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Bohls: Early poll shows Clemson, Bama and a whole bunch of Big Ten

Now that Alabama has once again validated its claim as college football’s biggest dynasty, it’s time for a peek at the potential Top 25 teams of 2018.

The Crimson Tide, of course, have been, are and will be the No. 1 program in the nation, until further notice. But where’s the fun in all that? And we’re curious. Has Alabama ever had a parade in Tuscaloosa? Probably not because Nick Saban wouldn’t want to take two hours away from recruiting.

So now that we’ve established it’s absolutely idiotic to put anyone besides Alabama at the top, we put Clemson at No. 1. If you can’t be bold in January, when can you?

Dabo Swinney might have the best team on paper. Possibly on the field as well, so we’ll take a flier on the Tigers just as we did in 2016. Hey, we got one right.

Last year, not so much. Went in January with Florida State, which looked awesome in pregame warmups against Alabama before it unraveled and lost six games, its quarterback, its head coach and its way. Don’t expect the Seminoles to stay down under Willie Taggart? Got them at No. 11.

Sure, Alabama captured the rubber match in the Sugar Bowl, winning decisively without the Tigers putting up much fight. We’re not exactly thrilled with the prospect of a fourth game between the two giants.

We do like variety and — for the sake of argument — would love to see a Big 12 team in the College Football Playoff. Not likely, however. West Virginia’s our highest-ranked team at No. 12, followed by Kansas State at 17, Oklahoma at 18 and Iowa State at 22.

Our surprise team? Jeff Brohm’s Purdue at No. 24.

Our missing teams? Nowhere to be found are USC, Notre Dame, LSU and Florida. Let ’em prove themselves.

Surprisingly low? The Sooners, despite great running backs and good receivers. Taking a risk there.

Surprisingly high? We threw UCF a bone at No. 8. A big bone.

But Clemson’s my No. 1.

Quarterback Kelly Bryant and the premier defensive line in all of college football failed to live up to expectations against Alabama, but all are back. Bryant returns to try to hold off Hunter Johnson and Trevor Lawrence, and Christian Wilkins and Clelin Farrell both decided against turning pro and are back to rejoin Austin Bryant and Dexter Lawrence up front.

Both Clemson and Alabama had five players defect to the NFL early, but the Tigers have a wealth of talent returning with running backs Tavien Feaster and Travis Etienne, and reliable Hunter Renfrow, Amari Rodgers and Tee Higgins will avoid any drop-off at wide receiver despite Deon Cain’s exit. Brent Venables has linebacker Kendall Joseph back along with a well-stocked secondary that gave up just 16 touchdown passes and had 14 picks.

The Tide wasn’t decimated by the NFL draft but does have to make up for the losses of wide receiver Calvin Ridley; defensive tackle and Rose Bowl star Da’Ron Payne; the most versatile defensive back in the country, All-American Minka Fitzpatrick; running back Bo Scarbrough; and safety Ronnie Harrison.

All that leaves Saban with is his choice of quarterbacks: Jalen Hurts, a 26-2 starter, or sophomore Tua Tagovailoa, who simply turned Georgia upside down with a spectacular second half and a perfect strike on the final play of the CFP title game for Alabama’s fifth national championship in nine seasons.

Tagovailoa is a better passer than Hurts and has plenty of targets with receivers DeVonta Smith (who caught the winning pass in Atlanta), Henry Ruggs and Jerry Jeudy. Running back Damien Harris returns, backed up by Najee Harris and Josh Jacobs, to run behind maybe the best line in the country.

On defense, the secondary needs a makeover, but linebackers Mack Wilson, Anfernee Jennings and Dylan Moses are back, and end Raekwon Davis has All-America potential.

Schedulewise, Alabama takes on Louisville and has just four true road games. Clemson plays Texas A&M in Week 2.

So there you have half of the CFP field for 2018.

The other half could well come from the Big Ten on the heels of that league’s dominance with a 7-1 bowl record. Only Michigan lost, falling to South Carolina. After missing the playoffs, the entire league is loaded, with seven ranked teams. Three teams are positioned for a great run, with Michigan State, Wisconsin and Ohio State coming in at Nos. 3, 4 and 6, sandwiched around No. 5 Washington.

All three Big Ten teams are stout defensively.

All three have premier running attacks, from main Badger and 1,900-yard rusher Jonathan Taylor, to the two-headed Buckeye duo of Mike Weber and J.K. Dobbins, to Spartan L.J. Scott.

All have taxing schedules.

Rounding out the Top 10 are Georgia, Central Florida, Stanford and Miami. Central Florida?

The Bulldogs would be higher as the clear favorite in the SEC East, but they lost the best running back tandem in the nation, Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, and all three of their dynamite linebackers, including All-American Roquan Smith.

The Knights have a distant shot at another mythical title with the return of quarterback McKenzie Milton and a stable of running backs and receivers, but they have to overcome the loss of inspirational head coach Scott Frost and hope Josh Heupel has similar magic.

The Cardinal won the offseason lottery with the return of Heisman finalist Bryce Love, the top running back in the nation as well as four linemen but need more help defensively.

The Hurricanes dipped back in the past and are in the process of restoring their glory but lost a pair of linemen on both sides of the ball. Expect many more turnovers.

And except for Clemson and Bama, expect chaos in ’18.

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