1. Clemson: They lose 2 Offensive Linemen, but nobody else on their offense. They return maybe the best Quarterback in football in Deshaun Watson, Running Back Wayne Gallman, Receivers Artivus Scott, Hunter Renfrow, and Ray Ray McCloud. That status of super star Wide Receiver Mike Williams is unknown as is super freshman Deon Cain.
The defense will lose quite a few guys, but that is nothing new at Clemson and their recruiting has been lights out in recent years. Ben Boulware and Christian Wilkins should lead the defense.
Expect them to reload at every position on offense and defense. Dabo Swinney and Clemson may have lost the national championship game, but he’s got a machine rolling now. With Watson returning, they should be able to get over the hump this season.
2. Alabama: People tried to write off Bama this past season and said the dynasty was over, but that was not to be. You don’t recruit like Alabama and not field good teams and I have no clue where these media types came up with this nonsense. I am still scratching my head about that. The Crimson Tide will have to break in a new Quarterback for the 3rd year in a row, but the talent will be there at every position. Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry will leave for the NFL, but Bo Scarborough will surprise people. Their best Receiver was true freshman Calvin Ridley.
They might lose 9 starters on defense depending on who decides to leave early, but they are Alabama and the talent is on the sidelines.
3. LSU: The Tigers were young on offense in 2015 with only one senior in Vadal Alexander. Jerald Hawkins is a junior and could declare or the NFL and Wide Receiver John Diarse is transferring to TCU. But, the Tigers are talented and deep. Best news is the return of super star Leonard Fournette. Quarterback Brandon Harris should be more consistent with a year’s experience behind him. Even with the loss of Diarse, the Wide Receiver position still has some talent. Look out for Malachi Dupre, the latest talented Wide Receiver in Baton Rouge.
I believe the Tigers made improvements with the hiring of former Wisconsin Defensive Coordinator Dave Aranda. The Tigers got good news when Defensive End Lewis Neal, Linebacker Kendall Beckwith and Cornerback Tre’Daious White announced they were returning for another year. Last season, the Tigers finished 9-3 and a lot of fans were calling for head coach Les Miles’ head. With improved Quarterbacking and some better defense, the Tigers could be a contender this time around.
4. Ohio State: It would be a mistake to write off the Buckeyes, but they will have some huge losses to fill. Joey Bosa, Ezekiel Elliott, Taylor Decker, Braxton Miller, Joshua Perry and Jacoby Boren and that’s not including the others that might declare for the NFL. In spite of their losses, let us remember what kind of recruiting classes they have signed the past few seasons. JT Barrett will return at Quarterback, and it remains to be seen where former 5 star recruit Torrance Gibson winds up. If Gibson stays at Wide Receiver, maybe Stephen Collier or Joe Burrow wins the back up job. Burrow was the 3rd team QB last year while redshirting.
A Running Back, like Curtis Samuel, Bri’onte Dunn, or Warren Ball will have to step up. Or, maybe redshirt freshman Mike Weber will win the job. The Offensive Line has some big losses, but they have some big talent coming up.
On the defensive side, Bosa is a huge loss. But, incoming freshman Nick Bosa might be just as good. Former safety Sam Hubbard was good this past season at Defensive End as a redshirt freshman. Linebacker Raekwon McMillan is as good as there is. The Buckeyes will find quality players at every position as long as Urban Legend Meyers is their coach.
5. Florida State: 2015 was a very disappointing season for the 2013 national champions. The Seminoles lost to Clemson and Georgia Tech in the regular season and then to Houston in the Peach Bowl. Sean Maguire should be the Quarterback in his final season in Tallahassee, but he may face some challenges from young Quarterbacks Deondre Francois and Malik Henry.
Dalvin Cook is one of the best Running Backs in the land and the Wide Receivers are all back and really talented. The Offensive Line was a work in progress last season, but they all return and it
should be an improved unit.
The Defense loses a few guys, but Josh Sweat at Defensive End and Derwin James at Strong Safety were two of the best talents to come into college football last season. DeMarcus Walker returning for his senior season is a huge plus as well.
Jimbo Fisher will have this team ready to play next Fall. An improved Offensive Line and a healthy Dalvin Cook spells trouble for Florida State foes in 2016.
6. Oklahoma: Baker Mayfield and Samaje Perine return for 2016 which will make the Sooners a dangerous offensive team again. The Sooners have big losses at Wide Receiver with Sterling Shepard being a senior. But, they were young in the Offensive Line last season.
The Defense has some big losses with Eric Striker being a senior, also. But, they have some talent returning.
Let’s just face the facts. Bakery Mayfield, love him or hate him, is the cog that keeps this machine rolling along and as long as Mayfield is healthy the Sooners will have a shot at post season glory.
