College Football Rankings: 2016 Way-Too-Early Top 25

    College football rankings for 2016. Here's an early look at how the top 25 may look come the start of next season.

    September 26, 2016

    Way-too-early top 25 college football rankings for 2016, because it’s never too soon to start thinking about next season.


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    We’ll dive much, much deeper into this over the next few weeks after all the early NFL entries have left, the coaching carousel has stopped, and recruiting has become a bit clearer, but here’s a quick look at 25 of the best-looking college football teams going into the 2016 season.

    A few caveats here. It’s not just about returning starters – Clemson proved that – but it’s a big part of the equation. Also, this has nothing to do with schedules and where teams are going to finish up – that’s coming later once all the schedules are finalized. And finally, don’t get into a twist over something that might have happened this last bowl season. Georgia Tech blew out Mississippi State and TCU destroyed Ole Miss two seasons ago. That didn’t matter going into the 2015 season.

    So, keeping in mind that the pre-preseason college football rankings will still come later …

    Way-Too-Early Top 25 College Football Rankings

    25. Stanford

    Christian McCaffrey will be one of the biggest superstars coming into the season, but will he have a line to work behind? Four starters are gone up front and steady QB Kevin Hogan is done. The defense loses eight starters and PK Conrad Ukropina is gone. While there’s good talent waiting to step in, it’s going to be a rebuilding job.

    24. Ole Miss

    How do you get past losing all that talent? The Rebels might be doing a great job recruiting, but they’re not going to bring in another Laremy Tunsil, Laquon Treadwell and Robert Nkemdiche right away. Chad Kelly could be the best quarterback in the SEC and Evan Engram could be the nation’s top tight end, but four starters are done up front. There’s a boatload on talent on both sides of the ball, but it’s just young.

    23. Nebraska

    The coaching staff said throughout all of the 2015 season that the goal was to just get something, anything positive to build on because 2016 was supposed to be strong. DT Maliek Collins is leaving early, but nine other starters are back on defense to go along with QB Tommy Armstrong and just about all the skill position players back on offense. The O line is a problem, but the top eight receivers are back.

    22. TCU

    It’s all about the quarterback situation. The offense needs all the new parts to kick in fast with four starters gone up front and QB Trevone Boykin gone, but if the system is solid, this should be a decent group with a little bit of time. All the problems on defense should be gone with eight of the top ten tacklers returning and the back eight ready to be outstanding.

    21. Notre Dame

    The quarterback situation is tremendous, but will the rest of the skill players be able to shine? RB C.J. Prosise is gone early, and superstar WR Will Fuller came to his senses and is taking off, but there are just enough decent players back for the O to go. The defense is the big concern losing Jaylon Smith and most of the top tacklers.

    20. Iowa

    Can the program get past the disastrous final 69 minutes of the season? It should with a potentially stronger team coming back with enough good running backs to make up for the loss of Jordan Canzeri. C.J. Beathard is back under center, but who will he throw to? Three of the top four tacklers are gone, but 12 of the top 15 return. Best of all, the D got a massive break when CB Desmond King decided to return for his final year.

    19. Oregon

    Okay, Montana State transfer Dakota Prukop, are you ready for the fun? RB Royce Freeman is a legitimate Heisman candidate, but star WR Bralon Addison took off early. If the quarterback situation has to be settled, and the line needs three new starters, but the Oregon offense is the Oregon offense. The defense is another story with the front seven needing to be retooled. However, the secondary is going to be tremendous.

    18. Houston

    The needle is pointed up with QB Greg Ward Jr. back to lead the explosive offense with three starters back up front. Star WR Demarcus Ayers is done, but it’s still a dangerous attack. The defense loses almost all the top tacklers, but this was a deep group that gets back more than enough experience to be the star of the American Athletic once again.

    17. Auburn

    Here’s the big question: was Auburn bad because of inexperience, or was Auburn bad because the players were bad? Experience won’t be an excuse this time around with almost all the rushing production back along with a strong quarterback situation. The big key? The O line returns loaded with veterans – it’ll be a strength. The defense doesn’t have Will Muschamp to lead the way, but there’s more than enough good tacklers back to be better.

    16. UCLA

    The ranking would be much higher except for one problem – it’s UCLA. For the third straight year, there’s absolutely no excuse whatsoever for UCLA not to be a major player in the Pac-12 and national title chases, but we all know by now that this program just doesn’t play up to its talent level. Led by QB Josh Rosen, the offense should explode with a loaded line to work behind and more than enough top targets back. The defense lost some key parts early to the NFL, but most were injured – 19 of the top 20 tacklers return.

    15. Georgia

    If the quarterback situation is figured out right away, Kirby Smart could be walking into a terrific offense. Nick Chubb has to be healthy, and the line has to find three new starters, but this should be a good group. Smart’s defense has a ton of work to do up front, but this might be one of the nation’s top secondaries.

    14. Arkansas

    The Arkansas running situation will always be good under Bret Bielema no matter who’s running the ball, but there are some big losses in the backfield to go along with the departure of QB Brandon Allen. Even so, the line is great, the receiving corps is terrific, and the defense should be special with just about everyone back. 11 of the top 12 tacklers return.

