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How the Top 25 teams can enjoy a winning September

New Alabama offensive coordinator Brian Daboll is hoping for big things from quarterback Jalen Hurts. AP Photo/Brynn Anderson

Every team wants to get off to a good start, and even the nation's best teams can't afford to stumble to start the season.

Here's what the Top 25 teams need to enjoy their September schedules.


1. Alabama

Nick Saban is big on each team establishing its own identity, and nowhere is that more important this season than on offense, where Brian Daboll takes over for Lane Kiffin as coordinator. While it's clear that Saban wants to swing the pendulum back to a more pro-style attack, how well quarterback Jalen Hurts can fit that mold remains to be seen. -- Alex Scarborough


2. Ohio State

Buckeyes players say the new offense under Kevin Wilson is faster than advertised after a few weeks of practice. Getting the passing game in sync against two Power 5 teams in the first two weeks of the season will be crucial. Wins against Indiana and Oklahoma to start the year would cement Ohio State's status as a force to be reckoned with in the playoff hunt. -- Dan Murphy


3. Florida State

The offensive line must prove it has made drastic improvements over a year ago, not only to help Deondre Francois stay upright and the run game succeed, but because September features three of the best defensive lines in the nation. Alabama, Miami and NC State are physical and aggressive up front, and the Seminoles must find a way to neutralize them. -- Andrea Adelson


4. USC

The Trojans currently are slated to play three teams ranked in the AP poll this season -- No. 14 Stanford, No. 23 Texas and No. 24 Washington State -- and all three games will take place in September. For USC to get through the challenging month, it needs a new-look offensive line to jell quickly and a receiver not named Deontay Burnett to establish himself as a reliable threat. -- Kyle Bonagura


5. Clemson

The defending national champion has one of the toughest September schedules in the country, featuring games against preseason Top 25 teams Auburn, Louisville and Virginia Tech. The defense should lead the way in the early going, but getting quarterback Kelly Bryant in position to lead the offense without asking him to single-handedly win games is the biggest key. -- Adelson


6. Penn State

Beat Pitt. The Nittany Lions have a manageable September, but a loss to their renewed in-state rival would raise questions about whether last season's fantastic finish was actually a turning point for the defending Big Ten champs. -- Murphy


7. Oklahoma

Winning at Ohio State in Week 2 would obviously constitute a successful September for the Sooners and their playoff hopes. For that to happen, QB Baker Mayfield will need help from the likes of new running back Rodney Anderson, tight end Mark Andrews, and wideouts Jeff Badet and Jeff Mead. -- Jake Trotter


8. Washington

The trip to Colorado should be a challenge and Oregon State is improved, but the Huskies -- on paper, at least -- are clearly the better team in all five games they'll play in September and a 5-0 start should be expected. Once their new starting corners get some experience, this will be a team without any major flaws. -- Bonagura


9. Wisconsin

The Badgers' defense should be able to keep scores low in their first month, which is starkly different from 2016's schedule. Paul Chryst is hoping that will give quarterback Alex Hornibrook time to develop chemistry with a couple of options in the passing game. -- Murphy


10. Oklahoma State

The Cowboys should boast one of the top offenses in the country. To win the Big 12, they'll need some of their young inexperienced corners, like A.J. Green, Madre Harper and Rodarius Williams, to step up. If they hold their own through September, Oklahoma State will be a load in conference play. -- Trotter


11. Michigan

The Wolverines need to get a young defense up to speed in a hurry. The opener against Florida is sure to create overreaction regardless of the result (a win and Michigan is a title contender; a loss and Jim Harbaugh's act is a hollow charade exposed), but by season's end that game won't have much of an impact compared to what type of confidence the inexperienced talent on defense can develop starting in the opener. -- Murphy


12. Auburn

Focus is going to be the operative word for Auburn during September. Playing Clemson the second week of the season will be easy to get up for, but running the table the rest of the month isn't a foregone conclusion with a tough season opener against Georgia Southern and two challenging offenses in league play in Missouri and Mississippi State. -- Scarborough


