Monthly Archives: August 2016

Forecast Top 25 for 2016

1 Clemson We saw what QB Deshaun Watson did against a great Bama D and this year’s offense should be even better with the return of RB Wayne Gollman and WR Mike Willians and the rest of the talent on offense. Defense is rebuilding, but a good sign that DC Brent Venerables reloaded last season with even fewer returning starters. Tigers face only 2 of these Top 25 teams, including Louisville at home. ACC Game of the Century October 29 in Tallahassee is for a playoff berth.
2 Alabama This ranking is heavily based on HC Nick Saban’s resume. The Tide have won national titles with a similar profile to this years team – only 11 starters back, freakishly talented on D and having to find a new QB. And a few defenders turned down an early jump to the NFL to return to T-Town. But a couple of differences – the new QB will be working with a new center, unlike the past 2 seasons; and DC Kirby Smart will no longer be on the sidelines for the Defense. The SEC West is no picnic in any year, but with Ole Miss, Tenn and LSU all on the road, the gauntlet is even more challenging. A playoff spot this season will cement Saban’s rep as the best in the business.
3 Michigan Programs often make their greatest progress in the 2nd season of a new HC, and if that happens for the Wolverines, the sky’s the limit. HC Jim Harbaugh has been a social media maven since arriving in Ann Arbor, which has taken some attention away from the fact that Michigan went from 5-7 to 10-3 in his first year! The challenge will be finding a new QB, but this was the case last year and Harbaugh got a career year out of Jake Rudock. Wolverines do have a new DC but Don Brown comes from BC – the nation’s #1 defense last year. The beginning of the schedule is easier than last year, giving time for the new QB to get in a groove before the games at Iowa, Michigan State and Michigan determine the fate of the season.
4 LSU It looked like HC Les Miles was going to be fired after a 3 game losing streak took the Tigers out of the playoff and SEC race, but a win over A&M to close the year and disagreement in the athletic dept gave him a reprieve. LSU has not finished in the Top 10 since losing the BCS Championship game to Alabama in 2011 but has a chance at a special season this year. New DC Dave Aranda will have 9 starters back to work with and much more talent than he had even while very successful at Wisconsin. Heisman favorite Leonard Fournette returns at RB after setting the school season record for rushing yards. QB play has held back the program for a few years now, but should improve enough with a dominant D and rushing attack to give the Tigers a realistic shot at the playoffs.
5 Ohio State Urban Meyer is an eye popping 50-4 since taking over the Buckeyes four years ago, but 2016 will be the biggest challenge. The Buckeyes had an incredible 9 players taken in the first 3 rounds of the NFL draft, which begs the question how this team didn’t make the playoffs last year. For most programs this would be a complete rebuilding year, but there is so much talent in Columbus, the dropoff won’t be as much as you’d think. With an experienced QB in JT Barrett back, and a Big 10 schedule that is once again back loaded, the Buckeyes will be in the conference and playoff race until the end.
6 Tennessee HC Butch Jones has been building towards this year with 17 starters back from a team that lost close games to 2 of the playoff participants. Vols defense has improved in each of the last 3 years and with 8 starters back should continue that streak. And Tennessee has one of the few experienced QBs returning in the SEC, unlike the 3 best teams on their schedule. Alabama and Florida come to Knoxville, and the Vols don’t play a ranked opponent in the non-conference schedule. UT is the clear favorite to win the East meaning they’re an upset in the SECCG away from making the playoffs.
7 Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield may be the big star, but OU will feature a one-two punch at RB in Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine that will be hard to top on any team in the country. On D, Sooners do lose some of their big playmakers, but still return about as many starters as last years unit that went on to finish in the Top 10 in spite of playing in the pass happy Big 12. There are some big concerns here though – a brutal schedule that includes Ohio State and Houston in OOC games and an interesting stat unearthed by Phil Steele: the last 4 times OU was ranked in preseason top 5, Sooners finished outside top 15 all 4 times and unranked twice!
8 Notre Dame Irish came very close to making the playoffs in ’15 with close losses to Clemson and Stanford (#2 and #3 in the final poll). This year’s squad only has nine returning starters, but the number is a little deceiving as numerous injuries took their toll last year, but results in more players with experience for this season. Both starting QBs from last season return in DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire provide HC Brian Kelly with options if one is injured or not playing well. Last 2 years featured a road game against an ACC team that made the playoffs, but this year’s ‘conference’ road game is at NC State.
