Don’t expect surprises this fall atop the area’s college football standings.
Media, coaches and school athletics officials have — for the most part — picked reigning champions to repeat in 2018. And for the most part, last fall’s title pursuers are expected to play the same role this season, chasing the favorites.
Whether it’s Clemson in the ACC or James Madison in the Colonial Athletic, the reigning champions are loaded again this season.
History says there will be a surprise or two. Where are the candidates?
Favorites: Clemson (Atlantic and overall) and Miami (Coastal)
Contenders: Florida State, N.C. State (Atlantic); Virginia Tech (Coastal).
Players to watch: Running back A.J. Dillon (Boston College); defensive tackle Christian Wilkins (Clemson); RB Cam Akers (Florida State); quarterback Ryan Finley (N.C. State); offensive tackle Mitch Hyatt (Clemson); defensive end Clelin Ferrell (Clemson).
Comment: With a defense led by Wilkins, Ferrell and linebacker Kendall Joseph, Clemson looks like a four-time repeat champion and a Football Bowl Subdivision playoff team. Miami will ride with QB Malik Rosier. Florida State and Boston College have plenty of talent and could be the surprise teams.
Area schools: Wake Forest is picked sixth of seven in the Atlantic; Duke is picked fourth and North Carolina sixth in the Coastal.
Likely bowl teams: Clemson, Miami, Florida State, Virginia Tech, N.C. State, Boston College, Louisville, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Duke.
Favorites: Georgia (East) and Alabama (West and overall)
Contenders: South Carolina, Florida (East); Auburn, Mississippi State (West).
Players to watch: QB Nick Fitzgerald (Mississippi State); RB Damien Harris (Alabama); RB Trayveen Williams (Texas A&M); wide receiver Deebo Samuel (South Carolina); defensive lineman Jeffrey Simmons (Mississippi State); cornerback Deandre Baker (Georgia).
Comment: Alabama and Georgia have the talent to meet in the national title game again. Watch out for Mississippi State, with Fitzgerald at the helm. Texas A&M has talented returnees and could surprise with Jimbo Fisher on the sideline.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks look like second best in the East but would appear to be a notch below Georgia.
Likely bowl teams: Anyone except Mississippi (which has a two-year bowl ban) and maybe Vanderbilt.
Favorites: Central Florida (East and overall) and Memphis (West)
Contenders: South Florida, Temple (East); Houston, Navy (West)
East Carolina: The Pirates are picked sixth (last) in the East, but coach Scottie Montgomery has 13 starters back.
Players to watch: QB McKenzie Milton (UCF); RB Tony Pollard (Memphis); DT Ed Oliver (Houston); QB Malcom Perry (Navy).
Comment: UCF was 13-0 last year and will be strong again with Milton, who finished eighth in the 2017 Heisman voting. But what effect will a new coach (Josh Heupel) have? Memphis lost QB Riley Ferguson of Butler High but has 16 starters, including Pollard, back. Navy was decimated by injuries last season and could be a surprise if healthy.
Likely bowl teams: UCF, South Florida, Memphis, Navy, Temple, Houston, SMU.
Favorites: Florida Atlantic (East and overall) and North Texas (West)
Contenders: Marshall, Middle Tennessee (East); Louisiana Tech, Alabama-Birmingham (West)
Charlotte: The 49ers are picked last in the seven-team East.
Players to watch: RB Devin Singletary (Florida Atlantic); LB Azeez Al-Shaair (Florida Atlantic); QB Mason Fine (North Texas); kicker Parker Shaunfield (Southern Mississippi); QB Brent Stockstill (Middle Tennessee).
Comment: Florida Atlantic could make national noise by beating Oklahoma in its opener. Otherwise, the Owls appear a level above everyone else in the league. North Texas has 17 starters back from its West championship team of last fall.
Likely bowl teams: Florida Atlantic, Marshall, North Texas, Louisiana Tech, UAB, Middle Tennessee.
Favorites: Appalachian State (East) and Arkansas State (West and overall)
Contenders: Troy, Georgia State (East); Louisiana-Monroe, South Alabama (West)
Players to watch: RB Jalin Moore (Appalachian State); defensive back Clifton Duck (Appalachian State); QB Justice Hansen (Arkansas State).
Comment: The Sun Belt has divisions and a title game (on Dec. 1) for the first time this year. Hansen, who passed for 3,967 yards and 37 touchdowns last year, is a big reason Arkansas State is favored. In the East, App State could have trouble with Troy, which beat LSU last season.
Likely bowl teams: Arkansas State, Appalachian State, Troy, Georgia State, Georgia Southern, South Alabama.
FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP SUBDIVISION LEAGUES
Favorite: Kennesaw State
Contenders: Monmouth, Charleston Southern
Players to watch: LB Bryson Armstrong (Kennesaw State); QB Chandler Burks (Kennesaw State); QB Daniel Smith (Campbell).
Comment: Kennesaw State has 18 starters (12 of them all-conference) back from a conference title team that reached the FCS playoff quarterfinals. Monmouth has 10 of 11 offensive starters back. Campbell is new to the league.
Postseason contenders: Kennesaw State, Monmouth
Favorite: James Madison
Contenders: New Hampshire, Delaware
Players to watch: DT Andrew Clyde (Richmond); CB Rashad Robinson (James Madison); QB Trevor Knight (New Hampshire).
Comment: The Dukes have much of their offense back from a 14-1 team that lost in the FCS title game. They figure to repeat. New Hampshire will contend behind Knight (3,433 yards, 26 touchdowns passing). Elon, picked fifth of 12 teams, has nine starters back from a playoff team, including QB Davis Cheek (2,431 passing yards) of Butler.
Postseason contenders: James Madison, New Hampshire, Delaware, Elon, Richmond.
Favorite: N.C. A&T
Contenders: Howard, N.C. Central.
Players to watch: DE Darryl Johnson Jr. (N.C. A&T); DB Davanta Reynolds (N.C. Central); QB Lamar Raynard (N.C. A&T).
Comment: Raynard passed for 2,932 yards and 27 touchdowns in a 12-0 season for the Aggies. Eight of the 22 first-team all-conference picks are Aggies.
Postseason contenders: N.C. A&T; N.C. Central; Howard.
Favorite: San Diego
Contenders: Dayton, Drake
Players to watch: QB Anthony Lawrence (San Diego); LB Willie Barrett (Marist).
Davidson: RB Wesley Dugger is a preseason all-conference pick, but Davidson is predicted to finish last of the 10 teams.
Comment: San Diego, the preseason favorite for the eighth straight year, is led by Lawrence, who passed for 33 touchdowns last fall.
Postseason contender: San Diego.
Contenders: Wofford, Furman
Players to watch: DL Miles Brown (Wofford); QB Devlin Hodges (Samford); QB Tyrie Adams (Western Carolina).
Carolinas teams: In addition to Wofford and Furman, Western Carolina is picked to finish fourth of the nine teams, with The Citadel seventh.
Comment: Samford tied for second (behind Wofford) a year ago but has six of its nine all-conference players back. Veteran coach Mike Ayers has retired at Wofford, with Josh Conkin in charge.
Postseason contenders: Samford, Wofford, Furman, Western Carolina.