7. Michigan: Jim Harbaugh’s second season should be an interesting one. Transfer Jake Rudock is gone and now the starter at Quarterback could be another transfer and from the same high school. John O’Korn transferred from Houston where he was a former starter. As a freshman in 2013, O’Korn threw for over 3,000 yards. Both Rudock and O’Korn played high school football at St
Thomas Aquinas in Ft Lauderdale.
The Wolverines return most of their Offensive Linemen and most everybody else on offense. On the defensive side of the ball, Michigan returns one of the nation’s great players in Jabrill Peppers. CB Jourdan Lewis is one of the top cover Corners out there. Michigan saw significant improvement under Harbaugh’s first season and expect that to continue in 2016. They were whipped soundly by Ohio State in their last regular season game and then they just pounded Florida in their bowl game.
8. Notre Dame: The Spring should be interesting for the Fighting Irish.DeShone Kizer replaced an injured Malik Zaire and had something of a really good season. Zaire will be back in the Spring, supposedly and can he beat out Kizer and reclaim his starting job? Could this be something of a distraction at Notre Dame like it seemed to be at Ohio State last year? Will back up Quarterback Brandon Wimbush compete for playing time? No matter who wins, the Quarterback position will be in good hands. That’s the good news. The bad news is super Wide Receiver Will Fuller announced for the NFL and his sidekicks at WR were seniors. CJ Prosise is gone at Running Back as well. Up front, the Irish lose Left Tackle Ronnie Stanley and Center Nick Martin. But, they have some talent
returning at every position.
On defense, they lose best player Jaylon Smith and Sheldon Day on the Defensive Line. The Irish had some really bad luck last season with injuries. That shouldn’t happen again in 2015.
9. Baylor: The Bears should return Quarterbacks Seth Russell and Jarrett Stidham. The next big thing at Wide Receiver is KD Cannon, but Running Back should be their strength with two 1,000 yard backs returning. Most of their stats came against weaker teams. Baylor has never been known for defense, but the Bears lost their two best Defensive players.
Their offense will be enough to keep them in most games.
10. Ole Miss: Chad Kelly returning to Ole Miss is a major plus with a year of experience in major college football. The Rebels have some major losses to fill on both sides of the ball, but the Ole Miss staff has recruited really well over the past few years. Marques Haynes is deadly coming off the edge at Defensive End and losing Nkemdiche won’t hurt them at all.
Ole Miss has become a recruiting machine and the talent is either there, or on the way.
11. Stanford: The Cardinal does return one of the very best players in America in Christian McCaffrey. That’s the good news. The bad news is they lose 4 year starter at Quarterback Kevin Hogan. They also lose his best receivers in Devon Cajuste and Michael Rector. Worst losses of all could be 4 out of 5 Offensive Linemen including super Guard Joshua Garnett and Tackle Kyle
Murphy. Players like these don’t grow on trees and will be difficult to replace.
They also have some tough losses on defense including leading tackler Blake Martinez, Aziz Shittu, Kevin Anderson, Kodi Whitfield and more.
But, Stanford always seems to pull these guys out of a hat and continue with their winning ways. David Shaw and his Cardinal will win again in 2016.
12. Tennessee: The Vols have been one of the youngest teams in the nation in recent years. In 2016, that will no longer be the case as they will be mature and experienced. At Tennessee, it all begins with Quarterback Joshua Dobbs. After taking over the position in 2014, the Vols have been a different team. In 2015, Tennessee finished 9-4 with an Overtime loss to Playoff team Oklahoma, and a one point loss to rival Florida. They also lost by 4 to Arkansas and by 5 to national champion Alabama. Jalen Hurd is another star for the Vols at Running Back and he could be a Heisman contender in 2016.
The Volunteer defense is still mostly young and very talented. They could be pretty tough to beat.
13. TCU: The Frogs proved in the Alamo Bowl that they can win without Trevone Boykin and he proved he can let his team down by doing something stupid before a big game which looks unappealing to NFL teams. But, Boykin’s back up was a senior, also. This coaching staff appears to be able to get other Quarterbacks ready to go.
The Frogs lose 4 out of 5 Offensive Linemen and replacing them will be a task. Gary Patterson is one of the top coaches in the country and can get the most out of his players and they should be competitive again in 2016.
14. Houston: Tom Herman’s first year as a head coach brought about amazing results. The season ended with a win over Florida State in the Peach Bowl to improve to 13-1. It was an amazing season for the Cougars and Herman set himself up for coach of the year awards.
Houston returns spectacular Quarterback Reggie Ward Jr after he passed for over 2,800 yards and ran for over a 1,000. The Cougars took some hits on defense, but they should still be good.
15. Oregon: The Ducks might have a problem at Quarterback early on, just like last year. Or, it could last all season. The defense loses their best player in Deforest Buckner, and they were not all that great even with him. They lose 6 out of 7 of their Defensive Linemen and Linebackers. The secondary was young last season and should be better, if they can find anyone to get pressure on the
Oregon will always produce points and they return one of the best players in American in RB Royce Freeman. However, they also lose 3 out of their 5 Offensive Linemen.
