1. Notre Dame (12-1; Lost to Alabama 42-14 in the National Championship Game)
i. The loss of Everett Golson hurts, sure, but I wasn’t high on ND even before he left the team. They lost their top two running backs and Theo
2. Florida (11-2; Lost to Louisville 33-23 in the Sugar Bowl)
i. I’m not sold on Florida this year and I expect them to take a step back. Now, that doesn’t mean that they won’t win nine or ten games this year,but I don’t think they will be ranked #3 heading into their bowl game. Head coach Will Muschamp will make sure the defense doesn’t lapse, but there is no denying how much talent just left for the NFL (5 starters drafted). I just don’t believe that their offense will be able to keep them in games against another powerful offense. Jeff Driskel struggled last year, throwing for just 1600 yards and 12 touchdowns. They relied heavily on his ability to make plays with his feet, which he is capable of, and on Mike Gillislee to carry the burden, but now Gillislee is gone and the running backs are unproven. Florida will go as far as Jeff Driskel can. With tough road games at LSU, South Carolina, and up and coming Miami (Georgia is a neutral site) I can see a tough year ahead for the Gators.
3. LSU (10-3; Lost to Clemson 25-24 in the Chick-fil-A Bowl)
i. Much like Florida, LSU lost a ton of talent on defense and has some questions at quarterback. Freakishly athletic defensive ends SamMontgomery and Barkevious Mingo are gone, and starters from all levels of the defense have moved on (DBs Eric Reid and Tharold Simon; LB Kevin Minter). Les Miles’s has always recruited great defensive players, so they are all hoping that those guys can step up and make an immediate impact. The running game will be strong after the surprisingly good season that Jeremy Hill had last year as he will also be complemented by senior back Alfred Blue. However, I’m not sure if quarterback Zach Mettenberger will be able to keep games close against the tougher opponents LSU will face this year. He showed some flashes, but struggled at other times (look at his stats against Florida, Texas A&M, Ole Miss). They luck out getting A&M and Florida at home, but have to go on to road to face Alabama, Georgia, and Ole Miss. Another trip to the Chick-fil-A bowl will be the most likely destination for the Bayou Bengals this year.