Predicting the Top 25 Offenses in College Football in 2017

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistMay 19, 2017

Predicting the Top 25 Offenses in College Football in 2017

0 of 25

    Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

    College football has become an offense-dominated sport thanks to a vast collection of uptempo attacks. Pro-style systems still have value, but flashy numbers pop up all over the country.

    Most units expected to grab the nation's attention in 2017 return their starting quarterback. That's not a requirement to be considered one of the 25 best as the season approaches, but it typically doesn't hurt to bring back a familiar gunslinger.

    Rather than projecting the sheer volume of yardage, we're also factoring in efficiency with yards per snap as a means to adjust for pace. The rankings are also adjusted for competition.

    We're breaking down the most notable pieces of each top 25 offense, focusing on a combination of the quarterback, running backs, receiving corps, offensive line and coaching.

25. Baylor Bears

1 of 25

    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    What makes them dangerous: Zach Smith started the last four games of the 2016 season, averaging 313.5 yards and 2.75 touchdowns in that stretch. The team mustered a 1-3 record, but the offense still needed to be respected. Running backs Terence Williams and JaMycal Hasty, and receivers Chris Platt, Blake Lynch and Pooh Stricklin give Baylor a decent (and speedy) foundation.

    Room for improvement: Baylor lost its best pass protector in Kyle Fuller and top run-blocker in Dom Desouza, but the greatest concern is at receiver. Replacing KD Cannon isn't a one-man job. The Bears need Platt, Lynch or Stricklin to become that No. 1 option for Smith as youth like Denzel Mims and Jared Atkinson work into regular roles.

    2017 projection: Matt Rhule is trying to clean up a chaotic program, and that multi-year process will have some growing pains. During that time, though, Baylor still has adequate personnel to continue the high-powered offense. The Bears aren't going to challenge for the Big 12, but they'll put pressure on opposing defenses.

24. San Diego State Aztecs

2 of 25

    Kent Horner/Getty Images

    What makes them dangerous: Christian Chapman isn't going to overwhelm a defense, but he's an efficient distributor. Most of his top targets return, including leading receiver Mikah Holder and tight end David Wells. The Aztecs will miss Donnel Pumphrey and his production, but Rashaad Penny is an ideal successor to the record-breaking runner with Juwan Washington as the backup.

    Room for improvement: Antonio Rosales is the only returning starter on the offensive line, and a healthy 2016 for the entire unit resulted in negligible playing time for the reserves. If San Diego State falters, it's probably because of the transition up front.

    2017 projection: The Aztecs have a history of superb development in the trenches. We're putting faith in the coaching staff to continue the trend. Combined with the returning skill-position talent—plus steady fullback Nick BawdenSan Diego State should sport a methodical yet lethal attack again this season.

23. LSU Tigers

3 of 25

    Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    What makes them dangerous: LSU has exciting players. Now, the offense has a coordinator in Matt Canada ready to unleash them. Most importantly, though, Derrius Guice is the SEC's two-time reigning leader in yards per carry. The Tigers will rely on the ground game, and there aren't many better options in the country.

    Room for improvement: While the offensive line is undergoing some transition and shuffling, LSU's wild card is Danny Etling. Against four ranked teams, the Purdue transfer's completion percentage dropped 10 points and he tossed just three touchdowns.

    2017 projection: Total yardage assuredly will not be the Tigers' forte, but Canada conducted a quietly efficient Pitt attack last season, and he has superior talent in Baton Rouge. As long as LSU settles the offensive line, it'll be a tough matchup in the SEC.

22. Florida State Seminoles

4 of 25

    Karl B DeBlaker/Associated Press

    What makes them dangerous: Deondre Francois is already the second-best quarterback of the Jimbo Fisher era. That's an important asset for Florida State, considering the offense lost Dalvin Cook and Travis Rudolph. But the 'Noles have a promising duo in the backfield and high-potential receivers, two of which—Nyqwan Murray and Auden Tate—had 400-plus receiving yards last year.

    Room for improvement: Calling the offensive line a revolving door would be too harsh, but it was below average. Francois took several enormous hits because of it, and Dalvin Cook repeatedly bailed out some poor blocking.

