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How Will Top College Football Teams Fare In 2017?

Ralph D. Russo, Associated Press

The teams that started the season Nos. 1 and 2 finished as the top two of 2016.

Just not in that order.

Clemson was No. 1 in the final AP college football poll , knocking preseason No. 1 Alabama from the top spot when it counted the most. The Tigers beat the Crimson Tide 35-31 Monday night. There was no doubt that the best two teams in college football had played the last game of the season.

The rest of the Top 25 included a big jump by Southern California to No. 3 and four Big Tens in the top 10, just not quite as highly ranked as it seemed like they would be when the bowl season started.

A look at the final AP Top 25 of the 2016 season, with an eye toward how the teams will stack up heading into the 2017. (Note: Early NFL entry could cause additional losses not noted here).

No. 1 Clemson (14-1)

Key losses: QB Deshaun Watson, WR Mike Williams, RB Wayne Gallman, CB Cordrea Tankersley.

Key returnees: DL Dexter Lawrence, DL Christian Wilkins, OT Mitch Hyatt, WR Deon Cain.

Heat check 2017: The Tigers’ reload will come with tempered expectations and lower preseason rankings, but Dabo Swinney’s team deserves some benefit of the doubt.

No. 2 Alabama (14-1)

Key losses: DL Jonathan Allen, LB Reuben Foster, OT Cam Robinson, TE O.J. Howard.

Key returnees: QB Jalen Hurts, RB Bo Scarbrough, OT Jonah Williams, DB Minkah Fitzpatrick.

Heat check for 2017: Until further notice, Alabama is No. 1.

No. 3 Southern California (10-3)

Key losses: OTs Zach Banner and Chad Wheeler, WR Darreus Rogers, DT Stevie Tu’ikolovatu.

Key returnees: QB Sam Darnold, RB Ronald Jones, DE Rasheem Green, CB Iman Marshall.

Heat check 2017: The Trojans also could lose underclassmen WR JuJu Smith-Schuster and CB Adoree’ Jackson, but they look loaded. Get ready for the USC hype.

No. 4 Washington (12-2)

Key losses: WR John Ross, S Budda Baker, CB Sidney Jones, DT Elijah Qualls.

Key returnees: QB Jake Browning, RB Myles Gaskin, NT Greg Gaines, LB Azeem Victor.

Heat check 2017: The Huskies entered national title contention earlier than expected, but should be here to stay awhile.

No. 5 Oklahoma (11-2)

Key losses: RBs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon, WR Dede Westbrook, CB Jordan Thomas.

Key returnees: QB Baker Mayfield, OT Orlando Brown, LB Caleb Kelly, TE/WR Mark Andrews.

Heat check 2017: The favorite in the Big 12 and a preseason top-10 team — again.

No. 6 Ohio State (11-2)

Key losses: LB Raekwon McMillan, S Malik Hooker, H-back Curtis Samuel, CB Gareon Conley.

Key returnees: QB J.T. Barrett, DE Nick Bosa, DE Tyquan Lewis, RB Mike Weber.

Heat check 2017: The Buckeyes’ awful last impression is likely to pull down that preseason ranking. Could still slip into top five.

No. 7 Penn State (11-3)

Key losses: DE Garrett Sickels, LB Brandon Bell, WR Chris Godwin, Brian Gaia.

Key returnees: QB Trace McSorley, RB Saquon Barkley, CB John Reid, TE Mike Gesicki.

Heat check 2017: Even if the Nittany Lions lose a few underclassmen to the NFL, few teams will return more production and experience. Could edge Ohio State for highest ranked Big Ten team.

No. 8 Florida State (10-3)

Key losses: RB Dalvin Cook, DE DeMarcus Walker, WR Kermit Whitfield, OG Are Kareem.

Key returnees: S Derwin James, QB Deondre Francois, DE Josh Sweat, WR Nyqwan Murray.

Heat check 2017: The Seminoles open the season against Alabama in Atlanta and it could very well be a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup.

No. 9 Wisconsin (11-3)

Key losses: LB TJ Watt, RB Corey Clement, LB Vince Beigel, CB Sojourn Shelton.

Key returnees: D D’Cota Dixon, TE Troy Fumagalli, LB T.J. Edwards, WR Jazz Peavy.

Heat check 2017: The Badgers often get overlooked or undersold in the preseason. Not this time. The only big question is quarterback. Maybe top 10?

No. 10 Michigan (11-3)

Key losses: 17 senior starters, including TE Jake Butt, WR Amara Darboh, DE Taco Charlton, CB Joudan Lewis.

Key returnees: QB Wilton Speight, RB Chris Evans, LB Devin Bush, DT Rashan Gary.

Heat check 2017: The departure of a massive class of senior contributors means Michigan will have to rebuild with fruits of Jim Harbaugh’s highly rated recruiting classes — and start outside the top 10.

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