Assessing the landscape after this past Wednesday's National Signing Day, there's plenty to discuss with certain teams looking more reinforced than others with blue-chip freshman talent. Who's atop our way-too-early 2016 College Football Rankings? Who's right on the cusp? Find out below:
High Upside, Not There Yet...
25. Florida Gators
24. Boise State Broncos
23. Washington Huskies
22. Oklahoma State Cowboys
21. UCLA Bruins
The five teams in our opening tier could grace the Top 10 by midseason or fall completely out of the conversation with a couple of early losses. Florida might have to rely on one of two incoming freshmen (Feliepe Franks, Kyle Trask) at quarterback. However, after the offense took a nosedive to end the 2015 season, a youth influx should help.
Boise State returns just six starters on defense, but the QB/RB combo of Brett Rypien and Jeremy McNichols may be one of the nation's best. Washington's defense was an absolute wrecking ball this past season (leading the Pac-12 in scoring defense, red zone defense and total defense), and their young offensive core will be a year older and a year wiser.
Oklahoma State's overhauling the offensive line, and that'll be crucial to save a flagging running game. UCLA is missing six starters on offense, but QB Josh Rosen is a potential once-in-a-decade talent and they've got a very nice recruiting haul to fall back on -- especially when it comes to the defensive line.
New Year's Six Dreamin'
20. Georgia Bulldogs
19. North Carolina Tar Heels
18. Oregon Ducks
17. USC Trojans
16. Iowa Hawkeyes
Oregon and USC sit smack dab in the middle of this tier, but they've got the biggest boom/bust potential of any of the teams in our Top 25. Most of that has to do with the QB situations, as USC's awaiting the outcome of a Max Browne/Sam Darnold QB battle to replace Cody Kessler and we're still unsure just what Montana State transfer Dakota Prukop will bring to the table in Eugene.
The rest of the five teams here have championship potential, but key issues stand in the way of real top-ten inclusion. Iowa's losing some key skill-position talent (RB Jordan Canzeri, WR Tevaun Smith, etc.), but the good news is they don't have Michigan State or Ohio State on their regular-season schedule in 2016.
North Carolina will be sans QB Marquise Williams, who provided 4,200 total yards and 37 touchdowns in 2015. Head coach Larry Fedora did pick up some overall reinforcements, though, signing 26 players after suffering through scholarship reductions the past two years.
As for Georgia, Kirby Smart's rally for a Top-10 recruiting class brings plenty of optimism to Athens. The question here is whether all-everything junior tailback Nick Chubb can return close to 100% from a devastating knee injury.
If A Couple Things Break Right...
15. Michigan State Spartans
14. TCU Horned Frogs
13. Ole Miss Rebels
12. Houston Cougars
11. Tennessee Volunteers
Is there any program in the nation that's undergone such a quick renaissance as HC Huge Freeze's Ole Miss squad? The Rebels finished with the #4 recruiting class in the nation, signing 13 ESPN 300 prospects. There's a lot of marquee names leaving from the banner 2013 haul, though, so it'll take time for Ole Miss to assert themselves as SEC West royalty.
The real team to watch here, though, is Tennessee. The Vols return 17 of 22 starters, and look like prohibitive favorites in the SEC East after finishing 2015-16 on a six-game winning streak -- including a royal 45-6 beatdown of a resurgent Northwestern program in the Outback Bowl.
Other notes: Houston and TCU will be high-flying on offense again, but answering questions on defense are key to climbing the CFP ladder. Michigan State has just three starters returning on offense, and will have to rebuild after losing a senior class that amassed 43 total wins and two Big Ten titles.
Knocking On The CFP Door
10. Ohio State Buckeyes
9. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
8. Stanford Cardinal
7. Baylor Bears
6. Michigan Wolverines
We toyed with Michigan in the Top 5, with a Top-10 recruiting class and #1 overall prospect Rashan Gary weighing heavily. However, while the offense will have some continuity with just three starters departing, new defensive coordinator Don Brown has an entire linebacking corps to reconfigure.
From there on up, it's kind of a crapshoot. Baylor's still as dangerous as ever on offense, but there's four starting O-linemen and WR Corey Coleman to replace. Stanford's Christian McCaffrey will help the Cardinal play ball control better than ever, and the defense is strong enough to paper over the loss of QB Kevin Hogan on the other side of the ball.
Then there's Notre Dame/Ohio State -- Fiesta Bowl opponents who give us a similar vibe right now. Ohio State was decimated by the draft, but there's so much young talent ready to stand behind QB JT Barrett. Notre Dame is still recouping after getting hit hard by the injury bug in 2015, but skill-position explosiveness and a light true road schedule (Texas, NC State, USC) will have them in the CFP hunt in 2016-17.
Elite Playoff Contenders
5. Oklahoma Sooners
4. LSU Tigers
3. Florida State Seminoles
2. Alabama Crimson Tide
1. Clemson Tigers
The reactionary thing here would be to hold fast to the insane recruiting season finishes by Alabama, Florida State and LSU -- knocking Clemson and returning Heisman candidate Deshaun Watson down a few pegs.
However, Alabama has A LOT of defensive holes to address with LB Reggie Ragland the poster boy for departing talent, and it's not like Derrick Henry is going to replace himself.
Florida State is still young and unproven in some areas, LSU's got the hangover of a late-season swoon still throbbing at their temples (although Leonard Fournette is like a good mimosa for Baton Rouge's faithful), and OU's high-octane offense is going to need to spell a defense in flux.
Clemson's defense took a major hit due to early entries in the NFL Draft, but we're taking DeShaun Watson over the field right now -- especially if five-star defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence and #2 overall cornerback Trayvon Mullen produce early like we think they will.Back to the NCAA Newsfeed