Early Top 25 2016 College Football Rankings

The 2016 college football season is still a month and a half away, but we could not be more excited. Alabama will be near the top of the polls as they try to defend their title, yet it may be Clemson who enters the season as championship favorites - but we know the season will provide us with plenty of exciting and unexpected twists and turns. Here's our still early top 25 preseason rankings:

25) TCU Horned Frogs
Losing star quarterback Trevone Boykin and wide receiver Josh Doctson will undoubtedly hurt TCU this year. However, former Texas A&M starting QB Kenny Hill and JUCO transfer WR Taj Williams are going to have a field day in TCU’s wide-open offense. The defense will also be healthier and much deeper than it was at the end of the 2015 campaign.

24) Florida Gators
Florida made great strides in head coach Jim McElwain’s first season, but they need to find a quarterback if they’re going to have any kind of success in 2015. Treon Harris has been putrid at the position over the last two years, meaning the Gators could turn to true freshman Feleipe Franks. While quarterback is their biggest concern, Florida also has to replace their leading rusher, best receiver, and two draft picks in the secondary. The Gators may take a step back in 2016, but they certainly have talent.

23) Washington Huskies
Washington returns 15 starters from last year's 7-6 team, and that should allow them to make a major step forward in head coach Chris Peterson's third season. Quarterback Jake Browning needs to improve on his freshman campaign, but the defense should carry this team again as one of the best in the country.

22) Louisville Cardinals
Louisville is extremely young and dangerous on offense and they have four defensive standouts (Josh Harvey-Clemons, DeAngelo Brown, Devonte Fields, Keith Kelsey) who declined early entry into the NFL Draft in hopes of winning an ACC title next year. Losing Sheldon Rankins (first-round pick by the Saints) will hurt, but this still a team whose defense can carry them far in 2016.

21) Iowa Hawkeyes
The return of star cornerback Desmond King is huge for this defense, and the running game should remain the successful focal point of the offense. QB C.J. Beathard should be even better this year as well after his first full year as the starter. Another easy schedule means Iowa could be back in the Big Ten Championship game.

20) North Carolina Tar Heels
North Carolina surprisingly reeled off 11 straight wins and came thisclose to beating Clemson and winning the ACC Championship last season - now we get to see what they'll do for an encore. They did lose quarterback Marquise Williams, but many around the program think that may be a good thing because of the tremendous upside of incumbent Mitch Trubisky. UNC’s explosive offense, with almost all of their big-time weapons back, won’t miss a beat with Trubisky under center - their success will be determined by their defense. If that unit plays at the same level they did this year, the Heels could pull a stunner and win the ACC.

19) UCLA Bruins
It’s going to be impossible to replace Kenny Clark and Aaron Wallace’s production on defense, and the loss of linebacker Myles Jack completely changes the entire tenor of the unit. However, the young trio of QB Josh Rosen, RB Soso Jamabo and RB Nate Starks are going to do fantastic things on offense -- giving UCLA some leeway on the other side of the ball.

18) Oklahoma State Cowboys
The calling card for OSU, as always, is the offense. QB Mason Rudolph is the key, as is the team’s hope that a running back will emerge from the current committee and reach star status. If they get quality play from their defense again, they will contend for the Big 12 title.

17) Ole Miss Rebels
Ole Miss is losing almost all of their star players that helped but the Rebels on the map under Hugh Freeze, but a group of talented returners - and one of the top recruiting classes in the country - will keep Ole Miss among the best teams in the SEC. While they figure to be a step behind Alabama and LSU, the Rebels are a very, very dangerous team, led by quarterback Chad Kelly.

16) Michigan State Spartans
The Spartans are expected to take a step back in this rebuilding year as they try to replace quarterback Connor Cook. The running game will carry the team in most games, as L.J. Scott is one of the best backs in the country. Their defense is void of the usual big names, but Mark Dantonio will have them playing at a high level. 

15) Oregon Ducks
The more things change on offense at Autzen, the more things stay the same. Though they'll be breaking in a new quarterback (again), bellcow running back Royce Freeman can carry the offense on his own. The problem here is defense -- Oregon loses its three top tacklers from a unit that was dreadful last season. How they address the D will determine how their 2016 season plays out.