13. LSU

Leaning too heavily on Derrius Guice at tailback is going to be tempting for offensive coordinator Matt Canada, but he can't do it. Establishing a more well-rounded attack, especially throwing the football, will be key to setting the tone for LSU moving forward. -- Scarborough


14. Stanford

The Cardinal open the season Down Under against Rice on Saturday before back-to-back road trips to Southern California (USC and San Diego State) starting Sept. 9. Stanford will still be in decent shape if it loses at USC, but a win against the Trojans (again) would send a clear message to the rest of the nation that the Cardinal are a College Football Playoff threat. -- Bonagura


15. Georgia

Forget the entire month of September; don't look past Week 1. With Appalachian State coming to town, the Bulldogs can't be caught sleepwalking. It wasn't that long ago that the Mountaineers upset Michigan in the Big House, and this year's team promises to be good, too, with a dynamic running game and a four-year starter at quarterback. -- Scarborough


16. Louisville

There is no doubt the Cards have Sept. 16 circled on the schedule: a home date against Clemson, a team they have come tantalizingly close to beating the past three years. If Louisville can win against UNC and Clemson in back-to-back weeks, there will be talk once again about Lamar Jackson and Louisville's College Football Playoff chances. -- Adelson


17. Florida

What looked like an opportunity to set a tone on offense instead has turned into a scramble to set the depth chart. Beating Michigan early would be nice, but with seven players suspended, including top offensive weapon Antonio Callaway, it's equally important to figure out whom Jim McElwain can count on moving forward. -- Scarborough


18. Miami

Now that quarterback Malik Rosier has been announced as the starter, the question is how comfortable he gets in his new role and whether he can hold off the competition from Evan Shirreffs and true freshman N'Kosi Perry. All eyes will be focused on Week 3 at Florida State, the most difficult game in what appears to be a manageable September schedule. -- Adelson


19. USF

The Bulls are the preseason favorite to get into a New Year's Six bowl game, and an undefeated season puts them in the best possible position to get there. The September schedule is manageable, but playing back-to-back games against Illinois and Temple could be a challenge. Getting through September 5-0 would put the USF well on its way to the big game. -- Adelson


20. Kansas State

The Wildcats own some of the best front-line defensive talent in the Big 12. Depth, however, is a concern, especially along the front seven. If K-State can keep its key defenders -- such as end Reggie Walker -- healthy, while unearthing some reliable reserves, the Wildcats will be that much tougher to score on come Big 12 play. -- Trotter


21. Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech opens and closes September with major games -- West Virginia to start and Clemson to finish -- with a tricky contest at East Carolina in between. Josh Jackson has been named the starting quarterback, but establishing the run game and a rotation along the defensive line will help put the Hokies in position for a successful September and another run at the Coastal Division. -- Adelson


22. West Virginia

Quarterback Will Grier returning to the form he displayed as a freshman at Florida two years ago would give the Mountaineers an excellent chance of landing a marquee win in the nonconference opener against Virginia Tech. -- Trotter


23. Texas

Tom Herman is on the verge of officially naming incumbent QB Shane Buechele his starter. Buechele got off to a hot start as a true freshman last year before fading down the stretch. If he bounces back strongly -- and shines in a key Week 3 trip to USC -- then Texas could be well on its way to finally turning the corner after several dismal seasons. -- Trotter


24. Washington State

The Cougars are ranked in the preseason AP poll for just the third time in school history and there won't be a team in the country more readily anticipating a game against an FCS opponent (Montana State) in its opening game. First, they need to end their two-year skid in such games before turning their attention to bigger games, including a Friday night game in Pullman against USC at the end of the month. -- Bonagura


25. Tennessee

The Vols need to grow up in a hurry, especially on the defensive line, where former Michigan coach Brady Hoke has taken over. With Derek Barnett off in the NFL and a couple of tough rushing offenses on the schedule in Georgia and Georgia Tech, interior linemen like Kahlil McKenzie and Shy Tuttle could play vital roles. -- Scarborough