9 Washington HC Chris Petersen slowly building talent in Seattle and enter 2015 with QB Jake Browning, RB Miles Gaskin and 4 starting o-lineman returning. The offense exploded for 40+ points in each of the last 3 games, to rally the program to a winning record and set the stage for 2015. 7 starters are back from a defense that held opponents to 19 pts per game, leading the Pac 12. The schedule is not easy but the Huskies do skip UCLA, the favorite from the South; and the key may be that 2015 North division champion Stanford comes to Husky Stadium in late September.
10 Florida State Noles fans are having deja vu all over again as they look to a redshirt freshman QB (Deondre Francios) to lead the team as Jameis Winston did in his stunning debut season in 2013. The similarities don’t end there, in that ’13 team had an experienced oline, top RB and talented defense, all components of the 2016 team. The challenge for this season is a much tougher schedule in the first half of the season with that rFr QB and an oline that was not good in 2015. Can the Noles get through Ole Miss, at USF, at Louisville, UNC and at Miami in the first 6 games of the season with 1 loss or less to set up the Game of the Century with Clemson in late October?
11 Mississippi HC Hugh Freeze’s great recruiting class of ’13 paid dividends with back to back NY6 bowls, but several of those elite players are now in the NFL, including DT R Nkemdiche. But the most important offensive player, QB Chad Kelly, returns after leading the Rebs to 40+ points per game in 2015. Only 10 returning starters does mean a significantly less experienced team than last season. This would suggest a drop off for 2016, but with the best QB in the SEC at the helm and the depth of talent Freeze has recruited, the Ole Miss program will remain one of the SEC’s elite.
12 Stanford HC David Shaw has arguably been as good as Nick Saban in building a dynasty given the circumstances he faces at a private school where fan support for football is not rabid. The Cardinal bring back their most important player – not QB Kevin Hogan but all everything RB/WR/KR Christian McCaffrey. Unfortunately, not many other starters return on offense and the Cardinal need to rebuild their oline.  Its hard to pick against Shaw, but a killer 5 week stretch of the schedule – USC, at UCLA, at Washington, WSU, and at Notre Dame, will make it hard to repeat last season’s top 5 finish. Still one of the Pac 12’s elite programs and will be in the division and conference race.
13 TCU Horned Frogs stumbled down the stretch of an injury plagued season and now only return 3 starters on offense for ’16. But HC Gary Patterson gets a very interesting transfer at QB as former TAMU QB Kenny Hill becomes eligible. All of those injuries hurt last year but provided a lot of depth for this year, so team is more experienced than the “returning starters’ stat suggests. This season looks to harken back to the strong defenses Patterson was known for in the Mountain West days.
14 Houston Electric QB Greg Ward Jr returns, but the bigger story is that HC Tom Hermann is back. The former Ohio State OC, Herman could not have had a better debut season as the Cougs went 13-1, upset Florida State in a NY6 bowl and finished in the top 10. This year’s team will be the hunted not the hunter, and is not as experienced as the 2015 edition. Hosting Oklahoma in the opener puts UH at least in the position of a run at a playoff spot if they can pull the upset. Up and coming teams like this typically don’t handle the transition to favorites well, but Hermann has done an amazing job so far.
15 Iowa Hawkeyes finally had their breakthrough season in 2015 and have a great opportunity to continue that success. Iowa’s offense only finished #72 in total offense in 2015, but was enough with a stout defense that forced a lot of turnovers. QB CJ Breathard is back along with 3 olineman they have depth at RB. The defense will be the strength of this team though with 8 starters back from a squad that ranked in the top 20 in the nation in scoring defense. The schedule is a little tougher including a visit from Michigan; but with all the top opponents coming to Iowa City, the Hawkeyes get the nod as favorite in the BIG10 West.
16 Baylor Unless your home address is Mars, whenever you hear the name “Baylor’ you’re not thinking about the team on the field. For this analysis, we’ll leave it at that. Several key injuries derailed the Bears season, but those players are expected back in ’16 including QB Seth Russell. Bears have to completely rebuild both lines though. The most significant on the field ramification to the turmoil is the replacement of HC Art Briles by former Wake Forest HC Jim Grobe. Grobe had success at Wake, but couldn’t sustain it and was forced out. This team could easily move into the Top 10 or finish the season unranked, it’s hard to predict how the players will react. Best guess is the loss of Briles (and nearly every starter on both oline and dline) will result in a decline.
