Preseason College Football Rankings 2017: Teams That Will Exceed Expectations

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistAugust 4, 2017

Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook needs to become a steady leader for the Badgers.
Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook needs to become a steady leader for the Badgers.Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The Amway Poll has been released, which means the college football season is that much closer to kicking off.

A smattering of games are scheduled for the last Saturday in August, and the season will get underway in earnest the following weekend. That's when college football fans will finally be able to settle in for a long season.

It's no surprise to see that the college football coaches have installed Alabama at the top of the Amway Poll, followed by Ohio State, Florida State and Southern California. 

The Crimson Tide have dominated the preseason rankings under head coach Nick Saban. Quarterback Jalen Hurts had an excellent freshman season in which he showed off his great athletic ability and honed his passing skills.

He threw for 2,780 yards last season with a 23-9 TD-interception ratio, but he was challenged when he had to face stronger defenses. Look for him to become a more efficient passer.

The defense also appears dominant once again, with defensive linemen Da'Ron Payne and Da'Shawn Hand leading the way.

However, college football is not just about big-name teams who can play for the title. The most exciting stories often involve teams that exceed expectations and find a way to overcome obstacles.

In this piece, we look at a few teams that have a chance to climb up the standings and make a run at prominent bowl games. 

      

Amway Coaches Poll (Released August 3)

1. Alabama 
2. Ohio State 
3. Florida State 
4. Southern California 
5. Clemson 
6. Penn State 
7. Washington 
8. Oklahoma 
9. Michigan 
10. Wisconsin 
11. Oklahoma State 
12. Louisiana State 
13. Auburn 
14. Stanford 
15. Georgia 
16. Florida 
17. Louisville 
18. Miami 
19. Kansas State 
20. West Virginia 
21. South Florida 
22. Virginia Tech 
23. Texas 
24. Tennessee 
25. Utah

One of those teams is Wisconsin, and the Badgers have an excellent chance to dominate the Big Ten West Division. 

While they start the season as No. 10 team in the nationand that's a solid ratingnobody expects them to contend for the national championship. If this was the 2016 season that saw them play Louisiana State, Ohio State and Michigan, they would not have a chance.

The schedule has changed quite a bit this season. The Badgers' out-of-conference games are against Utah State, Florida Atlantic and Brigham Young, and they don't play Ohio State or Penn State this year. Wisconsin does play the Wolverines, but that game is in Madison in mid-November and comes one week before Michigan plays archrival Ohio State.

There's a good chance Wisconsin could be undefeated by the time the Wolverines come to Camp Randall Stadium. 

Quarterback Alex Hornibrook is a talented player who struggled as he split time with Bart Houston last year. However, with just a bit of improvement in his decisiveness and accuracy, the Badgers' passing game could improve quite a bit.

The running game should be sensational, as it usually is in Madison. While Corey Clement has moved on, Chris James has transferred from Pittsburgh, and he should be ready for a memorable season. He will be running behind a powerful and huge offensive line, and that unit should be able to open up craters while blocking for him.

The defense is led by inside linebacker T.J. Edwards, who is a tackling machine. He had 84 stops and 6.5 tackles for loss last year. He's not flashy, but he makes all the plays he is supposed to.

The pass defense struggled last year, and if Wisconsin is going to make a move this season, that unit needs to play much better.

Linell Bonner is a reception machine for the Houston Cougars.
Linell Bonner is a reception machine for the Houston Cougars.Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

Don't overlook the Houston Cougars, who have a new head coach this year in former Texas quarterback Major Applewhite.

As the Cougars prepare for the start of the season, Phil Steele's College Football Preview ranks them as the No. 36 team in the nation.

Quarterback Kyle Allen is likely to start after coming to Houston from Texas A&M, and he has started 14 games in his career. He is big and strong at 6'3" and 210 pounds, and he has an outstanding target in wide receiver Linell Bonner.

Bonner caught 98 passes for 1,118 yards last year, and he has excellent hands. While he has not been a breakaway threat to this point in his career, he is capable of demoralizing opponents as he piles up catch after catch.

Look for defensive tackle Ed Oliver to lead the defense. He isn't big for his position at 6'2" and 290 pounds, but he moves extremely well and came through 66 tackles last year and 22.5 were behind the line of scrimmage. He also has a knack for batting down passes as he times his jumps extremely well.

The Cougars could break into the Top 15 with a notable start and have a chance to finish as a Top-10 team.

The Black Knights of Army could turn out to be the feelgood story of the year in college football.

After finally breaking their 14-game losing streak against archrival Navy at the conclusion of the 2016 regular season, the Black Knights may be ready to take another step up the ladder. 

Head coach Jeff Monken has the team moving in the right direction after an 8-5 season a year ago, and the running game should be just as dangerous as it has ever been. That's saying something, considering that Army had the No. 2 rushing team in the nation last year with 4,414 yards and 46 touchdowns. Those numbers should be within reach again.

Army quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw will always struggle passing the ball as he completed just 44.0 percent of his passes last year, but he manages the offense extremely well and is an excellent runner.

Bradshaw, Andy Davidson, Darnell Woolfolk, Jordan Asberry and Kell Walker handle the rushing duties, and Monken excels at weaving his backs in and out of the lineup so they are fresh and effective for 60 minutes.

The defense plays an attacking style and had 59 tackles behind the line of scrimmage last year. Army should have an aggressive defense again this year, and linebacker Alex Aukerman had 7.5 sacks and 15 tackles for loss in 2016.

If everything breaks right for the Black Knights, they could be a top-25 team this season.

We also see Pittsburgh, Indiana, Oregon State and Western Kentucky as teams that have a chance to exceed expectations this season.