14) Georgia Bulldogs
Georgia’s offense will be centered around star RB Nick Chubb, who missed the second half of the season with a knee injury, but their overall success will be determined by the play of freshman QB Jacob Eason (the top QB recruit in the country), who is expected to start. The Bulldogs have won 10 games in each of the last two years with bad quarterback play, so if Eason can deliver on the hype, the Bulldogs will challenge for the SEC title.

13) Tennessee Volunteers
The Vols are just oozing with potential - now they just have to deliver on all that promise. Tennessee went 9-4 in 2015, falling short of lofty preseason expectations, but almost every key player is returning for the 2016. Their young talent now has experience, making them a real dark horse to make the College Football Playoff.

12) USC Trojans
USC will be breaking in a new quarterback, but they do have an abundance of playmakers (Adoree Jackson, JuJu Smith-Schuster) that will make the job easier for whoever's under center. The defense also returns six starters, including all four members of the secondary.

11) Houston Cougars
Houston shocked many by going 13-1 and beating Florida State in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, but they’re poised for an even bigger encore in 2016. Greg Ward is back to lead a high-powered offense that ranked 12th in the country last season, and head coach Tom Herman has brought in a top 25 recruiting class to give the Cougars even more depth. Houston will try to go undefeated and potentially crash the playoff in 2016, but they’re almost a lock to play in a New Year’s Six bowl.

10) Baylor Bears

Art Briles fiasco aside, Baylor still has a lot of on-field talent. Quarterback Seth Russell’s return from injury will keep the Baylor offense chugging, although it’s going to take a Herculean effort to replace Corey Coleman on the outside. Baylor’s going to score points, but their championship hopes will hinge on patching up their starting unit on the defensive front.

9) Florida State Seminoles

Florida State returns almost everyone from a 10-3 team that was only a few plays away from a College Football Playoff appearance. Running back Dalvin Cook will be a Heisman front-runner, but senior quarterback Sean Maguire will determine how far FSU goes next season. The 'Noles will also have one of the best defenses in the country again.

8) Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Notre Dame has two starting-quality quarterbacks in DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire, and several skill position players that can produce big plays. If Notre Dame can just stay healthy - a big problem for them last year - the Fighting Irish will be in position for a playoff berth.

7) Ohio State Buckeyes

Make no mistake, the Buckeyes lost a TON of talent. But Urban Meyer has recruited as well as any coach since arriving in Columbus and there’s plenty of talent ready to fill-in. For the first time in a long time, Meyer might actually get to use the underdog card. The Buckeyes are going to be a serious threat once again.

6) Stanford Cardinal

Stanford has a lot of moving parts - including finding a new quarterback and plenty of change over on defense - but running back Christian McCaffrey might be good enough to carry this team all on his own. The Cardinal will continue to play field position and run McCaffrey in every situation they possibly can think of - a winning formula that should have Stanford back in the College Football Playoff conversation.

5) Michigan Wolverines

The Wolverines return nearly everyone from a 10-3 season. Jim Harbaugh will have the entire team playing even better next season and Michigan is going to be a dangerous squad. They need to name a starter at quarterback, and they need good play from that position if they want to compete for a playoff berth.

4) LSU Tigers

You know what you’re going to get from Leonard Fournette, who may very well be the best back in the country. However, LSU needs to give him some help if they’re going to win the SEC and make the playoff. Quarterback Brandon Harris absolutely needs to show some progression in his third year as a starter, and their young defense needs to mature into the kind of unit we’ve come to expect from Les Miles-coached teams. If that happens, the Tigers will overtake Alabama in the SEC.

3) Oklahoma Sooners

The offense will once again be in fantastic shape, as Baker Mayfield and Samaje Perine represent the best returning QB/RB duo in the nation, but the defense needs to replace several key players in the front seven. An early-season home game against Ohio State will be the litmus test for the Sooners’ run at a second straight playoff berth.

2) Alabama Crimson Tide

Yes, Alabama lost a lot of talent and star power, but they do that every year. Head coach Nick Saban has a new group of players that are ready to step in and become big-time impact players, headlined by wideout Calvin Ridley and cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick. Expect the Tide to be one of the nation’s top teams again in 2016.

1) Clemson Tigers

Clemson will be one of the top teams in the country again next year behind the play of quarterback Deshaun Watson, who might just be the best player in the nation. There are big names that the Tigers will have to replace on the defensive side of the ball, but their offense will be one of the best in the country again.

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