    13. Wisconsin

    The return of RB Corey Clement is a massive boost for the woeful running game, but the biggest key is an O line that took its lumps through a rebuilding year. The time should payoff with four starters back up front. Losing defensive coordinator Dave Aranda to LSU is a killer, but 15 of the top 19 tacklers are back leading what should be a dominant front seven.

    12. Michigan State

    If the Spartans can replace Connor Cook and three starters on the O line, they should be right back in the mix for the Big Ten East again. The defense gets back four of the top five starters and hope LB Ed Davis can return and be a key leader after missing all of 2015. The running back situation is phenomenal with the top four backs returning.

    11. Florida

    Can Purdue transfer Austin Appleby be the answer at quarterback? If so, there should be some semblance of an offense even with RB Kelvin Taylor taking off early. The receivers are there, the line should be fine, and now the attack needs a quarterback who can complete a pass on a regular basis. The defense loses superstars in the secondary and some huge pieces up front, but there shouldn’t be a massive drop-off.

    10. Oklahoma State

    If 2014 was a rebuilding season, and 2015 was a retooling and sharpening one, 2016 could be a monster. Star DE Emmanuel Ogbah is leaving early for the NFL, but almost all the key parts are back on defense, the running game should be fantastic behind a line that welcomes back all five starters, and QB Mason Rudolph is a rising star.

    9. Michigan

    There are some huge holes to fill, but the foundation is in place to be in the Big Ten title hunt. The assumption is that Jim Harbaugh will really kick things into high gear after a year back in the swing of college things. Can the Wolverines solve the quarterback situation right away? The running backs are outstanding and the line should be among the best in the Big Ten. The defensive line and secondary are going to be special, but Harbaugh has to replace his top linebackers.

    8. Alabama

    This is based on brand name alone. Of course Alabama has NFL talent waiting in the wings, and of course it’s able to fill in the gaps better than any team in college football, but the defense is gutted with just about the entire front seven needing to be replaced. The excellent rotation should help keep the front three going, and the D will be fine in time. The offensive backfield has to replace the backfield, and two starters are gone up front, but the receivers are special.

    7. Tennessee

    Okay, Tennessee, now there’s absolutely no excuse. Butch Jones has had more than enough time to put everything in place, and now he has the team to be a legitimate threat for the national title with almost all the skill players back including QB Josh Dobbs, RB Jalen Hurd, and most of the top receivers. With the expected rise of star DT Kahlil McKenzie, the defensive front seven should be a brick wall. Now all the experience has to translate into production.

    6. Ohio State

    It’s going to be an easy narrative that Ohio State has too much to replace to be in the national championship chase. Whatever. Urban Meyer has dealt with far worse. The loss of a boatload of underclassmen hurts the offense, the defensive front four is gutted, and losing Darron Lee from the linebacking corps is an issue, but years of great recruiting should make up for it. There’s more where all the lost underclassmen and lost talent came from. J.T. Barrett is back to lead the offense, and getting Pat Elflein back to anchor the O line will help.

    5. Baylor

    Last year the Ohio State quarterback situation was the best in the country, but this year Baylor has the most interesting group. There’s no wrong answer, depending on who’s healthy, and there’s no shortage of big-time skill guys to keep the fun going even after losing WR Corey Coleman. The running backs that went nuts on North Carolina are back, but there’s a problem – that O line needs to start from near-scratch with just one starter back. However, the defense should be stronger with seven of the top ten tacklers returning.

    4. Oklahoma

    The Orange Bowl might have been a massive disappointment, but the Sooners had an outstanding season – they should be even better. Baker Mayfield is back leading what should be another killer attack with Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon running behind a good line with three starters returning. The receiving corps is fine, while the defense should be great even after losing several key parts. There’s enough depth to make up for the losses of Eric Striker and Charles Tapper up front and CB Zack Sanchez in the secondary.

    3. Florida State

    The Seminoles took a year off, but now they’ll be back. Ten underclassmen started against Houston, but now they’ll form the nucleus of another national championship-caliber team under Jimbo Fisher. Dalvin Cook will be in the Heisman race from the start working behind a line that returns all five starters. Superstar corner Jalen Ramsey left early, and five other starters are gone from the defense, but it should still be as athletic as any D in the country. There’s a massive loss, though, with PK Roberto Aguayo going to the NFL.

    2. Clemson

    If you liked last season’s team, that’s nothing compared to what’s coming up next. No one saw 2015 coming after losing almost everyone on the defensive front, but the 2016 team returns with far more experience and loads and loads of talent. QB Deshaun Watson and RB Wayne Gallman lead a killer ground game behind a line that gets back three starters, and almost all the key receivers are back. The defense loses Shaq Lawson up front, but almost all the other top tacklers return.

    1. LSU

    This is why the whole Les Miles Hot Seat issue was such a big deal – any new coach who would’ve stepped in would’ve inherited a heater. Leonard Fournette is the star of the show, but he’s just a part of the puzzle with just about everyone else back. Almost all the top tacklers return highlighted by a devastating front four. The linebacking corps needs some retooling, but that shouldn’t be too much of an issue. Brandon Harris might not be Cam Newton, but he’s going into his third season at quarterback and should be far stronger with his experience and a phenomenal receiving corps to work with. Vadal Alexander is gone on the O line, but everyone else is back.

    MORE: Projected AP Top 25 Preseason Poll For 2016

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