Alabama upends Clemson in post-spring Top 25

Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa are in competition for Alabama's starting QB job. Vasha Hunt/AL.com via AP

College football's spring season is over, and now the long wait begins.

The first Saturday of the 2018 season is four months away, when Alabama plays Louisville, Auburn plays Washington and Michigan plays at Notre Dame.

Oh, and Lane Kiffin's FAU Owls play at Oklahoma.

Speaking of Michigan, how much fun do you think Jim Harbaugh had in France now that he has a quarterback? The Wolverines received fantastic news last week when the NCAA ruled that Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson will be eligible to play for them this coming season.

With Patterson available, the Wolverines move into the top 10 in the post-spring Way-Too-Early Top 25 for 2018. Defending national champion Alabama moved back to No. 1, with the coveted top four rounded out by Clemson, Ohio State and Georgia.

Say goodbye to LSU and FSU, and say hello to Texas A&M and Oregon.

Here's the fourth edition of the 2018 Way-Too-Early Top 25:

1. Alabama

Previous rank: 2

Sophomore quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who came off the bench to lead the Crimson Tide to a thrilling 26-23 victory over Georgia in the College Football Playoff National Championship Presented by AT&T, barely broke a sweat during spring practice because of a fractured bone in his left hand.

But all signs point to Tagovailoa being the guy this coming fall, after junior Jalen Hurts struggled during the spring. Hurts, who has a 26-2 record as Alabama's starter, completed 19 of 37 passes for 195 yards with one interception in the spring game. The Tide's offensive line and receivers didn't help, but Hurts also seemed to struggle with his confidence.

One thing that's certain: Alabama's defensive line is going to be scary good, even without Da'Ron Payne and Da'Shawn Hand. Defensive ends Raekwon Davis, Isaiah Buggs and Quinnen Williams looked fantastic this spring, and Nick Saban said the Tide's defensive front is more athletic and faster than it was a year ago.

2. Clemson

Previous rank: 1

Alabama isn't the only CFP contender with a brewing quarterback battle. Senior Kelly Bryant led the Tigers to an ACC title and CFP berth in his first season as a starter in 2017, but he's going to be pushed by early enrollee Trevor Lawrence, the No. 2 recruit overall in the ESPN 300.

Lawrence, from Cartersville, Georgia, broke most of former Tigers star Deshaun Watson's high school records, and he might end up doing the same at Clemson. The 6-foot-5, 205-pound freshman completed 11 of 16 passes for 122 yards with one touchdown in the spring game, and Clemson's coaches have raved about his physical skills and ability to grasp the offense.

It wouldn't be a surprise to see both Lawrence and Bryant play in the Sept. 1 opener against FCS foe Furman, which is followed by a big Sept. 8 trip to Texas A&M.

3. Ohio State

Previous rank: 4

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer hasn't named a starting quarterback, although signs point to sophomore Dwayne Haskins replacing J.T. Barrett under center. Junior Joe Burrow has said he might leave as a graduate transfer if he doesn't win the job.

With a pair of 1,000-yard rushers (Mike Weber in 2016, J.K. Dobbins in 2017) and most of their top receivers back, the Buckeyes focused much of their attention this spring on revamping their offensive line. Sophomore Thayer Munford seems to have a firm grasp on the left tackle spot, and Brady Taylor and Josh Myers are still battling at center.

The Buckeyes suffered a significant hit on defense when middle linebacker Tuf Borland suffered an Achilles injury. He might miss the start of the upcoming season, and former four-star prospect Baron Browning left spring atop the depth chart in Borland's absence.

4. Georgia

Previous rank: 3

If Georgia is going to duplicate what it did a year ago, when it won its first SEC championship since 2005, it will have to find playmakers to help quarterback Jake Fromm on offense and replace much of its front seven on defense.

The Bulldogs' most pressing concern on offense is replacing Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, the most prolific running back tandem in FBS history. Sophomore D'Andre Swift missed much of the spring with a groin injury, and Zamir White, the No. 1 tailback in the ESPN 300, is still recovering from surgery for a torn ACL. Georgia also needs young receivers such as Jayson Stanley, Jeremiah Holloman, Tyler Simmons and Trey Blount to become more consistent.

On defense, Georgia has to replace three of its top four linebackers, including Roquan Smith, the 2017 Butkus Award winner and No. 8 pick by the Chicago Bears in last week's NFL draft. D'Andre Walker and Walter Grant are the top candidates to start on the outside, and Monty Rice emerged as a playmaker on the inside during the spring.

