This ranking is not a pre-season ranking. It's where Athlon predicts teams will be end the season ranked on January 8, 2019, the day after the National Championship on January 7:
This is not a preseason 130 ranking of teams going into the season. Instead, this ranking takes into account where we project teams to finish after the national championship in January. Athlon Sports projects where every team will finish in the final rankings at the conclusion of the upcoming season.
4. Ohio St
Projecting Michigan to finish No. 5 might come as a surprise to some, but the Wolverines are poised to rebound in a big way. Coach Jim Harbaugh's team returns 14 starters.... Michigan's offensive line has been a source of concern in recent years and enters the 2018 season with a few question marks. The addition of assistant Ed Warinner should help the offensive line take a step forward in 2018.... The skill positions are stocked with promising talent.... The unquestioned strength of Harbaugh's team remains its defense. If Michigan is going to earn a CFB Playoff bid, it will have to do so on the road. The Wolverines must play at Ohio State, Michigan State and Notre Dame....
....with matchups at Michigan, Iowa and Penn State, this fall's schedule features more obstacles to another unbeaten regular season.... Jonathan Taylor set a new FBS freshman rushing record with 1,977 yards and 13 touchdowns on 299 attempts.... Helping to clear rushing lanes for Taylor is the nation's No. 1 offensive line.... The Badgers suffocated opponents last year, holding them to just 13.9 points and less than 100 rushing yards a game. However, (defensive) coordinator Jim Leonhard has holes to fill at every level.... The list of departures is lengthy and significant....
11. Penn St
The Nittany Lions have made considerable progress on offense over the last two years, but coordinator Joe Moorhead left for Mississippi State following the 2017 season. Franklin opted for continuity by promoting Ricky Rahne to take over the play-calling duties, and he will be under pressure to keep this attack firing on all cylinders.
12. Michigan St
With 19 starters back and home games against Ohio State and Michigan, coach Mark Dantonio's team should be in the mix to win the Big Ten title.... Michigan State may be due for some regression in the luck department after winning six games by 10 points or less last season.
15. Notre Dame
The biggest question marks for the Fighting Irish remain on offense. Will quarterback Brandon Wimbush take a step forward in his second year as the starter? And how will the team replace standout linemen Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey?
Ferentz’s team has a favorable slate, which misses Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State in Big Ten crossover play.... The question marks are bigger on defense. Iowa loses all three of its linebackers
Life after Lamar Jackson won’t be easy.... Dae Williams, Colin Wilson and Trey Smith should handle the bulk of the work at running back. Without Jackson, Louisville will likely ask more out of this position group after no running back accumulated more than 100 carries last fall.... Louisville’s rebuilt defense, and new quarterback, will be tested right away with a matchup against Alabama in Orlando to start the year.
....the hire of Jeff Brohm quickly changed the fortunes in West Lafayette.... Brohm will have to retool (the) defense....
Pat Fitzgerald’s Wildcats might be the toughest team to predict this preseason.... With the uncertainty surrounding the offense, Northwestern can lean on its defense early in the year. This unit held opponents to 20.1 points a game last fall and is expected to be strong once again....
Injuries took a toll on coach DJ Durkin’s team last season.... The offensive line returns four starters and has quietly developed into a strength.... Durkin has Maryland moving in the right direction
Scott Frost was one of the top hires for the 2017-18 coaching carousel, but it may take a year for the former Nebraska QB to get all of the right pieces into place.... Nebraska faces Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State in crossover play, which adds another obstacle to Frost’s debut.
Missing Wisconsin in crossover play is huge, but Indiana still has to play the big four in the East....
As expected, Fleck is reeling in good talent on the recruiting trail, but Minnesota might be a year away from marked improvement in the win column.
New play-caller John McNulty is Rutgers’ ninth offensive coordinator in nine years, and he’s tasked with developing a unit that averaged only 18 points a game last fall.
The Mustangs snapped a streak of four losing seasons in a row, reaching seven victories and a bowl under former coach Chad Morris. He left for Arkansas this offseason.... Defense has been an issue for SMU in recent years, and this unit gave up 36.7 points and over 475 yards a game last fall.
93. Western Michigan
As expected, the Broncos took a step back in 2017.... The defense is (head coach) Lester’s biggest area of concern.... The front seven must be rebuilt
The Fighting Illini are just 5-19 over the last two years.... In an effort to hit the reset button last fall, Smith and the coaching staff went with a youth movement.... With few seniors expected to find a place in the starting lineup this season, Illinois’ 2018 season is all about growth and development.
105. Central Michigan
Coach John Bonamego has guided the program to three consecutive bowl trips, but that streak could be in jeopardy in 2018. The Chippewas must replace quarterback Shane Morris, and the receiving corps was decimated by personnel departures.
The Miners were the only FBS team to finish 2017 without a victory..... a unit that averaged only 11.8 points a game last fall.
Photo: Kevin Goheen/Land of 10