Oregon has some problems to solve, but Oregon is still Oregon.
16. USC: The Trojans are loaded, but they were loaded last year as well and they went 8-6. I am not sure they made the right move in hiring interim coach Clay Helton. Max Browne should finally get his shot at Quarterback and the Trojans should return all Offensive Linemen other than Center Max Tuerk who was injured much of the year, anyway. Trojan Wide Receiver group is deep and talented and freshman Running Back Ronald Jones is a star. The defense took some losses and they need some Defensive Linemen to step up.
The Trojans could be good, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Adoree Jackson are as good as it gets. But, I won’t be fooled again by the appeal of Southern Cal.
17. Michigan State: The Spartans were spanked by Alabama in their bowl game, but they will bounce back. However, it will be a little harder this season because they lose quite a few key players such as Connor Cook, Aaron Burbridge, Jack Allen, Shilique Calhoun, Darien Harris and more.
Tyler O’Connor and Damion Terry have some game time experience and the winner of their battle should be a good replacement for Cook. They lose 2 starters up front, but their best Offensive Lineman Jack Conklin returns at Left Tackle.
On defense, the losses in the Defensive Line are huge, but they do return a great one in Malik McDowell. At Linebacker, they return team leader Riley Bullough.
Their biggest problem might be Jim Harbaugh at Michigan, but expect the Spartans to be good again in 2016.
18. Florida: First year Gator coach Jim McElwain improved them dramatically in his very first season. But, they still have Quarterback issues. Treon Harris returns but he’s still inconsistent. The Gators will need improvement at Quarterback. Their Offensive Line last season was pieced together and will be better in 2016. Antonio Callaway at WR is a threat from any where on the field.
Florida was still all about defense, but they lose a lot of bodies on that side of the ball. CeCe Jefferson is a star at Defensive End and Jalen Tabor at Cornerback will be about as good as anyone in the country next year as he preps for early entry into the NFL.
I have zero doubt that Jim McElwain will get it done at Florida, but it’s going to take a little time.
19. UCLA: Sophomore Josh Rosen was one of the most impressive young Quarterbacks we have seen in a while last season. Star Running Back Paul Perkins declared for the NFL as did WR Thomas Duarte and Right Tackle Caleb Benenoch. They also lose best WR Jordan Peyton and long time Jim Mora has recruited well and will have replacements such as Soso Jamabo at RB.
starter at Center, Jake Brendel.
The defense loses Kenny Clark and Myles Jack as early declarations, but they should be all right. UCLA, like their rival USC, has too much talent to finish a season at 8-5 and Jim Mora is another coach that won’t fool me again. The Bruins will be good again in 2016, but they will lose to at least one team that shouldn’t even be on the same field with them.
20. Georgia: New coach Kirby Smart should have some good talent to work with. The Quarterback position could still be unsettled with the return of veterans Greyson Lambert and Brice Ramsey. They need improvement from one of these guys or hot shot recruit Jacob Eason, but that’s a lot of pressure on a true freshman. Nick Chubb should return from injury and Sony Michel and Keith Marshall should all return. They lose their best Wide Receiver and too many starters in the Offensive Line.
On defense, the Bulldogs have some huge losses. But, they return Trenton Thompson and Lorenzo Carter in their front 7 and all of their secondary.
Kirby Smart will be a head coach for the first time, but the cupboard is far from empty at Georgia. The Bulldogs recruiting in recent years has been outstanding and they finished 10-3 in 2015.
21. Arkansas: The Razorbacks have some big shoes to fill. Quarterback Brandon Allen is gone as is outstanding Running Back Alex Collins, Tight End Hunter Henry and several Offensive Linemen.
The Quarterback battle in the Spring will be interesting with USC transfer Ricky Town in the mix as well as Brandon Allen’s younger brother, Austin.
The defense should be good again.
22. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys raced out to a 10-0 start, and then lost their last 3 games to finish up 10-3. The Cowboys return a lot of starters next season led by Quarterback Mason Rudolph.
23. Wisconsin: The Badgers have a few losses to replace, but they will again be competitive.
24. Iowa: The Hawkeyes had a remarkable season in 2015 and finished 12-2 after a 12-0 start. Quarterback CJ Beathard returns to guide the offense and star Cornerback Desmond King returns on defense. The Hawkeyes may not be as good as 2015, but they should be more than competitive.
25. Miami: New head coach Mark Richt played Quarterback at Miami and now he returns to lead the program. Brad Kaaya returns for probably his final season of college football after throwing for 3,238 yards as a sophomore in 2015. The Hurricanes return a lot of talent including the Offensive Line intact. Junior WR Stacy Coley surprisingly announced that he was returning for his final season and he should be really good. Plus, the Canes are bringing in some talent at WR including Sam Bruce and Michael Irvin Jr.
I suspect that Mark Richt could bring the Hurricanes back to national prominence. It’s just a matter of how long.