5. Oklahoma

Previous rank: 5

The Sooners hoped to have a smooth transition from Baker Mayfield, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 pick by the Cleveland Browns in the NFL draft, to Texas A&M transfer Kyler Murray, who played behind him last season.

But Murray has pulled double duty playing center field on OU's baseball team this spring, and sophomore Austin Kendall narrowed the gap in the quarterback competition. Murray is also considered a potential first-round pick in June's amateur baseball draft, which might throw another wrench into the race.

After surrendering 30 points or more in six games last season, OU coach Lincoln Riley knows the Sooners will have to be much better defensively. He's banking on defensive linemen such as Amani Bledsoe and Kenneth Mann maturing this season. Early enrollee Brendan Radley-Hiles was a standout this spring and might start in a much-maligned secondary.

6. Washington

Previous rank: 6

With quarterback Jake Browning, tailback Myles Gaskin and a vastly deeper defense coming back, the Huskies might be poised for another run at a CFP spot.

They broke in new playcallers on both sides of the ball this spring; former receivers coach Bush Hamdan is back as offensive coordinator after spending last season with the Atlanta Falcons, and defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake was promoted to defensive coordinator.

The Huskies spent the spring searching for Dante Pettis' replacement at receiver and someone to help slot receiver Chico McClatcher, who missed drills while recovering from a broken ankle that caused him to miss the final nine games of the 2017 season. Star left tackle Trey Adams (knee) and receiver Quinten Pounds (knee) also missed spring practice. A trio of players -- Aaron Fuller, Ty Jones and Andre Baccellia -- emerged as potential pass-catching threats.

7. Wisconsin

Previous rank: 7

Wisconsin's offense brings back record-setting tailback Jonathan Taylor, quarterback Alex Hornibrook and each of its five starting offensive linemen. Whether the Badgers can rebuild their defense might determine whether they challenge Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan for a Big Ten title.

Wisconsin lost both of its starting defensive ends, two outside linebackers and three of four starters in the secondary. Isaiahh Loudermilk and Garrett Rand emerged as the top defensive ends during the spring, and Andrew Van Ginkel and Zack Baun were the No. 1 outside linebackers. But then Baun reinjured his left foot after missing all of the 2017 season with the same injury.

Returning left tackle Michael Deiter and left guard Jon Dietzen missed the spring with injuries, which delayed Deiter potentially moving inside for his final college season.

8. Miami

Previous rank: 8

Hurricanes quarterback Malik Rosier, who set a Miami record with 31 total touchdowns last season, was the center of attention this spring. He led Miami to 10 wins and a spot in the Capital One Orange Bowl, but threw too many interceptions downs the stretch, when the Hurricanes ended the season with three straight losses.

Rosier held off redshirt freshmen N'Kosi Perry and Cade Weldon and early enrollee Jarren Williams this spring, but Miami coach Mark Richt said the competition will continue during preseason camp. Freshman running back Lorenzo Lingard, the No. 60 player in the ESPN 300, enrolled early and looks like he'll be able to help right away.

Miami's defensive line, one of its strengths last season, must be revamped. Chad Thomas, RJ McIntosh and Kendrick Norton must be replaced, and highly regarded end D.J. Johnson transferred to Oregon. Making matters worse, Craig Kuligowski, one of the top defensive-line coaches in the FBS, took a job at Alabama. The Hurricanes are banking on former Florida player Gerald Willis III, who missed last season because of off-field issues, and Demetrius Jackson, who is coming back from knee surgery.

9. Michigan State

Previous: 9

When a team's biggest priorities during the spring are identifying a backup quarterback, No. 2 tailback and replacements for only three departed starters, it's a good sign that team is going to be a championship contender.

The Spartans bounced back from a 3-9 disaster in 2016 to finish 10-3 last season, and it might not be too much of a stretch to think they might even end up being the best team in the Big Ten this coming season. After all, they'll get to play Michigan and Ohio State at home in 2018.

There's plenty of reasons for optimism: Quarterback Brian Lewerke was dramatically better in 2017, becoming the first MSU quarterback to pass for more than 2,500 yards and run for more than 500; tailback LJ Scott is coming back after running for more than 2,500 yards in three seasons; and Felton Davis III leads a deep receiver corps after catching 55 passes for 776 yards with nine touchdowns in 2017.

Only two starters leave a defense that ranked in the top 10 nationally in run defense and total defense.

