittany Lions blocked a punt and scored the game-winning touchdown off a blocked field-goal attempt to pull out a 24-21 victory. It's probably going to take more than just solid special teams play for Penn State to win consecutive games against the Buckeyes for the first time since joining the conference in 1993.
No. 17 Florida vs. No. 15 Georgia
Is there any bite left in these Bulldogs when it comes to playing Florida? This SEC border rivalry in Jacksonville, Florida, has been all about the Gators for much of the past three decades. The Gators have won three in a row and are 21-6 since 1990, but the Bulldogs still own the overall series record by seven games (or six, as Florida acknowledges, depending on which school's account of the contested 1904 game people choose to believe). Georgia quarterback Jacob Eason started all but one game for the Bulldogs as a freshman last season, completing 2,430 yards, 16 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Jim McElwain went so far as to call Eason "the future of the SEC." McElwain hopes he has one of his own in redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks, but the Gators have veteran leadership at the position with the arrival of Zaire and the return of junior Jack Del Rio, who started six games in 2016 but missed the spring after undergoing shoulder surgery. Eason outperformed Del Rio in last year's game, throwing for 143 yards and a touchdown without an interception compared to Del Rio's 131 passing yards and an interception to go with his lone touchdown.
No. 13 Louisiana State at No. 1 Alabama
Saban has owned LSU since taking the helm at Alabama in 2007. Saban is 8-3 against the team he led to the 2003 national championship. Alabama has won six straight against LSU, beginning with a 21-0 victory in New Orleans to win the 2011 national championship. Saban is already off to a good start against new LSU head coach Ed Orgeron, who auditioned for the job after Les Miles was fired last September. Orgeron was 6-2 as interim head coach, but one of those losses was a 10-0 shutout to Alabama. LSU held the Crimson Tide scoreless until the fourth quarter, but a close loss is no consolation for a fan base that is hungry for a win against their biggest conference rival.
No. 7 Oklahoma at No. 10 Oklahoma State
Could these state rivals meet for a second time in the same season in the renewed Big 12 title game? The conference has resurrected its championship game, which was played annually from 1996-2010. Under the old format, which pitted the champions of the North and South Division, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State could have never met in a rematch. Now, however, the top two teams in the final regular-season standings will play for the championship at AT&T Stadium, increasing the odds of a "Bedlam Series" title game tilt. The Sooners are 4-2 against Oklahoma State since 2011 and 15-6 since both teams joined the Big 12. While all the talk might be about Oklahoma's Mayfield, the Cowboys have a star in senior quarterback Mason Rudolph, who is 22-6 as a starter. Rudolph completed 63.4 percent of his passes for 4,091 yards, 28 touchdowns and just four interceptions last season. Unlike Mayfield, however, Rudolph has plenty of veteran receivers to throw to, including senior James Washington, who ranked 10th in the country in 2016 with 1,380 receiving yards on 71 catches, and junior Jalen McCleskey, who led the Cowboys with 73 receptions for 812 yards and seven touchdowns.
Oregon at No. 8 Washington
This is a classic Pac-12 clash between the once mighty and newly risen. The border war finally swung in Washington's favor last year as the Huskies won 70-21 -- that's not a typo -- to snap a 12-game losing streak to Oregon. It was the longest run by either team in the series. The 70 points hung on the Ducks were also the most allowed by an Oregon team since 1941. The outcome most assuredly helped to seal the fate of Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich, who was fired just two seasons removed from leading the Ducks to the national championship. Replacing Helfrich in 2017 is former South Florida head coach Willie Taggart, who led the Bulls to a 10-2 regular-season record last season. Taggart assembled a coaching staff that includes co-offensive coordinator Mario Cristobal, formerly head coach at Florida International, and defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt, who served as USF's first head coach in school history. Cristobal, who spent the last four seasons as an assistant coach at Alabama, has plenty of talent at his disposal, including sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert, who threw for 19 touchdowns as a freshman, and senior running back Royce Freeman, who has rushed for 4,146 yards and 44 touchdowns in his career. Leavitt was lured from Colorado for a lateral job to improve Oregon's defense, which ranked 126th nationally last season. He will transition the Ducks back to a 3-4 base scheme.
No. 3 Florida State at No. 5 Clemson
The road to the ACC runs through "Death Valley." The winner of this game has gone on to win the conference crown each year since 2011, and Clemson or Florida State have won the Atlantic Division every year since 2009. Clemson has won the last two ACC championships and became the first team from the conference other than Florida State to win a national championship since the Seminoles came aboard in 1992. The Seminoles have only won once in their last seven trips to Clemson.
