What makes a successful season for each Top 25 team

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Finebaum not shocked by Alabama topping preseason poll (0:55)

Paul Finebaum and Greg McElroy react to Alabama being ranked No. 1 in the preseason AP Top 25 poll for the third straight season. (0:55)

For some teams -- hi, Alabama and Clemson! -- it's title or bust. Others will be satisfied with a trip to the playoff or a New Year's Six bowl. Here's a rundown on what will constitute a successful season for each team in the AP preseason Top 25.


1. Alabama

It's title or bust in Tuscaloosa. Under coach Nick Saban, that's the way it has been for the past decade. And there's no reason for it to change now. Even with the quarterback controversy, the fact remains that Alabama has two QBs who could start almost anywhere and succeed. At running back and receiver, the Crimson Tide are loaded. What's more, the schedule sets up beautifully with no Lamar Jackson at Louisville, a weak cross-conference draw with Tennessee rebuilding and Auburn at home to end the regular season. -- Alex Scarborough


2. Clemson

Dabo Swinney won't put it this way, but the writing is on the wall. In 2018, the standard is a national championship. What else can you say about a team that returns this much talent, that has depth at nearly every position, that has a ton of young, up-and-coming talent mixed with one of Swinney's most veteran rosters? Why else did Christian Wilkins and Clelin Ferrell skip the NFL draft for another year in Death Valley? Clemson has been to the College Football Playoff the past three years, and anything short of that would be a huge disappointment. A ring is the true goal here. -- David M. Hale


3. Georgia

It's not unreasonable to say that it's also title or bust in Athens, but a more realistic goal is probably a New Year's Six game. That's not because Georgia doesn't have the talent to get back to the playoff, though. It's more a function of how difficult it is to repeat and replace stars such as Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, Roquan Smith and Lorenzo Carter. Just ask Alabama, which dipped in 2010 after winning its first championship and had to learn how to handle expectations. Only in Year 3, Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart might still have some kinks to work out in his program. -- Scarborough


4. Wisconsin

Widely projected to win the Big Ten West division for the third consecutive season, the Badgers have a very clear answer to what will make 2018 a successful season: They need to win the league. After consecutive single-digit losses in Indianapolis, Wisconsin is targeting a celebration on Dec. 1. The Badgers should have their best and most complete offense since 2011, when Russell Wilson quarterbacked them to a league championship. If a perennial Top 10 defense remains on track despite seven lost starters, Wisconsin could finally break through into the CFP. -- Adam Rittenberg


5. Ohio State

The Buckeyes were a playoff-or-bust type of program in July. Nearly three weeks without head coach Urban Meyer to start training camp leaves a lot of uncertainty about what Ohio State should reasonably expect this year. Regardless of what happens with Meyer, the floor for this team should be competing with anybody in the country on the field. The ceiling will depend on how long the unsettled feeling lasts in Columbus and how well the experienced staff of assistants is able to focus their players amid off-the-field tumult. -- Murphy


6. Washington

The Huskies are the Pac-12's best bet at qualifying for the playoff, with quarterback Jake Browning set to begin his fourth year as the starter. This year, though, the Huskies won't be able to ease into the season, not with a showdown versus Auburn on Sept. 1 to open the season. If Washington wins that one, it would go a long way toward lessening the sting from the Pac-12's forgettable 2017 season. -- Kyle Bonagura


7. Oklahoma

Oklahoma has won three consecutive Big 12 titles, and the Sooners made the playoff in two of the past three seasons. Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield might be in the NFL. But the expectation at Oklahoma hasn't changed. Nor should it. The Sooners should be even better around the quarterback offensively than they were last season, when they led the country in total offense. Kyler Murray isn't Mayfield. But the former five-star quarterback recruit is more than talented enough to lead Oklahoma back to the CFP. -- Jake Trotter