10. Michigan

Previous rank: 11

Few teams had a better spring than Michigan, which learned last week that former Ole Miss quarterback Shea Patterson will be eligible to play for the Wolverines this coming season. Patterson, who threw for 2,259 yards with 17 touchdowns in seven games at Ole Miss before suffering a knee injury last season, is probably the most athletically gifted quarterback Jim Harbaugh has had while coaching his alma mater. (Previous Way-Too-Early rankings factored in the fact that Patterson was likely to be ruled eligible.)

Patterson's mobility should help an offensive line that allowed the second-most sacks in the Big Ten last season and must replace Mason Cole, its best pass-blocker. Fifth-year senior Juwann Bushell-Beatty is the leading candidate to replace Cole at left tackle.

Of course, Patterson won't be able to fix all of Michigan's ills on offense. The Wolverines need to become more consistent running the ball, and young receivers like Donovan Peoples-Jones and Nico Collins and tight end Nick Eubanks need to continue to develop.

11. West Virginia

Previous rank: 13

With quarterback Will Grier coming back, along with one of the deepest receiver corps in the FBS and four returning offensive linemen, the Mountaineers should be poised to score a ton of points this coming season.

The question, as it always seems to be with Dana Holgorsen-coached teams, is whether West Virginia will be able to stop anyone. The Mountaineers suffered a couple of blows on defense during the spring when defensive linemen Lamonte McDougle and Adam Shuler transferred and linebacker Quondarius Qualls suffered a torn ACL. Holgorsen hopes Qualls is back at some point this coming season.

The good news on defense: USC graduate transfer Kenny Bigelow is coming this summer to replace McDougle at nose tackle, and converted safety Derrek Pitts looked like a lockdown cornerback during the spring. Defensive depth is going to continue to be a concern, however, which isn't a great thing in the pass-happy Big 12.

12. Notre Dame

Previous rank: 21

With nine starters coming back, the Fighting Irish might have one of the best defenses in the FBS this season, even after former coordinator Mike Elko left for Texas A&M.

Led by linebackers Te'von Coney and Drue Tranquill, defensive tackle Jerry Tillery and cornerback Julian Love, new coordinator Clark Lea inherited a very talented unit from his former boss. Junior Adetokunbo Ogundeji emerged as a potential pass-rushing threat this spring.

The biggest questions for Notre Dame this summer will be deciding on a starting quarterback and finding a replacement for Josh Adams, who ran for 1,430 yards last season. Brandon Wimbush remains ahead of Citrus Bowl hero Ian Book, according to coach Brian Kelly, and the competition will continue into preseason camp. Kelly wants Wimbush to become a more consistent passer and not run as much. Receiver Jafar Armstrong and quarterback Avery Davis moved around positions this spring as the Irish tried to identify running back depth.

13. Penn State

Previous rank: 10

The Nittany Lions underwent a major overhaul on offense, after former coordinator Joe Moorhead was hired as Mississippi State's head coach, two assistant coaches departed for other jobs and Saquon Barkley and DaeSean Hamilton left for the NFL.

The good news: Quarterback Trace McSorley and perhaps the best offensive line in coach James Franklin's tenure are coming back. Junior Miles Sanders looks more than ready to replace Barkley, although he'll have to prove his durability after playing sparingly last season. Juwan Johnson and DeAndre Thompkins are back at receiver, and Brandon Polk and KJ Hamler are battling to replace Hamilton as the slot receiver.

Freshman Micah Parsons, the No. 7 recruit in the ESPN 300, made quite an impression this spring and is on path to start at outside linebacker. Fellow freshman Jesse Luketa also is battling for one of two vacant linebacker spots.

14. Stanford

Previous rank: 12

The Cardinal went through spring drills without Heisman Trophy candidate Bryce Love and their top two quarterbacks, who were both sidelined with injuries. Junior walk-on Jack Richardson took advantage of K.J. Costello and Davis Mills being hurt. He completed 21 of 30 passes for 178 yards with two touchdowns in the spring game, and was then rewarded with a scholarship from coach David Shaw.

Love skipped contact drills and the spring game as a precaution; an ankle injury bothered him most of last season. Senior Cameron Scarlett ran for 111 yards in his absence, and sophomore Connor Wedington lined up at running back, wide receiver and punt returner. He looks to be Stanford's next big-play threat.

Sophomores Paulson Adebo and Noah Williams were bright spots in the secondary, where the Cardinal must replace Justin Reid and Quenton Meeks, who left early for the NFL draft.