Notre Dame at No. 18 Miami
Notre Dame has won four in a row against the Hurricanes since 1990, including a 30-27 victory at Notre Dame Stadium last season. That game signaled a turnabout for Miami, which reeled off five consecutives wins to cap Mark Richt's first season at his alma mater. Miami's last win against the Fighting Irish was in 1989 at the old Orange Bowl. One year earlier, the Irish upset top-ranked Miami 31-30 in a game that was dubbed "Catholics vs. Convicts," thus fueling the rivalry. Expectations have been raised for Richt in 2017, so beating a Notre Dame team coming off a disappointing season would be a good barometer of how much the Hurricanes have improved since his arrival. Notre Dame's last trip to South Florida was forgettable for Irish fans -- a 42-14 beat down by Alabama to decide the 2012 national championship.
No. 11 Michigan at No. 9 Wisconsin
Last year's meeting was a defensive battle decided by a touchdown. Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight threw a tiebreaking, 46-yard touchdown pass midway through the fourth quarter to lift the Wolverines to a 14-7 win and hand Wisconsin its first loss of the season. The Badgers went on to play for the Big Ten title and beat Western Michigan in the Cotton Bowl to cap an 11-win season. They return 17 starters from last year, including sophomore quarterback Alex Hornibrook, who took over after the third game of the season. Speight is back for his senior year, but the Wolverines lost a ton of talent on both sides of the ball. This will be Michigan's first trip to Wisconsin since a 45-24 loss to the Badgers in 2009.
No. 2 Ohio State at No. 11 Michigan
The Buckeyes have won 12 of the last 13 meetings in this border rivalry. Their lone loss during that span was a 40-34 defeat in Ann Arbor in 2011. It seemed like Michigan was going to pull off the win last November, leading 14-7 at halftime and 17-7 early in the third quarter, but the Buckeyes forced overtime and ultimately prevailed 30-27 in double overtime. Facing fourth-and-1 from the 16-yard line, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer elected to go for it instead of trying for a potential game-tying field goal with a kicker who had already missed twice in regulation. Quarterback J.T. Barrett kept the ball and ran into one of his blockers, barely converting the first down in a controversial call that prompted Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh to publicly refute the call. "That was not a first down," he told reporters after the game. "I'm bitterly disappointed with the officiating today." Barrett returns for his senior season after passing for 6,381 yards and 69 touchdowns, along with 2,465 rushing yards and 31 rushing touchdowns, in his Ohio State career. So does running back Mike Weber, who rushed for 1,096 yards as a redshirt freshman last season.
No. 3 Florida State at No.17 Florida
The Seminoles have won six of the last seven meetings and three in a row in Gainesville. Fisher's record is an impressive 6-1 against Florida. A fifth straight victory in the series for FSU would be its most consecutive wins against the Gators in school history. Easier said than done. Winning in "The Swamp" is never a given, even though the Seminoles appear to have more playmakers on their roster. Florida has boasted impressive defenses in recent years, but the Gators have struggled to find an offensive identity, really, since Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow's final season in 2009. That was also the last time the Gators beat FSU at home. Florida's offense hasn't scored a touchdown against the Seminoles since 2014.
No. 1 Alabama at No. 12 Auburn
Auburn was leading 36-27 late in the third quarter against Alabama in 2014 when the Crimson Tide outscored the Tigers 28-8 the rest of the way en route to a 55-44 win in the highest-scoring game in the history of the "Iron Bowl." That was as close as Auburn has been to beating Alabama in the last three years. Alabama's defense must replace linemen Jonathan Allen and Dalvin Tomlinson, linebackers Reuben Foster, Ryan Anderson and Tim Williams, cornerback Marlon Humphrey and safety Eddie Jackson. Yet the Tide is expected to have one of the best defenses in the country -- again. Auburn fans are hungry for a victory on "The Plains," which was the setting of 2013's memorable "Kick Six" win that propelled the Tigers to the SEC title game and then on to play for the national championship.
No. 24 Washington State at No. 8 Washington
Last year's "Apple Cup" game decided the Pac-12 North Division title. The Huskies got the better of Washington State, winning 45-17. It was Washington's fourth straight win against the Cougars and seventh in its last eight meetings. The loss was part of a three-game skid to end Washington State's season after an 8-2 start. It will be imperative that Washington State gets off to a good start with five consecutive home games to start the 2017 season. Of course, that leaves the Cougars with just two home games in their last seven games, which concludes with a trip to Seattle, where they haven't won since 2007. Washington State quarterback Luke Falk returns for his senior year after passing for 10,624 yards and 88 touchdowns in his last three seasons. He'll have to find new targets to throw to with the departures of Gabe Marks, River Cracraft and their 142 catches. The defense returns eight starters, led by junior defensive end Hercules Mata'afa.
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