    2017 projection: Florida State will lean heavily on underclassmen and 2016 backups at the skill positions, but Francois will command the offense like a veteran. Similar to San Diego State and LSU, the Seminoles will be built on efficiency more than explosiveness.

21. Ohio State Buckeyes

5 of 25

    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    What makes them dangerous: We've seen J.T. Barrett operate at his best (under Tom Herman in 2014) and worst (late 2016). Kevin Wilson should offer a happy medium for the Buckeyes. He'll scheme more high-percentage passes and setup plays into the offense, which already has a formidable rushing attack.

    Room for improvement: As prospects, the wide receivers have stars on stars on stars. Almost every one of them held a 4-star ranking or better in high school. But after the surprise departure of Noah Brown, the leading returning target had 269 yards. Wilson's offense can reduce pressure on Barrett, but the system alone will not magically create a Michael Thomas-like weapon.

    Note: This section was edited to reflect the proper yardage.

    2017 projection: Oklahoma on Sep. 9 is an enormous challenge, but Ohio State otherwise eases into the schedule. The Buckeyes should have addressed their biggest issues by the time a precarious five-game finish arrives. And unlike 2016, they can navigate the stretch partly because of the offense rather than in spite of it.

20. Missouri Tigers

6 of 25

    Wade Payne/Associated Press

    What makes them dangerous: "Everyone is back" can be an oversimplification. In Missouri's case, however, the offense is almost entirely intact. Drew Lock is a two-year starter at QB, Damarea Crockett and Ish Witter each rushed for at least 750 yards last season and J'Mon Moore highlights a receiving corps that returns its top four producers plus Nate Brown, who missed 2016.

    Room for improvement: While that continuity is important, the pressure is on Lock to improve against SEC competition. His 23 touchdowns look respectable, but 10 came against Eastern Michigan and Delaware State. In eight conference games, Lock threw 10 scores compared to 10 interceptions.

    2017 projection: Missouri ought to sweep its nonconference slate, which will provide four excellent chances for Lock and Co. to pad their stats. Avoiding both Alabama and LSU in the crossover games will also boost the experienced Tigers.

19. Alabama Crimson Tide

7 of 25

    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    What makes them dangerous: Good luck finding a deeper stable of running backs. Bo Scarbrough excelled down the stretch, surging past Damien Harris—a 1,000-yard rusheron the depth chart. Then there's Josh Jacobs, B.J. Emmons and Najee Harris fighting for the final carries. Oh, and Jalen Hurts can run, too.

    Room for improvement: Hurts spent most of 2016 throwing behind or near the line of scrimmage. Alabama still found ways to create big plays, but it usually wasn't because of vertical passing. Hurts showed off seemingly improved accuracy in the spring game, though the exhibition isn't necessarily a sign of the future.

    2017 projection: Led by sophomore Jonah Williams, the offensive line has four returning players. Hurts will still have a chance to display his progression as a passer, but the Crimson Tide have little reason not to focus on controlling the ground.

18. Penn State Nittany Lions

8 of 25

    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    What makes them dangerous: Saquon Barkley. Simple as that. No running back in the country is more versatile than the junior, who totaled 1,972 yards from scrimmage and 22 touchdowns last year. Trace McSorley also proved to be a perfect fit in Joe Moorhead's offense, and Penn State returns every receiver except its No. 1.

    Room for improvement: McSorley is comfortable throwing to every area of the field, but Chris Godwin atoned for some risky throws. Juwan Johnson has an important role to fill. Though the offensive line progressed in 2016, it still was no better than average. That may change with Ryan Bates, Brendan Mahon and Connor McGovern back in the fold.

    2017 projection: Penn State's offense may not rank highly in yards per game, but its efficiency should be worthy of a top-25 standing. While an improved offensive line would help Barkley register more consistent numbers, he'll always give the Nittany Lions a chance because of his (and McSorley's) big-play ability.