15. Virginia Tech

Previous rank: 15

The Hokies spent the spring addressing uncertainty at linebacker and in the secondary, where they have to replace both starting cornerbacks and safety Terrell Edmunds, who was an NFL first-round pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Linebacker Tremaine Edmunds was the No. 16 pick overall by the Buffalo Bills, making them the first brothers to be chosen in the first round of the same draft.

Unfortunately, not much was resolved in Tech's secondary this spring. The Hokies' most experienced cornerback, senior Adonis Alexander, missed the spring game to focus on academics, and Caleb Farley continued to recover from a knee injury. Junior Jovonn Quillen and early enrollee Jermaine Waller worked at cornerback in their absence.

Making matters worse, co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Galen Scott abruptly resigned Friday for personal reasons. The Washington Post reported he stepped down after admitting to using recruiting trips to pursue an extramarital affair. Former Hokies player Justin Hamilton was promoted to interim assistant coach.

16. Mississippi State

Previous rank: 20

With one of the SEC's most experienced rosters returning, there won't be much of a honeymoon for Joe Moorhead, the former Penn State offensive coordinator.

Moorhead eased Nick Fitzgerald back into practice this spring as the quarterback continues to recover from a dislocated right ankle suffered in last season's Egg Bowl. Fitzgerald didn't participate in contact drills or the spring game. He's expected to be ready for the start of the regular season.

With four offensive linemen and tailback Aeris Williams returning, about the only thing MSU's offense is missing are receivers who can stretch the field. Redshirt freshman Austin Williams had a good spring, and early enrollees Devonta Jason and Stephen Guidry and incoming freshman Malik Heath will have to develop quickly.

17. USC

Previous rank: 17

The battle to replace Sam Darnold commenced this spring without perhaps the most important participant. Incoming freshman J.T. Daniels was wrapping up his junior year (yes, you read that correctly) at Mater Dei High in Santa Ana, California, while sophomore Matt Fink and redshirt freshman Jack Sears battled for the job during spring practice.

Daniels, who reclassified to the Class of 2018 and will graduate from high school a year ahead of schedule, might be the front-runner to replace Darnold when he joins the competition this summer. He led Mater Dei High to a 15-0 record last year and passed for 12,014 yards with 152 touchdowns and 14 interceptions in three seasons.

Daniels was a regular visitor to USC's spring practices and spent time watching film and studying the playbook with the Trojans' coaches this spring.

18. UCF

Previous rank: 22

The Knights are still basking in the glory of 2017's undefeated season. They unveiled a national championship banner and championship rings at their spring game, which was UCF fans' first chance to see new coach Josh Heupel in action.

As hard as it might be to imagine, UCF's players insist they'll be even faster on offense than they were under former coach Scott Frost, who left for Nebraska. Quarterback McKenzie Milton returns after throwing for 4,037 yards with 37 touchdowns, and UCF's top five rushers and four of the top six pass-catchers are back.

Replacing Shaquem Griffin, Chequan Burkett and Mike Hughes on defense doesn't figure to be as easy.

UCF's schedule includes nonconference games against Florida Atlantic, Pittsburgh and North Carolina, and it will be an overwhelming favorite to repeat as American Athletic Conference champion.

19. Auburn

Previous rank: 14

The Tigers were beset by injuries this spring, hampering their ability to find replacements for four starters on the offensive line. Quarterback Jarrett Stidham was limited because of minor surgery on his left (non-throwing) shoulder, but should be ready for the start of the regular season.

The bad news: Receivers Eli Stove and Will Hastings each tore an ACL this spring and probably won't be ready for the start of the season. Hastings had 26 receptions for 525 yards with four touchdowns in 2017 and was one of the Tigers' best deep threats. Stove caught 29 passes for 265 yards and was very effective running on jet sweeps. Tigers coach Gus Malzahn said he hopes to have both of them back at some point this season.

Junior Kam Martin, redshirt freshmen JaTarvious Whitlow and early enrollee Asa Martin emerged as the top three running backs this spring.

20. TCU

Previous rank: 16

The Horned Frogs lost 15 starters and 21 seniors from a team that won 11 games and played for the Big 12 title last season. TCU is going to have a lot of new faces on both sides of the ball, but Gary Patterson believes his team will be back in the thick of the Big 12 race.

Shawn Robinson did enough this spring to solidify himself as the starting quarterback, and Jaelan Austin, Jalen Reagor and Taye Barber emerged as playmakers at receiver. Patterson raved about Barber, a freshman from Cypress Springs, Texas, because of his speed and versatility. Two juco transfers -- tight end Pro Wells and offensive tackle Anthony McKinney -- also made big impressions this spring.

