FCS football is fun and features plenty of talent. Games against FBS opponents can serve purposes, as they are oftentimes displays of in-state support and, of course, are big paydays that FCS programs need to survive.
Big wins in its last two games sent Vanderbilt and head coach Derek Mason to a bowl game for the first time in three seasons. Now the challenge is to sustain that success. Mason has 15 starters returning, including his record-setting running back, but the offense needs to continue to improve if the Commodores want to win more than three conference games.
The SEC had a down year in 2016. While Alabama made the CFB Playoff, every other team in the league finished the season with at least four losses. But that was 2016, and the outlook for the SEC in 2017 looks a little brighter.
High expectations entering the 2016 season materialized into a 5-7 season and no bowl invite for Ole Miss. There will be no postseason appearance this fall either, as the school has imposed a one-year bowl ban in the midst of an ongoing NCAA investigation. That may end up being the least of head coach Hugh Freeze’s worries depending on what the NCAA reports, but for now the focus on the field will center on sophomore quarterback Shea Patterson and the offense’s potential.
Kentucky finally ended an extended postseason drought and a second straight bowl invite could be in the offering this fall. Head coach Mark Stoops has the bulk of his offense returning and with improved quarterback play and a more reliable passing game, the Wildcats could be quite dangerous on that side of the ball. The defense is in pretty good shape at linebacker and in the secondary, but question marks abound up front.
College football’s 2017 season starts on Aug. 26 and concludes with the national championship on Jan. 8 in Atlanta. The season is still a few months away, but it's never too early to project and rank college football's top 25 teams.
South Carolina won six games and went bowling in head coach Will Muschamp’s first season despite having an offense that was among the least productive in the nation. Quarterback Jake Bentley is back to lead the Gamecocks’ attack and is one of 10 returning starters on that side of the ball. The defense also gets a big boost with the return of linebacker Skai Moore, who missed all of 2016 because of a neck injury.
Georgia is looking for a breakthrough in Kirby Smart’s second season in Athens. Such are expectations at a historical power that returns its starting quarterback, two talented running backs and 11 starters on defense.
For the third straight year, a strong finish by Texas A&M gave way to a late-season fade as the Aggies lost four of their final five games, including the Texas Bowl to Kansas State. Kevin Sumlin enters 2017 needing to break out of this 8-5 rut but he will have to do so with a new starting quarterback and the guy who was the No. 1 overall pick in the April’s NFL draft.