17. Auburn Tigers

9 of 25

    Todd J. Van Emst/Associated Press

    What makes them dangerous: Auburn has an established one-two punch in the backfield and up front. Kamryn Pettway ran for 1,224 yards and seven touchdowns despite battling injuries, and Kerryon Johnson collected 895 yards and 11 scores. The junior duo will run behind a couple of bruisers in Braden Smith and Darius James, who will also be protecting Jarrett Stidham.

    Room for improvement: Though the passing game as a whole must improve, the Tigers brought in Chip Lindsey as offensive coordinator and Stidham to take over at QB. Sean White offered toughness and accuracy, but he rarely commanded the field through the air. Granted, Stidham doesn't automatically cure the passing game. No returning wideout had more than 300 yards last year.

    2017 projection: Get ready for a more diverse Auburn offense. The team simply didn't force the ball downfield in 2016, but Stidham and an older receiving corps will be ready to stretch the defense. That should lead to even more success for Pettway, Johnson and the nation's No. 6 rushing attack from a year ago.

16. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

10 of 25

    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    What makes them dangerous: The Hilltoppers lost much of their offensive production, but they bring back the person who orchestrated the unit. Mike White posted a 67.3 completion percentage, 4,363 yards and 37 touchdowns to just seven interceptions during his first season as Western Kentucky's starter.

    Room for improvement: Mike Sanford inherited a challenge. Taywan Taylor, Anthony Wales and Nicholas Norris accounted for 5,250 yards of total offense, and they—as well as second-round draft pick Forrest Lampare all gone. D'Andre Ferby will return from injury and Nacarius Fant looks like a No. 1 receiver, but the Hilltoppers need depth, and they need it quickly. 

    2017 projection: Depending on the progression of the receivers, Western Kentucky will slide in the offensive rankings. But after three straight years with a top-10 attack, there's plenty of room for the unit to fall without it being a serious problem. Sanford will tailor the offense around White's strengths and keep the 'Toppers as the team to beat in Conference USA.

15. Texas Longhorns

11 of 25

    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    What makes them dangerous: Texas has the right pieces for the puzzle. And in Herman, the Longhorns have an elite mind working to assemble the picture. The unknown is an issue, but it's also intriguing. Shane Buechele had a typical, encouraging freshman season that also showed his youth in sacks and interceptions. The receiving corps flashed big plays but couldn't do it consistently. That should change under Herman.

    Room for improvement: Connor Williams is a rock-solid left tackle. What surrounds him is the question. Fortunately for the Longhorns, five of their six key linemen—plus three more players who logged notable action last year—return. That unit will be essential as Chris Warren III tries to replace 2,000-yard runner D'Onta Foreman.

    2017 projection: While development on defense will play the largest role in Texas' overall 2017 success, the offense should keep the rekindled excitement around the program. The Longhorns are probably a year away from legitimate contention, but with the speed and bulk they return alongside Buechele, Herman and Co. won't be discounted until proved otherwise.

14. Boise State Broncos

12 of 25

    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    What makes them dangerous: A model of consistency, Boise State has notched at least eight wins in 18 consecutive seasons. Most of that success can be attributed to a constant stream of reliable quarterbacks, and Brett Rypien is the latest in that impressive line. He will facilitate the transition from Jeremy McNichols and Thomas Sperbeck to Alexander Mattison and Cedrick Wilson.

    Room for improvement: After Jake Roh and Holden Huff combined for 51 catches, 600 yards and four touchdowns in 2015, the tight end position accounted for just 29 receptions, 319 yards and two scores last year. In order to adequately replace Sperbeck and McNichols, the Broncos need the tight ends to be more involved. A healthy year for Roh is critical.

    2017 projection: The Rypien-Wilson connection may be one of the country's most productive duos. As a result, it's a matter of filling in the gaps. Boise State needs promising talent like Sean Modster and spring star Bryan Jefferson to quickly shed the unproven label, but the last 18 years suggest the Broncos will figure it out.

13. Washington Huskies

13 of 25

    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    What makes them dangerous: John Ross' departure stings, but Washington is well-prepared to keep rolling. Jake Browning is a calming presence at quarterback, and he has superb skill-position leaders in Myles Gaskin and Dante Pettis. Plus, the Huskies return four starters along the offensive line.