8. Miami

After the Hurricanes turned a corner last season, expectations are skyrocketing in Coral Gables. Miami is the preseason choice to win the ACC's Coastal Division again; and with key players returning on offense and defense, they cannot afford to take a step back. So what qualifies as a successful season? Getting back to the ACC championship game is a start, especially if it includes a second straight win over Florida State. Miami also needs to prove that the last three games -- all losses -- of its 10-3 season in 2017 were just a fluke and that this program is indeed on an upward trajectory under Mark Richt. The pressure is on. -- Andrea Adelson


9. Auburn


A New Year's Six game is probably at the high end of expectations, but double-digit wins would be a nice landing spot for coach Gus Malzahn. While his team could be as talented or even more talented than last season's, the stars just don't look like they'll align right again. Jarrett Stidham might be the best quarterback in the conference, but he'll be without two of his top receivers, Eli Stove and Will Hastings, to start the season. The defense could be dominant, but the schedule is absolutely brutal, with Pac-12 power Washington to start, a trip to Mississippi State in October and road games at Georgia and Alabama to end the regular season. -- Scarborough


10. Penn State

The past two seasons have brought a renaissance to Penn State: 22 wins, a Big Ten title, a Fiesta Bowl championship, two Top 10 finishes. All that's missing? A playoff appearance, which is the clear goal for James Franklin's team in 2018. PSU will miss transcendent running back Saquon Barkley and dynamic offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead, but it still has the Big Ten's best quarterback in senior Trace McSorley, who will play behind a line that finally boasts depth. The Nittany Lions also benefit from a schedule featuring home games against Big Ten heavyweights Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin. -- Rittenberg


11. Michigan State

The Spartans returned to the realm of double-digit wins last year. With the amount of experience and talent returning, they should be aiming for the same mark in 2018. Falling short of a Big Ten title shot shouldn't be deemed a failure in the highly competitive East Division, but Mark Dantonio's team ought to be competing in a well-known bowl game in late December or early January. -- Murphy


12. Notre Dame

Asked this spring why Notre Dame's players are so open about discussing a national title, coach Brian Kelly replied, "We don't have anything else to play for. What would I talk about, the Citrus Bowl?" He's right. After a season when the Fighting Irish entered November ranked No. 3, the playoff is very much the goal. How realistic is it? If a defense that returns 10 starters builds on last year's breakthrough, it won't surrender much. Quarterback Brandon Wimbush is the big question. Notre Dame also must navigate a post-Oct. 13 finish featuring two West Coast trips, one East Coast trip and only one true home game. -- Rittenberg


13. Stanford


When Bryce Love decided to return for his senior season, it marked the third time in David Shaw's eight-year tenure as head coach that he'll have the reigning Heisman Trophy runner-up at his disposal on offense. Love will be running behind the Pac-12's best offensive line, and quarterback K.J. Costello should provide much-needed stability to his position. -- Bonagura


14. Michigan

At the top of the priority list in Ann Arbor this year is beating the rivals. If Jim Harbaugh and Co. go 0-for-2 against Ohio State and Michigan State this season, the existential panic that follows might actually be warranted. Beating both would be cause for celebration no matter how the rest of the year turns out against a schedule that also includes Notre Dame, Penn State and Wisconsin. -- Murphy


15. USC

If true freshman quarterback JT Daniels can continue to develop ahead of schedule, the Trojans could find themselves in the playoff discussion quickly. That's a big if for a player who could have been playing high school football this season if he wanted to, but he's expecting to take over an offense that has several of the Pac-12's best skill players -- watch out for sophomore running back Stephen Carr -- which should help ease Daniels into the college game. -- Bonagura


16. TCU

Outside Oklahoma, the Horned Frogs have enjoyed as much success as any other Big 12 program since joining the conference. This season, TCU is positioned once again to contend. Inexperience at quarterback and along the offensive line are the major concerns. And for that reason, it might take the first month or so for Gary Patterson to get his team to play up to its capability. But the Frogs have the firepower offensively and the defense, especially up front, to surge late in the year and make a return trip to the Big 12 title game. -- Trotter


