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College football rankings: SN's pre-preseason top 25 for 2018

Sporting News dishes out its first college football top 25 rankings for the 2018 season.

It's never too early to look ahead to the 2018 college football top 25 rankings. Keep in mind that last year's way-too-early top 25 had all four playoff teams — and four New Year's Day Six teams — in the top 10.

With that in mind, here is a look at Sporting News' pre-preseason top 25 rankings for 2018:

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Preseason college football rankings: Top 25 for 2018

25. Texas A&M Aggies

Jimbo Fisher has arrived, and that's going to raise the bar in College Station to its highest point since the Aggies joined the SEC West in 2012. Some patience is required. The Fisher era starts with an early showdown against Clemson — and Dabo Swinney — that has College GameDay written all over it.

24. Memphis Tigers

Mike Norvell opted to stay at Memphis after the Tigers' 10-3 season, good news for an American Athletic Conference program in the hunt for that New Year's Day Six berth. Memphis loses key playmakers on offense and the quarterback competition is open, but there's a reason Norvell stayed. This team can compete again.

23. South Carolina Gamecocks

Florida and Tennessee are breaking in first-year coaches, so this is a unique opportunity for Will Muschamp to lead the Gamecocks to a breakthrough in the SEC East. Quarterback Jake Bentley is back and should continue to improve with his supporting cast, too.

22. Texas Longhorns

Tom Herman returns after leading the Longhorns to a bowl win in his first season. Sam Ehlinger is a quarterback the program can build around. Texas lost to USC, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State by a combined 11 points in 2017. Can the Longhorns close that gap next year?

21. UCF Knights

Scott Frost is back at Nebraska, but incoming coach Josh Heupel inherits a fun-and-talented-team led by quarterback McKenzie Milton. A September showdown against Florida Atlantic will be huge for the Group of 5.

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20. Oklahoma State Cowboys

The Cowboys lose the star connection of Mason Rudolph and James Washington, but Mike Gundy decided to stay in Stillwater despite a push from Tennessee. There will be growing pains, but the Cowboys will figure things out.

19. Florida State Seminoles

First-year coach Willie Taggart inherits a talented team. Deondre Francois' return, coupled with the emergence of star running back Cam Akers, should make that transition easier. Will the Seminoles get back to competing for an ACC championship? Those are the expectations Taggart faces every year now.

18. TCU Horned Frogs

Highly touted dual-threat quarterback Shawn Robinson will take over a team capable of making a run back to the Big 12 championship game. An early test against Ohio State on Sept. 15 will be telling.

17. Michigan Wolverines

Too high? The arrival of Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson could be the missing piece that allows Jim Harbaugh to silence the critics after a disappointing five-loss season. To be honest, we wanted to go higher, but the Wolverines' schedule — which features road games at Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State — leaves them with a lot to prove.

16. Michigan State Spartans

Brian Lewerke emerged as Michigan State's quarterback of the future in 2017, and that was the key to another successful season — and remarkable turnaround — in 2017 under Mark Dantonio. Running back LJ Scott is returning, and Ohio State and Michigan must visit East Lansing. As Dantonio likes to say, “It's never over."

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15. Virginia Tech Hokies

Justin Fuente didn't entertain some big-time coaching openings in the offseason, a testament to his commitment to Blacksburg. The Hokies have proven they're good enough to compete for the ACC championship game again. They'll have to build around quarterback Josh Jackson to take the next step.

14. Stanford Cardinal

Running back K.J. Costello's continued development is imperative, especially if Heisman Trophy finalist Bryce Love declares for the NFL Draft. The Cardinal are always in the mix with David Shaw, but the September schedule is tough, with San Diego State and USC at home followed by road games at Oregon and Notre Dame.

13. LSU Tigers

Ed Orgeron kept the Tigers moving in the right direction in 2017, and the quarterback competition between Myles Brennan and Lowell Narcisse will be the focus of the offseason. The Tigers play Miami at Jerry World in the opener and have crossover games against Florida and Georgia in consecutive weeks. We'll know enough about this team before Alabama comes to Baton Rouge on Nov. 3.