17 UCLA Much heralded freshman QB Josh Rosen “The Rosen One” returns after a solid debut, but will have a less experienced team around him, at least on offense. The big improvement should come on defense, where after numerous injuries took their toll in 2015, 9 starters return. While the OOC schedule has potential land mines, at Texas A&M and at BYU, the conference schedule sets up nicely with Stanford and Oregon not on it, plus 5 home conf. games. Bruins lose too much on offense to be a playoff contender, but they’re the Pac 12 South favorite.
18 Michigan State HC Mark Dantonio has built a tremendous program at MSU, but 2016 will feature a number of challenges, starting with the loss of QB Connor Cook, one of 8 starters on offense to move on. And with all that experience on offense, Sparty finished #60 in the nation in scoring offense. The defense played well in 2015 and will be the strength of the team this year. Sparty plays well with a chip on their shoulder, but now faces a much tougher schedule with Notre Dame and BYU in non conference games, and Wisconsin and Northwestern from the West Division on the schedule.
19 Oregon HC Mark Helfrich is hoping to catch lightning in a bottle for a second year in a row, with a graduate transfer from an FCS program coming in to QB the Ducks. Bigger issue may be on the defensive side of the ball, where Oregon gave up 38 ppg in ’15. New DC Brady Hoke will try to improve the defense, but only 5 starters are back and none of their top 3 tacklers. Ducks do get Washington and Stanford at home, so any of these 3 could win the North, but the edge goes to the other 2.
20 Louisville All the ACC talk focuses on Clemson and FSU, but there is another team in the same division that will have a huge say in the conference race. The Cardinals won 8 of their last 10 games last season and come into 2016 as a much more experienced team. QB Lamar Jackson exploded in the bowl against Texas A&M, throwing for over 220 and rushing for over 220 in the win. UL has a tough non-conference game at Houston (after losing to the Cougs at home last year), but gets FSU at home in a great spot to pull off the upset.
21 Oklahoma State Pokes return QB Mason Rudolph along with four o-lineman which should lead to a very productive offense. Problem the past 2 years has been on D where OSU entered the last 2 games of the season #4 in the nation, only to give up 45+ point in each of the last 3 games including the bowl. The D has 7 starters back but also has to deal with the biggest games on the road. Cowboys are one of the most experienced teams in the conference but think the schedule will keep them from surpassing last season’s record.
22 Miami New HC Mark Richt was criticized at UGA for not winning the big one (or enough big ones), but he’s the best coach the Hurricanes have had in 15 years. UM brings back a great QB in Brad Kayaa who will operate behind a much more experienced oline. Miami has been pedestrian on defense for the 4 seasons, but gets a coaching upgrade here too in new DC Manny Diaz. The Canes don’t face ACC favorite Clemson and get rival FSU, and last years division winner, UNC, both at home. Richt seems very energized by the move and has a great opportunity to make a spash in year 1.
23 Georgia Dawgs finished 2015 with such unimpressive wins that a 10-3 SEC team finished unranked. New HC Kirby Smart has brought some of that Tide intensity to the UGA program. Dawgs will likely start a Fr QB, but QB play couldn’t get much worse or disjointed as it appeared at times last season, and a healthy Nick Chubb will take a lot of pressure off. D loses two top tacklers, but a lot of talent remains and Kirby should get the most out of them. No Bama on the schedule helps, but a trip to Ole Miss will be a challenge as will the opener against UNC. Still an 8 win season seems very doable.
24 Florida A poor finish took some of the shine off HC Jim McElwain’s first year, but 10 wins and the SEC East championship was well beyond expectations. Gators strength will continue to be a defense that held opponents to 18 points per game in 2015, and with 6 starters back should be able to about match the numbers. Big challenge is to upgrade the QB play that went off the rails after Will Grier was suspended and will look to a transfer, Luke Del Rio, to get the offense back on track. Don’t think the offense will be as good as it was under Grier, but don’t think it will be as bad as it was late in 2015. Gators should still be competitive in the SEC East.
25 USC Trojans return 10 starters on offense, and are loaded with talent at every position. Problem is that the 11th starter was QB Cody Kessler and USC will be much less experienced at the key position. Defense has more reloading to do, but the program is now finally back up to near normal scholarships and has better depth than in a number of years. Schedule is incredibly tough with non-conference games against Alabama and Notre Dame, plus the 3 best from the PAC 12’s other division, the North’s Oregon, Stanford and Washington. This is a very talented team but may get overwhelmed by the schedule.