17. West Virginia

This is the most talented team -- by a considerable margin -- that Dana Holgorsen has coached since West Virginia joined the Big 12. This is also Holgorsen's first real Big 12 title contender. With the most experienced quarterback in the league in Will Grier and one of the top receiving corps in college football, anything less than 10 wins and a berth in the Big 12 title game would be a disappointment. If West Virginia is ever going to get over the hump in the Big 12, this is the season to do it. -- Trotter


18. Mississippi State

Don't be surprised if the Bulldogs wind up contending in the West and wiggling their way into a New Year's Six game, but what would be considered successful is probably more in the range of 9 or 10 wins and a strong second-tier bowl. For first-year coach Joe Moorhead, it's about showing that the program isn't going to drop off in Dan Mullen's absence. It's about making the most of quarterback Nick Fitzgerald's last season. It's about showing the ingenuity on offense everyone expects, while continuing to play strong defense thanks to one of the best lines in the country, what with All-SEC first-teamers Jeffery Simmons and Montez Sweat back. -- Scarborough


19. Florida State

The expectation every year in Tallahassee is to compete for championships, but there is a different reality at Florida State this season. Of course, new coach Willie Taggart wants to win right away. But this is also a bit of a transition year. Florida State will be running new offensive and defensive schemes, and it remains unsettled at quarterback. The schedule also is difficult, and division rival Clemson is loaded. So a successful season is anything better than a 7-6 record, plus a win over either rival Miami or Clemson. If it's both, that's even better. -- Adelson


20. Virginia Tech


For the Hokies, consistency is arguably the biggest goal right now. After a wild -- and mostly bad -- offseason, Justin Fuente has holes galore on his depth chart, but there is ample potential among the young players looking to fill those gaps. The question is how quickly Fuente and his staff can develop that talent. Eight or nine wins would be a nice season, but more important, Virginia Tech wants to end the season with far fewer questions than it starts with. -- Hale


21. UCF

The Knights are coming off the first undefeated season in school history, and repeating that feat will be a difficult task. Stringing undefeated seasons together always is -- and rarely happens. Though UCF has a new head coach, McKenzie Milton is back at quarterback, and he has talent around him at the skill positions. The schedule is more difficult, but given the new standards UCF has set for itself, making it to the conference championship game -- at the very least -- qualifies as a successful season. -- Adelson


22. Boise State

With quarterback Brett Rypien set to begin his fourth season as the Broncos' starting quarterback, there is every expectation for the Broncos to wind up in a familiar spot: atop the Mountain West standings. It's hard not to look ahead to Sept. 15, when Boise State travels to Oklahoma State, where a win could propel the Broncos into the playoff discussion. -- Bonagura


23. Texas

Since playing for the 2009 national championship, Texas is only five games above .500. That's nowhere close to good enough for one of college football's all-time top programs. Second-year coach Tom Herman doesn't have to immediately turn Texas into a playoff team. But he needs to demonstrate progress after a 6-6 debut regular season. That means eight or nine wins. Anything less would keep Texas mired in the waters of mediocrity. -- Trotter


24. Oregon

With a healthy Justin Herbert at quarterback and an improved defense, Oregon has the makings of a legitimate Pac-12 title contender. The Ducks were among college football's most explosive teams when Herbert was on the field last year. And despite coach Willie Taggart's departure for Florida State, expectations are quickly rising in Eugene. -- Bonagura


25. LSU

It's easy to say "SEC championship," because that's what expectations are in Death Valley. But in truth, a double-digit win season would be a step in the right direction, because it's something the Tigers haven't achieved since 2013. They have to do better than the Citrus Bowl, which is where they landed in each of the past two postseasons. If LSU can avoid losing to anyone it's not supposed to (à la Troy last season) and reach 10 wins and a New Year's Six bowl, it would be good for coach Ed Orgeron. -- Khan