12. USC Trojans

Sam Darnold is leaving for the NFL, so the focus will be on the quarterback battle among JT Daniels, Matt Fink, Jack Sears and Thomas Holden. Running back Stephen Carr should have a breakout season, however, and coach Clay Helton has reestablished a winning culture within the program.

11. Washington Huskies

Chris Petersen has built a consistent winner at Washington. That will be tested when the Huskies and four-year starter Jake Browning take on Auburn in the season-opener in Atlanta.

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10. Penn State Nittany Lions

The Nittany Lions were four points away over two games from an undefeated season. James Franklin continues to build through recruiting. Penn State, however, must deal with the loss of Saquon Barkley, along with finding a new offensive coordinator to replace Joe Moorhead. But we like running back Miles Sanders' breakout potential. How much pressure will that put on quarterback Trace McSorley if he returns?

9. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

A November that saw the Irish go 2-2 overshadowed a 10-3 season, and the offensive line must replace two All-Americans in Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey. Brandon Wimbush has a talented group of receivers with which to work, and that's an area of development that could put Notre Dame over the top.

8. Auburn Tigers

Gus Malzhan opted to stay at Auburn, and with good reason. There's enough talent on both sides of the ball to repeat as SEC West champions, and perhaps finish the job this time around. Jarrett Stidham is back, but leading rushers Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway are gone and the defense loses Jeff Holland and Carlton Davis to the NFL. The Tigers do have to travel to Tuscaloosa and Athens this time around.

7. Miami Hurricanes

Mark Richt and the Hurricanes arrived earlier than expected this year and — despite three losses to end the season — should be back in ACC contention with Malik Rosier and a core that includes running back Travis Homer and cornerback Malek Young. Miami's nonconference schedule features a monster opener against LSU at Jerry World and a road trip to Toledo.

6. Wisconsin Badgers

Wisconsin returns quarterback Alex Hornibrook and star running back Jonathan Taylor. Paul Chryst continues to improve the skill positions while following a familiar pattern with the offensive line and defense. The next step is finishing the job at the Big Ten championship game. If the Badgers can do that for the first time since 2012, they'll make the playoff once and for all.

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5. Oklahoma Sooners

Lincoln Riley couldn't have done a better job replacing Bob Stoops, but the Sooners will lose Baker Mayfield to the NFL and a few other key pieces. Kyler Murray — a Texas high school legend — should be ready to take the job, but early tests against Florida Atlantic (yes, really) and UCLA accelerate that learning curve.

4. Ohio State Buckeyes

Dwayne Haskins has the early lead on what promises to be a fierce quarterback battle in Columbus, and Urban Meyer faces the usual attrition to the NFL Draft. J.K. Dobbins and Nick Bosa are back, however, and Ohio State is still the team to beat in the Big Ten despite trips to TCU, Penn State and Michigan State.

3. Georgia Bulldogs

The Bulldogs were one of the big winners at the NFL Draft entry deadline last year. The defending SEC champions now have holes to fill, but the offense can build around sophomore Jake Fromm. Kirby Smart has what looks like the nation's top class coming in, however, and the Bulldogs are in great position in the SEC East.

2. Clemson Tigers

Business as usual for Dabo Swinney. The Tigers will suffer losses to the NFL Draft, but Kelly Bryant is back, running back Travis Etienne is a value pick for the Heisman Trophy and the defensive line can re-tool around Dexter Lawrence. The arrival of five-star freshmen Trevor Lawrence and Xavier Thomas only reinforces the point: Clemson isn't going anywhere.

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

Yes, we put Alabama at No. 1 again. Chances are it will be atop the preseason polls that come out in August. Nick Saban may have a QB controversy between Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa, but he's working with the same talented stable of skill position players. One possible concern: Saban will be working with his third different defensive coordinator in four seasons.

Others receiving votes: Mississippi State, Louisville, Florida Atlantic, Arizona.