The start of the 2016 college football season is months away, but the projects for which teams will be contenders next season has already begun. With National Signing Day over, the rosters for next year are nearly set. While there could be a few dismissals, transfers and last-second additions, we have a good idea of which teams will be competing for a College Football Playoff berth.
ESPN has put together its Football Power Index for the 2016 season, with some interesting results. ESPN's FPI model is comprised of four elements. The first is the last four seasons of performance by a team, with last year counting the most. The second is returning starters, with bonus given to a returning QB or a transfer QB with experience. The third is recruiting based on an average of ESPN, Scout.com, Rivals.com and Phil Steele. The final is head coaching tenure. ESPN claims that each part is assigned different weights depending on the team, but the first two listed are the most important.
There are a few interesting teams on this list, and FPI doesn't take into account team's schedules. It's not so much a prediction as to which teams will win the College Football Playoff, but rather a shot at measuring "team strength going forward." Each team's FPI is listed in parenthesis as well. With all that out of the way, here are the 15 Best College Football Teams In 2016 - According To Analytics.
15. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (16.5)
The Irish lose some key contributors on both sides of the ball, but return nearly as many from injury. Notre Dame has two starting QBs returning, and FPI projects Notre Dame's offense to be the ninth best in college football. But the defense checks in at 35. For the Irish, next season will once again hinge on their health. For more on the Irish, download the Chat Sports Android and iPhone app.
14. Texas A&M Aggies (16.6)
The Aggies rank this high because of their defense, which FPI projects to be the 6th best unit. The Aggies have talent on that side of the ball, but this seems a bit high given A&M's major questions at QB. A&M is projected at No. 33 on defense.
13. Washington Huskies (16.8)
The Huskies are a surprise at No. 13, given their 7-6 record. The defense checks in at No. 3, while the offense is No. 36 in FPI's projections. Washington is a young team, with a true freshman QB and RB playing major roles. The Huskies are a budding team, but this might be too high.
12. Louisville Cardinals (16.9)
The Cardinals were 8-5 last year, but did start the year 0-3. Louisville is projected to have the No. 18 offense and No. 11 defense. Most of their starters return, and QB Lamar Jackson was a true freshman last year.
11. Michigan Wolverines (17.1)
The Wolverines are projected to have the No. 26 offense, but that could end up being too low if Jim Harbaugh gets good play from his new QB next year. The defense checks in at No. 12. The Wolverines are the only Big Ten team in the Top 15.
10. Oklahoma State Cowboys (17.7)
After incremental rises in FPI, the Cowboys have a sizable lead over Michigan. The offense returns nearly everyone, and ranks No. 7. The defense is No. 32.
9. Georgia Bulldogs (18.5)
Another big jump for Georgia, which ranks No. 12 in offense and No. 18 in defense. The biggest questions around the Bulldogs will be how Kirby Smart and QB Jacob Eason do in their first years. For more on Georgia, download the Chat Sports Android and iPhone app.
8. USC Trojans (19.5)
USC has plenty of talent and they recruit well, but turmoil in the coaching staff has been a major problem. Stability with Clay Helton could pay dividends for USC. USC projects at No. 8 on offense and No. 24 on defense.
7. Mississippi Rebels (19.8)
Ole Miss loses some talented players, but the recruiting in the last few years is going to pay off. Plus, QB Chad Kelly returns. The Rebels are projected to have the No. 13 offense and No. 9 defense.
6. Alabama Crimson Tide (22.8)
Alabama doesn't rebuild under Nick Saban, they reload. The defense is projected as the No. 1 unit, but the offense is just 22nd. With questions at QB, Alabama is the third SEC team on this list.
5. Tennessee Volunteers (23)
The Vols are loved by the numbers, and there's a good reason for that. Tennessee is loaded with young talent finished last season strong. The Vols have the No. 6 offense and No. 10 defense. Perhaps this is the season Tennessee makes the leap.
4. Clemson Tigers (24.8)
Clemson is considered by some to be the preseason favorite, as they return QB Deshaun Watson and several others from the National runner-up. Clemson checks in with the No. 2 offense and No. 7 defense. However, the Tigers are not the highest-ranked ACC team.
3. Oklahoma Sooners (24.9)
The Sooners are just barely ahead of the Tigers, checking in at No. 4 in both offense and defense. Baker Mayfield is back for OU, along with RBs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon. OU has a very difficult schedule early in the season, which will make or break its playoff hopes. For more on OU's 2016 hopes, download the Chat Sports Android and iPhone app.
2. Florida State Seminoles (26.5)
FSU has the No. 1 ranked offense, in large part because every offensive starter returns. But QB Sean Maguire must play better next season. The defense checks in at No. 8. Remember, FSU was only a few plays away from playing in the College Football Playoff last season.
1. LSU Tigers (26.7)
LSU returns RB Leonard Fournette and lose only a few starters on either side of the ball. Les Miles is still the head coach, but the expectations will be as high as ever for the Tigers. FPI gives them the No. 3 offense and No. 2 defense next year. QB Brandon Harris will need to improve and make more plays for LSU to end up justifying this ranking.
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