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Alabama leads top contenders for national title in 2017

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Albert Einstein said that the past, present and future all happen simultaneously. If that's the case, then it's literally never too soon to look forward to next year's college football national championship race.

The usual suspects will be in play again, with these seven looking like the top contenders.

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1. Alabama
Skinny: There's no reason to think Nick Saban won't have his team ready to go for another title run in 2017. With QB Jalen Hurts, RB Bo Scarbrough, the newest group of veteran and upcoming defensive stars, and a young offensive line coming back, Alabama should be considered the favorite to win the title.

2. USC
Skinny: Their nine-game tear at the end of the 2016 season, which concluded with a thrilling Rose Bowl win, portends a strong 2017. QB Sam Darnold, RB Ronald Jones, WR Deontay Burnett and some young tight ends form a nice core on offense that looked potent at the end of the year. LB Cameron Smith and CB Iman Marshall are leaders on defense. They should be among the best at their positions.

3. Florida State
Skinny: Jimbo Fisher's group takes on Alabama in a great season-opening matchup in Atlanta. Even if the Seminoles lose that game, they'll have a great chance to be in the ACC Championship Game because of the experience their freshmen and sophomores (namely QB Deondre Francois, WR Nyqwan Murray and bullish running back Jacques Patrick) have gained the past couple of seasons. Their defensive front four will be among the best in the nation.

4. Ohio State
Skinny: Despite losing several players to the NFL again this offseason, it appears the Buckeyes will be in position for a championship run when heading to The Big House at the end of the regular season. QB J.T. Barrett and RB Mike Weber will help the offense keep rolling. DEs Sam Hubbard and Nick Bosa and a few young defensive tackles will provide pressure up front while safety Damon Webb leads a young, athletic secondary.

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5. Oklahoma
Skinny: The Sooners have to go to Ohio State early next fall, but even if they lose that game, they'll be expected to win the rest of their games. The return of QB Baker Mayfield was huge for Bob Stoops, who is likely to be one of the coaches leading his team into the Big 12 title game, which will return next season.

6. Penn State
Skinny: Three months ago, I would have been called insane for including the Nittany Lions on this list. But they came up just a field goal short of winning 10 straight games to end of the year. They return a gunslinger in QB Trace McSorley and a slew of young receivers willing to go up and get the ball in the air. They'll be game on defense, as well, with LB Jason Cabinda and S Marcus Allen leading the way. Penn State hosts Michigan, but goes to Ohio State, so they might need help to reach the Big Ten Championship Game.

7. Clemson
Skinny: The Tigers lose a boatload of talent, with Deshaun Watson, Mike Williams, Artavis Scott and Wayne Gallman intending on early draft entry. Their defense will be excellent once again, with a formidable defensive line and explosive linebackers in Kendall Joseph and Dorian O'Daniel. How high Dabo Swinney's group will go will depend on the play of the new quarterback. The passer will have options in Hunter Renfrow and Ray-Ray McCloud, and a good back in C.J. Fuller.

Follow Chad Reuter on Twitter @chad_reuter.

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