In 2014, a new era of college football was ushered in when the BCS style of deciding a national championship game was replaced with the College Football Playoff. The result of the new four team format was better football and seeing more of the country’s best on a national stage. Last season ended with the Alabama Crimson Tide beating the Clemson Tigers 45-40 in an instant classic, but who are the top teams to compete for the national title this year?
Alabama Crimson Tide
Bama is always among the favorites to take home the national championship, even despite yearly roster changeover. Seven members of the Crimson Tide were taken in the 2016 NFL Draft, including Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry and four main pieces on a great defense. Not among the drafted were starting quarterback Jake Coker, which now leaves Alabama searching for a new head of the offense.
Good thing for the Tide is that they reload, as seen by their #1 ranked recruiting class, and they have three legitimate options at quarterback, including David Cornwell, Blake Barnett and Cooper Bateman. Whichever quarterback Nick Saban chooses, they’ll have an elite amount of talent around them.
In the passing game, Calvin Ridley might be the best receiver at the college level and O.J. Howard had a stellar performance in the National Championship Game who is looking to build his draft stock as a senior. At running back, Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris will likely split time in the backfield, but both are former five star recruits. Cam Robinson is the best left tackle in the nation and is a potential #1 pick.
On defense, the Tide are led by defensive ends Jonathan Allen, who could have been a first round pick and Da’Shawn Hand, a former five star recruit. At linebacker Reuben Foster, will try to replace Reggie Ragland, and Tim Williams, who at linebacker, might be the best pass rusher in college football. In the secondary, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Marlon Humphrey could be the best corner duo in the country. At safety, Eddie Jackson is a big time playmaker.
Alabama will likely be ranked #1 in the Pre-SeasonAP Polls, and for good reason. If they figure out their quarterback situation, there may be no stopping a repeat.
Florida State Seminoles
A yearly powerhouse, the Seminoles boast one of the more complete rosters in the nation, but the first three or four weeks will be a stressful time in Tallahassee. Starting quarterback Sean Maguire broke a bone in his foot, meaning Deondre Francois will likely take over the starting job for the time being. Thankfully for Francois, he won’t have to throw that often thanks to stud running back and potential first round pick and Heisman hopeful Dalvin Cook.
If it wasn’t for a hamstring injury, Cook may have taken home the Heisman Trophy after rushing for almost 1,700 yards and 19 touchdowns and averaging a mind numbing 7.4 yards per carry.
At wideout, the ‘Noles are super deep, with Travis Rudolph, Kermit Whitfield, Ermon Lane and George Campbell likely leading the charge in the passing game.
On the other side of the ball, FSU is led by sophomore safety Derwin James. James is among the best defenders in all of the land, not just the ACC. Assisting with James in the secondary is fellow sophomore and former five star recruit Tavarus McFadden.
Josh Sweat is yet another sophomore and five star talent, that once held the #1 overall recruit ranking before tearing his ACL, and he’ll be a menace off the edge where he has an impressive blend of power and speed that will likely give offensive lineman trouble all year long. Joining Sweat along the front lines are seniors DeMarcus Walker and Demarcus Christmas.
But, as always in the ACC Atlantic division, the winner of the ACC will be decided between the Semioles and Clemson. Fortunately for Jimbo Fisher and his team, the Tigers come to Doak Walker Stadium on October 29th in what will likely be one of the games of the year.
Clemson may be the best bet out of anyone to go undefeated, despite the meeting against Florida State being away from home. They have the best quarterback in the country in DeShaun Watson and he’s one of the favorites to win the Heisman Trophy. Watson is a dual threat nightmare who has an embarrassment of talent returning talent around him to share the pigskin with.
Mike Williams returns from a scary neck injury and will be Watson’s #1 target in 2016. The wideouts behind Williams are no slouches with Artavis Scott, Ray Ray McCloud and Deon Cain being big time playmakers once the ball is in their hands. In the backfield, Wayne Gallman is a beast and tough to bring down and can take some of the pressure off of Watson’s right shoulder.With all those weapons Clemson’s offense could be record setting.
The defensive side is a different story, however. The Tigers lost a host of key defenders including Mackensie Alexander, Kevin Dodd, Shaq Lawson, Jayron Kearse and T.J. Green. Ben Boulware will have to take a massive step forward at linebacker and be a leader to the new guys. There will be growing pains for sure, but Clemson is one of those schools that reloads, not rebuilds.
Replacing that production, leadership and overall talent is near impossible, and Dabo Swinney will have his hands full coaching up his defense. But with that offense, Clemson will be must watch football.
Not kidding. Michigan is in the headlines mainly due to head coach Jim Harbaugh and his off the field antics, but his team actually has a chance to win a national championship. Last season, the Wolverines were maybe one fumbled snap away from making the College Football Playoff last season, but alas, life happens.
On offense, questions at quarterback will prevent them from being a top five team in the polls, but there is no lack of talent at the other skill positions. Amara Darboh and Jesuh Chesson are a solid 1-2 combo in terms of both name and skill at the wide receiver position. De’Veon Smith is a tough, powerful, classic Jim Harbaugh in between the tackles runner. Jake Butt (ha, Butt) is the best tight end in college football and will be a great security blanket for John O’Korn, or whoever takes the snaps for the Wolverines.
Michigan brings back a ton of starters from last season’s 10-3 team. Chris Wormley anchors a tough and experienced defense. In the secondary, Jourdan Lewis and Channing Stribling may not be household names, but are as good as it gets.
The one player to watch all season long for Michigan will be Jabrill Peppers, who is special on both sides of the ball. He can line up in the backfield at quarterback, running back or at wide receiver. One defense, he has already played corner and safety, and will now move down to linebacker. An added bonus to Michigan is his ability on special teams, where he can shoot a gap and hit a next level of speed that not many players can reach. His talents are limitless, but it will take some Harbaugh ingenuity to get him touches, all while keeping him fresh and healthy all season long.
This season, the Wolverines will have targets on their backs all season long. They may not play pretty football season long, but they’ll always set the tone with their physical play.
LSU Tigers- Tigers have talent on both sides of the ball, but can Leonard Fournette stand another year of heavy wear and tear?
Ohio State Buckeyes- Never count out Urban Meyer, but only six starters returning is a huge red flag.
Oklahoma Sooners- The Sooners lose a ton of talent on both sides of the ball, will the replacements step up enough to put them over the edge?
Houston Cougars- Greg Ward lit up opponents last year and a big recruiting class helps, but a weak conference could do the Cougars in.
Ole Miss Rebels- Loss of elite talent on a thin roster may kill the Rebels, that is if the NCAA doesn’t first.
Stanford Cardinal- Christian McCaffery is quite literally a one man team, but he can’t do it all by himself.
USC Trojans- Figure out the quarterback situation, and you could have a dark horse with tons of talent.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish- Sorry Tyler, but there was just too much loss on this team for whichever quarterback they choose to bring the Irish to the CFP.
Tennessee Volunteers- Will this finally be the year Tennessee goes from “team on the rise” to “elite”?
Cover Photo via FoxSports