    Room for improvement: We're certainly not underestimating Ross' value to the offense. The speedster forced secondaries to cheat toward him, and that created extra space for UW's other receivers. Pettis, as talented as he is, probably won't match Ross' gravity. The Dawgs need Aaron Fuller and some sophomores to complement Pettis and Chico McClatcher. 

    2017 projection: It's reasonable to think Washington's yards per play will dip while the offense's total rises slightly. The team put together so many blowouts last year that the Dawgs often spent fourth quarters killing the clock. Browning's ability to perform under pressure will be regularly tested—and will determine if that hypothesis is valid.

12. Texas Tech Red Raiders

14 of 25

    Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

    What makes them dangerous: Despite the loss of a first-round draft pick in quarterback Patrick Mahomes and a transfer by leading receiver Jonathan Giles, Texas Tech is well-positioned to thrive offensively in 2017. New QB Nic Shimonek showed his talent with a four-touchdown relief effort last season, and the Red Raiders have a deep receiving corps. Keke Coutee headlines the group that includes Dylan Cantrell, Cameron Batson and Zach Austin.

    Room for improvement: The backfield is a potential mess. Justin Stockton was a non-factor last year, while Da'Leon Ward plugged his way to 4.2 yards per carry and Demarcus Felton only had double-digit touches four times. Texas Tech added Iowa transfer Derrick Mitchell Jr., but he doesn't bring much experience, either.

    2017 projection: Considering the anticipated defensive troubles, it'll be another year of high-scoring games for the Red Raiders. Shimonek will put up massive numbers, but an average offensive line isn't going to solve the running back problem.

11. Louisville Cardinals

15 of 25

    Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

    What makes them dangerous: Lamar Jackson can shred a defense both on the ground and through the air. In his first season as a full-time starter, Jackson amassed 5,114 yards of total offense and 41 touchdowns. With his caliber of talent behind center, Louisville will always have a chance to win.

    Room for improvement: Jackson won the 2016 Heisman Trophy behind a bad offensive line. Like, really bad. According to Pro Football Focus, only Texas Tech and Northwestern allowed more total pressures (sacks, hits and hurries) than Louisville. Geron Christian and Lukayus McNeil are the lone returners, so the Cardinals are hoping new personnel will lead to better results.

    2017 projection: The Cardinals also need to replace Brandon Radcliff, James Quick, Cole Hikutini and Jamari Staples, but that process shouldn't be a major concern. Plus, Jackson can still improve as a passer. The strides he made between 2015 and 2016 were impactful, but he can become an even bigger threat in 2017—even if his numbers aren't as jaw-dropping.

10. West Virginia Mountaineers

16 of 25

    John Weast/Getty Images

    What makes them dangerous: Skyler Howard was a quality quarterback, but Will Grier is an upgrade. His brief time at Florida is enough evidence, considering the 2015 team averaged 32.2 points with Grier and 16.5 after his suspension. And West Virginia has a better supporting cast with Justin Crawford and Ka'Raun White.

    Room for improvement: Although the offensive line has a fair bit of experience collectively, Tyler Orlosky's departure creates a noteworthy void. He was about as reliable as a center could be. The Mountaineers need Matt Jones to steady the position alongside Kyle Bosch, Colton McKivitz, Yodny Cajuste and the fifth starter.

    2017 projection: The learning curve for new receivers may limit West Virginia's ceiling, but the offense will find its stride with Grier leading the way. His scattered contributions on the ground will complement Crawford, Kennedy McKoy and Martell Pettaway and help the Mountaineers' balanced attack improve slightly on 2016.

9. Washington State Cougars

17 of 25

    Denis Poroy/Associated Press

    What makes them dangerous: Thanks to the depth in the backfield and at receiver, you never know which players are going to shine. Three runners handled at least 88 carries and averaged 5.4-plus yards in 2016, and they added 25-plus catches each. Four returning wideouts had at least 33 receptions from Luke Falk, who completed an even 70 percent of his nation-high 633 attempts.