The Horned Frogs will play a difficult nonconference game against Ohio State in Arlington, Texas, and they'll host Oklahoma, Kansas State and Oklahoma State during Big 12 play.

21. Boise State

Previous rank: 19

With a fourth-year starter returning at quarterback, along with an experienced offensive line and defense, the Broncos look like a leading candidate to grab the Group of 5's spot in a New Year's Six bowl.

Senior Brett Rypien was sharp this spring, completing 15 of 19 passes for 267 yards with three touchdowns in two quarters of the spring game. He'll miss Cedrick Wilson, who set a Boise State record with 1,511 receiving yards last season, but Octavius Evans emerged as a potential deep threat this spring with 124 yards and two touchdowns in the spring game.

The Broncos will also miss Leighton Vander Esch, a first-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys in last week's NFL draft. Sophomore Riley Whimpey is the top candidate to start on the weak side, ahead of senior Blake Whitlock and sophomore Bruno DeRose.

22. Texas

Previous rank: 24

Sure, the Longhorns lost a plethora of key contributors from last season's team, which lost six games in Tom Herman's first year in Austin. But given Herman's track record at Houston, the Longhorns should be on a path for a second-year bounce like Georgia and Miami had in 2017.

For the second year in a row, the Longhorns left spring practice without an established No. 1 quarterback. Sophomore Sam Ehlinger might have a slight edge over junior Shane Buechele, who battled shoulder and knee injuries last season. Ehlinger completed 13 of 22 passes for 151 yards in the spring game; Buechele completed 12 of 21 passes for 130 yards. Herman said the competition will continue into the summer and preseason camp.

A positive development was the emergence of receivers Lil'Jordan Humphrey and Devin Duvernay. Humphrey's versatility and big-play potential is something the Longhorns sorely lacked last season.

23. Texas A&M

Previous rank: NR

Texas A&M fans got to see the early results of a $75 million investment in former Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, who received a 10-year contract (fully guaranteed!) to lure him away from the Seminoles.

The early results were promising as far as spring games go. Quarterback Nick Starkel, who threw for 499 yards against Wake Forest in the Belk Bowl, is battling sophomore Kellen Mond for the starting job. Starkel threw for 373 yards with two touchdowns in the spring game; Mond passed for 180 with two scores.

Whoever starts at quarterback will have myriad pass-catchers around him. Sophomores Kendrick Rogers, Jhamon Ausbon and Roshauud Paul looked great in the spring, and juco transfer Jace Sternberger looked like a potential star at tight end.

Projected starting left tackle Koda Martin transferred to Syracuse, where his father Kirk Martin, is the quarterbacks coach, and his father-in-law, Dino Babers, is head coach.

24. Oregon

Previous rank: NR

The Ducks had an unexpected coaching change after Willie Taggart bolted for Florida State after only one season, but much of their coaching staff remained intact, giving them a chance to improve dramatically in 2018.

Oregon returns Justin Herbert, who might be the Pac-12's best passer now that Sam Darnold and UCLA's Josh Rosen are playing in the NFL. The Ducks will have to replace leading rusher Royce Freeman and receiver Charles Nelson, but four starters are coming back on the offensive line. Wake Forest graduate transfer Tabari Hines, who caught 53 passes for 683 yards and seven touchdowns, will be a nice addition for Herbert.

Keeping defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt at Oregon was a major coup for new coach Mario Cristobal. The Ducks will have to replace two starters in the secondary, which desperately needs more consistent play. Early enrollees Verone McKinley III and Steve Stephens and juco transfer Haki Woods were part of the mix this spring.

Oregon's nonconference schedule (home games against Bowling Green, FCS foe Portland State and San Jose State) isn't very daunting, and it will host Stanford and Washington in Pac-12 play.

25. South Carolina

Previous rank: 25

After winning nine games in coach Will Muschamp's second season, the Gamecocks went through a makeover on offense. Quarterback Jake Bentley is back after starting 20 games the past two seasons, and new offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon and quarterbacks coach Dan Werner want to speed up the tempo.

Bentley will welcome back star receiver Deebo Samuel, who scored six touchdowns in the first three games before suffering a broken leg. The Gamecocks need to run the ball more consistently; Ty'Son Williams, A.J. Turner and Deshaun Fenwick were battling for the tailback job during the spring.

The Gamecocks will have to replace two starters on the defensive line, linebacker Skai Moore and three starters in the secondary. Linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams returns after missing most of 2017 with a shoulder injury.

Dropped out: LSU, Florida State