    Room for improvement: Given the performance of the offensive line, Mike Leach might want to consider running the ball more often. That unquestionably strays from his Air Raid tendency, but the Cougars have the right personnel for it. Keith Harrington, another versatile back, will also factor into the rotation after missing 2016.

    2017 projection: The losses of Gabe Marks and River Cracraft are substantial, but Wazzu is littered with suitable replacements and terrific depth. Falk has been a highly efficient quarterback in the system, and there's little to no evidence to assert that changes this year. The Cougs will challenge for the Pac-12 North Division crown.

8. Colorado State Rams

18 of 25

    Ethan Miller/Getty Images

    What makes them dangerous: Nick Stevens impressed after regaining the starting role midway through 2016. He and Michael Gallup showcased a lethal connection, and Olabisi Johnson exploded for 265 yards in the bowl game. Four of Colorado State's top six linemen are back to block for Dalyn Dawkins and Izzy Matthews, who combined for 1,653 yards and 17 touchdowns on the ground.

    Room for improvement: Consistency is goal No. 1. Stevens watched from the sideline until Collin Hill's knee injury pushed the former starter into his now-clear role. The Rams do everything decently well but need an elite trait to complement their red-zone prowess. Becoming a dominant third-down or explosive-play offense would propel the school into a higher tier.

    2017 projection: If you're looking for a super-under-the-radar offense to be excited about, Colorado State is a great choice. The Rams have an experienced quarterback, two superb players at running back and receiver, anchors up front and a favorable conference schedule.

7. Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders

19 of 25

    Darryl Oumi/Getty Images

    What makes them dangerous: Middle Tennessee basically played the regular-season finale without a quarterback but still won 77-56. That's a whole lot of firepower. Of course, the Blue Raiders are excellent with their actual signal-caller in Brent Stockstill, who has two straight years with 30-plus touchdowns. Top receiver Richie James posted nearly 3,000 yards in 2015 and 2016 combined.

    Room for improvement: The ground game must be retooled. MTSU has three openings on the offensive line and must find a successor for the versatile I'Tavius Mathers, one of six FBS players in 2016 to eclipse 2,000 yards from scrimmage.

    2017 projection: Running backs Terelle West, Ruben Garnett and Maurice Gordon will battle for the starting job and are unproven, but Middle Tennessee thrived in 2015 despite a mediocre running game. For that to repeat, Stockstill, James and Ty Lee need to stay healthy. As long as that happens, the Raiders will excel.

6. Oregon Ducks

20 of 25

    Steve Dykes/Getty Images

    What makes them dangerous: Even in a disappointing year, Oregon finished with the 18th-highest yards per play. Plus, the adjustment to Willie Taggart's system won't be anywhere near as dramatic as most coaching changes demand. Justin Herbert was a solid performer as a half-season starter, and he's surrounded by terrific talent—most notably Royce Freeman and Darren Carrington.

    Room for improvement: Understandably, the offensive line wasn't great last season. Injuries forced the Ducks to use four freshmen up front. Tyrell Crosby's return will boost the unit, which has a favorable outlook for 2017. Crosby, Jake Hanson and Calvin Throckmorton are keys to Oregon boasting a lethal rushing attack again.

    2017 projection: Between a settled quarterback situation, healthier line and new coaching staff, Oregon should put together a bounce-back campaign in a big way. Whether the defense can rapidly improve under Jim Leavitt is another story, but the Ducks should reclaim a familiar place as the No. 1 offense in the Pac-12.

5. South Florida Bulls

21 of 25

    Jason Behnken/Getty Images

    What makes them dangerous: Quinton Flowers is kind of like a running back who can throw the football. Taggart and Co. regularly called designed runs for the dual-threat quarterback, and Flowers responded with 1,530 yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground. He also notched a 62.5 completion percentage with 24 scores as a passer.

    Room for improvement: Flowers is kind of like a running back who can throw the football. New offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert focused on tweaking Flowers' motion during the spring, according to's Andrea Adelson. The Bulls also need their pass-catching group to replace Rodney Adams, the only target who caught at least 30 passes last season—and he reeled in 67.

    2017 projection: Taggart's departure may reduce USF's creativity on offense, but Gilbert has a clear command of a system that stresses defenses horizontally pre-snap and vertically post-snap. Though he must play to Flowers' strengths as a runner—and it might take a month, since that's something Texas and Tulsa lacked—the Bulls should be a nightmare to defend. 

4. Toledo Rockets

22 of 25

    Andrew Weber/Getty Images

    What makes them dangerous: Logan Woodside found his stride after losing his starting role in 2015 (and sort of 2014), leading the nation in touchdown passes. The law office of Thompson & Johnson (Cody and Jon'Vea, respectively) accounted for 104 catches, 2,042 yards and 21 scores last year, so the foundation of an elite passing attack remains in place.

    Room for improvement: In addition to Corey Jones, Toledo must replace Kareem Hunt and Michael Roberts. Hunt provided 1,878 yards from scrimmage, and Roberts dominated in the red zone. And not only did the non-Roberts tight ends rarely see the field, the remainder of the players at the position totaled one catch.

    2017 projection: Terry Swanson might not match Hunt's numbers but is a highly capable, experienced successor. Woodside will orchestrate an offense that will finish the season as the MAC's premier unit and an efficient attack that deserves national attention.

3. Oklahoma State Cowboys

23 of 25

    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    What makes them dangerous: Oklahoma State has a loaded receiving corps, and Mason Rudolph is a perfect gunslinger to utilize those weapons. James Washington provides the deep threat, while Jalen McCleskey shines with short passes and Marcell Ateman—who took a redshirt last seasonis a terrific intermediate option. Rounding out the offense is Justice Hill, who piled up 1,142 rushing yards as a freshman.

    Room for improvement: Late in the year, the Pokes started to run effectively on a weekly basis. Before November, though, they were inconsistent on the ground. The addition of Cal grad transfer Aaron Cochran helps, and OSU returns four key linemen. A more balanced offense should be a scary thought for opponents.

    2017 projection: The O-line's progression as a run-blocking unit is the last thing standing in Oklahoma State's way of having an elite offense with no weakness. Rudolph, Washington, McCleskey and Ateman will make life miserable for the Big 12—and if the defense holds up, potentially a College Football Playoff opponent.

2. Memphis Tigers

24 of 25

    Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

    What makes them dangerous: Riley Ferguson, who threw for 3,698 yards and 32 touchdowns, is back along with his supporting cast almost entirely intact. Anthony Miller is the undisputed leader of the receiving corps, and Doroland Dorceus highlights a formidable three-man rushing attack behind four returning linemen.

    Room for improvement: The offensive line struggled throughout the season, but Ferguson also had a habit of holding the ball longer than necessary. And although he's not a dual-threat QB, Ferguson is mobile enough to evade initial pressure. Fewer negative plays are essential for Memphis to improve from good to great.

    2017 projection: Mike Norvell's second year in charge could be an outstanding one. The Tigers will be a common choice, if not the favorite, to win the American Athletic Conference. Ferguson, Miller and an experienced bunch of complementary pieces will make Memphis the toughest Group of Five offense to stop.

1. Oklahoma Sooners

25 of 25

    Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    What makes them dangerous: Baker Mayfield is a sensational college quarterback. Over the last two seasons, the Texas Tech transfer has racked up 7,665 yards and 76 touchdowns with his arm, adding 582 yards and 13 scores as a runner while leading Oklahoma to consecutive Big 12 championships. And left tackle Orlando Brown earned a second-team AP All-America honors last year.

    Room for improvement: Brown and Bobby Evans are a superb combination on the outside of the offensive line. The interior remains a work in progress, though the Sooners bring back all three starters in Ben Powers, Dru Samia and Erick Wren. The prognosis is encouraging, but it's not guaranteed.

    2017 projection: Even after losing Dede Westbrook, Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon, Oklahoma has a promising receiving corps that includes Mark Andrews, Kentucky transfer Jeff Badet and Jeffery Mead. Running back is a bit of a concern, but the Sooners have so many options with a quarterback and coordinator, Lincoln Riley, who will relentlessly pick apart any defense.

    All recruiting information via Scout. Stats from or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.